Building Safer Communities

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Mr. Llwyd: If the hon. Gentleman was listening earlier, he will know that it cannot be otherwise than including the Metropolitan police. His intervention was rather strange, given that that fact was made plain by the Secretary of State more than once this morning. I will not accept interventions of that nature, as time is pressing.

During the debate on the police grant reports for England and Wales, the disparity was investigated and the Minister of State at the Home Department promised that he would elaborate on the problem by letter. To be fair, I have only just written to him, so I cannot comment on the matter; it is on-going. I attended that debate—I was the only Welsh Member to do so, as a matter of interest, as we are all fired up about policing today.

Wales' share of the police grant for 2001-02 was 4.8 per cent. of the combined England and Wales budget. The proportion for Wales has been falling steadily. I return to the figures that I quoted earlier to the Secretary of State: 4.93 for 1997-98; 4.92 for 1998-99; and 4.89 for 1999-2000. Why is the budget decreasing in that way? It has nothing to do with per capita spend; it is all to do with the percentage of the overall budget. If I am wrong, then clearly the Home Office figures are wrong and the Library is wrong. However, if the right hon. Gentleman can find out whether I am wrong, I shall gladly give way in due course.

If the budget for Wales is decreasing, why is it decreasing?

Mr. Nick Ainger (West Carmarthen and South Pembrokeshire): It is not decreasing.

Mr. Llwyd: Well, the figures suggest that the budget is decreasing as a proportion of the whole. It may be that the apportionment is mechanistic and not enough attention is paid to the need of Welsh police forces. In theory, the grants are meant to reflect the needs-based formula, but in practice they do not deliver that at all, as is evident from what I have just said.

London receives extra money, as it should do because it is a national capital city with extra functions. Cardiff, however, does not, and I should like to know why.

Mr. Michael: The hon. Gentleman should take account of the fact that the Metropolitan police force has both the increased pressure of covering the capital city of the United Kingdom and a variety of national responsibilities, which should be factored across all forces. He is not comparing like with like.

Mr. Llwyd: Again, I find myself giving way to meaningless interventions. I have just said that—[Interruption.] If the right hon. Gentleman had listened, he would know that I mentioned London's distinct national and capital city functions. I have already recognised the point that he made. My point is that Cardiff is the national capital of Wales.

Mr. Michael: The hon. Gentleman has just revealed his national tendencies again. The Metropolitan police force has responsibilities that run across the whole of England and Wales. The police force in Cardiff is extremely important, and as a representative of a Cardiff constituency I take a great interest in it, but its responsibilities are not comparable to the England and Wales—the UK—responsibilities of the Metropolitan police, which are reflected in its resources.

Mr. Llwyd: Of course, we differ on that. [Laughter.] It causes great mirth when we argue on such stupid points. It is hilarious. I only wish that someone would get up and give us a killer blow. It is all rather nonsensical.

Ms Lawrence: It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman has rebutted the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth.

Mr. Llwyd: I did not rebut them.

Ms Lawrence: The hon. Gentleman did rebut them. There can be no comparison between the responsibilities of the two police forces. For example, how many embassies are there in Cardiff that need policing?

Mr. Llwyd: I just told the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth that there is a difference, and I repeat that to the hon. Lady. However, I also argue that Cardiff has responsibilities that should be recognised, and that are increasing. There is a consulate in Cardiff, and representation from the Irish embassy. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence) might laugh, but if she wants an answer, she should contain herself for a moment. Then I will answer her.

One or two Governments have representations in Cardiff. There will be additional pressures when there are international matches such as the world cup. I accept that there are additional heavy burdens on the Metropolitan police, and that is why I initially referred to national and capital city functions.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): The hon. Gentleman rightly mentioned international matches in Cardiff. He will also be aware that FA cup matches are to be held in Cardiff for the next few years. We welcome the fact that they are coming to Wales, but does he accept that there will be an enormous impact on the police budget when they are taking place?

Mr. Llwyd: I am sure that that is right. The main point is that there will be greater need to examine the budget as pressures on it increase.

I return to the alleged 6.1 per cent. increase in funding to the North Wales police that the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Mr. Ruane) mentioned. Before I dwell on that figure, I shall refer to some interesting points that Mr. Tom O'Donnell, the director of finances and resources of the North Wales police authority, raised in a letter.

He says that, on the face of it, North Wales police have been treated fairly, with an extra grant of £875,000 earmarked for them. It will be used for much-needed new security at the Mostyn docks, and that is welcomed by all. However, Mr. O'Donnell goes on to point out that without that, the increase in the central Government grant would be 5.1 per cent., which is about average. He sees that as a standstill in funding rather than a growth in real terms. Yet police costs, including pay and pensions commitments, are increasing. I therefore dispute the figures given by the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd.

Mr. Ruane: I quote a source back at the hon. Gentleman. It is bobbies on the beat that matter to the public in north Wales—in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and in mine. I quote Bill Brereton, the North Wales assistant chief constable, who said on 30 October 2000:

    ``We are obviously delighted that we are going to see more police officers in North Wales. The recent announcements by the Government can only strengthen our position and we will use the resources to the best of our ability to ensure our vision of a safer North Wales.''

That is from a person in the know.

Mr. Llwyd: That is a reference to the extra 40 officers. That is a good move, which I wholeheartedly accept. However, I am not talking about that. I am talking about the police budget.

Mr. Ruane: The officers cost money.

Mr. Llwyd: Of course they do, but that was a one-off. The hon. Gentleman can wave his paper until the cows come home, but he is wrong. It was a one-off grant to bring another 40 policemen into the North Wales police force. The move came from the Government and is most welcome, but it has nothing to do with the settlement.

There are 6,738 police officers in Wales, roughly equivalent per capita to the number in England. There can be no denying that Wales has as many policemen on the beat per capita as England, and I welcome that. However, there are pockets of problems throughout Wales. Keith Turner, the chief constable of Gwent constabulary, wrote to me to highlight some of his force's concerns. He gave me a copy of a letter that he wrote in December to Catherine Byrne of the Police Resources Unit of the Home Office, in which he wrote:

    ``I write to express my extreme disappointment that this force has again been adversely treated by the application of the current funding formula with a below average increase of 4.4 per cent. Last year, we were similarly disadvantaged and received a very low increase in funding and one of the lowest in England and Wales.''

We should bear it in mind that the detection rate of the Gwent police is one of the highest in the UK, so, considering their resources, they do a fine job. He continues:

    ``It appears to me to be a perverse situation where a funding formula that purports to take into account workload drivers and social deprivation factors which are acknowledged indicators of need, continues to deprive the public of Gwent of police resources.

    In so far as crime is concerned, this force has historically been a high crime area. In the latest published statistics we were 8th in England and Wales in terms of crime per 1,000 head of population. We are in a group of most similar forces, which includes South Wales Police, Cheshire, West Yorkshire, Humberside, South Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Northamptonshire. Only 3 of those forces have a higher crime rate than Gwent whereas 4 are lower. Incidentally, our rate of crime per 1,000 head of population is the highest in Wales.''

    ``The recent funding proposals in respect of the National Criminal Intelligence Service and National Crime Squad levies for this force indicate an increase of 52 per cent. This enormous £760,000 increase is 1 per cent. of our total budget and I would strongly oppose this wholly unreasonable increase, which will further denude the service available for the public of Gwent.

    Last year this force undertook a significant delayering of its headquarters support services, which were intended for redistribution to front-line services. The poor settlement meant that such savings were required to balance the budget and even so, we had to severely curtail our planned investment in IS/IT and other areas. Last year in order to maintain operational capability, the Police Authority were required to precept an increase of 26 per cent. on council taxpayers. I know that such financial support will not be forthcoming this year and therefore our comparable position is set to worsen. We have recently been inspected by HM Inspector of Constabulary who points to the need for a significant investment in IS/IT to support operational officers. This year's settlement will not allow us to address these pressing concerns and I fear that our momentum could falter.

    I am also aware that since our 4 police divisions are all producing reductions in crime and superb detection results, they will have potential to become Beacon BCUs. It seems perverse in the extreme that our success appears to be penalised rather than rewarded.

    Many of the law and order initiatives contained in Her Majesty the Queen's Speech concerning the forthcoming legislative programme will require additional police officer attention and activity. Although welcome, such measures have to be sustainable and our relatively low settlement means we will again be at a disadvantage in comparative terms.

    You will be aware that we achieved our efficiency plan last year and are well on track for this year's programme, however, only a small proportion''—

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Prepared 13 February 2001