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Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on her statement and fully endorse the changes that she proposes. If one of the new, more professionalised coroners were to make a specific recommendation, such as that a death or an incident should be the subject of a full-scale public inquiry, what weight would be given by her Department to such a recommendation?

Ms Harman: A recommendation about lessons that need to be learned from a highly professionalised coroners service that has considered all the evidence appropriately will carry much more weight than it does at present.


 
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Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's statement, particularly on behalf of the Mullane family from my constituency, the family of Julia Pemberton and her son William, tragically murdered by her husband Alan in November 2003. Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure me that her proposals will bring an end to the type of disgraceful treatment that the Mullane family experienced from two coroners? The first declined to stand down initially, despite his strong link to Alan Pemberton, and the second treated the family with hostility and failed to investigate conflicting evidence under article 2 of the European convention on human rights. Will she assure me that her proposals will mean that coroners will never be allowed to behave like that again?

Ms Harman: I thank my hon. Friend for raising the case. It was a tragic case of a woman and her son being killed and then the husband, who had killed them both, committing suicide. One of the most tragic aspects was that the family, whom I had the opportunity to meet because Refuge, the organisation, brought them to see me, said, "We know this is supposed to be an inquisitorial system, but we felt it was an adversarial system, and we felt that it was against us." Any system that makes bereaved relatives feel that the whole system is weighted against them is totally unsatisfactory. I thank my hon. Friend for bringing that case to my attention and also for the support that she is giving the relatives in such unacceptable circumstances. In the House we have recently legislated for homicide reviews in domestic violence cases, but, arguably, if the coroners system were working properly, we would not need homicide reviews, as all the relevant information would be brought to the coroner and proper lessons would be learned. The reviews have sprung up because the coroner system has not been dealing appropriately with these cases.

Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes) (Lab): For some years I have been involved with Grimsby resident Shanie Parkin over the tragic death of her son Bradley. Shanie's experiences are similar to others that have been aired in the House today. She has been campaigning for change, and I am sure she will welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's statement, particularly in relation to family involvement, which is what Shanie felt was most lacking, and on how to get a second opinion if there are any doubts. Can my right hon. and learned Friend give us a few more details about that? She will be meeting Shanie later this week, and I hope she will accept from her a petition calling for changes to the coroners system.

Ms Harman: I look forward to meeting my hon. Friend and the constituent she brings to see me, and I will certainly accept the petition. We must listen to people when they say the system is not working, and we must make sure that the legislation that we introduce deals with that. It is extraordinary that in the past the public interest was seen as having nothing to do with the family's interest. Of course coroners must find out the facts in the public interest, but it is also in the public interest that the families are treated properly and get their answers.
 
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Point of Order

4.39 pm

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Today, the Home Secretary has slipped a written statement into the Library entitled "Police reform: Update on police force restructuring". In my case, West Mercia will be merged into a monster regional force despite having been judged the No. 1 force and despite an unprecedented public relations campaign showing, in one case, that 96 per cent. of respondents want it to stay intact. Have you had any notification from the Home Secretary that, instead of slipping a two-page written statement into the Library, he will come to the House and make himself accountable so that we can question him on this extraordinary national reorganisation?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I have had no notice of such a statement. Written statements are of course a matter for Ministers in terms of the way in which they make them available to the House and put them in the Library.


 
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Police Finance

4.40 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): I beg to move,

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): For the purposes of the debate, and if the House is agreeable, we will also discuss the other two motions on the police on the Order Paper:

Paul Goggins: Let me begin by eating a little humble pie and acknowledging the valuable role undertaken by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments in scrutinising orders and reports laid before the House to ensure that they are fit for purpose. I regret that the three police grant reports fell foul of that scrutiny in that they were dated incorrectly. I am grateful to the Committee and to the Committee Chairman for agreeing to give them retrospective consideration, thereby not delaying today's debate.

The Government have a solid record of investment in policing in England and Wales. The funding settlement for the coming two years will build on substantial and sustained growth since 2000–01. Government grant and central spending on services for the police will have increased by nearly 50 per cent., or more than £3.5 billion, between 2000–01 and 2006–07.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): In delivering his litany of good news, will the Minister confirm that Home Office funding per head of population for Surrey police authority has fallen in cash terms since 1997, resulting in a 22.7 per cent. real decrease in funding for Surrey police?

Paul Goggins: I am sure that we can go into detail about Surrey and other parts of England and Wales as the debate ensues. I look forward to the hon. Gentleman trying to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to make a contribution later. The point that I am making, in setting the context for the debate, is that there has been a huge and sustained increase in investment in policing over several years. The hon. Gentleman's constituents are reaping the benefits, as indeed are mine and those of all hon. Members.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): I understand the point that the Minister is making. Overall, the sum of money has increased, but he made a very sweeping statement at the beginning of his speech. Does he realise that the settlement for Sussex police this year will place in jeopardy the significant improvements that they have undertaken?

Further, is the Minister aware that this funding settlement will mean that the counter-terrorism and dedicated security post that the force had anticipated
 
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will no longer be funded to the same level, and that it will receive about £400,000 less for resourcing such a key priority? That is an extremely unsatisfactory state of affairs. I urge the hon. Gentleman to examine a fairer way of distributing this money.

Paul Goggins: We will get the opportunity to discuss some of these details. The dedicated security post to which the hon. Gentleman refers represents a major change in the way in which the funding of police services is being organised this year. That will now be provided through central funding, which obviously involves an adjustment. I acknowledge the improvements in Sussex and in many other parts of the country. I believe that this settlement will enable forces to sustain the improvements and changes that they have made. If we look, for example, at the number of staff that the police service has today, we find that more than 234,000 people are engaged in delivering policing—an increase of nearly 15 per cent. since 1997. Police numbers are historically high, at 141,270 on 30 September 2005. We are committed to maintaining a well-staffed police service.


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