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Mr. Clarke: I have read those comments and have discussed them at length with the organisations concerned. I shall come to specific points later in my speech, but I shall of course be happy to take further interventions from the hon. Gentleman if I may clarify specific points.

The Government's spending plans take no account of a variety of additional funding arrangements for the police. First, we have announced a new crime fighting fund, part of which will be used to recruit 5,000 police officers over and above the number that forces would otherwise have recruited over the three years from April 2000.

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Some £35 million will be allocated to meet costs in 2000-01 under the challenge fund. Additional funding will be available in the next two years. That is new money. All forces have made bids for it, and I pay tribute to the quality of those bids. The results of the process will be announced very soon.

There will be more new money in 2000-01 and 2001-02 to complete our pledge. The House will appreciate, however, that I cannot confirm cash figures ahead of the 2000 spending review. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made a public commitment to provide necessary additional funding to follow his initiative through, and we shall stick to our promise.

Mr. David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden): The Minister knows that I shall not oversimplify police funding, but I am concerned by what he has said about additional spending. Many complex arithmetical relationships can be found in the formulas contained in the papers for this debate, but the major cause of crime to which chief constables--particularly mine in Humberside--draw attention is drugs. Several police authorities, including Humberside and Merseyside, face particular drugs threats because they have ports that are points of access. Does any of the additional expenditure deal with that problem? Historically, Governments--the present Government and, I am sorry to say, their predecessor--have made false economies by cutting down on Customs, which puts a greater burden on the police. We should put that right.

Mr. Clarke: The right hon. Gentleman makes a powerful and correct point; I wholly acknowledge it. At this stage, I shall not embark on a general discussion of drugs, although he is right to highlight--as does his chief constable--the fantastic impact of drugs on crime rates. We must be better geared up to hit that problem.

Under the ring-fenced funding for the crime fighting fund for front-line policing to help in our crusade, we asked forces to examine three aspects to which we would give special consideration. The first was the problem of policing in rural areas; we realise that particular factors bear on that--I shall return to them later.

The second was the need to increase the profile of policing--to ensure that the officers appointed were not simply sitting in police stations, but had a visible presence in their communities. The third, which relates to the right hon. Gentleman's point, was the need for police in particular crime hot spots. There is evidence that such hot spots exist in certain areas covered by particular forces--the ports problem described by the right hon. Gentleman is a good example. I cannot recall whether the Humberside bid focused on the policing implications at ports where drugs were coming into the country. However, that was the type of problem that our initiative was intended to address.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): My question is about the overall figures. Does the Minister agree that, in real terms--taking inflation into account but without adding the amount for police pensions--there was no increase during the first year of the Labour Government, but a 0.8 per cent. decrease? Does he further agree that, for the second year--the current year--the increase was 0.3 per cent., and that for next year, as he has announced, the increase

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will be 0.2 per cent? By the end of next year, there will have been a real-terms reduction over the first three years of the Labour Government of the money allocated to police grants. The crime fighting fund money-- £35 million--does not change that fact; I shall return to that point later. Does the Minister agree that the first three years of the Labour Government will have seen a real-terms decrease in Government grant for policing in England and Wales?

Mr. Clarke: It is perfectly reasonable to consider under overall expenditure the points that I am outlining about funding that is additional to the police grant. The crime fighting fund was the first point that I mentioned. It is not possible to consider the resources available to the police without taking into account, for example, the £35 million for 5,000 officers this year.

The hon. Gentleman is correct to note that, during the first two years of the Labour Government, we decided to accept the spending limits that we had inherited; it was part of our policy, we made it public and it was the subject of political disagreement. That policy led to the figure of minus 0.8 per cent. in the first year. As we moved out of that period, from April 1999, we planned to increase the amounts--the increases are those that he described.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead): May I take my hon. Friend back to the question put by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr. Davis)? The question applies not only to the policing of ports, where there may be drugs problems, but to areas that have suffered significant reductions in the size of their police force. For example, in Merseyside there has been a reduction of almost 500 posts during the past five years--most of that reduction took place under the previous Government. When my hon. Friend distributes the assets from his crime fighting fund, will he pay special attention to the areas that suffered the greatest reduction in their forces over the past five years?

Mr. Clarke: We have done that. That is why the bidding documents asked for detailed information for each force on recruitment patterns and other similar factors. The short answer is that we shall take full account of what has happened in particular forces when we decide on the allocation of the money. As I pointed out, we shall make an announcement on that matter shortly.

I was talking about the crime fighting fund for the 5,000 extra police officers.

Mr. Heald: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Is it not true that there will be no extra officers, as the Police Federation pointed out? Throughout the country, the number of police officers has been slashed, is being slashed and will continue to fall.

Mr. Clarke: This is a familiar debate. I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman, in reading himself into his brief, is fully abreast of the facts.

The fact is that the fund will be used--as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made clear when he announced it on 30 September--to recruit 5,000 police

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officers over and above the number forces would otherwise have recruited over the next three years from April 2000. That is clear.

Mr. Heald: As the Police Federation makes clear in this month's review, the number of police officers will fall by 1,000 over the three-year period. Is that not so?

Mr. Clarke: No, it is not. We seem to be talking at cross purposes. If I can help the hon. Gentleman, I shall do so. Police forces are setting about recruiting and they face all the normal difficulties that arise in trying to find police officers. We are providing funding for an extra 5,000 police officers to be recruited over the next three years. As that process goes on, as in any other profession, people will leave the service for a variety of reasons. Therefore, our conclusions as to how many police officers there will be after one, two, three, five or however many years depend on the interrelationship between the two factors.

We can try to inhibit--we are trying to inhibit in a variety of ways--the number of people who leave the police service. However, it is more important to put money into increasing the number who can be recruited. That is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced the crime fighting fund last September. The decision was to go for 5,000 over and above what would otherwise have been recruited.

As several organisations, including the Police Federation, have done, it is perfectly possible to speculate on the pattern that will emerge over the next two or three years. Therefore, the point of the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire is a perfectly appropriate one to make. However, I do not accept his figures. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already made clear, there is every reason to believe that our decision will lead to an increase in the number of police officers over the next three years.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North): Does my hon. Friend agree that, whatever the arguments about figures, the ultimate test for the public will be the figures for actual crime? The chief superintendent of Northampton says that

He attaches the figures to that statement. Crime reduction will ultimately be the public's test of the effectiveness of the Government's policies.

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