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House of Commons

Thursday 15 December 1988

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


London Regional Transport (Penalty Fares) Bill

[Lords] Order for Second Reading read.

To be read the Second time on Tuesday 20 December.

City of London (Spitalfields Market) Bill

(By Order) Order for Third Reading read.

To be read a Third time on Tuesday 20 December.

Avon Light Rail Transit Bill

[Lords] (By Order) Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Tuesday 20 December.

Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill : and North Killingholme Cargo Terminal Bill


That the Committee on the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill and the North Killingholme Cargo Terminal Bill have leave to visit and inspect the sites of the proposed works at Immingham and North Killingholme, in the county of Humberside, and the physical hydraulic model of the proposed Immingham works constructed at Southall by the promoters of the Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill, provided that no evidence shall be taken in the course of such visits and that any party who has made an appearance before the Committee be permitted to attend by his Counsel, Agent or other representative.-- [The Chairman of Ways and Means.]

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Oral Answers



1. Mrs. Ann Winterton : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many inquests were held in 1988 on babies born alive following abortions ; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg) : I am not aware of any. Such information is not collected centrally.

Mrs. Winterton : Will my hon. Friend give his reasons for failing to hold an inquest into the death of the Carlisle baby, who, in July 1987, was delivered alive in the city general hospital Carlisle after 21 weeks' gestation but died, having struggled for three hours to live?

Mr. Hogg : I entirely understand my hon. Friend's concern. My right hon. Friend felt that there was no compelling reason to hold an inquest. In reaching that conclusion he had a number of considerations in mind--that this was a bona fide and lawful abortion ; the reasons for carrying it out were compelling ; the foetus was incapable of surviving ; and it was desirable to spare the mother further distress.

Mr. Alton : How can the Minister say that, when the ground given for abortion was disability--a non-recurring possible skin complaint that was not life-threatening? Did he take into account the absence of resuscitation equipment in the hospital when the abortion took place? How does that square with the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929, which says that a child may not be aborted if it is capable of being born alive? This child struggled for life for three hours before being put in a black sack and incinerated.

Mr. Hogg : It is desirable to avoid emotive language in these painful subjects. Ministers gave the case careful consideration and came to the conclusions that I have outlined. I believe that they were right.

Sir Bernard Braine : Is my hon. Friend aware that in 1976 the Select Committee on Abortion recommended that no abortion should be carried out on a baby of 20 weeks' or more gestation unless resuscitation equipment and trained staff are available? Is he further aware that resuscitation equipment was available in the hospital for the Carlisle baby but that it was not used because it was in another building? Is that not of itself sufficient reason to order an inquest? Can an inquest be ordered to show the nation that regulations passed by the Department of Health and accepted by the hospital service were flagrantly broken? Is it not high time that we ended disgraceful happenings of this kind?

Mr. Hogg : I am conscious of the strong feelings that a number of hon. Members--most particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine)--have on this subject. This matter was given careful consideration by Ministers, including my right hon.Friend--

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Sir Bernard Braine : The law was broken.

Mr. Hogg : The conclusion at which we arrived was the one that I have outlined to the House, and it would be wrong to depart from it now.

Mr. McAvoy : On what ground did the Home Secretary decide that there should be no inquest? This abortion contravened the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929, section 1(1)(b) of the Abortion Act and, against all requirements laid down by the Department of Health, no resuscitation equipment was available for this child. Given all those facts, surely this case should be investigated.

Mr. Hogg : I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern, which he has expressed most clearly. I do not accept that there was a breach of the 1929 Act. The Ministers who examined the case did so carefully, realising that many hon. Members felt strongly about it, but the conclusion that I have outlined to the House is the right conclusion.

Cruelty to Children

2. Mr. Anthony Coombs : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he proposes to take any action to increase the penalties available to the courts for the offence of cruelty to children.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten) : The maximum penalty for cruelty to children has already been increased from two to 10 years' imprisonment. The Criminal Justice Act 1988 provides this higher penalty for offences committed since 29 September 1988.

Mr. Coombs : I welcome the measure, especially in view of recently reported appalling cases of child cruelty. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a strong case, as put forward by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, for intensifying prison treatment of people convicted of offences against children, to ensure that such offences do not occur when they leave prison?

Mr. Patten : I agree with my hon. Friend. He will be interested to learn that much of that work already goes on at Her Majesty's prison Grendon Underwood.

Mr. Loyden : What action does the Minister intend to take against the Secretary of State for Social Security for the crimes committed against the children of this country by freezing child benefit for two years in succession?

Mr. Patten : None, Sir.

Mr. Wilshire : Is my hon. Friend willing to reconsider the matter? Will he consider drawing a distinction between child cruelty within families, when deterrence is not necessarily the most significant factor, and individuals and organisations who systematically and deliberately organise child abuse? Will he take stronger action against groups such as the Children of God and practitioners of Satanism for whom the most severe punishment is not necessarily adequate?

Mr. Patten : I know about my hon. Friend's strong feelings about these issues. The Criminal Justice Act 1988 tightens the law in favour of children in several ways, not only that which I have already described but, for example, by making the possession of indecent photographs a criminal offence. It also introduces other provisions such as an appeal by my right hon. and learned Friend the

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Attorney-General against allegedly over- lenient sentences. It represents a formidable package which has received an all-party welcome.

Mr. Randall : Does the Minister agree that there is a need for more varied penalties for cruelty to children? What does he think of the NSPCC's recent suggestion that a child should not be punished for the evil that a parent might have done to it? Does he agree that there is a case for removing child abusers, rather than innocent children, from the home?

Mr. Patten : No one wants any child to be punished in any way because of the faults of anyone else.

Mr. Hind : In the light of the recent case referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), when will my hon. Friend bring into operation those clauses in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 dealing with child pornography and allowing children to give evidence by way of video link?

Mr. Patten : We have already introduced a provision concerning the possession of indecent photographs. That has been an offence since 28 September this year. On 5 January 1989 we shall give powers to the courts to receive video evidence by children.

Broadwater Farm (Incident)

3. Mr. Bernie Grant : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he intends to respond to the second report from Lord Gifford QC into the circumstances that led to the convictions of Mr. Silcott, Mr. Braithwaite and Mr. Raghip arising out of the incidents at Broadwater farm in 1985 ; and if he will make a statement on its conclusions.

Mr. Douglas Hogg : Lord Gifford has written to me enclosing a copy of his report. This was an entirely unofficial exercise in which, with my right hon. Friend's approval, the Metropolitan police declined to take part.

Mr. Grant : Is the Home Secretary satisfied that the evidence on which the Broadwater farm three were convicted and on which their petition for leave to appeal was rejected, which is of confessions only, was obtained without undue duress, without unfair treatment, and under the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984? Have inquiries been made into the evidence that was obtained? If inquiries have not been made, will he make them now?

Mr. Hogg : The three men named in the question were convicted after a jury trial. That conviction was upheld in the Court of Appeal earlier this week. In those circumstances, I believe that most fair-minded people should accept that those men are guilty as charged.

Mr. Roger King : Will my hon. Friend join in congratulating those Metropolitan police officers who were recently awarded bravery awards for their heroic conduct during the Broadwater farm riots in 1987?

Mr. Hogg : The Metropolitan police behaved with great gallantry, and they will be grateful to my hon. Friend for his words.

Mr. Hattersley : I do not contest the idea that legal procedures, as now constituted, were scrupulously

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followed in this case, but will the Under- Secretary comment on the increasing disquiet that underlies this case, of men and women being convicted on confessions alone? There is growing concern that that should not be the sole reason for a conviction. Is the Department prepared to study that matter?

Mr. Hogg : These matters are for the courts. The right hon. Gentleman would do his reputation, and that of his party, considerable good if he stood by the verdict of a jury when it is upheld in the Court of Appeal. Simply to try to go around the back door in such cases is not respectable.

Child Destruction

4. Mr. Amess : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what was the average sentence for child destruction under the Infant Life (Preservation Act) 1929 for each of the last 10 years ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Douglas Hogg : There has been only one conviction for child destruction in the past 10 years. The sentence was life imprisonment.

Mr. Amess : Following that answer, does my hon. Friend recognise that many hon. Members are not satisfied that the intent of the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929 is being complied with? Does he further recognise that--with the advances in medical science meaning that the stage at which a baby is capable of being born alive is reducing all the time--the effectiveness of this Act needs to be reviewed urgently?

Mr. Hogg : My hon. Friend puts his point very firmly. The 1929 Act provides that at 28 weeks of development, there is a rebuttable presumption that the foetus is capable of survival. There is quite clear and compelling evidence that the rebuttable presumption should arise not at 28 weeks, but at 24 weeks, but the House may feel that this matter could be best tackled by private Member's legislation.

Mr. Ashton : While there has been one case of child destruction in the past 10 years, is it not a fact that, before we had the Abortion Act 1967, there was an average of 65 mother destructions each year? Women went to back-street abortionists, ran into trouble, had to be rushed into hospital and subsequently died. Will the Under-Secretary compare those figures with those of child destruction?

Mr. Hogg : I certainly shall.

Mr. Marlow : Is there not something wrong with a society where healthy human life can be destroyed purely because it is socially inconvenient? Is that not happening increasingly these days? Is it not against the law and is it not time that the Government did something about it?

Mr. Hogg : The 1929 Act is quite plain in its effect. The question really is about where the rebuttable presumption should arise. At the moment it arises at 28 weeks. There is good reason to suppose that it should arise at 24 weeks. It is a matter that causes the House much distress and would probably be best dealt with by private Member's legislation.

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Forensic Science Service

Mr. Cohen : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has any proposals to increase the level of service provided to police forces by the forensic science service.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd) : We plan to recruit 18 additional scientific staff to the Home Office forensic science service in 1989-90 and a further 10 additional staff in 1990-91.

Mr. Cohen : Will the Secretary of State confirm that in 1980 there were 445 staff in the forensic science service, yet last year there were only 437, despite the fact that reported crime in that period went through the roof? Are not many suspected criminals getting away with their crimes because the service cannot cope? Did not an expert witness to the Select Committee on Home Affairs say that morale in the service is bloody awful? When will the Secretary of State do something about it and put money and manpower into the service?

Mr. Hurd : Investment in the forensic science service has increased from £6.3 million to £13.75 million during our term of office. That is a real increase of 21 per cent. The hon. Gentleman's figures for staffing are slightly wrong. Staffing levels are broadly constant, but the workload--the number of exhibits going to the service--has increased substantially. I await the Select Committee's conclusion on the matter. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there has been a long period of discussion and consultation in the service about grading and complementing. The new structure has been introduced and promotions are being made to the new grades. Morale should improve because the period of uncertainty is over.

Mr. Ashley : Is the Home Secretary aware of the longstanding anxiety that the forensic science service is too closely intertwined with the police? Does he accept that what is required is an improved independent forensic science service that is available equally to the police and to defendants?

Mr. Hurd : I am aware of that argument, but I do not regard it as a priority. Inevitably, the forensic science service and the police are intertwined. They should be. My priority is to ensure that the service is organised in such a way as to give proper priority to those crimes which the police believe to be most important.

Mr. Corbett : May I give a modest welcome to the increase in staffing in the forensic science service? None the less, will the Home Secretary confirm that last year the management consultants, Touche Ross, recommended an immediate increase in staff of 27 to deal with the extra workload and with the introduction of DNA genetic fingerprinting? Given that the new staff will not be in place until next year or even the following year, as well as the fast rise in violent and sex crimes, the Home Secretary's complacency is astounding.

Mr. Hurd : The hon. Gentleman must have drafted his supplementary question before he heard my answer to the main question. There have been many reports and discussions in Committees. The forensic science service is just emerging from the period of discussion. Anyone who visits the six laboratories--no doubt the hon. Gentleman has visited at least one of them- -will be impressed by the

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way in which they are grappling with DNA and the workload and trying to perform to the best of their ability. I am anxious that the structure and gradings should be such that they can do that.

Rural Areas (Violence)

6. Mr. Temple-Morris : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps his Department is considering to reduce violence in rural areas.

Mr. Hurd : We have strengthened the police, tightened the law on under-age drinking, reminded the justices of their powers to prevent disorderly drinking, encouraged the swift hearing of cases of this kind and made it an offence to carry a knife in a public place without good reason. We are preparing further guidance to local services.

Mr. Temple-Morris : My right hon. Friend will be only too well aware of the relative increase in violent crime in rural areas as opposed to their metropolitan counterparts. Will he consider taking action, or tell the House what action he is taking, in two areas : first, the Friday and Saturday evening drinking sessions that involve the young and the under- aged ; and, secondly, police manpower? On the latter point, knowing that my right hon. Friend is a charitable man, may I ask him to respond generously to the application by West Mercia police for 40 additional police posts in 1989?

Mr. Hurd : Those are two pertinent questions. On the first one, the Licensing Act 1988 toughened the law against illegal under-age drinking. We have reminded the justices and the police of the powers available under existing laws--for example, to revoke in mid-course the licences of disorderly pubs. I hope that, as a result, the sort of incidents to which my hon. Friend refers will decline. Rural forces have benefited from the substantial increases in police manpower, with 8,400 more police officers and civilians working with the police in non-metropolitan forces. I hope fairly soon to announce the allocation of the 1,100 additional police officers which I have already said will be the total for next year, and the West Mercia application is well in my mind. After that there will be a further substantial programme of increases.

Mr. Maclennan : How many police authorities are seeking increases in the manpower of their forces? By how much will the right hon. Gentleman's proposed increase fall short of what is being sought?

Mr. Hurd : Most of them are seeking increases, I believe. I am not, of course, responsible for figures in Scotland, but in England and Wales, most are doing so. I have 1,100 places to allocate for next year alone, which is a record on top of a record. Of that, 300 will go to the Metropolitan police and 800 to the provincial forces in England and Wales. Although that total will be a record on top of a record and although it will be a greater increase in real terms than any other public service is receiving, it will not, of course, meet all demands.

Mr. Allason : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the success of the experiment in Bournemouth on the introduction of video surveillance equipment in deterring

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miscreants and identifying criminals? Is he prepared to consider extending those experiments elsewhere, including my own constituency of Torbay?

Mr. Hurd : It is not for the Home Office to decide ; it is a matter for local chief officers to decide, with their local authorities where necessary. I have noted what my hon. Friend has said. Not only in football grounds has such apparatus has been useful.

Mr. Hattersley : Does not the Home Secretary think that there is something incompatible between the complacency of his answers and his own statistics, which show that violent crime has increased by 13 per cent. and 15 per cent. on the past two sets of figures that he produced--a record on a record? That is not conducive to the smugness that he has displayed this afternoon.

Mr. Hurd : The right hon. Gentleman has the failing that he is always rather anxious to exaggerate the bad news and to explain away the good news. The good news yesterday was that there was a substantial reduction in the total of recorded crime and, in particular, a sharp reduction in the number of burglaries--a crime to which Opposition Members constantly drew my attention when the figures were becoming worse, but on which they are silent when the figures improve. If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the figures, he will see that there was a sharp rise in the reported level of violent crime last year and continuing this year, but that as the quarters of this year have proceeded, that rise is levelling out.

Mr. Key : As we approach the winter solstice, will my right hon. Friend comment on the effectiveness of the Public Order Act 1986? Is he aware that there is no desire or intention on the part of the communities in Wiltshire and elsewhere to witness confrontation between summer hippies and the resident population? Will he do all that he can to encourage those who seek trouble at the summer solstice to stay away?

Mr. Hurd : I agree with my hon. Friend. I regard him as the joint author of the clause in the Public Order Act that is called the "Hippy clause". I am glad that it has had a good effect in his county and elsewhere. The advice that he has given is sound.

Identity Cards

7. Mr. Darling : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what consideration he has given to the introduction of identity cards in the United Kingdom after 1992 ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Hurd : I have asked the Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland for its views on the introduction of national identity cards and I am awaiting its response. We are also studying the recent recommendations of the Home Affairs Select Committee. Many people carry proof of identity in various forms, but it would be a different and substantial step to impose a univeral compulsory system with corresponding police powers.

Mr. Darling : The Secretary of State seems to be hazy and vague about the Government's proposals. Does he accept that many people would regard the introduction of compulsory ID cards--or even pressure to carry them on a voluntary basis--as an intrusion into civil liberties and

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that they would deeply resent it? Will he take this opportunity to state categorically that there will be no requirement to carry ID cards in this country?

Mr. Hurd : I simply repeat my original answer, which met the hon. Gentleman's point. An increasing number of people carry proof of identity in various forms as a matter of convenience, but it would be a different matter to impose a universal compulsory system with corresponding police powers.

Mr. Andrew MacKay : Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us who see considerable merit in identity cards would favour the Government initially facilitating the carrying of such cards on a voluntary basis, as once they had been used, they would become acceptable to the public?

Mr. Hurd : I note that observation, and it is certainly a possible way forward. I think that it would be sensible to await the considered view of the Association of Chief Police Officers, for which I have asked, because in the past the police have been reluctant to advocate a compulsory system, believing that it would not really be worth while. We need to take into account the point made by my hon. Friend, as well as the kind of documents that people will be carrying across Europe after 1992, but as I said--and as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in July--we are not satisfied that the case has been made out for a compulsory system.

Mr. Campbell-Savours : Does the Home Secretary understand that some of us have a sneaking sympathy for the principle of identity cards, but that that is outweighed by our concern about the erosion of civil liberties that has taken place over the past few years? Does not the Home Secretary feel a twinge of conscience at some of the actions brought in the courts, at the complaints that he receives as a Member of Parliament and at the representations made by Back Benchers about the treatment of our constituents? Does he not understand that that is why we shall have to oppose the introduction of identity cards even though we may have some sympathy with the principle?

Mr. Hurd : The hon. Gentleman is getting involved in a very convoluted argument. I do not accept his view and I do not recall such cases. During the previous Parliament we approved a system for receiving and dealing with complaints against the police under independent supervision, and I believe that it is working well.

Mr. Wheeler : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the all party Select Committee on Home Affairs has recommended in its report a voluntary identity card for civil liberty reasons, because such a card will grant ease of travel within the European Community and will mean that the less secure British visitor's passport can be replaced by a better quality document that will be more widely accepted?

Mr. Hurd : I understand that that is the gist of the Select Committee's report. As I said in my original answer, I believe that the case for a voluntary system post-1992 needs studying. The question of football hooliganism often arises in this context. The football clubs need to keep out of their grounds people who may not have been convicted of anything but whom they know to be troublemakers. The

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scheme in the proposed Bill will enable them to do that, but a national identity card scheme, however draconian, would be no help with that problem.

Carlisle Report (Resource Implications)

8. Mr. Hinchliffe : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he will next meet officers of the National Association of Probation Officers to discuss the resource implications of the Carlisle report.

Mr. John Patten : We are considering the Carlisle report and look forward to receiving comments from the National Association of Probation Officers among many others. But it would be premature to make the assumptions which would be needed for a discussion of resource implications at the moment.

Mr. Hinchliffe : Is the Minister aware that the Carlisle report stressed the value and effectiveness of the work of the probation service? When will the Government recognise that probation care is often far more effective than imprisonment and allocate proper resources to the probation and after-care service?

Mr. Patten : The probation service--among many public services--has enjoyed a record improvement in its resources since 1979. Its cash resources have been increased by more than 60 per cent. in real terms, and its manpower has increased by one third. We look forward to the co- operation of the probation service, both in implementing any changes that occur as a result of the recommendations of the Carlisle committee and in putting into action the proposals of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for punishment in the community.

Mr. Allason : Is my hon. Friend aware that one aspect of the Carlisle report is bound to cause grave disquiet? It is proposed to divorce the responsibilities of the Parole Board--as a separate body--from the Home Secretary's decisions. Does the Minister have a view on that?

Mr. Patten : Thus far, we are still consulting. Clearly, it would be a major step for an executive body to be set up over which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary had no control. My right hon. Friend and I are well aware of the strong public concern that those who commit serious and violent crime should stay in prison for a very long time.

Mr. Sheerman : May we have a straighter answer about the Government's attitude to the Carlisle report? Is the Minister discontented with that report because it has missed the opportunity to cut overcrowding in our prisons at a stroke by going for automatic parole after one third of a sentence has been served a step which would reduce the prison population by 8,000 and solve many of the problems in our overcrowded prisons?

Mr. Patten : I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman should criticise my noble Friend Lord Carlisle of Bucklow and others for the hard work that they put into their excellent report. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has asked for observations from those who are interested by the end of March. This is a fundamental and important issue which deserves full consultation and discussion rather than ad hoc comments from the Dispatch Box before such a full consultation.

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Mr. Lawrence : When my hon. Friend considers those matters, will he take into consideration that there is much dissatisfaction with the tendency to increase administrative release and to thwart the judiciary's wishes to sentence people to certain lengths of imprisonment?

Mr. Patten : My right hon. Friend and I are well aware of the discontent about that trend not only among the higher judiciary and others but in society at large.

Broadcasting White Paper

9. Mr. Sillars : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what discussions he has had with representatives of the Scottish broadcasting media regarding the Government's White Paper, Cm. 517.

Mr. Renton : We are in regular contact with representative organisations, such as the ITV Association, the Association of Independent Radio Contractors and the Cable Television Association, all of whom represent Scottish interests. Among other contacts this year, I have visited Scottish Television and Radio Clyde, and discussed Gaelic broadcasting with Comunn na Gaidhlig.


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