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Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North) : What will happen if Bournemouth, Blackpool and Brighton simply say that it is not worthwhile? Will the Government simply say that we cannot have conferences there?

Mr. Lloyd : Due to the way that the police grant provides for them, those particular towns will not say that they cannot hold the conferences. More than half of it comes directly from central Government and up to 49 per cent. is spread over the whole of the county and is not met by the town. Therefore, the town's interest or otherwise in having the conference- -which is entirely a matter for its residents--cannot be primarily determined by where police costs are paid.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West) : Does my hon. Friend accept that by no means all the costs incurred are police costs? For example, in Bournemouth we face substantial costs for lifting manholes so that they can be inspected and then sealed, providing barriers, closing down facilities which are owned by the local authority and sometimes closing down shops and adjoining hotels for long periods. Those are not police costs, are not covered by the police grant or, in relation to local authority expenditure, by our standard spending assessments. In the two boroughs that I represent our SSA has fallen substantially.

Mr. Lloyd : I understand that line of reasoning, but many costs, not merely those associated with party conferences, fall to particular authorities at certain times. It could well be argued that those costs could be borne nationally if the same arguments used by my hon. Friend were employed in those cases.

It is a fundamental principle of our present policing arrangements that central and local government share responsibility for the police service and its costs. They do this not by separating out particular functional areas, but by sharing all costs, whether supposedly national or supposedly local. Thus, while the ratepayer may contribute to the costs of some things which could be argued to be national, the Exchequer contributes 51 per cent. at least--more if any block grant is involved--to police costs, even when it could be argued that those were local in origin.

It would be impractical to attempt to determine case by case which costs are local and which national. To single

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out a few cases, such as party conferences and the associated expenses would be less than fair. But to attempt to define all costs as either local or national would necessitate a complex and costly bureucratic mechanism. It would also mean potentially fundamental changes to our present policing structure under the Police Act 1964. The level of central assistance with police costs generally was stepped up in 1986. In that year, police specific grant was increased from 50 per cent. to 51 per cent. That was done in recognition of the increasing burdens faced by police authorities and police forces, including those arising from terrorism. The measure has had a significant impact on police authorities. It has enabled them to recruit up to establishment and to meet rising costs.

The additional costs of policing the Conservative party conference in Blackpool in 1989 were--I understand--estimated by the police authority at £1.1 million. That was around 1.6 per cent. of the police budget of £96.8 million as notified to the Home Office for grant purposes. It compares with the costs of the conference in 1987, which were £829,000, or around 1 per cent. of the police budget. Lancashire has received some £3.4 million in additional police grant since 1986 arising from the increase in the rate of grant in that year, while its conference policing costs since then have added up to around £1.9 million.

The additional costs of policing the conference held at Brighton in 1988 were some £1 million, about 2 per cent. of the Sussex police budget for 1988-89. The additional police grant received by Sussex resulting from the increase to 51 per cent. has added up to about £2.1 million between 1986 and the end of the last financial year. The additional costs of policing the Conservative party conference held in Bournemouth in 1986 were estimated at around £700,000, which was around 2 per cent. of the Dorset police budget for that year. The additional police grant received by Dorset, since the increase to 51 per cent. in 1986, has been around £1.4 million to date.

Mr. Ken Hargreaves rose --

Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) rose --

Mr. Pike rose --

Mr. Lloyd : I have very little time and I wish to make a few more remarks so, if my hon. Friends and the hon. Gentleman will excuse me, I shall carry on.

I accept that the costs of increased security at party conferences, particularly those of the Government party, represent an additional burden on the police resources of the areas concerned. As I have explained, however, there has been an improvement in the police grant position, which helps the authorities concerned with increased costs of this nature.

I know that there is also concern about the effects which an event of this kind has on manpower levels in the area concerned. Police officers deployed to policing the conference cannot be on duty elsewhere in the force area. This, however, would be the case with any major demand which fell on any police force. The chief constable has to decide how best to deploy his officers so as to provide the best practicable cover throughout his force area.

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Party conferences are central to the well- being of our democracy. It could not possibly be argued that they should be cancelled in order to reduce the burden on our police. That would be unacceptable, and would be seen as a victory for terrorism.

We have several times considered the suggestion that the Government should provide additional assistance from central funds for policing party conferences. For the reasons that I have given, we do not believe that these costs should be treated differently from other police costs.

There probably remain three or four minutes--I am checking with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick)--so there is time for me to give way to at least one of my hon. Friends.

Mr. Hind : My hon. Friend talked about increased police funding. That is greatly appreciated, and we all accept that it helps to keep our county of Lancashire well ordered. However, all other police authorities receive the same additional funding. We spend our additional funding on policing not only the Conservative conference every two years but the Labour party conference, too, as the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) said. We are faced with additional costs more frequently than every other year : it happens every year. Therefore, the costs are more devastating to us in Lancashire. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to think again.

Mr. Lloyd : I appreciate what my hon. Friend says--it is an extra cost for the police authority in his area--but if he thinks about it, he will see that every police authority could make substantial claims for exceptional costs, whether it be, as I mentioned earlier, the cost of ports or of a particular drug problem. There are particular additional expenses that different police authorities must bear. In most cases, they would claim that they stem not just from local concerns but from ones that have a national significance as well.

Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre) : Can my hon. Friend point out one event that another police authority has to bear every year, or every other year, of the same financial magnitude as the party conference at Blackpool?

Mr. Lloyd : I have pointed out some that create a similar regular problem, but I cannot approximate costs on the spur of the moment at the Dispatch Box. However, some of those that I have mentioned are extremely expensive and I would be happy to give my hon. Friend some figures in due course.

We recognise that policing is the responsibility of central and local government and the Home Office meets the larger percentage of police authority expenditure through the police grant. That was increased in 1986, so it is more now that it was several years ago. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Burnley and to my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn and others who have intervened for raising the issue, which I know is important to them and to their local authority, and for giving me the opportunity to restate the Government's position.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at fifteen minutes to Eleven o'clock.

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