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Carl Bridgewater

12. Mr. Burden: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to make a final decision in the Carl Bridgewater case, and if he will make a statement. [13861]

Mr. Kirkhope: A final decision will be made when we have received and considered the response to our provisional conclusions notified to the applicants, as I have already said, on 7 December 1995.

Mr. Burden: Will the Minister recognise that there is considerable concern about the reply he has just given and

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the one that he gave little while ago? He appears to be making a judgment on the quality of new evidence in the Carl Bridgewater case, rather than whether the new evidence is significant. Does he accept that it is for the courts, rather than the Home Secretary, to make such judgments? The sooner the matter is referred to the courts, the better.

Mr. Kirkhope: No, I do not accept that. As I explained to the House earlier, one of the most thorough investigations into any alleged case of miscarriage of justice has been made in that case. The matter was referred to the Court of Appeal in 1989, when the application was turned down. The further evidence, and the allegations that have been made since that time, have been meticulously and thoroughly investigated by the Merseyside police.

As I have already explained, if any other points were to arise from the applicants' solicitors in response to our preliminary conclusions, we would obviously wish to consider them carefully before finally concluding the matter.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Is my hon. Friend aware that, when that ghastly murder occurred in my constituency, there was widespread distress? There is real concern lest the wrong people have been convicted, so can my hon. Friend give some idea of when he expects matters to be finally resolved?

Mr. Kirkhope: We expect to receive further representations from the applicants' solicitors very soon. We hope then to be able to proceed further to our final conclusion. Undoubtedly, the delays have taken place because the case is very involved. It is a complex matter and a thorough consideration is taking place.

I hope that all hon. Members will also bear in mind the appalling time that the family of young Carl Bridgewater have had. They have suffered terribly, and the continuing publicity and time involved in considering the representations are causing them even more suffering.

Police Funding

13. Mr. Bayley: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to change the funding formula for police forces in rural areas. [13863]

Mr. Maclean: For 1996-97, 0.5 per cent. of total police funding will be allocated on the basis of population sparsity. That has meant an extra £870,000 for the North Yorkshire force.

Mr. Bayley: Has the Minister seen the latest crime figures for North Yorkshire, for the year ending 31 December 1995, which show yet another increase--to 59,724 offences compared with 21,000 and falling under the last Labour Government? Is the Minister further aware that North Yorkshire--I checked this figure today--has 24 fewer police officers in post than in 1979, under the last Labour Government? Where have the extra 16,000 police officers gone that the Government claim to have provided? When will the Minister give the people of North Yorkshire protection from crime?

Mr. Maclean: I am not surprised that North Yorkshire has fewer officers. I am surprised even at the number that

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the hon. Gentleman gave, given the way the county council underfunded the police under its standard spending assessment. In 1993, the county council gave the police £900,000 less than its SSA. The next year, it gave the police £1.3 million less than the amount to which they were entitled. When the Government took over direct funding under the new arrangements, we started by giving North Yorkshire an 8.2 per cent. increase, and this year the increase will be 4.5 per cent. The North Yorkshire force are recruiting bobbies again because the Tory Government are starting to fund them properly, which the Labour county council never did.

Mr. Alison: Does my right hon. Friend recall that the now Labour and Liberal-controlled North Yorkshire county council is laggard in appointing civilians in police administration, so keeping police officers in bureaucratic posts when they should be out on the street?

Mr. Maclean: Then it is just as well that there are now freestanding police authorities that can improve on that policy. Throughout the country, police are still doing jobs that could be done by civilians. Since 1979, the increase in the number of civilians engaged in police work has meant that 8,500 officers have been freed up to do proper policing jobs--but much more could be done.

Mr. Michael: With the Conservatives, it is always someone else's fault. They have forgotten Conservative rule in North Yorkshire. Last week, the Prime Minister excused rail ticket fraud with the words, "Someone has misbehaved." The Home Secretary's formula has cut the number of police officers in rural areas, as in others. Instead of the 1,000 extra police officers that the Prime Minister promised in the 1992 general election, their number has fallen by 800. That is the Conservatives on crime--they say one thing and mean another.

Mr. Maclean: What an extraordinary diatribe of fantasy. There are 1,454 more constables than there were at the last election. We will not take lessons on defending police numbers from a party who ran down and destroyed the police force when they were in office. They left the force 7,500 short. As for making excuses for crime, the hon. Gentleman should ask his leader to come forward today to explain what he meant when he excused shoplifters as merely putting a treat in their pockets.

Beat Police (Funding)

14. Mr. Skinner: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent discussions he has had with police authorities regarding additional finance for uniformed beat officers. [13864]

Mr. Howard: I have regular discussions with police authorities about police resources. The Government are giving police authorities an extra £240 million next year, bringing total spending on the police to almost £7 billion.

Mr. Skinner: It is strange that, 12 years ago, the Tory Government were able to fill every street in Derbyshire with as many police as they wanted during the miners' strike. Today, even the Police Federation is writing to me, asking me to help it to get more bobbies on the beat. That shows that the police are now swinging to Labour. It has

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taken me 12 years to cultivate it into learning some sense. Instead of trotting out all these feelgood factor figures, why does not the Secretary of State tell the truth, stop fiddling the figures and stop talking as his belly warms?

Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman's leader has blown it in 24 hours. The police will not approve of advice to people to fill their pockets with treats at shopkeepers' expense. The hon. Gentleman can tell the people of Derbyshire that they will have a 4.8 per cent. increase in their budget next year, on top of a 7.9 per cent. increase this year, and that they have 210 more police officers than they had in 1979.



Q1. Mrs. Mahon: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 15 February. [13879]

The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major): This morning, I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mrs. Mahon: Will the Prime Minister tell the House how long it took him to read the Scott report?

The Prime Minister: I am a very rapid reader.

Mr. Dunn: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the destruction of the hereditary principle in the House of Lords is but a short distance from the destruction of the hereditary monarchy?

The Prime Minister: I am surprised at the hostility of the Labour party to the hereditary principle, for this reason: when the Government were defeated in a vote last week, we were defeated by the votes of hereditary peers. As it happens, one of the Labour Front Bench remarked to the House, "the people have spoken".

Mr. Blair: In retrospect, does the Prime Minister believe that the Scott report would have been better handled if it had been released in the way in which Sir Richard Scott requested? Does he have any regrets about the extraordinary disparity of treatment given, on the one hand, to Ministers and the Conservative machine and, on the other, to Members of Parliament, Opposition spokesmen and civil servants--a disparity about to be exemplified by the shambles at 3.30 pm?

The Prime Minister: Nothing has been given to the Conservative machine--the right hon. Gentleman should withdraw that remark. Sir Richard wrote--I think to you, Madam Speaker--on 31 January to say:

We permitted access at 12 o'clock. I am surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman disagree. The arrangements are exactly those offered to the shadow Home Secretary when

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we published the Learmont report. We even offered him sandwiches. Not only did he not describe the arrangements as "outrageous and insulting" but, when he made his statement, he said:

    "I thank the Secretary of State for his courtesy in arranging for me to see the report earlier than is usual."--[Official Report, 16 October 1995; Vol. 264, c. 33.]

I look forward to similar thanks from the shadow Foreign Secretary later.

Mr. Ian Bruce: Does my right hon. Friend believe that British Telecom's doubling of the amount that is spent on building the information super-highway by people other than BT is the Government's competition policy in action, or does he believe that it would be better to sign a sweetheart deal just with BT to have the information super-highway built more quickly?

The Prime Minister: The information super-highway has been in the process of being built for some years. The sweetheart deal that was entered into--apparently by the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair)--seems to have come badly unstuck since its initial publicity.

Q2. Mr. Hoon: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 15 February. [13880]

The Prime Minister: I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Hoon: Will the Prime Minister tell the House how many of his Ministers who had early access to the Scott report have since been confined in a secure room, have had their mobile phones confiscated, have had all their messages brought to them by civil servants and have been escorted throughout by officials who are present for their convenience and security?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman heard what I said to the right hon. Member for Sedgefield a few moments ago. The hon. Gentleman is overacting outrageously on this issue. I shall tell the House why Labour Members are behaving in this fashion. The right hon. Gentleman did not want to sign a form promising secrecy and decided to attack the Government for asking him to do so. He then discovered that the requirement to sign the form was not that of the Government but that of Sir Richard Scott and that all Ministers, including me, have signed it. To save face, the Opposition went into sulks and denounced the whole arrangement.

Mr. Brooke: Does my right hon. Friend share the following view expressed in today's The Times:

The Prime Minister: Yes, I agree with the comment. That economic scenario has resulted from the sustained policies that the Government have followed for some time. We now have the lowest sustained level of inflation for 50 years, which today has fallen to below 3 per cent; the lowest mortgage rates for 30 years; the lowest basic rate of tax for 50 years; more foreign investment than any other nation in Europe; and we export more per person than Japan and the United States.

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The right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), in his usual heckling form, talked about taxes. Let him tell us about the new taxes that the Labour party plans: the windfall tax, the tartan tax, the training tax and the social chapter tax on jobs. The right hon. Gentleman should realise that the Labour party is the taxing party-- it is in opposition now and that is where it will stay.

Q3. Mr. McFall: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 15 February. [13881]

The Prime Minister: I refer the hon. Member to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. McFall: Why has it been necessary for the Government to prepare a shorthand version of the Scott report for distribution to Conservative Members and to the media? Would it not have been preferable to allow people to make up their own minds, based on Sir Richard Scott's key conclusions and not on the Government's version of events?

The Prime Minister: That is rich coming from the hon. Gentleman. Most Labour Members made up their minds about this issue three years ago--long before Sir Richard started his report. If the hon. Gentleman wishes, I shall read to him a large selection of quotations from Labour Front Benchers that show that they had made up their minds before Sir Richard Scott started his investigation.

I set up the inquiry so that we could find out precisely what happened and so that the matter could be investigated independently and publicly. It was investigated under the conditions that Sir Richard Scott wanted. I was determined that the report be published and debated by the House, as it has been. The hon. Gentleman will see the outcome shortly.

Q4. Mr. Hawkins: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 15 February. [13882]

The Prime Minister: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Hawkins: Will my right hon. Friend confirm that more than 7,000 head teachers are members of the Secondary Heads Association? Is he aware that that association has described Labour's education policy as naive? Is it not typical of the Opposition's arrogance that they have now said that those 7,000 hard-working headteachers should go to the bottom of the class for not doing their homework?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend characteristically understates what was said by the secondary heads. What they actually said was:

that they find

and that they regret

put in place by this Government.

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We have learnt over the months that Labour's education spokesman has a tough job. Teachers openly criticise his policy and shadow Cabinet Members openly contradict it--but now that they know what makes a good school, I am sure that they will be able to improve their education policy.

Mr. Radice: In April 1994, the Prime Minister wrote to me to say that, if Ministers fail to give accurate and truthful information to the House of Commons, they should relinquish their positions. Is that still the case?

The Prime Minister: I have said before that, if I judge Ministers to have knowingly misled the House, they cannot stay. That remains my position.

Q5. Mr. Butler: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 15 February. [13883]

The Prime Minister: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Butler: Will my right hon. Friend join me in rejecting the insulting suggestion made last night by the Leader of the Opposition--that when old-age pensioners want a treat, they should steal it? Is he aware that shoplifting costs every household in the country £90 a year? Does he agree that the idea that shoplifters from certain groups should not be prosecuted is yet another example of Labour saying one thing and wanting to do quite another?

The Prime Minister: Shoplifting is certainly a serious crime. It causes a great deal of loss for small and large shopkeepers. If the right hon. Member for Sedgefield did indeed describe it as my hon. Friend suggests he did, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will withdraw those remarks. They certainly cannot reflect his settled consideration.

Q6. Mr. Keith Hill: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 15 February. [13884]

The Prime Minister: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Hill: As the Prime Minister has had a full eight days to read the Scott report, and as I have only eight minutes, would he care to advise me which of the 1,800 pages I should find the most interesting?

The Prime Minister: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept from me that, in addition to examining the report so that I and others can be answerable to this House, there have been some other things to do. The hon. Gentleman has 11 days now to consider the report. I hope

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that he will contribute to the debate in the House then--on the basis of fact, not of sneers, smears and innuendo of the sort that we have heard for three years.

Q7. Mr. Nicholas Winterton: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 15 February. [13886]

The Prime Minister: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Winterton: Does my right hon. Friend accept that we have the most encouraging set of economic indicators that this country has had in modern history? Will he further accept, although he knows that I have had concerns in the past about aspects of the health service reforms, that the private health sector is now so popular and so instrumental in playing a role in the health service that my socialist opponent at the next election works for it?

The Prime Minister: I am truly shocked at that example of how Labour does not always do what it says. I hope that we will not find it in other elements of the Labour party.

Q8. Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 15 February. [13887]

The Prime Minister: I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Prentice: Did Lord Justice Scott not make it quite clear that all hon. Members should receive his report at the same time? Is it not almost a contempt of court that Back Benchers such as me have no time at all to absorb his important report and that we will find it impossible to quiz the President of the Board of Trade intelligently on its conclusions?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman should really come off this silly line that he and his hon. Friends--[Interruption.]--this silly line that he and his hon. Friends are concerting. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), who is having hysteria, would be better advised to look at the precedent, to see what happened to the shadow Home Secretary, and to see what he said a few days later.

Hon. Members have tried every trick to prejudice the reception of the Scott report. I suggest that they would be very wise to wait for just a few minutes to see what is in the Scott report. They can then deal with the reality of it on the basis of knowledge, and not on the basis of the smears that they have been putting around for the past three years.

3.30 pm

Sitting suspended.

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3.40 pm

On resuming--

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