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Police Numbers

9. Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): if he will make a statement on police numbers. [205644]

11. Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab): if he will make a statement on police officer numbers. [205646]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): This Government have delivered record police numbers. There are now nearly 140,000 police officers—an historic high, and an increase of more than 12,500 since 1997. I hope that the shadow Home Secretary will intervene on this question and indicate how he feels about that development.

Mr. Goodman: Chiltern Vale police, who are not paid London weighting, regularly lose experienced officers to forces such as the Metropolitan police, who are. An experienced local officer recently suggested to me that the Met might like to pay a transfer fee for poaching police from other forces. Will the Home Secretary have a serious look at that constructive proposal?

Mr. Clarke: I understand the issue raised; indeed, my honorary Friend has made this point consistently for many years—[Hon. Members: "Honorary?"] I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker; I meant my hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety. The House will be interested to know that the number of officers in the Thames Valley force has increased by 444 since 1997. I do acknowledge the existence of the recruitment issues that the hon. Gentleman raises, but the fact is that we are succeeding in increasing the officer numbers in the Thames Valley force, as elsewhere.

Mr. Wyatt: We are grateful for the many more police officers, community support officers and neighbourhood wardens, but will my right hon. Friend include the funding of neighbourhood watch schemes in the totality of crime prevention? We think that is a very good idea.

Mr. Clarke: It is a very positive idea; indeed, encouraging police officers to work in partnership with forces such as those that my hon. Friend mentions, and with their local communities through neighbourhood
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watch, is an important approach. We are considering the best funding regimes to incentivise that approach, and I will consider his proposal in that context.

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): The Secretary of State might wish to know that in the past few days Essex police has called up for training as potential police officers some 50 people who have been waiting for well over a year to be called into the police force. Can he confirm that the minute they begin training, they will appear on the roll as police officers? Is such recruitment going on around the country, and does it have anything to do with 5 May?

Mr. Clarke: Recruitment of police officers is certainly going on around the country: indeed, it has been going on since 1997, which is why we have more police officers now in Essex—as elsewhere in the country—than we did in that year. Such recruitment has nothing to do with any forthcoming election; rather, it is to do with the policies that we have advanced. The issue in the election, which the main Opposition must address, is that they have stated clearly that they would cut spending on Home Office resources in real terms.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that since 1997 there has been a welcome net increase of almost 100 in the number of officers in Durham constabulary, but is he aware that as a result of next year's grant settlement, and of proposed changes concerning the training of probationary police officers, the chief constable of Durham might have to cut the number of officers by nearly 40 if he is to balance the budget? Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet me and other Durham Members to discuss the situation?

Mr. Clarke: I will meet my hon. Friend and his colleagues, but I should point out that most police authorities recognise that the settlement announced a couple of weeks ago, following the pre-Budget report, is a very generous and positive one that allows continuing investment in policing throughout the country. That said, I am happy to have the meeting that he requests.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): Given the rise in crime across Britain that has occurred while the right hon. Gentleman has been away from the Home Office—and, indeed, throughout the tenure of this Labour Government—and given the near doubling in the number of violent crimes and the worrying fall in detection rates, why does he not accept that we need more fully trained policemen and women, and implement the Conservative party's costed policy promise to provide 40,000 more police? Is that not what people in Britain want to hear from the Home Secretary and this Government today?

Mr. Clarke: First, crime has reduced under this Government, not increased, and in that regard the contrast between our record and that of our predecessors is dramatic. Secondly, the shadow Chancellor is making these Conservative policies, which state explicitly that in real terms there would be no extra money for policing; in fact, as with everything else, there would be a real terms cut in spending. I wish Conservative Members would own up to that fact.
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10. Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall) (Lab): What measures he has taken to stop clandestine entry into the UK from France. [205645]

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Mr. Desmond Browne): The measures taken include the deployment of state-of-the-art detection technology, the levying of civil penalties on hauliers, and closer co-operation with carriers and port authorities and, principally, with our EU counterparts. We also now have full immigration controls in place in Calais, Boulogne and Dunkirk, which include the searching of tourist and freight vehicles using a variety of detection methods, ranging from sniffer dogs to carbon dioxide probes. All these measures have led to a 23 per cent. decrease in the number of detected clandestine entrants into Kent in the first six months of 2004, compared with the last six months of 2003, and to a 36 per cent. increase in the number of detections in Calais in the same period.

Mr. Khabra: I thank the Minister for that encouraging answer. He will be aware of the Prime Minister's meeting with EU leaders last month to discuss a five-year immigration and asylum plan aimed at streamlining policy. In that context, will the Minister tell the House whether any further progress has been made on this issue?

Mr. Browne: Thanks principally to the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), we have further plans to improve existing security in the ports to France and others. Following the recent meeting between my right hon. Friend and the French Interior Minister at Calais on 15 November, we announced the roll-out of further UK detection technology to the port of Dunkirk by summer 2005. We continue to work with our EU partners to drive down illegal entry across the EU, with regular exchanges of intelligence and regular joint operations impacting on organised human smuggling. Indeed, on 14 December, as a result of one of those operations, we saw the conviction of Mohammed Shahzad, who was sentenced to four years' imprisonment on the charge of conspiring to facilitate illegal entry to the UK.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): Is the Minister aware that many of those who enter the UK clandestinely from France end up working in Worcestershire, where officers of the excellent West Mercia constabulary quite regularly apprehend them? When the police ring the immigration and nationality directorate, it suggests that these clandestine entrants should be issued with a travel permit to go to Croydon. How many of those entrants does the Minister believe take up the kind invitation of IND staff to pop down and see them in Croydon?

Mr. Browne: I am not in a position to discuss in detail with the hon. Gentleman the activities of the West Mercia police. I would say, however, that it cannot have escaped his notice that we have recently significantly increased the detention estate that is available to the IND. Indeed, it has more than doubled since the Government came to power. We now have state-of-
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the-art facilities as opposed to the inappropriate detention facilities that we inherited from the previous Government. Now we are turning our attention to the challenge faced by local police forces in the continued detention of people discovered in the back of lorries as clandestine entrants. Thankfully, of course, the number of such entrants has decreased significantly, largely as a result of the steps that the Government have taken.

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