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Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): The Minister may be about to turn to this issue. Will he clarify why the Met will receive no special transitional funds with which to meet the cost of boundary changes? I met Sir Paul Condon yesterday, and he estimated that the cost to the Met would be about £10 million.

Mr. Boateng: The Metropolitan police have made it clear that they can handle the additional cost--indeed, they are offloading their responsibilities onto the surrounding counties and we are compensating them. That suggestion is a little rich--I do not think that the hon. Gentleman will get a Focus headline out of it. [Interruption.] I do not intend to be drawn further down that road.

It is important to recognise that responsibility for those parts of the Metropolitan police district within Essex, Hertfordshire and Surrey will transfer to those three police authorities. In the settlement, the Government have recognised that, in making sensible preparations forthe change, the three authorities will incur significant

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additional costs next year. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman should be aware that we have set aside a total of£12 million to help the three authorities prepare for the change and meet those transitional costs. We have awarded an extra £2 million to Essex, £3 million to Hertfordshire and £7 million to Surrey, and those payments are reflected in the grant report.

I know that future changes to the funding formula, are a source of concern to many right hon. and hon. Members. Applying a needs-based funding formula inevitably means that there will be winners and a few losers. Not surprisingly, it is the losers who dislike the operation of the formula--and I fancy that we shall hear from one or two of them today.

I met chief constables from a number of forces during the consultation period on the settlement, along with members of their police authority and, in some cases, right hon. and hon. Members. In each case--I have referred to a meeting that the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire attended--there was no doubt that the police forces were delivering a professional, efficient and effective service with the resources available to them. Each and every chief constable made it clear that he did not oppose the principles of the funding formula. None had come to whinge or complain, and it is correct to say--as I do in the presence of several hon. Members who accompanied their chief officers to the meetings--that none did. That sort of atmosphere did not prevail at any of the meetings. Each set out how they proposed to manage their budget next year and their plans for future years. My officials and I were enormously impressed by their approach to the challenges.

Three recurrent issues emerged: the pressures of policing urban metropolitan areas; the problems of policing sparsely populated rural areas; and the continuation of the old force establishment component in the formula. We have commissioned independent, external research into both density and sparsity and I hope that the results of the research will be available shortly and prove to be conclusive. Meanwhile, we have retained in the formula for next year the sparsity element introduced by the previous Government, even though no objective evidence currently exists to justify it. Although objective evidence is lacking, the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire(Ms Lawrence) on the value of the sparsity element have been reflected in all the representations made to me.

Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): In the review of the national formulae, will my hon. Friend examine the implications of the local formulae used within individual police authorities? I accept that the formulae used nationally have to be adjusted in line with changes in density, sparsity and other factors. However, the formula used within the Metropolitan police authority has a bizarre result in that individual divisions are penalised for success: where local partnerships work effectively and crime decreases, there is a loss of staff. My local division, Hillingdon, has lost 91 staff in three years as a result of its success. There is a need to go beyond the review of national formulae and examine individual authority formulae and their implications on the ground.

Mr. Boateng: That is a matter for local decisions: that is the nature of the tripartite arrangement. One of the

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important aspects that we have preserved in the creation of a Metropolitan police authority is the continued operation of that tripartite arrangement. My hon. Friend has experience of serving with me on a citywide authority at a time when demand for a police authority for London was especially clearly articulated. He will know that the issue he raises is one that the new Metropolitan police authority will want to address with its chief officer, and the Home Office can be relied on to assist in every way possible.

A number of forces have made plain their case for recognition of what they describe as particular funding pressures: for example, Staffordshire and Warwickshire in respect of the Birmingham northern relief road; and Devon and Cornwall in respect of the eclipse. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently met a delegation of right hon. and hon. Members representing Kent constituencies in connection with the extra burdens faced by the Kent force in having to deal with illegal entrants and asylum seekers. We recognise that all hon. Members have views on the issue. I can say only that it has to be understood that, from time to time, all forces have to deal with additional, often unforeseen, pressures. We shall carefully consider the requests made, but I can give no undertakings at this stage. Even if special payments were justified on their merits, it might not be possible to find additional funds until the time of next year's settlement.

Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South): My hon. Friend mentions Staffordshire and the Birmingham northern relief road. The police authority faces significant extra expense from having to police the protests that are occurring there, but the 1.7 per cent. increase in Staffordshire police authority funding is well below the national average. I hope that my hon. Friend will give the most sympathetic hearing possible to representations made in respect of the special extra costs that fall on authorities such as Staffordshire, which already suffer from a lower than average increase in the police grant.

Mr. Boateng: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for so clearly making the case for Staffordshire. I have listened to him and other hon. Members and I shall bear in mind their representations.

In conclusion, I turn briefly to capital expenditure. After several years of actual cuts in police capital provision, we are heading for a period of stability. Police capital funding will remain at £144 million next year--the same figure as this year. We have also announced that our plans will allow capital funding to remain stable at £144 million until 2001-02. We have given the three-year figures, again in a spirit of partnership and to allow police authorities to plan ahead with confidence.

Changes in the capital receipts rules mean that forces are now free to use all proceeds of sale. We have freed them from the ridiculous restrictions of the previous Administration. Next year, all funding for major police building programmes is being maintained, as the Association of Chief Police Officers and the police authorities wanted. At the same time, we have been able to increase funding for minor capital works, vehicles and equipment by 2 per cent. for all forces. That is the first such increase for four years. That was never achieved under the previous Administration. [Interruption.] I hear Conservative Members muttering and moaning, but they

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must face the fact that we have achieved something that they were unable to achieve. They ought at least to have the grace to recognise that.

This Government came into office with a determination to reduce crime levels and the fear of crime, to tackle youth offending and to reform the performance of the criminal justice system overall. We also promised to relieve the police of unnecessary bureaucratic burdens to get more officers back on the beat. We are doing just that. That policy is working; it is delivering to the police and to the public and will continue to do so. This is a Government who take a stand against crime and disorder. This is a Government who put public money to most effective use. The order that we are debating today does just that and I hope that it will receive the support of the House.

2.12 pm

Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield): The Minister's speech was very long and did not get any better as it went on. It amounted to a weak defence of the Government's position. The Minister's central point--that there is no relationship between resources and police strength--is ludicrous. At one point, he came near to arguing that fewer police would lead to higher detection rates, which is also pretty stupid. In essence, that confirmed our worst fears about the Government's policy on the police service.

We shall oppose the order on this basis:

Those are the words used by the then Opposition spokesman on home affairs to explain why, in January 1995, the Labour party voted against the police grant in a similar debate. The 1995 order gave more money, not less, to the police than does today's order. That in no way blunted the then Opposition's enthusiasm to take up the police cause.

Who was the Opposition spokesman? Of course, it was the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), who is now the Home Secretary. What was his case? It was clear. He said that

I am not, therefore, exclusively arguing that case; it has also been made by the Home Secretary. He argued that too few resources were going to the police service.

Let there be no doubt that the strength and resources of the police service were part of Labour's promised policy in the last election. People listened to the then shadow Home Secretary and drew the obvious conclusion that a new Labour Government were promising more police and more resources.

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