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8. Mr. Baldry: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he next expects to meet the chief constable of the Thames Valley to discuss Oxfordshire police numbers. 
Mr. Straw: I have discussions with the chief constable, Charles Pollard, from time to time, the latest of which took place this morning.
The Thames Valley force is in a strong position in terms of the resources available to it. The force has been allocated a total of 325 crime fighting fund recruits. In the next financial year, the force will receive funding support of £245.1 million, an increase of £13.4 million or 5.8 per cent. over 2000-01. The force will also receive £1.3 million from the rural policing fund. The national recruitment campaign should boost recruitment to the force and has already led to 437 expressions of interest being passed to Thames Valley.
As a result of the range of measures we have taken, the chief constable has told me that he is "quietly hopeful" of the positive impact which they will have on police numbers in his force.
Further to this, I am pleased to announce to the House today that I have accepted the police negotiating board's (PNB's) recommendation that there should be an additional annual allowance paid to officers in eight forces in the south-east.
In the five forces bordering the Metropolitan Police service--Thames Valley, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent and Surrey--the allowance will be £2,000 per annum. In the
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remaining three forces in the south east--Bedfordshire, Hampshire and Sussex--the annual allowance will be £1,000. The new allowance will be payable with effect from 1 April 2001 and will be paid to officers and rejoiners appointed on or after 1 September 1994 who are not in receipt of housing allowance.
This is a good deal for forces in the south-east. The new allowance should help them both to recruit more constables and to retain experienced officers, and ensure that officers in these forces can meet the higher costs associated with living in the region.
The allowance, combined with the unprecedented funding that we are now investing in the police service as a whole, will help ensure that the recent upturn in police numbers is sustained in Thames Valley, in the south-east more generally, and across the country.
Mr. Matthew Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many serving police officers there were on 31 March and 30 September for each year between 1997 and 2000. 
Mr. Charles Clarke [holding answer 1 March 2001]: Police numbers on 31 March and 30 September for each year between 1997 and 2000 are given in the table.
|Year||As at 31 March||As at 30 September|
Home Office Statistical Bulletin, 'Police Service Strength 2/01' (to September 2000)
Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many police officers there were in Sussex (a) in May 1997 and (b) on the last date for which figures are available. 
Mr. Charles Clarke: I refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) on 7 February 2001, Official Report, column 614W.
12. Gillian Merron: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the existing and future provision of prison accommodation. 
Mr. Boateng: The total certified operational capacity of the prison estate was 71,461 on 2 March 2001. A new 800-place prison, Dovegate prison in Staffordshire, is scheduled to open in July this year.
The Prison Service has also been funded to increase capacity by a further 2,660 by 2004.
14. Mr. Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will introduce uniformed street watches in urban areas to support the work of the police. 
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Mr. Mike O'Brien: My Department and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions are already jointly funding a neighbourhood wardens programme across England and Wales. The majority of the schemes are within urban areas. Neighbourhood wardens have a supportive and complementary role to the police, local authority and local partnerships to help tackle antisocial behaviour, make environmental improvements in a neighbourhood, have a real effect on the quality of life of local communities, and reduce crime and the fear of crime.
15. Dr. Julian Lewis: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many prisoners have been released under the early release scheme before serving half their sentences. 
Mr. Boateng: Prisoners sentenced to four years imprisonment or less may be released before serving half their sentences under the provisions of the home detention curfew scheme. From the inception of the scheme in January 1999 until 26 February 2001, 32,510 prisoners have been released on home detention curfew.
16. Mr. Syms: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the functioning of the national asylum support scheme. 
Mrs. Roche: The new asylum support arrangements were brought in on a phased basis from 3 April 2000 and by 29 August the national asylum support service (NASS) had assumed responsibility for the majority of all new asylum seekers. In addition, since 25 September all eligible disbenefited cases are now the responsibility of NASS. This has limited the responsibility of local authorities in providing support for asylum seekers.
22. Ms Oona King: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the national asylum support service. 
Mrs. Roche: The new asylum support arrangements were brought in on a phased basis from 3 April 2000, and by 29 August the national asylum support service (NASS) had assumed responsibility for the majority of all new asylum seekers. In addition, since 25 September 2000 all eligible disbenefited cases are now the responsibility of NASS. As at the end of January 2001, NASS was providing voucher only support on 9,960 1 asylum seekers including dependants and 19,820 1 asylum seekers, including dependants, had been allocated accommodation.
17. Mr. Browne: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what measures he is taking to reduce the level of drug-related crime. 
Mr. Charles Clarke: Measures in hand include national roll-out of the drug treatment and testing order from October 2000 and the development of arrest referral schemes where virtually all police custody suites will be covered by April 2001, 12 months ahead of schedule.
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New initiatives planned include piloting the extension of drug testing across the criminal justice system from spring 2001. Consideration will also be given to the use of specialist drug review hearings to handle cases involving drug misusing offenders and the scope for setting up a police register for drug dealers similar to that which already exists for sex offenders.
In addition, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced on 7 March extra funding over three years for the fight against drugs. This includes £220 million to be channelled through crime and disorder reduction partnerships to help the police and local communities to disrupt local drug markets and drive out the drug dealers. We will also be announcing shortly details of further funding for programmes to tackle drug-related crime.
18. Mr. Gray: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent discussions he has had with French Ministers regarding illegal immigrants; and if he will make a statement. 
Mrs. Roche: My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has frequent discussions with French Ministers about illegal immigration and related issues. In particular, he had full discussions with them at the United Kingdom/ French summit on 9 February.
The summit confirmed the joint intention to introduce juxtaposed controls at the Eurostar terminals in June. In addition, French Ministers agreed to legislate quickly to ensure that all passengers travelling by train between France and the United Kingdom will be subject to the relevant controls, regardless of their destination.
In addition, on 9 March my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary met his French, German, Spanish and Italian counterparts in London to discuss immigration and other issues of common interest.
19. Mr. Burgon: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what consultations he has had with local authorities regarding the increase of cemetery provision. 
Mr. Boateng: None. Provision of cemetery facilities is a matter for local decision, but we plan to convene an advisory group consisting of the key professional and representative organisations, including the local authorities, to consider a range of issues concerning burial law, practice and resources.
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