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Mr. Clarke: I do not like to be an anorak, but I am becoming almost a world expert on the different methods of counting police numbers in the Metropolitan police authority area, in Government statistics and a in range of other statistical areas, so I will not venture into the territory that the hon. Gentleman invites me into, but there is a central issue for the Metropolitan area, which he is well aware of, representing it as he does: the distinction between the amount of money allocated to the Met that would enable it recruit officers and its actual ability to recruit officers at this time. That has been a dominant theme of the discussions both in the House and with the Metropolitan police.

I hope, however, that the pay settlement that we have indicated and the recent announcement on rail travel for police officers is making a difference. Anecdotally, I can certainly say--I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman can confirm it--that our recent announcement on travel on public transport in the metropolitan area has been very positively received by police in the metropolis.

Mr. Heald: Does the Minister agree that there is cause for huge concern in London? Just within the past year, the Metropolitan police have had to revise upwards by 25 per cent. their wastage figures on the number of officers who are likely to leave over the period covered by the crime fighting fund. As for the fighting fund, is it not true that the Metropolitan police have not been able to recruit and

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are asking to carry forward to next year about 115 placements that they have not been able to make? Is it not wrong to be complacent about that?

Mr. Clarke: The idea that I was complacent about it is absurd. In fact, in my reply to the intervention from the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), I indicated precisely the opposite.

We have been able to be flexible in relation not only to the metropolis, but to other forces such as Thames Valley police in rejigging the crime fighting fund initial allocations, to meet the particular circumstances of different forces. Therefore, some forces have accelerated and some have delayed their allocations, in a manner that I think is beneficial to those forces.

As we are discussing the metropolis, I also want to express my very strong support for the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, Sir John Stevens, and for his deputy Ian Blair for the work that they are doing to try to revitalise the Met's approach on those key issues.

I agree, however, with the comments of the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire. There is a very serious issue, and I have discussed it very openly in a wide variety of circumstances. However, we believe that we are taking action to address it. Nevertheless, he is quite right. If he wants to make political capital out of it, he certainly should do so. There are issues that have to be addressed. I say that we are addressing them, although there is a great deal to do. He may try to claim that we are not doing that, but I do not think that it would be substantiated.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and the flexibility that he has shown on the issue. However, is there not a particular problem in constituencies such as mine that do not have the special measures provided to the Metropolitan police but are only five miles outside the Met area? He says that Thames Valley has had 53 additional officers, but the fact is that they have not been sent to Slough. What can he do to ensure that Slough gets the officers it needs to police our community properly?

Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend makes her point, as always, very articulately. We discussed the matter in her constituency with her police in Slough, because I acknowledge her point. She is right to say that in the socio-economic categories, for example, Slough is more similar to some of the London boroughs than it is to many of the other areas of the Thames Valley force. I can say, first, that we are allocating more resources to Thames Valley.

Secondly, the police negotiating board is currently considering the matter of pay for forces in the ring outside London. I hope that it will come to a decision soon. If it comes to the type of decision that I know that my hon. Friend is pressing, I think that it will make a little bit of a difference.

Thirdly, a process has been taking place in the Thames Valley authority, which has been explained to me, on the allocation of resources within the Thames Valley area.

Today at Prime Minister's questions, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter) made some points on the issue of police housing. I tell the Thames Valley police authority that it should take very seriously

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precisely the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) is making. For our part, we could not and will not overthrow the authority of the chief constable and the police authority. However, we shall try to do what we can to encourage the type of serious attention to the problems in Slough to which she referred. I pay tribute to her assiduous campaigning on the matter.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton): The Minister will be aware that the people of Kingston still do not believe that the money that the Government gave to the Greater London Authority was sufficient to increase police numbers to the level that we need. However, he may also be aware that the GLA had a debate on the Metropolitan police authority budget, following which Sir John Stevens sent a letter to Lord Harris in which he said:

Is the Minister aware that Conservative GLA members have tabled an alternative budget requiring £47 million of extra efficiency savings--over and above the 1 per cent. GLA-required efficiency savings--which would require a cut in police numbers and police resources in London?

Mr. Clarke: I was not aware of that, but I never cease to be shocked by the activities of Conservatives, who try and score short-sighted political points at the expense of long-term investment. That was the story when they were in government, and it is the story now that they are in opposition. I am not surprised, therefore, by what the hon. Gentleman says. I am glad to confirm the entente cordiale--a suitable term between pro-Europeans--that exists between the Liberal Democrats and the Government on these questions.

I shall turn now to the other matters regarding the Metropolitan police that I want to deal with, so that they can all be considered in the round.

On 1 April 2000, the boundaries of the Metropolitan police district were brought into line with those of the 32 London boroughs. That important development has enhanced policing in a variety of ways. It meant that Essex, Hertfordshire and Surrey took over responsibility for policing areas that were previously within the Metropolitan police district.

General adjustments to the grant distribution were made from this year, and we have taken account of transitional costs incurred last year and in 2000-01. I recognise that the three county police authorities will continue to incur transitional costs next year.

We will therefore be making special payments of grant in 2001-02, totalling £2.25 million, in recognition of the additional costs resulting from the boundary changes. Accordingly, Essex will get £14,000, Hertfordshire £627,000, and Surrey £1.609 million.

When I met the delegation of Surrey Members of Parliament earlier this week, I said that I would look at detailed submissions and representations from the Surrey police authority and the chief constable of Surrey if it was felt that the transitional costs were greater than had been allowed for in the grant.

The Government accept that the police funding formula is not sufficiently sophisticated or flexible to respond to the distinct characteristics and responsibilities of the

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Metropolitan police. It is for that reason that the Greater London Authority receives, each year, a special payment of grant on behalf of the Metropolitan police authority in addition to that provided through the funding formula.

In recognition of the Metropolitan police authority's specific needs, the Metropolitan police special grant for 2001-02 will be increased, in line with the increase in total standard spending, from £182 million this year to £191 million. That is paid as 100 per cent. Home Office grant, and is not charged to London council tax payers.

With the establishment of the MPA in July 2000, arrangements for the policing of London have been brought more closely into line with arrangements elsewhere in England and Wales. The Metropolitan police precept is now set by the Mayor as part of the Greater London Authority budget, and is subject to the approval of the GLA.

With that, I conclude my remarks about the Metropolitan police. I shall therefore give way to any hon. Member who has a question about that.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, and for his courteous reception of the delegation from Surrey on Monday. I am pleased that he has put on record the Government's approach to transitional funding, and hope that he will look at extra transitional funding for the coming financial year.

Will the Minister confirm that he will also consider bids for subsequent financial years, especially for Surrey, which is assuming the lion's share of the burden relinquished by the Metropolitan police? That is especially important, given that the wider formula means that, compared to other police forces, Surrey is in a dire position.

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