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2.24 pm

Mr. Tony McNulty (Harrow, East) (Lab): It is important for us to take the police, and police finance, extremely seriously. I do not think that that has happened of late,
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certainly on the Opposition Benches. I said two years ago-the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) quoted me without mentioning me-that I believed that the time had come for a proper and substantial review of the way in which we funded our police. If we are serious about localism-which I do not think many Members are, on either side of the House-we have, in the funding of the police, the perfect model of what might be called transactional politics.

Even as Policing Minister I opposed the capping of police authorities-not local government-and I still do, because it offends against the localism to which I have referred. We saw that in London for the four years during which Ken Livingstone said, very clearly, "I will put x per cent. on your per cent. precept, and this is what you will get for it in the end. You will get a team of six-one sergeant, two constables and three police community support officers-in every ward in London." I shall say more about London later. People bought that, and it was delivered. We thought that it was sacrosanct. I shall say more about that as well.

I take on board what the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds said about the formula, and I welcome what my right hon. Friend the Minister has done in that regard, but in my opinion it is time for a fundamental rethink-locally based-of the funding of police forces. As I think I said from the Dispatch Box when I was a Minister, it cannot be right for the amount offered locally to the overall resource base of police forces to range from-I hope the House will forgive me for using old figures-some 18 per cent. in Northumbria to well over 55 per cent. in Surrey when the two areas are providing essentially the same service. It cannot be right that the precept at that time-again, I hope the House will forgive me for not using up-to-date figures-ranged from about £80 to the best part of £250 or £260 per head, or even more. Of course policing in Surrey is different from policing in Northumbria-if it were not, there would be a national police force-but such local vagaries should not obstruct the provision of a more universal and fairer system that is much more locally based in terms of contribution. I mean that in an entirely non-partisan sense.

Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is making an adult speech on a difficult subject. Will he bring within his compass the issues of how the precept is determined and the role of capping? One worry is that when a local community is consulted widely on what would seem an appropriate precept which has gained a good deal of assent, as has happened in Derbyshire, the Government nevertheless intervene and impose an artificial cap on the precept that may be levied. Would it not be reasonable to recognise some freedom in that respect as well?

Mr. McNulty: I am sorry that I did not make myself clear to my hon. Friend. As I may have said more gently when I was Policing Minister but will say more vocally now, I do not consider that capping figures at all, or should figure, in my little purview or compass. We are talking about a unique relationship: a potentially transactional relationship. To say "The police authority will do x with y increase in, for instance, capital or police numbers, and it will cost you, the public, y" is pure transactionalism, and need not involve capping.

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Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman-who, if I may say so, was a very good Minister-for mentioning Surrey. As he will know, Surrey taxpayers contribute up to 50 per cent. of policing costs. That is a terribly high percentage, and capping caused those taxpayers a great deal of difficulty. Unless I misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman, he seemed to be showing some sympathy for Surrey. I only hope that his right hon. Friend the Minister will accept words from him that he might not accept from me.

Mr. McNulty: Of course the hon. Gentleman may say what he said about what I was like as a Minister.

I am talking about where we need to go, rather than about the existing circumstances. To be fair to myself-if that is possible-I think that I said much of this from the Dispatch Box during the debate that was mentioned earlier. I believe that there needs to be a collective will and consensus.

As I said earlier, there needs to be some seriousness in the debate about police grant and resources, and all the issues that surround that subject, if we are to do right by the public. Let me give an example that is relevant to resources. Back in 2005 we decided, rightly, that there were serious problems with the data relating to violent crime. We consulted widely on that, and a cross-party panel looked at the detail and arrived at some conclusions. The upshot was, in essence, that it was thought that the way in which violent crime data are assessed and collected should be changed so that, instead of having just the standard police definitions, the victim's own thoughts on the level of the violence of the crime were at least taken into account. We therefore changed those definitions, which I think was rather brave, although we could perhaps have gone further.

As a result, all subsequent data on violent crime are substantively different, and that, of course, has implications for the measurement of the performance of police forces. It is, therefore, frankly not on for the boss of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds-the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling)-to compare the new violent crime figures with the old ones, and to do so in such a distorted and disingenuous fashion. I was going to say "mendacious", but I suspect that that word is on the list of non-parliamentary language. This airbrushing of statistics does the hon. Gentleman and his party no credit, and, more importantly, it serves to distract from the reality the Government were trying to get through to by changing the statistics in the first place.

Judy Mallaber: Is my right hon. Friend aware that our chief constable in Derbyshire has in the past had to disavow newsletters put out by the Conservative party, because they included misleading crime statistics? Does my right hon. Friend also share my concern that the police feel that they are forced into such a position? They should not be put in such positions, because nobody should play around with crime statistics. Indeed, our chief constable has begged for games not be played with statistics.

Mr. McNulty: That is absolutely and entirely right, and it is to the Conservatives' shame that they have played around with the statistics. It is not enough for the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell to say, as he did on the "Today" programme this morning:

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Well, I am not sure whether I should congratulate him on spotting that, because the changes have been quite significant. He continued by saying that

That is nonsense. Comparing the previous figures with the current figures is like comparing apples with oranges. If the upshot of the changes was that we had somehow, through sleight of hand, hidden the extent of violent crime, I could understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but violent crime rose by 35 per cent. because of the adjustments, as-it is to be hoped-we were now measuring it in a far more accurate and victim-centred way. The Government, and all political parties, should be given great credit when they use such data in public forums.

Mr. Stewart Jackson: I was just beginning to warm to the right hon. Gentleman in his role as bipartisan statesman speaking for all of us when, in the past few minutes, he started to become over-partisan. To revert to the bipartisan tone, does he agree that the floors and ceilings mechanism is a very blunt instrument that fails to take into account-I am sure he will concede that it failed to do so when he was Police Minister, as well as now-specific issues such as population change, the recording of population numbers and, particularly in Cambridgeshire, tourism? We need to go back to square one in reviewing the funding formula, because not all of the 40-odd force areas can possibly be the same in key aspects such as urban population and rurality. I invite him to conclude that this Government have not looked at that pressing issue with the appropriate alacrity.

Mr. McNulty: On the first part of that intervention, the hon. Gentleman misses the point entirely. I am not trying to be partisan. As I have said, the criteria for the figures were determined by a cross-party panel, and we deliberately changed the entire definition of violent crime. Given that there was broad agreement on that, it is incumbent upon all of us to use the new figures appropriately and not to compare them with the previous figures-and nor, frankly, to shroud-wave and scaremonger to the public in the disgraceful way that the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell has done.

The other points that the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) made were precisely the points that I was making. When I was Police Minister, I clearly did not succeed in everything I did. If I had, the formula would not be quite as it currently is and more of the contribution would be local. Although, of course, we will never reach the stage when the entire police budget comes from local sources, because of the transactional nature of policing and police authorities, we have to move to a system beyond the current formula.

The hon. Gentleman is also wrong on another point; the needs-based formula we have is far more responsive to the factors he mentioned than the system prior to 1997. I agree, however, with his broader point about the Government in general not responding to changes on the ground as quickly as they might-and that will not change if, heaven forbid, the colour of the Government changes-and about how that links in with various formulae allocations not being as they should be. That is in part because the creaky old Whitehall machinery is not responsive enough to the massive and almost instant changes that are happening in Peterborough and elsewhere; changes that used to take five or 10 years to happen fully now happen in three or six months.

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Mr. Brian Binley (Northampton, South) (Con): I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on making such sensible arguments about formula funding, but he talked about the needs-based formula and the truth is that that formula is still too crude. I hope that he will at least go along with me on that. In Northamptonshire, we are simply not getting the money that the needs-based formula suggests we need.

Mr. McNulty: I accept that, and the hon. Gentleman is, in a different way, putting the point about floors and ceilings again. However, considerable progress has been made over the past 10 to 13 years in the allocation of resources and in trying to reflect the needs of local areas. I think we should go further on that, of course, and we could, and should, do that on a cross-party basis in future.

Whatever the difficulties in terms of police authorities, the Opposition are in a state of confusion about the notion of having elected police commissioners. If that were in place now, we would be in considerable difficulty, because, effectively, the person whom the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell has ordained as the role model for elected police commissioners has just walked off the pitch. The Mayor of London has just said, "I don't like this any more. It is too tough. I cannot be bothered being chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority." He said in his manifesto, no less- [Interruption.] I would like Members to listen to this, and I apologise for being metro-centric, but that is just the way I am. [Interruption.] I said "metro-centric", not "metro" something else. In his manifesto, the future Mayor said:

What has he done just last week, however? He has shrugged his shoulders, passed the buck, and said to himself, "I know what I'll do; as £140,000 is not enough, I will write another column for The Daily Telegraph for £250,000." He can afford the time to do that, therefore. In the same week that he gave up the chairmanship of the MPA, he also said, "Think green, vote blue" and "I can't be bothered with the London waste authority either." The chairmanship of that is in the Mayor's gift, but he cannot be bothered to do that either.

The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell needs to think about this idea of elected police commissioners. It is terribly badly thought through, and he has managed to do something I could not do in two and a half years in ministerial office: unite the police world against him. The idea must be wrong in some aspects, therefore. I fully accept and concede that when I was a Home Office Minister, we discussed these issues and agreed that there was something lacking in terms of accountability, but elected police commissioners are not the way to address that. That is a mad idea.

I have said in a London context that there must be some way in which local councils can more readily hold to account their borough commander for local policing, and that that is not captured through the MPA structures. That issue is complicated in London because the Met does so much nationally as well. We were also told by the Mayor that he would spend less on press officers and redirect more resources to front-line policing. How many fewer press officers are there now than when
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Mr. Johnson came into office? What is the difference between his quota of press officers and Ken Livingstone's? None; the number has not changed at all. Someone who does the counting right might be able to say that Mr. Johnson has saved 0.5 of a press officer post and that is it. We were told in fluid style during the campaign that he would cut the number of press officers and that that would fund four new rape crisis centres, which, as the police and everybody fully accept, are needed. Have they happened? No. We have one such centre-some might say that we have one and a half, but barely so-and by the end of his term two will be completed. Promises that were made barely two years ago have not been delivered, to the consequence of London. In this context, the only new money-additional money-that London will get this year is the 2.7 per cent. for the next two years that the Minister announced among other things today.

Ms Buck: Does my right hon. Friend also recall the pledges made about the young Londoners fund, the youth charity and the colleges and training for young people that were supposed to be set up as part of the drive to tackle gang violence and youth crime? Can he shed any light on what has happened to any of those commitments over the past two years?

Mr. McNulty: We could look and shed as much light as we want, but we would find that the answer is nothing, even if we throw in the Mayor's fund and all sorts of things. The crucial thing given London's unique structures-the unique structures that the police authority introduced in London and that Mr. Johnson took over two years ago-is that we were told that London was the crucible. Someone who wanted to see how a future Conservative Government would work in this country was told to look to London. People in London are doing so, which is why, irrespective of whether the count is done on Thursday night or Friday night, Conservative Members might wish to look with interest at how some of the London results go.

Policing is far too important for what the Mayor is doing. There are to be 455 fewer police officers over the next three years, despite his promise that there would be more and that tackling crime was to be central to all that he does. He promised that he would spend more on the police, but for the first time since the inception of the Greater London authority, this year and next year the police budget will decrease. It would decrease by significantly more if it were not for the generosity of the Minister. The only two times that there have been cuts in the level of council tax for police services since the beginning of the GLA are the two years of Boris Johnson, and that is not good enough. He also said, as part of his anti-bureaucratic sway, that the Metropolitan Police Service was fat on reserves and that he would strip out the reserves to the bare minimum and spend the money on front-line policing or in other ways-I believe he cited 26,000 hand-held scanners in his manifesto. However, the MPS reserves, which are preciously needed given the way he is starving them, have increased, rather than otherwise. Again, that is to his shame. Why does that matter? It matters because in each of London's 32 boroughs policing is central to the welfare and security of each of our local communities. Harrow is a relatively safe borough; there has been an excellent
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roll-out of safer neighbourhood policing and its police are under the excellent leadership of Chief Superintendent Dal Babu, who is doing a very good job.

Mr. Hanson: I am interested in how these "facts" are coming about, given that we are providing an extra £49.4 million to London next year.

Mr. McNulty: Because Boris Johnson is not; because crucially, Ken clearly said to the electorate during his four years, "I am increasing the police precept for London by x and here is what you are going to get for it in terms of safer neighbourhood teams." Boris has said to people-again this is typical flim-flam-that he is going to freeze the GLA precept, but he has told them nothing about the consequences of that, especially for the Metropolitan police. My right hon. Friend rightly points out that the only moneys that Harrow and elsewhere in London are getting that are new in any way, shape or form are coming from central Government and the settlement that we are discussing today, which the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds so blithely dismisses in the same way as he done for the past three and a half years-it could have been the same speech.

This matters, especially in respect of capital, because my right hon. Friend is announcing significant millions more in capital for London. Boris intimated, at least when he was in campaign mode, that the new police station that Harrow needs, as opposed to what it has in south Harrow, will be built. That proposal has been scrapped. Any notion of significant growth in the capital spend for London has been scrapped, and that matters throughout London, because if the custody suites are not in the right place, more policemen and women are driving around London looking for somewhere to put the people that they have in the back of their cars. It matters, in terms of rolling out safer neighbourhood teams properly, that they have a base out in the communities, rather than in Fort Apache-style police stations.

I really fear a mix involving playing politics on the data-shame on the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell, who is at it yet again. As I said the last time I was on my feet in this House, I would not get a route map to the Home Office if I were him, because I do not think he is going to end up there, even in the stark, worrying times that would arrive if the Conservative party got into power. This matters because when someone plays politics with police resources and policing policy, they play politics with people's lives in a way that is unforgivable. It is easy to get on a soap box and scare people. I say very clearly that Harrow is one of the safest boroughs in London, not least because of the investment that has been made during the past 10 to 13 years and because of what Ken Livingstone did as Mayor on rolling out safer neighbourhood teams. I want it to stay that way.

My biggest fear is that through Boris Johnson's rank incompetence, the Metropolitan police will, because such a large budget is involved, have to start to make cuts by picking into either the specialist squads to tackle fraud, rape and a series of other very important pan-London issues or the safer neighbourhood teams. If the lasting legacy of Boris Johnson's mayoralty is the unpicking of the settlement on safer neighbourhood teams throughout London, that would be to his shame. We have made significant progress on policing in London, and nationwide. For that to continue, the hon. Member
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for Bury St. Edmunds needs to get off the soap box and join a cross-party initiative to put policing at the centre of what our politics-rather than our partisan politics- is about.

2.47 pm

Paul Holmes (Chesterfield) (LD): As we have heard, this is the third year of a three-year settlement and, as such, it holds no surprises. The Government deserve to be congratulated on the introduction of the three-year process, which applies across all sorts of areas, not just to policing. It makes budgeting for local authorities, schools, hospitals and all sorts of organisations far more effective than the old 12-month, short-termism that meant that no effective planning could be done. It has been a step forward.

Given that this is the third year of the settlement and there are no surprises, much of what we said in the debates on the police grant report last year and the year before still stands; having looked back on those two debates, it appears to me that we said the same thing almost word for word. Most of it does not need repeating, but some of it does. This three-year settlement was the tightest for a decade, but it was still quite reasonable. The great fear now is about what will happen for the next three year period-2011 to 2014. The pre-Budget report estimated a 0.8 per cent. fall in funding for the police from 2011 to 2014, but that is entirely unbelievable. Sir Hugh Orde, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, has said:

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