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Mr. McNulty: I congratulate everybody who has made a contribution to the debate. As I said at the start, I certainly do not traduce Members who make a case for their individual area; that is absolutely right and proper and is, in part, the purpose of the debate. It might have been helpful if I could have put a little more context on the record before the avalanche of local special pleadingI do not mean that in a nasty way. However, I shall not waste time by giving context now as I would rather respond to the many cases that have been put.
As the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) rightly suggested, I would not necessarily disagree with many of the points he made. The settlement needs to be seen in a much wider context than just this year or successive years. It needs to be seen in the context of the whole issue of voluntary mergers, to which he alluded, and what we might or might not be able to do in those circumstances. I assure the House that we are not about to revisit enforced mergerswe have gone beyond that.
There is also the issue of police pay, not just this year or in coming years. The House knows that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made it very clear that if we can reach a multi-year deal for the next three years or so, around the police arbitration tribunal index, and there is an assurance not to phase such a deal, it would give us at least the degree of certainty in terms of pay that authorities will rightly require over the next three years.
Although there was a bit of badinage about the point, all those who suggested that although paperwork and bureaucracy are important it is time for more action and not merely words are right, too. Ever since the production of David Bowies Life on Mars album and the period when the series that we have just enjoyed watching was set, we have been talking about trying to reduce the amount of paperwork and bureaucracy. I take Sir Ronnie Flanagans point: police bureaucracy is rather like cholesterolthere is good and bad, and as the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) said, we do not want to throw out the good with the bad. We do not want to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater, in the sense of throwing out good, solid audit paper trails, which protect the defendant, among others, in legal processes, in the cause of getting rid of all paperwork.
Mr. McNulty: As I tried to point out at the most recent Home Office questions, only to be charged the next dayby Simon Hoggart in The Guardianwith having gone temporarily bonkers when I mentioned cholesterol in answer to a question on police bureaucracy, although we have sorted it out since
Mr. McNulty: The bonkers bitthe charge that I was bonkers, however temporarily, as he was kind enough to say. Actually, I have just had my MOT from the occupational health people in this placefor whom we all have high regard[Hon. Members: What did they say?]What they said was obvious, but it is none of the Houses business. In fact, they pointed out sharply that there is indeed good and bad cholesterol and kindly gave me three books to prove the matter. I was told that a combination of the two made up the overall index to show whether Members had good or bad cholesterol.
I take the point that was made in respect of bureaucracy. It is irrelevant that the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 was introduced under the Conservatives, but I repeat that it is wearing well over time and is doing well what it was intended to do. We are certainly finding that in terms of the PACE review. As I told the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, as and when there is scope to update and modernise the measure we shall do so. That is what the east Lancashire pilot is about. The notion that portable records have to be given to each party is probably old-fashioned, so if through the pilot we can reach the stage of utilising digital storage rather than physical tapes, with appropriate password access for the limited number of parties who require the information, it will be an advance.
Many Members who visit police stationsin a voluntary capacity, of coursewill be struck by the extensive cupboard or room that is full of cassettes, because of the current requirement. Where we are going with PACE; what we may or may not choose to do with voluntary mergers; the points about police pay, both looking forward and otherwise; and the comments about paperwork and bureaucracy were all well made, and there was broad consensus across the House in each of those regards.
Although I appreciate that urban and rural policing face different concerns and issues, all forces need to be alive to the importance of both rural and urban policing. Where distinctions exist even across the urban-rural divide between affluent and less affluent communities, there are still real policing concerns in both none the less. I do not subscribe to the notion that the more affluent the area, suddenly the less the requirement or need for policing, not least because, as some hon. Members have pointed out, there can be relatively low crime rates in some rural or urban areas that are far from affluent. The key for each area is that, between the Government, local police authorities and the chief constables, we get the balance and mix of policing right for that area.
Mr. Blunt: In the light of the remarks that the Minister has just made, will he at least therefore act next year, if this measure is passed tonight, to take out the rather peculiar subtraction factor for wealthy achievers that appears in the formula?
No, but I will happily charge some of the key officials in the Home Office to sit down in a locked room with the hon. Gentleman for about an hour to explain to him why his thumbnail sketch of
what was right and wrong with the police formula was woefully inadequate even for a man of his capabilities. I am happy for officials to take him through the issues. When I walked away just as the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley) was speaking, I was checking with those in the Box that we had received Chief Constable Bob Quicks letter, which the hon. Gentleman referred to, and I certainly have and will respond. I will try to get in Chief Constable Quick and whoever else wants to from Surrey to talk to them in the same terms that I am talking to representatives from a range of other police authorities. I want to pick up the specifics of those local dimensions.
Mr. McNulty: I will give way to the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), but I am afraid that, with the best will in the world, I will not give way to the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), because he has not endured these three hours in quite the way that the rest of us have.
Mr. Hogg: The right hon. Gentleman has been talking about officials and the formula. It would be helpful if he asked his officials to reflect on the fact that one of the problems in rural areas is the absence of the rapid deployment of reinforcements. That is not taken account of at all in the formula, with the consequence that, if an officer is out on duty and faces a violent situation, there is no back-up, and that is a particularly exposed position in which to be.
Mr. McNulty: I take the point, which is, I suppose, a rough analogy to the sparsity point that relates to the next debate on local government finance. If the formula and allocation models are to be robust, they must be continually reviewed. I take those points seriously, but it is a matter of balance. For every plea made by an hon. Member for more money for a certain force, whether urban or rural, the money must come from elsewhere. It does not follow, not least for the reasons that I have outlined, that if more is given to rural forces, that comes from the pockets of urban forcesthings are not so simplistic as thatnor is it the case, save for a very few areas, where each of our 43 police forces are either exclusively or largely rural, or exclusively or largely urban. Clearly, the forces are often mixed.
Mr. Binley: How does the right hon. Gentleman feel that that applies to the sustainable communities project? The Government have asked my county in particular to be heavily involved in that project, yet they have not found the sort of money for services that growth requires.
The hon. Gentleman is not being entirely fair, but in many regards across the Government, that is precisely what has happened. I said in my opening remarks, and I have said the same to colleagues across the Government, that I do not think that the mechanisms
governing such development have been robust enough in terms of establishing the community safety architecture and recognising that the required resources should grow with the communities, rather than afterwards. However, he is not entirely fair, and I was in on the ground floor in terms of the development of the sustainable communities plan. He will know that, across government, the criteria associated with education, health and a range of other services have been specifically bent and shaped around what we are asking the communities in growth areas to do. I accept that that has not happened in the case of policing, but even in that case, local authorities have launched initiatives, working with other partners, to make progress. If that policy is not as robust as it should be in Northamptonshire, we can talk about that issue another time [ Interruption ]or we can talk about it now if the hon. Gentleman wants to.
Mr. Binley: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his generosity in giving way. I would only add that the county council has already given £500,000 to the Northamptonshire constabulary for community policing, and it intended to give even more but was unable to do so because of the poor grant that it received.
Mr. McNulty: I am sure that the burghers of Northamptonshire are very grateful for all that the county council has done so far and would ask it to try a bit harder in future. The hon. Gentleman is also wrong to characterise the settlement as being unfair to the east midlands. Of the five forces in the east midlands, Northamptonshire was just below in terms of winning or losing on the grant by a couple of hundred thousand pounds, I think. The other four forces all gained from the shift in the formula, however limited that was over the year. The east midlands special operations unit is doing an excellent job, and its work impacts on Northampton, as well as the core three forces and, indeed, Lincoln. I want its funding to be sustained. We have still not sufficiently addressed the level 2 protective services gap that the mergers debate was all about a couple of years ago. The hon. Gentleman will know, as an east midlands Member, that by their own lights, the five east midlands forces were, on any risk assessment basis, in more difficulty in terms of that services gap than any other force in the country. That is why we sustained the necessary funding.
The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds and many other hon. Members made points about the freezing of special grants. I take those points on board, but it is a matter of making a sharp political decision. We could have gone in one or two directions; we could have tried to limit more than we did in the end the central core grant and limit even more the flexibility that our forces require by putting in more and more money and inflation-proofing special grants. As a deliberate policy, we chose to put more money through the central grant. The hon. Gentleman and the House will know that, save pretty much for the neighbourhood policing fund that funds PCSOs, the rest of the general grant is not ring-fenced, thus affording the flexibility to allow the forces to do what they feel that they need to do in policing.
It is right and proper, as Members have said, that after successive years of growththat is the bit that they do not mentionwe have frozen special grants.
We needed to make that decision. I think that, on balance, most forces have welcomed the fact that the bulk of the moneys have gone through the central police grant. Indeed, Tim Brain, the chief constable of Gloucestershire and the ACPO lead on finance was prayed in aid in commenting on this years settlement. He says:
I am pleased that the Home Secretary has recognised many of the arguments that ACPO and APA have presented over the last few months in the settlement announced today.
While this is not a generous settlement, there appears to have been a genuine attempt at striking a balance between competing priorities.
That is exactly what we seek to do nationally, and it is exactly what forces will seek to do locally. I do not think that the Northamptonshire police are on the list to come and see me yet, but if they want to do so in the next couple of weeks, I am happy to meet them. I concur wholly about the service of Chief Constable Peter Madison; we wish him well in future.
Policing is changing considerably all the time, as it must in order to reflect the communities that the police serve. I take the point about SurreyI will be meeting Bob Quickand points made by others about the range of services. As the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham kindly said, we have had extensive discussions with Lincolnshire police about their peculiar situationpeculiar as in distinct rather than strange. I have a meeting this week or next with them to take the matter forward. He will know that our Quest team, along with others examining the financial and other processes that police forces go through, is working with Lincolnshire police to help them; that goes beyond simply helping them to get over the budget process. As I have said to himand to the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, on occasions when he was in the roomwe will do all that we can to work with them, but that work needs to take place within a framework.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) mentioned a freedom of information request regarding Cheshire and its particular circumstances. If it relates to police authorities rather than local government reorganisation, and if she wants to pursue it with me after this debate, I am happy for her to do so.
As Tim Brain, chief constable of Gloucestershire, says, the issue is and has always been priorities. We could either have frozen the central police grant or, as most hon. Members asked us to do, made at least some progress towards implementing the new formula. Having done the latter, we are moving towards increases of between 2.5 and 4.01 per cent; the latter figure relates to West Midlands police. No matter how tight or difficult the settlement is, it should be appreciated that we have at least moved towards the new formula, rather than adopting very narrow confines as we did in the past couple of years.
I take the points that many Members made about trying to move to the new formula, but as ever with such matters, for every gainer under the new formula, there is a loser. It does not matter terribly to anyone here but London MPs, but the Metropolitan police will lose £33 million when the formula is fully implemented.
As a London Member, I hope that that situation will be ameliorated, and that things will not be done in too much of a hurry.
Today we have discussed priorities, context and the circumstances of individual police forces, and a number of things should be said in conclusion. However tight the next three years are under the settlement that we are voting on, they follow seven, eight or nine years of extensive and sustained growth in investment in policing. Happily, that has been contributed to by local government, in varying degrees, as well as by central Government. Some authorities have contributed more than others; there is a marked distinction between Surreys ability and willingness to do so and Lincolnshires earlier lack of willingness, although that is only one of a range of problems that Lincolnshire faces.
The Norfolk police are also coming to see me, I think. If not, and if the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Fraser) wants to organise such a visit, I am happy to meet them. I take the policing of our communities seriously, as do the Government. That is why there has been sustained investment in the past seven, eight or nine years, and why we want that investment to continue through efficiencies and other methods. PCSOs would not have existed without this Government, nor would there be record numbers of police officers on our streets, notwithstanding hon. Members points about recent police numbers.
As I said last year, if a more substantive, grown-up and reflective debate is needed about how we finance our police, let us have it, and let it be cross-party. If further discussions are needed about what resources we need for our police forcesthat could include debate on how to free the police from inappropriate bureaucracy and paperwork, or on a sustained pay award met in full by Governmentlet them happen too. As a result of this Governments sustained investment in the police over the past 10 years, our police forces are in very good shape, notwithstanding the tight settlement. We are building on that sustained investment. We can now have a cross-party discussion about how to police our communities in future only because this Government have made a sustained investment, for which I know communities across the country are enormously grateful. I commend the motion to the House.
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