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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

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resources 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?

Mr. Maclean: Of course I am aware of that. My hon. Friend is right to point it out.

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.

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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


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Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)

Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan

Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)

Allason, Rupert (Torbay)

Amess, David

Arbuthnot, James

Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)

Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)

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Ashby, David

Aspinwall, Jack

Atkins, Robert

Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)

Baker, Rt Hon Kenneth (Mole V)

Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)

Baldry, Tony

Banks, Matthew (Southport)

Banks, Robert (Harrogate)

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Bates, Michael

Batiste, Spencer

Bellingham, Henry

Bendall, Vivian

Beresford, Sir Paul

Biffen, Rt Hon John

Booth, Hartley

Boswell, Tim

Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)

Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia

Bowis, John

Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes

Brandreth, Gyles

Brazier, Julian

Bright, Sir Graham

Brooke, Rt Hon Peter

Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)

Browning, Mrs Angela

Bruce, Ian (Dorset)

Budgen, Nicholas

Burns, Simon

Burt, Alistair

Butcher, John

Butler, Peter

Butterfill, John

Carlisle, John (Luton North)

Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)

Carrington, Matthew

Cash, William

Channon, Rt Hon Paul

Churchill, Mr

Clappison, James

Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)

Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif)

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coe, Sebastian

Colvin, Michael

Congdon, David

Conway, Derek

Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)

Coombs, Simon (Swindon)

Cope, Rt Hon Sir John

Couchman, James

Cran, James

Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)

Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)

Davies, Quentin (Stamford)

Day, Stephen

Deva, Nirj Joseph

Delvin, Tim

Dicks, Terry

Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen

Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James

Dover, Den

Duncan, Alan

Duncan Smith, Iain

Dunn, Bob

Dykes, Hugh

Eggar, Rt Hon Tim

Elletson, Harold

Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)

Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)

Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)

Evans, Roger (Monmouth)

Evennett, David

Faber, David

Fabricant, Michael

Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)

Fishburn, Dudley

Forman, Nigel

Forsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stirling)

Forth, Eric

Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman

Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)

Freeman, Rt Hon Roger

French, Douglas

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