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John Reid: Of course I will listen to the people of Essex, and to people throughout the country, along with their various representatives. That is what I have undertaken to do, as my predecessor did. He asked for people’s views on these matters, and we shall consider them carefully. I have already said that we must take into account the individual parts of the whole and how the whole of our police service in England operates in its efficacy and capability. That may not always concur with the expressed wish of each of the individual components. However, we try to get the best overall capability that is possible. I think that the strategic direction that has already been set out is probably the right one in which to move and will lead to the right conclusions at which to arrive. I have already undertaken to listen, to read, to try to learn and to consider how we get there. When I have done that, I will return to the House and the hon. Gentleman will be able to question me.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): With a little more time in his new office my right hon. Friend will become aware that many in Bedfordshire, including me, have made strong representations in favour of a north-south merger with Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire. Will my right hon. Friend reconsider that possibility, given that all the transport links and the natural geographical coherence means that Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire work as a unit, as with the coastal counties, but possibly in two groups?

John Reid: Without claiming any particular credit, I can tell my hon. Friend that in the limited time that I have been in post, I have already become aware of that submission. As I said earlier, it is not possible to provide the statistics that the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) requested—perhaps fortunately—but I am aware that a lot of differing views have been expressed on this issue. Many of those views disagree with our proposals and most of them disagree with each other, so the wisdom of Solomon, elevated to an even greater extent, may be required. The HMIC report examined the current system and said that it was not fit for purpose; it is not serving the public as it should by giving the maximum protection. That said, I want to examine exactly how we reach our end goals.

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): Just today, the Prime Minister said:

But the merger of police forces such as Bedford, Essex and Hertfordshire, which will cover an area of 2,500 sq m and a population of 3 million, will inevitably make chief constables more distant from the communities whom they are meant to serve. Will the Home Secretary look again at the federal option advanced by the Association of Police Authorities, which would achieve the objective of strengthening protective services without the loss of local accountability? Local people do not want to lose such accountability.

John Reid: On the suggested federal option, my understanding is that it has been tried before in several areas and has not worked particularly well.

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Nick Herbert indicated dissent.

John Reid: That is my understanding, which is why HMIC did not adopt it as the preferred solution. So although I am prepared to consider every option, as a new Home Secretary, I would obviously not like to allow the hon. Gentleman to believe that I do not consider the strategic direction pointed out by HMIC to be the one that we should pursue. That said, I shall look in detail at how the matter might be dealt with. Secondly and incidentally, I do not believe that the strategic vision outlined in the HMIC recommendations is incompatible with more local accountability; the two elements could be combined. Thirdly, at the end of the day what people want is a more capable police service that reduces crime, fear and feelings of insecurity. They want a service that is seen better to protect, and to be fair to, the vast majority of people—who are decent, hard-working and responsible citizens—rather than a service that is unfairly balanced against their interests.

Police Force Mergers

9. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle) (Lab): What steps are being taken to ensure that chief constables whose posts disappear with restructuring are given appropriate posts in new merged police forces. [70214]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Joan Ryan): There will be open competition for all chief constable and deputy chief constable posts. We are considering including in the amalgamation orders a provision enabling any chief constable not securing a post to transfer to the successor force for three months on their existing pay and conditions. A chief constable not securing a substantive post will be given a severance package.

Mr. Prentice: That is a disappointing reply. Why only a three-month period, and why are we saying to chief constables who were not successful in getting an appointment that people who are presumably at the height of their powers are going to be pensioned off? Will not this reorganisation, like every other one, cost an absolute arm and a leg, and might it fail to deliver the benefits that we are told to expect?

Joan Ryan: I thank my hon. Friend for making those points. I know that his own Lancashire and Cumbria force is very keen to see the merger go ahead. He will know that, in line with restructuring, the senior appointments processes are being developed through a joint police advisory board and police negotiating board working group, on which the Home Office’s chief police officers staff association and the Association of Police Authorities sit. So it would be a little premature to outline to my hon. Friend the exact nature of the terms and conditions, but he can rest assured that they are being looked at in some detail with the very people who will be affected and their representative organisations. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary pointed out, this can be an expensive process; however, it is about creating police forces that can provide for our communities the protection that they both want and deserve.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): I welcome the Minister and the Home Secretary to their new posts.

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This set of mergers has been brought forward with intemperate haste, without proper consultation, in constituencies up and down the country. There is real danger to morale in the police force and, furthermore, to morale among the public, who will consider that they will have a much more remote police force and will not continue to have a local chief constable. Will the Minister please take more time over this?

Joan Ryan: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his good wishes. I repeat to him what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said in response to a similar point—that he will consider all these matters. Our first priority must be to take account of the report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, “Closing the gap”, which said, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, that the 43-force structure is not fit for purpose in protecting the public. Creating police forces that are fit for purpose must be our first priority.

HMP Chelmsford

10. Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): What the total maximum capacity is for prisoners at HMP Chelmsford; and how many prisoners are held there. [70215]

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Tony McNulty): As at 12 May 2006, the useable operational capacity—the total number of prisoners that an establishment can hold, taking into account control, security and the proper operation of the planned regime—of HMP Chelmsford was 575. The total population of HMP Chelmsford was 575.

Mr. Burns: Those figures are extremely encouraging, because they suggest that some of the gross overcrowding of the past has been stabilised and reduced. However, can the Minister tell me whether the work on the expansion of the prison has recommenced after its interruption? When does he expect that work to be completed? That will give the prison an extra 120 spaces, which will help to prevent overcrowding and help it to re-establish itself in future.

Mr. McNulty: The hon. Gentleman will know that building costs increased above the original estimates and that, as he intimates, the project was temporarily suspended. It was determined to be value for money and is back online. The conversion of the old health care centre into offices is complete, and work on the new house block and visitor centre is well under way. That will provide the 120 extra spaces to which the hon. Gentleman alluded. The work is expected to be completed by late 2006.

Islamist Terrorism

11. Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): What steps he is taking to tackle Islamist terrorism; and if he will make a statement. [70216]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (John Reid): While effective security measures, intelligence and policing are necessary, ultimately
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international terrorism will be best countered by democratic values, discussion, persuasion and social solidarity. The key is to engage in genuine and sensitive dialogue with the Muslim communities and not to shy away from difficult issues. That process has already begun. I am aware that the hon. Gentleman has a longstanding interest in the matter, and I would be happy to discuss the issues with him personally should he so wish.

Michael Gove: I thank the Secretary of State for his robust and balanced response and for his invitation, which I look forward to taking up. Last Thursday, my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) asked him whether the suicide bomber, Mohammad Siddique Khan, had been under sustained surveillance before 7 July. The Secretary of State replied that at the time, his understanding was that there was not a sustained programme of surveillance. This weekend, The Sunday Times reported that MI5 had extensive transcripts of Mohammad Siddique Khan planning jihadist activities. It appears that the Secretary of State may have been misled by the security services. Can we have a guarantee that, in the absence of a full independent inquiry, every transcript and detail of the surveillance of all the suspects is passed to the Intelligence and Security Committee of this House?

John Reid: May I, through the hon. Gentleman’s question, correct some of the misleading statements and misrepresentations in the weekend press? First, when I engaged with the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) after the discussion in the Chamber, it was reported that I said that the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre was right and that I was wrong. In fact, I said the opposite, and there were at least five witnesses to the conversation. I said that I had been right in the Chamber when I said that there was no sustained surveillance of the two gentlemen in question, Khan and Tanweer, that they had been peripheral to another investigation, that the decision had been made because they were peripheral, and that it would be a wrong judgment to use resources and assets to pursue them rather than the main characters in the main conspiracy that was being pursued. That is the first point, and I stand by that.

My second point is that the Security Service gave the Intelligence and Security Committee full co-operation in its investigation of 7 July. Indeed, since the weekend, the Security Service has reviewed the evidence that it gave to the ISC in the light of recent press allegations. It remains confident that nothing that the service knew has been withheld from the Committee. I do not intend to go into specific details, for obvious reasons, but I am glad that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) has given me the opportunity to set the record right and to correct the misleading impressions that formed the basis not only of the right hon. Gentleman’s comments but of the front page story, which was in several areas very misleading.

Mr. Shahid Malik (Dewsbury) (Lab): I commend the Government for their overall approach to dealing with terrorism. They are taking a twin-pronged approach, and the first prong involves robust anti-terror legislation, of which I have been a strong and vocal supporter. Mohammad Siddique Khan was one of my constituents.
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The other prong involves dealing with causal factors. Over the weekend, research reports were published by the universities of Oxford, Warwick, Birmingham and Derby showing that there was disproportionate unemployment, underachievement and overcrowding in Muslim communities. Can the Home Secretary reassure me that the Government are not going to take their eye off the second prong of their approach to dealing with terrorism?

John Reid: I can absolutely guarantee that to my hon. Friend, and I commend him for the work that he has done in this area. I want to restate the view that I
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put forward at the beginning of this question, which is one that I have carried over from my other positions in the Government: we will not defeat terrorism by security forces, intelligence services and the armoury of weaponry that comprise the conventional forms of defence alone. They are a necessary but insufficient condition. Unless we address the underlying socio-economic problems, both domestically and internationally, we will not be successful. I therefore commit the Government to continuing in that direction. We have made a good start, but I believe that we have a long, long way to go. I look forward to working with my hon. Friend on this matter.

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Points of Order

3.32 pm

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. One of the two British soldiers killed in a roadside bomb attack near Basra on Saturday was 19-year-old Adam Morris, a private in the 2nd Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment and a resident of Coalville in North-West Leicestershire. The thoughts of the House and of everyone in the local community will be with his family at this dreadful time. Mr. Speaker, have you had any intimation that the Secretary of State for Defence will make a statement on this matter, either today or tomorrow, to allow us to ask questions about it? The alternative means of obtaining that information—written questions and debates—represent a more protracted and less satisfactory process.

Mr. Speaker: The whole House appreciates what the hon. Gentleman has just said, and our hearts go out to the families of those soldiers. We appreciate the hard work that is done by every serviceman and woman in foreign lands. This is not a matter for me; it is a matter for the Minister concerned. However, the hon. Gentleman has put the matter on the record, and I thank him for that.

Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the Home Secretary’s answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove), he stated that, following a question that I posed to him on his statement last week about whether one of the London bombers had been under surveillance for months or years, I had misled the newspapers over the weekend. He said that he had confirmed to me afterwards, outside the Chamber, that the man was not under surveillance. My recollection of that meeting, outside the Chamber and in front of the Home Secretary’s officials, was that—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I must interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I let Question Time run over for two minutes, and I will not let it run any further. He seems to be trying to extend it.

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Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

3.35 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Pat McFadden): I beg to move,

This programme motion amends the previous programme motion, which was agreed on 9 February following the Bill’s Second Reading. At the request of the Opposition, the Government have extended the time available for Report and Third Reading from one to two days. We are happy to agree to that, given the importance of the Bill and the amendments that have been tabled. As I and my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Edward Miliband) begin our second week as Ministers, we look forward to a vigorous debate over the next two days.

3.36 pm

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I welcome the Parliamentary Secretary to his new responsibilities. He said that he looked forward to a vigorous debate. I suspect that he might have found exactly the right opportunity for one in this Bill.

I do not want to delay the House on the programme motion. We welcome the fact that we have two days, especially as the Government are in full retreat on this matter and have tabled a great number of new clauses and amendments.

In procedural terms, however, let me point out the disadvantage of paragraph 3 of the programme motion, which requires that all Government new clauses shall be considered and dealt with on the first day before the point of interruption. When so many Government new clauses and amendments have been tabled, that distorts debate on the Bill. In future, will business managers consider whether that might be an unnecessary requirement? If we have two days for debate, we should order business in the most appropriate way to ensure a full debate on all the matters before the House.

Question put and agreed to.

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Orders of the Day

Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill

[Relevant documents: First Special Report from the Regulatory Reform Committee, Session 2005-06, Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, HC 878. Second Special Report from the Regulatory Reform Committee, Session 2005-06, Government’s Response to the First Special Report on the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, HC 1004. First Report from the Procedure Committee, Session 2005-06, Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, HC 894. Seventeenth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Session 2005-06, Legislative Scrutiny: Eighth Progress Report, HC 1062. Third Report from the Public Administration Select Committee, Session 2005-06, Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, HC 1033.]

As amended in the Standing Committee, considered.

New Clause 19

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