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Column 954

Wells, Bowen

Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John

Whitney, Ray

Whittingdale, John

Widdecombe, Ann

Wiggin, Sir Jerry

Wilkinson, John

Willetts, David

Wilshire, David

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Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)

Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)

Wolfson, Mark

Wood, Timothy

Yeo, Tim

Tellers for the Noes: Mr. Sidney Chapman and Mr. Timothy Kirkhope.

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Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments) and agreed to.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Madam Speaker-- forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.


That this House congratulates National Health Service staff in hospitals and in the community for providing ever more and better care for patients with 122 patients being treated for every 100 four years ago; welcomes the health reforms which have provided a coherent structure to enable them to do so; recognises the challenges faced by the National Health Service resulting from medical advance, the ageing of the population and rising public expectations and believes that the new National Health Service is better placed than ever to meet these challenges; welcomes the 68 per cent. real terms increase in National Health Service spending since 1978-79 and the Government's manifesto commitment to further real terms increases; and condemns Her Majesty's Opposition for its ill-thought-out commitment to abolish the reforms, an act which would inflict chaos and confusion on the health service, deprive patients of the benefits of National Health Service Trusts and general practitioner fundholding and prevent the health service from responding to the changing needs of the public.

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Orders of the Day

Police Grant

Madam Speaker: I have limited Back-Bench speeches in the debate to 10 minutes. I have no authority to limit Front-Bench speakers, but I hope that they will note what I have said and will restrict the length of their speeches accordingly.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am sure that what we are doing under your guidance is procedurally correct, but the report that we are about to debate was laid before Parliament only yesterday and has not been before the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. Is that procedurally helpful?

Madam Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is quite correct, as hon. Members will see from the Order Paper. However, the report was put before the Joint Committee today, so everything is in order. 10.15 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean): I beg to move,

That the Police Grant Report (England and Wales) 1995-96 (House of Commons Paper No. 164), which was laid before this House on 30th January, be approved.

The motion relates to the Police Grant Report for 1995-96, which was laid before the House on Monday in accordance with the provisions of the Police Act 1964, as amended by the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994, and on which the House may vote tonight. This is the report which was placed in the Library in draft when my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary announced details of the police settlement in December 1994. I should like to explain to the House the basis on which my right hon. and learned Friend has made his decisions about the allocation of funding to individual police authorities.

This year's settlement for the police is, I believe, a very fair one. At a time when, as the House knows, we are anxious to keep public spending under control, the police will receive an extra 3 per cent. or nearly £200 million. That is a clear demonstration of our continuing commitment to the police service in England and Wales. In addition, there will be a special grant amounting to £95 million for certain forces to help those authorities whose entitlement to regional support grant and police grant have been most affected by the change to the new distribution system. The grant will assist in reducing the level of precept, which affects council tax levels. This means that, overall, the funds available for the police are going up by more than 4 per cent. That is much more than the net increase of 2.5 per cent. in police pay from September 1994, which is the largest element by far in police budgets. With the provisional capping criteria, it means that all forces will be able to increase their budget requirement in 1995-96, and more than two thirds of forces will get more than 3 per cent.

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In addition, all forces will benefit from the fact that they will not, as in past years, have to pay further for common police services in 1995-96. These are services such as the national criminal intelligence service, which is organised centrally and provided to all forces.

It cost police forces £43 million to provide common police services in 1994-95 and that money was recouped from police authorities through charges. Now that police grant is cash-limited, we have taken that cost into account before determining the total amount of police grant to be distributed. For each force, that represents about 0.8 per cent. of their budget.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): Does not my hon. Friend agree that what he has just told the House gives the lie to the Labour party's accusations during the proceedings of the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act that the provisions it contained would mean that the police would be short-changed? That has clearly not happened, and if there are fewer police officers on the street after April this year it will be because of the decisions of chief constables, not because of Government funding.

Mr. Maclean: My hon. Friend is absolutely correct, and I shall turn to that point now.

The figures obviously speak for themselves. The largest element in costs to police is pay, which has increased by 2.5 per cent. All told, police resources will increase this year by more than 4 per cent. There is clearly more than enough money in the settlement for the police force to maintain police numbers if it wishes to do so.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington): The Minister, who represents a neighbouring constituency, knows that there is deep concern throughout Cumbria over cuts in policing, particularly in village areas. In so far as there will be a £3 million shortfall, will that money ever be made up? How can the Minister assure the House that money is being made available for proper policing, when Cumbria constabulary and Conservative councillors are complaining about the settlement?

Mr. Maclean: The hon. Gentleman must be careful when he bandies about the word "cuts". Cumbria can increase police expenditure by 2.5 per cent. next year if it wishes, up to its capping level. The largest element of police expenditure is pay, and that is rising 2.5 per cent. Merely because the police authority can increase its expenditure by half the amount it wants, that is not a cut. Cumbria is getting more money next year.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): Is my hon. Friend aware that the Liberal Democrats won control of Dorset county council on the basis that they would spend more money on policing? In fact, they have taken from the police the £2 million that exceeds the amount suggested by the Government and are spending it elsewhere, without telling council tax payers. Can my hon. Friend provide a county-by-county table showing where money is being taken away from policing by county authorities--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse): Order. This is a short debate, in which many hon. Members want to participate. Long interventions do not help.

Mr. Maclean: I might not be able to provide such a table, but my hon. Friend's facts speak for themselves.

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Liberal or Labour authorities will be unable to underspend on the standard spending assessment next year, because the money will go straight to the police authority.

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton): West Yorkshire, and my constituency in particular, is suffering a shortage of police officers on the beat. When will there be a sufficiency to meet community demand?

Mr. Maclean: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman does not realise that, from 1 April, we will no longer control the number of officers deployed by chief constables. I believe that West Yorkshire gains 3.7 per cent. or 3.9 per cent.--I will confirm the exact figure. It is certainly higher than the increase in police pay. There are more than ample resources for West Yorkshire, if the force there wants to use them to buy more constables. It may want to spend those resources on other things.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Is my hon. Friend aware that Derbyshire is pleased that formula funding for police recruitment has changed? Derbyshire county council ignored for years the police authority's pleas for increased spending. We welcome my hon. Friend's moves, and hope that he will go further.

Mr. Maclean: There is no doubt that the problems in Derbyshire built up in the 1980s because of action by the then county council. It is unreasonable to expect me or my right hon. and learned Friend to solve all Derbyshire's problems overnight. However, I assure my hon. Friend that the Government will save the police service in Derbyshire, and we have made a start with an allocation of 5.9 per cent.

If Derbyshire wishes, it can spend up to its cap of 7.9 per cent. That is beginning to redress the problems that accumulated in Derbyshire because of the way it was run in the 1980s.

Mr. Barnes: Will the formula be such as to allow Derbyshire to regain its certificate of efficiency? Will the Government's policy-- [Interruption.] May I continue?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I have already told the House that this is a very short debate, and long interventions do not help--nor does harassment from the opposite side of the Chamber.

Mr. Barnes: My point is that Derbyshire has been hit by the Government formula. The policy of civilianisation, now encouraged by the Home Office, means that the number of officers on which future grants will be based has been restricted--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Obviously my words are going unheeded tonight. I must insist in short debates of this kind that interventions be brief--the more so since many hon. Members wish to speak.

Mr. Maclean: Derbyshire has not been hit by the Government formula; it was hit by its lunatic council which, in the 1980s, effectively damaged its police service so much that it failed to get certificates of efficiency. Derbyshire has now been saved by a Government formula which, instead of allocating a flat rate of 3 per cent. around the country, is giving Derbyshire 5.9 per cent. this year. If the police authority there wants to, it can spend up to almost 8 per cent.

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A good look at the arithmetic shows that we have secured enough extra money for chief constables throughout England and Wales to maintain the same numbers of police officers in 1995-96 as they did last year, if they choose to do so. The fact is that some forces will be able to increase numbers if they choose to do so. Others may hold recruitment.

In any new formula, there is inevitably a redistribution of resources across the country, but there is no reason why the total number of police officers throughout England and Wales should drop, unless chief constables think it right to reduce manpower spending in favour of capital investment or equipment.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley): The money is being redirected to Tory areas.

Mr. Maclean: The hon. Gentleman should remember that he represents an authority that is gaining 10 per cent. It will be news to many of my colleagues to learn that Northumberland and the hon. Gentleman's constituency are Tory areas.

Turning from the overall cake to how we are to divide it among police forces this year brings us to the new funding system introduced by the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994. The House will recall that this year two major changes are being made to the way in which the police in England and Wales are financed. First, police specific grant is being changed from an open-ended grant based on actual expenditure to a cash- limited grant. Secondly, the Home Secretary will, from 1 April this year, have no control over the establishment of each police force, which formed the basis of the police standard spending assessment in England.

The great advantage of the new system is that it ensures that all the money provided by the Government for the police goes into policing. That, as my hon. Friends will know and have pointed out, is not the case now. Local authorities have made their own assessment of policing needs. The practical result is that some forces have a history of being funded well below their police SSAs--including Derbyshire, by £500,000 in the current year.

Funding for the police will in future go straight to police authorities. In addition, police authorities will have far greater flexibility in how they determine their spending priorities. Detailed controls on manpower and all but major capital expenditure will be removed. That means that taxpayers can be protected while decisions about the best use of resources are made locally by police authorities and chief constables.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford): How will the money required to fund police pensions be dealt with? In Staffordshire, we have a critical problem, of which I think my hon. Friend is aware. I hope to be able to discuss it with him, as he kindly agreed to come soon to my constituency to do just that.

Mr. Maclean: I had hoped that my hon. Friend would not announce to the House that I had agreed to come to his constituency. It was perhaps many months ago when I did so.

There is no doubt that, throughout all police forces, pensions are a cause for concern, because of the large amount of resources that they take up. The allocation for pensions is not hypothecated to each individual force, but is set on a national average. Of course we are willing to

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look at whether the figure has been set at the correct level. We are willing to look in the next year as we discuss the formula with the Association of Chief Police Officers, with police authorities and other Government Departments how the allocation for pensions can be refined even further, but we must bear in mind closely the police view, which was not to hypothecate the amount of pensions. They preferred the present structure.

Mr. Michael Lord (Suffolk, Central): There is great concern in Suffolk about the funding of the police next year. Indeed, there will be a debate in the House on that subject tomorrow. Following on from the point just made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash), will the Minister comment on the fact that the chief constable of Suffolk seems concerned, because he is not sure just how many of his police officers will decide to retire next year and require handouts as a result? How is a chief constable supposed to manage his force from year to year if he has no idea how many of his officers will want to retire in that year?

Mr. Maclean: Nothing has changed with regard to that problem. It is a management difficulty that the police have encountered for many years. Nevertheless, a chief officer can estimate the number of officers coming up to retirement. He knows their ages. There will be certain parameters--the minimum and the maximum number who may retire. If it helps, I can tell my hon. Friend that the settlement for Suffolk is an increase of 4.7 per cent. With police pay rising by 2.5 per cent., there should be ample flexibility within that fairly generous settlement to deal with the problems that my hon. Friend raised.

Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood): In his review, will the Minister undertake to look at police officers who retire facing disciplinary action and ill health, which seems to be a major problem that is not predictable?

Mr. Maclean: That is a related but separate matter, which we are looking at. It does not directly affect the allocation that we are discussing tonight, but we are keen to look at that measure. On the formula, the changes that we have had in the structure of police authorities in the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994 meant that we needed a different method--a more equitable system--for distributing the extra resources that we have given the police this year. We chose to do that by means of a formula for distributing both police grant and standard spending assessment. The approach is similar to that used in assessing local government spending needs. Broadly speaking, it means that police authorities will be funded according to the population and area characteristics that create the most work for the police service.

Using a formula to distribute funding brings the police service into line with other local government agencies, such as social services, highway maintenance and all other services with a local authority component. The formula provides an objective way of assessing relative need as a basis for distributing the resources available.

Devising the formula was complex. In essence, it means that policing needs have been identified as falling into six main areas: maintaining a stable presence in the community; responding to calls for assistance; dealing with crimes; traffic management; maintaining public order; and community relations. Some 50 per cent. of the

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formula is based on existing establishment levels. That will assist in providing stability and continuity of policing by limiting the extent of change next year.

The formula has been used to determine provision for the Metropolitan police as well as to allocate funding to provincial forces. But of course, a formula to be applied across the country cannot reflect the unique demands on the Metropolitan police, arising from the fact that London is the capital city, the permanent seat of government and the primary residence of the royal family. Special provision of £130 million over and above the figure indicated by the formula will therefore be made available to the Metropolitan police in 1995-96, in recognition of its national and capital city functions.

Anyone who has experience of devising formulae like these knows that, when one grafts them on to a funding system--everyone acknowledges that the present system is based on a less objective basis--one can expect some pretty large swings. That is what would have happened had we not taken steps to limit the change. First, we included an element for establishment levels, and 50 per cent. of this year's formula is based on existing establishment levels. Secondly, the special grant that I have already mentioned will also help forces which would otherwise have been adversely affected by the introduction of the new formula.

During the consultation period, we had the chance to consider the figures and revise the formula where appropriate. The pensions element of the formula is one of the issues which we have considered and on which I have asked officials to work in the year ahead, because we recognise the stresses that pensions put on the police budget in every police force in Britain. More work will be done on that.

Work will also be done on other areas, such as the special policing problems of inner cities and how and why we might be able to take into account criminals who travel from one area to commit their crimes in another.

I know that a number of my hon. Friends from rural constituencies believe that the formula has been too generous to cities. I can assure them that that is far from being true, but it is true that we have as yet found no statistically valid basis to support an element for rural sparsity. If that statistically valid basis can be found, I assure the House that we shall consider it for inclusion in 1996-97, and no one will be happier than I will be to do so.

My officials are already discussing with the police the way in which--

Mr. Nick Ainger (Pembroke): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Maclean: I must push on, because I know that many hon. Members wish to speak and I have taken several interventions.

My officials are already discussing with the police the way in which the work should be handled. I am very keen that, whatever basis of distribution we use, it should be accepted as valid both by the police and by the police authorities.

The formula is there for the benefit of the police service. It is not there for the benefit of the Home Office or the Treasury. This year, we are allocating more than 4 per cent. The formula is an attempt to deliver and distribute the extra resources in the fairest possible way.

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All hon. Members, and those in the police service and in the police authorities have a deep and abiding interest in making the formula as fair and as accurate as possible, and I look forward to that work progressing next year.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest): I recognise that, unlike the old system, the formula introduces an element of objectivity, but does my hon. Friend agree that areas such as West Mercia feel disadvantaged to the extent that they have areas of quite high population density in areas of rural sparsity? Therefore, it is felt that, unless the formula is based on an enumeration district basis, which is the basis for only the call management rather than the crime management formula, it is likely to miss out. To that extent, West Mercia will have an increase of only 2.7 per cent. this year, against 3 per cent. on average. Will the Minister agree to review the formula in the light of--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but we are having mini-speeches disguised as interventions in a debate that lasts for only one and a half hours.

Mr. Maclean: We shall be delighted to do that. There may be other areas largely regarded as rural, with towns or small cities with populations of less than 100,000, of which the present formula does not take account. Of course we are willing to consider that as well. I had a good discussion with colleagues from West Mercia and the authority there.

If we can obtain good evidence on rural sparsity, we shall take it into account. We shall also consider road lengths and motorways, and any other factors which police authorities consider should be taken into account because there is a specific policing cost.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Maclean: I do not need to give way to my hon. Friend, because I know that he is going to mention travelling. Of course we shall look at the travelling element and the possible additional cost, but I cannot make that change based on my political instinct that there might be a cost. I have to do it on an objective formula and for objective reasons, and rightly so.

Mr. Ainger: Can the Minister assure the good people of Dyfed-Powys that the extra £2 million coming into Dyfed-Powys announced by the Secretary of State on Monday will be a permanent change to the formula, not a one-off sum this year to get the Minister and his colleagues off a difficult hook in Wales, particularly in north Wales and Dyfed-Powys?

Mr. Maclean: Of all the interventions that I have taken, that is possibly the silliest. The hon. Member knows fine that no one can make a commitment to the level of public expenditure next year. I can certainly say that the Dyfed-Powys police service has done exceptionally well under the Government. It has a good police service, with a very effective clear- up rate. I might add that Dyfed-Powys asked me for about £2 million, and received slightly more than that. It is an excellent settlement for Dyfed-Powys, and for the other Welsh authorities.

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We consider the allocation of police grant to be an important part of police reforms. In attempting to identify the factors that dictate police work load and fund accordingly in the formula, we have been breaking new ground with the help of the police, local authorities and Her Majesty's inspectorate. In the first year of the new funding systems, many authorities will benefit, and we have taken care to protect those which benefit less.

It appears that the House is to divide on the motion. That seems rather extraordinary to me, and it must put some Opposition Members in a difficult position. How will the shadow Home Secretary explain to Lancashire police authority that he has voted against a 5.6 per cent. settlement--over 6 per cent. if Lancashire spends up to cap? I hope that the Opposition have slipped, or paired, their leader tonight: with Durham receiving 10 per cent. extra, it must be rather embarrassing for him to vote against the increase.

Other Opposition Members have also benefited exceptionally from the redistribution formula. I shall be interested to hear what excuse the Labour party uses for voting against a settlement amounting, overall, to more than 4 per cent. If Labour Members are saying that it is not enough money, I think that we need to hear from the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) whether he has been consulted about whether Labour has been given permission for all the extra police spending on top of what the Government have done.

The police settlement for 1995-96 is fair. It fully reflects the priority that the Government give to tackling crime and giving our police service the means to do it. It puts into effect the Government's real commitment to a properly resourced police service in England and Wales.

10.41 pm

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn): This is the first police funding order to be made under the new arrangements introduced by the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994. We shall be voting against it, for four reasons. First, it is inconsistent with the Government's own clear manifesto promises on police numbers. Secondly, some police services say that they will have to cut police numbers. Thirdly, we do not believe that the new funding formula meets the Home Office's own criteria. Fourthly, the new system lacks the flexibility that is needed when relatively small local police forces in places such as Sussex must meet the cost of wholly unanticipated spending to deal with public order crises relating to national political circumstances--in the current instance, animal welfare.

Let me deal with those reasons briefly in turn. Page 22 of the 1992 Conservative manifesto states:

"We are continuing to increase police numbers. There will be 1, 000 extra police officers this year."

That was the promise, but in fact the number of officers available for ordinary duty fell by 401 between April 1992 and April 1993. What is more, according to Mr. John Hoddinott, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, the settlement is likely to lead to the loss of 900 police officers in the forthcoming year. In a press briefing that he gave a week ago, Mr. Hoddinott said that "the effect of all the funding problems to the average man or woman in the street would be a reduction in the level of service to the tune of 900 officers."

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The Minister asked on what basis we would vote against the order. One of the functions of the House is to judge Governments by what they promise at elections. On that test, they have palpably failed the House--and, more important, the police and the public.

Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham): The hon. Gentleman referred to my county police force of Sussex. Will he confirm that last year it spent £4 million less than it would have been able to on standard spending assessment, and by doing so did not attract the pound-for-pound grant from the Home Office? It was therefore £8 million down, by choice. Will he confirm that, in the forthcoming year, it will be able to spend an additional £18 million, which more than covers the cost of policing at Shoreham?

Mr. Straw: If that is the best that the hon. Gentleman can do to explain the financial predicament of his constituents as a result of their having to bear the cost of nearly £2 million for policing at Shoreham, I am not surprised that he is running scared about his prospects at the next election. That cost was not anticipated by the Sussex police authority in its budget. On his weasel words about the £4 million and £8 million, when I was shadow Environment Secretary this time last year, I do not recall the hon. Gentleman at any stage coming into the House and demanding that East Sussex or West Sussex county councils should spend another £8 million on the police. Did he come into the House and tell us that? Come on.

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