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Mrs. Beckett: No. That would be a complete waste of the House's time. My hon. Friend the Minister for Small Firms, Trade and Industry wrote to the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) on 29 January to make it plain that his answer in the House referred to an inaccurate story in The Times diary about Attractions Ltd., about which, as I understand it, the right hon. Gentleman had written to him. The Minister has written to him again today.

The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) is an assiduous attender at Trade and Industry questions, so he will remember that, in his early days in his present post, the right hon. Member for Wokingham informed me that the Conservative party would say nothing about policy in its first two years in opposition. His time is almost up. I suggest that they come in.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): If the Leader of the House will not find time for an early personal statement by one Minister who has strayed, perhaps she will consider early-day motion 269?

[That this House notes that the Right honourable Member for Hartlepool has not made a statement to the House following his resignation from the Government; also notes reports that his loan will not be redeemed from the family funds he indicated were due to be remitted to him; and calls upon him to confirm to the House that any profit from the sale of his property will be given to charity and not kept for himself.]

The right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) has so far made no personal statement about the circumstances that lie behind his recent retirement, to coin a phrase. Nor has he yet told the House or anyone else what he intends to do with the excessive profits that it looks like he will make out of the sale of his house. Will she find time for him to make such a personal statement?

Mrs. Beckett: No.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): Will the right hon. Lady arrange for the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement next week on the royal commission on long-term care? She will recall that, on 4 December 1997, the right hon. Gentleman said that he was confident that it would report in 12 months. It is now two calendar months late--and counting. With the exception of leaks to the press about what the royal commission is to say, we have heard nothing, despite the confidence of the Secretary of State, so will she arrange for a statement?

Mrs. Beckett: I cannot undertake to arrange for a statement in the near future, especially as my right

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hon. Friend the Secretary of State answered Health questions only this week, when the matter could have been raised. I shall certainly draw the hon. Gentleman's concern to the attention of my right hon. Friend. I am confident that it is a concern that he shares.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill is currently in Committee. The right hon. Lady said that the Committee stage of clause 1 will be debated on the Floor of the House next Wednesday. Can she confirm that that debate will not be curtailed by a 7 o'clock deadline and that there will be a full debate? Can the right hon. Lady also confirm--it should not be a problem--that there will be a free vote on amendments to clause 1 dealt with on the Floor of the House next Wednesday? Can she further confirm that Labour Members will have a free vote on new clauses which have to be taken upstairs because of the way in which the Bill has been split but which relate to clause 1 issues rather than the abuse of trust? Opposition parties have already agreed that their Members will have a free vote.

Mrs. Beckett: I regret that I have not gone into the detail of how all those matters will be handled. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will know that the way in which they are handled and the way in which the selection is made are matters for the Chair. It is the Government's intention to have a free vote on conscience matters. There is no wish to curtail the debate on Wednesday, but it is sometimes for the convenience of the House to have a reasonable time for debate with hon. Members being quite

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clear about when votes are likely to take place. I should tell the hon. Gentleman, who although being an assiduous Member is still a newish Member, that that is particularly true of a free vote.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Will the right hon. Lady be kind enough to reconsider her answer about a debate on the White Paper on the House of Lords? She will know that there is to be such a debate in the other place. She will know that many of her hon. Friends failed to participate in the debate this week because of a lack of time. She will also know that the Chairman of Ways and Means will have to ensure that every amendment tabled to the Bill is strictly relevant and that it will not therefore be possible to have a wide-ranging debate--quite properly so--in Committee of the whole House. Can the right hon. Lady ensure that we have a proper opportunity to debate the wider issues and the White Paper?

Mrs. Beckett: No, I am afraid I cannot undertake to do that. The hon. Gentleman is right that the House of Lords is having another debate on the White Paper. He will also know that it had two days debate on the general issue as long ago as October. It is natural that the House of Lords should wish to spend more time on this matter, but the Government are conscious of the fact that we are providing substantial amounts of time for debate on what is a simple Bill, and that all of it will be on the Floor of the House. We are anxious that the House should not lose sight of what the Bill does--as opposed to discussing at great length all the issues that could conceivably be raised on House of Lords reform as a whole. We have been doing that already for some 88 years, which makes us feel that one more day is not necessary.

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Orders of the Day


1.28 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Paul Boateng): I beg to move,

One of the great joys of being the Minister responsible for the police is that one has an opportunity to go around and about our country visiting constabularies and meeting the dedicated men and women who serve as police officers. I have now had the privilege of visiting over a quarter of the constabularies in our country. One gets a sense of the sterling work that is being done up and down the land. The public are taking advantage of the framework now provided by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to build effective partnerships to help prevent and detect crime and to build the safety and security that is the bedrock of successful communities.

At this time, it is encouraging to hear from conversations with chief constables, members of police authorities and the officers on the ground their renewed sense of the importance of budget management and sound financial planning. Financial planning will deliver efficient and effective policing, to tackle crime and disorder and to help create safer towns and cities.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Boateng: I shall, of course, give way to the right hon. Gentleman eventually, but I should make a little more of my speech first.

The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 puts police at the heart of strategies to combat crime and disorder. However, tackling crime is not the job of police alone--which is why, in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, we placed a new statutory duty on local authorities and police together to create local partnerships to reduce crime. The chief constables whom I have met across the country, and their police authorities, are fully committed to implementing the Government's legislation and to working in partnership with other agencies in their communities.

Today's debate is not about funding police authorities in England and Wales only in the context of the numbers of police officers, but about their funding and their effectiveness. [Interruption.] The shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield(Sir N. Fowler), with a quizzical look on his face, asks "Why not?" I will tell him why not.

In 1994, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard)--with the right hon. Gentleman's connivance and support; he voted for the change--took away the Home Secretary's right to determine police numbers. It therefore does not sit well for the shadow Home Secretary to ask why today's debate is not about police numbers.

Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Boateng: In a minute.

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The debate is not about police numbers, because you and the previous Government removed--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I hope that the Minister will give way to me, simply to remind him that he is addressing the occupant of the Chair.

Mr. Boateng: I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield and the previous Government took away from the Home Secretary the right to determine police numbers.

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