§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Waddington)
The title of today's debate—"Rights, Freedoms and Responsibilities"—is identical to that chosen by the Opposition last year. I was surprised then, and I am even more surprised today, that the Opposition should have thought it right to choose such a title. Words such as "rights, freedoms and responsibilities" form part of the language of liberty and have no place at all in the vocabulary of socialism. The Conservative party believes in and understands the meaning of freedom. Our vision is of a free society in which intrusions on individual liberty are minimised and take place only under the rule of law.
If the right hon. Member for Birmingham Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and the Labour party have finally abandoned socialism and embraced freedom, I am perfectly prepared to accept their conversion. But I am blessed if I can see why I or anybody else should vote for a lot of Johnny-come-latelies with the inspiring slogan: "We do earnestly repent of our sins and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings. The remembrance of them is grievous unto us. The burden of them is intolerable." The idea of Neil kneeling is somewhat unconvincing.
The Labour party may not be proud now of its commitment to socialism, but I understand that the commitment still exists, and it is hardly qualified therefore to talk about freedom. It is entirely disqualified from claiming an interest in responsibility.
All hon. Members have a responsibility to uphold the rule of law—I should have thought that all hon. Members would agree with that. If any hon. Member does not believe that, and does not believe in a parliamentary democracy the only way to change a law is through Parliament, he or she should not be here today. Responsible citizens pay their taxes and responsible Members of Parliament should pay their dues to their local authorities. They certainly should not add to the burdens of their fellow men and women by refusing to pay. Yet 347 Opposition Members—more than 20 of them now., I am told—have at one time or another publicly stated that they would not pay their community charge. I do not know whether they have now done so, or whether they are still imposing on their neighbours the cost of the services which they receive, but, even if those hon. Members have seen sense, the damage has been done.
The message has gone out that Labour Members of Parliament are prepared deliberately to ignore the laws of this land. What does that sort of behaviour contribute towards the "rights, freedoms and responsibilities" that we are debating today? What does the Labour party's failure to take action against the law-breakers on its own Benches say about the true extent of its commitment to "rights, freedoms, and responsibilities"?
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
In the past 10 years how many times have the courts found the Government guilty of breaking their own laws? How many times have they been taken to the European Court and found guilty?
§ Mr. Waddington
Decisions taken by Ministers in good faith and on legal advice as to the effect of legislation passed by this Parliament are one thing. Deliberate defiance of the law—that is what we are talking about now—is an entirely different matter.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)
Are not matters somewhat different if the franchise has been fiddled and if a measure such as the poll tax is introduced and knocks people off the electoral register? In those circumstances, logic no longer applies. When I make my speech I shall explain the situation, why I have not yet paid, and why it is in defence of parliamentary democracy that I have not paid. We require to get rid of that pernicious piece of legislation which picks at parliamentary democracy.
§ Mr. Waddington
I will be very interested to hear the hon. Gentleman's speech in due course. I shall be very interested to hear whether the hon. Gentleman's attitude is condoned by the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on his Front Bench. The hon. Gentleman is saying that, despite a law that has been passed by a democratically elected Parliament, he is entitled to elect not to obey that law. What is worse, more mischievous and more disgraceful is that he then heaps the burden of the cost of the local services that he receives on to his neighbours.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
I am most grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way, particularly as he is upbraiding the official Opposition. On public figures breaking the law, would he care to comment on allegations that were widely made this weekend that the Prime Minister knew of British Satellite Broadcasting's breaking of the Broadcasting Act 1990 and did not even report it to the responsible Minister, never mind to the law-enforcement authorities?
§ Mr. Waddington
That is a most extraordinary question which has been framed by the hon. Gentleman [Interruption.] Just a minute. I shall refer to broadcasting in a short time, and I am confident that we shall have a bit of knockabout fun then, judging by the way in which that question was framed, but it is very much better that I should keep to the theme of my speech and refer to broadcasting when it is appropriate to do so.
§ Mr. Waddington
Only if the hon. Gentleman's intervention will not touch on broadcasting. [Interruption.] I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman on broadcasting when I refer to it, but not now.
§ Mr. Evans
The Home Secretary has been busily condemning Labour Members of Parliament for riot paying the poll tax. I assure him that I have paid my poll tax and have urged everyone to pay their poll tax. Does the Home Secretary agree that any system that provides the London borough of Westminster with twice the resources to look after children who are deemed to be at risk than it gives the metropolitan borough of St. Helens can only be described as absolute corruption?
§ Mr. Waddington
The hon. Gentleman has apparently well rehearsed that question, which he put to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment last week. The hon. Gentleman knows the answer perfectly well. I certainly do not propose to waste the time of the House giving it again today.
We should not be surprised by Labour's attitude. We all remember the Labour Members who supported the pickets against the police at Orgreave and at Wapping. We all remember that every single Labour Member voted against our proposals to give trade unions back to their members, that every single Labour Member voted against our proposals to outlaw secondary picketing, and that every single Labour Member voted against the proposal to give people the right not to join a trade union. Labour might talk about rights and freedoms but it never, never, never votes for them.
§ Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)
On the subject of rights and responsibilities, is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many of the law-abiding majority who have paid thier community charge greatly resent the threat that they might have to pay more next year because local authorities have failed to collect the charge from a law-breaking minority? Will my right hon. and learned Friend pass on to his colleagues in the Cabinet the need for the capping mechanism to take account of the fact that, perhaps spending should be cut to meet the failure to raise revenue?
§ Mr. Waddington
I shall certainly pass on to my right hon. and hon. Friends what my hon. Friend says, but his point is well taken. The real gravamen of the charge is that, while pretending that they are making a grand political gesture, people are just heaping burdens on their neighbours. I do not see anything commendable in that.
If Labour pays only scant regard to rights, freedoms and responsibilities, for those who sit on these Benches it is the very essence of our belief, and our belief is evidenced by our acts.
§ Mr. Waddington
As long as it is not on broadcasting. I shall refer to that matter in a few minutes.
§ Mr. Graham
On poll tax capping, rate-capping, and so on, the way the Home Secretary is carrying on today, next he will be suggesting a bit of knee-capping.
§ Mr. Waddington
I find that question somewhat difficult to follow. I think that it was meant to be in jest, and I shall take it so.
I was saying that our belief in rights, freedoms and responsibilities is evidenced by our acts. We have given the right to be balloted before industrial action and to be balloted for the election of trade union leaders.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
As the Home Secretary is so keen on ballots, will he answer this question: is he in favour of a ballot for the leadership of the Tory party next week?
§ Mr. Waddington
The hon. Gentleman seems unaware that any hon. Member who wishes to stand for the leadership of the Conservative party may do so every year.
We have stopped people being compelled to join trade unions against their will. We have given council tenants the right to own their own homes. We have given parents more choice about the school that their children attend and more say about the way in which that school is run.
Last year, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) accused me of not having "the faintest idea" of what freedom means. I know what it does not mean. It does not mean the creation of a socialist economy, with less and less choice and a downward spiral of living standards. It does not mean the sort of penal tax rates which Labour previously imposed and now promises to impose again. It does not mean the virtual confiscation of property such as the shares held by the millions of individual shareholders in British Telecom and in the water industry. In short, freedom does not mean socialism.
Last year, the Home Office brought forward several Bills, perhaps the most important of which was the Broadcasting Bill. The Broadcasting Act 1990, now on the statute book, offers a dramatic extension of choice for the viewer and listener. It provides for a tremendous expansion in radio, with three new national radio stations and many new local and community stations. It also makes provision for a new terrestrial television channel, with a far more open and publicly understandable process for the granting of franchises for Channel 3. It provides for a new framework for satellite and cable television services. It will, I am sure, come to he seen as one of the most important reforms of broadcasting in the past 40 years.
On satellite television, the Independent Broadcasting Authority will, of course, have to make a judgment about the future of the DBS franchise, but non-domestic satellite broadcasting is clearly going to offer more choice to the viewer. If the Labour party's view is that restrictions should be placed on the company prepared to take the risk of developing this sort of competition, and if it wishes to see this increased choice for the viewer snuffed out, it will only be running true to form. Labour has always opposed greater choice in television. It voted against the creation of ITV. It has always been against freedom of choice.
§ Mr. Grocott
When the Prime Minister was told about the proposed restriction of choice in relation to satellite channels and Mr. Murdoch's proposed monopoly, did she inform the Home Secretary, the Minister responsible, that that was about to take place?
§ Mr. Waddington
The hon. Gentleman seems unaware that the possibility of such a merger has been knocked around in the trade press for months and months. I have an edition of "Broadcast" with me. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the edition for 9 November, he will see that its very first page reproduces what was on the front page of a previous edition a year ago—
§ Mr. Waddington
Just a minute. I have not finished answering the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott).
During the meeting with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, Mr. Murdoch mentioned the possibility of a merger, but only in the most general terms. Such a possibility had already been floated in the trade press in the way in which I have already mentioned. What has happened is now a matter for the IBA and the Office of Fair Trading. It was not a matter for the Government a fortnight ago; it is not a matter for the Government now. It certainly was no business of the Prime Minister to go telephoning around the place to all and sundry, me included, saying that she had been told by Mr. Murdoch what everybody already knew.
§ Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham. Sparkbrook)
Since, in the Home Secretary's words, the idea of a merger has been "knocked around" for some time, he will have had an opportunity to consider its implications. He will know that the chief executive-designate of the Independent Television Commission believes that the BSB franchise was not its to dispose of and that it was not legally entitled to pass it to Mr. Murdoch. Therefore, although Mr. Murdoch is operating that franchise, he is operating unlawfully. Bearing in mind the Home Secretary's strictures on obedience to the law, what advice can he give Mr. Murdoch about his unlawful conduct?
§ Mr. Waddington
It is not a question of advice to Mr. Murdoch; it is a question of what power the IBA has in this situation. The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right. It may be that the contract between BSB and the IBA has been infringed, in which case it is possible for the IBA to terminate the contract. However, the right hon. Gentleman also knows what could be the consequence of that for those who are able to watch on squarials at present. If it is the new company's intention eventually to broadcast on Astra alone, there would not be much advantage in the termination of the contract tomorrow rather than in a few months' time.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I assure the Home Secretary that I am perfectly prepared to tell my friends that they should obey the law and pay the poll tax, so why does not he have the same respect for the law and tell the Prime Minister's friend, Mr. Murdoch, that he should obey the law, too?
§ Mr. Waddington
I am not sure that that question is even worthy of an answer. What took place between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and Mr. Murdoch is certainly none of my business, but my understanding is exactly as I expressed it to the House a short time ago—that the possibility of a merger was mentioned only in the most general terms. Such a possibility had already been floated in all the papers—certainly in the trade press—for months and months.
§ Mr. Tony Banks
Although I do not believe everything that I read in the newspapers, I should be interested to know whether the Home Secretary saw the front page of The Independent on Sunday, according to which a representative of Mr. Murdoch has said:'''The Prime Minister took notes and treated the matter confidentially.'''Did the Prime Minister treat the matter so confidentially that she did not think that it was worth speaking about it to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, who has direct responsibility for such matters? Was the Prime Minister keeping the right hon. and learned Gentleman in ignorance because, since he is so unimportant in her eyes, there did not seem to be much point in her telling him anything?
§ Mr. Waddington
This is absolute rubbish. My officials were told about the merger on the Friday afternoon—in advance of the public announcement. What transpired between Mr. Murdoch and the Prime Minister is exactly as I have stated it.
But this debate is about the Queen's Speech and the Home Office programme for the coming Session, and before I move to the bigger Bill, the Criminal Justice Bill, I should say a word or two about the War Crimes Bill.
As you heard in the Gracious Speech, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we intend to bring the Bill back to the House in due course. I think that it would be odd if we were not to do so in view of the very clear support that the Bill received here not so very long ago. However, what is far more important is that those of us who voted for the Bill the last time round are convinced that it is right.
I do not accept the argument that a decision was taken after the war not to pursue war criminals. It is true that a decision was taken to stop trials in the British zone of Germany, but at that time nobody addressed his mind to the possibility of people having arrived and settled here in Britain immediately after the war who were guilty of the horrific crimes set out in the Hetherington—Chalmers report. Because no one knew that any of them were here, no one could have made a judgment to allow them to evade the consequences of their crimes. I am convinced that there is a world of difference between making a criminal offence of an act which was not unlawful at the time of its commission, and giving the courts power to try people who, if the allegations against them are correct, perpetrated acts which they must have known at the time were crimes according to the law of every civilised nation.
But the House will wish to consider whether adjustments can be made to meet some of the concerns expressed in another place while preserving the fundamentals of the Bill, and I am sure that that is something which will be well debated when the Bill is brought back to the House.
I now come to the Criminal Justice Bill. With extraordinary cheek, the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook has from time to time suggested that the Government's proposals foreshadowed in the White Paper represent a belated conversion to ideas which he has nursed close to his heart for years and years. My wife tells me that he became so carried away the other day that he referred to 25 years. I do not know about his heart, but he certainly kept the ideas close to his chest. Of course, the previous Labour Government did absolutely nothing to forward the policies to which he now seems to give a warm welcome.
352 This is not the Second Reading debate, but there are several aspects of the Bill which I should like to highlight.
First, the Bill sets out a coherent statutory framework for sentencing based on the seriousness of the offence. This is a just approach and, together with the work on the Judicial Studies Board, the power in the hands of the Court of Appeal to set sentencing guidelines and the power in the hands of the Attorney-General to refer over-lenient sentences to the Court of Appeal, it should make for much greater consistency in sentencing.
Secondly, the Bill extends the range of community penalties available to the courts and enjoins the court not to pass a custodial sentence unless, having considered all the opportunities for punishment in the community, it concludes that only a custodial sentence is justified. In effect it extends over the whole age range the requirements placed on the courts in respect of young offenders in the Criminal Justice Acts 1982 and 1988 which, incidentally, have contributed to a large decline in the number of young people sent to prison. Sending people to prison is an expensive pastime and all too often it is likely to result in people coming out of prison worse than they were when they went in. Community penalties, however, can make tough demands on the offender—we intend that they should—yet allow him to continue to maintain his family and make reparation to those who have suffered at his hands.
Thirdly, the Bill sets out to reform the parole system so that those sent to prison will be subject to a more rational and predictable system, and the sentences that they serve will be more closely related to the sentences passed on them.
§ Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
Most of us agree that it is much better that those who commit crimes of violence and might commit them again should be kept in prison. However, the perpetrators of some of the worst crimes in the City have not been kept in prison. I do not believe that crimes of fraud in the City are victimless. A crime is a crime. Is not it true that wealthy people who have lived a life of great luxury fear going to prison much more than they do a great fine? If we say that we shall fine people £1 million, £2 million, £3 million or £4 million, we might even encourage crime. The one thing that people who live good lives do not like is the idea of being in the slammer. In the end, the possibility of being put in the slammer helps to stop those who could commit those crimes from doing so.
§ Mr. Waddington
There is nothing in the framework set out in the Bill to lead anyone to suppose that serious cases of fraud will not result in imprisonment. I do not suggest that for one moment. But my hon. Friend is right to touch on the changes in the fining system which will give the courts greater flexibility. There may be cases where people who are not fined today will be fined in future. However, that was not the point that my hon. Friend was making.
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)
I am enormously encouraged by the spelling out of the intention to extend the use of community penalties. My right hon. and learned Friend will know that study after study has shown that the best chance of reclaiming particularly young criminals is to give them the opportunity to do voluntary or semi-voluntary service of one sort or another for the less fortunate. On many occasions in the past, good programmes were run for three years as an experiment but 353 then came to an end. That seems an awfully expensive and extravagent way of doing things. May we hope for greater continuity of those excellent projects in the future?
§ Mr. Waddington
I shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend said. There will be many opportunities for developing all sorts of new programmes for punishment in the community. I certainly want the voluntary sector to play a much greater role than now. Perhaps my hon. Friend will come to see me with his ideas. He will have a receptive ear.
Fourthly, a system of unit fines will be introduced. That was touched on in the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) a moment ago. Less well-off offenders will pay less than the better-off, so the fines will make similar demands on each. The system will help courts to set fines at realistic levels and that together with the power to attach income support, should ensure that more fines are paid and fewer people finish up in prison for fine default. People should not be sent to gaol if they can't pay only if they won't.
Together with the Maintenance Enforcement Bill, which will enable the courts to make an attachment of earnings order when a maintenance order is first imposed, the Criminal Justice Bill forms part of the Government's strategy to strengthen the family and reinforce parental responsibility. The Bill will ensure that parents have to be present when their children are before a court. The courts will also be given power to bind over parents to exercise proper control over their children. In addition, where parents are ordered to pay their children's fines, the amount of the fines will be related to the means of the parents.
Many hon. Members on both sides of the House will have been delighted to see the proposals contained in the Bill which relate to the Pigot committee's proposals. The Bill will make it easier for children in abuse cases to give evidence, for example by allowing a video-recorded statement to be admissible, while ensuring that the rights of defendants are properly safeguarded.
Finally, the Bill allows for the private sector to tender for police and prison escort duties and the operation of remand centres.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
What does the Home Office intend to do about the difficult case of life sentence prisoners who are out on licence and have their licences revoked? I ask that question in the light of the recent case which went to the European Court of Human Rights. Will there be judicial review of that process?
§ Mr. Waddington
One must examine separately discretionary and mandatory life sentences. I shall reply first with regard to discretionary sentences, with which the European Court of Human Rights dealt the other day. We have only just received the judgment. I am studying it carefully and, of course, I shall come to the House as soon as possible to tell it our conclusions.
I cannot predict what precise effect our proposals in the Criminal Justice Bill will have on the prison population. Although its overall effect will be beneficial in that regard, it certainly would not be right to present our proposals as being designed to get rid of prison overcrowding. It would be easy to do so, but wrong. It is not my job to keep out of prison those who, in the public interest, should be there. 354 Therefore, we have been right to get on with the prison building programme. The recent encouraging fall in the prison population—down by more than 4,500 compared with two years ago and by more than 3,000 compared with a year ago—has enabled us this year, and will enable us in 1991–92, to spend more money on refurbishment, particularly on the programme to end slopping out.
In the preparation of the Criminal Justice Bill we have not discovered all the causes of crime or identified all the ways to prevent it. We shall undoubtedly be presented with numerous glib analyses today. I fear that Labour's first response to rising crime is almost always to blame society or the Government or both, but rarely the criminal.
Labour Members used to say that the number of reported offences had increased because we had created what they chose to call a "loadsamoney economy". It was an insulting way of putting the point and almost as though people should not have the cars, televisions and video recorders which, as often as not, are the targets of thieves. Nevertheless, there was more than a grain of truth in what they said. There is, indeed, much more property about to steal than there was 10 or 20 years ago. The recent disappointing figures showed that, with much of the increase due to theft of or from cars.
Now, Labour Members sing a different tune. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook recently told the annual general meeting of Crime Concern that he was convinced by the argument thata decline in our sense of community coupled with a renewed growth in unemploymentgoes some distance to explaining why crime is increasing. Not that is to my mind a particularly insulting diagnosis to those people who suffer misfortune in their lives and put up with hard times, yet never dream of turning to crime.
Clearly, there is much about which the Opposition will never agree, but there are many things about which we can all agree, and the first is that the fight against crime needs the active support of us all. The Government, the police and the community are all in it together. The Government's principal role is to encourage an awareness in the community of what people can do to help themselves, to further crime prevention schemes, such as the safer cities programme, and to see that the police are properly resourced. I have been impressed by the co-operation between local authorities, the police and local residents in the operation of the safer cities programme. I am delighted by the positive attitude of local authorities, playing a part in all the projects, and I pay tribute to them.
No one can question this Government's support for the police. Between May 1979 and May 1990, the total number of police officers in England and Wales increased by 15,096. In 1990, 1,100 uniformed police officers were added to the 126,000-strong establishment. Provision was also made for some 1,200 more civilians, so releasing more policemen from desk jobs for operational duties. However, there is no point in providing new officers unless they have the equipment they need to do the job. I was pleased to announce last week that we are increasing our support for police capital expenditure by nearly £60 million in the next year. On top of that, I was also able to announce a further increase of 700 uniformed officers and 1,300 more civilians.
I have mentioned the Home Office Bills in the Queen's Speech, but there are other matters that I want to bring before the House when time allows. I have already 355 announced that I intend to take the first opportunity to create a new offence of prison mutiny to deal with the kind of events that we saw at Strangeways. I can confirm today that we intend to introduce legislation to cover the proposals contained in Lord Justice Taylor's report into the Hillsborough stadium disaster. He recommended the creation of four new criminal offences to deal with disorderly behaviour at football grounds.
The Government have considered his proposals and concluded that they would provide valuable new measures to help control hooliganism at football grounds. The sale of tickets on the day of the match without the authority of the home club, throwing missiles, chanting obscene or racist abuse, and running on to the pitch without reasonable excuse would become offences. We believe that it is right that in the context of football those activities should be unlawful because of their implications for order. We shall bring proposals before the House as soon as parliamentary time allows.
In a speech the other day the right hon. Gentleman offered to make "common cause" in the fight against crime, but I doubt Labour's commitment in that regard. Last week the right hon. Gentleman reaffirmed that he wants to put the police forces of this country into the hands of those local authorities whose mischievous antics have brought such shame on his party.
Far more important was his promise to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act. How on earth can he reconcile that promise with the rights, freedoms and responsibilities which we are debating today? What of the rights of those killed and maimed by the IRA? Will others who are threatened be better protected by the right hon. Gentleman's commitment? Would the freedom of all of those faced with the evil menace of the IRA be more secure if one of our weapons against the terrorists was scrapped? What sense of responsibility does the Labour party have when it talks of scrapping a power which a Labour Government introduced, and the value of which the Labour party recognised year after year until a different breed of Labour Member came into this place in 1979? The right hon. Gentleman knows that he should have had the courage to stand up against them.
We will be carrying on the fight. We will remain firm to the principles which have guided us over the years. We will certainly continue to see that the rights and freedoms of the British people are protected and enhanced, and that a proper balance is struck between freedom on the one hand and responsibility on the other.
§ Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
The Home Secretary was kind enough to remind the House that the topic for today's debate chosen by the Opposition was identical to that which we chose a year ago. My opening comments are identical to those of a year ago. By his speech he demonstrates that he is neither psychologically nor intellectually equipped for his office. I do not propose to play his game. Instead, I shall talk about the real issues facing this country and the concerns covered by the topic that we have chosen for debate.
I offer my unqualified support for one sentence in the Gracious Speech:My Government will vigorously pursue their policies in fighting crime.I hope that the Government will have more success with those policies than they have had in the past 10 years. 356 September crime figures were the worst recorded in our history. They showed an increase of 70 per cent. since the 1979 general election. That is a humiliating record for a Government who were elected on the specific promise to strengthen law and restore order. The Government's failure to curb and control crime is another reason why they are unfit to hold office.
On Thursday, the Home Secretary told the country that spending on law and order had increased by 70 per cent. since the Government were elected in 1979. If that is the case, the taxpayers are entitled to complain that they have had nothing like value for their money.
Of course, nobody claims that the Government are directly responsible for the whole increase in crime, but there is no doubt that they have escalated that increase. At one end of the crime spectrum the "get rich quick" mentality, so much the theme of the Thatcher years, has fostered a contempt for the law typified by the Guinness trial.
It has also been typified by the Home Secretary's refusal to condemn the unlawful behaviour of his friends at Sky. At the other extreme is the argument that I made some days ago, and shall continue to make, about the increase in crime as result of unemployment and poverty. When I made that point, I was quoting from a Home Office working document. The Home Secretary is perfectly entitled to refute it if he wishes to do so, but to condemn me for quoting it is a new view of ministerial responsibility.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I am quoting from the same document that I quoted from six months ago when the Minister of State—no longer in his place—then intervened to say, "That one doesn't count. It was written by the man with the earring". No doubt the Home Secretary will be able to find the man with the earring whom his Minister identified. He will then obtain the working document, which I have in my possession and which I shall gladly send him, which says that unemployment and the fear of unemployment contribute to the increase in crime.
My principle charge today is not that Government policy causes crime, but that the Government have done far too little to contain the epidemic. Instead, they have tried to blame everyone else, for example, victims who they say do not take sufficient care of their property—the Home Secretary said that again today—and chief constables who are said to be deficient in their duties and should be the subject of performance assessments. Everyone is to blame except the Government.
For a decade, a fundamental error has prejudiced Government policy. The emphasis has always been on solving crime and creating a deterrent to crime by imposing severe sentences on those who are caught and convicted, but that strategy contains two fatal flaws. Only one crime in four is ever solved, so criminals do not go around with the constant fear of detection and punishment. Perhaps more important, by expending so much time on headline-catching promises about tough sentences, attention and energy has been diverted from the much more important subject of crime prevention.
The Home Secretary persists in saying that the Government took the lead on crime prevention long before anyone in the Opposition thought about it. I must warn him that I propose to retaliate with force next week 357 with the worst punishment at my disposal—I shall quote from my speeches of 10 or 15 years ago. I know that the Home Secretary regards that as the ultimate deterrent and I propose to use it against him if he persists in saying that he, and only he, has thought about crime prevention. The Home Secretary is in the reverse position—he must take part of the blame for the emphasis on punishment as distinct from the emphasis on prevention. He must know from the evidence that capital punishment will not cut the murder rate. He parades his support for it to ingratiate himself with the diehards in his party, but in doing so he prejudices the whole crime debate.
Prevention is far more important than capture and conviction as the stiffest sentences never compensate for the material loss and psychological trauma of a burglary or a mugging. However, throughout almost the lifetime of the Government, crime prevention has been relegated to the second order of importance. That is exactly the point made by Lord Justice Tumin, Her Majesty's Chief inspector of prisons, in an article entitled "Prevention better than Punishment", which appeared in The Times on Tuesday. His message was thatjail should be reserved for the most serious criminalsand that prison regimes should not be judged according to whether they are "nice or nasty" but according to the effect that they have in preventing those who inhabit them from committing further offences. For some men, young men in particular, prison ingrains their criminal tendencies. The reform of prisons is an essential part of the war on crime.
In my view—I detect that somewhere buried under what the Home Secretary said today it is his view as well—the war against crime should be based on a partnership between the police, people and local authorities. It is the Government's duty to reinforce and encourage that partnership, yet they have allowed the police to become dangerously overstretched—more overstretched than at any time in recent history. Local authorities have been positively discouraged from playing a proper part in crime prevention, but people have been expected, privately and individually, to carry more of the responsibility for crime prevention than they can successfully discharge.
I gladly pay tribute to neighbourhood watch, crime concern and the public's involvement in the safer cities project—limited geographically and in terms of funds though that initiative may be. Such schemes are to be encouraged and should be developed, but unless they are matched by more direct action they can make only a marginal contribution to crime prevention. I propose to describe how a better contribution should be made and I shall take first the police.
The Home Secretary says that no one can doubt the Government's commitment to the police, but the police doubt it. I am astonished that he has not learnt that during a year in which his relations with the police have sunk lower than those between any Home Secretary and the police for a long time. I make my position absolutely clear—there is no doubt that we need substantial increases in police manpower, effective manpower. We should not have increases on paper, but real increases in police houurs devoted to real police duties.
Establishments have been increased in the past 10 years—usually, each increase has been announced several times to give the impression that it is greater than it is. However, often the new recruits have been financed by reductions in 358 overtime, which have reduced the net increase that the new establishments provided. More important and more damaging is the fact that police officers continue to perform tasks that should be discharged by civilians. More important and more damaging still is the fact that because the police have had heaped upon them new and often inappropriate burdens, their resources do not match the crisis that we expect them to face and overcome.
Last week the chief constable of Durham described to me the problems that his force faces in conducting a prolonged murder investigation. Dozens of detectives have taken hundreds of statements, recorded under the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Those detectives are then obliged to type up their interviews when they should be pursuing their inquiries as detectives and not acting as copy typists. They are required to undertake the long process of one-finger typing because the authority cannot afford to employ audio-typists. That is the direct result of pressure on local authority spending created by the poll tax and the revenue support grant. It makes nonsense of the claim that the Government are providing all the resources necessary to allow the police to do an effective job.
The Government have certainly increased the obligations on the police and some of them, PACE for example, are undoubtedly necessary and should be applauded. Nevertheless, they are time-consuming. Some of the new burdens are not so much unnecessary as positively undesirable. Police time should not be spent pursuing overseas visitors who have overstayed the time specified on their visas; nor, to echo the words of the chief constable of South Yorkshire, should police officers be used as a debt collecting agency for poll tax defaulters. The performance of such a task drives a wedge between the police and the community whom they serve. Such tasks are also a scandalous waste of police time.
The police want to get on with their business of real policing, freed, as they said to me at the Police Federation's annual conference at Scarborough this year, from the impertinent claim that they are the property of this Tory Government. For the police to discharge their duties effectively, they must be convinced that society values their service, but the Government behave in a way that seems to be positively intended to undermine police morale.
The Government vetoed the arbitration judgment, which increased housing allowance, and in doing so broke their promise always to implement the Edmund Davies award. The Government threaten the essential confidentiality of the central police computer by turning it into an independent agency. They are risking the efficiency of the forensic science service by requiring it to sell off its goods and wares to police forces as if it were a private contractor.
The Government insist that tasks that are the proper resonsibility of the police should be performed by untrained employees of private security companies. Instead of all those issues, the Gracious Speech should have contained the diametrically opposed provision—a proposal for the licensing and regulation of the private security industry.
§ Mr. Rowe
I am pleased that the right hon. Gentleman intends to be absolutely clear in his speech. May we then expect a Labour document defining precisly those activities deemed to be wholly appropriate to the police and those deemed not to be? He has already complained 359 bitterly that police are involved in pursuing people who will not pay the poll tax or keep the law, but also that several other functions have been taken away from the police.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I do not want to be absolute about that, because a chief constable has obligations and responsibilities. As the Home Secretary will be the first to say to his hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), it is not for politicians to tell chief constables what or what not a police officer should do. The hon. Gentleman may, but I do not, want politicians to have tactical control over police forces. However, I want the House to stop imposing specific, undesirable burdens on the police force. The poll tax provision that I described, and the pursuit of overstayers—visitors who have extended their visa limits—are not a matter of general definitions, but duties and burdens imposed by the House, which should stop doing so and instead act in the interests of good policing.
The third element of the essential coalition is local government. The best councils want to work enthusiastically with the police. Two weeks ago I was in Keighley, where the local authority recently completed a pilot scheme that tested the sort of practical, perhaps prosaic policy of better locks and lighting, and more facilities for the young unemployed, which was once sneered at as an element of crime prevention. As a result of such improvements and interest in crime prevention that the scheme generated, crime in the district had fallen, year on year, by 81 per cent. The scheme was a success, but the council was unable to extend it to other districts that would benefit because the money was simply not available.
The small sums allocated by central Government to local government for crime prevention—for example, in the city of Birmingham, £250,000 was allocated for the safer cities project—in no way compensate for the £20 billion loss of rate support grant that councils have had to endure throughout England and Wales in the past 10 years. As a result, hard-pressed local authorities without any specific crime prevention obligations naturally concentrate their efforts and spending on other sectors. The Gracious Speech should have included the promise to impose a statutory duty on all local authorities to introduce crime prevention measures. That duty should have contained the obligation to include crime prevention in local authority development plans and planning
I repeat that reform of the penal system is an essential part of the war against crime. The Criminal Justice Bill is based on that principle. Although our detailed debate on those proposals will take place in a week or two, I propose to say something about the Bill in a moment, as the Home Secretary has done. Before I do so I shall deal with other aspects of the Gracious Speech, both inclusions and omissions.
First, at a time when there is an increasing public determination to end racial discrimination in this country, the Gracious Speech said not a word about the disadvantages suffered by black and Asian British, or ways of ending them. The Police Federation commits itself to eliminating any sign of racial discrimination in its ranks. The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis urges greater efforts to stamp out racial attacks. The Army promises to take action to ensure equal opportunities. But the Home Secretary is wholly silent on the subject. I know that racial equality is not a subject that enthuses him, but 360 it enthuses the Opposition. We propose to take action to eliminate racial discrimination after our victory in the general election.
§ Mr. Waddington
The right hon. Gentleman should be careful about what the says. I was at Bramshill the other day to show my support and take part in a seminar organised by the police on some of the very matters that the right hon. Gentleman raised. If events are taking place in the police force of which he approves, I cannot see how he can say that the Home Office is doing nothing. We have been fully involved in those initiatives and are proud of that. We are paying a great deal of attention to such matters and I am doing my level best to promote all such initiatives and am proud to do so.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I am glad that the Home Secretary intervened, and he can do so again immediately after my next paragraph, which deals directly with the question: what should the Home Office be doing that it has not done, and does not do? The Home Secretary knows that, while the Criminal Justice Bill was being drafted in the Home Office, officials—I am assured that they were senior officials—approved clauses to impose a duty on courts to end all racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. Those clauses included the provision of ethnic monitoring of sentences. We know that ethnic minorities are more likely to be sent to prison than their white contemporaries, and stay there for longer.
Those clauses were drafted in the Home Office, but none of them appears in the Bill. Would the Home Secretary like to intervene again to say why not?
§ Mr. Waddington
For what it is worth, at no time since I came into the Home Office have I ever seen any such draft clauses or anything remotely like them. If the right hon. Gentleman's imagination is running away with him, he must be responsible for it. We can certainly debate whether it would be desirable to spell out in black and white on the face of the Bill that there should be no discrimination throughout the criminal justice system, but the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that if we were to do so, we should merely be restating what is the law now.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I hope that the Home Secretary is not telling me that no clauses exist in draft form in the Home Office.
§ Mr. Hattersley
The Home Secretary says that he has not seen them, but that may be a confession of his incompetence. Is he telling me that they do not exist? IF he is not, we can pursue the matter on Second Reading.
§ Mr. Hattersley
Do such clauses exist? Does the Home Office have them ready if the Home Secretary approves them?
§ Mr. Waddington
They clearly exist in the right hon. Gentleman's imagination, but I have never heard of them or seen them.
§ Mr. Hattersley
May I urge the Home Secretary to inquire into the matter when he returns to his Department tonight or tomorrow? That is the first issue that does not appear in the Gracious Speech.
361 Another issue to which no reference is made, even though the Home Secretary was kind enough to refer to in in his opening passage, is broadcasting, even though we are promised, and anticipate, secondary legislation this Session in the form of orders to regulate the operation of satellite broadcasting. I have several questions to ask the Home Secretary and it is clear from what he said at the beginning of his speech that not only does he not know the answers, but he does not know the crucial questions in this matter.
I do not expect the Home Secretary to intervene straight away. All I ask is that he notes the questions, does his best to understand them and obtains answers, not necessarily by the winding-up speech tonight, but by tomorrow or the end of this week. I could not be more reasonable in my request. All we ask for is answers to the questions, which are crucial and which up to now the Home Secretary does not appear to have appreciated.
The questions have achieved a new importance because of the de facto merger between British Satellite Broadcasting and Sky and the conversation on the subject between the Prime Minister and Mr.Rupert Murdoch. I know that the Prime Minister's meeting with Mr. Murdoch was kept from the Home Secretary and he did not know about it until newspapers told his office. However, I assume, putting aside the usual contempt of the Prime Minister for her Ministers, that the Home Secretary has now found out what went on.
It is silly, and an insult to the intelligence of the House, to say that Mr. Murdoch merely mentioned the matter to the Prime Minister and it was not regarded as being in any way important. Mr. Andrew Knight, chief executive of Mr. Murdoch's empire in this country, said that Mr. Murdoch has only two or three meetings a year with the Prime Minister and that he began with some casual conversation on the subject of BSB and Sky. That sort of explanation is wholly incredible, and in the light of it I want to ask the Home Secretary some specific questions.
First, I wish to give the right hon. and learned Gentleman another chance to answer a question that he has already refused to answer. Does he share the view of the chief executive of the new Independent Television Commission, that BSB is not entitled to pass on its contract to Sky, and that Sky transmissions are now being broadcast through BSB dishes unlawfully?
§ Mr. Waddington
That is certainly my understanding. I think that there was a clear breach of contract, but as I pointed out earlier and as the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, that is a matter for the IBA; and the IBA, as a consequence, is perfectly entitled to terminate the contract that it made with BSB. I thought that I had made that abundantly plain.
§ Mr. Hattersley
That leads us to the next question. Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman give us advice as to whether the Prime Minister understood that this was an unlawful operation when she discussed it with Mr. Murdoch? I suspect that, as usual, the Prime Minister, believing herself to be omnipotent, thought that she understood what she was talking about and gave Mr. Murdoch to believe that he had tacit support for his wilful disregard of the provisions in the Broadcasting Act which was passed a few months ago.
362 How does the Home Secretary propose to ensure proper respect for and compliance with the Act that he sponsored last year? Does he believe, for instance, that, after the merger is complete, the DBS satellite—the old BSB satellite—must be kept in use, or is he content with satellite broadcasting in this country developing merely around Rupert Murdoch's inferior Astra technology?
My second question is directly related to the Home Secretary's specific legislative duties during the rest of this year. What regulations does he anticipate will govern the conduct of the new merged authority? Originally, it was thought that the quality requirements imposed on channel 3 and channel 5 broadcasters would not be necessary because satellites were competing with each other. Now there are no competing satellites. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman believe that quality obligations must be introduced through secondary legislation?
Thirdly, what is the Government's position on the ownership of newspapers by satellite broadcasters? We were told last year that secondary legislation would be introduced to place a limit on BSB newspaper holdings. We were also told that, for a variety of reasons—I shall not go into them—this would not apply to Sky. Will the limitations on newspaper ownership apply to the new merged Sky and BSB company?
In short, what do the Government believe should happen now? Are we to have secondary legislation limiting cross-ownership—the sort of idea that was going to apply to BSB before Mr. Murdoch took it over—or, now that Mr. Murdoch is involved, is the new company to be given the preferential treatment which he was previously going to enjoy with Sky? The crucial question is: is Mr. Rupert Murdoch to be given special treatment again as he was when he acquired the Sunday Times, The Times and Today and as he was when Sky was absolved of the obligation placed on BSB?
In the past, the Government have done Mr. Murdoch favours as a mark of their gratitude for the way in which he has helped them to win general elections. Now that, with or without his help, they are going to lose the election, is there any hope that they might behave with a little integrity?
§ Mr. Waddington
The right hon. Gentleman is very free with his insults, but he must not make snide allegations of dishonesty against individuals unless he is prepared to make them outside the House. He knows perfectly well what I said before about what was discussed at the meeting. Even if Mr. Murdoch had said in plain terms that he was about to sign an agreement with BSB, that would not have been a statement that he was going to behave unlawfully, because what appears to be unlawful, or contrary to the contract signed between BSB and the IBA, is the fact that no warning was given to the IBA and that it would seem that there might be a controlling interest by a non-EC body in the new outfit.
As none of this was discussed at No. 10, it has no bearing on the right hon. Gentleman's allegation—so now let us come to the specific question—[HON. MEMBERS: "Briefly."' I will not allow the right hon. Gentleman to make snide, nasty remarks imputing dishonesty without coming back at him, and he had better get used to that.
We intend to put a 20 per cent. ownership limit on newspaper interests in DBS. That is what we always said we would do. We always said that there would be no 363 similar limitations on the newspaper interests in pure satellite broadcasting, for two reasons. First, the practical reason——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. Surely some of this could he left to be rebutted in winding up.
§ Mr. Waddington
With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it would not be customary to ask leave of the House to speak again, so I have but one opportunity to reply to the questions put to me by the right hon. Gentleman. If the right hon. Gentleman does not want me to reply——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has the right to intervene if the right hon. Gentleman who has the Floor gives way—but intervention should be brief.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I old the Minister that I would be happy to receive his answers on a future occasion, but I do not want to quarrel with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker—I shall let the Home Secretary do that. I shall accept whatever ruling you make.
§ Mr. Waddington
We made it plain that we would conduct matters in this way, first, for reasons of practicality, because the satellite company can uplink from abroad. Secondly, we recognise a world of difference between the Government imposing restrictions on ownership of scarce frequencies allocated by Government, and imposing restrictions on satellite broadcasting in which there is scope for diversity of different channels. As for the right hon. Gentleman's last point——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I have an obligation to preserve the rights of other right hon. and hon. Members who want to take part in the debate. I very much hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will bring his intervention to a conclusion.
§ Mr. Waddington
I can swiftly deal with the last point. I cannot say whether the contract for DBS will be re-let if the contract with BSB is terminated. It will be a pity if there is no contract for DBS, but that is outside the Government's control and it is quite likely a matter for the market.
§ Mr. Hattersley
What I find extraordinary about that intervention is that the Home Secretary had it all ready to read out but did not feel it right to read it out during his speech. He could have encapsulated the principle in a single sentence. When BSB was independent, newspaper ownership rules were to be imposed upon it. Now that it is associated with Mr. Murdoch, those rules are riot to apply. The country, like the House, will regard that as a disgrace.
I want to make our position on this subject plain. Immediately after the Labour Government are elected, we shall ask the Monopolies and Mergers Commission to examine the concentration of media ownership in this country-newspapers as well as television and radio. We 364 shall ask the MMC to make specific recommendations on how the present unacceptable degree of concentration of ownership can be split up.
Another topic omitted from the Gracious Speech and connected with newspapers was the Calcutt report. Will the Home Secretary confirm—I am reluctant to ask a question lest he should answer—that it is still his intention to implement the Calcutt proposals for statutory regulation if the newspapers do not accept the Calcutt last-chance offer to put their own house in order?
When the Calcutt report was published, the Home Secretary was admirably firm on this matter, and he had my wholehearted support. Cynics outside said that the firmness would disappear as the general election approached. I would be grateful if his Minister will confirm that it is still intended that Calcutt will be the last chance before statutory action. I know that the industry is setting up a commission to supervise self-regulation and that a code, not quite the Calcutt code but a code of sorts, is being drawn up. I want to be told explicitly that, if that code is broken, the statutory route will be followed.
That leads to my next question about Calcutt. Some of the Calcutt recommendations propose changes in the law that are not directly related to the code. I shall give the obvious example. It is recommended that taking a photograph of a person on private property without the explicit permission of that person should be an offence. I assumed that the Home Secretary was going ahead with that statutory element in Calcutt. I am glad to see him nodding. I would have been more reassured if I had found that proposal in the Gracious Speech.
The Taylor report is not mentioned in the Gracious Speech but apparently proposals about that will be brought before us this year. We shall examine the Home Secretary's proposals, some of which are right. Proposals about throwing missiles and about racial chants are right. We want to examine carefully the dangerous matter of running on to pitches without adequate reason. I am against people running on to pitches, but I am worried about the definition of "adequate reason", and we shall look carefully at the legislation's small print.
I should like to refer briefly—because that is all that the Home Secretary's remarks deserve—to his comments on the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989, before finally speaking to the main legislative item. He does himself, his Government and his cause no good by, for the narrowest and cheapest of political reasons, trying to suggest that there are some hon. Members who do not detest terrorism and wish to exterminate it in this country. I can think of nothing that would give the IRA more pleasure than to believe that what the Home Secretary says is true.
We have had what I knew would be the general statement on terrorism. I take this opportunity to reaffirm, because it is right to do so whatever the Home Secretary says, the general determination of the House to obliterate terrorism in the United Kingdom. In a free Parliament and a democracy, there are different views about how that can best be achieved, but no one should have any doubts—this is directed particularly to the IRA—about our united determination to achieve the basic objectives.
I shall make only one comment about disagreement on tactics. I do not propose to talk about the Government's practical record, lest that should give heart to our mutual enemies, but nothing has happened in the last 10 years to entitle the Government to dismiss out of hand the Labour 365 party's prescription for greater success. That prescription says that tough action against terrorism has to be matched with the determination to do nothing that alienates the law-abiding majority. That has always been our pragmatic objection to the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and it remains our objection.
We also have an objection in principle. The simple injustice of long periods of detention without charge or judicial examination during which there is no access to legal advice is a matter of principle that the Government should take seriously when they consider the consequences of the wrongful conviction of the Guildford Four, the Maguire family, and, as I think will soon be demonstrated, the Birmingham Six. The new Criminal Justice Bill could have been the opportunity to ensure that such injustices occur more rarely. I regret that such injustices will never be eliminated, but their incidence could have been reduced, and, the chance has been missed.
It gives me no pleasure to say that there has never been a time in modern history when the British people were less confident about their criminal justice system. Many, although not all, of their doubts are misplaced, but there is no doubt about how they came about. The doubts have been encouraged by judges who impose preposterous sentences accompanied by absurd opinions, by notorious miscarriages of justice, and by a whole variety of allegations—most of them unjustified—against the police. The police have reacted to allegations more rationally than the Government. The police see immense advantage to themselves in an independent system of investigation of police complaints. That is what the police want, and I promise that they will have it after the next general election.
The Government could have done much to quieten other fears by adding three radical but simple proposals to the Criminal Justice Bill. They could have improved the provision that a defendant cannot be convicted solely on uncorroborated confession evidence. They could and should have included additional safeguards to ensure that suspects are properly represented.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
The right hon. Gentleman speaks about conviction on uncorroborated confession evidence, and I know that he takes the matter seriously. What would he say to a woman who has been raped and whose only evidence is what she says on oath actually happened? Some time later, the man can get rid of all the forensic evidence against him and what remains is the woman's word. Does the right hon. Gentleman propose to go into the next general election saying that the single woman complaining without corroboration can never bring to justice the man who raped her?
§ Mr. Hattersley
The hon. and learned Gentleman asks a politically hard question, and I shall give him the intellectually hard answer. First, I did not talk about the evidence of the victim against the man who had been charged. I talked about confession evidence, a confession by the man who has been charged and against whom there is no evidence apart from what he said when he was interviewed immediately after his arrest. The hon. and learned Gentleman asked a question which was different from the point that I was making, but I shall do my best to answer it, because I take the matter seriously.
366 The rules of evidence to protect the innocent in cases about which one feels deep sympathy have to be applied with equal rigour to cases of a different sort. We cannot say about cases for which we have such sympathy that the rules of evidence which are generally regarded as right and proper can somehow be forgotten. That is not an easy answer, and some people will criticise me for giving it in this particular. The serious point about evidence is that, by and large, the rules have to apply in all cases and the innocent have to be given the opportunity to protect their innocence.
The Criminal Justice Bill should include the creation of an independent review body to investigate suspected major miscarriages of justice. The Maguires, the Guildford Four and, I believe, the Birmingham Six demonstrate the need for that reform. I have no doubt that the inadequacies of the present appeals system are the result of the narrow legal confines within which judicial appeals are now bound and limited. Some cases need to be looked at again from start to finish without the prejudices—I use the word in its least pejorative sense—that result from a liftime spent in the legal professions.
Anyone who reads the appeal case of the Birmingham Six and others has the terrifying suspicion that, if what was said on their behalf had been said to a tribunal that was not exclusively made up of judges but had perhaps a majority of judges and some representative, intelligent, informed laymen, the examination would have been different and the outcome might well not have been the same. A new tribunal must be set up to examine cases of long detention. I repeat that it will include judges, but it will also include laymen who will examine the whole issue from a wider perspective.
The second great omission, apart from the absence of a proper civil rights dimension in the Rent Bill, is its failure to make any serious inroads into the scandal of remand prisoners. That scandal was highlighted in national newspapers by the case of Mr. Terry Marsh, who spent 10 months in prison before he was tried and acquitted. Respect for civil liberties requires us to reduce the number of remand prisoners and the time that they spend on remand. Our desire to reduce the prison population also stems from that respect. That chance has been missed.
I emphasise that my questions are rhetorical and ask the Home Secretary, why is the rule that all defendants must come to trial within 112 days of committal not immediately put into operation all over England and Wales? Why have London and the south-east—where the problem of delays in bringing prisoners to trial is most acute—been exempt from that rule? Why is there no proposal in the Bill for a tightening of the criteria in the Bail Act 1976?
The number of remand prisoners in gaol has doubled during the life of this Government. The legal provision—that bail is granted unless a strong case can be made against it—should be made more explicit, and the law should require that the principle be uniformly applied.
Perhaps most important of all, to reduce the time that is wasted in court, a court inspectorate should be established to report to the Lord Chancellor on the efficiency of the courts' conduct and operation. At present, the courts too often operate for the convenience of judges, barristers and solicitors. To free the courts and to get them moving, that sort of restrictive practice ought to be ended. 367 It would be ended by a genuinely radical Government, and it will be ended by a generally radical Government after the next general election.
That having been said, I repeat my unqualified support for the principle that underlies the Criminal Justice Bill. Of course a custodial sentence is very often the most appropriate sentence for crimes of violence and sexual offences. Sometimes, men and women have to be imprisoned to protect the community; the Home Secretary and I are at one about that. We are also in agreement that very many men and women now in prison should be serving their sentences in the community.
At least, I think we are in agreement. Sometimes, the Home Secretary agrees that prison corrupts rather than reforms. He described prisons in the News of the World—a dangerously radical journal by the Home Secretary's standards—as "universities of crime" and implied that the time had come to change both the syllabus and the minimum entrance requirement. However, on other—occasions launching the Bill was one of them—he takes, or appears to take, quite a different view. Unless he gives a clear and unequivocal lead, the Criminal Justice Bill will not reduce the prison population to the extent that is essential.
The Governor of Armley prison told me on Friday that his inability to build the proper relationship with prisoners—to prevent the tragedies that have occurred at that prison, and to have some hope of preventing prisoners from offending again—required him to have more resources: prison officers as well as new and better buildings. The right ratio of staff to prisoners will not be achieved simply by recruiting more officers; it will be achieved only by a substantial reduction in the prison population.
I very much welcome the emphasis of the public expenditure White Paper on improving old prisons—ending slopping out, for instance—rather than the slower process of building new ones. But the only way in which we can make prisons work—to cut crime—is to achieve a substantial reduction in the prison population.
I offer two other reasons for introducing more sentencing within the community. First, it is cheaper. It costs £20,000 a year to keep a man in prison which often achieves nothing at all. Secondly, alternative sentencing is more satisfying for the victim who has been mugged or burgled. Retribution may be sweet, but restitution is usually sweeter. On that principle, it is important that, wherever possible, alternative sentencing—sentencing within the community—should be related to the offender's making good the loss or damage.
I hope—although I am not sure, even from what the Home Secretary has said today—that that is common ground between us. Today I shall not deal in detail with any of the other areas of cross-party agreement—video recording admitted in evidence for child cruelty cases, or unit fines in magistrates courts. Nor shall I describe at length our opposition to the privatisation of court escort duty, the privatisation of remand and the fatuous proposal for electronic stagging, which merely fulfils the purpose of getting the other Minister of State on television during each summer recess. Now that he has had his moment of glory, that proposal should be buried as the inoperative and useless proposal that it is. More detailed comments must wait for the Second Reading debate on the Bill. I shall simply end by describing again my forebodings about 368 the central purpose of the Bill's actually being implemented by the judges, unless additional steps are taken.
On the day when the Bill was published, Judge Derek Clarkson announced:The Court of Appeal is reducing sentences in a way that is derisory and derogates from the authority and dignity of Her Majesty's judges.Does the Home Secretary think that anyone who takes dignity so seriously and talks of Court of Appeal decisions as derisory will voluntarily co-operate with his proposed reforms? Of course they will not—not until they are encouraged to do so by the policy of ensuring that the will of Parliament is expressed and implemented by a sentencing council which advises on sentencing.
That advice would be designed to achieve some uniformity in sentencing—between courts, the sexes and the ethnic groups. It would encourage the principles of sentencing—in this case, a reduction in committal to prison—that Parliament and Government wish to apply. I have no doubt that judges must be allowed discretion. I am not in favour of judges being told precisely what sentences they must apply to every conviction. However, if judges are to be given that discretion, a sentencing council to guide—not instruct—them is essential.
The House should not take my word for it. I quote from last Saturday's edition of The Times. Referring to the Bill, it said:Another provision ought to be added. The guidelines, though an improvement, still give the judges considerable discretion. Much depends on how the appeal court interprets them. All this is hazardous. The transmission mechanism between parliament, Home Office and judiciary is creaky and ineffective. Judges are notoriously their own creatures, disinclined through long exercise of power to heed outside influence. Penal reformers … have long advocated the creation of a sentencing council. Representing all interested parties, its job would be to formulate detailed guidance on sentencing for the courts. Justice demands no less.I hope that in Committee, the House will demand exactly that.
I doubt whether the Government—for all their claims to reforming zeal—will summon up sufficient courage to take such a radical step. However, the next Labour Government will. Indeed, the message from this day of the Queen's Speech debate is absolutely clear: in some areas—combating crime in particular—the Government's policy has been a ghastly failure. In others—broadcasting, community relations and the reform of the judicial system—it has been grotesquely wrong. Even when they have accepted the right principles, such as the extension of non-custodial sentences, they have acted—and are acting—with pathetic timidity. The next Labour Government will right all those wrongs.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. I remind the House that, between now and 8 pm, speeches should not exceed 10 minutes.
§ 6.8 pm
§ Mr. Tony Durant (Reading, West)
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for inviting me to speak.
It is after a seven-year silence that I rise to address the House. I feel rather like a Trappist monk a phrase that has now been given currency by the Leader of the Opposition; I sometimes wish that he would enact it himself. I am not making a personal statement—I left of my own free will 369 —so there will be no statement about why I left. The longest speech that I made in the seven years was to report on the Committee stage of a Bill that was taken on the Floor of the House. Perhaps the most popular speech that I used to make was "I beg to move, That this House do now adjourn." That is not to say that I am moving that motion now; let us be clear about that!
I have listened to a great many speeches in that period—good bad and indifferent. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has left the Chamber. When I had to do the march up with replies from Her Majesty, with what he called my billiard cue, I stood at the end of the Chamber, marched up and read out the message from Her Majesty. The first time I did it, he came up to me and put his Polo mint over the top of the "billiard cue". I said to the hon. Member for Bolsover, "Dennis, you have obviously done this before." He said, "Ah, but we have now got television."
Obviously he thought that it was worth doing again. The most frightening part of that job is not the coming up, but the going back. I must warn anyone who takes it on about that. That is when the rude remarks begin—"He needs a haircut," "His shoes are no good," and so on. However, I was given great confidence on my first occasion because a revered Conservative colleague, a squire of the realm, said, "Better than the last one." I was comforted by that remark.
The speech of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) was long on analysis of crime but short on remedies. It was usual Labour party policy—more money, more intervention.
No separate debate has been provided to discuss the important subject of the environment. From what the Labour party has said time and again, I understood that the environment was a key subject. However, it has not chosen it for debate, so many of us are here today to make a speech on the environment in a debate that provides a rather loose framework.
The Gracious Speech contains some good proposals, and I am especially keen on the emphasis on parental responsibility. For many years, I have stated my belief that parents, together with their teenage children, should accept responsibility, for the crimes of their children. They should be jointly summonsed in court. If that were the case, the practice of Dad throwing the children out of the house because he wanted to watch television would die. He would not want again to suffer the agony of a court summons. Instead, he would say, "Where are you off to at this time of night?" It is a simple doctrine, but it would work.
The importance of the family is vastly underrated by both sides of the House, especially its importance for children aged one to five. That time span is a crucial part of their development. All parties are encouraging women to go out to work far too soon. We must consider fiscal measures that would encourage women to stay at home. Some of my hon. Friends would raise the issue of child benefit, which I accept is important, but the important new legislation for separate taxation of women provides new initiatives. We must deal with the problem, because we are creating a society of delinquents. There is no longer the necessary close contact between the mother and the child in the formative years——
§ Mr. Durant
Dad comes in later, but the mother is the most important figure during those years.
I am keen that the Government should consider family policy with that very much in mind. If they do not, there will be long-term problems.
I wish now to touch on the environment, even though this is not strictly an environment debate. In particular, I wish to deal with the construction industry, which in my part of the world has been hit very hard by the downturn in the economy. I declare an interest as a political adviser to a demolition contractor. The main problem is that there is a surplus of buildings and of completed new houses. It will be a long time before the industry can pick up the backlog and move forward. I ask my right hon. Friend the Chancellor seriously to consider another 1 per cent. reduction in the interest rate before Christmas. That would make a considerable difference. He should also remember that many young couples have mortgages based on an annual rate, which are due to be revised on 1 January. Many people will be badly affected.
Although the White Paper "This Common Inheritance" makes no mention of a Bill, I hope that one will be introduced. I welcome the fact that it deals with the maintenance of cathedrals, something for which I pressed many times when I was on the Back Benches. The Church has lacked a certain responsibility for such buildings, and if it is not prepared to do anything, the state should have the opportunity to intervene. Some of the buildings are in a bad state and need immediate help.
I very much welcome the establishment of the National Rivers Authority, and I am delighted that it is prosecuting every water authority in the country. The chairman is a former Secretary of State for Wales, with whom I worked, and he is a robust man. He is doing an excellent job in making the water authorities more conscious of water quality. Indeed, the Thames is improving rapidly.
The White Paper also refers to leaded petrol. I aid the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) waged a campaign on that issue many years ago, when no one was interested. A professor in my constituency has been banging on about lead in petrol for many years. The hon. Member for Perry Barr and I had many Adjournment debates in the middle of the night on that issue. We must press harder to ensure that people use unleaded petrol.
I want to say a word about Europe. I know that this is not a Europe debate, but I feel that it is an appropriate subject. Britain is part of Europe, and it always has been. It is not a new phenomenon. We have not suddenly discovered Europe, not having known that it existed and therefore never having been there. Indeed, we have always quarrelled with Europe. Disraeli, when he was Lord Beaconsfield, attended the congress in Berlin in 1878 and had a major row with Bismarck. Disraeli threw down the gauntlet and said, "I want the matter settled." In a loud voice, he said to his personal assistant, "Go down to the station and get the train engine warmed up, because I am going home."
Arguments between Britain and Europe are not new; they have been going on for generations. The public are not that convinced about complete integration with Europe. They want independence, and they want to retain the British dimension. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister takes the right attitude.
371 There is a good programme for this Session. I hope that we are not diverted by leadership issues whipped up by the media. No one telephoned me over the weekend.. I sat there, thinking that the media might think that I was a stalking horse, or that it might want to know whom I would support, but not a dicky bird. Of course, someone might have telephoned this morning, but no one telephoned on Saturday or Sunday.
I support the Bills proposed for this Session. There is not too heavy a load. It is a positive, radical approach and I am sure that, on that basis, the Conservative party will win the next election.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)
I listened carefully to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) when he referred to the burdens imposed upon the police. I agree with him in certain respects, but I wish to add to his list. I recently had a conversation with an officer of the Metropolitan police, who said that job satisfaction had been so badly damaged by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 that many of his colleagues were tempted to look the other way when a crime was being committed because, more often than not, the policeman and not the offender attracted the complaints and the hassle. That must be rectified.
At yesterday's remembrance services, most of us thought of our late colleague Ian Gow. His memory is especially vivid in Ulster—a part of the kingdom that lay close to his heart, and for which he sacrified a promising ministerial career and, only a few months ago, his life. Five years ago, another supporter of another Government resigned over the same issue—Senator Mary Robinson. She and Ian Gow felt that they could not continue to support their respective Governments, who had reached an agreement that they knew, as we knew, would end in failure. Other Members of this House shared their view.
Many such hon. Members expressed their misgivings as they emerged from the Aye Lobby. They patted me on the arm and said, "James, you understand that we had to obey the Whips—but don't feel too depressed, because such a crazy agreement has no hope of success." Thankfully, Ian Gow lived long enough to know that his action had been vindicated when, on 5 July, the Government were prevented by Irish republicanism from revealing to the House the terms of the policy document to which general assent previously had been given.
Mrs. Mary Robinson, too, has been vindicated and rewarded by her own people—the majority of people in southern Ireland, who only last week elected her as their first woman president. She was quoted as saying in her acceptance speech on Friday that she intends to establish contact with individuals rather than with political parties. As a party leader, I do not resent that suggestion. I know that a head of state cannot consort with political parties, particularly those in another nation, but the new Irish president has it right because too much was asked, and has been asked, of political leaders in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) was also realistic when he told the House last Wednesday that it is foolish and unfair to advise Northern Ireland parties to "get together" to find a solution to all our problems. He used another phrase:We get together every day of the week." [Official Report, 7 November 1990; Vol. 180, c. 77.]372 I pay tribute to his party for its willingness to co-operate in essential matters such as agriculture, education, social security and economic issues. We should be enabled and encouraged to continue our joint endeavours in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland. An extension of that desirable co-operation was in the mind of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh when he contributed to the debate last Wednesday.
When the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland launched his present initiative last January, I felt that I owed it to him to accept his invitation. No one who has worked with him over the past 10 months could doubt his fairness and sincerity. That initiative might have been successful had we been permitted to content ourselves with modest objectives. Unfortunately, it was hyped to a quite unrealistic proportion, and against all my instincts we were forced on to the high-wire circus act, with all the inevitable speculation that has wrecked previous initiatives in the past 20 years. Unfortunately, the consequent disillusionment, which is keenly felt by all of us, has further destabilised the situation in Northern Ireland, and the price is being paid in the increasing loss of life, particularly in recent weeks.
Clearly, we cannot drift on as we have been since the collapse of the initiative on 5 July. We cannot expect the community to continue paying the price of escalating violence and murder. We all have a duty to restore stability by means of a modest, unspectacular progression on the road to involving elected representatives in the House and on local councils in the governance of Northern Ireland. That is provided for in the Northern Ireland section of the Queen's Speech.
Those pledges go hand in hand with the subjects of today's debate—rights, freedoms and responsibilities—because Government, Parliament and people must accept their responsibility to guarantee rights and freedoms. The Government have made a start with the presentation of two key Bills—the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill and the Criminal Justice Bill.
When the House addresses itself to the succeeding stages of those Bills, I ask right hon. and hon. Members to bear in mind the scale of lawlessness in many parts of the United Kingdom. I ask them to bear constantly in mind our fellow citizens who will be murdered before those two measures receive Royal Assent, those who will live out their lives in heartbreak and misery and the far larger category throughout these islands who cower under the shadow of intimidation of one sort or another.
All those groups are entitled to have their rights and freedoms guaranteed. Whatever reservations some right hon. and hon. Members may have about some aspects of civil liberties—I acknowledge their sincerity—I trust that it will also be recognised that the greatest civil liberty is the right to live and the freedom from fear. Those two Bills can be fashioned into instruments of assistance to the guardians of the law. The hope must be that the pendulum which in recent years has been pushed too far against the keepers of the law will be at least restored to centre point.
§ Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)
The right hon. Members for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) is entirely right to remind us of the suffering that so many people 373 have endured in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. Although I do not propose to follow him in his speech, I very much endorse his concluding words.
It was a pleasure to listen to my former area Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Durant). All those years of silence were not entirely silent; he used to telephone me occasionally, as I gather people no longer telephone him. The House appreciated what he had to say and is delighted that he has joined the ranks of the civilised once more.
As I listened to the Queen's Speech the other day, it struck me that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Home Affairs bears the lion's share of the legislative programme for this year. I did not know then that among the other measures that will be laid before us there was a further Home Office contingent. It is clear that he and his team have an enormous amount to do. I do not agree with him about everything, or with his views on capital punishment, but I have confidence in his ability to handle these matters in the way that they will have to be handled because they are so important.
I do not agree with my right hon. and learned Friend about the War Crimes Bill. I devoutly hope that the Government will not feel that they have to press this measure at all costs. We all know that dreadful crimes—probably the worst recorded in history—were committed under Nazi rule, but there are powerful arguments against this legislation which were set out with particular force in the other place. Among those who set them out were at least two distinguished Jewish noble Lords, and I believe that they struck a chord with many people in this country who thought about the matter.
We do not like the Bill's quasi-retrospective nature nor the arbitrariness of confining it to one group of war criminals. We feel that it is rather unlikely that anybody will ever be sentenced and punished and, although perhaps this is not so important in principle, we have grave doubts about whether it is right to assign police resources to this task. I do not believe that the Bill will reach the statute book, but even if it does I do not believe that it will be effectively implemented.
We all recognise that the Home Office is faced with quite peculiar difficulties in dealing with crime. The rest of the world can happily align itself to one of two camps—the reformers and the punishers. They can each pursue their paths with vehemence and vigour, but the Home Office is the point where the two arguments come together and my right hon. and learned Friend must try to reconcile those different strands in current thinking. In particular, he must face the dire question of how on earth we reduce our prison population and at the same time reduce crime. It must be said, rather pessimistically, that there has been a fall in the number of people in prison in the past few years, but at the same time there has been an increase in crime, so we are a long way from solving that problem in theory.
My right hon. and learned Friend issued a White Paper earlier this year setting out the strategy that lies behind the Criminal Justice Bill. On the whole, it was a good White Paper, but I am bound to say that I have some doubts about an important element in the philosophy which lies behind it and which is repeated in the Bill—the rejection of deterrence as a principle. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) was adamant 374 in support of the view that deterrence does not count for anything very much. In the White Paper, greater emphasis is placed on retribution, the notion of the "just desert" for the offender. Incidentally, "desert" is mispelt as "dessert", although that does not necessarily undermine the force of the argument.
It is an error to play down the rationality of much crime, and the White Paper makes that mistake. If one plays down the rationality of crime, inevitably one plays down the value of deterrence. There is a kind of wishful thinking about this. Many well-meaning people wish that deterrence could be proved not to work, but the evidence does not support that idea, although it is commonly said that it does.
Nigel Walker, the doyen of English criminologists, acknowledges that deterrence is less effective on the basis of the evidence than some people who made strong claims for it said a generation or two ago. On the one hand, he says, research has not justified the statement of some critics that "deterrents never work". He says that this belief isprompted by dislike of deterrents rather than hard evidence.A more detailed study by Donald Lewis in The British Journal of Criminology in January 1986 looked at 15 studies of the general deterrent effect of long sentences: 12 apparently provided substantial support for what he called the deterrent hypothesis, two provided mixed results and only one wasinconsistent with the deterrent hypothesis.Other studies have shown that, as punishment for juveniles decreases, so offences rise. There is a well-known example in the book by Charles Murray, "Losing Ground", in which he describes what happened to juvenile crime in Cook county, which includes Chicago. In 1966, about 1,200 juveniles were committed to the state system of training schools. Ten years later, fewer than 400 were committed, but arrests were soaring. The number of arrests before a youth was committed to a reform school for the first time was 13.6. The risk of significant punishment for first arrests fell close to zero. As Murraya youngster who found criminal acts fun or rewarding and had been arrested only once or twice could have chosen to continue committing crimes through the simplest of logics: there was no reason not to.Criminal records were increasingly being expunged. Mr. Murray used words which we cannot ignore—they are, in a sense, profoundly gloomy—but there is plenty of other evidence to show that we must face the facts that he describes.
What does that mean when it comes to the practical policy of running the penal system which is the task of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary? Does it mean that we should lock up more and more offenders? I do not think that that necessarily follows, although we must be careful about casting away the penal sanction, but it means that we must be sure that those who are sentenced, whether to a custodial sentence or a non-custodial sentence, receive sentences which bite hard.
To be frank, one of our problems has been the way that many young people have been sentenced to non-custodial sentences. They have laughed at what they have received. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend, of all people, will clearly understand that we cannot rely on an increasingly non-custodial policy unless we, and the general public as a whole, are convinced that these sentences are having the results that they should have.
375 Like everybody else, we would like to believe that the operation of the penal system is about not only deterrence but seeking reform. We know that reform has proved elusive in the penal system and that the high hopes in the heyday of the borstal system, for example, have been very much dashed over the years. But we should not give up.
If we accept, as I do, that there are many cases where custody is necessary, we should accept that it is vital that it includes not only the deterrent effect of being locked up but a real attempt to provide adequate work and an adequate education in prison. We know that often those facilities are not provided. The Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts is one body that has looked at prison education more than once over the past year or two. It has come up with strong and critical recommendations about what needs to be done about education in prisons. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will give us some encouragement.
We have a time limit. There are other points that I would have wished to make, but I shall end on a different matter, to do with refugees. I have seen references in the press recently to a feeling that we should tighten up our control over people who come to this country seeking asylum. I understand the problem of economic refugees—I have seen them in Vietnam and elsewhere. I understand the intense difficulties and frustration that can be caused to the Home Office by these matters and know that the public can be alarmed about them.
I hope that we never forget in any changes that we make the fundamental principles embodied in our commitment to the convention on refugees. I hope that there will continue to be some kind of second chance for those who are trying to find asylum if they are turned down by immigration officers and that there will be some way of having their cases looked at. We have at the moment——
§ Mr. John Evans (St. Helens, North)
I agreed with a great deal of what the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) said in his thoughtful speech. Indeed, I agreed with much more of what he said than with what the Home Secretary said in his much longer speech.
Today's debate is entitled "Rights, Freedoms and Responsibilities". I should have liked to talk about the rights, freedoms and responsibilities of the metropolitan borough of St. Helens, especially in relation to the iniquitous poll tax and its effect on the citizens of my constituency. I should have liked to draw attention to the iniquitous situation whereby, if St. Helens were receiving the financial support that the London boroughs of Westminster and Wandsworth receive, its finance officer would be able to send every poll tax payer in the borough a large cheque and not ask for any money. I should have liked to draw attention to the fact that unemployment, which features so largely in St. Helens and has always been a major factor in rate support grant in the past, does not figure at all in the standard spending assessments of local authorities. But the time factor prevents me from doing that.
As Home Office Ministers are present, I want to concentrate on the punishment and treatment of 'young offenders. The figures are frightening. In 1988, the last year 376 for which figures are available the breathtaking fact was that almost 300 14-year-olds ended up in penal institutions. It is a sad commentary on our society that practices that Charles Dickens opposed continue today.
There is growing concern at the number of young suicides in our prisons. The brutal end of this system leaps at us through the suicide statistics. This year, 36 young people have killed themselves and a further 116 have tried but failed. In the last incident just a few days ago, a 15-year-old on theft charges was put in prison because no special accommodation was available. In his fragile state, that young boy hanged himself in Swansea gaol.
That shocking death is not isolated. The vulnerability of the young mind has been recognised in legislation ever since the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 stated that the type of incarceration for young people with a criminal record must be left to the discretion of the Home Secretary. It is a terrible indictment of Government policy that young people still end up in adult prisons, but we should not spend time arguing over the past. There is a desperate need now to identify the type of institution required to deal with young offenders from now on.
The situation is bad enough when young people are thrown into prison because not enough secure accommodation is available. It is even worse when there is the threat of the closure of any secure centre that has been doing valuable work in this respect; yet such an institution, one of the nation's best, could soon close if the Government do not take action now.
Red Bank school at Newton-le-Willows in my constituency is threatened because Lancashire county council, which has financed it since the local government reorganisation in 1974, is to remove itself from the school's management following a review of its child care provision. The council announced its decision in letters to the Secretary of State for Health and to the Red Bank trustees dated 26 September 1990.
The school is designated as a controlled community home with education—a CHE. Red Bank caters for youngsters who are in care for a wide variety of reasons. At present the CHE has a complement of just over 50 young people, although it could accommodate many more than that.
No criticism can be levelled at Lancashire for its review or its decision. It is the council's duty to make such decisions and, undoubtedly, the decision was forced on it by the pressures of the poll tax. The problem is, however, that within the wider provisions of Red Bank is a Home Office secure unit that caters for 26 young males who have committed serious crimes. Such has been the unit's success in dealing with those disturbed people that 23 of them now have open access rights. Their crimes range from murder and manslaughter to arson to rape to drug trafficking. The young people are detained under section 53 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933.
The special unit is not a harsh place, but it has rules that must be adhered to. The young people learn self-control and discipline in an affectionate environment that is sensitive to their special needs. Anyone who reads their letters cannot fail to be moved by their gratitude for what Red Bank has offered them.
The regime and philosophy of Red Bank are based upon security and care, with specialised individual programmes to meet each young person's requirements. Such provision can be offered only in such a unit. If any of the children end up in the prison system, it will be a
377 national disgrace. Red Bank, has achieved remarkable results with some of the most difficult and traumatised young men in Britain.
The young men come not just from the north-west but from other parts of England. The secure unit is financed entirely by the Home Office but, if the rest of Red Bank closes as a result of Lancashire's decision, the secure unit will simply cease to be viable. For example, although the unit has its own gymnasium—essential to get the aggression out of many young men—it depends on the CHE's first-class facilities, such as its sports hall, sports field and swimming pool.
The north-west probation service is horrified at the prospect of closure. I have seen letters to the headmaster at the centre from the probation services of Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside, all of which have expressed serious concern at the prospect of Red Bank having to close.
Action on Red Bank is needed now. It cannot be allowed to close, and nor can matters be allowed to drift. Lancashire county council has given the statutory two years' notice of withdrawal from Red Bank, but the vital questions of staff morale and the future of jobs remain to be answered. All the expert staff at Red Bank are now looking for alternative employment with long-term guarantees and, given that they have families to support, who can blame them? They are entitled to reassurance about their prospects.
Young people must be kept out of prison. The country is horrified at the suicide rate in our prison system. We must provide more places like the Red Bank secure unit, not fewer.
I conclude by inviting the Home Secretary, who represents a constituency in the north-west, to come with me to Red Bank and see the facilities for himself. Once he has witnessed the work that is being done at the centre, I am sure that he will wish to ensure that it can continue its excellent and valuable work in future.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
I welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to the affairs of Northern Ireland. The commitments to the defeat of terrorism, political and economic progress, the promotion of mutual respect and trust throughout the community and positive relations with the Republic of Ireland represent a Conservative policy for Northern Ireland which, for the first time in five years, I can support—if, that is, the words in the Gracious Speech comprehend the whole of future Government policy. But perhaps I am being over-optimistic, because there is an omission from the Gracious Speech: it contains no reference to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I hope that that is deliberate.
Recent policy, founded on the agreement, has been a disaster. Any agreement that is conceived and implemented without consultation with the majority of the population to which it refers is bound to fail and, worse still, a device to enable a foreign state to have an automatic right of consultation in the domestic affairs of its neighbour—a neighbour to whose territory it solemnly lays claim in its c onstitution—is a constitutional outrage that cannot possibly endure. I hope that the words in the Gracious Speech mean that the Government are actively 378 seeking to remove that obstacle to peace, stability and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and to replace it with an agreement more appropriate to the honour and integrity of two neighbouring sovereign states.
I welcome the firm language in the Gracious Speech about the defeat of terrorism. It is much to be preferred to what has become Ministers' ritual utterance after every terrorist outrage—that we shall never surrender to terrorism. We all know that the Government will never surrender to terrorism. What we want to hear from them more often is that we shall defeat terrorism. We want to see the Government taking the offensive against the IRA. It is reasonable to expect and to say that the IRA will not be defeated by military means alone, but there are better political ways of defeating it than appeasement of the Irish Republic and its "constitutional imperative" to take over Northern Ireland.
I am sorry that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland recently saw fit to say that, if only the IRA laid down its arms, a united Ireland would be possible. That is yet another illustration of the way in which the Government seem always to be appealing to the Republican minority in Northern Ireland rather than to the Unionist majority, whose views are constantly undervalued or ignored.
We have already heard several references in the debate to Ian Gow, murdered by the IRA, who sacrificed his career, and then his life, for the Unionist cause. He was my dear friend. He was a strong opponent of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. He was generally recognised as one of the best parliamentarians of his generation, displaying not only courage but great political skill and judgment in the causes that he served in the House.
Is it enough for us to lament Ian's passing, pay tribute to his qualities and then pass on to other things as we do for colleagues who die from natural causes? He was struck down by vile assassins. In doing what it did, the IRA was striking not only at him but at every Member of the House and at parliamentary democracy. Is it sufficient merely to bemoan our loss? Should we not marvel at the excellence of the cause that inspired such a man to lay down his career, and ultimately his life? Should we not seek to carry on his good work in this matter? Should we not strike back at the evil thing that deliberately destroyed such a life? Ian founded the Friends of Ulster, a trust established to remind the British people of the value of the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Such a cause is of even greater value in honouring his memory than a charitable trust.
I hope in due course to hear from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that the Government will at last give up their insane attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable but will, in future, adopt a policy of integration of the Province with the rest of the United Kingdom. That is a policy of which Ian Gow would certainly have approved.
§ Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston)
Two years ago, my speech in this debate took the form of an alternative Queen's Speech for women. I want to consider what has happened since then, after two more years of this Government who are so neglectful of women's interests.
The biggest thing that has happened is the poll tax, the most amazing feature of which is that it is levied on millions of women who have no income. Only this 379 Government could think of such a breathtaking idea. The Government have been boasting about independent taxation, but they have tied women who have no income completely to their husbands, causing them to be treated like appendages and burdens. The Government have penalised one-income families, most of whom have young children.
They have refused even to give women access to rebates in their own right, and they have forced an unprecedented number of people into debt and into the courts.
While all that has been happening, the Government have kept their eyes firmly closed to the misery that they have created. There is no mention in the Queen's Speech of that problem, and the Government have no intention of doing anything to relieve it.
In order to disguise their lack of commitment to women's issues, there has been some fanfare abut the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold), who is trumpeted as the Minister for women. Her actual responsibilities include animal welfare, Sunday trading, British summer time, inner cities and women's issues. The latter takes the form of chairing a ministerial group which has existed for some time, which was previously chaired by a man and which meets three or four times a year. That just about describes the sense of urgency that the Government feel about the issue. In contrast, the Labour party is committed to a proper and powerful Ministry for Women, headed by a Cabinet Minister. As well as introducing legislation, it will examine all Government policies and actions for their impact on women, and ensure alteration when necessary.
Another press fanfare greeted the Government's latest new earnings survey. We were told that women were closing the gap between their wages and men's. Closer examination reveals no cause for headlines. It is true that women's earnings grew very slightly more than men's between April 1988 and April 1990. However, average male earnings are £94.01 more than average female earnings. Women's earnings remain very much lower even when reckoned on an hourly basis, thus disregarding longer hours and overtime premiums. My calculations show that, on the most optimistic way of looking at the figures, the gap would not be closed for full-time workers for at least 22 years. I just hope that women will not be so patient.
My calculations take account only of full-timers, disregarding the basic flaw in the statistics which exclude many part-time employees precisely because they are low-paid. The lowest paid are simply not counted by the Government in the new earnings survey.
In case anyone thinks that large numbers of women work part-time because they do not need the money, I can state that it is precisely because women have responsibilities for children and other dependants that they seek part-time work. That same factor means that they need their wages—and better wages—very much indeed.
Part-time workers, temporary workers and home workers are being subjected to ever-worsening conditions as well as to low pay. The EC wants to improve the position of women workers, but this Government have set their face against all the EC initiatives. In particular, they opposed a draft directive on part-time work.
My union, USDAW—the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers—organises many part-timers. We have a slogan:Full-time rights for part-time workers.380 We know a lot about it and we are furious that the Government should have stated in evidence to a House of Lords Select Committee:While there are clearly advantages which some part-time workers suffer in relation to full-timers, it is possible to see this as a price which part-timers, in particular women, are prepared to pay for the opportunity to fit work into other commitments.Women do not voluntarily decide that they are willing to pay the price of poverty pay and insecurity. They do it because they have no alternative. Employers know that, and they take advantage of it.
The Government have also said that they prefer to leave such mattersfor voluntary agreement between employer and employee, either individually or through collective bargaining.Collective bargaining needs trade unions strong enough to face employers on equal terms. This Government have place every possible difficulty in the path of the unions, and they then have the nerve to call them in aid when opposing measures such as the EC draft directive.
The Government demand that employees show a reasonable level of commitment to an employer before acquiring rights against that employer. Those working eight hours but less than 16 hours a week must work continuously for the same employer for at least five years to qualify even for basic employment rights. The Government call for commitment by workers to employers. We ask: where is the commitment by employers to their workers?
Exactly the same story can be told about the draft directive on temporary workers. The Government have stated:Temporary workers do not necessary want the same conditions as permanent workers. They may prefer other advantages to those of security, such as flexibility to work when and how they wish.Temporary work with no contract is on the increase, and the main characteristic of the new temporary work is not flexibility, but simply the likelihood of being pushed around and then pushed out when that suits the employer.
In the past two years, no progress has been made on rights for part-timers, temporary workers and home workers. Over the past decade, their position has become worse, especially for those who have not yet joined a trade union.
Only this Government in the EC oppose a draft directive giving rights to parental leave. In March this year, on behalf of the House, I went to an EC women's conference in Brussels. The women from the other 11 member states felt tremendous anger against the British Government for depriving them of that improvement. That has done the reputation of this country no good at all in the eyes of the women of Europe.
The Tories parade themselves as the party of the family. However, when people throughout Europe, including Britain, were asked to choose the priorities for family policy, housing was top of the list. This Government preside over ever-increasing homelessness. When I spoke in the debate on the Loyal Address two years ago, homelessness was overwhelmingly a London problem. It is now nationwide. We have a housing crisis in Preston as a result of homelessness and Government attacks on council housing. Women are suffering agonies because they have no home for their children. Anyone really concerned about families would ensure that they had decent homes.
The availability of child care was second in the list of people's priorities for family policy. Again, Britain's 381 record under this Tory Government is deplorable in that regard. There has been one small improvement, with the abolition of the tax on workplace nurseries. That was important more for its principle and potential than for any mass effect, because very few workplace nurseries exist.
The Opposition welcome any good quality nursery provision. However, most of us would prefer to see local council provision so that changing a job does not mean having to change a child's nursery. What is happening now? The Prime Minister's favourite council, Wandsworth, is planning to close all its day nurseries. A mother might have to pay as much as £100 a week for a private nursery in Wandsworth. Even in Preston, the going rate is around £50 a week.
Training is another imperative if women are to have real equal opportunities. There is no national strategy for training of women. Indeed, the newest training scheme caused the chief executive of the Equal Opportunities Commission to express great concern at the discriminatory effects of the new arrangements.
Women going out to work can mean women improving their standard of living, getting job satisfaction and laying the groundwork for satisfactory long-term employment. However, too often it does not mean that. Too often, women are driven out to work by mortgages, rents and poll tax. They are struggling to maintain—not improve—their standard of living, often doing jobs that are damaging to health, working when they are over-stressed and worried about their children.
Health and safety at work is still too much seen in terms of accidents and not enough in terms of functional health. However, jobs such as supermarket checkout operator involve twisting, lifting one-handedly and repetitive movements which cause great strain to the back, arms and neck. But what can the Health and Safety Executive do with a total budget of £120 million and an inspectorate of 200 fewer than it had when the Government came to office?
A Government who were really concerned about women would make sure that there was good child care, good training, healthier work conditions and better pay for women. They would help unions instead of hindering them.
§ Sir Rhodes Boyson (Brent, North)
I welcome the proposed war crimes Bill. It is a matter of principle. Certain events in the Gulf, where war crimes may be happening again, make it even more topical then it was before.
The rights, freedoms and responsibilities about which I am concerned are those about which my constituents are also concerned. One responsibility is the state of the environment, as my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Durant) mentioned. The Gracious Speech states:My Government will continue to work for the regeneration of our cities.We allowed the destruction of the inner city, and that has occurred over 20 years. Unless we are careful, we shall destroy suburbia at the same time by overbuilding, 382 destroying sports fields, and back-garden development. In 20 years we will ask, "Why did we not stop it before it got into this state?"
The Government should take note of three simple issues which I have mentioned before and all of which are supported by hon. Members from my area, irrespective of party affiliation, and by hon. Members from big cities. First, no house should be allowed to be knocked down without planning permission. One can knock a house down now and make it look like a bomb site and then apply to build something. To buy the peace, the application goes through. If we need planning permission before we build, there should be planning permission to knock down.
Secondly, it is against justice and against the little man and woman who have saved all their lives to own a house, that if a planning application goes through a local council there is no appeal by the little people who live round the area. However, if a planning application is turned down by a council, there is a right of appeal by the developer to the Secretary of State. That is against justice, freedoms and responsibilities.
Thirdly, no planning application should be allowed until people own the land concerned or until they have a letter saying that they agree to the development. Several years ago, in respect of people living in 700 houses, a planning application went in and the person concerned did not own one centimetre of land. The worry of the old people in that area was such that I had to go from door to door to settle them down before they were almost forced by salesmen at the door to sell at reduced prices.
In the area that I have the honour to represent, some of the things that housing associations are building are certainly worse than I have seen any councils build, apart from the fashion of the tower block. One evening in my constituency, I visited 150 people who were gathered because of a further development going on behind their homes. They lived in a housing development with hardly any garages or gardens—it was a window box society. They had done their best to make it better. They then found that a sports field behind them was subject to a planning application which would confine them in a concrete jungle and, to mix metaphors—why not, if one is enjoying it?—it was worse than the back-to-back developments of the 19th century.
There is a right to a decent standard of education. All of us know that there is a problem with education standards at present. If hon. Members do not know that, they must have been having no surgeries and not opening their letters. The Government have five things to do. The Gracious Speech states:My Government will continue to take action to improve quality in education.I thought that I should state where the Government should take action to help them along their way.
First, the seven-plus tests are good, but they should be made and conducted by teachers, not by an educational establishment which has hardly seen children for the past 20 years. Tests that take one and a half weeks, when the sadly demoted 11-plus test took two hours, and that come from outside are totally wrong. If we put six infant teachers in a room with six heads of infant schools. they could make the tests in an hour. They do not need £6 million and all the committees and bureaucracy that are attached to it.
383 Secondly, we need specialist schools for children aged 14 and upwards. All our competitors have such schools—Russia, Japan, Germany and Sweden, irrespective of their economic system. Such schools must be brought in. The Labour party destroyed the grammar schools which 75 per cent. of the population want back. They will not come back, but specialist schools should. Any party that takes up that suggestion, brings in specialist schools for pupils aged 14 to 18 and trains them for proper apprenticeships will have the support of masses of people in this country. Thirdly, I believe in grant-maintained schools, but every school in the country should have to vote on whether to become grant-maintained.
Fourthly, if we are to have three-year degree courses, we must maintain A-level standards. Fifthly, there must be an improvement in teachers' salaries. That matters more than buildings or anything else. We must have good teachers more than lower pupil-teacher ratios. Good teachers are more important than a reduction in the size of classes. Any teacher who can control 20 children can control 30 children. Those who cannot control 20 children would have a riot with a dead rabbit, and there is nothing we can do about that. One fears for the teachers who cannot cope inside the classroom.
In a debate on education in July, the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) referred to my views on the assisted places scheme as given in a review that I did for The Times higher education supplement. I explained that in at least one case the results were very different from what was intended. The hon. Lady kindly sent me a note that she was to speak, but, unfortunately, I had already left for a radio broadcast so I was not here to comment.
I fully support the assisted places scheme. Anything that one starts finishes rather differently from what one started. In that review I indicated how the differences work. I still strongly deplore the Labour party's stated policy to end the assisted places scheme, the remaining grammar schools, grant-maintained schools and city technology colleges, all in pursuit of an egalitarian, socialist education policy that was long ago long left behind by the rest of the world.
Another right is the right to movement. Twenty thousand people in my constituency travel by tube to London every day. The third biggest debate in my constituuency—I will tell nobody tonight what the biggest debate is; it has nothing to do with their Member of Parliament, incidentially—is about getting to work on time without having to set off early and getting back in time before the evening meal. We are creating a sandwich society. There are sandwich bars everywhere. Passengers never know when they will get into London, and they never know when they will get out.
I welcome the fact that transport investment has gone up to £16 billion over three years, which is £4 billion more than the previous three years and £2 billion more than we thought it would be last week. We need many more tube lines in London. It is not good enough playing around extending bits and pieces. If we are to get London right, four or five new tube lines must be built in the 1990s.
We should privatise British Rail, which is what I would prefer to do, or invest in it. We cannot leave it as a running sore for which the Government take responsibility. Yesterday, I was trying to get from Manchester to London so that I could be here today, but there was a guards' strike. The first train from Manchester to London was at 384 5.30. I could have walked to London in that time—I do not mind getting up at 6 o'clock in the morning. Fortunately, we have privatised British Airways, and there was no strike. In the case of British Rail, the customer does not matter, because the railways are still a nationalised industry.
I have two more minutes, I believe. On Europe——
§ Sir Rhodes Boyson
Just over one minute. I am obeying the Chair. I shall miss out something. Hon. Members will never know what I was going to say about Europe. They will have to wait for another speech.
In Brent, the money from the standard spending assessment has gone up this year from £190 million to £216 million, which is a 13.5 per cent. increase. Provided that the Labour party and the Liberal party in Brent behave properly, which would be a new experience, but there is still time for it to happen, because I have always believed in the forgiveness of sums—[Interruption.]—and the forgiveness of sins, and the salvation of men—and provided that those parties co-operate with the biggest party in Brent, which is the Conservative party, I believe that we can bring the community charge there down to below £400. If we can do that, people will be able to afford more sandwiches and to move their children to the grant-maintained schools more than they can at present, and then they will come and see me in the constituency to ask me my views on Europe.
§ 7.9 pm
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
As the hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) said, we may be living in a "sandwich society" in which one never knows when one is coming in or getting out, but no one could describe this as a "sandwich debate" because, as the hon. Gentleman found, hon. Members know when they are going to be cut off in midstream.
The debate is about rights and responsibilities. One right which is not protected in this House is the right of minority parties to be heard. We heard an interesting speech, lasting 50 minutes from the Labour Front-Bench spokesman, with a good deal of which I agree. Although an effective speech may be made in 10 minutes—the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) made such a speech—it is not possible to do justice in that time to the political philosophy of the Liberal Democrats in the matters facing the country. Therefore, I shall not attempt to deal with or even to refer to all the matters that concern us deeply. It is right to note that the public will be mystified when reading the report of the debate because there will be so little in it about the views of the Liberal Democrats, and they will comment on the fact that it is not possible to develop those matters.
I begin by referring to the speech within a speech by the Home Secretary on the merger between BSB and Sky. His scant regard for the illegalities struck a jarring note at the beginning of a speech in which he thought fit to take the official Opposition to task for their attitude to the poll tax. The fact that the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not think it odd that the Prime Minister had not notified him about the impending illegality was, frankly, bizarre. The Home Secretary shows himself more sensitive to certain breaches of the law than to others especially, it appears, when his friends are involved.
385 I submit that it is not in the viewers' interests for satellite television to be further disrupted now; nor it is is it in their interests to allow such ownership concentration in the long run as now appears likely. When a non-domestic satellite service can reach 15 to 20 per cent. of the total television audience, it should then be subject to the same ownership rules as other television services. Then, a level playing field will be achieved, the public will be protected from ownership abuse and those who have invested in the new services will be enabled to make a fair return. Unless the Government act, the merger threatens to undermine the Independent Television Commission before it has come into operation, and will mean that the Broadcasting Act 1990, which we spent so long labouring to put on the statute book last Session, will not be worth the paper on which it is written.
The Home Secretary did not touch on a further point arising from the merger—the threat to the D-Mac technology that is used by BSB. The technology has been developed in Britain. It has been supported by the European Broadcasting Union and has the potential to become the world leader for the new high-quality televisions of the future. The Government should underwrite the ownership of the satellites and the uplinking station, and reallocate the BSB frequencies. The terrestrial channels could be duplicated on those frequencies, using D-Mac. Thus, if they chose, people could receive the main services with far higher quality than now, and those with poor or non-existent reception would have the opportunity to improve their service. Alternatively, the frequencies could be handed to the BBC or jointly to the BBC and the IBA, which could run them on a public service basis. Channels could be designated for news, public information, sports, arts or education. It would be a tragedy for the future of British engineering and electronics if D-Mac technology were allowed to wither. Ministers must not allow their enthusiasm to promote News International's operations to damage Britain's and Europe's long-term industrial and broadcasting interests.
Most of this debate has naturally focused on the Government's proposals for the reform of the criminal law. That is scarcely surprising because we meet against an extremely sombre background of lawlessness and criminal outrage which is probably unparalleled in western Europe. I beg the Home Secretary not to underplay this by making trivial partisan points across the Floor of the House in our major debate of the year on this matter.
We have witnessed serious rioting in Trafalgar square, involving the wounding of many people—innocent passers-by and policemen alike. We have witnessed the devastation of Strangeways prison in Manchester. We have been shocked by the repeated suicides of young unconvicted people in our prisons, most notably at Armley in Leeds. Terrorists have struck down our citizens, and not only in the Province of Northern Ireland. In this country they struck down our colleague, Ian Gow, who was a valued Member of the House.
In the past year, the gravest miscarriages of justice have been revealed, with the wrongful imprisonment of our citizens coming to light after years and years of protest and investigation. We have had the highest recorded crime 386 rates in our history. We know that the public are showing a growing loss of confidence in the probity and effectiveness of some of our police forces.
It is against that appalling background that the Home Secretary's programme for the year must be judged. The Criminal Justice Bill is a major measure of reform. Much of it is to be welcomed. Because I am confined in the debate to 10 minutes, I do not propose to dwell on that Bill, except to make one adverse point. I regret that so much weight rests on the proposal to interfere with the income support arrangements in substitution for fines. That will place the burden of the penalty on innocent families, not on the criminal.
Against the background to which I have alluded, it is a sad comment on the Government's priorities that the Home Secretary himself gave so much attention to the War Crimes Bill. The right hon. Member for Aylesbury made the case against that Bill and I do not propose to repeat his arguments. Indeed, the case for such a Bill was comprehensively demolished in another place. The fact that it should now take up valuable legislative time seems a gross diversion of parliamentary effort.
In the two minutes left to me, I conclude by making an appeal to the Home Secretary—that when he approaches the matter of criminal law reform, he will recognise the structural defects of his own office and the fact that, by dividing the responsibility for law reform between the Lord Chancellor and nimself, and through his own Department's involvement not only in matters of law reform, but in the necessary maintenance of internal security, he must too often face a conflict of interest between the protection of human rights and of citizen's rights, and the maintenance of law and order.
I do not think that that is an appropriate structure of government. That is why I advocate that the right hon. and learned Gentleman seriously considers the possibility of establishing a Ministry of Justice, with full responsibility for law reform and the administration of justice. It is perhaps because we do not have such a Ministry that the Government have not introduced a proposal to enact the findings of the Law Commission and encode the entire criminal law in an Act of 210 sections. That would have made for accessibility, comprehensibility, consistency and certainty. In the words of the Lord Chancellor himself:It would have saved money and time at all levels.That would be a major contribution to the changes that we need if our criminal justice system is to be restored to effectiveness.
§ Mr. Robert Boscawen (Somerton and Frome)
This year, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will have some of the most important and major parts of the Government's programme to handle—in particular, the Criminal Justice Bill, to which the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) just referred. In particular, my right hon. and learned Friend intends to introduce measures to increase parental responsibility. I do not wish to dwell on that side, but I hope that he will also consider counselling of hard-pressed families, particularly families in which the marriage is in difficulties. When a couple splits up, it causes a great deal of pressure on the single mother and, in consequence, on the children. In many ways, that can affect the crime figures. So often, it is children from families under such pressure in the home who go wrong. My right hon. and 387 learned Friend knows as well as I and all other hon. Members know that rising crime among young persons is one of the saddest features of today's society.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that his colleagues whose duty it is to assist the creation of family centres do so? Family centres are a good idea, because they bring in the voluntary element as well as the National Health Service and local authority social services to counsel families who are in danger, before the trouble starts.
Several of my hon. Friends have mentioned what is perhaps not the most important but is nevertheless a worrying proposal in the Queen's Speech—that to reactivate the Bill on war crimes. My right hon. and learned Friend and his colleagues know that I do not like the proposal. I suppose that I am one of the few hon. Members in a position to represent the thousands of people in my generation who were front-line service men in the war, albeit at a junior level. Many of us witnessed or heard at first hand about the terrible it.roci ties that took place in central Europe 45 or 50 years ago. We saw more of such horror than perhaps most people have seen in a lifetime. It gave us many sleepless nights.
No one who took part in those terrible days at the end of the second world war would go soft on war crimes. But it is a mistake for Her Majesty's Government to introduce a War Crimes Bill which has retrospective effect and seeks to catch a few of those who remained in Britain or escaped here, as my right hon. and learned Friend said, to evade capture and trial for the atrocious crimes committed all those years ago.
I do not wish to rehearse the legal reasons and the legal and mechanical difficulties of obtaining evidence and identification, which were so well rehearsed in another place before the House rose last summer. They were all valid arguments. I am sorry that my right hon. Friends did not find those arguments overwhelming. I feel strongly that we should not resurrect those terrible atrocities now, rake over them before the courts, go through all the lurid details of the massacre of innocent people, and inevitably raise the demon of vengeance in certain people's minds, as we would be bound to do. We should say, "Let bygones be bygones; 50 years is a very long time ago."
We in the United Kingdom have nothing whatever to reproach ourselves for in the way in which we handled the Nazi criminals at the end of the second world war. First, we pursued and our leaders accepted for us a policy of unconditional surrender. By doing so, we were able to take absolute power to deal with the criminal masters of Nazi Germany, and we did so.
The war crimes trials were stopped after a few years, as my right hon. and learned Friend and others have said. Perhaps it is not understood why that was so. Those of us who were near at hand and saw the trials know why they were stopped. The inevitable sentence for murder in the British zone of Germany was the capital sentence, as it was in the United Kingdom at the time. In consequence, morning after morning, week after week and month after month, British soldiers had to lead a score or more of men and women to the gallows. That had a great effect on the morale of the people stationed there. We were as human then as we are today. The trials had more effect on us than on the indigenous population, who of course were interested only in their own survival in the terrible conditions of food, housing and heat shortages.
I ask the Government once again to reconsider their 388 policy, and not rake up the matter again. A great friend of mine who died earlier this year spent two years at Sachsenhausen outside Dresden. He was one of the two or three score British soldiers sentenced to the concentration camps for enabling Jews to escape through their wire into our camps and out into the world. He lived in indescribable conditions. I and my late colleague, Airey Neave, and others—I believe that Mr. Deputy Speaker, who has just left the Chair, was also one of them—helped those men when I first came to the House. We campaigned to give them extra help to overcome the indescribable difficulties which they suffered.
I went to see my friend, Mr. Jim Franklin, in January this year, as he was dying in incredible stomach pain caused by what he suffered in the concentration camp. He said to me, "Don't let them do it. It is all too long ago. Let's not rake up that wicked, evil past that we all suffered." I hope that my colleagues on the Front Bench will remember that view.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
I agree with the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen) that forgiveness is far more important than revenge. I am perhaps one of the few people on Opposition Benches who greatly regret the Government's intention to reintroduce the war crimes legislation.
Over the past 11 years when I have listened to Queen's Speeches, I have regretted what was in them and what was omitted from them. On this occasion I am most concerned about the omissions. Although today's subject for debate is rights, I should like briefly to put on record my anxieties about the situation in the middle east. I want to see Kuwait free and under democratic Government. I do not go along with all this heady stuff about a new world order, if the conflict is settled by the use of force.
Such a conflict would be just like any other war—ordinary people would be killed. It would be almost as pointless as the many other wars that have been proclaimed as wars to end wars. If we are to talk about some new world order, we must ensure that right succeeds as a result of peaceful means. That is why making sanctions work is one of the most important tasks. I do not mind if it takes a long time. We should be prepared to accept that it might take even up to five years. If a solution is found as a result of sanctions and peaceful endeavours, it will be far more worth while in the long term.
I understand why George Bush and our Prime Minister have reservations about sanctions. So long as they preside over greed societies, they must have reservations about how long they can persuade people to forgo profits on trade and make sanctions work. I wish that world leaders who talk about the use of force spent more time ensuring that sanctions worked. I welcomed the Government's action in expelling two Iraqi officials who appeareded to try to break sanctions. I hope that the Government are applying all the pressure they can to ensure that sanctions work.
If we are to talk about a new world order, we must ensure that we put principle and people's lives before profit. We should also remember that profit is part of the problem in the middle east. We have been only too happy to sell arms to almost any obnoxious regime and we should consider that seriously.
389 To make a new world order succeed, we must make sanctions work and tackle the issue of arms. We must make certain that the test ban treaty operates, so that we do not continue polluting the world with nuclear material. It is appalling that the Government should go ahead with a nuclear test on Wednesday. If we had any intent to make the non-proliferation discussions of a few months ago or the test ban treaty work, we should be prepared to forgo that test. I do not understand how anyone can believe that our Trident has a useful purpose or our test any value.
If we want a new world order, we must consider arms manufacture across the world. I welcome Labour's commitment to an arms conversion agency in the United Kingdom. The British Government should press the European Community to set up such an agency within the EC. We should also consider that issue in eastern Europe. Far too many people depend on making arms for a job. So long as we make arms in such quantities, we shall store up further conflicts for ourselves. If we are to talk of a new world order, we must eliminate the possibility of those conflicts.
We need to find alternative work for those involved in arms manufacture. We must rid the world of so many arms. It is sad how, first, are are procured by major powers, then sold second-hand to second-rate powers and, finally, find their way into the third world. Each time they are used for destruction and finally they may find their way to terrorist organisations. The United Nations or the EC should look hard at whether they can buy up those second-hand arms and take them out of circulation.
For most of the past 10 years I have been secretary to the parliamentary Labour party's civil liberties group. We have often tabled an amendment to the address, listing some items that we regret the Government have not tackled. During that period the task has got harder and harder. Our amendment, which has not been selected for debate, lists all our regrets at the Government's failure to act and the areas where they have acted wrongly in reducing civil rights. The problem is that the list that we should like to record has got longer, so that it is difficult to keep it within the 250 words to stay in order.
I cannot refer to all the items on the list, but I should like to refer to a few. There is a little in the Criminal Justice Bill, which I welcome, but not much. If we are to make our prisons work effectively, we must give prisoners far more rights. It is easy to give rights to people whom we approve of. The trouble is that we must give civil liberties to people of whom we least approve. That is a problem with prisoners. They are in prison to be punished, but we must ensure that they have a just system in prison. By the way we treat them, we must show how we want them to treat society when they are released. They must be told clearly what their rights are, the conditions for parole and the conditions that they must observe when they are out on parole. As the Bill progresses, I hope that I can argue further about that issue of rights.
It is sad that, during the past 10 years, we have not had a freedom of information Act. Many hon. Members talk proudly about how the new Select Committees work effectively. So many of their supposed triumphs involve getting information out of the Government. We should not need Select Committees for that. If we had a freedom of information Act, that information would be readily 390 available without the whole paraphernalia of Select Committees and without the need to convince Members that they are being useful because they tease out information from Ministers which should be freely available.
I agree with my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench that we should speed up trials. I realise that there is sometimes a conspiracy between some prisoners and their lawyers who tell them that they are better off on remand than convicted because conditions are supposedly better. Speedy trials are extremely important, particularly for those who are found innocent and should not have spent a long time on remand.
In particular, I should like to press the Home Secretary on what is happening in Manchester. It is regrettable that, following Strangeways, the Government have been unable to remove more remand prisoners from police cells. Some policemen like the overtime involved, although that presents the Greater Manchester police authority with the problem of paying for it. The Home Secretary must consider that. Many of the cells where remand prisoners are kept are unsuitable and cause major problems to the efficient running of the police stations. We should not be paying overtime to policemen who look after remand prisoners there. The Home Secretary should deal with that problem rapidly.
Several constituents with relatives in the Gulf have expressed their anxieties about the way in which the media have treated them. As someone in public service, I must accept a certain amount of media attention whether I like it or not, but I have a great deal of sympathy for my constituents who are under a great deal of pressure. I hope that legislation on privacy will be introduced in due course.
Why have not the Government included proposals to reform the private Bill procedure? Given that this is a slack Session it would have been possible to include such proposals in the Queen's Speech. I regret that the Queen's Speech does not do more to confer civil rights on all our people, particularly those who are already at a disadvantage.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
I welcome the Government's programme as set out in the Gracious Speech, including the War Crimes Bill. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen) will forgive me if I do not dwell on my reasons for welcoming that Bill.
I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be there to see this programme implemented and that she will still be there to implement the programme that will emerge from the Queen's Speech in the Parliament which will follow the next general election.
It saddens and distresses me to see respected Conservative colleagues venting their frustrations on the party for which they have fought for so long and with such distinction. Tearing ourselves apart in response to goading from the media can do no good to the party, the country or those who are behaving in such a destructive manner. Do they really imagine that a party that does not stay loyal and united behind perhaps the most successful and purposeful Prime Minister that the nation has known in peacetime this century will continue to command the loyalty of the people come the next election?
391 It is a peculiar kind of conceit that' imagines that this nation will admire disunity at a time of a threat to world stability and when the economic going gets rough. Will our forces in the Gulf be able to fight more steadfastly if their political leaders are in disarray? Will the tyrant Saddam Hussein be more easily removed if our leadership is divided? Will we be more able to stand up to the threat to our national sovereignty posed by those in Europe who want us to become part of a Euro-federal superstate where 80 per cent. of the laws will be made in Brussels?
I hope that common sense will prevail, that there will be no wounding leadership contest and that we can concentrate on implementing the programme set out in the Gracious Speech and on winning the next election.
The programme for this Session has been called thin—would that it were so. I fear that "other measures" are already proliferating, as will the European measures that are likely to keep us here night after night. If there were any thinness, I should welcome the opportunity for my right hon. and hon. Friend's to get out into the constituencies to communicate our policies better. If we did so, the public opinion polls would be substantially more in our favour.
Crime, particularly violent crime, destroys not only the victim, but the society in which it flourishes, because it engenders fear. Only a tiny proportion of elderly people are assaulted, but all elderly people fear to go out into the streets at night in case of assault.
§ Mr. Lawrence
I can remember no Government who have striven with more determination to take every reasonable step and opportunity to reduce crime, to strengthen the armoury of the law and the forces of law and order—sparing little expense. We now have more policemen, who are better paid, better equipped, better led and furnished with better laws, than ever before. We now have more courts, with more powers and better trained personnel.
Community involvement has been ensured through the neighbourhood watch scheme. A charter of rights for victims has been established. Community penalties are now widely used. There is the urban action programme. Now the Criminal Justice Bill advances the progress achieved several stages further and is most welcome.
I hope that the Criminal Justice Bill will frighten more potentially violent criminals from offending. They will be aware of the longer sentences to be given where appropriate. Those sentences will be further increased with the loss of parole for the sexual offender. If a capital punishment clause were added to the Bill, it would be even more frightening and more successful in deterring the violent offender. If we frightened the offender from offending, perhaps members of society would be less frightened of going into the streets.
The Bill will also affect the incidence of crime committed by young people, by placing a greater responsibility on parents. Although the average age of offending is rising, it still stands at only 16 years. It is too easy to blame teachers for lack of discipline: without parental responsibility and discipline in the home, teachers cannot hope to succeed. Both kinds of discipline are necessary.
392 However, we must be careful about trials involving children. If we intend to protect children from court appearances, we must be careful not to remove the right to question them properly. If we do that, we may find that innocent people are convicted through mistaken identity evidence that has not been properly investigated.
There is a manifest paradox about the crime figures. On the one hand, we have a record of action and achievement in introducing measures to control crime: on the other hand the criminal statistics are high, and in some areas they are rising. What is the explanation? The answer is there to be seen. Much more opportunistic crime is being committed, because people leave car doors, front doors and windows open. I do not know whether that is a reflection of a more prosperous society, but if fewer people left such doors open, we would not be talking about the increase in crime as recorded in the last quarter.
It is also important to consider how crime is reported in a free society. With better communications, and the police's more humane treatment of women who complain about assault, we must accept that more crimes are reported. Insurance companies now require that an offence should be reported to the police before they pay out. Obviously more crime is reported, but that almost certainly does not mean more crimes are being committed. Common sense on the crime statistics, should prevail, rather than the silly, simplistic criticism of the Opposition.
Do the Opposition have a better programme than ours? I listened carefully to the recipe of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) for less crime, but I am far from convinced, and I am sure that my constituents will share my doubts. I am doubtful whether elected police authorities would contribute to a better, more efficient and more effective police force, especially when the only purpose of electing them is to give those authorities more political control, particularly in Labour areas.
I have great difficulty in seeing how the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1989 would strengthen our fight against terrorism. I cannot see why it is necessary to have another independent police complaints authority when we already set one up under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984—especially when former or serving police officers are banned from membership. The commitments outlined by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook stopped short of spending any more money on law and order lest his right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Chancellor is angry with him.
It is unlikely that the prison system would be improved by the Opposition. Improvements were just as necessary when the Labour party was last in Government, but all it managed to do was cut capital spending by 20 per cent., while the prison population rose by 14.5 per cent. In its last election manifesto, the Labour party did not bother to mention prisons at all.
The Opposition have voted not only against the Prevention of Terrorism Acts, but against the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the Public Order Act 1986 and the Criminal Justice Act 1988. With that track record, how can the Labour party expect to be treated with any real credibility when it says that it will take law and order seriously? I do not find the Opposition's case convincing and nor will my constituents.
In the real world, we enjoy a free society only because there are laws that protect rights and help to enforce responsibilities. The question is, by what kind of criminal 393 justice system can we enforce those rights and protect them? The answer is that the system must have sanctions. Some of which need only be educational; others need to protect society; and some need to be so severe that they frighten would-be offenders from offending.
Such a system needs to have a balance and also the support of the people. I believe that the proposed programme is balanced, and I hope that we shall have sufficient time during the current parliamentary Session to go out to the people to explain how important this law and our achievement is.
§ Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)
I wish to talk about the right of people to have decent health care and the Government's responsibility to provide it. Two news items caught my attention last week. The first, in The Independent on Wednesday was headlinedNHS cuts 4,500 beds to save cash.The second one, in the Morning Star on Saturday described how leave for key staff in London hospitals had been cancelled.
The first headline referred to the crisis facing the national health service, which was brought on, not by inefficient management or overpaid staff, but by a Government who have deliberately underfunded the national health service for the past 11 years. The survey in The Independent included beds that had been closed purely for the lack of cash in the past financial year. All the managers who replied to the survey were clear on the key reason for the bed losses—to wipe out deficits by the end of the financial year, whatever the cost in pain and misery. The survey underestimated the number of bed losses. It included my own local health authority, Calderdale, and said that the bed loss was 76, but the actual number is 99.
The last time that the national health service faced such a crisis was in 1987. Then as now, there was a massive bed closure and the Prime Minister stepped in and ordered a review—the rest is history. We are now stuck with the dreadful National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990, with which nobody agreed but the Prime Minister and a few of her advisers. The Prime Minister based her model for new health care on the United States market structure. Early experience of that market-oriented model shows that it has abjectly and spectacularly failed.
In my health authority last week we heard that a new hospital that should have been built had been put back yet another four years. The excuse given was the slump in the property market that has forced the regional health authority to delay its capital programme. I do not believe that the Government seriously intended to build the new hospital, but they closed wards and a laundry to make way for it and have thus seriously damaged the service. The recent advice from local consultants is that because of those closures, waiting lists will rise to more than 1,000 in a year, and in the gynaecological department, 500 women will have to wait more than 12 months for treatment. Those closures have obviously caused a great deal of damage to the service and many people on waiting lists will become ill; some may even die.
My local example also shows that this year's bed closures could take waiting lists in England to more than I million for the first time in the national health service. 394 That is a disgraceful statistic for a Government who pretend to spend a lot of money on health care. I do not believe that the extra £2.4 billion—the pre-election bribe announced by the Chancellor—will do much to alleviate the crisis. The Government calculations assume an inflation rate of 6 per cent. If wage increases are 10.9 per cent., which is what they should be if staff are not to take a cut in pay, the calculation of any growth is worthless. I do not see why low-paid health authority staff should have to bail out a Government who will not fund them properly. Health authorities are expected to find an additional £210 million from efficiency savings—a Government euphemism for cuts.
The Government's privatisation programme in the health service has been a complete disaster and led to dirtier hospitals, poorer food and, in many cases, a lousy laundry service, which any nurse will say is disgraceful. The forthcoming Labour Government will end the system of compulsory competitive tendering in such services as catering, laundry and domestic services.
As time is short, I shall refer to the second headline in the Morning Star. It states:London hospitals have cancelled leave for key staff and reserved emergency beds for possible war casualties from the Gulf crisis.The Ministry of Defence initially denied that contingency plans for an emergency had been put into operation. However, today's edition of The Guardian carries a report thatBritain's naval hospitals have more than doubled the amount of space set aside for mortuary preparations … The hospitals at … Plymouth and in Portsmouth, have each turned a medical ward into a mortuary to allow them together to deal with up to 100 bodies each day.We have been told that if war breaks out in the Gulf a worst case scenario would be as many as 400 dead a day. Yesterday, the Secretary of State rejected any such suggestion. He said:Our determination would be to see casualty figures nothing like that figure at all.If the Secretary of State for Defence believes that, before he plunges this country into war, he has a duty to tell us his estimate of the number of casualties. How many body bags does he anticipate will occupy the new mortuaries in Portsmouth and Plymouth? Where will the victims of a modern war be treated and what will happen to the hundreds of thousands of civilians currently on the growing waiting lists?
The world has no shortage of enemies. If the Prime Minister and the Government want to look for enemies, they can look at poverty, hunger and disease, and find plenty. They could have joined in with Opposition Members in opposing Saddam Hussein years ago when we said that we should not increase export credits to that man. The Government have used double standards on the Gulf. We did not go to war when the United States invaded Grenada or Panama, the Soviet Union went into Afghanistan, Indonesia annexed East Timor, or Israel claimed Jerusalem as its capital city and continued to occupy Gaza and the west bank. The hypocrisy of a Prime Minister who can mouth platitudes on the sanctity of international law and the necessity of war trials when she has slavishly followed United States policy in Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador and Cambodia, is frankly sickening. The stench of such hypocrisy brings shame to our country.
395 If the Prime Minister takes this country into what will be a devastating war, let her at least be honest about the reasons. Those include self-preservation and her hope for the Falklands factor—then, as now, she was in deep trouble at home, as is the President of the United States. Another of her reasons is to protect the oil companies' interests and the west's determination to get its hands on the oil.
§ Mrs. Mahon
No, I shall not—I have only 10 minutes.
Everyone knows that this war is unnecessary and sanctions could be made to work. In The Independent today there is a letter from Staff Sergeant William Ghetti of the United States air force, which states:As each day passes, it is becoming more apparent that our primary mission is to protect the Saudi oil fields, with the restoration of Kuwait as a negotiable secondary concern. After all, we have not intervened in areas of less economic importance. The greed that drives our oil-based world economy has put us in the position that we are willing to risk our nation's sons and daughters in the quest for stable prices at the pumps.I agree with that staff sergeant, who is now in the Gulf.
The banging of the war drum is totally irresponsible. Either before or after a war, people with the right credentials will have to sit down and negotiate. It would be much better if we sat down and negotiated before the war, before hundreds of thousands of people get killed. Governments have a responsibility to stop such disastrous events taking place——
§ Mrs. Mahon
Conservative members who are heckling also have a responsibility, because they will not be returning in body bags or occupying mortuary wards in Plymouth or anywhere else, or adding to the queues in the national health service. I hope to God that the Government are not so desperate to be re-elected that they put their political survival before the lives of people in this country.
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)
I have a warm welcome for the paragraph in the Queen's Speech which stresses the Government's determination tocontinue to work with our Community partners … and … contribute constructively to the inter-governmental conferences on Economic and Monetary Union and Community institutions",because this country always has been and always will be part of Europe. More often than we should care to think about our involvement in Europe has been with arms and instruments of death. Now, thanks to the vision of a great Conservative Prime Minister of 50 years ago and to the political skills of some great European politicians, we have the finest chance ever to ensure that never again will our involvement in Europe be as an enemy of one European country or another.
That was part of the vision which swept us to power in 1979 and which gave us not only a majority of British Members of the European Parliament but a right-of-centre majority in that Parliament. It was that vision which impelled us into the Single European Act so that progress 396 towards a more effective European Community could be accelerated. And it is that vision that we should be idiotic to renounce.
Yet suddenly we seem to falter. We fought a campaign in the last European elections which for the first time suggested that the Conservative party was in doubt about our future in Europe—and we paid the price. We lost our majority in Europe and we now have to live with the socialist consequences of that defeat.
It is worse than that, however. In the early years of this Government we had close relations with the Christian Democrat majority; now we do not. Then we could count most of the time on the support of many other countries; now we cannot. I believe that that is because of an uncharacteristic attack of pessimism at the highest levels.
I hate the continual repetition of the idea that we cannot compete with the Germans or the French. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister paid tribute to the Nissan factory the other day, she said:It is a combination of British workmanship and Japanese management which is producing excellent cars".—[Official Report, 30 October 1990; Vol. 178, c. 866.]That struck a chill in my heart, for it is a recipe for a Third world economy if ever I heard one. We know that British management with British workers can take on and heat the world, and that is what we need to ensure in future.
I share the Government's determination to mould the European Community to a shape with which we can be comfortable, but we need to examine carefully how we do that. I do not believe that we can do it by putting forward excellent policies in a tone of voice that leaves us with no one else in our lobby. We cannot do it by attacking the European Commission either. It is the Council of Ministers which takes decisions, serviced by committees that meet in secret and are effectively accountable to no one.
I welcome the belated moves being made in this House to give us a better chance to advise Ministers before they go to a Council meeting and to scrutinise more easily the European Community's proposals, but I deeply regret the continuing failure to make effective the links between us and our Members of the European Parliament. We are the only EC member which treats our Members of the European Parliament as aliens from another planet. That is why I welcomed the calling of the assizes under my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell).
The Council of Ministers should be able to be called to account, and that must be by the European Parliament; and its committees should be open to scrutiny and called to account both by the European Parliament and by this House. Above all, we need the optimism to believe that Britain can compete and succeed in a wider Europe. We should have more British candidates coming forward for the European civil service, not fewer as is happening now. We should recognise the costs of being lukewarm about Europe and we should embrace with enthusiasm the opportunities that it can provide. We need to change our tactics to secure our objectives and we need to do so soon.
One of the problems about the European debate is the confusion about what is meant by sovereignty and citizenship. Lately, a report was published by a commission under the patronage of Mr. Speaker. Its topic was citizenship. It was a large commission—with hindsight, probably too large—and it set itself a difficult 397 task: to see how citizenship might be redefined and encouraged. The commission discovered much that was vital to the country and to this debate.
We found that young people want to know much more about what it means to be a citizen. We found that judges, Members of Parliament, civil servants, teachers and many others often have little or no idea about the effects on citizenship of the many international agreements that we have signed since the war. The international charter on human rights, the United Nations charter on the rights of the child and many other charters have made significant changes to the status of British citizens. The report urges action to ensure that those changes are widely understood. That would reduce enormously the number of occasions on which we are taken to European courts, because we would know what we were talking about.
The commission also made a series of recommendations to make it possible for every British citizen, starting with the young, to contribute through voluntary work to the society in which he lives. One of the themes of this debate is alienation—the isolation of one person from another, or one group from another; the isolation that persuades thousands of young people that it does not matter if they prey on other members of society; or which encourages groups to dismiss or harass others because of the colour of their skin or their accent or religion. There is also the isolation of parents who seem so turned in on themselves that they can abuse their own children.
How can we change all this? It is not a matter of penalties or of prisons. They play a necessary part in the framework of society, but if we are to change things we have to break down the barriers between our citizens which have been erected by ignorance and prejudice. By far the best way to break them down is to give our citizens, especially the young, the chance to serve others so that they can see for themselves what other people are really like. That way they can build up their self-confidence in dealing with other people and we can show them how to work together in a team. Isolation, ignorance and fear breed anti-social behaviour, and becoming involved in what my right hon. and learned Friend's predecessor called active citizenship is good for the volunteer, good for the cause in which he or she works and good for society.
I urge my right hon. and learned Friend to take seriously Mr. Speaker's commission's plea that a national debate be begun on citizenship and on active citizenship. I should also like to hope that the other measures to be laid before us will include charity law reform. A satisfactory system of protecting an ever more generous public against the possibility of fraud is long overdue and could be brought forward in a Bill to reform charitable law.
I very much agree with hon. Members who have said that we need a much more open society. We have become increasingly nervous of opening up the documents on which we construct our debates to public scrutiny, and that is demeaning to the public and extremely bad for those who have to make policy. I hope that we can become much less paranoid about documents; if they were open to the public, there would be fewer leaks, and we could conduct public debates in a better way.
Finally, as the Member for Mid-Kent, I cannot leave the Queen's Speech in which so much money has been given to transport without mentioning the high-speed 398 train. I was greatly encouraged by a distinguished article in The Times on Saturday by Professor Peter Hall in favour of the eastern approach to London. It is becoming increasingly clear that British Rail has totally misunderstood the arguments about freight and that Kent county council is beginning to understand the importance of those arguments. It is manifest that British Rail, even with the Government's present generosity, is highly unlikely to be able to make its existing proposal viable.
I am optimistic that, over the next two or three years, the penny will drop and that we shall find ourselves with a four-track railway capable of carrying continental freight by a method that will preserve not only the roads of Kent but those in the rest of the country from the vast inroads of heavy lorries. I look forward to the successful conclusion of a campaign that has occupied me and many of my colleagues for far too long.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)
Before making the speech that I told the Home Secretary about in an intervention, I should like to refer to the speech by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux). The right hon. Gentleman spoke warmly about the election as President of the Irish Republic of Mary Robinson. Mary Robinson has made overtures to Northern Ireland and has said that she is willing to meet people from both communities and to extend the hand of friendship from the Republic to Northern Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman did not reject that hand. That is important for future developments in Ireland and offers the possibility of peace and progress in both parts of the island.
The theme of the debate is rights, freedoms and responsibilities and that, too, is relevant to Ireland. Healthy rights and freedoms and the widespread taking up by society of its collective responsibilities are characteristics of a full democracy. Underpinning a full democracy is a universal franchise. Such a franchise is no guarantee of democracy, because some of the civil liberties that we have been discussing, the attitudes of society and the right to formulate and to express opinion relevant to the discussion that we had on broadcasting are all very important. However, the starting point is that everyone should have a vote. That is why the Chartists fought so strongly for the vote in the 19th century. They achieved it for men and at the beginning of the 20th century the suffragettes achieved it for women.
We came to recognise that full franchise is a birthright and we had to overcome technical difficulties to ensure that everyone was on the electoral register. If we remove that we shall take away one of the major justifying principles for the rule of law. I am not saying that the rule of law should not operate if democracy is imperfect, but that it should be furthered as democracy itself is furthered. Specific sets of circumstances are liable to arise under which the laws passed in societies without a full franchise strongly impinge on minorities which are unable to do anything about it through the exercise of the franchise. In such cases their protests may not always be kept fully within the rule of law but become intemperate and unjust, as are the actions of terrorists in Northern Ireland.
In Britain there is a general belief that we have finally guaranteed electoral rights and that the latest full expression of it is codified in the Representation of the 399 People Act 1985. But that overlooks the impact of the operation of the poll tax, which in this context can be looked upon not just as a poll tax per head, but as having to do with electoral registration and voting. Because of the operation of the poll tax, more than 600,000 people in England, Scotland and Wales are currently missing from the electoral register. That becomes evident when we look at the number of 18-year-olds estimated to be in the population. Such a disparity did not occur before the introduction of poll tax. It does not occur in Northern Ireland which does not have the poll tax.
In the Finchley constituency over the past two years, 8.5 per cent. of people have disappeared from the electoral register. I shall later argue that the Finchley model is being furthered by the Home Office in circulars that it is sending out to electoral returning officers. In what could still be an election year, the Gracious Speech should have included a promise to restore a full franchise on which the rest of the rights and freedoms depend.
It was evident from the start that the poll tax would undermine electoral registration. The very notion of accountability talked about by the Government showed that there was a link between the poll tax and registering to vote, not merely making use of the right to vote. Electoral registration numbers first started to fall in Scotland when the poll tax was introduced there and they later began to fall in England and Wales. It is likely to be a serious factor when the figures for the current registration are published in the provisional registers which are due at the end of November.
The principle of the poll tax and electoral registration being linked is clear. When the poll tax register is short of the people who hide in desperation because they cannot pay, it will be topped up following an examination of the electoral register. The two matters are closely connected and in many cases solidly interlinked.
We are beginning to see not just the principle of that operation but some empirical evidence that my argument is correct. In legislation, such things will occasionally pop through, sometimes almost unnoticed by the House. In the previous Session, the House passed the Caldey Island Act 1990. It was discovered that some monks and other inhabitants of Caldey Island were not correctly enfranchised and not paying their poll tax. Section I enfranchises the residents of Caldey Island and section 2 makes them pay their poll tax. That seems to he a recognition that there is some similarity between the two problems that have arisen. It came out in that minor legislation which, however, was important for the citizens of Caldey Island.
Home Office circular RPA 347 of 10 August begins to show something of the connection between the electoral register and the poll tax register. The circular contains instructions from the Home Office to electoral returning officers and paragraph 25 states:Where a person whose name was on the previous electoral register does not respond to canvass, and his name does not appear on the community charges register, it is recommended that the name should not be carried forward.In some cases, a person could be entitled to be on the electoral register and be on a poll tax register in a different constituency. An example is students who are resident elsewhere. If they have inadvertently left their names off the electoral register, they will disappear fairly quickly, because their names will not be on the poll tax register either.
400 On 23 October this year, the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) asked the Prime Minister:Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is now a case for turning the poll tax into exactly that—for taking the vote away from people who have not paid their community charge, and giving it back to them only when they have done so?"—[Official Report, 23 October 1990; Vol. 178, c. 187.]That astonishing remark was—even more astonishingly—supported by other hon. Members in an amendment to an early-day motion that I presented. They appear not to have appreciated the significance of what had been said: that people must pay a tax to be able to vote.
I am reminded of the recent election in Chile. To register on the electoral roll, people had to pay up to a month's salary on what resembled a British employment scheme. If such a tax were imposed in this country, we could find it obnoxious; having looked up our constitutional theory, we would argue strongly against it. Yet the poll tax provisions are very similar. Increasingly, those who are not on the poll tax register will not appear on the electoral register either.
§ Mrs. Mahon
I, too, was in the Chamber when the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) made his suggestion to the Prime Minister. My hon. Friend, like me, will have observed in the short time for which we have both been Members of Parliament that Back-Benchers often fly kites for the Prime Minister. Some months later, a Bill is presented that takes up the Back Bencher's suggestion, no matter how outrageous it may be.
§ Mr. Barnes
The significant feature of the kite flown by the hon. Member for Colne Valley was the fact that the Prime Minister did not promptly reject it, arguing—with a natural adherence to the democratic principles in which she is supposed to believe—that it flew in the face of the libertarian tenets that should lie at the core of a proud defence of the franchise; especially in a constituency such as Colne Valley, which has a tradition of liberal radicalism and democratic socialism.
The most important item of empirical evidence to support my argument is that which I cited earlier—the number of names that are missing from the electoral register. These things are difficult to judge, but one way of judging them is to compare the number of names on the register with the estimated number of people aged over 18. Until 1987, there was at least a rough and ready connection between the two, but after that the names start to disappear. It seems that some 1.5 per cent. of the electorate are missing from the current electoral register—at least 600,000 people.
It may be far worse than that, however. For some time, I have been trying to discover—by means of parliamentary questions—what is happening in Finchley, and whether the loss of 8.5 per cent. of the electorate is the end of the story. Have any more names disappeared? We may find out shortly. I shall signal a punch, so that the Prime Minister will not have a surprise on Thursday; when I ask my question, the state of the electoral register will not be far from my mind.
There are other blocks to electoral registration. For instance, the selling of the register for commercial purposes is considered as serious as any other factor, as is shown by the number of letters that I have received from people who read my recent letter to The Times. Some people do not want their names to appear on the register, fearing that they will be flooded with junk mail from 401 various organisations. The only way in which they can escape the problem is by withholding their names from the register.
People should not do that, of course, and I urge everyone who writes to me to maintain the basic rights without which it will be impossible for them to change the position. If they want to get rid of the poll tax, they will need the franchise. Some are so desperate, however, that they dispense with those rights, because they know that the time when they can change the position is all too far ahead. We should be digging out the principles established by the Chartists and the suffragettes which justified the militant activities that they undertook—principles that fly in the face of the Home Secretary's suggestion that the rule of law is a neat line, over which no one must ever venture. If the principle of the electoral register is being undermined, surely different possibilities may present themselves.
We spend a miserly amount on encouraging enfranchisement, compared with what is spent on general Government publicity. In 1989, £320,000 0.31 per cent. of expenditure—went on encouraging people to take up their electoral rights, while Abbey National alone spent £6.5 million on encouraging people to vote in a plc election. It could not tell them which way to vote, of course, although what it wanted was obvious; nevertheless, it spent all that money encouraging them to use their enfranchisement rights within a single company. Similarly, we spend a fortune publicising the electricity privatisation. Where is the equivalent of "Frank N. Stein" and his cuddly monster to encourage people to take up the most basic right in a democratic society?
If it were purely random, the loss of franchise would have no impact on the outcome of elections. It would be serious enough for the right of individuals to have their say to be removed, but if, say, every 10th person happened to be missing from the register, the political consequences might not be too alarming, and matters could probably be put right afterwards. The people whose names are missing, however, are those who cannot pay the poll tax—people who are frightened of it, and who therefore have the strongest objection to its imposition. They would not vote Conservative if they had a vote. There are civil libertarians, bothered about the possibility of commercial organisations having access to their names and addresses. They cannot be seen sitting in solid ranks on the Conservative Benches. It is therefore to the Government's advantage to push through measures that result in a fiddling of the franchise.
§ Mr. Barnes
According to the evidence that I have obtained from the Library, the loss of voting rights is most serious among "attainers"—those coming up to the age of 18. If people are missing from the electoral register, it is theoretically possible to refer to the previous register to find them, but attainers will not be on any previous register. The figures show that in England, Scotland and Wales the loss of names is far greater in that age group.
In Northern Ireland, which does not have the poll tax, more attainers than ever are now registered. The Northern 402 Ireland franchise is highly efficient and democratic. Of course, the problem in Northern Ireland is that the population has nothing much on which to vote. They do not have the right major political parties about which to make a choice. They do not have a Bill of Rights and they do not have the right provisions to ensure that a democracy is properly run. But at least they are on the starting block, whereas in England, Scotland and Wales the starting block is being chopped from under the population.
I strongly opposed the extension of the vote to expatriates, some of whom left this country up to 20 years ago. Some of them were only babes in arms—yet they will have a vote that will give them a say in the running of this country. Those votes will be distributed to different areas under a system that will be wide open to abuse. Instructions have been sent to electoral returning officers by the Home Office. Luckily, despite all the efforts of "Conservatives Abroad" trying to persuade people to register, not many have yet done so. Nevertheless, the position must be closely monitored as potentially some 3 million people could be included on electoral registers under that system.
Parliament should wake up to that fraud. It is a "grab-what-you-can" attitude, with none of the usual principles of democracy. If Parliament accepts that, we can only appeal beyond the Chamber to the public to take action, be vigilant and put matters right. They must protest and pressurise about the decline in the franchise. When they have the opportunity to vote, even with a shrinking electorate, they must use that vote to change the system and restore the franchise. Conservative Members, whose Government have introduced these measures, have a special responsibility to examine their consciences. They were elected on a full franchise, and they should stand again on a full franchise.
The fact that, currently, only 1.5 to 2.5 per cent. are affected does not alter the position, because in the British electoral system that could have a significant impact on the results. Is it not true that the Prime Minister's main hope for holding on to Finchley is that the franchise has been shifted and fiddled so much that she might just be re-elected? It is disgraceful.
The long march to democracy, which we thought had gone much of the way, has now been halted and, in some ways, put into reverse. When I was elected in 1987, I did not dream that I would have to stand up in this Chamber, time and again, and press for one person, one vote. This is the first time that I have done so in the presence of the Home Secretary, but I have done it many times in the presence of his junior Ministers. There are those who believe in one person, one vote, one value, and they argue for proportional representation. Not many of them are here tonight—indeed, there is no one on the Liberal-Democrat Benches. If they believe in one person, one vote, one value, they should argue for a full return to the franchise. We cannot have one value if everybody does not have the right to exercise his vote.
The loss of 1.5 per cent. of the electorate is much more damaging under a first-past-the-post system than it would be under a proportional representation system. One reason why I am becoming more sympathetic to proportional representation is that the fiddling that could occur under that system would have less significance. However, I remain opposed to certain aspects of 403 proportional representation, such as the single transferable vote in a multi-member constituency. We must stand up for democracy. I hope that the Home Secretary listens carefully to what we say and responds to it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) referred to the Gulf crisis. I did not manage to speak in our previous debates on that matter, even though I have a great interest in what happens in Iraq. Some considerable time ago, between 1954 and 1956, I did my national service in Iraq. I worked with the Iraq state railway. I was stationed in Basra in the south of Iraq, an area which has been prominent in the moves against Kuwait. Certain aspects of Iraq today are similar to those prevalent in 1954 to 1956. I wish to relate two incidents that had a major impact on my political opinions and views on the current position in the Gulf.
Shortly after arriving in Iraq, I was moved by train from my camp at Habbaniyah to Basra. I travelled on the old Berlin to Baghdad railway, which had been extended to Basra. The train travelled slowly, and on the outskirts of Baghdad I saw the mud huts, the mud streets, the open sewers, the flies and the general deprivation. It was quite a shock to an 18-year-old; the reality is far different from the pictures one sees on television. It appeared to be mediaeval and biblical.
After a bloody coup in Iraq involving the then President Kassem and the death of King Faisal, there was an improvement in the suburbs. Brick houses were built and electricity and proper sewers were installed. Despite all the problems with Kassem's regime, he at least did something about providing housing for the working class and the peasantry of Iraq. I understand that fresh suburbs with mud huts and all that goes with them have now re-emerged around Baghdad because Saddam Hussein has used his financial resources only to extend his military hardware and to develop his empire. The Iraqi people and the people of the middle east generally, with the exception of the favoured few, need decent social provisions and the democracy that should go with it.
I left Iraq in the middle of the Suez crisis. I wondered whether I would be drawn into it. I remember listening to the BBC overseas network on the camp radio. It said that there were no British troops in Iraq, only a handful of military advisers. In fact, there were 3,000 troops as well as some modern aeroplanes. Obviously, there was a danger that we would be drawn into the Suez conflict. That conflict involved collusion between the United Kingdom, France and Israel and showed me the incorrectness of our imperialist interference in that area. During King Faisal's period, Crown territory at Shaiber, Habbaniyah and Basra was returned to the Iraqi Government. It appeared that we were finally pulling out.
However, we are now fully involved. The lessons from those two experiences are that it would be disastrous if American, British and French troops were to move into Kuwait, even if it were a quick strike like the six-day war by the Israelis and there were a quick military victory. The consequences would be horrendous for the middle east. Governments would collapse left, right and centre. The Jordanian Government would fall into the arms of Saddam Hussein, war would break out with Israel and the middle east would be open to more undemocratic forces, as the Muslim brotherhood and others would bound forth.
We must seek to stop that. If action is to be taken in the middle east, it must be with the agreement of the international community and under United Nations 404 control. I recognise that the presence of troops can aid the process of economic sanctions, but they can have the terrible consequence of leading to bloody conflict.
§ Mrs. Mahon
Like my hon. Friend, I wanted to speak in the two-day debate on the Gulf, but was excluded, it would seem, purely on the basis that I am female. Does my hon. Friend accept that people who are closely connected with the hostages and those who have returned also want negotiations and some settlement without armed conflict? All those who have returned, almost to a person, have said that they very much regretted the Prime Minister's warlike rhetoric.
§ Mr. Barnes
Public opinion is changing. Minds are being concentrated on the possibility of our troops dying. The hostages have been used outrageously by Saddam Hussein. His regime is evil and many of the other things that are said about it are correct, although if it fell in the circumstances that I have described, a decent, new democratic regime may not blossom forth.
We need more debate and discussion on the issue. I am sorry that hon. Members have not had an opportunity, apart from the two-day debate, to discuss this fully arid thoroughly, but instead have had to pinch time out of a debate about freedoms and democracy. As many hon. Members as possible should use the Chamber to express their views on the major issue of the hour, and I hope that we shall get some response.
§ Mr. David Amess (Basildon)
I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department on the robust fashion in which he articulated the rights, freedoms and responsibilities that Conservative Members believe in.
The subject that we are discussing is at the core of the differences between both sides of the Chamber. The Opposition have a different view from Conservative Members on the relationship between the state and the individual. I warmly welcome all the proposals in the Queen's Speech, including the War Crimes Bill.
Several Opposition Members felt that they had to refer to the leader of our party. On Wednesday, the Leader of the Opposition made what I thought would be a major speech. For five minutes he held the House, but for the rest of the time he was absolutely atrocious, resorting to personal abuse of Conservative Members and giving absolutely no detail about policy. This time last year, I said that the Opposition could not get away for another year without articulating their policies. I admit that I was completely wrong. Whatever the issue, the Opposition's answer is to spend more money. How they will create the wealth to sustain the extra spending, we are yet to hear.
Labour Members had the cheek to speak of inflation and interest rates. When they shared Government with the Liberal party, they were not concerned about interest rates or the rate of inflation, but now they have the cheek to lecture us.
Labour has tabled three amendments to the Address. The first deals with education. Where was Labour's support for freedom and choice in education when Shirley Williams was Secretary of State? I certainly do not recall it.
The second amendment deals with Europe. The Labour party has the cheek to lecture Conservative Members 405 about Europe. In 1962, it was in favour of Europe, but in 1964 it opposed it. In 1966, it was in favour of Europe, but in 1971 it opposed it. In 1975, it was in favour of Europe, but in 1983 it opposed it. Surprise, surprise, in 1990 it is in favour of Europe. A cynic would say that it cuts its cloth to suit the way in which it believes people are thinking. I am a cynic, and I believe that it is just talking on Europe because it thinks that there will be short-term political gain in doing so. The Government legislate not according to short-term popularity but according to what we think is in the long-term interests of Britain. I believe that the nation will continue to support us in our endeavours.
This has been a good few weeks for the constituency of Basildon. First, I was delighted that the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister for Housing and Planning announced that the pilot scheme for changing rents into mortgages would be held in Basildon. The scheme will give many constituents the opportunity to fulfil their lifetime ambition of owning their home. Again, we see the duplicity of the Opposition on home ownership. Labour and Liberals voted against every word and line of the legislation on home ownership. When in 1979 and 1983 they realised that it was popular, they changed their mind. As interest rates have increased, they do not think that home ownership is such a good thing. We are consistent because we believe in home ownership.
Secondly, Basildon has the first grant-maintained school in Essex, Chalvedon school. That is giving parents an opportunity to take full advantage of the direct funding of the Government. Thirdly, the local Labour party set up area management committees, which are supposed to listen to the views of the people and act accordingly. On their agenda was the proposed development of a Tesco superstore. More than 200 people turned up at the meeting; 197 were against the proposal and three were for it. What did the democratic Labour party do? It approved the plan for a Tesco superstore in Basildon. I am delighted that this democratic Government, through my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, has decided to call in the plan.
Fourthly, we were delighted with the local government finance statement. Last year, Basildon district council was 196 per cent. above the standard spending assessment—twice as much as any other local authority. The council now tells us that it has the finance to pay only the interest charges on the debt that it has accumulated and that it can meet the cost only of administering the community charge. I fully support the community charge. It is reprehensible that any hon. Member should decide not to pay it.
Fifthly, we have the "I love Basildon" campaign, which has not cost the charge payer any money. It is about telling the good residents of Basildon that we have created a fine town and that we wish it to remain litter-free, graffiti-free and vandal-free. I am delighted that, last week, the Princess of Wales came to Basildon to open part of St. Luke's hospice. Within six years, local residents have raised more than £800,000 through jumble sales and tombolas. The Princess of Wales brought joy to many of my constituents. At the end of her visit, she launched the "I Love Basildon" song, which is about our town. We invited local residents to compose the tune and perform it. It is performed by the guides and the profits from the 406 record will go towards St. Luke's hospice. We were delighted that the Princess of Wales launched the song, and I very much hope that it will become a No. 1 hit.
In deference to my three colleagues who are waiting to speak, I shall move on quickly. I warmly welcome all the proposals in the Gracious Speech, but especially that concerning parental responsibility. It is sad that 15 is the peak age of offending. Many of the children have parents who are in difficulty. I fully understand that and recognise why the behaviour of those children is not exactly as we should wish it to be, but I cannot accept that every delinquent child comes from a broken home.
All of us as Members of Parliament have people who attend our surgeries—often they are elderly people—complaining about disturbances outside their flats or houses caused by young people. All those children have parents. It is not good enough to send one's children out to play outside other people's homes. With no cost to the charge payer or the ratepayer, every Member of Parliament is beholden, on a bipartisan basis, to encourage more parental responsibility.
I welcome the proposals, especially those dealing with children between 10 and 15, in the Criminal Justice Bill. I welcome the proposals that will require courts to order parents to attend court unless it is unreasonable to do so. When young people are convicted of a criminal offence and the courts decide to impose a fine or make an order for compensation of costs, the courts must order the young people's parents to pay, unless it would be unreasonable to do so. I welcome the proposals in the Bill to strengthen the impact of that order. The Bill will make it beyond doubt that, in deciding upon the level of payments to be made, courts must take account of the parents' means and not just the means of their children. It will make it clear that, in assessing the amount of compensation or a fine, the courts will not be bound by the juvenile's means.
I welcome the extension of community service orders to cover 16 and 17-year-olds. I congratulate the Home Office team on deciding that it will no longer be necessary to keep the sentence of detention in a young offenders' institution for girls under 18. That sensible package will be applauded throughout the country.
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) mentioned a constituent, Terry Marsh. He lives in Basildon and my remarks are certainly not made at his behest. He welcomes the fact that British justice has now seen that he has been cleared. But Terry Marsh was in detention for 10 months, which is a long period, and several people have asked how that case came to court on the basis of the evidence provided. I applaud all the local police in Basildon. When I became a Member eight years ago, there was one police station. There are now three—in Pitsea, Laindon and Basildon—and they are doing a magnificent job. In three weeks' time, the Lord Chancellor will come to Basildon to open a new magistrates court. If all Members of Parliament, regardless of their political party, supported the work of our police force, crime prevention and detection would be much more effective.
Our rights, freedoms and responsibilities will always be preserved by the Conservative party and the Conservative Government, but from what I have heard in the debate, they will certainly not be preserved by the Labour party. On Europe, the Conservative party is on the side of the 407 angels. Eastern bloc countries, which we would welcome to the EC, have rejected socialism. I believe that the British people will continue to do likewise.
§ Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks)
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate. I shall try to be brief so that my two hon. Friends who wish to participate have time to speak. I would say to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) that in this debate on rights, freedoms and responsibilities, many of us would regard it as among our first responsibilities as Members of Parliament to ensure that we pay our Taxes. Whatever side we are on—whether as Labour Members who disagree with the community charge or as Conservative Members who disagreed with the high rates of taxation suffered by the whole country under a Labour Government—we, above all people, should pay our taxes.
§ Mr. Hague
I am afraid that I shall not give way because the hon. Gentleman had half an hour on this subject, which is more time than is available for three of us on the Conservative Benches. No doubt we shall hear many more half-hours of speeches from him on this subject.
I should like to support two measures promised in the Gracious Speech that should strengthen the sense of individual responsibility throughout the country—one is the Criminal Justice Bill and the other is the road traffic legislation, which I know is not within the direct responsibility of my hon. Friend the Minister, but I shall refer to some aspects that relate to Home Office matters. Those matters were debated on Friday.
I warmly support those Bills, but I wish to draw attention to the difficulties that we face in ensuring that certain groups of young people live up to the responsibilities that the law places on them, and to point out that, although the measures proposed will help to combat the problems of under-age drinking and driving and the general incidence of teenage crime, still more action may need to be taken in future.
The road traffic Bill includes some welcome provisions. We have probably all been visited in our surgeries by the relatives of people who have been killed by drunken drivers—drivers who have subsequently received what seemed to be derisory fines and penalties. A prison sentence of up to five years is an appropriate penalty and I hope that it will be used to the full by the courts. There is a case for considering still longer periods for which to withdraw a person's driving licence, and the provision for a new test to be taken before a licence is reissued is an excellent idea.
I suspect that the considerable problem of under-age drinking when driving will remain. That is because in many licensed premises it is fairly easy for people under the age of 18 to obtain alcohol, just as it is easy for those under the age of 16 to obtain cigarettes elsewhere. It may seem churlish to criticise those involved, but when the wide availability of alcohol is combined with a recently passed driving test, the consequences can he terrible.
I raise the subject for a constituency reason. My constituents in Wensleydale in north Yorkshire have recently been shocked by a series of road accidents associated with under-age drinking and driving in which 408 16 and 17-year-olds have suffered horrific injuries. For a while, victims' friends and local communities may reflect on those matters and act more carefully, but after a few months, all is forgotten and the same thing is likely to happen again. There is a particular problem in rural areas, where alternative forms of entertainment are sparse, where policy resources are stretched and where roads are unlit and dangerous in winter.
I should be the first to accept that it is not easy for us in the House to protect people from the consequences of their own actions, but I think that we can do more to help in the future. The measures announced in the Gracious Speech will help by making far more serious the personal consequences of drink-driving, but we also need a stronger effort in many schools and, possibly by Government Departments, to combat under-age drinking and driving. Over the years, campaigns on smoking, drugs and AIDS have succeeded in making an impact on people in their late teens. It may be time to give more attention in public health campaigns to alcohol and, in particular, to its connection with road accidents involving young people.
Some of my constituents, including many pub landlords, believe that the answer to the problem lies in some form of identity card. The landlords argue that they frequently serve alcohol to 16 and 17-year-olds because many of them look 18 and because they have no means of knowing for sure how old they are. I suspect that there will be many years of debate in the House before any decision is made to introduce national identity cards, but the potential for helping with under-age drinking is definitely one argument in favour.
The other measure in the Gracious Speech that should lead to an improved sense of responsibility is the Criminal Justice Bill, although I have some reservations about the progress that we are likely to make in reducing crime among the teenage population. There is no doubt that many of the provisions of the Bill will help. They include the doubling of the number of hours of community service that may be imposed on 16-year-olds and the general use of community service orders—for many young offenders an option far superior to prison, which clearly does not do many people a great deal of good and does not turn them away from crime.
Curfew orders, fines more related to the ability to pay and the increased power of courts to hold parents responsible for the actions of their children are undoubtedly good ideas, as is the attempt to ensure that prison sentences are for the most serious crimes while other measures, such as fines and community service orders, are deployed against more petty offenders.
I am not sure, however, that those measures will be sufficient in the long term to cope with a small class of persistent offenders in the teenage population who, in recent years, have blackened the reputation of their generation and undermined public confidence in the ability of the police to ensure that law and order are maintained.
My constituents and others in the north of England, including police officers, tell me that, in some areas, more than half the crimes are committed by people under the age of 17 and that those in that age group are particularly heavily involved in the theft of cars. In one area, I have heard about gangs of an average age of 16 who go out to steal cars each evening. Having stolen a car—usually of the more sporty, high-powered variety—they don ski masks and cruise past the police station blowing the horn and inviting pursuit. We are being naively optimistic if we 409 think that restraint will necessarily be imposed by parents. I am told that, in that same area, parents of children under the age of 17 send their children to break the windows or steal the car tyres of people against whom they hold a grudge. Perhaps the provisions off the Criminal Justice Bill will help to deal with that.
There is a danger that a sort of professional criminal class will develop among the teenage population. I accept that custody is not necessarily the answer to that either. In many instances, young people can immediately produce a business card with the details of their solicitor when caught. Public confidence in the rule of law is reduced because of the difficulties that the police have in catching people who commit those perhaps petty but often repeated crimes. The real danger to public confidence sometimes arises when such persistent offenders are caught.
As one of my constituents wrote to ask me, what are we to do when persistent young offenders who are known to be such in their areas are not remanded or ever taken into custody even after many warnings and fines that are then followed by more offences? I absolutely agreed with my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison). He drew attention to the continuing role for deterrence. We sometimes forget about that. One of my constituents wanted to know what is to be done when a young offender is to appear in court, and knowing that he has nothing to lose because new offences committed since the notice of the intended prosecution will be ignored, embarks on a so-called crime spree. My hon. Friend the Minister may tell me that such things do not happen very often. However, many people believe that they do happen and that belief alone damages confidence in the courts and in the police.
While I congratulate the Home Office on its proposals, how confident are my colleagues in the Home Office that their planned changes will not make it even easier for young offenders to seem to get off lightly even after a long string of offences? The penalties imposed in those cases must be seen to bite. We must ensure that community service orders are sufficiently long, curfew orders sufficiently strict and parental fines sufficiently heavy to make an impact on that group of young people. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to assure us that the effect of the combination of those measures will be monitored and carefully researched and that the Government will be ready to tighten the measures further if the need arises in future.
§ 9.5 pm
§ Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)
Perhaps I can assist the hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) in his researchers. He might care to visit Massachusetts and consider the experiment carried out there many years ago which reduced juvenile crime and recidivism greatly simply by acknowledging that some juveniles are delinquent and that they should be taken out of the system at a very early age and then rehabilitated back into the system. However, that requires money and investment.
The new Criminal Justice Bill lacks any provision to deal with a growing scandal about which I have spoken to the Minister privately—the young people who kill 410 themselves in our prisons. Inquests are held week in and week out. Prison suicides are increasing. We must ask ourselves why that is happening.
The press releases issued after the Queen's Speech announced with pride that the prison building programme was to have three of its proposed sites chopped out—one at Fazakerley, one in mid-Staffordshire and one elsewhere. It was stated that there would be enough room within the present prison system. We have the most disgraceful prisons in Europe. The conditions are appalling; people kill themselves there. But nothing is being done about it.
There is only one way to deal with the Armleys of this world, and that is to bulldoze them. If we are to have prisons, they should be used intelligently and, for goodness sake, they should be made hygienic. At least then we might begin to rehabilitate people instead of turning them from petty criminals into potentially professional villains who can only harm society.
If a little common sense is used and we invest in ascertaining the potential delinquents at an early age and try to rehabilitate them, and if we then find that there are people whom we must send to prison—I am not soft on crime and punishment—at least we will send them into humane conditions and we might rehabilitate them. We might at least put them somewhere where they can learn a trade or become educated and are not locked up 23 hours a day idling the hours away, spending their time talking to a cellmate and learning how to do the job better next time.
We delude ourselves by playing the endless turne of making sentences longer and then trying a new kind of punishment such as keeping people contained in their houses. That is a load of garbage. We already know that the tagging system cannot work. The tags go off as a result of interference from all kinds of external sources.
There is just one thing missing from the Queen's Speech. What do the Government intend to do to recreate a manufacturing base in this country? They will not encourage industry with high interest rates. They might have fallen a point and they might fall a couple of points more as we approach election day, but what are the Government going to do? What will they do to encourage inward investment instead of allowing capital to flow out like water through a sieve, as has happened for the past 12 years?
Perhaps the Minister of State might indulge me with the answer to one question that has baffled me for the past two months since I read it in a Dublin newspaper. How is it that the Republic of Eire, without vast oil resources or the hundreds of billions of pounds that we have had to throw away in the past 10 years, with an agriculture-based economy, with a migrant work force, and with no industrial base and skills, can arrive in October this year at an inflation rate of 2.8 per cent. while we, with all that oil money, landed up with an inflation rate of 10.7 per cent.? Could it have helped our economy not to have had the oil and, for once, to have learnt something from the Irish?
§ 9.9 pm
§ Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)
I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, the police and all those involved in the arrests and the discoveries in north-west London earlier today. It is the breakthrough for which we have been waiting for several months. We are delighted, and we hope that it leads to convictions.
411 There are many Bills in the Gracious Speech that I would welcome, but first I single out two rather complex Bills for which we have been waiting for some time: first, to revise the planning system and, secondly, to improve the assessment, collection and enforcement of maintenance payments—verymuch the theme of this debate. Two nuggets that I also welcome are the provision of a second Severn crossing in the south-west, which will help my constituents and industry near my constituency, and, at long last, the implementation of the Home report to reform procedures for street works so as to ensure that utilities dig up the roads in a consistent and co-ordinated way.
With regard to crime and related matters, I welcome the Criminal Justice Bill. I also welcome a piece of legislation for which I believe the Department of Transport is responsible, to toughen the penalty system for drink drivers who kill. In my constituency much concern was caused by the tragic death of a teenager, Joanne Cruwys, and the rather paltry sentence that was meted out to the man who, while very drunk, killed her. That matter was referred, under legislation that the House passed some years ago, by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General to the Court of Appeal. As a newspaper article stated last week, the gaol term and the ban from driving were extended. I welcome that and I look forward to legislation to ensure that we do not have to go through such a palaver and that parents and families do not have to go through the agony of seeing such matters prolonged.
As we implement what is contained in this commendable Queen's Speech we shall also be preparing our programme for the next Parliament. This Parliament has seen legislative revolutions in many aspects of our national life. Some of the measures that we have passed still await full implementation—for example, electricity privatisation and national health service reform. The jury on those matters is still out.
My constituents, like many others in the west country, are suspicious of drastic, rapid and frequent changes. They are not always carried along by rhetoric. They want to now thke bottom line—"How much will it cost me?" That is a good Tory response to any legislation, and thousands of my constituents are good old-fashioned Tories, although they are not entirely happy at present. For example, they require more persuasion on the issue of NHS trusts. I note from the local press that my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) agrees with my caution on that subject.
Similarly, my constituents have been slower than people elsewhere to introduce grant-maintained schools. I am not against grant-maintained schools, but we need to proceed with caution, certainly in my area. I therefore welcome the assurances, as reported in the press this morning, by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science on education vouchers.
The watchword for the next Parliament and for my party must be steady progress and improvements in public services, standards, quality, value for money and equity, and more caution towards administrative and structural upheaval—in other words, positive and constructive consolidation. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will bear those words of caution in mind if they are called upon in the next few weeks, with whatever attendant reluctance or risk, to use their own rights, freedoms and responsibilities.
§ Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)
In the brief time available to me, I should like to express my support for the War Crimes Bill because British justice and British honour are involved. We have unwittingly provided sanctuary to the people accused of terrible crimes. Now that that is known, we cannot leave it there. These crimes were crimes then. We are asking that those people be subject to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the courts of this land like any other British residents. That is all that is being asked of the House and Parliament. I hope that this tirne we shall see the legislation through on to the statute book.
We have heard much in recent days about an impending Labour Government, and many people outside wonder what such a Government would be about. But why study the crystal ball when you can read the book? The Labour party is in power in town and county halls throughout the country. Its track record is open to study in Liverpool, Brent and Ealing, where it was chucked out by its enraged charge payers last May, and in Haringey, Lambeth and Greenwich.
With records like that, in supposedly reformed moderate Labour councils, no wonder the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) has been so energetically laying down a smoke screen in recent days. We should blow away that smoke screen and look at some facts and figures.
First, Labour claims that there is no difference between the amount of community charge levied in Conservative and in Labour-controlled councils. In a press release from the Labour party on 18 April, we were told that the average poll tax in Conservative and Labour councils hardly differed. Let us look at those facts. Hon. Members need only go to the Library to get the facts for the average community charge for areas that are either Conservative unitary authorities, London or metropolitan boroughs, or which are under Conservative shire county and district councils. There are 95 such authorities, and the community charge in them averages £333. In the Labour-controlled areas—sadly, there are 73—local people suffer an average community charge of £384——
§ Mr. Arnold
Well, £51 may not be a lot of money to the hon. Gentleman who yelled out, but it is certainly a lot of money to most of the people who have to pay it.
§ Mr. Arnold
Well, those figures mask the reality. We forget the impact of the safety net all too easily. That is the system whereby residents of prudent Conservative authorities are obliged to subsidise the residents of wasteful Labour authorities. If we were to strip away the surcharges and handouts, we would find that the Labour party's arithmetical inexactitude is almost a case for reference to the Advertising Standards Authority. Having done that, we find that totally Conservative areas have an average community charge of £305, compared with the rip-off in totally Labour areas of £412—[Laughter.] Opposition Members may think that this is a laughing matter, but a differential of no less than £107 per head for the privilege of voting Labour has a devilish impact on the charge payers of those areas.
413 Let us look at those rip-offs. Were it not for the generosity of the Government's safety net, people in the London borough of Greenwich would be paying £620. As it is, the rest of us are subsidising Greenwich residents to the tune of £212 per head—just because Greenwich has a traditionally wasteful Labour council. Lambeth's real rip-off is £575, not the £548 that it has tried to levy on local people. Haringey's is £573. Southwark would have to charge £550 were it not for our subsidy of £160. I could go on and on. I represent the people of Gravesham and I resent the fact that each of my constituents has had to pay £15 towards those spendthrift Labour councils.
One could call those figures a competence test and Labour councils would be found wanting. But how about the incompetence test? That is best measured by the level of contributions in the collection account. This year, inevitably, an estimate has had to be made, but next year the figures will be based on the actual record. That track record is already becoming evident. By August, in Conservative collecting authorities 83 per cent. of people had paid. In Labour authorities the figure was only 74 per cent. By the end of October the figures had become even clearer. In a study by The Guardian, the worst four collectors were all Labour controlled. In Hackney, 44 per cent. have paid nothing. In Liverpool, 42 per cent. of charge payers have paid nothing. In Lambeth, the figure is 40 per cent. Indeed, Lambeth has still not collected the rates from the previous system and has not closed its accounts since 1984–85. In Nottingham, 30 per cent. have not paid. That is not particularly surprising as Labour councillors, and indeed Labour Members of Parliament, give little encouragement to pay and put strongly the counter-arguments to paying the community charge. Thirty hon. Members backed the campaign of non-payment, as did many dozens, if not hundreds, of Labour councillors around the country.
In Gravesham, the leading Labour councillor, Tina Deadman, is leading a non-payment campaign. She is prepared to use council services but leaves it to other, less well-off people in the borough to pick up the bill. I thought that the Labour party was moderate and sanitised in this day and age. It is high time that it expelled Councillor Deadman and her like for her defiance of the law and lack of consideration for poorer constituents.
Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of councils have got on with collection. The figures now show that over 90 per cent. of people are paying. That is not dissimilar to the proportion who previously paid the rates. Some effective Conservative authorities are doing far better. Medina, which is a newly Conservative-controlled council on the Isle of Wight, has already collected from 96 per cent. of its charge payers. Gravesham has collected 93 per cent.
I could go through a litany of Conservative councils which are getting on with collection. Those figures will be reflected in the contributions next year to the collection account and chickens will come home well and truly to roost. Labour councils which have been least efficient or unco-operative in collecting their community charge will pass on that charge to their charge payers, who will know what to think.
One of the claimed virtues of the community charge was that the actual charge would be comprehensible to the 414 electorate—an actual poundage figure. It would reveal the comparative performance of councils. That is now happening and there is no wonder at the frenetic activity of Labour Members.
§ Ms. Jo Richardson (Barking)
I do not know what the Home Secretary was worried about when he opened the debate this afternoon. He castigated us for choosing yet again—I admit it—the title of the debate. He was wrong to do so, because the House needs the opportunity that we provided by selecting this range of subjects to consider matters which may or may not be in the Queen's Speech but which some hon. Members wish had been included. Hon. Members needed an opportunity to give their views on rights, responsibilities and freedoms and show the House what they meant by them. Indeed, we heard some contrasting speeches from hon. Members on both sides of the House.
Our discussions ranged from mid-Kent and transport there, to Iraq and the national health service. My hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) referred to the speech that she gave two years ago as an alternative Queen's Speech for women. It has all been interesting and enthusiastic stuff, which the Home Secretary should welcome.
The Tories have a negative concept of the term "freedom", which is presumably why they do not want to talk about it. They believe that, if the state does nothing to help and support people, somehow that increases each individual's freedom of movement. They emphasise individual responsibility, but fail to emphasise the individual's rights. That concept is a complete mystery to those of our constituents who are, for example, waiting for hip operations. It is no freedom for them to have to hang about for two or three years because the health service is not sufficiently responsive to provide a bed.
We in the Labour party have a positive concept of freedom. It emphasises individual choice and accepts that the Government have a role in providing the means which allow people to exercise that choice. It is nonsense to say that women with children are free to choose their work, if there is no child care available. That notion of choice is an empty piece of rhetoric.
One important aspect of this Session's legislation which epitomises those differences is presented in the White Paper "Children Come First". It places a strong emphasis on a father's responsibility to support his children financially. Although the Government have had many opportunities to do so, they do not recognise any corresponding rights which fathers could be accorded to encourage them to care for their children.
Why, for example, have the Government so consistently blocked the EC directive on parental rights which would open up opportunities for fathers to take leave from work to care for their children in the early stages of life? It is a good right, which would elicit a greater sense of responsibility from fathers. Instead, fathers are constantly labelled and stigmatised as merely breadwinners.
I support the idea of fathers paying maintenance for their children. I am sure that we have ail had many letters from women constituents who want to know where their husbands are and will welcome this provision. I am sure that everyone will. However, I do not endorse the idea that fathers should be viewed solely as breadwinners. They 415 have or should have responsibilities for caring, too. How much more warmly I could have welcomed these proposals, if they had included a father's right to paternity leave on the birth of child, as the Labour party proposes.
When the Secretary of State for Social Security made his statement to the House he said:the welfare of children is the prime consideration."—[Official Report, 29 October 1990; Vol. 178, c. 729.]Yet the most important factor undermining the welfare of children in a separated or divorced family is the poverty of the mother and children living on benefit. We must look carefully at the concept of maintenance to ensure that we are not confirming women in that position.
It is hard to come to terms with the idea that there must be parental responsibility for a child's actions, but I understand what the Secretary of State is saying. Yet what is the position of a mother who has been left by her husband or who has left her husband and has the double responsibility of being both parents and of following her children to court to see that they are all right? We must consider that double responsibility.
Central to the Tory notion of freedom is the free market, yet in so many areas of life that market fails to provide. It does not deliver training, child care or employment rights. It is that same free market morality that has helped to turn Britain into a bitterly divided nation. This is the first post-war Government to have turned the morality of Robin Hood on its head as they rob the poor to give to the rich.
Another important area of rights are those that a woman should have when she is expecting a baby. My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) talked about the national health service, based on her expertise. Women have a right to expect good quality pre-natal and post-natal care and they should not have to worry about losing their jobs. They should also not have to worry about finding a hospital bed when the time comes to have the baby, but that is happening in my health authority.
Maternity rights should be available for all working women—the basic provision in every Community country. The extension of maternity rights to all working women would be a practical and equitable measure that would deliver real equal opportunities and social justice to many more women. I hope that the Government will support the proposed European directive that will guarantee women those rights. Sadly, nothing in the Government's track record gives me much cause for hope.
The Government claim to have improved life for women, but let us look at the record on independent taxation. The introduction of independent taxation was much vaunted and women thought that they would at last have independence in taxation, with the ability to fill in their own forms. Women should, of course, have the right to be taxed independently and equally, but the Government have a responsibility to ensure that that happens. Independent taxation has not meant equal taxation. A married couple might earn exactly the same amount of money, but the woman still pays more tax. In all but exceptional circumstances, the married couple's tax allowance goes to the husband, which hardly represents a major advance for women.
The Conservative party's much vaunted ministerial group on women's issues has been a loud-mouthed, do-nothing group, which has failed to advance women's rights one iota. The five-point plan on child care has not led to the creation of even one more nursery place. That 416 group is nothing more than a cynical piece of self-promotion and a sorry substitute for real action. The plain fact is that the United Kingdom is still at the bottom of the league in the provision of child care.
The appointment of a woman Minister to be chair—I know that she does not like to be called chairman—of the ministerial group will do no more to advance women's rights than the sorry track record of the Conservative woman Prime Minister. In last year's debate, the then chair of that group—still a member of it, as I understand it—claimed that he had improved opportunities for women in public life. I suggest that he should have started by putting his own house in order, because 96 per cent. of the cleaners employed by the Home Office are women, but only 2 per cent. of the professional and technical officers. That is something of a contrast. I hope that the Minister, now she has taken up her abode at the Home Office, will look to that. There were considerable opportunities for the ministerial group to implement some equal opportunity strategies—I hope that they will take those opportunities now.
I recently conducted an exercise on the visibility of women in the top ranks of the police throughout England and Wales. I hope that the hon. Lady will look at it—it is a sorry picture. It is shame that there are not more chief officers, superintendents, assistant superintendents and deputies, and that women are to be found only as constables and up to the level of sergeant. Women can have little confidence in the police when they see little reflection of themselves in the force.
Today, I attended an interesting conference across the road in the Queen Elizabeth suite, organised by the National Federation of Women's Institutes, which is not exactly a Labour organisation. Its members call it the sleeping giant. There were 800 women at the conference, and I wish all the hon. Members present had been there to hear them, because they had plenty to say about their position in society and the rights of which they fear they are deprived. They began to ask the panel what would happen when the sleeping giant woke up and made a few waves. I wanted to bring them all over here to make a few waves this evening, so that male Conservative Members could hear what those women were saying.
I brought the women to their feet when I said that the Lord Chancellor had recently stated that he hoped that there would be more blacks and women as judges, not this year, next year or the 1990s, but the next century. The women wanted to know why their talents and aspirations were so hidden and barrier-ridden that they had to wait until many of the subjects that the women's institutes had been discussing over the years are properly aired in the courts, and taken notice of and there are more women judges to help in that.
The general thrust of this debate has been about rights. We are interested and concerned to hear what the Minister has to say in response. I have made a short summing-up speech because there have been so many speakers this evening. The Conservative vision of rights, responsibilities and freedoms is certainly not the same as the Labour one. We have a vision that is coming across to people in this country, who know that it can become a reality, but they know, and they cannot wait for it, that that reality will come only with a Labour Government.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mrs. Angela Rumbold)
It is a pleasure for me to be here this evening to answer this interesting, wide-ranging debate in which there have been 19 speeches from Back-Benchers ranging across a series of issues, including the environment, health, education, the family, the citizen, urban life and the wider concerns of Europe and even the Gulf. All those have been within the context of this evening's topic—rights, freedoms and responsibilities. I shall do my best to respond to the points that have been made, but I hope that the House will be as indulgent as it usually is if I miss some of them.
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) gave me some comfort for some of the time during some of his speech. He will not be surprised to learn that I was less happy with some of his other sentiments. The right hon. Gentleman said that crime prevention was the focal point of the policies of his party, and he dismissed the record of the Government, so I shall reiterate a little of what we have done in this area.
Crime prevention is and will continue to be an essential element in our response to crime. In recent years there have been substantial gains in this area, locally and nationally. The growth of neighbourhood watch schemes, driven by the desire of members of the public to tackle crime, has been phenomenal. There are now more than 81,000 such schemes in England and Wales. In many parts of the country police and local agencies are coming together to work in collaboration to tackle crime in creative and innovative ways. The right hon. Gentleman must understand that tackling crime is not merely a matter of Ministers standing at the Dispatch Box waving an imaginary wand over crime. Crime prevention has to do with collaboration between those working on the ground and citizens.
Centrally, we have fostered this development and given it direction—most recently in the issue of a new circular and booklet containing guidance on best practice to all the relevant local services. The crime prevention handbook for the public, "Practical ways to crack crime", has been distributed to more than 4 million households, and demand for it continues.
Our safer cities programme, which the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook mentioned, has established 16 projects across the country supporting more than 700 crime prevention schemes. Central Government are supporting safer cities by meeting the cost of the salaries of the co-ordinating staff and through grant funding. Many of us spend much of our time visiting those centres to see the important work being done to prevent crime in our inner cities and urban areas.
The right hon. Gentleman also promised that, were there ever to be a Labour Government, he would set about creating crime prevention schemes that would be led by local authorities, in partnership, no doubt, with central Government. But I expect that that would cost central Government, or at least community charge payers, some money. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman has informed the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer about this commitment to extra expenditure by a future Labour Government.
The right hon. Gentleman also spoke of his commitment to the recommendations in the Calcutt report. I am glad to confirm that my right hon. and learned 418 Friend will accept those recommendations and is examining the statutory framework for that and for including the sort of example—the taking of a photograph—that the right hon. Gentleman gave. I also want to explain to him the reasons for the inclusion in the Taylor report of the offence of running on to a pitch—something about which the right hon. Gentleman expressed some anxiety. He will recall that there is a proposal in the Taylor report to remove the fences round pitches. If they are removed, the offence of running on to the pitch would be a sensible precaution to take for security reasons——
§ Mr. Hattersley
The hon. Lady will recall that I said that I had some sympathy with this idea and would look at the Bill; but is running on to the pitch to be prohibited at all forms of public sport?
§ Mrs. Rumbold
No, we are talking purely about the Taylor recommendations for football.
Turning to the Criminal Justice Bill, the right hon. Gentleman asked about one or two incidents. He also asked about our aim to get cases from magistrates courts to the Crown courts on committal within 112 days. At present, only London and eight counties still operate outside this limit and we are hoping that an announcement on the final phase of custody time limits will be made before the end of the year.
The right hon. Gentleman also suggested the introduction of sentencing councils. I draw his attention to the fact that several people have called for the establishment of such councils as a means of securing greater consistency in the sentencing of offenders. The Government are not persuaded of the need for that. The courts will continue to benefit from the guidance issued by the Court of Appeal and the training provided by the Judicial Studies Board. In addition, they will have in the Bill our proposed statutory framework for sentencing. One of its main aims is to promote a more consistent approach to sentencing.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
What are the Government doing about remand prisoners in police stations in the Greater Manchester area? When I raised this issue, the Home Secretary nodded his concern. First, it is totally inappropriate for prisoners to be kept for long periods in police stations. Secondly, it is a large cost for the Greater Manchester police authority.
§ Mrs. Rumbold
My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary nodded his head when the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) made that point. One reason for remand prisoners being kept in police cells in the north of England is that the Prison Officers Association refuses to open the wings in Strangeways. Those wings are now ready to accommodate people and could perfectly well take them in. That would save the police force the unacceptable costs to which the hon. Gentleman has drawn our attention and would remove the unacceptable conditions in which people are held. I urge the hon. Gentleman to take up the matter with the Prison Officers Association.
I can tell the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook that the purpose of the Criminal Justice Bill is to achieve the correct and appropriate sentencing of offenders and thereby offer a positive response to crime. It is not intended to empty our prisons, however desirable that might be.
419 The hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) said that she supported the provisions for the maintenance of children whose fathers have abdicated their responsibilities. The provisions are even-handed and will apply not only to fathers but to mothers if necessary.
§ Mrs. Rumbold
The hon. Lady is correct. However, she and many people would quickly accuse the Government of not being even-handed if we did not apply our maintenance provisions to both men and women. The hon. Lady condemned the Government for our policy on maternity leave. It is important to remind her that Britain has a longer period of maternity leave than any of our European partners. It is true that we do not pay some of the women for as long as some of our European partners, but much time off is allowed for women to have children.
It is important to refute what the hon. Lady said about my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten). He is no longer a member of the ministerial group on women's issues. He has handed that responsibility to me. I strongly refute the accusation that that group has not conducted itself and its business very stringently. It has worked hard to produce its five-point plan on child care. Some of those measures are beginning to take effect and more will take effect in future.
The hon. Lady knows perfectly well that the simple test of writing something down and declaring it does not necessarily make it happen. Policies take time to work and I am confident that time will show an improvement. The five-point plan was issued just a year ago.
§ Ms. Richardson
My understanding is that the ministerial group has discussed only two subjects apart from child care. One is domestic violence, which I gather the group is against, and the other is rape in marriage. I and women in Britain wish that the Government would put some effort into making those two crimes totally unacceptable.
§ Mrs. Rumbold
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for telling me what the group has discussed. She is right: we have discussed violence and matters concerning rape, and I can tell her that things are definitely happening on that score. She also challenged me to say what else the ministerial group had said. As she may remember, it was set up in response to a call; my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary was the first person to establish such a group to examine forward-looking strategies. That was an extremely important move. A number of issues have been raised, which the group is currently studying. We are now examining the question of employment for women—I know that the hon. Lady will be interested in that.
I noted the comments made by the hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise), to which I shall refer later.
I was interested to hear of the experiences of the hon. Member for Barking today at the National Federation of Womens' Institutes. I would have enjoyed visiting the organisation myself, but was unable to go. As she knows, many women are currently on the ladder and on the way to the very top. We do not ask—as some expect us to—that we should come out of school or university and be made judges immediately; we do not ask for a Ministry for women, or for special concessions. We do not want 420 positive discrimination in our favour. However, we do want our abilities, freedoms and rights to be acknowledged so that we can make our way equally and fairly alongside men on the road to success.
§ Mrs. Rumbold
I can refute what the hon. Gentleman says—from a sedentary position. We are making progress faster and faster as time goes on. That is because of the desire of women: that is what women wish to do. Women will continue to be more successful than they would if they were subjected to positive discrimination, which is both paternalistic and patronising.
I must congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Durant) on coming out of his seven-year silence. It is an awesome return from a sentence, but, as we expected, he made a real contribution. I was delighted to hear his views on the importance of the family to children's early years. I entirely endorse what he said, especially his views about the importance to children of having warm and caring experiences in their early years within their families. Like him, I did not receive a telephone call over the weekend. I am very upset about that, as I share his views on that difficulty.
The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) gave us sombre words of warning. I fully endorse his views: men and women everywhere must know that they have the right to live free from fear.
My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) referred to Northern Ireland and to the horrors of terrorism. Of all the rights, responsibilities and freedoms that we have, assuredly the freedom from acts of terrorism is one with which all hon. Members would agree. Opposition Members must be enjoined to think carefully and hard before abandoning efforts taken by the Government to protect us all. Whether we are Members of Parliament or members of the public, we are all innocent victims in the face of terrorism.
I must also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), who spoke about the war crimes Bill. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has noted his views. My right hon. Friend also expressed concern about the deterrent set out in the White Paper governing the framework of the Criminal Justice Bill. The intention is to have purposeful and demanding sentencing—whether non-custodial or not—to command the respect of the public. I am sure that he will agree that without that confidence no rule of law can be upheld. As he rightly said when referring to asylum and to the 1951 United Nations convention on refugees the Government are obliged to let into the country anyone who claims asylum at an airport or sea port. The Government also have an obligation to maintain proper immigration control in the face of the huge migratory pressures in the world today.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend knows that it is riot a matter that affects the United Kingdom alone; it concerns the whole of Europe. We are worried about the greatly increasing numbers and the clear misuse of the asylum procedures. We are urgently reviewing the impact on immigration control and the Government's obligations towards asylum seekers and the arrangements for processing individual cases. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be reassured by that.
421 The hon. Member for St. Helens, North (Mr. Evans) will be glad to know that we have abolished detention for 14-year-olds, about which he was concerned. I understand that concern, as I understand the concern of the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) about suicides in prisons. I deprecate those occurrences, and I hope that we will be taking urgent action. It is an important and serious issue that must attract the Government's urgent attention. The hon. Member for St. Helens, North also mentioned Red Bank school. The points that he raised are mainly matters for the Department of Health, and I shall draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to them when I have an opportunity to do so.
The hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) spoke about women and work. She has already heard my views on the way in which I hope women will want to pursue their careers to the top of every available ladder. She suggested that women working part time had a bad deal. Some 60 per cent. of women in the United Kingdom are in work, which is one of the highest proportions of women working anywhere in Europe. One reason why part-time work is so successful is that that is what women want. It is important to encourage employers, large and small, to improve the conditions and the opportunties for women to work part time or flexible hours if they find that satisfactory.
§ Mrs. Rumbold
The hon. Lady must study the equal opportunities and equal pay legislation. It is nonsense to make the remarks that she did. If she wants to take issue 422 with that, she must raise the matter with the Equal Opportunities Commission. She can use the provisions under the Equal Pay Act 1970 to ensure that nothing discriminates against women. The EC proposals would result in a large number of women in the United Kingdom no longer having the opportunity to work. If that is what the Opposition want, I urge them to take care because it is not what the women want and it is not what they will vote for.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) referred to the war crimes Bill and mentioned his views on education, with which I am well acquainted. I agree with his wish for many improvements in educational opportunities and in other areas.
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) is not in his place. He complained about the length of time allowed for his speech. He should learn the lesson that those of us who served in local government learned—that one can make a good speech in five minutes, but nothing like such a good speech in 10 or 20 minutes.
I listened carefully to the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Boscawen) on the importance of family centres. I was moved by his views on the War Crimes Bill. No one who heard him could doubt his sincerity and the depth of his opposition to the measure. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend will have noted his views.
I have some concerns about what the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) was saying about the defence of our freedoms and how we should handle our affairs in the Gulf. I hope that he shares the view of all hon. Members that we must, whatever else we do, unite with our world colleagues in ensuring that the infringement of Kuwait by an invader is not allowed. It is important that we take action, as we are all declared to do.
§ It being Ten o'clock the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.