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Mr. Stephen O'Brien: I dare say that my hon. Friend is aware that one of the major complaints of the police
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at all levels has been that the removal of the policeman's notebook means that they have to do everything in triplicate through e-mail and now have to spend the first hour or even two hours of their day checking all their e-mails before they can get out on the streets. Will he urge the Minister to look at the basis on which that evidence can be adduced in court, not least because there was nothing wrong with notebook evidence in the past?

Mr. Mitchell: My hon. Friend makes an interesting and helpful point. I have no doubt that when the House debates the specific subject of police bureaucracy we shall return to the Government's appalling record in that respect as well.

After eight years of Labour Government and cynical waffle about being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, we have a demotivated police force who are tied up in bureaucracy, central Government diktats, performance indicators and red tape, and unable to respond to local requirements and local demands in the way that they would wish.

Above all, we have had eight years of rising crime. These are the Home Office figures: total crime is up 16 per cent. since 1998; violent crime is up 83 per cent. and has now passed the 1 million mark for the first time ever; and gun crime has doubled under Labour, with a gun crime committed every hour of every day. Before the hon. Lady protests about our record, I have consulted the Library and discovered that when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe was Home Secretary, gun crime fell by a third—32 per cent.

Meanwhile, detection rates for all types of key offences have fallen since 1997. Fewer than one in four sexual offences and fewer than half of all violent crimes are cleared up. Fewer than one in seven burglaries is cleared up, and last week the latest quarterly statistics showed that crime levels are continuing to escalate. The Minister can repeat as often as she likes that crime is falling, but the public know differently and her own Department's website makes it clear that the figures are very different. Only last week, we saw that violent crime was up yet again, by 6 per cent.; firearms offences were up by a further 5 per cent.; and sex offences were up by a massive 22 per cent.

The most important fact in this debate is that the long-suffering taxpayer has paid up—massively so—yet the Government's performance in cutting bureaucracy, supporting the police and cracking down on crime and disorder is a woeful litany of failure. It is the public who will hold this Government accountable for that.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I should remind the House that there is now a 12-minute limit operating on speeches from Back Benchers.

2.48 pm

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): I join my hon. Friend the Minister in saying clearly that tackling crime is the highest priority for most of our constituents. I find it difficult to recognise the picture painted by the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell), yet I come from a constituency in the inner city of Manchester, which historically has among the highest crime rates. We knew about gun crime long before many
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people in the rest of the country were even prepared to talk about it other than to condemn it as a blight on cities. Sadly, it was during the period of the Conservative Government—I do not make this as a political point—that gun crime became entrenched in our society. We all have to consider how to eradicate that problem of guns in our society. That goes way beyond the parameters of party political debate. It is a serious issue, which affects the lives and the deaths of my constituents and many others.

Mr. Mitchell: That is precisely why the Opposition are so concerned about it. Although I fully respect the hon. Gentleman's impression, the facts—the recorded crime figures—show that gun crime has doubled under this Government. Yet it decreased by 32 per cent. in the period when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) was Home Secretary. Those are not impressions but facts.

Tony Lloyd: I am not talking about impressions. I am well aware of what happens with guns in my constituency, and there is no doubt that more gun crime occurs now. We must strive against the culture of gun crime, but that will not happen through party political polemic. We can drive it down only if we examine practical ways in which to get guns off the streets of our cities and to change the attitudes, especially of young men, towards the desirability of guns. Perhaps on a different occasion the House should debate the issue, which is one of the most serious problems that the country faces. Gun culture is growing, and if we do not strive against it, we allow it to grow. Sadly, our experience is that it has been growing.

As I said in the past about hard drugs, people made the mistake of wanting to view the problem as ghettoed in the inner city. Drugs are now a problem throughout the country. We must not make the same mistake with guns. Gun crime will not be confined to specific parts of the country. If the culture of the gun becomes widespread, we all inevitably become its victims. The problem therefore affects us all.

Mr. Mitchell: I dispute the hon. Gentleman's view that we are raising the matter for party political reasons. I share his analysis of gun crime. He will remember that I used to be a Member of Parliament for part of Nottinghamshire, which has suffered particularly from the culture of gun crime that he describes so accurately. For all the reasons that he gave, no one would be more pleased than Opposition Front Benchers if the Government could bring this appalling scourge under control. I would be the first to congratulate the Minister. However, in the absence of that, it is the Opposition's duty to identify the problems and demand action on behalf of those whom we represent. I am seeking to hold the Minister to account on that point.

Tony Lloyd: The hon. Gentleman speaks for himself, and I want to make some progress. However, the subject is also important because it is relevant to another matter: the Opposition's assertion that they would move to a system of total block grants.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will not listen to that sometimes seductive argument for total block grants. There are some issues—gun crime is one—that
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require us to acknowledge that some areas suffer disproportionately, and it is therefore necessary to target resources at them. The police tell me that each gun murder costs roughly £1 million to investigate. That is an enormous sum for a police force such as mine, which has to deal with a disproportionate amount of gun crime. I hope that we can reflect on what that means for policing. I repeat that if gun crime is not checked in an area like my constituency, guns will spread throughout the country. Everyone therefore has an interest in ensuring that my police force has the resources to deal with the problem.

I welcome my hon. Friend the Minister's comments on the way in which pensions fit into funding. That has been a problem for many years. Indeed, almost throughout my time as a Member of Parliament, I have made representations to successive Home Office Ministers about the impact of pensions. Greater Manchester police believe that the increase in the contributions to their pension scheme will be £9.5 million. That is an enormous sum for a police force, and the discretion over spending is inevitably narrowed if we take into account the fact that the bulk of the budget is already committed to paying existing serving officers and support staff. The figure of £9.5 million therefore makes a genuine difference. I hope that my hon. Friend can elaborate on the operation of the new system later, if not today.

Figures are always hotly disputed between hon. Members who represent different police forces, but Greater Manchester police claim that they are disproportionately hit by the pensions problem. We can resolve it only if, as the Minister said, there is an attempt to move beyond the funding system of the past and begin to acknowledge that some sort of central processing at least irons out the differences in the impact on police forces. If my hon. Friend can devise a workable system, it will be welcome in a city and conurbation such as Greater Manchester.

I want to raise a matter that I can only believe is a quirk and not something that is deliberately built into the system. Greater Manchester police—my hon. Friend the Minister's local police force as well as mine—tell me that they will lose approximately £1 million through withdrawal of moneys from the crime fighting fund. That has happened because they recruited 50-odd officers on 29 March last year. The way in which the crime fighting fund budgets are calculated means that Greater Manchester police will no longer qualify for money from the fund. However, if they had recruited the same police officers three days later, on 1 April, they would have qualified. I do not believe that anybody designed the system to have that effect. If the account that I received is accurate, I am sure that Home Office Ministers will want to resolve the problem, and that they could do it relatively easily. Those sums are not trivial, and could have a genuine impact.

My hon. Friend will know that there is concern in Greater Manchester about the relationship between the police authority's funding and its ability to precept from the local authority. There was an ambition to go above the 5 per cent. that the Government now insist applies uniformly. The worst fear is that driving the precept down to 5 per cent. will make it difficult to maintain current staffing. Such matters are always hotly disputed and it is difficult to get to the bottom of what funding
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does and does not do. Every year the story is confused until reality somehow emerges later. However, I ask my hon. Friend to consider carefully the impact on Greater Manchester because, as she knows, we have made genuine changes. The police are making proper managerial changes and the system is now operating more efficiently.

It is always to difficult to know what sort of value for money we get from our police forces. That is a national issue, which is not confined to my police force. Police in Greater Manchester tell me that they know that they needed to make enormous changes, and that they were not efficient in the past. They also say that they are making those changes. Sometimes I believe them but at other times, I must say that I am a little more despairing and sceptical. However, we need a basis for beginning genuinely to compare like with like. Our debate today will—inevitably and rightly—focus on the pleadings of individual Members of Parliament about the impact of funding on their areas. That is not the most rational way in which to debate the funding of an important national service. The time has come for measures and mechanisms whereby we can make comparisons and work out what we are getting.

For example, this year my police force tells me that it is disadvantaged in funding when compared with West Midlands police, with which it is normal to compare the police force in a conurbation such as Greater Manchester. I find it almost impossible to know whether the assertion is true. However, when I hear the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield telling the Minister that the west midlands has a good settlement, it leads me to believe that there is some justice in the statement that Greater Manchester is relatively disadvantaged. However, how can I know that? How can I know that my police force is using the money as wisely as it should? So I appeal to the Minister to develop a proper means by which we can all judge value for money in the service, which we all agree has the highest priority for all our constituents.

This is an important debate, and it is interesting to see how few people are in the Chamber. That might indicate that the Government have got it significantly right with the funding generally. My own comments inevitably involve a slight amount of special pleading, because I represent a high crime constituency. I genuinely believe that my constituents feel that we are making progress on policing, but we still have an awfully long way to go. I appeal to the Minister to ensure, even at this stage, and even if fine-tuning is necessary, that Greater Manchester gets the benefits that are being applied elsewhere. I know that she will keep her door open and continue to listen as the process continues in the coming weeks and months, so that we can guarantee proper policing for our adjoining constituencies.

3 pm

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