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Closed Circuit Television

4. Mr. Colin Burgon (Elmet): What assessment he has made of the impact of CCTV systems funded under the crime reduction programme. [130325]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Paul Boateng): Schemes funded under the first round of the initiative are now being implemented and it will be at least 12 months before the impact of CCTV in those areas can be fully evaluated. The Home Office will fund in-depth and independent evaluations of 15 schemes and less detailed evaluations of a further 100. The crime and disorder reduction partnerships will also evaluate local schemes.

Mr. Burgon: I thank the Minister for that reply. In my constituency, the Wetherby News has led a high profile campaign to install CCTV in the town centre. I very much support that campaign and have been in talks with Leeds city council to progress matters. Will the Minister look sympathetically at any well researched bid from Wetherby councillors and the business community that illustrates their willingness to give the scheme meaningful financial

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support and which clearly shows how CCTV fits into the overall strategy of crime reduction in Wetherby town centre?

Mr. Boateng: I would be happy to do that. The good news about the second round announced on 31 March is that it will take the form of a rolling programme of bids, so with my hon. Friend's encouragement it will be possible for his local council to get in a well evaluated and targeted bid that is linked to local crime reduction targets. That is the key, as all the evidence so far suggests that such schemes make a substantial contribution to reducing crime in local areas.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): How many CCTV schemes are there in the constituencies of Home Office Ministers, and what provisional assessment has been made of their efficacy?

Mr. Boateng: I have no idea about arrangements in my colleagues' constituencies. However, under the previous and present Administrations, my local borough of Brent was able to put in well funded CCTV schemes that commended themselves to Ministers and civil servants alike. I recommend that approach to the hon. Gentleman.

Local Elections

5. Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): If he will make a statement on his plans for the extension of different methods of voting in next year's local elections. [130326]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien): Thirty-eight pilot schemes to test new voting arrangements took place in 32 local authority elections last May. Each authority is preparing an evaluation of the effectiveness of their pilot projects, but these are not due until the beginning of August. When we have seen the evaluations we will be able to decide whether any extension is justified.

Mr. Pike: Will my hon. Friend confirm that while we all want an increase in the number of people who are able to vote in local elections, we want also to ensure the integrity of the vote and make sure that people's votes are cast correctly? What will happen to the pilot schemes next year if the general election falls on the same date as the county council elections?

Mr. O'Brien: We certainly want to ensure the integrity of any pilot schemes. Of course, if there were a general election at the same time as local elections, the arrangements that operate during a parliamentary election would apply in both cases.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon): When considering new voting methods, will the Minister bear in mind the needs of disabled people, particularly those with sensory disabilities, to ensure that any new methods take their requirements into account? We must ensure in particular that we do not lessen the pressure on authorities to maintain conventional voting methods that are open to disabled people.

Mr. O'Brien: I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we want to ensure greater access not only

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for those with physical disabilities but for those with learning disabilities. We have done a great deal to provide that access under recent legislation, and we have recently published guidance for electoral registration officers and returning officers to ensure that, wherever possible, there are obligations on them to provide access for disabled people to polling stations or to other forms of voting such as postal votes, so that they can play their full part in society.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): I welcome some of the pilots that took place in May, particularly on earlier postal voting, but does the Minister accept that people fail to vote not simply because they cannot vote at weekends or over extended periods, but because they feel that the local government for which they are voting does not have the powers they want it to have? For example, when councillors vote against planning applications, their decisions are often referred to an independent inspector, who may overturn the wishes of local elected councillors. Will the Minister talk to his colleagues in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to find out what measures may be introduced to ensure that local democracy means what it says?

Mr. O'Brien: As I understand it, the legislation under which local government operates was introduced by the previous Government, whom the hon. Gentleman no doubt supported. We are ensuring that we give local authorities greater freedom and greater powers so that we restore local democracy after the damage done by the Conservatives over 18 years.

Mr. Phil Woolas (Oldham, East and Saddleworth): In his deliberations, will my hon. Friend look into the important problem of voter impersonation? He may be aware that in the Coldhurst ward in Oldham there is a police investigation into what appears to have been widespread abuse of the voting system by people apparently voting twice.

Mr. O'Brien: Personation is a serious offence, and I will ask the police for their view on that matter when they have completed their inquiries.

Metropolitan Police Authority

7. Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): When he last met the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to discuss arrangements for transferring responsibility for policing in London to the Metropolitan police authority. [130328]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw): I regularly meet the Metropolitan police Commissioner to discuss policing issues. The launch of the Metropolitan police authority was one of the issues discussed at our meeting on 22 June 2000.

Mr. Wilkinson: Did not the Home Secretary hand a poisoned chalice to the Metropolitan police authority on 3 July, inasmuch as during his tenure of office, he has presided over a diminution of police manpower of no fewer than 1,200 in the metropolitan area? Furthermore,

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in the past year no fewer than 588 officers have left the service, while recorded crimes have risen by over 100,000.

Not only do the Metropolitan police feel "battered"--to quote incoming Commissioner Sir John Stevens--but the general public are getting a raw deal, with the precept going up, crime going up and police numbers going steadily down. Is it not lamentable that under the current Government police numbers are no fewer than 1,500 below the minimum number declared acceptable by the previous Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon?

Mr. Straw: The chalice is far from poisoned. The establishment of a democratic and representative Metropolitan police authority has been widely welcomed by all parties and is something that, in my view, should have been done many decades ago. What is lamentable is the fact that, year after year under the previous Administration, there were mounting reductions in the number of police officers in London--155 in 1995 and 400 in 1996, rising to 700 in 1997-98, under a budget set by the previous Administration--yet Conservative Members of Parliament did not protest about that serious reduction in police manpower in Greater London. It has taken changes to the financial arrangements for the Metropolitan police service that I have made, including a significant increase in the special allowance, to ensure that, at long last, numbers will stabilise and then start to rise. The one thing above all that made life so difficult for the Metropolitan police service was the abolition of the housing allowance under the Sheehy proposals, which the hon. Gentleman supported and we opposed; we are now repairing that damage.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire): Even if he would not describe it as handing over a poisoned chalice, surely the Home Secretary would agree that he has transferred the policing of London to the Metropolitan police authority in a pretty sorry state? How can he say that the drop in police numbers that occurred under the Conservatives is the problem when, during his years in office, the number has fallen by 1,581, at a time when crime is rising by 12.6 per cent., emergency calls are not answered and police stations are closing? Is he aware that Sir John Stevens has said that he needs 25,600 officers in London to police the capital properly, that numbers are currently lower than that and that even the mayor of London is now calling for urgent increases? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when numbers will return to the safe level of 25,600 that has been set by the Commissioner? Now, they are considerably lower than that, which represents an abdication of the Home Secretary's responsibilities.

Mr. Straw: As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are now putting money into the Metropolitan police service and other police services to ensure that numbers start to rise. In addition, already in payment is a £3,500 increase in the London allowance for Metropolitan police officers. What is absolutely certain, following last week's announcement by the shadow Chancellor, is that under the Conservatives the sums available for policing in London and the rest of the country would be significantly less than they are under the Labour Government.

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