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Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): That really will not do. Further to the opaque and unsatisfactory reply that the Leader of the House gave to my hon. Friends the Members for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) and for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), will she arrange for time to be made available for a full day's debate to be led by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on the Government's plans for the licence fee? Even if he does not intend to impose an increase six times above inflation, would not a full day's debate allow the House to tell him, and him to tell the new Director-General of the BBC, that any smash-and-grab raid on the 20 million licence payers of this country would be wholly unacceptable, especially when concerns persist about programme quality, and inefficiency remains rife in the corporation?

Mrs. Beckett: I have repeatedly made it clear that my right hon. Friend is considering the Davies report. He hopes shortly to be able to come to conclusions and has said, as have I, that he will come to the House to make those conclusions known.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda): My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Intelligence and Security Committee has submitted its annual report to the Government, who have responded. Will she ensure that some Government time is reserved in the near future to debate it in the House?

Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an important point. He is a distinguished member of that Committee. I cannot give him that undertaking at this moment, but I shall of course bear his request in mind.

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Points of Order

1.20 pm

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I do not know whether you have seen the report in today's press that the European Commission has issued a six-week consultation on a proposal to outlaw United Kingdom web addresses in this country. Would you be willing to respond on behalf of the House to that consultation, saying that, under no circumstances, are we prepared to give up our web address of www.parliament.uk.?

Madam Speaker: I have a short answer to that, which is no.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I seek your guidance about the conduct of Treasury questions, which is, of course, a crucial means by which the legislature can hold the Executive to account? Did you notice, Madam Speaker, that, to the considerable regret of my right hon. and hon. Friends, the Paymaster General did not have a single opportunity to answer a question at Treasury questions? We felt considerable sympathy for her. Given that that appears to have been the result of the unexpected absence of the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw) and of the legendary verbosity of the Chancellor in answering questions, I wonder whether your good offices could ensure that the hon. Lady is not so badly treated in future.

Madam Speaker: I know how popular the hon. Lady is, and I shall do my utmost to see that she has long periods of time at the Dispatch Box at the next Treasury questions.

BILL PRESENTED

Royal Parks (Trading)

Mr. Secretary Smith, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Straw, Mr. Secretary Blunkett and Mr. Alan Howarth, presented a Bill to make provision about certain offences under section 2 of the Parks Regulation (Amendment) Act 1926: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 58].

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Police

1.21 pm

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


Madam Speaker: I understand that with this it will be convenient to discuss the following motion:


Mr. Clarke: May I begin by welcoming to his place the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald)? I congratulate him on his promotion. I am sure that his skills as a barrister will strengthen the Home Office Opposition team, and I welcome his contribution to the debate. I am not sure whether he intends to announce any dramatic switch in policy, or make a U-turn of the sort that the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) made in Treasury questions earlier today, but I look forward to some significant shifts in position.

Since I was appointed to my post at the Home Office last July, I have had the opportunity to meet many chief constables, visit many of their forces and speak to officers of all ranks. I intend to visit many more over the next few months. I have been exceptionally impressed with the professionalism and dedication of officers of all ranks in forces throughout the country. It has been genuinely inspirational for me to see the way in which many forces are looking at new and creative ways of reducing crime in their neighbourhoods, and the courage and dedication with which they do their work. I am sure that all hon. Members share my respect, and I think that it is an important moment for us to place on record our appreciation of the work that the police do.

As part of the consultation on the settlement, I have held discussions, both oral and written, with a wide variety of chief constables, police authorities and Members of Parliament. I have received delegations--

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Would the hon. Gentleman confirm that one of the representations that he received was on behalf of the rural forces, particularly in Lincolnshire, to the effect that the Government should implement the external report received in May 1999, which would give the Lincolnshire authority some £2 million more, or the equivalent of 50 officers? When will the Government implement the report produced by the external consultants, O.R.H Ltd?

Mr. Clarke: I am coming to that in detail in my speech. I confirm that, earlier in my tenure, I met a delegation of representatives from the rural authorities--including my own in Norfolk--which are concerned with sparsity. I know that the role of the Lincolnshire police authority in particular in co-ordinating that group is important. However, the clerk of the Lincolnshire authority has recently made public statements and stepped a bit out of line of the consensus of all the forces in that group. My advice to the group is to stick together in what

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they say rather than following individual public relations initiatives. However, the issue is very serious, and I will address it in detail in a moment.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): North Wales police are terribly concerned about the point raised by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) because they are losing £1.9 million in grant aid. I do not know what representations the Minister has had from that force, but I am sure that it did not agree to the formula and to the effective shelving of an extremely important report. North Wales police are receiving an effective £1.5 million increase in the standard spending assessment, which implies that they are in some way inefficient. Will the Minister tell us what those inefficiencies are, assuming that he has held conversations with senior officers?

Mr. Clarke: I accept entirely that North Wales police are affected by the sparsity considerations, to which I shall come shortly. The same is true of Lincolnshire and Norfolk. Sixteen forces are working together on that issue, which is a perfectly reasonable one for discussion. I can confirm that there is no comment on efficiency in the settlement published today.

I wish to discuss the Government's spending plans across the board. The Government's overall spending plans for the police over the next three years were announced by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, following the comprehensive spending review. Under our plans, there will be an extra £1.24 billion for the police service in England and Wales between 1999 and 2002. For 2000-01, the total amount of police authority spending to which the Government are prepared to contribute their share of funding will be £7.35 billion. This amount is known as total standard spending. That represents an increase of £212 million or around 3 per cent. over 1999-2000.

Under our present plans, spending on the police will increase by a further 4 per cent. in 2001-02. Those sums represent a real-terms increase, albeit modest, in police spending, which police forces have welcomed.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire): I am grateful to the Minister for his kind comments about me.

Has the Minister read the comments of the Association of Police Authorities on the 2000-01 settlement? The association makes it clear that funding from central Government is increasing by just 2.8 per cent. in cash terms, while revenue expenditure will have to increase by more than £300 million just to stand still. Where is the real-terms increase to which the Minister has referred?


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