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Mr. Allason : Given the disagreements that appear to have arisen between the various investigating agencies involved in the Lockerbie disaster, would my right hon. Friend recommend the inclusion of the United States in the kilowatt anti-terrorist European group? At present, it seems that the bilateral arrangements between the United Kingdom and the United States do not appear to be working very well.
Mr. Hurd : I advise my hon. Friend not to believe everything that he reads in the newspapers but to rely more extensively on what Parliament is told about the progress of the Lockerbie inquiry by the Lord Advocate, who is the Minister responsible.
As regards the United States, my hon. Friend is on to a fair point. He will be glad to know that the United States has regular and useful contacts at various levels with the Trevi group of European Ministers.
Mr. Ron Brown : Bearing in mind that no Scottish Law Officer is accountable to this House, will the Home Secretary ensure that his colleague Lord Fraser comes to this place, perhaps to a Committee room, to explain to interested hon. Members exactly what is going on regarding the Lockerbie atrocity? Will he do that, bearing in mind that clearly on the Opposition side of the House we believe in open government and in getting answers to very important, pertinent questions that have been raised on both this side of the Atlantic and on the other? Clearly, this has to be addressed and should not be simply a matter for debate in the press.
10. Mr. Couchman : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the total amount of assets confiscated from convicted drug traffickers in 1989 ; and what were the comparable figures for the first quarter of 1988.
Mr. John Patten : Our information is that the courts have made confiscation orders totalling more than £5 million since the relevant powers came into force on 12 January 1987. No precise valuation is made of assets frozen pending trial at any one time, but we believe that between £10 million and £12 million is at present subject to restraint and charging orders.
Mr. Couchman : I am slightly disappointed that my hon. Friend has not got more precise figures to offer on this innovative form of punishment for drug pedlars. Drug peddling is an international crime and much of the ill-gotten gains are laundered internationally. Can my hon. Friend say what agreements he has with other countries in terms of confiscation of funds held overseas?
Mr. Patten : Pretty good progress is being made, with some £5 million confiscated and between £10 million and £12 million frozen. We are making good progress with arrangements with other countries. Bilateral agreements have been signed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department with five countries, and letters of understanding with two others. We are now seeking to make arrangements with countries such as Jamaica and Nigeria, which will also be very important.
Sir Fergus Montgomery : What happens to these confiscated assets? Can I have an assurance that they will be handed over to the police forces concerned so that all these assets can be used in the fight against drugs?
Mr. Patten : The money, of course, goes to the Treasury in this country. Record allocations are being made to the police at the moment. These have gone up by some 52 per cent. since 1979, and the allocations take into account the severity of the drug problem in different parts of the country.
Mr. Knox : I welcome the fact that the figure is rather lower than it was, but does my right hon. Friend agree that there are far too many people in prison at the present time? Does he really think that it is necessary or desirable to lock up so many people?
Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend will be pleased to note that the total prison population is about 800 lower than it was 12 months ago, and that the remand population at the end of February was 1,200 lower than it was 12 months previously. We may be beginning to make some progress
Column 1052in the direction which I know my hon. Friend would like, which is towards having more severe sentences for those who are guilty of serious violent crime but finding disposals other than imprisonment for non-violent offenders.
Mr. Tom Clarke : What steps are the Government taking to reduce the unacceptably high numbers of mentally ill and mentally handicapped persons in prisons, many of them there because the courts can think of nowhere else to send them?
Mr. Hurd : The hon. Gentleman is right. Such people should not end up in prison simply because the other agencies cannot find a place for them. This is something which my colleagues and I are discussing with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.
Mr. William Powell : Does my right hon. Friend accept that, whether or not we have too many or too few people in prison, we simply do not have enough drug traffickers in prison? Will my right hon. Friend do all that he can to make certain that continuing high priority is given to ensuring that drug traffickers are locked up, and locked up for long periods?
12. Mr. Janner : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many, and what percentage of people, who were charged with shoplifting offences and who pleaded not guilty, were acquitted during the last year for which records are available.
Mr. John Patten : Ten per cent. of those prosecuted for theft from shops in 1987 were acquitted. We do not have information centrally about pleas. There was, however, a welcome 12 per cent. fall in the number of cases in 1988.
Mr. Janner : Does the Minister recognise the vast danger of innocent shoppers being arrested for and, in many cases, charged with shoplifting offences? Does he know of the Tesco case, in which two women who established their innocence found themselves with a massive costs burden because of the payment-into-court system? Will he please discuss with the Attorney-General possible ways of remedying that vast danger and injustice?
Mr. Patten : I know of the hon. and learned Gentleman's longstanding interest in these matters. I am aware of the case to which he refers. If those who are caught allegedly thieving from shops can prove that they were simply absent-minded or confused, the case will fall. We must remember that there is no special category of shoplifting as a crime in this country. Theft is theft, wherever it occurs.
The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher) : This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having further meetings later today.
Mr. Campbell : Official figures show that the number of people in this country living below the poverty line increased by 55 per cent. in the past 10 years. Therefore, will the Prime Minister call for a commission of inquiry to find out how that happened?
The Prime Minister : The moment we alter the standard of what is called poverty and raise the threshold, obviously it is possible that more people will come in. We have a very good, comprehensive social security system. It contributes to the living standards of a large proportion of the population, and to nearly one sixth of the disposable income of the population as a whole. The £51 billion that we are now spending on social security benefits is more than the Government collect in income tax.
Mrs. Currie : Has my right hon. Friend heard the rumours about increased inward investment in this country, by international firms from Japan, for example? Does she agree that that has nothing whatever to do with Government subsidies or Socialist planning, but a great deal to do with a good work force, single-union deals, and an atmosphere of encouragement for business which only a Conservative Government can provide?
The Prime Minister : Yes. The inward investment record into this country is excellent. Other people have great confidence in the policies that are pursued by this Government, and confidence that they will continue to be pursued without controls in the future.
Mr. Martin : May I ask the Prime Minister during her busy day to consider the plight of one of my young constituents, Mr. Robert McKee, aged seven, and that of his grandmother? Young Robert was born without any arms. When it rains or snows, his grandmother must hold him by the scruff of the neck in case he falls. He has been refused a bus pass and his grandfather is denied a companion's pass. On seven occasions he has been before a tribunal for a mobility allowance. If the right hon. Lady really cares about the poor and the disadvantaged, why does she make people go through such humiliating hurdles?
The Prime Minister : Of course one would be deeply concerned about any case such as that-- [Interruption.] Of course one would, and every hon. Member would. I assume that the hon. Gentleman has taken the matter up with the appropriate authorities. As I said in reply to the last question, the taxpayer in this country pays about £51 billion towards social security, which is higher than the entire yield of income tax. That is the extent of our commitment.
Mr. Steen : Will the Prime Minister spare a thought this afternoon for the frail and elderly living in private residential homes who can no longer make both ends meet because of the limit on the board and lodging allowance which the DHSS has set for 1988? While there must be limits on public expenditure, even for the elderly, may I ask my right hon. Friend to say something to ensure that those living in private residential homes will not be pushed out if there is not sufficient money forthcoming from the DHSS?
The Prime Minister : In accordance with the general uprating, we have reviewed many of the payments paid to those who live in residential care or in nursing homes, and I think that that is the group to whom my hon. Friend is referring. From Monday, we have provided extra help to nearly nine out of 10 people who claim income support to meet residential care or nursing home fees. We are now helping 150,000 people in such homes compared with 12,000 when we took office, and expenditure has risen from £10 million to £890 million. That is because the economy is successful, and it demonstrates-- [Interruption.] Yes, it demonstrates also the extent of our commitment : £10 million when we took office and £890 million now.
The Prime Minister : I notice, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in some very percipient replies upstairs, that the level of inflation- -it was a miracle that the Labour Government ever achieved it--was a cause of concern for us.
The Prime Minister : It is not on precisely the same basis-- [Interruption.] I would add that the level of unemployment has fallen faster in this country than in all of the European main countries put together.
Mr. Kinnock : Will the Prime Minister explain why unemployment, by her reckoning, is still nearly one million higher than it was when she came to power and why, when the rate of inflation was at the average of Europe in 1979, it is twice the average now? Will she give an answer?
The Prime Minister : The rate of inflation in 1979, when the Labour Government left office, was a lot higher than it is now-- [Interruption.] There are now more than 1.5 million more people of working age than there were in 1979. There are today more people in work in this country than ever before and we have a bigger proportion of our people in work than in almost any other country in the EEC.
Mr. Hayes : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is outrageous that the French and Italian Governments should be spending vast sums of money every year directly in subsidising their own nationalised industries to
Column 1055undercut British competition, which is costing this country jobs? Will she add her weight to the campaign to make Europe a place in which there is free and fair competition?
The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend knows, state aid is incompatible with the concept of a common market, which is why we must get permission from the EEC in any case where it is given. If my hon. Friend has any particular cases in mind we shall of course take them up vigorously, because state aids may be phased out before we reach 1992 and they should already be the subject of permission. The Commission has recently said that it intends to make much more active use of its powers to scrutinise existing state aids in all member states, and it has our strong support in doing that.
Mr. Steel : When, in her next Cabinet reshuffle, the Prime Minister is looking for somewhere to send her right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), which is further away than Wales, will she consider Scotland-- [Hon. Members :-- "No."] Yes--where the policies and principles that he outlines will be more acceptable than the present ones?
The Prime Minister : In fact, Scotland and Wales are doing very well because of the economic policies of this Government. The right hon. Gentleman is aware that Scotland has the second highest average male earnings of the whole of the United Kingdom, thanks to the Conservative Government, and to private enterprise.
Mr. David Evans : Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the decision of the Union of European Football Associations to allow English clubs back into Europe in the 1991 season, subject to Government approval?- - [Interruption.] Does she agree that the Football Association and the Football League would have had their application turned down had it not been for the Government's intention in the Football Spectators Bill, which will drag English football into the next century?
Mr. Grocott : Is the Prime Minister aware that when, in response to the vision and courage of Mr. Gorbachev, she continues to use the tired old language of the arms race, she is not speaking for the British people?
The Prime Minister : Nonsense. The British people are not as easily taken in as the hon. Gentleman. The British people noted that last weekend, for example, East German border guards shot at two people who wished to enter West Berlin, and they are noticing other things that are taking place in the Soviet Union. They know that we must keep our defences sure and that the nuclear deterrent has preserved peace for 40 years--and Conservatives think that peace is important.
Mr. Greenway : While recognising that the Green Paper on the reform of legal services is a legitimate matter for discussion by judges, does my right hon. Friend share my relief that the judges' proposed discussion in work time of that paper on Monday is off?
The Prime Minister : Yes, I understand that the judges will hold their discussion on Saturday, 20 May, at a time when the Lord Chancellor will be able to address the meeting as he wishes. That decision is very welcome.
Mr. David Davis : Is my right hon. Friend aware that port employers employing 90 per cent. or more registered dock workers have given guarantees today against the casualisation of the docks and, accordingly, there is no need now for the dock labour scheme, which we intend to abolish, and there is no need for the dock workers to go on strike?
The Prime Minister : Yes, I understand that in a major statement issued today, the National Association of Port Employers gave a public guarantee that it will not return to casual employment systems after the repeal of the dock labour scheme in July. The guarantee was endorsed by employers representing over 93 per cent. of Britain's registerd dock workers. It stated :
"This unprecedented promise deals with the major fear voiced by the dockers since the Government made its announcement The historical justification of the scheme was to end casual employment. Today's promise carries forward that principle. As such, there is obviously no case for inventing a substitute or revised form of the Scheme or equally calling a futile and unnecessary strike."
It went on to say that it would of course be prepared to enter into discussions in the coming weeks and months about the scheme and conditions of employment which would supersede the ending of the dock scheme.
Mr. Janner : Did the Prime Minister see the sad and remarkable television programme by Esther Rantzen last week which revealed the disgraceful under-resourcing of hospitals and facilities for people who are mentally ill or mentally handicapped? Will she give some sign that the Government know and care about those people and that they propose to provide resources not merely to close
Column 1057down mental hospitals, but to provide facilities for people outside which is better, but which cost much more?
Column 1058gone up on all hospital services from £8 billion in 1979 to £24 billion this year. With regard to the proposals for community care in the Griffiths report, the Government are considering those and will in due course make an announcement about their decisions.
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