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5 Feb 2003 : Column 301continued
Mr. Charles Hendry accordingly presented a Bill to require the labelling of food colourings and additives which could have an adverse effect on the behaviour of some children and young people: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 28 March, and to be printed [Bill 54].
I shall be brief because I know that a substantial number of Members will wish to congratulate the Government on securing a 6.2 per cent. increase in police resources for the coming year, and will want, in their minds and speeches, to compare that with what their local police forces would face if there were to be a 20 per cent. cut in public expenditure, including on the police, as proposed by the Conservative party.
The Government are committed to reducing crime and the fear of crime. The British crime survey shows that overall crime has fallen by 27 per cent. since 1997. Crime levels last year were stable. The chances of being a victim of crime are at their slimmest for 20 years. In the past three years, the Government have increased police spending supported by central Government by £1.7 billionmore than 20 per cent. Under our expenditure plans for the next three years, the figure will increase by another £1.5 billion.
Following the cut in police numbers made by the Conservative Government, police numbers are now at record levels. I am pleased to tell the House that I am confident that we shall exceed our target of 130,000 officers in March 2003. Police training colleges remain full and we are moving rapidly towards the target of 132,500 police officers in 2004.
Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central): The Government's record is a credible one and is well received in areas such as mine. As my right hon. Friend said, people should acknowledge the Conservative Government's failure to address crime issues. This Government sensibly introduced community support officers, who deal directly with the fear of crime and reassure the public, but funding for them is not secure and long term. Will he assure the House and the people of my city that there will be a review so that that worthwhile new initiative will translate into the permanent presence of support officers on our streets?
Mr. Denham: I am glad that my hon. Friend welcomes the introduction of community support officers. More than 500 have been recruited this year, and there will be well over 1,000 in about 27 police forces by the spring.
When we discussed the Police Reform Bill, there was considerable debate, which we understood, about the desire to avoid ring-fencing CSO funding for ever and a day. We always made it clear that chief constables should decide whether to have CSOs. We also said, however, that we would not rule out pump-priming money to enable forces to employ CSOs for the first time, and that is precisely what we have done. We shall obviously need to look, probably in the course of this year, at what will happen following the first three years of funding to which we are committed, but forces now know their position on the officers they have recruited this year. I hope very soon to tell forces what level of support they might receive in each of the next three years if they wish to recruit further CSOs from the next financial year.
Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South): I also appreciate that the Government's record is credible, but only in part. If the Government's generosity is to be believed, will the Minister explain to the people of Hampshire what the police authority could have done to prevent an increase in the precept of more than 20 per cent.? Many of the initiatives that it would have had to cut are the very ones that he and I as Hampshire MPs have advocated. The authority either had to increase the precept by 20 per cent. or cut police performance. How has the Government's generosity failed us?
Mr. Denham: Hampshire's general grant has increased by 3.1 per cent, and Hampshire has shared in the overall increase in finance made available to the police service. In addition, it will receive money from the crime fighting fund, which will help to support some of the officers recruited over the past couple of years. It will also receive £8.19 million for Airwave, more than £220,000 from the rural policing fund, and about £1.23 million from the funds allocated to basic command unit commanders. All those sums are in addition to the police grant.
The level of precept is a matter for the police authority. We expect police authorities to take a reasonable decision, having consulted local people on what they deem appropriate. As a matter of fact, the Hampshire precept is almost £9 less than the shire average in England and Wales. That no doubt reflects Hampshire police authority's previous decisions. Although Hampshire is not receiving as much as some
Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way and for meeting me and a delegation from my constituency two or three weeks ago. I intervene on the issue of local democracy. There is a problem not just in rural areas but in metropolitan areas. West Yorkshire's precept, for example, is below average. As some members of the authority have complained about the average Government grant but have kept the precept below average, what message does he have for them?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Before the Minister replies, may I also offer a message? The three interventions so far have been very long and this is a time-limited debate, so I hope that if the Minister gives way, which he is of course free to do, questions will be precise.
Mr. Denham: I give my hon. Friend a similar response to the one I gave to the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock): the police authority is responsible for deciding the precept. We expect it to be reasonable, and that local views and policing priorities have been sought. I know that some police authorities intend not only to catch up with past underfunding but to expand services. I hope that people in my hon. Friend's area will take a reasonable decision. West Yorkshire received a funding increase of 4.9 per cent.the ceiling of the funding allocationso it cannot claim that it has not been fairly treated in the settlement. The final level of resources available to the police service will depend on decisions taken by the police authority.
In November, following the passage of the Police Reform Act 2002, we launched the first national policing plan. It sets out a clear national framework for raising the performance of police forces, balancing national targets with local priorities. It is the cornerstone of our reform programme. Coupled with the investment that I am announcing today, the plan will help to deliver the results that we all want from a modern and effective police service.
The settlement underpins the four policing priorities set out in the plan: tackling antisocial behaviour and disorder; reducing the volume of street, drug-related, violent and gun crime; combating serious and organised crime; and increasing the number of offenders brought to justice. The settlement will allow all police forces to improve their performance and for the poorest performing ones to close the gap between themselves and the best. As part of that, better use will have to be made of the record and growing number of police