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Sir Norman Fowler: The hon. Gentleman is becoming very defensive very early in his speech. Is he saying that there is no relationship between the amount of resources provided to the police service and police manpower? Is not the Home Secretary the police authority of the Metropolitan police? Does not the Home Office therefore have any view on police numbers?

Mr. Boateng: The relationship has to be determined by the chief constable, as chief officer and as the person with operational responsibility for the deployment of his force. The right hon. Gentleman will have his opportunity eventually--when we debate London, and the Home Secretary's role as London police authority--to make the points that he would like to make.

The shadow Home Secretary knows very well that it is utterly disingenuous for Conservative Members to suggest that the Home Secretary has any power to direct chief constables on the numbers of men and women whom they deploy in their force. Although I have no doubt that we shall return, ad nauseam, to his question on police numbers, he and the House should realise that that is not what today's debate is about.

Today's debate is about how, together--let us explore the matter--we create an effective force to bear down on crime and disorder, we build partnerships between police and public in our communities, and we fund those partnerships. The shadow Home Secretary will recall that the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe, with some pride, said:

Now the shadow Home Secretary wants to make numbers a matter for me and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. However, we do not intend to allow him to do so.

Sir David Madel (South-West Bedfordshire): Will the Minister give way.

Mr. Boateng: No, not now.

We have to take a good long and hard look at what the figures tell us. In 1998-99, total spending on policing in England and Wales is estimated to be about £7.5 billion. Around 65 per cent. of expenditure on the criminal justice system goes on policing. The Government's overall spending plans for the police over the next three years were announced by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary last July, following the comprehensive spending review. There will be an extra £1.24 billion for the police service in England and Wales between 1999 and 2002.

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The total police authority spending for 1999-2000, to which the Government are prepared to contribute their share, will be £7.14 billion. That amount is known as the total standard spending assessment and it represents an increase of £186 million or 2.7 per cent. on the figure for 1998-99.

We have looked beyond next year and announced spending figures for the following two years to allow police authorities to plan ahead with greater confidence--something that they were never able to do when policing was in the stewardship of the Conservatives.

Sir David Madel: A few minutes ago the Minister lauded the partnership scheme. He will know that Bedfordshire is at the forefront of that and is probably the best in the country. Why is Bedfordshire rewarded with such a dreadfully poor settlement?

Mr. Boateng: The hon. Gentleman has been to see me with his chief constable and other Members of Parliament, including Labour Members, to pray in aid and make representations on behalf of the Bedfordshire force. I was glad to see them. I am equally glad to say that one of my enduring memories of that meeting is the success of the tripartite relationship in Bedfordshire between the police authority, the chief constable and the Home Office. Central to that tripartite relationship is the fact that it is for the chief constable to determine the level of deployment of the men and women at his command. We have given him and the authority adequate resources to carry that out. They will be able to build on the successful partnerships that they have created in Bedfordshire. I am only too pleased to give them and Members of Parliament representing Bedfordshire full credit for those partnerships.

Looking beyond the coming year, spending on the police will increase by 2.8 per cent. in 2000-01 and by a further 4 per cent. in 2001-02. That represents a real-terms increase, albeit modest, and demonstrates the Government's commitment to helping the police to play their key part in tackling crime and disorder.

The settlement also takes forward the Government's commitment to improve efficiency in the police service. We have set a target of 2 per cent. efficiency improvements year on year from 1999-2000. Importantly, we are not requiring the police to hand back the efficiency savings that they make. On the contrary, by achieving their targets, chief constables will be able to reinvest the savings to help meet front-line policing priorities. Once again, I note a quizzical, even sceptical look passing across the face of the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield and his hon. Friends. I have news for them. All the chief constables and police authority chairmen whom I have met recognise the advantage that that will give their local police force and are grateful for it. The hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Sir D. Madel), who prayed in aid his case for Bedfordshire recognises that, as--I do not tell tales out of school--it was the thrust of the remarks made around my table when he came to see me. Of course the police want more and hon. Members will ask for more, but they recognise the value of being able to reinvest the 2 per cent. efficiency savings that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary won for them in the comprehensive spending review. Potentially up to

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£140 million could be freed up to recycle into front-line policing. That is good news, as I hope Opposition Members appreciate.

In recent years, the police service has been comparatively insulated from many of the pressures facing other parts of the public sector. The efficiency improvements that we are seeking now are no different from those that were expected by the previous Administration of, for example, the prison service, the probation service or the national health service, and then delivered. For example, the probation service has made efficiency gains of over 20 per cent. since 1994, and the prison service has achieved reductions of 24 per cent. in real terms per cost per prisoner since 1992-93. In that context, the 2 per cent. target for the police is reasonable and achievable.

The efficiency planning process is an important step towards the best value regime from April 2000 that will require the police to demonstrate that they are delivering an effective, efficient, and high-quality service.

I now turn to the links about funding and performance. In recent years, national increases in police spending have not always been spread evenly across the service. Some forces have received relatively less than others. That is one of the effects of a needs-based formula, but increased resources do not automatically improve levels of service. That is not simply my opinion. It is the conclusion of the independent Audit Commission. Its latest annual report on police performance published on 28 January said that

It continued:

    "Some of the forces which have improved their performance the most have had relatively modest increases in spending, while others who have increased spending significantly have either improved less than those with smaller increases, or, in a few cases, have seen their performance deteriorate".

We have to take seriously that lesson from the Audit Commission.

Undoubtedly, chief constables and police authorities up and down the country are beginning to reflect on their performance. Let us take an example. The spending of Warwickshire constabulary reduced by more than 5 per cent. in the four years 1994-95 and 1997-98, after adjustments for inflation. During the same period, the percentage of all crimes detected by primary means by the force increased. In particular, detections for household burglaries increased by more than 5 per cent.

Despite the operation of the formula, with its aim of trying to balance needs in an objective way, much of the present relative spending levels can only be explained historically. Thus, for example, according to latest Audit Commission figures, Merseyside police spend £158 per head of population--the highest of any force outside London and £43 above the national average of£115--while the next highest force--Greater Manchester--receives £22 per head less than Merseyside.

The Audit Commission also has a number of important points to make about police numbers. There is a general view that more police officers will lead to increases in the proportion of crime cleared up. I hope that Conservative Members do not adhere to that view out of a spirit of party political partisanship and that in their contributions to the debate they will make clear their understanding

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of--and support for--the Audit Commission's analysis. If they do not, we will know that they are prepared to play party political games with the policing of the country.

I lay down that challenge to Conservative Members, and I expect them to respond to it. If we are to have a rational debate about policing, we must build it on the evidence available; otherwise, we shall not be taken seriously about an issue that matters so much to our fellow citizens and constituents, and which police officers and police authorities have to confront.

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