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9. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he intends to lay the first order relating to tape recording of police interviews ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Douglas Hogg : As I mentioned in my reply to the hon. Member's question of 2 March, we have consulted the Association of Chief Police Officers about the forces to be included in the first order to be laid under section 60(1) (b) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. We expect to hear from the association towards the end of this month. We will then bring forward an order as soon as possible. Forces do not require an order before they can start tape recording. At least five forces are now tape recording interviews throughout their areas and all forces expect to be using tape recording forcewide by 1991.
Mr. Bennett : I thank the hon. Gentleman for that reply. It seems to be taking a long time to get this practice into place. Has the Minister any evidence of problems arising from summaries being made of tape-recorded interviews? Is it not slightly defeating the purpose if juries are given summaries of tape recordings rather than having an opportunity of hearing those parts of tape recordings which might be disputed?
Mr. Hogg : It is true that when the process started the summaries tended to be a bit too prolix. I am glad to say that that problem has been tackled and that it is no longer happening in the majority of cases. When juries need to listen to the tapes they can do so. There is no doubt that this is a great improvement both in terms of law enforcement and of civil liberties.
Mr. Lawrence : Is my hon. Friend aware that, to my knowledge, it is 15 years since this matter was first pressed on a Government, so that any action now being taken is most welcome? Is he further aware that during those years there has been a technological revolution and that it is now possible to video record interviews much more cheaply? What thought is being given to introducing video-recorded interviews in police stations, which would be more effective than the audio type?
Mr. Hogg : My hon. and learned Friend is right to emphasise the importance of this procedure. We hope that by the end of 1991 all forces will be tape recording forcewide. We have no plans to introduce the video recording of interviews at this stage, though the House will know that a certain amount of work is being done on the possibility of video recording the evidence of young persons in sex offence cases.
Mr. Campbell : Is the Minister aware that the powers of the police, which are limited to arresting touts for obstruction, are wholly inadequate to cope with the problem of touting, which is a scar on the face of west end theatre and of major sporting events such as Wimbledon and the Cup Final? Will he ask Lord Justice Taylor to consider whether ticket touting has any implications for crowd safety at football matches by encouraging persons without tickets to go to matches in the hope of obtaining tickets from touts?
Mr. Patten : I am sure that Lord Justice Taylor will take into account the point made by the hon. and learned Gentleman, who is a distinguished lawyer and has strongly held views on this issue. I think that most hon. Members would regard ticket touting as pretty obnoxious-- [Interruption.] I carefully said "most hon. Members" with my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) in view. Nobody is compelled to take part in the process.
Mrs. Gorman : Will my hon. Friend agree that ticket touting is a form of brokerage between a willing seller and a willing buyer-- [Interruption.] --that it is no more reprehensible when it takes place on a pavement than when it takes place in one of our City exchanges, that brokers are risk-takers and that everyone is jealous of them when they make a profit but nobody has sympathy for them when they make a loss?
Mr. Patten : I do not want to get into ideological trouble with my hon. Friend, but I agree with her that nobody is compelled to take part in the process, that the person who raises the price of a ticket to sell it on the street does not defraud the person who originally set the ticket price and that the person who pays the price is not unaware of the difference. I believe that it is pretty obnoxious and that it is extraordinary the prices people are prepared to pay, but it is a lawful activity.
Mr. Hurd : I welcome the action taken by the Metropolitan police and other forces in response to increased public concern about domestic violence. There are now 15 specialist police units in London that investigate alleged offences and offer practical help to victims. We are also looking at policy and practice in the light of the findings of recently published Home Office research, and are asking other Departments to do the same.
Mr. Sheerman : Following the report of the Home Department that half a million wives are beaten violently by their husbands each year, will the Department now launch a national campaign to highlight that problem? Will the right hon. Gentleman instruct police officers to take appropriate and firm action in every case of domestic violence?
Mr. Hurd : The hon. Gentleman will know that the attitude of the police to that problem has changed substantially. In the old days, the police were reluctant to become involved when they heard a shindig or a fracas. Today, they are encouraged and trained to become
Column 992involved. If they cannot deal with the situation themselves, they bring in other agencies. As that is already happening in London and elsewhere, there is no need to launch a campaign.
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 the House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I shall attend a banquet given by President Babangida.
Mr. Archer : As the right hon. Lady has drawn a distinction between using public money for propaganda, which is done by those who disagree with her, and using it to inform the public, which is what her Government do, will she seize the opportunity to indicate whether, for that purpose, informing the public includes misinforming them? Will she consider into which category she would place the approach to sixth-form teachers to distribute to their classes recruiting propaganda from Conservative Central Office?
The Prime Minister : I believe that we have adhered absolutely to the Widdicombe rules-- [Hon. Members :-- "We?"] Government Departments have adhered absolutely to the Widdicombe rules, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows have been published, and copies of which are in the Library. As to the case that was heard yesterday, we shall uphold whatever the courts ultimately decide. That is what the rule of law is.
With regard to the leaflet and information that went to schools, I see nothing wrong in sending information to school careers officers, so that they can say what jobs are available. I do not know what the right hon. and learned Gentleman's experience is at election time, but we find that we are inundated with requests for information. I expect that he is too.
Mr. Kinnock : Bearing in mind the Prime Minister's previous experience of the Department of the Environment, does the right hon. Lady think that the Government's poll tax information has been handled "well or accurately"?
The Prime Minister : As I indicated in my reply to the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), whatever the courts ultimately decide will, of course, be upheld. That is the precise point at issue. As to information, Departments have adhered strictly to the Widdicombe rules and will continue to do so. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman is proud of some of the Labour local
Column 993government leaflets that have been distributed. That issued by Lambeth and Norwood Labour party, dealing with registration, states :
"If canvassers come round to question you, say you are the baby-sitter or looking after the premises Wait a week or two, then write back saying your dog ate the form, it fell in the washing up, or you never received a form."
That is Labour for you.
The Prime Minister : That is nonsense and the right hon. Gentleman knows it. He knows that there was an ex-parte application, that that ex- parte application was granted and that the substantive hearing has still to take place. Is his idea of justice that he should decide before both sides of the story are heard?
Mr. Redwood : Will the Prime Minister agree that the experiment last year trying to keep the pound in line with the deutschemark led to a very dramatic credit boom and that it would still be impossible both to be members of the exchange rate mechanism and to run a successful monetary policy in the best interests of the country?
The Prime Minister : As my hon. Friend is aware, our top priority is to keep monetary policies that will keep downward pressure on inflation, that we will not hesitate to take whatever action is necessary and that interest rates will remain as high as is necessary for that purpose for as long as is necessary.
Mr. Nellist : Is not the real reason for the Government's panic in issuing millions of misleading poll tax leaflets, including one this morning to my right hon. Friend the Opposition Chief Whip, the overwhelming hatred of people in this country for the poll tax? How will the Prime Minister tomorrow in Perth explain away the report from Lothian council that by the end of this month 500,000 out of 680,000 people will still not have paid a penny of the poll tax? Is not the poll tax, instead of being the flagship of her third term of Government, fast developing into her Titanic?
The Prime Minister : No, and the hon. Gentleman would not be half as worried about it if he genuinely thought that. He knows full well that the community charge is a way of paying for local government and of showing up the extravagance of Labour local authorities. Will he please look at some of the totally, utterly misleading and disgraceful leaflets about the community charge that have been put out at ratepayers' expense?
The Prime Minister : I think that we should get the same things as happened last time the Labour Government put the whole country under the authority of trade union bosses. They seem to be wanting a mask of respectability, but the people behind the mask are still the same. We should get massive strikes in hospitals and schools, rubbish not collected on the streets, the gravediggers not able to bury bodies, and all the other terrible things that we had in the winter of discontent. They would put the country under the trade union bosses once again.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : Is my right hon. Friend aware that in his letter of resignation to the BMA one of my local GPs pointed out that it is totally unacceptable for a professional organisation to issue political leaflets to patients? He added that the error was further compounded by the inclusion in that leaflet of misleading statements, half- truths and lies. Will she agree with me that many elderly people were frightened by that pamphlet when, in fact, they will benefit substantially from the proposals?
The Prime Minister : I agree that many people were frightened by that leaflet, and that a number of doctors have been gravely concerned that the BMA has put out such a leaflet in their name. Nevertheless, we are very pleased that we have now reached agreement with the BMA in a contract for the doctors, which I hope will be fully accepted. We shall then be able to go ahead in a much better spirit, and put in place the improvements proposed in the National Health Service White Paper.
Mr. Blunkett : Does the Prime Minister agree that the difference in accuracy between the leaflet delivered in Wales and that delivered in England is proportional to the distance from Central Office? Is it not time that the Tory party and not the people of Britain paid for Conservative party policy?
Let me point out to the hon. Gentleman that a final decision is not usually arrived at when only one side has put its case to a judge. That is why a substantive hearing must take place before the judge in a few days. I note that the Labour party likes to have only one side of the story when it makes its judgments.
Mr. Greenway : Does my right hon. Friend agree that this week's announcement of a 42 per cent. increase in the suckler cow premium for beef farmers is a major boost for British beef production? Does she also agree that it demonstrates both the achievement of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the negotiations in the European Agriculture Council and the Government's renewed commitment to supporting British farmers to ensure that they can compete on fair and equal terms in Europe? Is not the announcement good for the farmer, for the housewife and for exports?
The Prime Minister : I agree that the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Minister in May about the suckler cow premium has been welcomed by industry as a whole. As my hon. Friend has said, it encourages the production of high-quality beef, for which there is a continuing demand at home and an increasing demand in export markets. I also agree that the announcement was accompanied by a very good negotiation with the Common Market on agricultural policy, and that the revaluation of the green pound is also greatly to the benefit of our farmers.
Mr. Hughes : Will the Prime Minister join me in rejoicing at the discovery on Bankside in Southwark, in my constituency, of the ruins of the Rose theatre, the great mediaeval theatre of England? Will she also join me in applauding the collaboration between the developers Imry, English Heritage and the Museum of London, which have allowed us to discover this great treasure? Given the risk that on Monday the site will be filled in and pile-driven and the stage destroyed, will she now add her support to
Column 996discussions that are taking place between English Heritage and the developers so that we may preserve for ever the greatest of the Roses of England?
The Prime Minister : I agree that the discovery of the remains of the Elizabethan Rose theatre is a historic event, and that everything possible must be done to preserve those remains so that one day they may be on public display. I understand that there have been very constructive discussions--as the hon. Gentleman has said--between the developers, English Heritage and the Museum of London, and that as a result the remains are to be preserved with minimal damage. I welcome that ; and it does not rule out the possibility of a scheme for public display one day. In the meantime, constructive discussions continue.
Mr. Tebbit rose--[Interruption.]
Mr. Tebbit : What would be the effect on Western security if Her Majesty's Government policy changed to one in which the taxpayer was called upon to pay the cost of a nuclear deterrent, but the Prime Minister of the day gave an undertaking that he would never use it?
The Prime Minister : My right hon. Friend makes his point very effectively. In that case the deterrent is not a deterrent because it does not deter and the policy is the old one of unilateralism in a different package.
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