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Helen Jones (Warrington, North): May I put to the hon. Gentleman a constituency case involving an elderly gentleman? He has been tormented constantly by gangs of youths fuelled by alcohol. The police know who the youths are and are aware of what is going on, but under current legislation, they lack the power to take swift action. If the hon. Gentleman believes that the Bill is useless, what has he to say to that elderly gentleman?

Mr. Collins: The hon. Lady perhaps ought to make a point to her elderly constituent--one that he probably believes anyway. He will undoubtedly remember a time in this country which is well within the memory of many people, not just the elderly, when all the disorder problems to which she referred--not least drunkenness and disorderliness--were substantially less than they are today. A reason for that was that police numbers were greater and the restraints under which they operated were fewer. An important way in which the House can assist the police to provide the underpinnings for a law-abiding society is to provide the resources and the help to enable the police to get back on the streets. That is one of the best ways to tackle the range of problems that she mentioned.

Mr. Heald: Does my hon. Friend agree that most offences of the sort to which the hon. Member for

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Warrington, North (Helen Jones) referred are arrestable? If the police know who those people are, they can arrest them and take them to court. Is not the problem the fact that there simply are not enough police to do so? Perhaps he read the story in the Yorkshire Post last week about an elderly gentleman who has to ring the police so often that he has arranged a cheap deal with BT so that he can do so at a discount.

Mr. Collins: My hon. Friend is right. That service, which provides for a customer's top 10 numbers, is called "friends and family". Sadly, such examples occur all too often.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) made clear, we do not oppose any and every aspect of the Bill. There are proposals that Conservatives will be able to support following due consideration, but Labour Members should not kid themselves. People who voted for them thought that their platform of being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime would result in more police, not fewer, and tougher action on crime. Unfortunately, there has been tougher action on the crimefighters instead.

For example, in my area, Cumbria constabulary has done an excellent job in many respects. It has managed to produce reductions in several of the crime statistics and has coped with a great difficulty relating to the way in which it is funded. That difficulty is caused by the failure of the police funding formula to take enough account of the huge number of visitors to the lake district. The area covered by my constituency and those surrounding it is the most visited part of the United Kingdom, after Greater London, but that is rarely if ever taken into account.

Police numbers have fallen by some 5 per cent. in Cumbria since this Government came to power. The chief constable has repeatedly appealed to Ministers to address the issue of underfunding, and in particular to consider including a full and permanent sparsity factor in the allocation of Home Office grant. I am glad that some months ago the Minister of State was able to announce a one-off, temporary half-provision of sparsity funding; that was a great deal better than nothing. It was not, however, the same as a permanent allocation on which the chief constable could rely. It provided only about half the resources that he wanted.

Mr. Charles Clarke rose--

Mr. Collins: The Minister clearly wishes to intervene.

Mr. Clarke: Just for the record. I would not normally have intervened on such a specious contribution, but the fact is that the rural funding we have announced will last for three and a half years. It is substantial funding: the total provided nationally is roughly equivalent to the sparsity costs suggested in the report involved. The money is being distributed to forces--including the hon. Gentleman's--with that very much in mind. It has, incidentally, been welcomed by both the hon. Gentleman's police authority and his chief constable.

Mr. Collins: It is no surprise that the police authority welcomes it, as the police authority is run by Cumbria

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county council, which is run by the Labour party. The Minister has given us the staggering information that the Labour party welcomes things that the Labour party does. When I tell my constituents that, no doubt they will feel much happier.

Mr. Heald: I do not know whether my hon. Friend has looked at the Cumbria police website recently, but the chief constable there makes the point that there will be cuts again this year. Are there not great concerns about funding in Cumbria?

Mr. Collins: Indeed; the chief constable remains concerned. Police stations continue to close in my constituency and across Cumbria, police numbers continue to be lower than they were when the Government came to office, and Cumbria constabulary continues to feel that it cannot cope with the pressures imposed on it.

One provision in the Bill demonstrates the Government's funding priorities. According to the summary of the financial effects, the transitional--that is, the one-off--cost of establishing the new central police training and development authority will be £3.5 million. The explanatory notes tell us that, as recently as 1993, an organisation called Police Training was set up to carry out the same functions. Now we are being told that a new quango will be established, with its own chief executive, its own chairman and its own authority, at a cost of £3.5 million. That happens to be three times the shortfall about which the Cumbrian chief constable is complaining.

The Government seem to be demonstrating a wholly false sense of priorities. Of course police training matters--

Mr. Charles Clarke rose--

Mr. Collins: The Minister knows that I cannot give way. I shall have to end my speech in the next minute.

Throughout all this, my concern is not that the Government are doing things that are in themselves automatically wrong; it is simply that they are setting out the wrong set of priorities. If they had wanted people to feel that their priority of tackling crime was being actioned, they would have tabled measures, even at this late stage of the Parliament, to return police numbers to the levels that they inherited in 1997.

The Conservative party will do that, and it has said how it will do it. As Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald will deliver greater police numbers, and that will contribute more to the fight against crime than everything that has been said and done by the Labour party in four wasted years.

8.59 pm

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): There is no doubt that crime is falling. We can have our knockabouts over whether it was falling when the last Government were in power, and whether it is falling faster now, but it is certainly falling. In Kent, my county, it is falling substantially: the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), who has just left the Chamber, will know that it is down by 23 per cent.

What is not decreasing--although not many hon. Members have mentioned it today--is the perception of crime. If hon. Members were to knock on doors in their

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constituencies, they would find people who believe that crime is soaring when it simply is not. I welcome the Bill because it targets the most appropriate crime and disorder issues to help people realise that crime is decreasing and that the streets can be made safe again for them.

On-the-spot penalties, for example, will give police a real opportunity to make a dramatic impact in our economically important town centres, where there are often high levels of disorderliness that are often associated with drink. Like other hon. Members, however, I should like to know how those penalties will be enforced. Taxi drivers in my constituency have told me of cases in which their taxis had been vandalised or they had been the victims of other types of crime, but the fines and costs imposed by the court on those who committed the offences were not enforced. I should therefore like my hon. Friend the Minister to address the enforcement issue.

There are questions, too, about the age of those who will be subject to on-the-spot penalties. I would quite welcome the imposition of such penalties on youngsters' parents. I think that we should investigate the possibility of extending the provision in that manner.

My constituents are aware of the advantages of DNA evidence, and they will welcome our extension of the law to make that evidence a more powerful tool for police. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) had serious civil liberties concerns about the proposals. However, I do not know how it can harm an innocent individual for his or her DNA to be on record. Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman was not in the Chamber to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Northavon (Mr. Webb), who gave a moving account of why it is so important to build up such a database.

Today, however, I should like to focus on the important issue of attacks on scientists. The subject is very important to me because my constituency contains a major pharmaceutical company that employs 5,000 people and represents a £1 billion United States investment in the United Kingdom. That type of investment will stop unless we can give those investors confidence that the United Kingdom is a place where they can do business and their work in freedom.

I have another interest in the matter. I am what animal rights activists like to call--when they scream out to me in the street--a vivisector. I started my scientific career doing animal experiments. I have no fear of saying that whatsoever. I am proud of the work that I did.

When I first started that work, at the Medical Research Council, my then boss had been newly appointed from Huntingdon Research Centre, which is now Huntingdon Life Sciences. Soon after I started working there, I went to him and said, "I feel very uncomfortable doing these experiments." His response was, "Good. That's the way you should stay feeling throughout your career. No one who feels comfortable doing these experiments should be doing them. That's how we keep them to a minimum. That's how we keep standards high and ensure that we do not cause any unnecessary suffering to animals."

I saw those high standards being pursued throughout my career in the pharmaceutical industry, not only in that job and in subsequent jobs, but in everything that I observed in the industry. It is downright wrong for those who are doing vital and important work to be intimidated, threatened and bullied.

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I think that I owe the House an apology. I have been banging on about this subject since I was first elected to the House. A few months ago, I spoke to the Research Defence Society's annual general meeting and said that I did not think that there were more than a dozen Members of Parliament who would be prepared to put their heads above the parapet on the issue. Over the past few weeks, I have been delighted to realise that I was wrong. If what has happened has given the House a wake-up call, so that we realise that we are in danger of putting off huge investment in the UK and stopping vital research work, all that the poor people who worked at Huntingdon Life Sciences had to put up with will not be in vain.

I am delighted by the response in the House today and recently, but I am not so delighted by the reports that I have heard so far about how the Government are intending to tackle the matter. I have heard good words, but there are some holes in what the Government are proposing. I will be looking for proposals to deal with the way in which campaigns are organised, so that responsibility for what activists do is taken by the leaders of campaigns. I shall be looking for changes to the legislation on harassment and for the limits on peaceful protest to be defined, as well as proposals to deal with secondary targeting. The addresses of shareholders and directors of companies should be protected and the Malicious Communications Act 1988 needs to be reformed, as the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) said in a very good speech. Protests outside people's homes also need to be dealt with. All those issues are vital.

I hope that before my hon. Friend the Minister tables amendments to the Bill, he will meet the Research Defence Society, the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries and other leaders in the industry to discuss proposals to deal with all of their concerns. If he has any difficulty in putting together the meetings, I would be delighted to facilitate them.

This is an important issue, and I have been delighted by the response of the House today. I am looking forward to the Government making my constituents safe so that they can continue their vital work in creating drugs that will be vital to every man, woman and child in the country.

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