HC Deb 20 November 2000 vol 357 cc13-4
8. Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

How many people (a) are employed and (b) were employed in May 1997 in his Department's press office. [137453]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mrs. Barbara Roche)

A total of 27 people are employed in the press office–22 press officers, a chief immigration officer on attachment and four administrative grade staff. In May 1997, a total of 19 people were employed in the press office–15 press officers and four administrative grade staff.

Mr. Tredinnick

My constituents want fewer spin doctors at Westminster and more police officers for Leicestershire. Does the hon. Lady agree that if we are to have a modern and efficient police service in Leicestershire in the new millennium, we need new police stations such as that proposed at Wood street in Hinckley? What benefits does she think are likely to accrue to the town of Hinckley if that modern police station, with its closed circuit television viewing area and special detention cells, is built in the near future?

Mrs. Roche

I thank the hon. Gentleman for kindly faxing me today a copy of a letter from his local superintendent about Hinckley, which seems to be involved in a very good project. The chief superintendent says: Policing levels have seen a steady increase in Hinckley and are now over 45 per cent. higher than they were in 1995. I am also delighted to be able to say that the figure is set to grow even more. That is a better briefing than my own excellent officials have been able to provide.

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman tabled this question. Now that the Conservative party has admitted using public funds for its war room, perhaps he can ask how many extra press officers have been employed by Conservative central office as a result of the trebling of public money provided by the Short money increases two years ago.

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central)

Will my hon. Friend confirm that many people who are employed in her Department's press office will be spending their time dealing with inquiries about the activities of cowboy wheel-dampers and kerb crawling? Both activities have caused immense problems in my constituency. Will she confirm now, and through her press officers, that her Department intends to legislate to curb the cowboy dampers and to clamp down on the kerb crawlers?

Mrs. Roche

May I reflect the sentiments of the whole House and congratulate my hon. Friend on the absolute dexterity with which she framed her question? On a more serious note, I understand very well her concern about the matter which has been of concern for some years. It is a serious issue and we intend to legislate on it as soon as possible.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

Will the Department's press officers—whose numbers have increased by more than 40 per cent.—spend some of their time preparing to explain the reforms that risk alienating the police at a critical time? Will the Minister help to relieve the burden on her press officers by explaining to Parliament what the reforms are?

Mrs. Roche

Let me say to the hon. Gentleman that this question has been asked before in Home Office questions, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary answered it.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald)

The hon. Lady should try answering it.

Mrs. Roche

I should be grateful if the right hon. Lady restrained herself. I know that she has difficulties at the moment, but she should not exacerbate them.

The expansion in the number of press officers came about after a review by external consultants, as a result of the great increase in demand from the media, which now operate 24 hours a day. Everything that we are doing with the police is in co-operation with them, and they very much welcome everything that we are discussing.