Previous SectionIndexHome Page

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

31 Jan 2001 : Column 326

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 endeavour 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

31 Jan 2001 : Column 327

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,

31 Jan 2001 : Column 328

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?

Next Section

IndexHome Page