§ 8. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)
What guidance he issues to police forces on the use of private security firms to protect police headquarters. 
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Paul Boateng)
No specific guidance is issued. It is for the chief officer to determine the operational requirements for the protection of police headquarters, and for the police authority to review the way in which those are met to ensure best value.
§ Mr. Prentice
Is it not astonishing that Lancashire police are spending £450,000 over the next three years to bring in Group 4, Securicor or some other private security firm to guard their headquarters? Where are the criminals who want to break into police headquarters staffed by police officers 24 hours a day, 365 days a year? Would not it be better to use police probationers? Where is the contracting-out culture leading us? That is the serious point. Will Group 4 be guarding the soldiers at Preston barracks?
§ Mr. Boateng
It is important that the chief constable has the freedom to determine how best to meet the policing needs of her area. She has that freedom, and she 704 has the support of the chair of the police authority. They are subject to best value guidance, and I have no doubt that that is being implemented.
§ Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)
Is it not the case that chief officers have little choice if they do not have the police officers to do those jobs? Given that police numbers in Greater Manchester fell by 28 in the six months to the end of September, and by 43 across the north-west of England, will not such initiatives have to be increased, not reduced? I see that the Home Secretary is looking at the same list that his right hon. Friend kindly sent me a few days ago, so he can confirm the figures.
§ Mr. Boateng
On the contrary, there has been the largest ever intake of police officers into the Greater Manchester police force, and the figure for Lancashire is up on March 2000. Figures are going up, and there is clear evidence that for the first time over the past seven years the number of police recruited has increased. The hon. Gentleman should celebrate that fact, not denigrate it.