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Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): The Home Secretary has made much-vaunted claims about increased expenditure leading to improved performance, but he has completely failed to deliver. We have fewer police and rising crime, and less purposeful activity among prisoners. Why should we believe that the latest increase will make any difference?
Will the right hon. Gentleman share with the House further thoughts on recruitment? He claims that he will have the funds for 9,000 extra recruits; we presume that that has been cleared with the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, unlike the announcement last September. Why should we believe his claims about extra recruits when the numbers for Hendon are plummeting, and there is a real problem with retention in my county of Hampshire because the allowance provided for London officers is not provided for Hampshire officers, and Hampshire officers cannot afford to make their contributions to their pensions?
Mr. Straw: I understand the funding problems that the police have faced and I made it clear in the settlement that I laid before the House in December 1998 that the spending increase for the three years from 1999-2000 was, at 2 per cent., small--that was the word I used. However, the last people in the world able to complain about police funding are Conservative Members of Parliament. It is no good the hon. Gentleman waving his hands. The straightforward truth is that his right hon. Friends promised to increase the number of police--constables and every other rank--when they were in government. On 27 January 1997, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald promised 5,000 extra officers over three years. However, no money was provided to meet that target. The difference between us and the Conservatives who preceded us is that we have spent more than they pledged to do. The hon. Gentleman faces the problem faced by every Conservative Member of Parliament: how, on the one hand, to call for more spending than I propose and infinitely more than the right
Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk): My right hon. Friend will be aware of my interest in rural policing and that, as well as general issues, the case of my constituent, Tony Martin, raised specific issues relating to the difficulty of policing in the fenland, where three police authorities have to co-ordinate their activities. I raised that matter in an Adjournment debate some months ago, when the Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), assured me, as he has done every week since, that active consideration is being given to the Norfolk police bid for extra help to address that specific problem. The community safety partnership meets tomorrow; can I give them any good news after the Chancellor's announcement of extra finance for the police?
Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend can take his community two pieces of good news. First, my announcement today will have a direct impact on the Norfolk constabulary by ensuring that it can put in place a good police radio system, that it is better able to detect and prevent serious crime, and that officers numbers increase. In addition, I am pleased to tell him that, today, we have agreed to allocate £600,000 to a targeted policing bid jointly submitted by the Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire and Norfolk constabularies. That programme, which is not part of the spending review, focuses on problems of crime in rural fenlands and is an excellent example of collaborative work between the three police forces in the area. I hope that my hon. Friend finds that news welcome.
Sir Peter Lloyd (Fareham): Would not the money that the Home Secretary has earmarked for new prison places be better spent on providing suitable accommodation for the large number of mentally disordered offenders who are currently in prison but ought not to be held there?
Mr. Straw: I accept that there are people in prison who ought to be in the mental health system. We transfer a significant number of such people every year into the hospital system and I work closely with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to ensure that prisoners who are inappropriately held in prison are transferred to where they should be. However, if we are to bear down on criminal activity--not only by serious criminals, but by persistent criminals for whom probation and other community punishments plainly have not worked to prevent their reoffending--there has to be an increase in the number of prison places. That is why we have put in place funding for the 2,600 places that I have announced today, in addition to the 1,400 places that are currently being built and will be open next year.
Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): Is my right hon. Friend aware of partnership initiatives in Croydon, and will he consider the initiative to use domestic camcorders, issued by the council or the police, so that members of the public may survey areas that have
Mr. Straw: Yes, I welcome the initiative taken by the police and the partnership in Croydon to use domestic camcorders and involve willing members of the public in detecting terrible crimes and lower level disorder.
Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): I welcome in general today's announcement, particularly the reiteration of the need to take account of the sparsity factor affecting rural police forces in Wales. Does the prison programme that the Home Secretary mentioned include the proposed new prison for north Wales, and will that prison be built under the private finance initiative?
Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): I have a short question. Now that my right hon. Friend has the money to do it, may we have a project to evaluate the benefits that would arise from the introduction of national identity cards?
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am aware that you are not responsible for the nature of ministerial replies, or for their veracity or accuracy. May I ask, however, whether it is not a contempt of the processes of Parliament for a Minister's reply--as in the answers to detailed questions put by me and by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard)--to be not even remotely relevant to the question?
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I know from what you said during the statement that the slow process of business concerns you. It took 42 minutes to complete the initial statement and the responses to two questions today. That is appallingly slow. What can the Chair do to ensure more expeditious process of business? Perhaps, if need be, you could call participants to order.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Madam Speaker has asked Ministers to try to limit the length of statements so that everything that follows can be dovetailed with the length of the statement. Clearly, if a statement is long and complex, the first response from the Opposition Front Bench will also take some time. Over the years, it seems that statements have become longer, and questions have certainly become longer. Members have fallen into the habit of asking multi-part questions that require multi-part answers. The whole process could be speeded up with good will on both sides of the House, and the Chair is dedicated to that end.
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On 6 July, I drew your attention to the fact that the Government appeared to have announced £1 billion-worth of public spending in science without making a statement to the House or supplying a written answer. You reminded us that Madam Speaker had deprecated such practice. Have you had any reply from the Government on that point, and how do you view the Government's boast in a press release yesterday that they were proud to have made their announcement at the United Kingdom-United States conference on 5 July?
In addition, is it not significant that there have been other occasions on which the Government have boasted about public spending announcements made to the media rather than the House? It is usual for press releases on Government spending to include significant detail in the paperwork attached to them so that hon. Members may receive it at the same time as the media. However, the Department for Education and Employment press release on the spending review's £100 million for higher education was not made available to Members yesterday although it was available to the media.