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Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware that, last Friday, the Home Secretary responded to several questions, including one that I asked on the date and time of a telephone conversation between the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien). The Home Secretary confirmed that he was not prepared

That review is being conducted by Sir Anthony Hammond. Will you confirm that, on the rules for reference in debate to matters awaiting judicial decision, "Erskine May" states that such a restriction

Will you therefore confirm that there is no constraint whatever on Ministers on how they might reply to debates or parliamentary questions on the Hinduja passport application? In addition, is it in order for the Home Secretary to refuse to answer questions relating to the matter in the House on Friday, but on Sunday to answer questions relating to such conversations asked by Mr. Jonathan Dimbleby?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman gave me notice of that point of order. I have already made it clear that the inquiry set up by the Prime Minister does not render the matter sub judice. I have also made it clear that the substance of ministerial replies is not my responsibility. The hon. Gentleman will have to find other ways in which to raise his concerns.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for not giving

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you notice, but my point of order relates to the previous matter. In 1996, the House passed a motion describing the accountability of Ministers to the House. It now appears on page 63 of "Erskine May", which states:

I have a copy of the code of practice on access to information, and it does indeed lay down certain conditions for confidentiality, but none relating to an inquiry set up by the Government.

Mr. Speaker, you are the guardian of our rights in this respect. Only you can make the Government comply with a motion, passed by the House in 1996, that does not give them the right to use their own inquiry as an excuse to block the scrutiny powers of hon. Members. I therefore appeal to you to enforce the letter of that motion, which we passed only a few years ago.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington) rose--

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let me--

Mr. Campbell-Savours: On that very matter--

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let me answer that very matter.

I have ruled that the matter is not sub judice. It is up to hon. Members to keep persevering and asking questions of Ministers.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: I am not allowed to say that those points of order were bogus, because that is your function, Mr. Speaker, and I cannot challenge what you wish to say. However, they were bogus. Perhaps hon. Members should recall what happened during 17 years of Tory Government, when Ministers repeatedly told us from the Dispatch Box that they could not answer parliamentary questions. Indeed, I was repeatedly blocked in the Table Office on the basis that ministerial inquiries were under way, following instructions from those in the private office, who spoke to the Clerks in the Table Office. Those points of order are totally spurious and totally bogus, and we will not be fooled.

Mr. Speaker: I am always reluctant to say that an hon. Member has raised--[Interruption.] Order. The hon. Gentleman asked me a question, but he is continuing to talk. I am always reluctant to say that hon. Members have raised bogus points of order, but what we heard from the hon. Gentleman was, indeed, a bogus point of order.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): My point of order is, as always, entirely genuine, Mr. Speaker. Given the growing concern about the unlawful activities of many animal rights protesters in this country, have you received any indication that a Home Office Minister wishes shortly to make a statement about the new and additional means by which the Government intend that people who are suspected of harassment, intimidation or violence can be identified and prosecuted without delay?

Mr. Speaker: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should wait for the debate.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for not giving you advance

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notice of my point, but it relates to the points of order on the Hammond inquiry. It is becoming daily more clear that the reason for the resignation of the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was the insistence of a civil servant--the Prime Minister's chief press spokesman--that he must resign. If the Hammond inquiry finds that that is so, what recourse will Members have to hold an unelected civil servant to account when issues of such gravity as the resignation of a Cabinet Minister are precipitated by that civil servant?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman puts a hypothetical question to me, and I am not in the business of answering hypothetical questions.

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Orders of the Day

Criminal Justice and Police Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker: I must announce to the House that, from 7 pm to 9.30 pm, there will be a time limit on Back-Bench speeches.

4.12 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill has a simple aim: it is to aid the police and the courts in further reducing crime and the fear of crime. Crime is still too high, but we have sought to make considerable progress in reducing it. Last October's British crime survey showed that crime had fallen by 10 per cent. between 1997 and 1999, and it is worth bearing it in mind that that survey seeks to measure all crime committed against property belonging to individuals or against the person. It included a recording of a 4 per cent. reduction in violent crime overall. As we know from the recorded crime figures that were issued recently, recorded crime dropped by 7 per cent. between March 1997 and September 2000. Burglary and vehicle crime are now at their lowest levels for a decade.

No one is remotely complacent about overall levels of crime and disorder, not least against the background of the fact that crime doubled during the 1980s and early 1990s. Along with that, the proportion of people convicted of crimes fell by a third.

Mr. John Major (Huntingdon): I think that everyone is pleased to hear about the reductions in crime from 1997, but they may be equally interested to hear about the reductions in crime from 1992 onwards. They were also substantial, but, in a curious way, the figures on that have slipped out of the Home Secretary's brief for this debate.

Mr. Straw: As I recall it, the reduction in recorded crime began in 1993 and not in 1992, but I am willing to concede that point. Interestingly enough, the reduction in crime as measured by the British crime survey, which measures overall levels of crime, did not start until 1995. If the right hon. Gentleman wants, I would be very happy to trade statistics with him about what happened during his period of office and what has happened under my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Let us take the first three and a half years of each of the last Administrations. During the first three and a half years of the Thatcher Administration, recorded crime rose by 20 per cent.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire): Those figures were inherited.

Mr. Straw: Certainly the inheritance of the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) was a terrible one.

During the first three and a half years of the Major Administration, crime rose by getting on for 40 per cent., whereas during the first three and a half years of my right

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hon. Friend's Administration, crime fell by 7 per cent. That is the best record of any incoming Administration for 50 years.

Mr. Major: I do not want remotely to make the Home Secretary unhappy, but he will concede that the trend had begun and continued. It is precisely because of the basis that the right hon. Gentleman inherited that he saw that continuing trend. After some years of the present Administration, crime does not seem to be falling at the same rate.

Mr. Straw: According to the most accurate measure--the British crime survey--the trend did not start until 1995. Indeed, the same statisticians who put those figures together warned me when I took office that all the demographic and economic factors were suggesting that crime would start to rise. I am pleased to say that it has not done so.

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