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House of Commons

Thursday 15 February 1996

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


City of Westminster Bill [Lords]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

    That if the Bill is brought from the Lords in the present Session, the Agents for the Bill shall deposit in the Private Bill Office a declaration signed by them stating that the Bill is the same, in every respect, as the Bill which was brought from the Lords in the last Session;

    That, as soon as a certificate by one of the Clerks in the Private Bill Office, that such a declaration has been so deposited, has been laid upon the Table of the House, the Bill shall be read the first and second time and committed (and shall be recorded in the Journal of this House as having been so read and committed) and shall be committed to the Chairman of Ways and Means, who shall make such Amendments thereto as were made by him in the last Session, and shall report the Bill as amended to the House forthwith, and the Bill, so amended, shall be ordered to lie upon the Table;

    That no further Fees shall be charged in respect of any proceedings on the Bill in respect of which Fees have already been incurred during any previous Session.

Hon. Members: Object.

To be considered again on Thursday 22 February.



Oral Answers to Questions


Private Finance Initiative (Police)

1. Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what estimate he has made of the funding to be made available to police authorities through the private finance initiative. [13849]

5. Mr. O'Hara: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what estimate he has made of the funding to be made available to police authorities through the private finance initiative. [13853]

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The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard): Police authorities are currently exploring a range of projects under the private finance initiative with an estimated total capital value of about £70 million. There is scope for many more. The private finance initiative provides an exciting new opportunity for the police to enhance and extend their capital resources.

Mr. Prentice: But is there not a cut of £23 million in capital provision for the police this year? I want the Home Secretary to tell us whether the much-vaunted private finance initiative will meet that shortfall. If it will not, was not The Economist correct to describe the PFI as "a dog's dinner" and a "deceit" that is becoming larger all the time?

Mr. Howard: Lo and behold. I thought that the Labour party was in favour of bringing private finance into the public sector. I thought that they wanted to take advantage of the opportunities available. That is what the Front-Bench spokesmen keep telling us. But whenever those on the Front Bench say something, those on the Back Benches pop up and say the opposite.

Mr. O'Hara: Precisely so; the whole House will know that the PFI is really an invention of the Labour party. The Home Secretary should give credit to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) who, when he was shadow Transport spokesman, first mooted the idea of bringing private finance into the public service. However, the right hon. and learned Gentleman will remember that the whole point of the PFI, according to his colleague the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is to bring extra money into the police service. Can he assure us that extra money will come in through the PFI, and that it will not simply make up the £23 million shortfall? Can he give some practical examples of what it will produce in the police service?

Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman is now claiming credit for what his hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) has just described as a dog's breakfast. When will the Labour party make up its mind, even about the simplest things? Of course the private finance initiative has the scope to produce extra capital for the police service, and it is already doing so. We look forward to an exciting opportunity for the PFI to increase the capital available to the police service.

Mr. David Nicholson: My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that in Avon and Somerset there has been a considerable welcome for the significant increases in the general funding of the local police authorities over the past two years--increases much needed, but none the less much welcomed. Will he ensure that the police authority can get proper advice and guidance on how to deal with the PFI, which has caused difficulties in the past, so that both the authority and the local building industry may benefit from it?

Mr. Howard: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the increased resources that we are making available to the police throughout the country. I assure him that advice on the private finance initiative will be available. But it is no use the police having more resources available to fight crime if the Leader of the Opposition goes up and down

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the country telling people that it is all right to shoplift and to put treats in their pockets. When will the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) dissociate himself from the disgraceful remarks made by his leader last night?

Mr. Ian Bruce: Can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, despite the rumours that are being put out by the Opposition, there has been a large increase in the resources for counties such as Dorset and that there are opportunities for local authorities, if they want to put their money where their mouth is, to transfer money from county council funds to give the police extra funding? Surely the private finance initiative is an additional source of finance.

Mr. Howard: My hon. Friend is entirely right. Dorset will get a 3.9 per cent. increase in its funding next year. I am sure that it will make full use of those extra resources and be on the alert to add to them through the private finance initiative.

Crime (New Technology)

2. Mr. Congdon: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what initiatives his Department has taken to maximise the use of new technology in the fight against crime. [13850]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean): There are many exciting initiatives, including the world's first national DNA database, the national strategy for police information systems, the closed circuit television challenge competition and major projects providing national automated fingerprint identification and radio systems.

Mr. Congdon: May I very much welcome that answer and especially the DNA database, which I understand now has 20,000 items on it? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that will play an increasingly valuable part in the fight against crime by ensuring that we get convictions? Can he assure me that he will continue to ignore the advice from those in the civil liberties lobby and elsewhere who are soft on crime and soft on the causes of crime?

Mr. Maclean: The DNA technology is the greatest breakthrough since fingerprints. It is wonderful technology and it has been provided to the British police service. It is a world leader and a world first. It is no wonder that the New York police commissioner recently told me that Britain was light years ahead of our competitors in the use of police technology.

Mr. Sheerman: Does the Minister agree that there are problems in using the new technology in the pursuit of crime? Does he share my horror at hearing that someone who had had more than $500,000 transferred out of an account with a company in this country cannot find a police force to prosecute the perpetrator because no one can decide whose is the responsibility or in which police authority area it lies?

Mr. Maclean: Any time we introduce a world first technology, there are bound to be some teething problems. The DNA database is building up perfectly well. It is having some fantastic successes, which will become more

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public when cases currently before the courts are no longer sub judice. We have wonderful technology that is catching thousands of criminals up and down the country--CCTV is a good example. The people in the forefront of its development are shopkeepers and retailers, but there is no point catching all the criminals in the shops if the Leader of the Opposition says shoplifting is just putting a treat in their pockets. He does not believe in the stakeholder society but in the excuse makers' society.

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