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Mr. Clarke: I can confirm that, but I reinforce the point that I made to the delegation that I met on Monday, which was led by the hon. Gentleman. The only basis for adjustment will be a clear demonstration that the transitional costs incurred by the Surrey police authority are greater than the sums allocated to meet them. The Government are not offering a type of slush-fund payment: allocations are made in relation to specific and demonstrable additional transitional costs.
Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): I echo the thanks to the Minister expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), for his courteous reception of the Surrey delegation yesterday. I was in that delegation, as was my hon. Friend and other Surrey Members of Parliament, the chief constable of Surrey and the chairman of the Surrey police authority.
However, will the Minister repeat for the record another thing that he was helpful enough to tell the delegation on Monday--that he is prepared to look at the specific issue of the additional costs falling on Surrey police as a result of the house arrest of Senator Pinochet? As he knows, the chief constable has estimated those additional costs at £1.2 million, of which the Government have repaid only £200,000. The Minister will recall that in a written answer he estimated those costs to be £750,000 in total. Has the Minister had an opportunity to look at those figures since Monday? Can he now confirm the chief constable's estimate?
Mr. Clarke: I will deal with rural issues in a moment. I confirm that I said that I would look at the additional costs that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. Unfortunately, I have not had a chance to do so since the delegation, as I have been detained on business in the House. I will look at the issue, but I say to the House what I said to the delegation--the fact that I am saying that I will look at something is not a guarantee that I will agree it.
I announced on 15 June 2000 that the Home Secretary was to make available £15 million from the budget for the remainder of 2000-01 to enhance the policing service in rural areas. Financial provision for future years is now included in the spending review 2000 settlement. Forces policing sparsely populated areas will receive a further £30 million in 2001-02 and in the following two years. The money has been directed towards areas of greater sparsity--31 forces gain from the rural policing fund.
I have listened to widespread expressions of concern about the problems of rural policing, and I want to see concrete benefits from the allocation. The police authorities that receive funding under this scheme will need to show, in their best value performance plans, how they will use this money to improve policing in rural areas. I look forward to police forces using these funds imaginatively.
Two forces have made representations to me about being harshly treated in the allocation. The Northumbria police authority is in the unusual position of having a very sparsely populated part of its area--one of the sparsest in the country--side by side with a very densely populated area. The way the statistics worked out, the Northumbria force did not gain, as it might have hoped, from the allocation. I have said to the chief constable and the chair of the police authority that I am prepared to look at specific bids they might wish to make under targeted policing to deal with some of those aspects in the rural areas. I said exactly the same to the delegation from Surrey, which received £11,000 from the system--not an immense amount of money. It has a case for some of the areas.
Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon): The Avon and Somerset force polices some sparsely populated areas. It was not among the forces the Minister listed earlier whose numbers had gone up. However, violent crime has risen remorselessly in Avon and Somerset, not just in the past three years but in the past 20. Does the hon. Gentleman realistically expect that anything in this document is enough to result in the figures for violent crime going down in the next 12 months, as we all want?
Mr. Clarke: I believe that the allocations will make a difference on violent crime. I hope that the Avon and Somerset force will, over the next 12 months, have more officers than there were in March 1997.
The issues of violent crime are much more substantial than simply police numbers. Violent crime--a term that covers a wide variety of types of crime from the exceptionally serious to the not so serious--is the single biggest problem that we have in the areas of policing and crime reduction for which I am responsible. That is why
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): On the Avon and Somerset force, is there not a specific problem when a force covers a large area that is mixed in character, including the inner-city areas of Bristol and rural parts of Somerset? Is not the formula disadvantageous to a non-homogenous police force area which tends to lose out according to almost every criterion?
Mr. Clarke: The hon. Gentleman will be shocked to hear that I have received representations from just about every police authority in the country. They all argue that they lose out because they are homogenous-urban, homogenous-rural or not homogenous. They all say that they are the losers, come what may. To be fair, all that I can say is that there is weight in the hon. Gentleman's argument, as there is in those put to me by many other hon. Members.
Mr. David Kidney (Stafford): May I say how pleased I was when the Staffordshire police qualified for some of the funding for policing rural areas? They have already announced that they will restore beats in rural areas. They have even announced the completion of a mobile police station, which can be taken to rural locations, which is an innovative development. I heard my hon. Friend say that he would monitor the use of the money in future. Does that mean that those forces that use it well will receive more, and those that use it badly, less?
Mr. Clarke: I can confirm that we are monitoring the use of the money and we expect it to be well used. As yet, we have not established a system whereby performance drives the allocation of money as my hon. Friend implies. Through the targeted crime initiatives, we hope to establish what works. When people ask for funding for something that has been demonstrated to work, they will have a stronger case. There may come a time when we achieve the world that my hon. Friend, as a member of the Treasury Committee, seeks to achieve in everything that he does, but we are not there yet.
I was glad that in Avon and Somerset, to which hon. Members referred, there was a reduction in crime in the year to September 2000 of 2.5 per cent., which is far better that the national average of 0.2 per cent. Violent crime increased, but crime as a whole decreased.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): As the Minister said, an announcement was made about the sparsity element, which was most welcome. There is a crisis in policing in Wales. For the third year running, expenditure on the police forces in Wales has been cut. It was 4.93 per cent. of the budget in 1997-98, 4.92 per cent. in the following year and 4.89 per cent. last year. The North Wales police say that they are not hard done by, as they are getting the average increase, but even taking that into account, given their pension and pay
Mr. Clarke: The Welsh police forces have a unique record, I think. I have here the statistics for each region and I see that in the period between March 1997 and 1 September 2000--since the beginning of this Parliament--the number of police officers in Dyfed-Powys increased by 40, in Gwent it increased by 28, in north Wales, which is the hon. Gentleman's area, by 24 and in south Wales by 53. That is an increase in every force area. That does not solve the problem--as I am always pointing out, police numbers are not the only issue.
However, good progress has been made and that is no doubt one reason why crime in Wales reduced by 10.3 per cent. in the last year for which figures were recorded. That is a good performance and I pay tribute to the forces in Wales for what they are doing. I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's argument that more needs to be done. The North Wales force has been particularly creative in its approach to tackling rural policing positively.
We have made available an extra £500 million, including capital provision, over three years to meet the costs of Airwave--the modern radio communication system for the police. It will provide the police with more reliable, better quality radio and data communications. Airwave will give officers fast, secure, digital communications and access to local and national databases.
Payments in each of the three years will be concentrated on police authorities as they take up the system. The alternative would have been to spread the support more thinly across all forces every year. After consultation with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities, I decided that a focused funding arrangement would be more helpful to forces meeting the initial costs of Airwave roll-out. The core service charges for Airwave will be met centrally.
The DNA expansion programme has important implications for violent crime. We are committing £143 million in new money over the spending review years to the DNA project. That is in addition to up to £17 million a year in 2000-01 and 2001-02 in grants to police authorities. It will enable us to expand the national DNA database to hold the DNA profiles of the whole of the active criminal population by 2004. It will also provide support to enable forces to visit more scenes of crime, and to collect and process evidence from the increasing number of DNA matches of crimes to offenders. I hope shortly to announce details of the initial funding allocation to police authorities.
I emphasise that I can think of no more effective way of deterring crime than guaranteeing to potential criminals that if they commit their crime they will be caught by the use of DNA technology. During my time as a Minister, one of the more exciting developments that I see when I visit different forces is their ability to solve vicious, bad crimes--murders and rapes--dating from as long as 10 years before, through the availability of that technology. The more it is clear to criminals that their