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9.30 pm

Sandra Gidley (Romsey): Unfortunately some of the earlier speeches were lengthy and somewhat costive, so I shall be brief.

I want to highlight policing problems in Hampshire. I realise that, compared with London, we are lucky in Hampshire—the crime rate is relatively low. I am especially aware of that fact as my daughter is currently a student at King's college. However, according to the 2001 crime survey, 4 per cent. of adults in the south-east were victims of violence in 1999-2000, which is higher than the national average.

The problem for my constituents is that—as has been mentioned—there has been an increase in petty crime, youth nuisance and rural crime. Vandalism and youth nuisance may not sound like huge problems but they can have a severe impact on the quality of life of home owners and affect people's feelings about their environment.

The problems have been exacerbated by the establishment of a call centre. Unusually, I agreed with the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) when she talked about prioritisation. People are encouraged to call the police; the calls are prioritised and the police arrive two hours later when the problem has been cleared up. Residents therefore believe that there is no point in calling the police because they turn up too late to do anything about the problem. The reduction in reported crime is thus partly due to public disenchantment—they think that the police will not be there when they are needed—although the police work hard and do the best they can.

Last year, the chief constable of Hampshire, Paul Kernaghan, wrote to me and other Hampshire Members about recruitment problems. Although he supports the concept of a national salary for policing, he feels that

Historically, police officers received a rent allowance based on the cost of accommodation in their force areas. That varied throughout the United Kingdom and broadly reflected the economic circumstances of the officers. The allowance was abolished in 1994, so officers carrying out

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the same work can receive very different rates of pay. The impact of that is illustrated by the fact that 48 Hampshire officers have opted out of the police pension scheme.

In 2000-01, Hampshire constabulary received funding for 3,573 officers, including 82 additional officers through the Home Office crime fighting fund. However, during that period, the chief constable noted that

The Government should take note of the chief constable's remarks.

In the current year, the target was 330 recruits but after extensive national and local advertising only 210 officers were recruited.

Next week, the Association of Chief Police Officers is due to present a paper to the Police Negotiating Board suggesting that the national regional allowance should be examined. Statistics are not yet available, but the aim of Hampshire police is to secure an allowance of between the £1,000 that they receive at present and the £6,000 plus received by the Metropolitan police. There are six police forces in the south-east: three of them receive an extra allowance of £2,000, while the other three receive only £1,000. The £1,000 received by Hampshire officers offers no realistic help towards the comparatively expensive cost of living in the area.

I shall draw my remarks to a close, so that other hon. Members can join in the debate. Will the Minister undertake to provide fair police salaries for Hampshire? After all, that is in the best interests of the Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs, because he also represents a Hampshire constituency.

9.35 pm

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): When my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) opened the debate, he referred to the need for a constructive approach and not yah-boo opposition, and the speeches of Conservative Members have largely fulfilled his expectations.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) spoke with passion, as she always does, about crime and its roots from her knowledge of much research in Hackney and elsewhere. She spoke about the weaknesses in the proposals for community support officers and about rural crime and the need for visible policing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) spoke about the importance of the countryside and wildlife, even in London. My hon. Friends the Members for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), for Witney (Mr. Cameron) and for Fareham (Mr. Hoban) spoke about the Serplan proposals and the fact that the Government had overruled Serplan and local opinion.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford also managed momentarily to unite the Government and the Opposition in mutual opposition and hatred of Liberal Democrats' duplicity in the way that they seek to build on the green belt while proclaiming their support for the environment. Things are exactly the same in

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Cambridgeshire, where the Liberal Democrat-controlled city council is trying to build on the green belt in my constituency.

My hon. Friends the Members for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) and for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) spoke about house prices and the impact of the rise in stamp duty and the fact that the average first-time buyer now pays £685 more than previously. They could have added that the council tax for an average band D property has trebled under this Government, and that excludes any increase that may occur in the next couple of weeks. A point that could have been made about housing involves the alleged changes by the Inland Revenue.

Mr. Love: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Paice: No, of course I will not.

The Inland Revenue is putting obstacles in the way of private landlords by classifying maintenance as improvements.

My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) spoke cleverly and wisely about pensioners. He reminded us of what the Government have done in relation to £5 billion in tax and red tape. He could have gone on to talk about the collapse of final salary schemes and the Government's refusal to shift the rules on annuities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) spoke about housing numbers and said that his constituency was the front line for illegal immigrants.

In riposte, the Minister in opening for the Government kept on about money, and that is what we have heard from many hon. Members. One might have thought that, after five years, the Government would realise that people judge output, not input. People want services, not a series of figures to which they cannot easily relate. A plethora of initiatives and funds in many penny packets may be good for soundbites, but a huge, unconstructive effort is involved in claiming those moneys and in designing bids. The Government will be judged on the results.

Peculiarly, the Minister chose a 10-year time span in his reply. He talked about all the improvements that have taken place over 10 years. I do not know why he chose 10 years—presumably in doing so, he was attributing many of the improvements to John Major and his term in office. Failing that, he could have chosen a five-year period, but of course that may have produced a different picture.

Let us ignore this Government's first two or three years and consider the past 12 months or so. Whatever hon. Members may think about the changes that took place pre-1997, let us consider what has happened now that they have been in office for three or four years. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar said transport, is getting worse. Train delays have soared since Railtrack was taken into administrative receivership. They have increased by 46.9 per cent. on the Connex South Eastern Kent link, 77 per cent. on South West Trains suburban and 95.6 per cent. on First Great Eastern.

On development, the Government proclaim that they are in favour of local decision making, but ride roughshod over local people's proposals in Serplan for housing in the south-east, as many of my hon. Friends explained.

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Abandoned vehicles were also mentioned, and there has been a 25 per cent. increase in malicious vehicle fires in the past 12 months.

The Minister referred to museums. We did not hear, however, about the impact of the Government's policies on the London art market. That £8 billion European market—30 per cent. of which used to belong to the United Kingdom and London in particular—has been devastated by the Government's activities and has greatly reduced in size.

Many hon. Members on both sides of the House spoke about crime. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald posed the Minister a question, to which he did not know the answer. I can tell him that the number of specials in the Metropolitan police service is 753, the lowest on record. Although I am the first to recognise that the number of police officers has risen in the past few months, the fact remains that in the last full year for which the figures are available—up to March 2001—the number was at its lowest for 10 years in England and Wales, including in the Met.

The picture is the same in the south-east in general. Violent crime in the past two years has followed the trend set in London. It is up in Kent and Sussex. Indeed, in the Thames Valley area, it is up by 38.2 per cent. In London, street crime rose by 39 per cent. in the last nine months of last year.

As my hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) has made clear in the House, we support the Government's proposals for stop and search because it is important for policing. Perhaps the Minister, who is responsible for that, can tell us when he responds about the technology that the Home Secretary thinks police officers will use when they stop someone and request all the information that they have to obtain. Is the technology available? How much will it cost? Who will pay for it? We understand that it is not available, so all the Home Secretary's talk about police officers filling in their palm-pilot in the street might prove to be fatuous.

Several hon. Members referred to criminal justice and what happens to people once they are arrested. As my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) said, the Government have dropped their proposals for criminal justice legislation in this Session. I am sure that the Minister will repeat what he said on Friday and stress that that is due to pressure of work in the Home Office. [Interruption.] My hon. Friends suggest even more nefarious reasons for it. I suspect that it is also to do with a turf war between the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department. If that is the case, we side with the Home Office. We want criminal justice legislation changed. I repeat our offer to help the Government get the non-controversial part of the relevant Bill, which is the bulk of it, through the House.

We read in today's Evening Standard that a senior aide of the Prime Minister has said:

the Prime Minister—

The project—whatever that may be—has not yet delivered on its promises. I question whether there are any principles behind it. The Government rubbish the private

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sector when it is involved with Railtrack, yet they seek to embrace it when they want it to be involved in the public-private partnership. The Government say that they will reduce police red tape and bureaucracy, yet they throw more at them in their proposals for stop and search. There will almost certainly be fewer stops as a result. The Government talk about regional decision making, but ride roughshod over Serplan when it makes decisions for its region.

The Government promised to be whiter than white, purer than pure, but they retain the right hon. Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers) in charge of our transport. I suggest that the reason they are in such difficulty in so many areas is that they have no principles—indeed, that is the gripe of many Labour Back Benchers who have retained their own. The Government have done some things right—of course they have—but in so many areas there remains so much to do. Health, transport, violent crime—all are getting worse. If the Government really want a reputation for honesty, they should start by admitting the truth of the situation as it really is. Until they do, they stand to be criticised. I commend the motion to the House.

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