1. Official Secrets Act 1989.
2. Avon Light Rail Transit Act 1989.
(No. 2) Bill-- (By Order) Order for Third Reading read.
To be read a Third time on Thursday 18 May.
(By Order) Orders for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Thursday 18 May.
(By Order) Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Monday 15 May at 7 o'clock.
(By Order) Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Thursday 18 May.
(No. 2) Bill--
That the Committee on the Birmingham City Council (No. 2) Bill have leave to visit the route of the proposed motor race in Birmingham, provided that no evidence shall be taken in the course of such visit and that any party who has made an appearance before the Committee be permitted to attend by his Counsel, Agent or other representative.-- [The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.]
Read the Third time, and passed.
1. Mr. Hanley : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the average number of working days taken by the London passport office to process an application for the issue or renewal of a passport ; and what it was one year ago.
6. Mr. Jack : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the average number of working days in each of the London, Peterborough and Liverpool passport offices to process a renewal of passport ; and what it was a year ago.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd) : We give priority to urgent cases, where they are identified. The present time for processing postal applications at the London passport office is 20 working days compared with 51 last year ; at Liverpool 59 compared with 15 ; and at Peterborough 33 compared with 30 a year ago. Most applications are processed well within those periods. The Liverpool backlog is a serious problem and, to help to reduce it, I propose, for a period of three months, to extend by two years the life of passports which have expired within the past five years and which are submitted to the Liverpool passport office for replacement. There will be no charge for this service.
Mr. Hanley : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the London figures, and recognise the greatly increased demand for passports, both for business and for pleasure, which is a symptom of a healthy economy. What contribution has the common format passport made to reducing the time scale for passport renewal applications in London? As a matter of urgency, through the common passport, will he increase computerisation throughout the United Kingdom?
Mr. Hurd : On the whole, after many years of discussion, the common passport has been well received. Passport offices are now in the throes of computerisation. It has begun well in Glasgow. One reason that the London performance is so much better than it was a year ago is that many postal applications to the London office are now diverted to Glasgow and dealt with there.
Mr. Jack : What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to speed up the issue of new passports in all passport offices? The news of renewals in Liverpool is welcomed by tourists and business people in the north-west of England. As we approach the holiday period, will my right hon. Friend give some assurances about our prospects for the early issue of new passports?
Mr. Hurd : We are just about at the peak of the passport-issuing season--the middle of May. The measure that I have just announced to help Liverpool with passport renewal applications will mean that staff will be available to deal with new passports. I hope that that will help to relieve an undoubtedly serious problem.
Column 981reducing waiting times. Will the Secretary of State bear in mind the tremendous anxiety of some people who get in touch with their Members of Parliament because they do not know whether their passports will arrive in time for holidays for which they have paid? While the short-term improvement that is proposed by the Secretary of State is welcome, can we look forward to a long-term improvement which should bring about a turnround in applications of less than, say, 10 days?
Mr. Hurd : I very much hope so. Computerisation should be completed in all passport offices by the end of the year. If our experience so far is any guide, that will give a consistently better service to the public.
Dr. Glyn : While congratulating my right hon. Friend on the measures that he has taken to speed things up, I ask him how those people who have had to buy temporary passports at a cost of about £7.50, because their applications for passports have not been granted, can get their money refunded when they finally receive their proper passports.
Mr. Madden : Will the Home Secretary warn all overseas nationals living in this country, who require re-entry visas, to ensure that they obtain them before they leave Britain? Will he especially look into the case of Mrs. Shahnaz Akhtar, my constituent, who went on holiday to Pakistan with her husband? She has been refused permission to return to her home and her husband because of bureaucratic red tape in Islamabad. Will he do everything to ensure that my constituent can return to this country, so that she can have the baby that she is expecting in safety in Bradford royal infirmary?
Mr. Hurd : I see that the questions refer to London, Peterborough and Liverpool but not, as far as I can tell, to Islamabad. The hon. Gentleman has made his point and, if he wishes to pursue it with me in greater detail, of course I will look at the matter carefully.
Mr. Darling : The Home Secretary said that it was expected to take four weeks to issue a passport in London. When one telephones the passport office, the announcement also says that it will take four weeks. However, when I eventually spoke to the people working in the office, they said that it would more likely take eight to 10 weeks. When I telephoned the Peterborough office, I was told that it would take seven weeks to three months. Does the Home Secretary accept that there are still substantial delays in processing passport applications? Does he accept that in Glasgow last year--where computerisation is well advanced--there were problems? Does he further accept that the real reason that there were delays and are likely to be delays this summer is because there is substantial under- staffing throughout all passport offices within the United Kingdom? Unless the Home Secretary deals with that problem, we will continue to face inordinate delays in processing what is a comparatively simple application.
Mr. Hurd : If I may say so, that is a very old-fashioned question. The reason why, last year especially, there was a delay, and this year in some places the public is still not getting the service that it deserves, is that the demand for passports has built up very fast and the offices have not
Column 982been computerised. However many staff we employ would be no substitute for the kind of computerisation which is now working in Glasgow and producing the improvements that I have described. The secret is to get computerisation into place by the end of this year.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten) : Violence on our streets is a matter of great concern to the Government, as it rightly is to the public. We are supporting the police in their efforts to curb this menace, and we are concentrating resources on certain urban high-crime areas through our safer cities programme. We have also produced a crime prevention handbook that contains advice on what citizens can do to reduce the risk of attack. Nearly 2 million copies of that handbook have been distributed. I am pleased to say that the number of robberies recorded by the police nationally fell by 3.7 per cent. last year. The fall in Derbyshire was a notable 15 per cent.
Mr. McLoughlin : While welcoming any fall in the number of robberies, and being pleased with the fall in Derbyshire, which was greater than the national average, does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the greatest ways in which the public can help the police is by taking greater care of their property? Far too often temptation is put in the way of people. Property could easily be put out of sight and thereby crimes could possibly be averted.
Mr. Patten : My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the remarkable fall of 15 per cent. in the number of robberies in Derbyshire last year. He is also right in saying that the average citizen should take every conceivable action to defend himself against unwarranted attack by ensuring that temptation in the way of property is not carried around too openly in the streets or left lying around in his home or motor car. It is simple self-defence and self-protection very often.
Mr. Duffy : Is the Minister aware that, with sexual assaults, street attacks and street robberies are the crimes most feared by the public? Has he had an opportunity to look closely at the performance of the Battersea division of the Metropolitan police which has reduced street robberies by more than 60 per cent. in the past two years? Will he consider how far its special concerted tactics are applicable to other urban areas, especially in South Yorkshire?
Mr. Patten : I was rather hoping to get the opportunity to raise the remarkable success of the Battersea division of the Metropolitan police. Help comes from unusual quarters on occasions. The hon. Gentleman is right that in 1988 the division cut violent crime by a third through a concerted attack on it and through better targeting by the police over a four-month period. It also improved the clear-up rate by 12 per cent. As the hon. Gentleman said, other forces can learn lessons from the Metropolitan police about how targeting can not just displace but break up and disperse areas of notable high crime.
Column 983robberies? Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the sentences imposed by the courts are adequate to deter the growing incidence of this disease in our communities, bearing in mind that most people want substantial sentences to combat that problem?
Mr. Patten : I greatly welcome what my hon. Friend has said. We already have the reforms which were introduced in the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 and perhaps more importantly the increased sentences provided for the courts of up to, for example, life imprisonment for carrying a firearm in the commission of a crime. The courts have a severe range of penalties for those who use, let alone carry and use, firearms in the commission of crime and we hope that they use them.
Mr. Sheerman : I am sorry to remind the Minister that robberies increased by 160 per cent. between 1979 and 1986 whatever he says about last year and our information is that that crime is increasing yet again this year. Does he not know that successful packages to act against robbery and crime of this kind are usually led by a local authority-police partnership? Will he explain why, with the announcement of the new safer cities programme, which includes Wandsworth and Islington, the committee that was set up in Islington totally bypasses the police consultative group and excludes from the 12-person committee any councillor, saying that only representatives and officers from Islington can serve on the committee?
Mr. Patten : We want to see the maximum possible co-operation to continue the successful downward trend in crimes against property and crimes of violence. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not think it notable that crimes of robbery--street crimes--fell last year by 3.7 per cent.
The safer cities programme is extremely important and we welcome the co- operation of local authorities of all political colours. I wish that more Labour-led local authorities would heed what Sir Peter Imbert said yesterday when he criticised so many Labour-controlled boroughs for getting in the way of the proper working of police-public consultative committees. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman's right hon. and hon. Friends in the new convenient Socialist world that they are trying to create will try to talk to some of those Labour authorities and persuade them to co-operate with the police.
Mr. John Patten : I wish to encourage further use of the powers that the law already provides, firstly, to require parents to attend court with their children, secondly, to bind parents over and, thirdly, to require them to pay their children's fines. We are considering making it an offence for parents to fail to make reasonable efforts to prevent their children committing offences, as is quite comon in some other countries. Teachers play a crucial part in
Column 984helping children grow up to respect and abide by the law, but we have no plans at present, to make them responsible in law for their pupil's actions during school time.
Mr. Butler : Given that my hon. Friend's proposals quite rightly bite only on parents who could reasonably be expected to control their children's behaviour, why does he not extend that principle to teachers who act in loco parentis?
Mr. Patten : I note my hon. Friend's strong concern about this. However, parents have a continuing duty to look after their children and bear responsibility for them. It is more difficult to imagine that children should look to their teachers, of whom there may be several during the course of the day, to be responsible for their acts, or that the teachers could be reasonably held to be responsible. I view with mounting alarm reports about schools in some parts of the country, for example the Ellesmere nursery and first school in Sheffield, where there seems to have been a complete breakdown in the school, with classes being closed before Easter. The children attending the school are aged between three and seven, not 13 and 17.
Mr. Hunter : While I warmly welcome the attention that my hon. Friend gives to the subject, will he give further assurances that he will move with great caution? It is quite possible for the children of responsible parents to act irresponsibly. Likewise, how can the courts determine the degree of parental responsibility or irresponsibility with regard to a particular offence?
Mr. Patten : Of course we are cautious. The courts can determine whether parents have, on a prior occasion or occasions, been warned of their failure to take care of and proper responsibility for their children. There is a little-used provision on the statute book that was introduced by the Labour party in the Children and Young Persons Act 1969, to give courts the power to bind over parents to ensure the behaviour of their children up to a recognisance of £500. I wish that the courts would use that provision more often.
Mr. Ashton : Is it not totally unethical for a Minister to name a school such as Ellesmere school which is near where I live? To do so serves to highlight and arouse a lot of interest in it, and blacken its name so that the problem becomes more difficult rather than easier to solve. The Minister should have had more sense than to name a school.
Mr. Patten : The hon. Gentleman should be more concerned about the school itself. The reports were published in the national press last week and are well known. The matter has not been raised by Ministers at this Dispatch Box. It is a matter of considerable public concern when, unfortunately, through bad behaviour, problems set in in a school, and make it ungovernable for a period, especially when the schoolchildren are aged between three and seven. There is something wrong and a combination of better parental responsibility and greater teacher responsibility would help, and that is exactly what the proposal is aimed at.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg) : Eight new prisons have been opened since 1985, seven are under construction and one, which has been converted from existing buildings at Banstead in Surrey, will open in a few weeks' time. Five more are planned to start on site this year and eight are in various stages of planning and development.
The building programme also covers the expansion of existing establishments. By the end of this year, nearly 2,000 new places will have been added to existing establishments in a period of less than two years. The prison department directorate of works has begun a five-year programme to provide over 6,500 cells with access to sanitation. By the mid-1990s we will have added about 25,000 places to the system.
Mr. Hind : I am grateful to my hon. Friend, whose programme is a credit to his Department. Does he agree that the major problem in the prison system at the moment, in relation to overcrowding, comes from remand prisoners, not those serving time? As a consequence of that, in the new prison programme will he consider separating remand centres from prisons and building them in the centre of towns, close to the court centres so that access is provided to relatives and lawyers? That would reduce alienation and speed up the time in which cases are brought to court.
Mr. Hogg : My hon. Friend is entirely right to focus on remands. There are too many remand prisoners in the system. The Government are anxious to reduce the pressure caused by the numbers. We are making provision for remand places in the building programme that I have outlined.
My hon. Friend has referred to the urban remand centres, and we are giving particular attention to the possibility of such centres at Everthorpe and Cookham Wood. We also have a multifaceted strategy to reduce the number of prisoners held in remand--for example, the imposition of time limits on pre -trial proceedings, an increase in the number of bail hostel places, an increase in bail information schemes, electronic monitoring, more courts and more judges. It is a comprehensive programme.
Mr. Skinner : Will these prisons be built especially to keep prisoners in? When the Tory Government were elected in 1979, I think the slogan was, "Elect us and set the people free." In the 10 years since, the prisoners have been breaking out.
Mr. Latham : Can my hon. Friend assure me that the building work to extend Stocken prison will be carried out more efficiently and cost- effectively than the building of the prison itself, which he and I have had occasion to discuss several times?
Column 986constituents have every reason to be grateful to him for the attention he has given to their needs. The answer to his question is yes.
Mr. Evennett : I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. When he next meets the commissioner, will he congratulate him on the progress being made by the police in London in the fight against crime? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in certain parts of London such as Brixton, for example, there was a considerable fall in the total number of notifiable offences in 1988?
Mr. Hurd : Yes, there has been a fall in that area, which comes within the Lambeth district. There has been a fall in total recorded crime across London. Lambeth area, which has been particularly difficult in the past, also registered a 1.5 per cent. fall, year-on-year. That is welcome, although my hon. Friend will agree that there is a great deal more to be done.
This fall reflects the considerable efforts being made by the police and the community in the whole range of activities that come under the heading of crime prevention and neighbourhood watch.
Mr. Cohen : When the Home Secretary next meets the commissioner, will he ask him about the leaflets on racial harassment that the police were sending out via Saatchi and Saatchi but which got lost? Will he ensure that there is an investigation and that the criminals--presumably Saatchi and Saatchi--are brought to court?
Mr. Hurd : I shall certainly look into that. The progress that has been made in dealing with racial attacks by the Metropolitan police has been welcomed by the hon. Gentleman himself, and we hope to publish the latest report of the working group, with a check list of the initiatives being taken, during next week.
Mr. Trotter : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the police welcome the new powers that they will have from 1 July to refuse to grant shotgun licences and, for the first time, to require these weapons to be kept in safe custody? Will he undertake that the advice that the Home Office must give the police in the near future ensures that there shall be strict regulation over the safe keeping of these deadly weapons? Does he accept that the police and public are right in their belief, in the light of the incident in Monkseaton, that there should be a requirement that those keeping shotguns shall be responsible for ensuring that they do not fall into the wrong hands, and that, whatever the inconveniences involved, they shall be required to keep them safely in custody?
Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend has a natural interest in this because of the tragedy at Monkseaton in his constituency. He is perfectly right : from 1 July as a result of the decisions that Parliament has taken, a statutory safekeeping condition will be imposed on shotgun certificate holders.
Column 987Guidance to the police will recommend that all shotguns kept on domestic premises be stored in a locked gun cabinet or similarly secured container.
Mr. Maclennan : Does the Home Secretary endorse the remarks made yesterday by Sir Peter Imbert about the importance of partnership in policing in the Metropolis? In particular, can he say whether he has discussed the importance of introducing more members of ethnic minorities into the police force?
Mr. Hurd : Indeed I have. I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I have discussed it with the commissioner often. Although he and I would like to see a speedier improvement, the hon. Gentleman will have noticed not just in the Metropolitan police but countrywide a steady build-up in the total of police officers recruited from ethnic minorities. I do not have the exact figure but I believe that it is in the neighbourhood of 1,200, which is a considerable increase on two or three years ago.
Mr. Kilfedder : What action does the commissioner intend to take to rid central London of the illegal street traders and their lookouts, who defraud Londoners and the vast number of tourists who come to the capital by the sale of fake goods, and also the hot food stalls which sell food that may be contaminated?
Mr. Hurd : The responsibility is divided between the police and environmental health officers. If the hon. Gentleman has particular instances in mind, I hope that he will let the police or me know, because the difficulty of enforcement is often one of evidence.
Mr. Corbett : Did the Home Secretary and the commissioner discuss who might become the new director of public affairs in the Metropolitan police? Will it be one of the placemen suggested by the deputy Prime Minister, Bernard Ingham, or someone of more professional independence?
7. Miss Emma Nicholson : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many commercially operated slimming clinics currently have authority to supply amphetamines and similar controlled drugs to patients ; and what steps he is taking to restrict such supply.
11. Mr. Greg Knight : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many commercially operated slimming clinics currently have authority to supply amphetamines and similar controlled drugs to patients ; and what steps he is taking to further restrict such supply.
Mr. Douglas Hogg : Forty one clinics currently have such an authority. The drugs concerned--diethylpropion, phentermine and mazindol-- are controlled under schedule 3 to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 1985 by reason of their dependence-forming properties and liability to misuse. The clinics have been informed that against a background of recent authoritative medical opinion, which assigns a severely restricted role to these
Column 988drugs in the treatment of obesity, existing authorities will not be renewed on their expiry. Some 20 applications by new clinics have been refused.
Miss Nicholson : I welcome my hon. Friend's splendid statement. Does he agree that not just amphetamines but other drugs have no role to play in slimming and that it is merely a question of eating less? The current fad is the melt-down diet where, alas, the only thing that melts down as one watches one's friends eating buttered toast in the Members' Smoking Room is one's will power. None the less, my sex being ultra-sensitive about their shape and size, they are extra gullible about slimming. My hon. Friend should make every effort to continue to control slimming drugs and slimming advertisements because they are all totally useless.
Mr. Hogg : I think that it would be offensive of me to say that I shall consult my hon. Friend about the wisdom of what she has said. I can say from personal experience that less whisky and less butter does one a lot of good.
Mr. Knight : Will my hon. Friend give an assurance to the House that he will continue to monitor the supply of appetite-suppressant drugs and that, if he feels that further measures are necessary, he will not hesitate to take them? Does he agree that the simple message that should be sent to the general public is that it is better to have a hearty appetite and be somewhat overweight than to be on drugs?
Mr. Hogg : It is very bad to be on drugs unless they are absolutely clinically necessary. In the case of the three drugs that I mentioned earlier, they are habit-forming and should be used only in cases of extreme obesity. It was unsatisfactory that a number of the clinics by which they were prescribed should have had a direct interest in their prescription.
Mr. Rathbone : While my right hon. Friend should be congratulated on that and on the extensions of the Act in his bilateral agreements with other Governments, may I urge him to maximise the procedures by extending those activities nationally and internationally? In addition, may I put to him the need to apply the funds so seized to the research and special projects that are required to battle against drug misuse and drug trafficking, as was so ably pointed out in an Adjournment debate only last week by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery)?
Mr. Hurd : I hope that the meeting of Ministers dealing with drugs in London next week will enable me to apply some more powerful persuasion to some of our allies and partners to pass their own legislation for confiscating assets and to reach agreement with us on that. We must try to put the resources where they are needed--for example, in adding again to the number of officers in regional crime
Column 989squads. That cannot be done simply on the basis of windfall profits. The police argue--with some force--that under the present system they find it difficult to meet the cost of, for example, the foreign travel needed for some overseas investigations, or to finance the rewards that they seek to pay, and the we are looking at the ideas that they have put forward.
Mr. George Howarth : Does the Home Secretary agree that it is important not only that this money be recycled to assist the police but that it is used to help voluntary agencies that provide advice and support to drug addicts?
Sir Fergus Montgomery : If the American Government can operate a system whereby the ill-gotten gains of drug smugglers are put to the good use of fighting the battle against drugs, why cannot we do that in Britain?
Mr. Hurd : That question might properly be addressed to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The answer is that we try to put the resources where they are needed and that cannot be done on the basis of the profit that happens to accrue from the legislation. For example, we have added 229 police officers to the drugs wings of regional crime squads on the basis of where we think that they are needed, and we are adding another 20 this year. It would be difficult to do that if we were operating on the windfall basis.
Mr. Randall : What new or special measures are the Government taking to control the introduction into the United Kingdom of the drug crack, which is highly addictive and is spreading exceedingly rapidly in the United States? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the reported 14 per cent. increase last year in the number of registered addicts is at least one measure of the failure of the Government's policy to combat drug abuse?
Mr. Hurd : The hon. Gentleman cannot deal with the matter in that vein. Of course, he is perfectly right in that the warnings that we receive from the United States and, in particular the anxieties expressed to me in Italy and Spain in the past few months, are among the reasons why I put cocaine, with crack as its derivative, at the top of the agenda of the meeting of Ministers that I have called next week in London. We must take more action in the growing countries in Latin America, and the hon. Gentleman will know of the United Kingdom's initiative on that. We have to insist on the continuance of frontier checks at our seaports and airports after 1992 and, as the hon. Gentleman said, we have to be active within our own towns and cities. We need defence in depth in all three of those areas.
Mr. John Greenway : Is my right hon. Friend aware that three times as much cocaine was seized in the first three months of this year as in the whole of 1988? That demonstrates the seriousness of the drug abuse problem, but does it not also show that the enforcement agencies are being successful in tackling this serious crime?
Column 990continuing seriousness of the situation and the House might like to study the evidence given by my Department to the Select Committee on Home Affairs yesterday, which I shall be developing at the conference next week.