|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Maclean: It is perhaps not surprising that tonight we have heard more from those who believe that their local police force will be disadvantaged than from those who are about to see the benefits of the application of a new objective system of funding the police. We have also seen the Labour party wriggling, trying to justify voting against an increase for the police service of more than 4 per cent., and using as an excuse its concern about police numbers. Labour was the party that left office with the force 8,000 bobbies under establishment. Police officers were leaving the force in disgust, at the rate of 5,000 a year, because the Labour Government refused to pay them a decent living wage.
The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said that we need some mechanism for dealing with exceptional circumstances. He mentioned some. I must tell him that we have such a mechanism. Any police service can approach the Government, and if the criteria are met, it will get 100 per cent. funding for any exceptional circumstances. That was last used in the right hon. Gentleman's county; following the Newcastle riots, Northumberland benefited from its special approach to the Home Office.
The right hon. Gentleman also bandied around the word "cuts". Comparing a settlement of as much as 10 per cent. with the budgets that police chiefs or authorities would really like for next year--if money were no object-- and calling the difference a cut is just not sustainable. All police services in England and Wales have had an increase in their
Column 977resources next year. Some have had considerably more. Even those which are gaining a lot would have liked more. The difference, I repeat, is not a cut.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stamford and Spalding (Mr. Davies), in a considerate speech, pointed out the difficulties that he believes Lincolnshire will face. I have met delegations from there, as well as from many other authorities. The formula is based on need. It attempts to distribute resources to forces on that basis. I give my hon. Friend an absolute assurance that we will look carefully at sparsity factors. I am heartened by the evidence supplied by various rural forces, which have sought to identify a special police funding element based on rural sparsity. If that is statistically valid, I will be happy to build it into the formula.
My hon. Friend also asked me about the capping limit. If the police authority sets a budget above the cap, the Government do not reject it out of hand. We are bound to examine the argument made: it has made every effort to live within the cap but cannot reasonably do so. In those circumstances, the Government must decide whether to invite the House to confirm the cap, to accept the budget level established by the authority or to propose a new capping limit between the two. That is the official and legal position.
Mr. Stephen: Does my hon. Friend recall that the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), in the course of his speech, misled the House by suggesting that last year I supported a cut in my local county council's SSA? Is my hon. Friend aware that, in fact, that county council received a substantial increase in its SSA last year?
I reject the argument made by the hon. Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara)--that the effect of the fund on Merseyside will be catastrophic. Everyone knows that Merseyside is a well-funded force and is highly successful against crime. We believe that its element of funding this year is adequate and consistent with the need for policing in Merseyside.
I welcome the wise words of my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), who pointed out that the Labour party failed to take account of the 16,000 extra police officers in Britain today--it is more than when the Labour Government left office.
My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) made some interesting points. I welcome the fact that the Police Federation welcomes the 3 per cent. extra--taking into account the damping grant, the 4 per cent. extra. I understand the concern about manning levels, but I must point out that we shall no longer be fixing police establishments. I cannot give categorical guarantees about the numbers that any police force will have. That will depend entirely on the decisions taken by chief officers. My hon. Friends must treat all the figures cautiously.
I perfectly well understand--it is not a criticism--that some police forces have prepared a menu of the changes that they might make, whether they might freeze some establishment levels or close some stations. I have seen some of them touted around as a collective list of all the things that will happen. That is not the case, and my hon. Friends should study the lists carefully to get at the facts.
Mr. Lord: Like many Conservative Members, I understand the great difficulty in being precise and totally fair about the matter, and I very much welcome my hon. Friend's words when he says that he is prepared to look at the sparsity factor again. Will he please look, if not this year, at least in subsequent years, at the huge distorting effect that has become apparent in the debate of the funding of police pensions?
Mr. Maclean: The funding of police pensions is a key area for us to examine, both to try to find a solution to a fully funded pension scheme perhaps 30 or 40 years hence, and to look at the formula for next year and subsequent years.
I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge that we shall look at sick retirements in the police service. The Government's campaign to increase the number of specials from 20,000 to 30,000 was established long before the present funding settlement, and we intend to pursue that campaign, irrespective of the number of regular police officers that we have.
I now deal with the hon. Member for Blackburn. It is
extraordinary--my hon. Friends will be quite surprised to hear this--that one of the official excuses that the Labour party is using tonight to vote against the motion is that it is worried about a possible drop of 400 in the number of police officers between two carefully selected months last year. The months were carefully selected to show that when police officers go to training schools, the number in the service, obviously, increases. If one picks a month before the training schools have an intake, one will see that the service is short by a higher number of officers. To hear the Labour party complaining about 400 police officers when the service was short by 8,000 when it was in power really sticks in the craw. The Conservative party will be judged not by a selective period of four months last year but on our law and order record over the past 15 years. Those were 15 years of increasing the number of police officers in Britain; there are 16,000 more regular officers and 16, 000 more civilian staff, with the net result that we have more constables than we had last year.
The Labour party likes to try to get hooked on the overall number of police officers. It seems to ignore the fact that because of the restructuring that has taken place in police services resulting in fewer senior ranks, in the first 10 months of last year we had 600 more constables than ever before. That is the Government's record on law and order.
It is just not believable for the Opposition to go into the Lobby tonight to vote against a settlement for the police service of more than 4 per cent.--
It being one and a half hours after the commencement of the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker -- put the Question, pursuant to Order [19 December]: --
The House divided: Ayes 288, Noes 248.
Division No. 60] [11.45 pm
Column 978Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)
Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)
Column 978Ashby, David
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baker, Rt Hon Kenneth (Mole V)
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)
Banks, Matthew (Southport)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Column 979Bates, Michael
Beresford, Sir Paul
Biffen, Rt Hon John
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes
Bright, Sir Graham
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)
Browning, Mrs Angela
Bruce, Ian (Dorset)
Carlisle, John (Luton North)
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Deva, Nirj Joseph
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Duncan Smith, Iain
Eggar, Rt Hon Tim
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Forsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stirling)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Freeman, Rt Hon Roger