(No. 2) Bill-- (By Order) Order for Third Reading read.
To be read the Third time on Thursday 20 April.
(By Order) Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Thursday 20 April.
(No. 2) Bill-- (By Order) Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Tuesday 18 April at 7 o'clock.
(By Order) Orders for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Thursday 20 April.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten) : The Government have not formulated proposals for community volunteer schemes in the field of crime prevention. Members of the public are already contributing directly to crime prevention by joining neighbourhood watch and crime prevention panels. We encourage those wishing to give more active support to the police to join the special constabulary.
Mr. Morgan : In the light of the Home Secretary's recent speeches on the matter, will the Minister tell the House the relevance of the proposals for unpaid volunteers and special constables to solve the special problems which exist, such as the fear that women feel when travelling on the Underground at night and the problem of lager louts massing outside pubs and night clubs? Is it not really a matter of training workers without uniforms to do the jobs of special constables without wages?
Mr. Patten : That is quite a good line, but it is totally facetious and fatuous. We need more special constables to join up as active citzens in uniform, to help to relieve the police--as they can do--for their mainstream duties, by carrying out many ancillary duties for them. That will allow better policing. That is why we propose to introduce special constables on the Underground soon. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that.
Mr. Adley : In view of my hon. Friend's remarks, does he agree that the police are hugely overburdened with road traffic work and that it is about time that we considered establishing a highway patrol so that the police can concentrate on criminal matters?
Mr. Patten : It is the view of both my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and myself that issues of traffic patrolling are best left to the chief constables in each area, who are operationally in charge of those difficult responsibilities.
Mr. Corbett : Is it not deceiving the still rising number of victims of violence in the west midlands and everywhere else to pretend that community volunteers can stem the alarming increase in crimes of violence? Is it not merely an attempt to powder over the problem rather than put enough feet on the beat to prevent even more people becoming victims of violence?
Mr. Patten : More well-turned lines, but they are very wide of the target. The hon. Gentleman avoids the fact, which I made clear in my main answer, that we have formulated no proposals for community volunteers. The hon. Gentleman could not have been listening. Rather, we encourage more active citizens to join up as special
Column 1041constables to help the police and the attack on violent crime by relieving the police of the burdens of some of their ancillary duties.
2. Mr. Latham : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make a statement on the arrangements for ensuring that men sent to Her Majesty's prisons Stocken and Ashwell are suitable for category C regimes.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Mr. Douglas Hogg) : Only prisoners in security category C are sent to HeMajesty's prisons Stocken and Ashwell. The prison service takes great care to ensure that all prisoners sent to those prisons are suitable for the conditions there.
Mr. Latham : Does my hon. Friend recall from our correspondence the very real concern of the Prison Officers Association that men are being sent to those prisons who are really suitable for category B? In view of the serious incident which occurred at Ashwell last August, will my hon. Friend ensure that the prison department listens closely to the views of the Prison Officers Association, which represents the people who are at the sharp end every day?
Mr. Hogg : My hon. Friend deserves the congratulations of his constituents for the persistence with which he has acted to ensure that prisoners sent to the two prisons he mentioned are suitable for the conditions there. My hon. Friend will know that he and I are to meet shortly to discuss that particular issue and I hope that what I say then will reassure him.
Mr. Skinner : Will the Minister ensure that places are left available at category C prisons Stocken and Ashwell, ready for Monday's performance at the Royal Courts of Justice when the law-breaking Lords--led by Lord Donaldson, previous head of the national industrial relations court --decide to go on strike? Presumably the Home Secretary and the Attorney- General will band together to take appropriate action against the law- breakers, but will the culprits be sent to category C prisons or to somewhere even harsher?
Mr. Holt : My hon. Friend recently advised me in a written reply that of the 32,000 prisoners serving sentences of one year or more, 10 per cent.--3,000--of them are foreign nationals. Does my hon. Friend agree that if they were sent back to their own countries to serve those sentences it would make a great deal of difference to both Ashwell and Stocken and lessen the current problems in our gaols?
Mr. Hogg : That proposal goes somewhat wide of the question, though it is an interesting idea. The trouble is that if some of those offenders were sent back to their countries of origin they might not have to serve a period in custody.
Mr. Sheerman : Is not this problem of categorisation in a local prison symptomatic of the problems in local prisons throughout the country? Such is the pressure on local prisons that categorisation and allocation is haphazard. Prison officers have certainly brought this problem to the attention of the Opposition. Many prisoners are allocated to entirely the wrong prisons, which bodes ill for the forthcoming summer months.
Mr. Hogg : As I have had cause to say before, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) is not master of his material. Stocken and Ashwell are not local prisons, nor are they overcrowded or understaffed. In many respects, they are admirable prisons. I recommend that the hon. Gentleman should do a little homework before he next intervenes in questions about the prison service.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd) : I announced in January last year that we intended to bring forward legislation to implement the proposals made by Sir Philip Woodfield in his efficiency scrutiny of the supervision of charities. I hope shortly to publish a White Paper setting out the Government's proposals.
Mr. MacKay : While I welcome the White Paper and hope that it will shortly be published--followed, one hopes, by legislation in the next Session of Parliament--will my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary confirm that the Charity Commissioners can deregister charities found to be fraudulent and remove trustees? Is it not a pity that that does not happen more often?
Mr. Hurd : The commissioners have powers of the kind mentioned by my hon. Friend and are ably led and increasingly well organised. The trouble with the existing law is that it imposes on them a number of secondary duties which make it difficult for them to carry out effectively all the important tasks that they would wish.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : Is the Home Secretary aware that in the past 12 months many members of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have written to me complaining about the running of that organisation--for which we all have great respect? Following the expulsion of the watchdog group of RSPCA members, I convened a meeting and asked those members if they would be prepared to accept me as arbiter between the warring factions. Is the Home Secretary aware that they refused, and that many RSPCA members are making grave allegations against the organisation, about which something should be done? Will he ensure that any reform provides for an inquiry of some sort?
Mr. Hurd : I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman's reputation for calm and impartiality did not serve him on that occasion. It is surely for the RSPCA to sort the matter out. If the question of its charitable status should arise, it will be a matter between the RSPCA and the Charity Commission ; certainly it is not my responsibility.
Mr. Favell : Is my right hon. Friend aware that many bank accounts around the country contain money collected for worthwhile projects such as children's playgrounds, sports fields and conservation that have come to nothing? Often the promoters have left or died. Has my right hon. Friend any plans to release that money--which may run into millions of pounds--for other suitable, worthwhile charity projects?
Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend makes a good point. The Charity Commission is already able to take action if it knows of money having been abandoned in that way. For example, it can appoint new trustees. We propose, however, to strengthen its powers as a result of the Woodfield report. I will write to my hon. Friend with details.
4. Mr. Tredinnick : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether any new initiatives are planned to prevent the importation of cocaine from Colombia and other Latin American nations ; what assessment he has made of the extent to which organised crime is involved in this traffic ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Douglas Hogg : Measures that the Government have taken against the production and importation of cocaine and other drugs include the provision of £1.8 million of drug-related assistance to Latin American countries over the past three years and the setting up of specialist Customs teams to target cocaine trafficking. Organised criminal gangs are often involved with this traffic.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I will be discussing the threat to Europe from cocaine at the ministerial meeting of the Pompidou Group in London next month.
Mr. Tredinnick : When, late last year, I attended an international conference in Washington which covered drug problems, Colombian representatives told me that they did not think that enough was being done in the United Kingdom and elsewhere to suppress demand. They stressed their own strenuous efforts to curtail supply, which had resulted in the deaths of their Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, more than 50 judges and more than 1,700 police and law enforcement officers in recent years. Does my hon. Friend recognise the efforts made by the Colombians?
Mr. Hogg : Yes, I do. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary had a meeting yesterday with the Colombian Foreign Minister. It was a very profitable and helpful exchange. My hon. Friend is right to raise the subject of cocaine. In 1988 the Customs seized larger quantities of cocaine than of heroin. We have a range of policies designed to deal with the problems of drug misuse and importation, which of course address the cocaine problem, but in view of the changing figures we are reassessing those policies to establish whether they need adjustment.
Mr. Hogg : I think that the Leader of the Opposition will become increasingly alarmed at the fact that the sole Opposition spokesman on these important matters appears to be the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).
Mr. Jacques Arnold : Does my hon. Friend appreciate the importance of intelligence-gathering in dealing with this odious trade? Are we doing enough to stamp it out by working with the authorities not just in Colombia but in Bolivia and Peru where the drug is produced?
Mr. Hogg : That is an extremely important point. The exchange of intelligence and information goes to the root of our ability, and that of European countries generally, to deal with the problem of cocaine importation. We are establishing ever better relations with the Latin American countries and are extending our network of drug liaison officers.
5. Mr. Madden : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to make an announcement concerning a Government DNA testing scheme to assist those seeking to settle in the United Kingdom.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Tim Renton) : We are considering introducing a centrally run DNA scheme, the cost of which will not fall on the general taxpayer. The use of such a scheme would not, of course, be compulsory for settlement applicants. We hope to make an announcement shortly.
Mr. Madden : Why are the Government dragging their feet about the introduction of a DNA testing scheme? Is the Minister aware that there is a widespread suspicion that the Government are reluctant to introduce the scheme because DNA testing offers reliable evidence to prove the genuineness of applications from families who wish to be reunited in this country and that that is why the Government are wasting so much time? Over the past 12 months, the Minister has been saying that he hopes to make an announcement "shortly" and "as soon as possible", and last weekend, he said that it would be made within weeks. It is high time that the announcement was made and that families were able to take advantage of the scheme to be reunited in this country.
Mr. Renton : The hon. Gentleman is taking his usual blinkered and biased view about anything to do with immigration. In the past four months alone, the immigration and nationality department has accepted 750 DNA test reports showing whether the relationship is as claimed, but of the reports submitted to us some 12 per cent. have shown that the parents and children are not related as claimed. One in eight couples thus find that one of them is not the parent of the child although both had thought that they were. That produces many problems
Column 1045--in relation to the admission of illegitimate children, for example--which must properly be considered before we take a final decision on the matter.
Mr. Gale : The hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) has shown his faith in the infallibility of DNA--a faith that I share. Given that faith, can my hon. Friend say when he intends to introduce DNA fingerprinting not only for immigration cases but for everyone convicted of crime?
Mr. Renton : As my hon. Friend knows, DNA fingerprinting has already been used successfully in homicide cases. The figures that I quoted to the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) were intended to show that we are already accepting the test in immigration cases. We are now bending our minds as to how to introduce a centrally run scheme which will be fair to all applicants and will avoid erecting financial barriers which could be a deterrent to genuine applicants, without causing the general taxpayer to pay. That is a difficult problem, but we are setting about solving it.
Mr. Pike : Will the Minister recognise the problem of people paying for DNA testing themselves whereby it has been shown that decisions to refuse entry taken by the Government in the past were clearly wrong? Should not those people be allowed immediate, priority admission to this country-- even if they are now 18 if they should have been admitted in the original instance?
Mr. Renton : The hon. Gentleman must consider the fact that when those children were under 18 they applied as dependants. That is the basis in our immigration rules on which children under 18 are normally allowed into this country. The hon. Gentleman must consider whether it is right that those who may already be married, heads of families, with many children living abroad should be introduced with their families into the United Kingdom simply because a DNA test shows that the father is related as claimed. That is the issue to which we must give close attention.
Mr. Watts : Is my hon. Friend aware that his answer deserved a rather more fulsome welcome than it received from the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden)? My hon. Friend is right to believe that such a scheme should be voluntary. If DNA testing became widely available on a voluntary basis at the earliest possible date to establish conclusively the blood relationships which need to be proved in the case of dependants seeking settlement, it would be welcomed by the ethnic minority communities in this country.
Mr. Renton : I accept fully what my hon. Friend has said. We accept DNA testing now when the results have been voluntarily produced, but the cost of producing them is a serious financial burden. That is why we are trying, with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to arrive at a scheme that would avoid the burden falling on the ordinary taxpayer but would not financially harm individual families too greatly. We hope to do that and to announce the results as soon as possible.
Mr. Darling : As DNA testing has shown that many people were wrongly refused entry to this country, does the Minister accept that DNA testing could eliminate queues and paperwork and save vast amounts of money and that to impose high charges will simply erect a financial barrier
Column 1046in place of a bureaucratic barrier? The Minister says that the test may not be compulsory, but does he not accept that it may be necessary because of the haphazard and inefficient way in which entry clearance officers work? Will he not reconsider allowing entry to those dependants who are now over the age of 18? A manifest injustice has been done to them. The Minister should not seek to stand in the way of family unity--a cause that I should have expected the Conservative party to espouse.
Mr. Renton : The hon. Gentleman's attack on members of the immigration service was totally unjust, although I would not expect him, from his hideout in Edinburgh, to have great experience of immigration matters. DNA testing will not, as the hon. Gentleman put it, eliminate queues if the Labour party sticks to the policy to which it was committed in 1987 of repealing the immigration and nationality Acts. All the fair but firm immigration controls that we have introduced would disappear overnight.
6. Mr. Gill : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received on the subject of making it obligatory for parents to attend court alongside alleged juvenile offenders.
Mr. John Patten : In addition to the recent questions from my hon. Friend, in the past 12 months the Home Office has received about 40 letters stressing the need to involve parents in the consequences of their children's misbehaviour. Some referred to parents' attendance at court with their children.
Mr. Gill : On the very day when it is reported that three children, aged six, seven and nine, carried out a depraved sex attack on an elderly, disabled and defenceless woman, does my hon. Friend not agree that it is high time that society made it clear that it will hold parents entirely responsible for the actions of their children?
Mr. Patten : On the second point, I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that we need to make considerable and rapid strides forward by making parents more responsible for their children's criminal acts. On the first point, I cannot and should not comment on press reports, but I agree entirely with Superintendent Martin Burton--reported in The Daily Telegraph, so it must be true--who says :
"Parents should be responsible for bringing up their children, teaching them to tell the truth, to respect other people's property and to look after those less fortunate. They should be told it is wrong to lie, cheat, steal and bully."
Mr. Bermingham : Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell that to other Ministers. In view of his comments today, and more particularly his recent utterances on children and parents in court, does he agree that instead of seeking to punish parents for the acts of their children, whom the parents are sometimes not in a position to control, it might be better to investigate the root cause of juvenile crime and make efforts to provide help for those families which, at an early stage, have problems with their children?
Mr. Patten : I recognise the hon. Gentleman's serious interest in the issue. He is right that parents who, for a variety of reasons, cannot control their children, or who have sought help because of their children's unruly
Column 1047behaviour, should not be punished by the law. However, it is right that we should follow the signposts provided by the Labour Government's Children and Young Persons Act 1969, which provides that parents can be bound over on a recognisance of £500 to ensure the proper conduct of their children. I look forward to new and imaginative thoughts on the issue in the forthcoming Labour party policy review, though heaven knows what they will be.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett : As parents are already required to go to court in truancy cases, and as most children who are at risk indulge in criminal activities at the age of 14 or 15, will my hon. Friend reconsider the time limit? It can take up to two years to get the parent and the child to court. Will he also reconsider the penalties which can be imposed? Will he ensure that such cases are dealt with as quickly as possible as there is no point in taking children to court once they have left school?
Mr. Patten : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The best form of justice is the swiftest form of justice, particularly when dealing with children. Such delays are undesirable and I shall bring them to the attention of my right hon. Friend who is responsible for these matters. In addition, I agree that the attendance of parents in court when their children are being tried is very desirable indeed, and I am sure that all of my hon. Friends would wish to see that happen on every such occasion.
Mr. Randall : How would the Minister's much publicised new proposal dealing with the failure to prevent child crime, to which he indirectly referred just now, distinguish between parents who turn a blind eye and those who genuinely cannot cope with the behaviour of their children? Does the Minister realise that his proposal is unworkable and, at best, would increase family breakdown and create even more homelessness? Is he aware that there are already enough powers to make parents accountable for the behaviour of their children? Why, therefore, does he not throw his proposals in the dustbin, where they belong?
Mr. Patten : I answer no to the hon. Gentleman's second and third questions. As to his first question, if he had bothered to read my words he would have seen that in the four or five-page document in which these ideas are presented the methods are very carefully set out. Should we proceed with such an offence, those parents who are not able to deal with their offending children can be separated from the deliberately delinquent parents and the deliberately delinquent children, about whom the Labour party has no ideas at all. If the hon. Gentleman's question is good evidence of the new thinking emerging from the Labour party's policy review, heaven help the Labour party.
Mr. John Patten : At the end of March 1989 there were 66,423 neighbourhood watch schemes in England and Wales, covering approximately 3 million households. This is a new record--28 per cent. more neighbourhood watches than a year ago.
Mr. Carrington : I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his reply. Does he agree that the neighbourhood watch schemes have led to a reduction in the number of burglaries, particularly in London, and that their proven success in reducing crime is the best way of increasing the number of schemes and of encouraging residents to join and to participate?
Mr. Patten : I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that one of the best ways of accelerating the present happy decline in domestic burglary is to have more neighbourhood watches. Perhaps more district councils could follow the recent example of Brentwood district council, which has appointed its first neighbourhood watch co-ordinator. That could do a lot of good.
Mr. Sheerman : Does the Minister accept that, while Opposition Members support neighbourhood watch schemes, they believe that those schemes must be linked into a positive partnership between the police and local authorities, and that if we are to have proper crime prevention we need to give democratically elected authorities a lead role in crime prevention? Will the Minister and the Home Secretary give those authorities the resources and the powers to do that job constructively?
Mr. Patten : Many Labour-controlled local authorities--in Hull, for example--are very happy to co-operate with the Home Office in the efforts to reduce crime through crime prevention measures. I only wish that the hon. Gentleman would bother to go to a county like Cleveland and advise the Labour-controlled local authority to co-operate with the neighbourhood watch movement instead of attacking it.
Sir Bernard Braine : Is my hon. Friend aware that the success of a neighbourhood watch scheme stems directly from the relationship of the police constable on the beat with the people themselves? In my constituency --where, two years ago, there were 60 break-ins a year in one particular area--since there has been a neighbourhood watch scheme, with a first-class police officer in charge, and co-operation from the local people, we have had no break-ins?
Mr. Patten : I hope that if my right hon. Friend extends an invitation to me he will let me meet the police constable and the people involved in the neighbourhood watch scheme. It is not just neighbourhood watch schemes in areas like Castle Point--my right hon. Friend's constituency--that produce these remarkable results ; similar results are being produced in the rather more difficult territories of Islington, Rochdale and many of our great northern cities, and they deserve the support of the Labour party. That is why the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) should go to Cleveland and give the Labour-controlled council there a good talking to.
8. Mr. Pawsey : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the action taken by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and the insurance industry to reduce levels of car theft.
Mr. John Patten : The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and the insurance industry have played an active part in the preparation of British standards for vehicle security and for anti-theft alarms. They have also taken steps to increase public awareness of the opportunities for preventing car theft and the insurance industry has established a central register of total loss claims. It is encouraging that, in 1988, theft or unauthorised taking of motor vehicles and theft from motor vehicles fell by 6 per cent.
Mr. Pawsey : I thank my hon. Friend for that complete reply. The 6 per cent. fall in crime will be welcomed by motorists throughout the country. Can my hon. Friend say what further measures might be taken to reduce crime? Does he think that if motor manufacturers improved the locking on vehicles, it would reduce crime?
Mr. Patten : We have some good new British standards on car security. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that motor manufacturers can do more. Some manufacturers such as the Rover group and Vauxhall are already doing a great deal. Also, the British insurance industry should strain every sinew to try to introduce new forms of discount to promote car security. It is through such measures that we will produce the admirable results we have seen in Warwickshire--to name a county at random--in the past year where car crime has fallen by about 4 per cent. and theft from cars has fallen by 25 per cent.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : Is the Minister aware that some of the devices fitted to cars cause crime rather than prevent it? Is he aware that I have heard many complaints from people who have had a car noise device go off close to their home and who, having gone out to check that the car was not being stolen, have been extremely annoyed to find that it is not possible to turn the device off? Such people often have their sleep or their day time greatly disturbed by those devices. What steps are being taken to ensure that the car noise devices turn themselves off after giving a proper warning?
Mr. Patten : If the car alarms have been properly fitted and conform to the excellent new British standards that we are trying to promote throughout Europe--thanks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport--the problems, which, as the hon. Gentleman said can be a considerable nuisance to local residents, can be obviated. [Interruption.]
Mr. Hurd : I shall be attending a meeting of Trevi Ministers under the Spanish presidency in Madrid on 12 May. I shall also be having bilateral talks with my French counterpart on 19 May when our discussions will include measures to counter terrorism.
Column 1050Ireland, 323 people have died and 344 have been injured as a result of terrorist activity, only part of which relates to Northern Ireland and, bearing in mind that increasingly terrorism has an international dimension, will my right hon. Friend ensure that appropriate and adequate measures are being taken internationally to combat such crime? What has been achieved and what does he intend to achieve?
Mr. Hurd : Perhaps I can give three short examples of what we are achieving through the work of the Trevi Ministers. We are ensuring the flow of timely and accurate knowledge between forces of a type that enabled the French authorities to intercept the ship Eksund from Libya, which was loaded with guns and explosives and bound for Ireland. We are assessing the work of terrorist groups in Europe and the extent to which they are helped by states outside Europe and we are looking at the legislation in different countries and encouraging countries to adopt legislation such as that which this Parliament has just passed to deal with terrorist finances.