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Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): The Minister has taken account of the special national role of the police force in the capital. He will be aware that this year Manchester is hosting the Commonwealth games, an important national sporting occasion. Will he undertake not just to provide the £3 million that has already been promised, but to meet the whole of the £7.5 million cost of policing the games? If he does not, he must understand that there will be an unacceptable cost for council tax payers in Greater Manchester, or unacceptable cuts to policing in Greater Manchester.

Mr. Denham: For the record, nothing has been promised yet under this heading. The hon. Gentleman may be anticipating things that I will come to a little later, or Ceefax for the north-west, but I will deal with the Commonwealth games in due course, although the Government have already pledged some £30 million towards the cost of the Commonwealth games.

I turn to specific initiatives for revenue or operational spending, for which provision is made on top of the general allocation of funds to police authorities. The main programmes address particular pressing needs identified by police authorities. They also reflect our concern to develop particular elements of the service as part of the modernisation agenda.

I have already referred to the crime fighting fund, of which the coming financial year will be the third year. A total of £167 million is provided for the costs of continuing to employ the first 6,000 recruits, and £54 million is provided for next year's recruits. That

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investment is critical to the delivery of 130,000 officers by spring next year. Police authorities and forces have delivered admirably against the first two years' targets for the programme.

Both revenue and capital provision is made for those forces scheduled to take Airwave, the new radio communication system, during the coming year. Capital set-up provision of £76 million is made available for the equipment and facilities that will be required locally for forces scheduled to take the service. We will also provide up to £65 million of revenue support for forces to invest in initial preparation costs and for locally determined menu services. The core service charge payable to the contractor, and likely to cost around £50 million next year, will be met centrally.

Airwave is an important building block in police modernisation. It will replace a variety of existing radio systems with a common system based on modern digital technology. Greater Manchester police was the second force to receive Airwave, in part in recognition of the need to have a modern communication system in place in time for the Commonwealth games. That spending is part of our undertaking to provide up to £500 million over three years to enable forces to adopt the system in the certainty that the main burden of the cost will be covered.

In 2000-01, the Government provided £15 million through a new rural policing fund to meet the particular problems encountered in rural or sparsely populated areas. The fund was expanded to £30 million this year and I propose to continue payment next year. The fund is targeted at rural policing issues. The 31 forces that benefit are encouraged to develop ideas and initiatives that benefit rural communities.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): Can my right hon. Friend assure me that that will be part of the negotiation that he will enter into with the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions? Whatever new funding mechanism is arrived at, the problem of policing in rural areas must be recognised.

Mr. Denham: I shall say something in a moment about the funding formula, the way in which it may be re-examined and our approach to that. We will want to ensure that we look at the range of criticisms of the current funding formula.

We are particularly aware of the impact that the higher cost of living in London and the south-east can have on recruitment and retention in the area, which is why we have provided additional funding to help forces recruit and retain officers. In the coming year, £33 million will be provided for a 75 per cent. share of the cost of the London pay lead—the payment to Metropolitan and City police force officers who were recruited on, or after, 24 September 1994, and who do not receive housing allowances. Arrangements are also in place to provide an allowance to qualifying officers in other forces in the south-east. In Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Surrey and Thames Valley, the allowance is an extra £2,000 a year; in Bedfordshire, Hampshire and Sussex, it is an additional

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£1,000. Provision is also made for funding free rail travel up to 70 miles from London for officers in the Metropolitan and City forces.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Denham: I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter).

Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West): Is my right hon. Friend the Minister aware that many of us have lobbied long and hard for the regional cost of living allowance for forces adjoining London? House prices in my Reading constituency, and in many others in the south-east, actually exceed those in many parts of London. Does he not recognise that it is potentially damaging to pay police officers in the Metropolitan police area an additional £6,000—my goodness, they have earned it—while paying only £2,000 to officers in other high-cost housing areas? Will the Minister undertake to review that system, which simply is not working? At the moment, the additional money is not much more than a sticking plaster.

Mr. Denham: I understand my hon. Friend's point, but the allowances, which are a relatively recent development, were properly agreed with the police negotiating body through the negotiating structure—the forum in which those issues should properly be addressed. As a Hampshire MP, I, too, am aware that such issues exist in the south-east, but we must ensure that we take a proper and well-informed approach to them, rather than suggesting that we can make a difference simply by pulling a figure out of a hat. I shall now give way to my county colleague.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): As the right hon. Gentleman has implied, he is not unfamiliar with the problems in Hampshire. The resources that he announced at the beginning of the debate are very welcome, but unless the issue of allowances is addressed, it will be impossible to spend those resources because of the retention and recruitment problem, to which reference has just been made. Will he use such influence as he has to review as soon as possible the £1,000 allowance, which is a real barrier to getting the quality police force that we all want to see?

Mr. Denham: I want to ensure that we identify the problems precisely and tackle them effectively. It is notable that some of the police forces surrounding London appear to have much greater problems with recruitment and retention than others, even though the apparent underlying conditions are very similar. For example, Surrey, which is as geographically close to London as one can get, has very high house prices, but the Surrey force has not suffered the same recruitment difficulty as the Hampshire and Hertfordshire forces. I am anxious to work with forces in the region to identify the precise nature of the recruitment and retention problems, and such work is already in train. I want to ensure that any action taken addresses real, rather than assumed, problems, which is the approach that I tend to take. I acknowledge the concerns that have been expressed, but I think that the approach that I have identified is the right and proper way for the Government to proceed.

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I want to touch briefly on centrally provided services, which also form part of the police funding arrangements for the coming year and account for about £170 million. Some £23 million is provided for training costs arising from the crime fighting fund, which will cover initial training for additional recruits at national police training centres. Some £61 million has been allocated to the DNA database expansion programme, and £27 million has been included for the national strategy for police information systems—NSPIS.

The planned case and custody applications will provide a number of benefits to the police. Case preparation will reduce paperwork through the creation and use of electronic files. The custody application will provide police custody officers with online guidance on all the procedures to be followed in the booking-in of suspects, and their subsequent progress through the system. The systems will be linked to each other. The accurate details that they provide will eliminate the need for police officers to fill out several different forms, and will be capable of transmission to other criminal justice systems.

All that is part of our effort to prevent the time-wasting duplication of work, and to free officers to concentrate on a job that there is no doubt requires their full professional skills.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): What the Minister has said will come as a great relief to the many who have wondered when the Government would be able to introduce a computerised custody system. However, we discussed the matter only a month or so ago when the Home Secretary introduced his White Paper. At that time, the Minister was evasive about when the system would be introduced. He appears today to be saying that that introduction is imminent. Will he give us a deadline by which he expects to introduce a computerised custody system that will reduce the ridiculous bureaucracy in police stations?

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