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Mr. John Horam (Orpington) (Con): I want to speak briefly on behalf of what I call the leafy suburbs and the fringe rural areas of London. When I make such points, as I do quite often, I usually get a weary smile from the Minister or representative of the Metropolitan police to whom I am talking. I confess that I could never accuse this Minister of a weary smile, but I tend to get that reaction from some of her bosses. They trot out a number of statistics and then say "The statistics are not too bad, so what are you complaining about?"

This is the sort of thing about which I am complaining. I recently received a letter from a constituent who wrote:

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there are farms in Orpington—

Another letter says:

In an e-mail, another constituent wrote:

That is the day-to-day situation reported to me by my constituents in Orpington. The reason is not that the local police are bad. Inspector Nick Stratford, the commander in my section of Bromley, is an admirable officer. He has been there for 18 months and has had a considerable number of successes. His staff also work extremely hard. The problem is simply that there are not enough of them. Bromley has 470 police officers; nearby Lewisham has 639; and Croydon next door has 685. We have 169 fewer than Lewisham, which is a smaller borough, and 215 fewer than Croydon, which is also a smaller borough. Bromley is the largest borough in London and has problems associated with that.

As a consequence of those numbers, Orpington has only 22 sector police officers, three sergeants and 13 community support officers. Of course there is a response element as well, dealing with 999 calls, but none of that is enough to constitute a proper neighbourhood policing policy, which I accept is the Government's aim. In only three wards—Biggin Hill, Cray Valley East and Orpington and Ramsden—do we have a proper set-up. In wards such as Petts Wood and Knoll, Farnborough and Crofton, Chelsfield and Pratts Bottom and in other rural areas we simply do not have enough officers. Each of those wards—quite big wards of 12,000 people—has only one ward officer. Incidentally, I found one of them at the end of a corridor in the House of Commons defending us against the sort
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of vandalism that occurred recently. Abstracting officers in the circumstances that I have described makes the situation even worse: it really is not good enough.

I accept that the Government have given London a more generous settlement this year than they have in the past. As the Minister said, it is 5.8 per cent. against an average of 4.8 per cent., and obviously I welcome that. The problem is that the resource allocation formula in London does not work favourably in the case of outer London boroughs and severely disadvantages boroughs such as mine. The Metropolitan Police Authority acknowledges that. I accept that it is not the Minister's responsibility to deal with that matter. None the less, it is a problem.

As the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) said, most of the increase in police force has been due to increases in council tax. The number of police officers in Bromley—470—is no greater than it was in 1997. There was a dip after that and we have now finally got back to the 1997 figure. My constituents pay considerably more council tax, particularly to the Mayor of London, whom by and large those in the borough of Bromley did not elect, and they have no more police to show for it. It adds insult to injury that they have higher crime rates, more antisocial behaviour—

Mr. Kevan Jones : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Horam: I cannot because of the time limit.

My constituents face more antisocial behaviour and have no more police than they had seven years ago, but pay substantially higher council tax to the Mayor of London. That is totally unacceptable and I shall continue to bang on about it until something is done.

3.36 pm

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): The Minister has effectively made my declaration of interests for me, for which I am grateful. As she knows, I am proud to hold the warrant as a special constable with the British Transport police. I am grateful to her for recognising the BTP, and to the Home Office, I hope, for beginning to recognise the force's needs in terms of infrastructure.

The British Transport police do not, of course, feature in the police grant report because they are not funded by the Home Office. It seems extraordinary—I emphasise that I am now speaking as a Member of Parliament and not as a representative of the British Transport police; I am certainly not speaking for the chief constable, who may or may not share my view—that we rely on the train operating companies to fund the British Transport police. The funding is often in arrears. It is a little like saying that the City of London should fund the fraud squad.

The British transport police are responsible for the policing of every inch of track in the United Kingdom and need to be funded and resourced properly and accordingly. As the Minister knows, because I have said it before, at any one time there are only 200 pairs of British Transport police officers on duty to cover not only the whole of the track, but railway land and property throughout the country. It is an impossible task. When people say, "There is vandalism and antisocial behaviour on our trains, so why isn't anyone
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there?", the answer is that there are not enough people. I would not wish to exonerate the train operating companies from their responsibility to provide properly trained staff on the trains—the conductors and the guards—but that should be over and above the work of the British Transport police.

We are here, however, to debate what is in the police grant report, not what is not. Let us come down to hard cash. The Minister knows that 85 per cent. of the money that is spent upon the police is spent on staff salaries, which does not leave a huge amount of boodle to spend on information technology equipment, cars and all the other things that the police require. That is not 85 per cent. on policemen. Under the Government, staffing has risen. Part of that is due to the privatisation, the civilianisation, of police tasks. I have no problem whatever, particularly with my constable's hat on, in seeing clerks doing the secretarial work that needs to be done to back up the men and women out on the beat. It is an entirely proper function, but I take issue with the amount of bureaucracy that is required of our policemen and women at virtually any hour of the day or night.

It is said that police numbers have increased. [Interruption.] The Minister says from a sedentary position that that is true.

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