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31 Jan 2007 : Column 235

Point of Order

12.31 pm

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. At midnight tonight a new stealth tax comes into effect—the doubling of duty for millions of air passengers. That tax increase has not been approved by Parliament and is not covered by any resolution of Parliament; that is indeed without precedent, as has been confirmed by the Treasury Committee. This is nothing short of a constitutional outrage. Mr. Speaker, what can you do to protect the people of this country from taxation without representation?

Mr. Speaker: I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I shall not be drawn into that particular argument. Perhaps he could start putting down parliamentary questions— [ Interruption. ] Order. He could start by going to the Table Office right away.

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Historic Counties, Towns and Villages (Traffic Signs and Mapping)

12.32 pm

Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): I beg to move,

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) who presented a similar Bill and, indeed, inspired the one that I present today. I thank the Association of British Counties, a society dedicated to promoting awareness of the 86 historic counties of Great Britain, which has campaigned tirelessly for their recognition through proper signage denoting historic county boundaries.

My Bill extends the principle of giving visible recognition to historic counties by including towns and villages, whose identity is so often lost when a district, borough or county council ignores the correct name of actual places and instead chooses to impose the name of the administrative authority, causing confusion and removing the sense of local identity that is so important to communities up and down our land.

Restoring identity to counties, towns and villages, along with pride and local patriotism in an historical context, is immensely important. I believe that we must stop the erosion of true local identities and restore the pride that people naturally feel in belonging to a county, town or village that in so many cases has already been lost.

My town of Romford is probably one of the best examples. As an historic Essex market town, there are indications of our historical links with Essex all over Romford—together with the constituencies of Hornchurch and Upminster, which today form the administrative authority of the London borough of Havering. That is a typical construct of the local government reforms of the 1960s. As I travel back after a busy week at Westminster to my home town of Romford, which lies within my home county of Essex, I enter the boundaries of Essex and Romford, but nowhere do I see a road sign welcoming me to either place. They have been written off the map by a dreadful local government culture that seems to recognise only the often made-up and artificial names of administrative boroughs or districts. That cannot be allowed to continue.

I was born in a place called Rush Green, a community within Romford but divided by a nonsensical local government boundary that splits one side of the area from the other, leaving half of it in Havering and the other in Barking and Dagenham. Only recently new signs were erected to welcome people to the area. You have guessed it, Mr. Speaker, down came the signs that indicated that one was entering Rush Green. They were replaced by signs saying, “Welcome to Havering”. I am aware that hon. Members have many such examples of the traditional boundaries of their counties, towns and villages being ignored by blinkered town hall bureaucrats who seem interested in promoting only the name of their administrative authority, even if it is a totally artificial name with no historic meaning.

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To see an Essex sign, which should correctly be placed at the River Lea near Stratford in east London, I have to travel many miles, through a host of traditional Essex towns and communities, until I reach the other side of motorway 25, where Essex county council has erected “Essex” signs as one enters Brentwood. I and many of my constituents, who are proud of our Essex heritage and roots, find that deeply offensive. County councils, London boroughs, elected mayors and transport authorities must never be allowed to strip people of their local identities. The law must be changed and that is what my Bill seeks to do.

The importance of historic villages, towns and counties is much greater than just local government. They are sources of identity and objects of affection for many people and I sincerely hope that this significant part of our British identity can be secured for future generations. However, to achieve that, we must mandate local authorities to install signage indicating actual counties, towns and villages and giving their names precedence over the name of the administrative council itself. We must divorce administrative, regional, electoral and ward boundaries from true places that have existed for hundreds of years. I have even seen one local council—a Labour one—erecting a sign that indicates the made-up name of an electoral ward, rather than the actual name of the community, which has existed for centuries. How damaging to our identity such actions can be.

I have lived all my life in the community of Marshalls Park, which is where I went to school. That lies within the town of Romford, situated in the county of Essex, which forms part of a country called England. My home, until a future local government review takes place, may lie within the so-called Pettits ward of the London borough of Havering, in the region of Greater London, but those are names with no meaning, designed for administrative and electoral purposes only. We should never allow them to override or replace the true identities and place names of Britain’s historic counties, towns and villages, but sadly that is what is happening.

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Let us conserve our heritage so that future generations understand the distinct and rich identities of a Yorkshireman, a Middlesaxon, a Lancastrian, or, like myself, a proud Essex lad. Let us defend our heritage and the history of these islands. Let us especially defend our historic counties, each with their own character—whether they be Rutland, Flintshire, Perthshire, Antrim, Middlesex or Essex—that form the foundations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The aim of the Bill is to denote, through true, correct and proper signage, the boundaries of historical villages, towns and counties. Signs would contain the traditional crest of the village, town or county, and not the logo of the local authority, unless it was very small and placed at the bottom of the sign. Such a change in procedure would clearly distinguish the permanent historical patchwork of places that comprise our country from the artificial creations of Whitehall that come and go. The Bill would restore our heritage, inspire local patriotism, and uphold our proud local identities, and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Andrew Rosindell, Mr. Simon Burns, Derek Conway, Mr. Lindsay Hoyle, Mr. Nigel Dodds, Mr. Mike Hancock, Mr. Mark Lancaster, Peter Luff, Mr. Greg Pope, Mr. John Randall, Bob Russell and Angela Watkinson.

Historic Counties, Towns and Villages (traffic Signs and Mapping)

Andrew Rosindell accordingly presented a Bill to amend the law so as to require traffic authorities to cause traffic signs to be placed on or near roads for the purpose of indicating the location of historic county, town and village boundaries; to require the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to mark the boundaries of the historic counties, towns and villages on its maps; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 29 June, and to be printed [Bill 55].

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12.42 pm

The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Mr. Tony McNulty): As a Middlesex MP, I beg to move,

I am pleased to tell the House that we have delivered another reasonable funding settlement for the police service next year. It is important to say that that builds on considerable investment over a sustained period. Government grant and central spending on services for the police will have increased from £6.2 billion in 1997-98 to some £11 billion in 2007-08. That is a cash increase of nearly £4.8 billion, or 77 per cent.—almost 40 per cent. in real terms.

Let me put the increase in resources for the police service in a wider context. The Government have presided over the most intense programme of police reform for more than a century. We have not only provided significant extra resources for the service and increased personnel, but overseen performance management, a changing mix of roles in the work force and the implementation of neighbourhood policing. All those elements command support across the House.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): The hon. Gentleman knows that there is considerable anxiety in several police authority areas—not least in my area of Avon and Somerset—about the change of policy on the provision of community support officers.

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): You were against them.

Mr. Heath: I spoke for my party when we considered the relevant Bill and we were very much for them.

I do not challenge the Minister’s decision, because I understand why it has been taken, but is there any possibility of deploying unused funds from elsewhere to support the recruitment of community support officers in areas that can recruit and want to meet the Government’s original targets?

Mr. McNulty: If I may, I will come to CSOs in more detail later. I have said to the chair of Avon and Somerset police authority and others that if there is some slack, or an unwillingness to pick up the respective contributions for the 16,000 recruitment target that was set for April 2007, I will be more than happy to consider the redistribution of the extra CSOs.

The latest figures from the Association of Chief Police Officers show that 10,000-plus CSOs have been recruited, and the feedback from the forces is that they will all reach the 16,000 target or just exceed it by April 2007. To be fair, the change from 24,000 to 16,000 has concentrated minds. Before the announcement, many authorities questioned whether they could reach the 16,000 target by April even with an accelerated recruitment pattern, which is one reason why we looked at the issue. The catharsis that resulted from our shifting the target means that all the forces have focused on it and, on latest intelligence, are on schedule
31 Jan 2007 : Column 240
to meet it. However, I accept the hon. Gentleman’s point—I want the target of 16,000 or so to be implemented, and I have told the chair of his police authority that, if give and take is required at the edges, we are prepared to look at that.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): I accept that the Minister will come to police community support officers in a moment, but is he aware that Norfolk constabulary is trying very hard indeed to roll out the safer neighbourhoods partnership scheme, which has had a significant impact on reducing crime in Norfolk, particularly petty crime? That is critically dependent on the 280 PCSOs promised by the Department. The figure has been reduced, which means that either the scheme is at risk or Norfolk will have to increase the precept, thus risk capping. What advice can the Minister give Norfolk?

Mr. McNulty: Earlier this week I met a delegation from Norfolk, and they made many of the points that the hon. Gentleman has just made. I am encouraged that he shares the Government policy agenda on neighbourhood policing, and accepts that it is successful. I do not dispute the fact that Norfolk has some challenging decisions to make about its budget. However, I am gratified that, as reported by the chair of the police authority, every district, county and other council in Norfolk supported the original target to implement—I think “implement” is preferable to “roll out”—neighbourhood policing, and I wish them well in doing so. We had a strong and fruitful discussion, and I said that I am more than happy to help in any way that I can by, for example, making representations across government and, if necessary, going to see what is already in place in Norfolk—

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con) rose—

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC) rose—

Mr. McNulty: May I finish my sentence? I have, in fact, done so, so I shall give way to the right hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin).

Mr. McLoughlin: I am grateful to the Minister for finishing his sentence quickly. Police authorities throughout the country want to know what their position will be in future years. There was a widespread welcome for the new funding formula introduced by the Government, but there are concerns that the floors remain in place. Can the Minister tell us today whether there are any plans to reduce the existing floors so that counties that thought that they would do better under the new formula may receive greater funding in due course?

Mr. McNulty: That is a fair question, and I shall come on to deal with the issue in detail. I accept that under the formula, with its existing floors and ceilings, Derbyshire is a loser, rather than a gainer. However, as I told the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) when we debated policing in Greater Manchester in Westminster Hall, for every loser there are gainers. I cannot say today how long the taper on floors and ceilings will remain in place, but—

31 Jan 2007 : Column 241

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. McNulty: May I finish my paragraph—not just a sentence this time—as my answer may affect the questions that hon. Members wish to ask? Without wishing to be churlish, I urge the right hon. Member for West Derbyshire to talk to colleagues in Cheshire, Cleveland, Cumberland, Devon and Cornwall, Dorset, Durham and so on, which gained from the settlement. I know that there are frustrations; there is some disquiet, and a debate is needed on the whole issue of police funding. The Lyons report will ensure that the subject is debated, at least in part. The frustrations to which I refer relate to the question of when we will receive that report, and I share those frustrations. If, outwith this debate on the settlement, we can have a mature, reflective and grown-up debate on where we should go with police funding, that would be welcome; we would then not need to talk about floors and ceilings.

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): The problem in Derbyshire is that the change in the formula has been negated for two years running, and there has been no progress in getting it implemented. For example, a similar authority, West Mercia, should get £4 million less than Derbyshire, but gets £10 million more. When will progress be made on that general problem for Derbyshire? We have reasonable local government settlements, but overall the county is losing £22 million because of the floors. Other authorities that have done much better than us over the years keep bleating about their settlements, while taking money away from us.

Mr. McNulty: With the best will in the world, I have to demur. We are talking about seeking to reduce the impact of changes in formula across the country. We want to consider the impact of the changes—which are all in the right direction, by the way; all the changes in resources are upward. We want to equalise the impact across the country, as a prelude to ensuring a more level playing field in police finance, as the right hon. Member for West Derbyshire suggests. With the greatest respect to my hon. Friend, it is not enough for any Member to talk about “bleating”, or to give any other such description of counties that benefit—at least for now—from the ceiling, rather than otherwise.

I ask people to resist the notion that there are winners and losers, although I know that I will hear plenty more comments to that effect in our debate from colleagues on both sides of the House. The overall context is one of significant interest in resourcing for policing, so that everyone is a winner. It is not appropriate language to talk about the “cumulative losses” of authorities that have been at the wrong end of the floors and ceilings.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): I appreciate the Minister’s approach to the debate. Does he accept that although Surrey has an excellent police force, our grant per head is only £89, which I think is the lowest rate in the country? It is well below the average in the south-east. That is a very low grant for us, and we have had extra expenses in connection with the police merger talks, and as a result of hosting the EU Heads of State meeting. Surrey is under a great deal of pressure, and I hope that the Minister will sympathise and perhaps take that into account.

31 Jan 2007 : Column 242

Mr. McNulty: I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that I am known for my sympathy for Surrey, in all respects. International events are dealt with under the special grant route. On his specific point—again, this goes back to the need for a general debate about finance—history plays a strong role in the situation. I take his point about the figure being relatively low, on a per-head basis. However, in terms of precept, Surrey is at the other end of the scale. It has a significant precept, and is ranked higher than many of the 43 authorities in England and Wales, but it has a larger population among whom to spread it. In terms of actual resources, Surrey is not hard done by compared with other forces. It is not ill-served by either the formula or the precept increases. However, the hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, in the sense that it cannot be right—this is my point about the general police financing arrangement—for the precept per head to range from £88 to £210. Alongside that, the precept contribution as a percentage of overall police resources varies. It is 18 to 20 per cent. for some forces, but for Surrey, among others, the figure is way up in the high 30s, if not 40-plus per cent.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con): Fifty per cent.

Mr. McNulty: I do not think that it is quite 50 per cent., actually.

Mr. Taylor: It is 49.3 per cent.

Mr. McNulty: Well, there we are; it is not quite 50 per cent. I said that. None the less, there should be a broadly similar service across the country. Of course there are specific needs, given factors such as deprivation, make-up and history, but those disparities are the sort of factors that will be addressed in the Lyons report and elsewhere. I half take the point made by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), but I do not accept it in the broader sense.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): There is indeed a good story to tell, as there has been real-terms growth in police funding over recent years, but the formula needs attention, particularly in the east midlands. One of the flaws of the formula is that there is a lag between population growth and the rate at which grant rises. The per capita increases for the rapidly growing population in the east midlands, where the population growth rate is almost twice that of the rest of England, create problems as the years go by. The best example—or worst, depending on one’s point of view—is Lincolnshire, which is growing at a rate of 10 per cent. over 10 years. The population growth rate for England as a whole is less than 2.5 per cent. Will the lags in the system be addressed, so that the formula is more effective in the five east midlands forces, including Leicestershire?

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