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The next aspect is ad hoc funding of a yearly kind. I acknowledge that the Government produced a one-off payment of £3.4 million last year and I would obviously like to see another substantial payment come through this year. However, there is an important difficulty in that, if structural problems are funded by way of annual one-off payments, that fails to deal with the underlying structural difficulty itself. There is, perversely, the additional problem of disenabling police authorities from long-term thinking, as they will not know what their revenue stream will be. It is difficult to take strategic decisions about the force or any police operations without knowing the amount of long-term structural funding. Although I would welcome an
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additional one-off grant, either the same or larger than last year’s, I do not regard it as a solution to the long-term structural problems that I have identified.

That brings me to the precept, which is a real problem. There is no doubt that the Lincolnshire police authority is going to come forward with a very substantial increase in the precept. However, precepts are subject to capping and, even worse in one sense, this will be deeply resented by the council tax payer. Council tax payers will say with considerable force that this is a stealth tax, whereby they are being obliged to shoulder the cost of providing a proper police service in Lincolnshire and elsewhere, which should properly be borne by the Government.

My strong suspicion—I am sorry to say this to the Minister—is that that is deliberate policy. I believe that in many rural areas, it is deliberate policy to drive up the local tax by way of stealth taxes of that kind in respect of those matters that should be properly borne by central Government. It is not coincidence, but deliberate policy. Where do we go from here? As I said, I believe that the Lincolnshire police authority will come forward with a very substantial request for an increase in precept. I do not believe that it has any alternative. It is an unfortunate state of affairs, brought about by a deliberate policy of Government, but I am a realist and I think that the police service in Lincolnshire needs to be reinforced, which will require a substantial increase in the precept. I shall defend that, but I greatly regret the fact that it has to be met.

I say to the Under-Secretary of State that it would be perverse of her and her colleagues to impose a cap on the request that may well be made by the police authority, which will have been brought about by what I believe to be the Government’s failure to provide proper funding for Lincolnshire. If that request is made by the police authority, it should be allowed.

David Taylor: The right hon. and learned Gentleman represents a seat in the same region as me. There are two factors to which he has not yet alluded in respect of the financial problems facing the Lincolnshire and Leicestershire forces. First, there is a lag between population growth occurring on the ground and its being reflected in the formula. That is true of Lincolnshire more than Leicestershire, but the whole of the east midlands is the most rapidly growing region, which needs to be addressed. Secondly, there is the impact of floors and ceilings, which have prevented Leicestershire from receiving an extra £6 million over the last two years and an extra £9 million over the next three. That speeds up the rate at which the needs of authorities need to be reflected and paid for in the central grant. That affects Lincolnshire as much as it affects Leicestershire, does it not?

Mr. Hogg: The hon. Gentleman is right. The two points that he identified are certainly common to his county and mine. I suspect that they are also true of the other counties in the east midlands. However, he speaks with authority for his own county and I can confirm that it is true of Lincolnshire.

I wish to make two further points before finishing. First, I personally believe that we need to see a huge increase in the number of police officers on the beat, especially in the more stressed urban areas. That point
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arises from my practice at the criminal Bar. The House will know, as I frequently declare my interest, that I frequently appear in criminal courts. By the nature of things, I tend to represent people who have committed crimes in urban areas. There is tremendous and serious lawlessness in many of our cities. However we describe it and whatever its immediate causes—these are not matters for today’s debate—I believe that a very large increase in police numbers is necessary and should be done on a pilot basis—increasing by 20, 30 or 40 per cent. the number of police officers available. That will prove hugely expensive to fund.

That brings me on to a point that I have made many times in the House—the value of the special constabulary. I was a special constable for two or three years and greatly enjoyed it, although it was many years ago now. I believe that it provides a wholly untapped resource. Long ago, we accepted that the Territorial Army and the fire service should be entitled to pay their part-time people. I have long believed that we should be able to pay special constables a proper retaining sum. If we did that in counties such as Lincolnshire, many people willing to patrol the streets of their villages and localities would come forward. I urge Government and Opposition Front Benchers to think about the advantages of that happening.

My last point relates to bureaucracy and I put it mainly to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds. He was wholly right to say that much of the police service’s time is wasted in bureaucracy. I know that because I have seen it in my own practice at the criminal Bar. May I remind the House of the need to ensure that power is not abused? I happened to be a Whip way back in 1983-84 when the Police and Criminal Evidence Act introduced various codes and the requirement that interviews should be tape recorded. I can remember what police interviews were like before tape recording, when verballing was commonplace.

I also remember two of the difficulties associated with stop and search. I recall Sir John Wheeler as he now is, then Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, campaigning to stop the use of stop and search because of the abuses taking place on the streets of London, which was particularly damaging to police relationships with the ethnic minorities. We need to be very careful when we set about dismantling some of the constraints that we have imposed on the police. There is a basic and beastly truth about life—if we give power to officials, it will almost certainly be abused. That is a basic rule of politics.

Chris Huhne: Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree—this may serve as a salutary warning to his party’s Front Benchers about some of the remarks that they have made in recent weeks—that trust between the minority communities and the police is crucial to effective policing? Without that trust, it will be impossible to secure the evidence needed to convict, or to secure successful prosecutions. On that basis alone, is it not entirely counter-productive to start ditching important safeguards of the kind that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has described?

Mr. Hogg: I agree with the first part of what the hon. Gentleman has said. It is indeed important to try to increase trust between the ethnic minorities and the
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police service. At present, it does not exist in many areas. I suspect, however, that the hon. Gentleman has been rather unfair to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds. He and our colleagues are not suggesting the dismantlement of the main protections: I never thought that my hon. Friend said that. What I am saying is that we must be cautious, because many of those protections are there for very good reasons.

Power will be abused. We should give power away only if we must, and if we must, we should ring it with as many safeguards as we properly can.

6.10 pm

Mr. John Horam (Orpington) (Con): I wish to direct the House’s attention away from the rolling acres of Lincolnshire to the leafy suburbs of London, whose problems were mentioned briefly by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) in response to an intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Anne Milton).

There is a general perception on the Government Benches that there is little crime, or less crime, in the leafy outer suburbs of London, but that is not true. Indeed, the problem is that the more affluent parts of those suburbs are magnets for crime. My local police in Orpington, in the London borough of Bromley, recently carried out a successful operation involving a particularly villainous group of criminals who were feasting on an especially affluent part of my constituency. They did a brilliant job in apprehending all those villains, but only one of them came from Bromley. Most came from other parts of London, or from other parts of the country. The affluent suburbs which are supposed to be quiet and crime-free are often magnets for major crime.

As that incident showed, we have an excellent borough commander in Bromley, in the shape of Chief Constable Charles Griggs. He was born in Bromley and lives in my constituency of Orpington, so he knows the ground extremely well, and we are very confident about his performance and that of his team. He tells me, “I must live within the resources that I am given by the Government, or the Mayor of London. There is little I can do about that, and I make the best of it.” The fact is, however, that the resources at his disposal are far less than they should be. Although Bromley is the largest borough in London, it has only a little over 500 police officers. The further we go into the inner-London boroughs in concentric circles, the more the number increases. There are probably more than 600 in Lewisham, and I believe that Hackney has 800 or 900. I do not know the figure offhand, although the Minister may know it. In any event, she will understand my point.

As has been pointed out by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), there are major problems in city areas, both in affluent outer London and in less affluent inner London, which could be lessened by significant increases in the number of police on the streets. That is, of course, a product of the lack of resources that is evident in places such as Bromley. The problem is not just a lack of resources year on year—I
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am glad that the Government have adopted a three-year financing period—but sudden changes in the amount available within the year, which occur with little notice and little reason.

I recently told Chief Constable Charles Griggs, “The promises about the number of police community support officers in my constituency are not being honoured. There are fewer than you said there would be. Moreover, the police shops that were to be opened in the wards are not being opened. People are disappointed. Expectations were raised and are not being fulfilled. Why?” He said, “I have just been told by the Metropolitan police that I cannot spend any more money in the current financial year, so I will have to postpone all that until the next financial year—if I can.” Not only are the resources less than they should be, as many Members have acknowledged today, but there are sudden arbitrary changes in the amount that a police force can spend in a year. That is disconcerting and difficult for forces to handle, and it has an effect on the quality of policing.

This debate will be followed by a debate on the local government settlement. I do not intend to stray on to that ground, but the fact is that boroughs such as Bromley suffer as a result of having not just fewer resources for policing but fewer resources for local government, which compounds the problem. Bromley has fewer resources for health care and schools than less affluent London boroughs. This is not a single but a quadruple problem, which exists throughout the spectrum of public services.

Let us consider police resources in the wider context of the whole country. Public spending in London is only 31 per cent. of regional income, while in the north-east the proportion is 63 per cent. and in the north-west it is 54 per cent. Not only does Bromley suffer within London; London suffers in comparison with the rest of the country. That is perpetuated in the police settlement. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham complained about a 3.1 increase in his area. My area has received an increase of 2.5 per cent., less than has been received by any metropolitan police area in the country except one. West Yorkshire, Manchester, Merseyside and Birmingham have all received larger increases. I cannot conceive why that is: surely London’s crime levels are at least equal to those in other metropolitan areas.

We will battle on, and do what we can with the resources that we have—my borough commander has admirably said that he will do what he can—but the fact is that those resources are inadequate. I hope that when my party comes to power, in 18 months or in two years, we will do something about that manifest unfairness.

6.17 pm

Mr. Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): I want to focus on this year’s police grant settlement in relation to the specific needs of rural policing. I am on record as saying in the House that Norfolk constabulary does an excellent job in difficult circumstances, policing vast rural areas as well as deprived towns with a history of antisocial behaviour. That is not an easy task, but the police perform it despite having to find some £3.5 million in efficiency savings. They have been forced reluctantly
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to go to the Government cap in hand to increase the amount of council tax that must be imposed on the county’s taxpayers.

At the end of last year, the Home Secretary assured the House that the Government were committed to ensuring that the police service was in the best possible shape to meet the heavy expectations placed on it. That commitment is welcome, but does the Minister agree that it is vital to recognise the special needs of policing in rural areas, and the particular demands involved in delivering a high-quality service to communities in which the population is sparse?

I want to concentrate on two issues that the Norfolk police have told me are of key importance if they are to achieve their goals of reducing crime, the fear of crime and antisocial behaviour, increasing detections, and improving confidence. The first is specific grants. The rural policing fund is, unsurprisingly, hugely important in sustaining the force's capabilities, but it and other specific grants such as the crime fighting fund have not increased for several years. That amounts to a grant reduction in real terms.

This policy reinforces the view held among rural forces and in the rural community, particularly in places like Norfolk, that the Government are refocusing resources in urban areas at the expense of rural areas. I am sure that the Minister recognises that that message is hugely damaging to police morale, and that it causes immense frustration—and, indeed, fear—among rural residents. How can such a policy be fair? Does it not demonstrate yet again that this Government misunderstand the countryside and fail those who live outside cities and major towns?

Fear of crime is high in South-West Norfolk. Unlike in urban areas, some residents in my constituency can go for days, or even weeks, without seeing a police officer. People want help in tackling antisocial behaviour, traffic speeding through remote villages, enforcement of weight limits on lanes, petty thefts, and drug use in their communities. The chairman of a village hall management committee told me:

Agricultural theft is also a massive problem. The excellent organisation Farmwatch has had to resort to sending out a warning to farmers in its newsletter, advising them not to leave farm equipment out between jobs so that they do not fall victim to thieves looking for scrap metal. One constituent wrote to me:

It seems now that even our local churches are not safe from this type of theft, as scrap merchants have begun targeting church roofs for lead.

I also cannot mention rural crime without referring to the frequent raves residents in my constituency must endure. I will return to that matter later in the month
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when I present a ten-minute Bill to the House, seeking to address the shortcomings of current legislation on raves.

Why have specific grants, such as the rural policing fund, not been kept in line with the rate of inflation? Why have the Government constrained rural police forces by imposing upon them a grant reduction in real terms? These are serious and pressing questions, to which rural forces and my constituents want answers.

My second point is on the provision of protective services to cover emergency incidents, major investigations, work to combat terrorism and extremism, serious crimes such as homicide, public order incidents, witness protection and organised crime. Norfolk, along with other forces, is suffering from a projected gap of £5 million in protective services funding, despite an upsurge in serious and organised crime, a rise in human trafficking and increased drug-related crime. Does the Minister accept that rural police forces, like urban forces, have to deal with these crimes? Will the Minister also acknowledge that modern technology facilitates such crimes? Norfolk has pledged to be an intelligence-led force, but how can it achieve that if the protective services aspect of its remit is insufficiently funded? Does the Minister accept that a funding gap exists in this area, and what will the Government do to address it?

Norfolk is collaborating with a neighbouring force to try to overcome this shortfall in resources, but it will be a few years before the positive effects are seen. What is Norfolk constabulary expected to do in the short term? Norfolk constabulary is committed to protecting the public to the very best of its abilities, but it needs the support of the Government and a fair share of the national funding pot to do so properly.

I urge the Minister to reassure our police forces that the funding shortfalls that are causing considerable worry to constabularies such as Norfolk do not reflect a wider Government complacency towards the needs of rural areas. Finally, and most importantly, I urge the Minister to give Norfolk a better deal.

6.25 pm

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): I rise to debate some of the details of the police grant, with particular reference to Surrey. I am delighted that the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing is back in his place, and I am pleased that he acknowledged in his opening remarks that there is a particular problem to do with Surrey police funding.

First, let me give some context. Surrey is supplying £5.4 billion-worth of taxation revenue to be spent elsewhere than in Surrey; therefore for a typical family of four, on average £20,000 each year is spent outside Surrey. So Surrey is paying more than its fair share towards expenditure elsewhere in the country. I shall examine the grant formula, and then look at the consequences of how it is applied to Surrey and point to some of the potential remedies that the chief constable recently recommended to the Minister.

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