HC Deb 31 January 2001 vol 362 cc325-54 4.32 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke)

I beg to move, That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) 2001–02 (HC 156), which was laid before this House on 29th January, be approved. I am pleased to take part in the annual debate with colleagues on the police grant settlement. This is an important moment. Perhaps I might begin with a small point of procedure and process. I very much regret that the debate will last only an hour and a half. As the House will know, Standing Orders require us to have 90-minute debates on the police grant and each of the two local government grant settlements. In accordance with our practice over previous years, the Government tabled a motion that would have enabled us to have a three-hour debate on the police and to take the two local government motions together. That motion was objected to not by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald)— I pay tribute to him and his Front-Bench colleagues who want fully to debate these matters, despite the weakness of their case—but by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and one or two others. I can say only that the parliamentary games that Conservative Back Benchers have played have reduced the House's chance to discuss this important question and most Members regret that.

On the procedural point, hon. Members have the right to a vote at the end of the debate, as is convention. However, having just witnessed an absurd vote of 334 to zero, which took up time to no avail, I remind the House—I am sure that the official Opposition will respect this—that a vote against the police grant report is effectively a vote to deny police forces the money that they need to carry out their police work. I would have no hesitation in making that political point were such a vote to take place.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire)

The Minister is of course right that a three-hour debate on such an important subject would have been better than one of 90 minutes. However, as the names of those who object do not appear in Hansard and, in particular, as Ministers have recently curtailed debate day after day after day, is not it a bit rich for him to make that point?

Mr. Clarke

I work on a basis that I can assure the hon. Gentleman is not police practice in this country—usual suspects. The usual suspects for such disruption of the business of the House include those I mentioned.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

I understand the point the Minister makes about the numbers voting in Divisions, but is he not being slightly disingenuous in suggesting that anyone who votes against his proposals is opposed to money for the police? As he knows only too well, I shall probably have to vote against them unless he can reassure me later that the grant will be varied so that Surrey gets a decent share. Does he accept that, if I do so, I shall not be voting against all money for the police, but voting against the unfair treatment of my county?

Mr. Clarke

Actually, I cannot accept that. Yesterday a delegation came to discuss the matter with me, and with the hon. Gentleman and his Surrey colleagues. I hope he would acknowledge that it was a friendly debate, in which I sought to deal with some of the points that were made. I shall endeavors to do the same if the hon. Gentleman is called to speak—and, judging by the relatively small number of Opposition Back Benchers present, I should have thought that he had a good chance. He is wrong, however: a decision to vote against this grant is a decision to ensure that Surrey, along with all other forces, gets no money.

The police funding settlement for 2001–02 has enabled us to give a strong boost to policing. Overall, the centrally supported provision for policing will increase by 10.1 per cent. next year to £8.495 billion, with further increases of 6.1 per cent. in 2002–03 and 3.1 per cent. in 2003–04. That is a real-terms increase of 7.4 per cent. on the provision for 2000–01, and we are confident that it is a real incentive to improvement in policing on the ground.

As part of the consultation exercise on the settlement, I have received letters from a number of chief constables and police authorities, as well as from the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities. I have also had meetings with Members from a number of areas—I mentioned Surrey a moment ago—and have responded to letters from Members representing many forces. In each case, Members were supportive of their local forces, but raised various concerns about the distribution of funding, overall funding levels for their forces, and pressures on forces to go on delivering service at the same level. I shall deal with those issues later.

The Government's overall spending plans for the police over the next three years were announced on 19 July by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary following the 2000 spending review. By 2003–04, police funding will have risen by nearly £1.6 billion from this year's provision—£9.3 billion as against £7.7 billion. That is a rise of more than 20 per cent. Most will be paid to police authorities as grant, either for general purposes or to support targeted initiatives.

For 2001–02, the total amount of police authority general expenditure to which the Government are prepared to contribute their share of funds will be £7.732 billion. That is an increase of £377 million—5.1 per cent.—on 2000–01. The amount is known as total standard spending. Grant on TSS is paid directly to police authorities, and it is for them and for chief officers to determine how best to allocate their resources, taking into account local operational needs and priorities.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

Can the Minister tell us whether the money that he proposes to allocate does any of the following? First, does it guarantee that by the end of the coming financial year there will be more police officers than there were when the Government came to office? Secondly, does it guarantee that all police forces in England and Wales will be able to increase their numbers next year? A couple of months ago, the Home Secretary wrote to me saying that he expected at least four forces to experience another fall next year. Will that still be the case? Lastly, if the settlement is so generous, why was the Home Office allocation for the coming year over 6 per cent., while the allocation for the police budget was only 3.8 per cent.?

Mr. Clarke

I will respond to those points, but I shall do so at the appropriate point in my speech. I have a lot to get through, but I shall try to deal with all the hon. Gentleman's points. The only one that I did not intend to cover is his final point, but I can say that the allocation of Home Office central funding includes money to finance a number of significant things we are doing to support the police generally. There is actually a reduction in the amount to be spent by the Home Office on "bureaucrats". We have made efficiency savings in the Home Office as elsewhere, but there have been significant increases in allocations to, for instance, the forensic science service, to enable it to deal with DNA matters.

I shall come to the question of police numbers in a moment.

Additional police funding on targeted initiatives mostly goes to police authorities. The four main schemes are to increase police officer numbers—that is the crime fighting fund; to tackle the problems of policing sparsely populated areas; to pay for new technology in the form of Airwave, the modern police radio system; and to expand the DNA programme to cover the whole of the known active criminal population by 2004.

In July, the Home Secretary announced the expansion of the crime fighting fund, funding an extra 4,000 officers and taking the total to an additional 9,000 recruits over and above those already planned for the three years from April 2000. A total of £151 million will be available in 2001–02 for recruitment and training, of which £129 million will be allocated to police authorities for local recruitment and pay of officers recruited under the scheme.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Clarke

May I finish what I am going to say on that point and deal with the police numbers point? Before I leave it, I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.

The crime fighting fund is ring-fenced funding for front-line policing to help drive forward the Government's campaign to prevent crime and to reduce the fear of crime. The fund was established in response to concerns about falling police numbers. Those concerns are shared by the police, the public and many hon. Members. By operating a ring-fenced fund, we are doing as much as we can to ensure that resources are directed precisely at increasing officer numbers. We are already seeing the turn of the tide after a prolonged period in which numbers have fallen without check. I want the change to be decisive.

I come to the points raised by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). I can offer no guarantees on those matters because, as I indicated earlier, how police authorities, in consultation with chief officers, decide to spend their resources is, rightly, a matter for them. Ultimately, they will decide what they do.

The only guarantees that I can give are on the crime fighting fund allocation, which can be spent only on police numbers. We will definitely allocate the money to the forces to spend if they wish to do so, but, to be helpful, I can say that 13 forces already have a higher strength of police officers than in March 1997, the last figures before the Government came to office. Those are Devon and Cornwall, Dorset, Durham, Dyfed-Powys, Gloucestershire, Gwent, Leicestershire, Northumbria, North Wales, South Wales, South Yorkshire, Thames Valley and West Midlands. All today have more officers in place than when the Government came to power. That is about a third of all police authorities.

I expect that, by the time we get to March this year, about a half of all police authorities will have the number of police officers that there were in March 1997. I cannot tell the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey what the position will be in March 2002, at the end of the five-year term of the Parliament, because the uncertainties are too far ahead, but the Government's intention is that, by March 2002, there will be more officers, taking the country as a whole, than there were in March 1997. I believe that that will be the case.

That is the best that I can do to answer the hon. Gentleman's point. I am sorry that it does not give him the guarantee that he seeks, but it is a categoric statement both of what we have achieved and what we intend to achieve. In a debate this morning on police resourcing in south Buckinghamshire, I was able to point out that the Thames Valley force already had 53 more officers than when the Government came to power. That extends in different degrees to every force.

Dr. Cable

Can the Minister explain the disparity between the amounts that he has estimated will be available to London under the crime fighting fund and the much lower figures that are being used by the Metropolitan police, which have led the Mayor and the Greater London Authority to make what in many people's eyes are extravagant demands for precepting on local authorities, but are based on different assumptions about the amount of money that is available under the crime fighting fund?

Mr. Clarke

I do not like to be an anorak, but I am becoming almost a world expert on the different methods of counting police numbers in the Metropolitan police authority area, in Government statistics and a in range of other statistical areas, so I will not venture into the territory that the hon. Gentleman invites me into, but there is a central issue for the Metropolitan area, which he is well aware of, representing it as he does: the distinction between the amount of money allocated to the Met that would enable it recruit officers and its actual ability to recruit officers at this time. That has been a dominant theme of the discussions both in the House and with the Metropolitan police.

I hope, however, that the pay settlement that we have indicated and the recent announcement on rail travel for police officers is making a difference. Anecdotally, I can certainly say—I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman can confirm it—that our recent announcement on travel on public transport in the metropolitan area has been very positively received by police in the metropolis.

Mr. Heald

Does the Minister agree that there is cause for huge concern in London? Just within the past year, the Metropolitan police have had to revise upwards by 25 per cent. their wastage figures on the number of officers who are likely to leave over the period covered by the crime fighting fund. As for the fighting fund, is it not true that the Metropolitan police have not been able to recruit and are asking to carry forward to next year about 115 placements that they have not been able to make? Is it not wrong to be complacent about that?

Mr. Clarke

The idea that I was complacent about it is absurd. In fact, in my reply to the intervention from the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), I indicated precisely the opposite.

We have been able to be flexible in relation not only to the metropolis, but to other forces such as Thames Valley police in rejigging the crime fighting fund initial allocations, to meet the particular circumstances of different forces. Therefore, some forces have accelerated and some have delayed their allocations, in a manner that I think is beneficial to those forces.

As we are discussing the metropolis, I also want to express my very strong support for the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, Sir John Stevens, and for his deputy Ian Blair for the work that they are doing to try to revitalise the Met's approach on those key issues.

I agree, however, with the comments of the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire. There is a very serious issue, and I have discussed it very openly in a wide variety of circumstances. However, we believe that we are taking action to address it. Nevertheless, he is quite right. If he wants to make political capital out of it, he certainly should do so. There are issues that have to be addressed. I say that we are addressing them, although there is a great deal to do. He may try to claim that we are not doing that, but I do not think that it would be substantiated.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and the flexibility that he has shown on the issue. However, is there not a particular problem in constituencies such as mine that do not have the special measures provided to the Metropolitan police but are only five miles outside the Met area? He says that Thames Valley has had 53 additional officers, but the fact is that they have not been sent to Slough. What can he do to ensure that Slough gets the officers it needs to police our community properly?

Mr. Clarke

My hon. Friend makes her point, as always, very articulately. We discussed the matter in her constituency with her police in Slough, because I acknowledge her point. She is right to say that in the socio-economic categories, for example, Slough is more similar to some of the London boroughs than it is to many of the other areas of the Thames Valley force. I can say, first, that we are allocating more resources to Thames Valley.

Secondly, the police negotiating board is currently considering the matter of pay for forces in the ring outside London. I hope that it will come to a decision soon. If it comes to the type of decision that I know that my hon. Friend is pressing, I think that it will make a little bit of a difference.

Thirdly, a process has been taking place in the Thames Valley authority, which has been explained to me, on the allocation of resources within the Thames Valley area.

Today at Prime Minister's questions, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter) made some points on the issue of police housing. I tell the Thames Valley police authority that it should take very seriously precisely the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) is making. For our part, we could not and will not overthrow the authority of the chief constable and the police authority. However, we shall try to do what we can to encourage the type of serious attention to the problems in Slough to which she referred. I pay tribute to her assiduous campaigning on the matter.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton)

The Minister will be aware that the people of Kingston still do not believe that the money that the Government gave to the Greater London Authority was sufficient to increase police numbers to the level that we need. However, he may also be aware that the GLA had a debate on the Metropolitan police authority budget, following which Sir John Stevens sent a letter to Lord Harris in which he said: you will appreciate my concern at how difficult any further reductions beyond the full I per cent. efficiency savings now required by the GLA would be.

Is the Minister aware that Conservative GLA members have tabled an alternative budget requiring £47 million of extra efficiency savings—over and above the 1 per cent. GLA-required efficiency savings—which would require a cut in police numbers and police resources in London?

Mr. Clarke

I was not aware of that, but I never cease to be shocked by the activities of Conservatives, who try and score short-sighted political points at the expense of long-term investment. That was the story when they were in government, and it is the story now that they are in opposition. I am not surprised, therefore, by what the hon. Gentleman says. I am glad to confirm the entente cordiale—a suitable term between pro-Europeans—that exists between the Liberal Democrats and the Government on these questions.

I shall turn now to the other matters regarding the Metropolitan police that I want to deal with, so that they can all be considered in the round.

On 1 April 2000, the boundaries of the Metropolitan police district were brought into line with those of the 32 London boroughs. That important development has enhanced policing in a variety of ways. It meant that Essex, Hertfordshire and Surrey took over responsibility for policing areas that were previously within the Metropolitan police district.

General adjustments to the grant distribution were made from this year, and we have taken account of transitional costs incurred last year and in 2000–01. I recognise that the three county police authorities will continue to incur transitional costs next year.

We will therefore be making special payments of grant in 2001–02, totalling £2.25 million, in recognition of the additional costs resulting from the boundary changes. Accordingly, Essex will get £14,000, Hertfordshire £627,000, and Surrey £1.609 million.

When I met the delegation of Surrey Members of Parliament earlier this week, I said that I would look at detailed submissions and representations from the Surrey police authority and the chief constable of Surrey if it was felt that the transitional costs were greater than had been allowed for in the grant.

The Government accept that the police funding formula is not sufficiently sophisticated or flexible to respond to the distinct characteristics and responsibilities of the Metropolitan police. It is for that reason that the Greater London Authority receives, each year, a special payment of grant on behalf of the Metropolitan police authority in addition to that provided through the funding formula.

In recognition of the Metropolitan police authority's specific needs, the Metropolitan police special grant for 2001–02 will be increased, in line with the increase in total standard spending, from £182 million this year to £191 million. That is paid as 100 per cent. Home Office grant, and is not charged to London council tax payers.

With the establishment of the MPA in July 2000, arrangements for the policing of London have been brought more closely into line with arrangements elsewhere in England and Wales. The Metropolitan police precept is now set by the Mayor as part of the Greater London Authority budget, and is subject to the approval of the GLA.

With that, I conclude my remarks about the Metropolitan police. I shall therefore give way to any hon. Member who has a question about that.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, and for his courteous reception of the delegation from Surrey on Monday. I am pleased that he has put on record the Government's approach to transitional funding, and hope that he will look at extra transitional funding for the coming financial year.

Will the Minister confirm that he will also consider bids for subsequent financial years, especially for Surrey, which is assuming the lion's share of the burden relinquished by the Metropolitan police? That is especially important, given that the wider formula means that, compared to other police forces, Surrey is in a dire position.

Mr. Clarke

I can confirm that, but I reinforce the point that I made to the delegation that I met on Monday, which was led by the hon. Gentleman. The only basis for adjustment will be a clear demonstration that the transitional costs incurred by the Surrey police authority are greater than the sums allocated to meet them. The Government are not offering a type of slush-fund payment: allocations are made in relation to specific and demonstrable additional transitional costs.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

I echo the thanks to the Minister expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), for his courteous reception of the Surrey delegation yesterday. I was in that delegation, as was my hon. Friend and other Surrey Members of Parliament, the chief constable of Surrey and the chairman of the Surrey police authority.

However, will the Minister repeat for the record another thing that he was helpful enough to tell the delegation on Monday—that he is prepared to look at the specific issue of the additional costs falling on Surrey police as a result of the house arrest of Senator Pinochet? As he knows, the chief constable has estimated those additional costs at £1.2 million, of which the Government have repaid only £200,000. The Minister will recall that in a written answer he estimated those costs to be £750,000 in total. Has the Minister had an opportunity to look at those figures since Monday? Can he now confirm the chief constable's estimate?

Finally, will the Minister confirm that he will look again at the fact that Surrey will get only £11,000 for rural crime fighting? As he said, that is far too little.

Mr. Clarke

I will deal with rural issues in a moment. I confirm that I said that I would look at the additional costs that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. Unfortunately, I have not had a chance to do so since the delegation, as I have been detained on business in the House. I will look at the issue, but I say to the House what I said to the delegation—the fact that I am saying that I will look at something is not a guarantee that I will agree it.

I announced on 15 June 2000 that the Home Secretary was to make available £15 million from the budget for the remainder of 2000–01 to enhance the policing service in rural areas. Financial provision for future years is now included in the spending review 2000 settlement. Forces policing sparsely populated areas will receive a further £30 million in 2001–02 and in the following two years. The money has been directed towards areas of greater sparsity—31 forces gain from the rural policing fund.

I have listened to widespread expressions of concern about the problems of rural policing, and I want to see concrete benefits from the allocation. The police authorities that receive funding under this scheme will need to show, in their best value performance plans, how they will use this money to improve policing in rural areas. I look forward to police forces using these funds imaginatively.

Two forces have made representations to me about being harshly treated in the allocation. The Northumbria police authority is in the unusual position of having a very sparsely populated part of its area—one of the sparsest in the country—side by side with a very densely populated area. The way the statistics worked out, the Northumbria force did not gain, as it might have hoped, from the allocation. I have said to the chief constable and the chair of the police authority that I am prepared to look at specific bids they might wish to make under targeted policing to deal with some of those aspects in the rural areas. I said exactly the same to the delegation from Surrey, which received £11,000 from the system—not an immense amount of money. It has a case for some of the areas.

Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon)

The Avon and Somerset force polices some sparsely populated areas. It was not among the forces the Minister listed earlier whose numbers had gone up. However, violent crime has risen remorselessly in Avon and Somerset, not just in the past three years but in the past 20. Does the hon. Gentleman realistically expect that anything in this document is enough to result in the figures for violent crime going down in the next 12 months, as we all want?

Mr. Clarke

I believe that the allocations will make a difference on violent crime. I hope that the Avon and Somerset force will, over the next 12 months, have more officers than there were in March 1997.

The issues of violent crime are much more substantial than simply police numbers. Violent crime—a term that covers a wide variety of types of crime from the exceptionally serious to the not so serious—is the single biggest problem that we have in the areas of policing and crime reduction for which I am responsible. That is why the Government have published an action plan and why the police forces are giving great attention to it. It covers a wide range of issues, including dealing with alcohol, the relationship between the police and schools and how we use DNA technology as a deterrent and as a way of giving people greater confidence in the detection of violent crime. Police presence has something to do with it, as implied by the hon. Member for Northavon, but by no means everything. There needs to be an overall approach.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

On the Avon and Somerset force, is there not a specific problem when a force covers a large area that is mixed in character, including the inner-city areas of Bristol and rural parts of Somerset? Is not the formula disadvantageous to a non-homogenous police force area which tends to lose out according to almost every criterion?

Mr. Clarke

The hon. Gentleman will be shocked to hear that I have received representations from just about every police authority in the country. They all argue that they lose out because they are homogenous-urban, homogenous-rural or not homogenous. They all say that they are the losers, come what may. To be fair, all that I can say is that there is weight in the hon. Gentleman's argument, as there is in those put to me by many other hon. Members.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford)

May I say how pleased I was when the Staffordshire police qualified for some of the funding for policing rural areas? They have already announced that they will restore beats in rural areas. They have even announced the completion of a mobile police station, which can be taken to rural locations, which is an innovative development. I heard my hon. Friend say that he would monitor the use of the money in future. Does that mean that those forces that use it well will receive more, and those that use it badly, less?

Mr. Clarke

I can confirm that we are monitoring the use of the money and we expect it to be well used. As yet, we have not established a system whereby performance drives the allocation of money as my hon. Friend implies. Through the targeted crime initiatives, we hope to establish what works. When people ask for funding for something that has been demonstrated to work, they will have a stronger case. There may come a time when we achieve the world that my hon. Friend, as a member of the Treasury Committee, seeks to achieve in everything that he does, but we are not there yet.

I was glad that in Avon and Somerset, to which hon. Members referred, there was a reduction in crime in the year to September 2000 of 2.5 per cent., which is far better that the national average of 0.2 per cent. Violent crime increased, but crime as a whole decreased.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

As the Minister said, an announcement was made about the sparsity element, which was most welcome. There is a crisis in policing in Wales. For the third year running, expenditure on the police forces in Wales has been cut. It was 4.93 per cent. of the budget in 1997–98, 4.92 per cent. in the following year and 4.89 per cent. last year. The North Wales police say that they are not hard done by, as they are getting the average increase, but even taking that into account, given their pension and pay commitments, funding is at a standstill. Therefore, the settlement is not good for Welsh police forces. As no other Member of Parliament for Wales is present in the Chamber I thought I had better raise that matter.

Mr. Clarke

The Welsh police forces have a unique record, I think. I have here the statistics for each region and I see that in the period between March 1997 and 1 September 2000—since the beginning of this Parliament—the number of police officers in Dyfed-Powys increased by 40, in Gwent it increased by 28, in north Wales, which is the hon. Gentleman's area, by 24 and in south Wales by 53. That is an increase in every force area. That does not solve the problem—as I am always pointing out, police numbers are not the only issue.

However, good progress has been made and that is no doubt one reason why crime in Wales reduced by 10.3 per cent. in the last year for which figures were recorded. That is a good performance and I pay tribute to the forces in Wales for what they are doing. I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's argument that more needs to be done. The North Wales force has been particularly creative in its approach to tackling rural policing positively.

We have made available an extra £500 million, including capital provision, over three years to meet the costs of Airwave—the modern radio communication system for the police. It will provide the police with more reliable, better quality radio and data communications. Airwave will give officers fast, secure, digital communications and access to local and national databases.

Payments in each of the three years will be concentrated on police authorities as they take up the system. The alternative would have been to spread the support more thinly across all forces every year. After consultation with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities, I decided that a focused funding arrangement would be more helpful to forces meeting the initial costs of Airwave roll-out. The core service charges for Airwave will be met centrally.

The DNA expansion programme has important implications for violent crime. We are committing £143 million in new money over the spending review years to the DNA project. That is in addition to up to £17 million a year in 2000–01 and 2001–02 in grants to police authorities. It will enable us to expand the national DNA database to hold the DNA profiles of the whole of the active criminal population by 2004. It will also provide support to enable forces to visit more scenes of crime, and to collect and process evidence from the increasing number of DNA matches of crimes to offenders. I hope shortly to announce details of the initial funding allocation to police authorities.

I emphasise that I can think of no more effective way of deterring crime than guaranteeing to potential criminals that if they commit their crime they will be caught by the use of DNA technology. During my time as a Minister, one of the more exciting developments that I see when I visit different forces is their ability to solve vicious, bad crimes—murders and rapes—dating from as long as 10 years before, through the availability of that technology. The more it is clear to criminals that their crime will be solved and that they will be punished, the better our chances will be. I attach great importance to that particular investment.

Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)

When I talk to my constituents, the majority of them are delighted that the Government are taking that course. They think that it is common sense to use such information to solve crime. Will my hon. Friend confirm that, whatever happens, he will press on with the programme, despite some of the opposition that we have heard?

Mr. Clarke

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support. He is absolutely right. The concrete results achieved produce a much more unfriendly environment for the potential criminal. That is why the Government are giving that investment such a high priority.

For all those projects, specific payments will continue to be made for all three years of the spending review period. They are key programmes.

In November, when we announced the provisional funding settlement, details of the specific payments were given at the same time. It is the Government's intention to continue that arrangement next year and also to include details of capital and the National Crime Squad and National Criminal Intelligence Service levies. Instead of announcements dribbling out over time, everyone will know exactly where they stand.

Mr. David Heath

Although the capital spends this year are extremely welcome, there is still the problem that national programmes are displacing much-needed essential maintenance and work on the backlog of repairs in forces. Can the Minister persuade his right hon. and hon. Friends of the crying need to release the accumulated capital receipts and to allow them to be used for the purposes for which they were raised from local taxpayers and ratepayers—to fight crime effectively?

Mr. Clarke

That is a fair point and I shall consider it. Although capital expenditure is not part of the grant report, for this year we have been able to raise the sum for capital grant and supplementary credit approvals from £144.3 million to £157.3 million, after several years during which the total remained unchanged. In addition, £75 million will be allocated to those forces taking Airwave; and all police authorities and forces are being encouraged to explore the scope for private finance initiative projects. However, I shall look into the point about capital receipts made by the hon. Gentleman. It would be helpful if he could write to me about the ways in which his force might use such resources; I should be happy to consider that.

We are introducing other funding initiatives. We are providing for a basic command unit fund to support and encourage programmes to prevent crime and fear of crime at the level closest to the general public. An important part of our policy is to strengthen the basic command unit aspect. Details of the scheme will be developed and will be published later this year. Provision has also been made for assistance to police authorities in London and the south-east towards the cost of the pay lead necessary to recruit and retain officers. That point relates to our earlier discussions.

The settlement takes into account the commitment of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to improve efficiency for which we set a year-on-year target of 2 per cent. for each year between 1999 and 2002. The inspectorate assessed all 43 police authorities and forces as having delivered the 2 per cent. efficiency gains; they are on line to deliver further efficiency gains of 2 per cent. The total value was more than £183 million—a serious amount. We believe that efficiency gains will total at least £440 million over the three-year period. I congratulate all the forces on the commitment that they made to achieve those improvements in sometimes difficult circumstances.

On next year's funding settlement, we continue to set considerable store by stability in the grant system to help planning, so we have proposed no changes to the method of police grant distribution. There will thus be no substantive changes to the operation of the police funding formula for next year. Data have been updated as usual. That has had an effect on grant distribution between police authority areas.

Mr. Blunt

When will the results of the 2001 census come into the formula?

Mr. Clarke

The short answer to that question, which I put articulately and effectively, is that I do not know. I will write to the hon. Gentleman on that point. It is a matter for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, not for the police. We are merely subjects of DETR in our police operations at the Home Office.

The main issues that emerged from the consultation and the representations that were received were the implications of ring-fenced funding, the proposed levies for the NCS and the NCIS, the problems of rural policing, the continuation of the old force establishment component in the formula, the costs of Airwave and the costs of police pensions.

I have addressed the issues of ring-fenced funding. We believe that it is important that these funds are targeted more specifically to achieve results—to recruit more police officers, establish the DNA database and so on. I shall not devote more time to that point.

I hope that it will be possible to build on the successes that we have taken forward. The whole settlement is concentrated on improving the policing service on the ground; most of the funds will, as in the past, reach police authorities.

Throughout the country there was a great deal of what I can only describe as scaremongering about the NCS and NCIS levies. I attach great importance to funding the NCS and the NCIS at the proper levels. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary took careful account of the comments made, and the increases in the NCS and NCIS levies, which when added together amount to 10 per cent. of the 2000/01 levy in cash terms, achieve a balance. The increase for the NCS was broadly in line with the average spending increases across the country. The increase for the NCIS was significantly greater, because we need to commit to intelligence-led policing in a variety of ways. The system of funding the NCS and the NCIS is under review and there is legislation before the House on the matter at the moment; we debated its Second Reading yesterday.

I have discussed rural policing.

I have been asked to complete the removal of the police establishments element from the formula. Police establishment levels were originally included to provide stability and continuity. The Government have always intended that those historic manpower levels should be part of the formula on a temporary basis, and should be removed at whatever rate proves compatible with the need for stability. It remains our intention in due course to wind up that part of the formula, which has been progressively reduced from 50 per cent. to 10 per cent. of overall funding, but in the interests of stability we are making no formula changes for next year.

Pensions are a real cause of grievance in many parts of the country. The arrangements whereby pension costs form part of each police authority's budget are long-standing. There are some advantages, but overall there is no doubt that rising costs are a matter of concern to the police service. We are still working on proposals for a new pension scheme for new entrants that will be less expensive for officers and police authorities alike. There will need to be further consultation on that in due course, as part of our long-term strategy.

I take a particular interest in these issues and have discovered for myself how difficult they are. I have joined colleagues in the Treasury in asking officials to provide an assessment of the various alternative ways of providing the finance for police and fire pensions. The options considered will range from establishing fully funded schemes to changing the way in which expenditure on police and fire pensions is presented in the accounts. My officials have been asked to take account of the views of police and fire authorities and other key stakeholders. I expect a report on the alternatives to be ready by the spring.

In conclusion, the Government are determined to reduce crime, to lessen fear of crime and to see more police officers back on the beat. The signs are that that is starting to happen. I will not join in the party political arguments that we sometimes have on these matters, but I believe that the record of this year and of the settlement is one of which the Government can be proud, and which the police service as whole has the basis to develop into the future.

5.13 pm
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire)

I start, as the Minister did, by paying a tribute to the dedication and professionalism of the men and women of our police force.

When I spoke in last year's counterpart of this debate, I had been shadowing the Minister for three or four hours and was just starting in my present role as Opposition spokesman. After a year, I have had an opportunity to see at first hand the work that the police are doing in their fight against crime. I have spoken to officers of all ranks, and I am more conscious of the value of that work than I was previously, although I have always been a strong supporter of the work that the police do.

Last year, I said that morale was a problem in the police service. There is no doubt that the position has worsened in the intervening 12 months. The chairman of the Police Federation, whom the Home Secretary often criticises on the subject, has said that police morale is the worst that he has ever seen. The Minister said in a parliamentary answer that a good way to judge morale was to look at how many officers were leaving: resignations from the police service have increased by 60 per cent. under this Government.

I shall give a typical example of the comments that I have received. An officer recently e-mailed my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), saying: We used to love the job and always did everything we could to keep the wheel on the cart. Now we are taken for granted… Morale countrywide is at all-time low not just from the remuneration situation but the constant abuse…and the sheer lack of the Home Secretary coming up with anything useful, just trite schemes that sound good if you know nothing of Policing or Criminal law. I thank God that neither of my children have expressed any desire to join the police, and were they to do so, I would do all in my power to dissuade them. That comment is not unique. We often hear very critical comments about what officers regard as Government complacency. They know that 200 offenders, who have been convicted of assaulting police officers, have been let out of jail on the special early release scheme. Those criminals were not fined, but sentenced to prison. On average, they have served about 30 per cent. of the sentences imposed by the courts. Such measures are devastating to police morale.

It is rather rich for the Home Secretary to say today that there is a hard core of about 100,000 criminals in the country and that the courts are at fault for not imposing heavier sentences, given that, whatever the sentence, under the early release scheme offenders are let out after serving less than half their sentence. There is a certain dishonesty about that, and if we are to address the problems of crime, we need to adopt a straightforward approach that can be understood by those who might be tempted into crime.

The police have 2,500 fewer officers and the Minister suggests that the recent one-off boost in recruitment lays a basis for the future, but all the signs show that police officers are leaving in greater numbers and that the crisis will get worse, not better. Targeting some offences, such as car crime and burglary, is a good idea, but too few officers are dealing with those manpower-intensive duties, with the effect that insufficient officers are available in our town centres to deal with violent crime and to prevent it from happening simply by their presence. There is no better way to stop trouble in a town centre than to have a strong, visible police presence.

Mr. Charles Clarke


Mr. Heald

I want to finish the point, and then the Minister can answer all my questions at the same time.

During Jonathan Dimbleby's programme on ITV on Sunday, the Home Secretary kept saying that the Government made no promises about the total number of police officers. He said that they had said nothing at all about increasing the total number of police officers". When the Minister of State, Home Office, the right hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), used to do the Minister's job, he used to say that talking about police numbers was "sterile and simplistic" and that that was not the issue. Will the Minister tell us how committed the Government are to the question of the total number of police officers?

Mr. Clarke

I am very committed to it, which is why I said in response to an earlier intervention that I was confident that, five years after the Government were elected, we would have more police officers across the country than we inherited. A third of police authorities in Britain already have more of them.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about violent crime and wonder whether he will join me in congratulating, for example, the Merseyside police. They have used the extra money that we have given them to deal with robbery and to raise their profile in the city centre—for example, with mounted police—precisely to inhibit the alcohol-related violent crime to which he refers.

Mr. Heald

Nobody is more prepared than I am to pay tribute to the work of officers who tackle crimes such as robbery. It is difficult to deal with such crimes effectively, and it is right that we should pay such a tribute. Anti-robbery initiatives and high-visibility policing in places such as Hillingdon have had a good effect. However, the Minister should consider whether it is good enough to have the high-visibility policing that we need only in certain areas. Should not such policing take place everywhere when it is needed? The problem is that there are just not the officers to do the job.

The Labour party pledged in its manifesto that it would get more officers back on the beat. The Home Secretary now seems to be saying that there was never a promise or a pledge about an increase in police numbers. However, the Prime Minister should know and, in response to a challenge by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, he said that every single promise that we made—on getting waiting lists down, getting class sizes down and increasing police numbers—will be met by the next general election, as we said they would be."— [Official Report, 16 February 2000; Vol. 344, c. 948.] That is completely wrong. His words prove that there was a promise, but it will be broken just like the promise on youth justice.

Mr. Wilshire

My hon. Friend paints a correct and gloomy picture, but the position is worse than perhaps he realises. In Surrey, the grant is being cut in real terms after allowing for inflation. The chief constable tells us that, if something is not done over the next three years, he will have 250 fewer officers. It is not a question of a promise of more police officers being broken, because Government policy is forcing one force to cut police numbers.

Mr. Heald

The Surrey chief constable's comments no doubt apply to other forces and show that the Home Secretary and the Minister need to tackle particular problems.

Mr. Clarke

I did not intend to intervene often, but the hon. Gentleman refers to other forces. Has he had a chance to see last Friday's statement by the chief constable of North Yorkshire and the chair of his police authority, who said that, in March 2002, they will have more police officers than there have ever been in North Yorkshire? I refer to that force, because it covers the constituency of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague).

Mr. Heald

The Minister must accept that taking one isolated example does not mean that one has won the argument. I know that he has not had updated projections from many forces, but the projections for wastage that were made earlier this year show that, by halfway through the year, many forces had much more than half the wastage that had been projected. We know that the Metropolitan police has had to revise its figures upwards by 25 per cent, and that resignations have increased by 60 per cent. since the general election. There is nothing to be complacent about.

My point about the Prime Minister was that he admitted both that there had been a promise to get officers back on the beat and that his promise was to increase police numbers. By the time of the next general election—assuming that it is this year, as everyone expects—there will not only be 2,500 fewer officers, but 6,300 fewer specials. This is an example of the spin that the public are getting sick of—all spin, no delivery.

On the details of the settlement, there is certainly more money this year than there was last year in terms of the rate of increase. Last year, the Opposition voted against the increase, because it simply was not enough. It is true that we also made that criticism in earlier years. The position is a bit better this year—

Mr. Wilshire

Not in Surrey.

Mr. Heald

But not in Surrey, as my hon. Friend says. Although the position is a bit better this year, it is sad that the year in which the increase comes is an election year. What happens after that? The real-terms increases are 3.5 per cent. for next year and 0.6 per cent. for the following year. The Minister must put this year's settlement in context.

Mr. Blunt

Bearing in mind that the largest increase has been made in an election year, my hon. Friend might want to note that the three police forces whose areas are represented entirely by Conservative Members—the City of London, Surrey and Dorset forces—have, for some reason, received the lowest increase in the country.

Mr. Heald

My hon. Friend makes a valid point, which reminds me of another issue. The Minister speaks a great deal about the crime fighting fund, but he fails to remember that many forces have found it impossible to recruit more officers. If a force does not recruit, it does not get the money. In respect of the forces in Hertfordshire, the City of London and another area, not one single crime fighting fund officer has been recruited, although 118 places were allocated.

Mr. Edward Davey

I am disturbed that Conservative Front Benchers are happy with the Government's grant for the police. Will the hon. Gentleman support the police grant report on that basis? The Metropolitan police have had to recruit and train 2,000 officers in order to recruit a net increase of 1,050 officers next year. That will require a 16 per cent. increase in the precept from the Greater London Authority. Will the hon. Gentleman explain why his Conservative colleagues on the GLA proposed a 4 per cent. precept? Are the Conservatives in favour of police cuts in London?

Mr. Heald

As the hon. Gentleman spoke, I was thinking of the circumstances in London. He suggested that it was as easy as anything to recruit, but the crime fighting fund allocated some 115 places that remain unfilled. In the past two or three years, the Government's impact on police morale has made recruitment very difficult. The ability to recruit police will not be regained until morale is improved, which means having the will to support the police and not to take the easy options.

The Minister referred to a 7.4 per cent. overall settlement. However, in terms of actual police allocation, the budgets are set to increase by about 5 per cent. Public Finance magazine states: Police authorities are warning of a tight year ahead". It points out that police forces face increased costs of 5.6 per cent just to keep their heads above water". He mentioned Northumbria, but the chief constable of Cumbria says that his force will face cuts again this year.

Will the Minister comment on the likely rise in police authority council tax precepts, which is a matter of concern to the Association of Police Authorities? He mentioned best value, but is not that concept creating huge bureaucracy? The chief constable of Lincolnshire makes this complaint: In my force Best Value bureaucracy is costing over £400,000 a year…and we are in danger of sinking under a sea of targets and measures. How does the Minister intend to reform best value so that it is not merely a charter for bureaucracy and red tape?

My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) referred to the three forces—Essex, Hertfordshire and the City of London—that will not receive one single officer as a result of the crime fighting fund. Will the Minister give some assurances about the ability of those forces and others to meet the continuation criteria that will allow them to access the funding next year? Have all forces met those criteria?

The Association of Police Authorities refers to the bureaucracy and difficulty in accessing the various pockets of funding now held by the Home Office". What does the Minister have to say about that? The APA also expresses concern about the mounting pensions bill. Just now, the Minister said a few words about addressing that issue. Last year, he said: Pensions were mentioned by many hon. Members, who made legitimate points. That issue is difficult to deal with across government, not only in the police. As has been suggested, we need to sort it out. He went on to say that it has not yet been fully addressed, and it needs to be dealt with."—[Official Report, 3 February 2000; Vol. 343, c. 1261.] At the Police Federation conference, the Home Secretary said that the Government were working on proposals for reform and that no serving officer will see his or her pension entitlement reduced. It seems that, a year on, nothing has happened. Does the Minister have proposals on that issue, or is he planning to kick it into the long grass?

Mr. Kidney

Staffordshire has the money for recruits and the applicants to recruit, but the big obstacle is the huge proportion of the base budget that is spent on pensions. The hon. Gentleman asks whether the Government have any proposals; is he suggesting that the Conservatives would remove some of that burden from authorities such as Staffordshire?

Mr. Heald

Clearly, pensions are an ever larger part of the budget. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that pensions took up about 7 per cent. of the budget in 1990, and now take up about 14 per cent. [Interruption.] I am grateful for the Minister's indication that I am about right. Those figures are for the national average; the proportion may be higher in Staffordshire.

One of the reasons for that trend is falling police numbers. In a "pay as you go" scheme, the effect of having fewer contributors—we have 2,500 fewer—is that less money goes into the scheme and less comes out. There is a case for seeing what the effect would be if police numbers were restored and if police officers wanted to continue their careers for longer. That could contribute to a solution. I agree that we must consider those issues. The Government have access to actuaries and other experts who could tease out more detail. It is about time that the Government took action or explained their thinking in more detail.

Before the last general election, police capital was an important issue. This year, too, the APA has said that it is concerned about capital expenditure, saying that it is still over 30 per cent. lower than in 1995–96"— under the Conservatives. At that time, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) said: It is fine for Ministers to say that they will provide extra money for police officers, but, if they keep cutting the capital budget every year, how on earth is the force expected to keep up with increased expenditure on more police, uniforms and police cars…?"—[Official Report, 29 January 1997; Vol. 289, c. 464.] Given that the Minister and his colleagues were complaining at a time when capital expenditure was 30 per cent. higher than it is now, will he explain what he will do about capital expenditure, or is this another case of complacency?

Earlier this week, my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) made a powerful speech on rural policing and the difficulties that Cumbria faces. I have referred to the remarks of the chief constable of Cumbria. It is time that the Minister gave a more detailed answer about what he will do to help rural areas such as Cumbria.

The Government have promised to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, but instead they have been tough on the crime fighters. The test for the Government is whether the funding settlement will better enable the police forces of England and Wales to fight crime. The key to that is whether the Minister can tell us that there will be less bureaucracy and red tape and a more positive approach. There must be a serious effort to achieve the visible policing that we all want.

Many people would say that, so far, the Government have been complacent and have not taken the right approach to law and order. It is no surprise that the Prime Minister is not prepared to have a television debate during a general election campaign in which these issues could be teased out and in which he would be seriously challenged to explain why, when he promised that there would be rising police numbers, those numbers have not risen: he is frit.

5.34 pm
Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)

I want to be brief because I know that other Members want to speak. I thought that the contribution of my hon. Friend the Minister of State in opening this important debate was, as usual, of a very high standard. He outlined some of the difficulties and challenges that face the Government, as well as some of the measures that they are taking to solve problems.

I want to pay tribute to the work of Nottinghamshire police and the police authority chairman, Councillor John Clarke. The police authority, along with Nottinghamshire police, were pleased to receive a grant increase this year of 4.7 per cent., which will enable them to continue the work that they have been doing to tackle crime in the county.

Since 1997, recorded crime in Nottinghamshire has decreased by 9.9 per cent. It is worth emphasising that figure. Although there are problems, as we have heard, with violent crime and other crimes that we all deplore, real successes are being achieved through our crime-fighting initiatives.

We know that police morale may sometimes be under strain. As well as confronting the police with problems that they must deal with, we ought to congratulate them on their success in tackling certain types of crime. Considerable success has been achieved in respect of domestic burglary and car crime, and through changes to police practices and procedures for dealing with domestic violence. If we spoke about such successes, as well as the challenges that still face the police, there would be fewer problems of low morale and feelings of not being valued.

There has been a problem with police numbers. No one is disguising the fact that police numbers have fallen. In my constituency and in Nottinghamshire generally, they have fallen, but with the money that the Government have made available, particularly through the crime fighting fund, we can see that that is changing. The latest figures that I have show that in the six months from 31 March 2000 to 30 September 2000, Nottinghamshire police numbers increased by the full-time equivalent of 28.

A report to Gedling borough council's crime prevention committee showed that up to March 2002, in the divisions that cover my constituency, there will be an increase of some 60 officers. My constituents will be pleased because, as my hon. Friend the Minister and others have said, people want to see police on the street to tackle some of the problems that they see.

It is incumbent on us all, however, to support our chief constables when they say that putting police on the street is not the only way to deal with the problems that they face. Although we all like to see police walking down the street, it is targeted policing and police intelligence that reduce crime.

Mr. Hawkins

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He takes a serious interest in these matters, as I know from debates in Westminster Hall. Does he recognise that chief constables throughout the country are telling his Government's Ministers that it is ridiculous for an organisation to have 58 performance targets? Any serious business organisation would have no more than three targets, and preferably only one. How can the hon. Gentleman urge the House to support chief constables, when his Government are not listening to chief constables asking them to scrap the monstrous 58 performance targets?

Mr. Coaker

My interpretation of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Minister is that he is listening to chief constables and doing what he can to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy. My point was that chief constables often have a difficult task in persuading members of the public that having a policeman or policewoman walking down the street may not be the most effective use of police time, and that the best way of tackling crime is often through police intelligence.

There is a conflict between the need to have police officers walking down the street, thereby reducing the fear of crime, and the more effective use of resources to bring crime statistics down. That is a difficult choice for our chief constables and local area commanders.

Painting a gloomy picture of the situation does not help police There are problems with police numbers, as the Government have acknowledged through establishing the crime fighting fund to increase the number of recruits and get more police on the street.

Violent crime presents challenges. No one wants violent crime, and we acknowledge that it has increased. However, we should recognise successes in tackling other forms of crime. Targeted policing, work on improving police morale and tackling the fear of crime will lead to a reduction in violent crime. Although I do not have the latest figures, I understand that they show that violent crime has decreased in some parts of the country.

Of course, police numbers, prison sentences and locking more people up are important. However, those measures alone will not reduce crime. Several hon. Members have mentioned the need to tackle the causes of crime. We should also take account of the police grant. If we do not tackle social exclusion, poor housing and other general problems in society, it will be difficult to win the battle against crime.

Mr. Llwyd

Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that community penalties can be as effective as locking up?

Mr. Coaker

That is a good point. It is incumbent on us to ensure that the public do not perceive community penalties as a soft option, which is the current view. However, they are a genuine alternative to prison. We lock up more people now than ever, but do we feel safer on the streets? The answer is probably no.

Let us talk up our police and remember that they have achieved significant successes in tackling a wide range of crimes. That applies to my constituency in Nottinghamshire as well as throughout the country. If we talk about the successes of the police as well as the challenges that remain, we will do much to increase the morale of police forces throughout the country.

5.41 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

The hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) spoke a lot of sense. I join him and others in paying tribute to the police. We must talk up the police and their work, and we must talk up policing as a career and as a job that the country needs doing.

The hon. Gentleman rightly said that there is no simple connection between police numbers and crime clear-up rates. However, I want to begin by giving an example that is linked to the debate. I have come to the House almost directly from the funeral of someone who was hacked to death nearly 14 months ago by three people—now convicted—in a flat in my constituency. He left a widow and six children; the youngest was under five. At the funeral service in Bermondsey, the widow and the family paid tribute to the police, whose dedication meant that, although they were unable to prevent the crime—it was probably immediately unpreventable because the perpetrators were so evil—they ultimately also found the pieces of the body, which had been buried. That at least allowed a funeral to take place and the family to start the next process in their lives.

Such debates are not just about numbers and budgets but about ensuring that there are adequate forces in our society to deter people more from committing crimes—and that when crimes are committed, we catch the perpetrators. That is where the police come in. Our clear-up rate for the crimes listed in the British crime survey is only 3 per cent. Our electors want us to do much better, so our police service must be adequate to the task.

I welcomed the statement on the comprehensive spending review made some months ago and the considerably greater allocation to the police for next year than for the past three years. It is a definite improvement. However, when my colleagues and I vote on the budget grant that has been proposed today, we must consider whether it is enough for the coming year.

Mr. Charles Clarke

It is never enough.

Mr. Hughes

I accept also that the Government would like to do more. However, as an opposition party, we must decide whether the allocation is enough for next year in the light of the evidence of the past three years. We have formed the view that it is not. That is not simply a subjective, party-political view; it also reflects advice from the Association of Police Authorities and others. That is why we will vote against the motion. If it is defeated, the Government will have to present a proposal for more money. That will not mean that there is no money for the police; it will mean that the police settlement has not found favour with the House. That is the way in which Opposition parties have to register their concern about the service.

I find it surprising that, when it comes to voting on the proposed budget that pays for the coppers to go out on the beat, the Conservative party—which, most of the week, is full of sound and fury about the issue—is going to vote in a way which says that it is happy with what the Government have proposed. If the Conservatives were logical, from today on, they would stop their ranting and raving and realise that they are taking an inconsistent position. I am sad that they have bottled out just when they were expected to put their votes where their voices so loudly were.

Mr. Wilshire

Some may do so.

Mr. Hughes

To his credit, the hon. Gentleman said earlier that some Conservatives might have to register their discontent with the settlement for their counties—Surrey, in the hon. Gentleman's case—by not supporting the motion. I pay tribute to those hon. Members who do that.

Like the Minister, my colleagues and I are angry and frustrated that, through no fault of the Government or the Liberal Democrats, we have only one and a half hours for this debate. The person who objected and caused that to happen is not even here to take part. That is particularly galling. I shall be as quick as I can: I just want to make a few points on the issues that the Minister properly put before the House.

First, some parts of the country still have a very low number of police officers per head of the population. There are 43 police forces in England and Wales, some of which have fewer than 180 officers per 100,000 people. The two forces with the lowest ratios are West Mercia and Suffolk. They have little else in common: one is a partly built-up area, the other is very rural. Police numbers in the forces in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Norfolk, North Yorkshire, Thames Valley and Warwickshire are all below the ratio of 180 officers per 100,000 people. People in those areas have always said to me that they want an increased police presence. One of the tests, for us, is whether there are enough police on the ground across the country. In many parts of the country, the answer is no, there are not.

Mr. Edward Davey

While my hon. Friend is dealing with per capita comparisons, is he aware that comparable capital cities such as Paris and New York have far higher numbers—calculated on a per capita basis—of police officers than London? Paris has twice as many officers as London, although its population is a similar size. Does my hon. Friend not regret that, under successive Conservative and Labour Governments over the past 10 years, the numbers in the Metropolitan police have fallen?

Mr. Hughes

I do regret that. My hon. Friend—who now speaks on London matters for the Liberal Democrats, having taken over from me—has exactly the same concern in his outer London borough and constituency as I have in my inner London borough and constituency. The police in my constituency, currently coping with cases such as the Damilola Taylor murder inquiry, tell me that their numbers are down. The new Commissioner, like his predecessor, makes that case, and wants to speak to the Greater London Authority, to make the point that the police need more resources so that he can deliver what the public expect of the Metropolitan police.

There have been significant reductions in police numbers. I shall not elaborate on this in great detail, but I want to illustrate the point. In London, the figures for the Metropolitan police have fallen from a little more than 26,500 in March 1997 to a little more than 24,500 in September 2000—the last date for which figures are available. That decrease in numbers will not deliver the policing that the public want.

The lists of police numbers have been published, and I have selected these statistics from ministerial answers, each for five police forces which have had a fall in numbers during the period that I mention. Sixteen forces have experienced falls in police numbers during the last six months for which figures are available, including Cumbria, Essex, the Metropolitan police, Suffolk and North Wales. There are 23 forces that have had a fall in the last year for which we have figures. They include Avon and Somerset—my hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb) intervened earlier on that subject—Dyfed-Powys, Greater Manchester, Sussex and Thames Valley. Twenty-eight forces out of the 43 have had a fall in numbers since the previous election. In addition to others I have mentioned, they include Cleveland, Derbyshire, Merseyside, Norfolk and Hampshire.

Mr. Charles Clarke

Will the hon. Gentleman place on record his acknowledgement that, over the six months to September last year, there was an increase of 444 officers across the country? I accept the ups and downs that he has described, but does he accept that police numbers are now going up?

Mr. Hughes

Of course I do, and the Minister knows it. He will remember that the figures were corrected on about 23 December. They at last begin to show that, from a very low base represented by a drop of thousands, numbers are beginning to climb.

There is another general point about numbers. I asked a direct question and the Home Secretary gave me an answer, which was that a reduction was expected in four forces next year—Humberside, Merseyside, the Met and West Yorkshire. Is a reduction in those forces still expected? [Interruption.] The Minister, in all honesty and perfectly acceptably, says that he does not know the answer. One reason why my hon. Friends and I will vote against the proposed settlement is that it does not even guarantee that in every force there will be an increase in the coming year. We have a duty to ensure that there is growth—not only in our constituencies, but in all places in England and Wales.

Mr. Clarke

Can the hon. Gentleman explain what he means by guarantee in that context? Is he saying that we should take back the power for the Home Secretary to determine police numbers in every force in the country?

Mr. Hughes

The Minister and I have had that debate before. The Government came to office saying that it was up to police forces to decide police numbers, but changed that view by allocating ring-fenced money so that more officers could be recruited. I keep asking whether there will be more officers at the next election—nationally or locally in each police force area—than there were at the previous one. That now seems highly unlikely, which is another reason why we shall vote against the allocation. This budget grant is unlikely to change that. The Government came to office saying that there would be more bobbies on the beat. That failure represents a failure to meet the promise that they made not to me alone, but to all our electors who want crime to fall and the number of police to increase.

It is obvious that not enough money has been provided, if we consider the figures for precepts likely to be levied by police authorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) has given me the projected figures for the south-west. The increase for Avon and Somerset is likely to be 7.5 per cent., with 5 per cent. for Devon and Cornwall, 9.7 per cent. for Dorset, 6 per cent. for Gloucestershire and 9.6 per cent. for Wiltshire. Those police authorities are having to add to the money that the Government give.

In London, the Mayor wanted a precept of 31 per cent. My colleagues wanted between 16 and 21 per cent. The Commissioner seems to want a similar figure. Bizarrely, the Tories seem to think that we can get away with 5 per cent., which no one else has been able to justify. Such a figure is entirely inconsistent with all their ranting and raving.

Mr. David Heath

My hon. Friend refers to the expected 7.5 per cent. precept increase for Avon and Somerset. A large component of that increase is down to changes in the area cost adjustment and the council tax benefit subsidy limitation scheme, which rubs salt in the wound. They do not pay for more police officers or better crime fighting, but simply apply the Government's formulae for the purposes of the rest of the country.

Mr. Hughes

Absolutely. A range of similar issues should also have been sorted out after nearly four years of Labour government. One example is the urban-rural mix, which has been raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and acknowledged by the Minister. Forces such as Northumbria and Avon and Somerset, which police city and rural communities, clearly have an averaging out that does not reflect either their sparsity or the intensity of inner-city areas.

Furthermore, 14 per cent. of what we give to police forces is taken back to be spent on pensions for retired coppers, although a proposal for change seems to be on the table. That is a difficult issue, but I tabled a written question to the Minister almost a year ago to ask when he would tell us what he would do about police pensions. The answer was: I hope to publish specific proposals in the spring."—[Official Report, 7 February 2000; Vol. 344, c. 50W.] That meant spring 2000, but spring 2001 is almost here. So far, there ain't nothing to see. That is a big issue and another reason why we must be dissatisfied on behalf of police authorities.

There is another difficult issue. Police forces are still rewarded for failure, not success. If crime figures decrease, forces are likely to get less money, not more. That is unsatisfactory. In addition, answers have not been provided to the difficult allowances questions. The Met has had an additional allowance. The Tories, of course, made a complete hash of allowances through the implementation of the Sheehy report, which completely ruined Met recruitment. The Government have sought to correct that and, on behalf of people in London, I am grateful to them. The home counties and counties such as Hampshire, however, about which my hon. Friends keep asking questions, also have high living costs, but do not pay the allowance that would enable them to hold on to officers and recruit the police they need.

Although I hope that the Minister will make an announcement soon, there is still no funding package to keep officers on at the end of their 30 years' service or to bring recently retired officers back. We still have not had any correct and full answer in explanation of the fact that the Home Office allocation across the next three years is 6.4 per cent. but the police allocation less than 4 per cent. Even if extras such as forensic science are included, the police figure will still not reach the Home Office average. If policing is so important, why does it not receive as great an increase as the Home Office in general? When will there be the review of the police funding formula for which police authorities around the country have been asking for about 10 years? The formula does not manage to allocate money in the way that the authorities want.

Is not that litany reason enough to vote against the settlement? if not, there is no reason to do so. I am grateful that the Government have at last realised how important the public consider adequate funding of our police to be, but, as some of us said before the election and have said every year since and although the settlement is more generous than in previous years, thank God, it does not make up for the fact that the blue line has been stretched to breaking point. Every time the police are stretched to breaking point, they become less likely to deter, less likely to detect and less likely to bring crime figures down, and it is that which all our electors want.

5.56 pm
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

I shall do my level best to precis my long and beautifully honed speech into the four or five minutes available. Luckily, a lot of the points that need making about the settlement as it affects my county of Surrey have been made.

The settlement for Surrey shows once again that the Government's claims are hollow—they are simply spin. The truth, at least in my county, is not as the Government claim. The truth in Surrey is simple. After allowing for inflation, there will be a 2.8 per cent. cut—not increase—in the money that Surrey receives. If that is translated straightforwardly, without other changes being made, that represents a £4 million cut over the next three years. If we cannot find other ways to handle that, it will equate to 250 fewer police officers available to fight crime in Surrey.

The truth of Labour government in my part of the world is not what the Government say through their spin. The truth is simply that Labour government in Surrey means less money for the police and fewer police officers. In fairness to the Minister, I do not blame him for that. The villains of that sorry saga are the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who I most certainly blame, and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, which administers the absolutely absurd standard spending assessment system. The Minister has no choice but to work within the constraints that are forced on him.

Indeed, the Minister has been kind enough to acknowledge that Surrey has a problem. In fact, he has gone further by undertaking to consider whether he can accept at least some of the suggestions made by Surrey MPs when we saw him a day or two ago. It would be churlish not to place on record the thanks of all Surrey MPs for the hon. Gentleman's kindness and the positive way in which he listened to us.

The "my constituency is being treated unfairly" theme is common in the House. Sometimes it is a soundbite; sometimes it is true. I would argue that in this case it is true. In absolute terms, Surrey's grant will increase next year by 0.2 per cent, which is why, after taking account of inflation, there will be a cut. Surrounding forces will receive an average increase of 5 per cent. or perhaps more. That is unfair, and there are other examples: the grant, considered by head of population, has fallen in Surrey for four years in a row.

There is another theme that rumbles around the House—the "things are different in my constituency" theme. However, in this case, things really are different in Surrey. Again, let me be fair to the Minister. He was good enough to acknowledge that the police boundary change that has moved the whole of my constituency, and other areas, from the Metropolitan police district to the Surrey district has produced turmoil and cost.

Mr. Charles Clarke


Mr. Wilshire

I have no time to give way.

In the context of turmoil, the Minister referred to 500 officer movements. The Government have tried to help, and I thank them for that. Indeed, I am doubly grateful, because the Minister said he would give careful consideration to the information that the chief constable had promised to send him. The hon. Gentleman also kindly said that he would consider the General Pinochet case again. That cost us £1.2 million, although it was not our choice to put the general under house arrest in Surrey: the matter was a national issue for which we had to pick up the bill.

We in Surrey are being treated unfairly. Ours are special circumstances: we are different. I am grateful to the Minister for recognising that. The reality in Surrey is the opposite of the Government's claim: it is "less money, fewer police officers." I repeat, however, that this is not the Minister's fault. He is trying very hard to help. Indeed, I suggest—to ruin his career—that he is too nice to be a Labour Minister. Let me end by urging the hon. Gentleman—in order to enhance the reputation that he has gained with Surrey's MPs—to think about what we said to him, look back on the proposals that we made, accept that they are reasonable and sensible, and agree with them.

6.1 pm

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

I have two questions. First, why is less being spent per head on policing in Wales than in England? In 1999–2000, England received £140.39 while Wales received £125.49. In the current year, England has received £147 and Wales £132. Perhaps the Minister can tell me why—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 16 (1)

The House divided: Ayes 309,Noes49.

Division No. 95] [6.2 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Cummings, John
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N) Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jack
Ainger, Nick (Copeland)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Allen, Graham Dalyell, Tam
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Ashton, Joe Darvill, Keith
Atherton, Ms Candy Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Atkins, Charlotte Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Austin, John Davis, Rt Hon Terry
Bailey, Adrian (B'ham Hodge H)
Banks, Tony Dismore, Andrew
Barnes, Harry Dobbin, Jim
Barron, Kevin Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Beard, Nigel Doran, Frank
Begg, Miss Anne Dowd, Jim
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Drew, David
Benn, Hilary (Leeds C) Drown, Ms Julia
Benn, Rt Hon Tony (Chesterfield) Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Bennett, Andrew F Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Benton, Joe Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Bermingham, Gerald Edwards, Huw
Best, Harold Efford, Clive
Betts, Clive Ellman, Mrs Louise
Blackman, Liz Ennis, Jeff
Blears, Ms Hazel Field, Rt Hon Frank
Blizzard, Bob Fisher, Mark
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Fitzpatrick, Jim
Boateng, Rt Hon Paul Fitzsimons, Mrs Loma
Borrow, David Flint, Caroline
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Bradshaw, Ben Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Brinton, Mrs Helen Fyfe, Maria
Browne, Desmond Galloway, George
Buck, Ms Karen George, Rt Hon Bruce (Walsall S)
Burden, Richard Gerrard, Neil
Burgon, Colin Gibson, Dr Ian
Cabom, Rt Hon Richard Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Godsiff, Roger
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyih V) Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Campbell-Savours, Dale Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Cann, Jamie Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Caplin, Ivor Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Caton, Martin Grocott, Bruce
Cawsey, Ian Grogan, John
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Hain, Peter
Church, Ms Judith Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Clapham, Michael Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Clark, Dr Lynda Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
(Edinburgh Pentlands) Hanson, David
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Healey, John
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Hendrick, Mark
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Hepburn, Stephen
Clelland, David Heppell, John
Clwyd, Ann Hesford, Stephen
Coaker, Vernon Hill, Keith
Coffey, Ms Ann Hinchliffe, David
Cohen, Harry Hodge, Ms Margaret
Coleman, Iain Hood, Jimmy
Colman, Tony Hope, Phil
Connarty, Michael Hopkins, Kelvin
Cooper, Yvette Howarth, Rt Hon Alan (Newport E)
Corbett, Robin Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Corston, Jean Howells, Dr Kim
Cousins, Jim Hoyle, Lindsay
Cox, Tom Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Cranston, Ross Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Crausby, David Humble, Mrs Joan
Cryer, John (Homchurch) Hutton, John
Iddon, Dr Brian Norris, Dan
lllsley, Eric O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) O'Hara, Eddie
Jenkins, Brian Olner, Bill
Johnson, Alan (Hull W& Hessle) O'Neill, Martin
Johnson, Miss Melanie Organ, Mrs Diana
(Welwyn Hatfield) Osborne, Ms Sandra
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark) Pearson, Ian
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Perham, Ms Linda
Jones, Ms Jenny Pickthall, Colin
(Wolverh'ton SW) Pike, Peter L
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Plaskitt, James
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak) Pond, Chris
Jones, Marryn (Clwyd S) Pope, Greg
Joyce, Eric Pound, Stephen
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Powell, Sir Raymond
Keeble, Ms Sally Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Prescott, Rt Hon John
Kemp, Fraser Prosser, Gwyn
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Purchase, Ken
Khabra, Piara S Quin, Rt Hon Ms Joyce
Kidney, David Quinn, Lawrie
Kilfoyle, Peter Radice, Rt Hon Giles
Kumar, Dr Ashok Rammell, Bill
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Rapson, Syd
Lammy, David Raynsford, Nick
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie Robertson, John
Laxton, Bob (Glasgow Anniesland)
Lepper, David Rogers, Allan
Leslie, Christopher Rooney, Terry
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Uoyd, Tony (Manchester C) Rowlands, Ted
Lock, David Roy, Frank
Love, Andrew Ruane, Chris
McAvoy, Thomas Ruddock, Joan
McCafferty, Ms Chris Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
McDonagh, Siobhain Salter, Martin
Macdonald, Calum Savidge, Malcolm
McDonnell, John Sawford, Phil
McFall, John Sedgemore, Brian
McGuire, Mrs Anne Shaw, Jonathan
McIsaac, Shona Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Shipley, Ms Debra
McNamara, Kevin Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
McNulty, Tony Singh, Marsha
MacShane, Denis Skinner, Dennis
Mactaggart, Fiona Smith, Angela (Basildon)
McWalter, Tony Smith, Miss Geraldine
Mahon, Mrs Alice (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Mallaber, Judy Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Snape, Peter
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Soley, Clive
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Southworth, Ms Helen
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Spellar, John
Martlew, Eric Squire, Ms Rachel
Meale, Alan Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Merron, Gillian Steinberg, Gerry
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Stevenson, George
Milbum, Rt Hon Alan Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Miller, Andrew Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Mitchell, Austin Stoate, Dr Howard
Moffatt, Laura Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Moonie, Dr Lewis Stringer, Graham
Moran, Ms Margaret Stuart, Ms Gisela
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Morris, Rt Hon Ms Estelle (Dewsbury)
(B'ham Yardley) Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Mountford, Kali Taylor, David (NWLeics)
Mudie, George Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Mullin, Chris Timms, Stephen
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Tipping, Paddy
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Touhig, Don
Murphy, Fit Hon Paul (Torfaen) Truswell, Paul
Naysmith, Dr Doug Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown) Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Turner, Neil (Wigan) Wilson, Brian
Twigg, Derek (Halton) Winnick, David
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield) Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Tynan, Bill Woodward, Shaun
Vis, Dr Rudi Woolas, Phil
Ward, Ms Claire Worthington, Tony
Wareing, Robert N Wray, James
watts,David Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Watts, David Wright, Tony (Cannock)
White, Brian Wyatt, Derek
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Wicks, Malcolm Tellers for the Ayes:
Williams, Rt Hon Alan Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe and Mr. David Jamieson.
(Swansea W)
Allan, Richard Keetch, Paul
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles
Baker, Norman (Ross Skye & Inverness W)
Ballard, Jackie Kirkwood, Archy
Beggs, Roy Livsey, Richard
Beith, RtHon A J Llwyd, Elfyn
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Brake, Tom Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Brand, Dr Peter Moore, Michael
Breed, Colin Oaten, Mark
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Rendel, David
Burnett, John Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Burstow, Paul Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Cable, Dr Vincent Sanders, Adrian
Chidgey, David Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Chope, Christopher Stunell, Andrew
Cotter, Brian Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Donaldson, Jeffrey Tonge, Dr Jenny
Feam, Ronnie Tyler, Paul
Foster, Don (Bath) Webb, Steve
George, Andrew (St Ives) Willis, Phil
Gidley, Sandra Wilshire, David
Hancock, Mike
Harris, Dr Evan Tellers for the Noes:
Harvey, Nick Sir Robert Smith and Mr. David Heath.
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)

Question accordingly agreed to.


That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) 2001–02 (HC 156), which was laid before this House on 29th January, be approved.