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"Corpus Juris"

5. Mr. Howard Flight (Arundel and South Downs): What the Government's policy is on "Corpus Juris". [156024]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mrs. Barbara Roche): We believe that the way forward for judicial co-operation in Europe lies not in "Corpus Juris" but in

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the measures agreed at the Tampere European Council, including, in particular, mutual recognition of judicial decisions and the creation of Eurojust.

Mr. Flight: Will the Minister give an absolute undertaking that the Home Secretary will not seek any common European Union legal system or permit any interference by Europe in our judicial system?

Mrs. Roche: There is absolutely no intention to have a common legal system. As the hon. Gentleman will know, "Corpus Juris" is merely an academic study; it has not been formally proposed or discussed by the Council of the European Union. We have made progress on mutual legal recognition, which the House will know was an initiative proposed by the United Kingdom Government that has been warmly welcomed by other member states.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham): The term "corpus juris" is a bit of Euro-babble which, translated into plain English, means a legal means to crack down on the immense fraud that exists in Europe. I should have thought that the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight), as a director of some 17 companies that take investors' savings, would be concerned to join in the crack-down on fraud. I invite my hon. Friend the Minister not to listen to the anti-European rhetoric of the Opposition, but to work to create systems on the basis of mutual recognition to deal with the serious problem of fraud--the black holes into which too much European money disappears. The Opposition should be determined to crack down on the problem, instead of waving it away.

Mrs. Roche: Of course, the phrase "corpus juris" originally comes from the work done in the reign of the Emperor Justinian. [Interruption.] Before the Opposition get too excited, may I say that my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) is right--we do need to crack down on fraud in the European Union, which is why we celebrate the creation of Eurojust, and why, following an open competition--[Interruption.] This is a serious point. Following an open competition, Mr. Mike Kennedy, who is currently the chief Crown prosecutor for Sussex, has been selected to represent the United Kingdom on that important institution.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): How does the Minister square her initial answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight), that her Government were against "Corpus Juris", with the votes of Labour Members of the European Parliament as recently as 14 March, when they voted to undermine our traditions of habeas corpus, and for a European public prosecutor--a specific part of the "Corpus Juris" proposals--who would have the power to detain suspects without trial for nine months?

Mrs. Roche: As the hon. Gentleman and the Opposition know, we are entirely against "Corpus Juris". We have made the Government's position absolutely clear.

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Private Security Firms

6. Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester): If he will make it his policy that streets and other public places will not be policed by private security firms. [156025]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): It is the police who have the job and responsibility of policing our streets. The office of constable is a constitutional role, which we will rigorously uphold. However, we believe that a range of other agencies have a key partnership role to play in supporting the police in those efforts, and we believe that the Private Security Industry Bill will assist that process.

Mr. Russell: Can the Minister clarify his answer? I am not sure whether he is saying that there will or that there will not be privatised police on our streets. Surely people want proper police officers and more bobbies on the beat. Does he agree that when people have paid their taxes, they expect to see police officers on their streets?

Mr. Clarke: There are two points. First, the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is yes--people are entitled to see police numbers going up. The numbers are going up. By March next year, we will have more police than we inherited, and by March the following year, we will have more police than there have ever been in this country, thanks to the decisions taken by the Government. Secondly, it is important for the hon. Gentleman to recognise that although there are currently 126,000 police officers, there are 300,000 to 350,000 private security guards in various parts of the country. It is important that we build effective co-ordination and partnerships between those people and the police.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside): Can my hon. Friend say whether in our streets and other public places there is now less vandalism and less graffiti?

Mr. Clarke: I can certainly say that in most parts of the country that is true, but in some parts there are serious issues of vandalism and graffiti that have not yet been tackled fully. That is why we have the crime and disorder partnerships to which my fellow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien) referred earlier.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Does the Minister not realise that all the speculation arises from the fall in police numbers? He knows that there are 1,600 fewer police officers now than there were when Labour came to power, and 6,000 fewer special police constables on the streets now than there were when he first came to power. Does he agree with the chairman of the West Yorkshire Police Federation, who said, with reference to the cut of 400 police officers:

Mr. Clarke: We have had this argument on many occasions, and I do not think that I have a great deal to add. The fact is that police numbers fell from 1993 until March last year. At about that time, they started increasing significantly. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary

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said, they increased by almost 1,000 in the 10 months up to January this year--the biggest increase ever. They increased in almost every police force in Britain. As I said, those increases will ensure that by March next year, there will be significantly more police officers than we inherited. That is a significant achievement and a change from the policy that the hon. Gentleman's Government pursued from 1993. We agree that we need more police officers, but unlike the Conservative party, we have taken the steps to ensure that we will have them.

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central): The cowboy clampers were out on the streets of Doncaster again on Saturday, coining in as much money as possible from passing motorists. Presumably, they wanted to do so before, thanks to my hon. Friend, the law comes crashing down around their heads in the form of the Private Security Industry Bill. Until that happy day, however, will he consider the possibility of his Department keeping a record of complaints about clamping companies, so that the Security Industry Authority can distinguish between reputable and disreputable companies?

Mr. Clarke: I shall certainly consider that proposal. I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her work to promote the licensing of wheelclampers, which the Private Security Industry Bill is taking forward. The Bill will make a material difference, and I hope that it will prevent the sort of activity that she has seen on the streets of her constituency.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): The Minister will know that an interesting experiment has been conducted at Blue Water, which is paying for local police officers to carry out patrols. Are there any plans to extend that practice, so that police officers will be identifiable in public places?

Mr. Clarke: Such plans do exist, and there are a significant number of examples, including the Broads Authority in my county. The cities of Hull and Liverpool have put in considerable resources. We want to encourage such partnerships in a wide variety of different ways, whether in public sector bodies such as the national parks authorities or city councils, or in the private sector, as with their use by the retail industry at the Blue Water development. However, I am keen to rebut the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell) that that replaces the need for a proper number of police throughout our country. It does not. That is why we want both to increase the number of police officers, as we are doing, and to build partnerships to ensure safer and more secure communities throughout the country. That is the Government's policy, and that is what we will carry forward.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): How many police officers are engaged in searching for royal lines of crack?

Mr. Clarke: I deeply regret that I cannot give my hon. Friend an up-to-date account of precise police resources in this area, but I think that he makes his point effectively.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): Does the Minister accept that the police are becoming less and less

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visible in rural areas, because there are fewer police, fewer special constables and, above all, fewer rural police stations? Does he agree that the rural police, who should be visible and patrolling our streets, will never be replaced by private security officers? They are no substitute.

Mr. Clarke: I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's suggestion at all. The fact is that Gloucestershire, where his constituency is located, now has 28 more full-time officers than it had in March 1997. Numbers have continued to increase since then. There are now more police in Gloucestershire than there were when the Government came to office. I think that he should welcome that. More generally, perhaps he would also like to welcome--as he has done personally to me--the fact that our rural policing allocations have given significant extra support to rural constabularies such as that of Gloucestershire. That is how policing can be improved in the way that both he and I believe to be necessary.

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