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Column 41(Greenisland). Since their closure in November 1988 the number of reports received for these areas which required some form of police action was 529, 346 and 169, respectively. The deployment of police resources is an operational matter for the judgment of the Chief Constable in which I do not propose to intervene.
Mr. Beggs : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether there has been any change in levels of crime reported in each of the areas formerly covered by limited opening Royal Ulster Constabulary stations in east
Column 42Antrim since they were closed ; and if he will publish details of available statistics for a comparable period in the two years prior to closure.
Mr. Ian Stewart [holding answer 2 May 1989] : The total number of reported burglaries and thefts in the areas formerly covered by police posts (not limited opening stations) in Craigyhill (Larne), Sunnylands (Carrickfergus) and Knockfergus (Greenisland), which were closed in November 1988 in comparable periods over the last three years was as follows :
Craigyhill Sunnylands Knockfergus Period |burglary|theft |burglary|theft |burglary|theft ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 26 November 1986 to 28 April 1987 |20 |7 |33 |27 |71 |67 26 November 1987 to 28 April 1988 |20 |13 |28 |15 |56 |45 26 November 1988 to 28 April 1989 |25 |7 |19 |17 |45 |58
It is considered too early to reach a judgment as to the overall trend in the level of crime in these areas since the closure of the police posts.
Rev. Martin Smyth : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about the Department of Economic Development's plans to upgrade the telephone system in Northern Ireland ; what role is envisaged for Mecury Communications in this ; and what measures his Department plans to ensure competition.
Mr. Atkins : I have been asked to reply.
Plans to upgrade telecommunications systems in the United Kingdom are normally a matter for the telecommunications operators to make in the light of commercial considerations and any relevant obligations in their operating licences. The Telecommunications Act 1984 has already established the framework in which competing companies operate. We have no plans to change the present framework of telecommunications competition in Northern Ireland.
Exceptionally, Northern Ireland qualifies for support under the European Community STAR programme, under which the European Commission made funding available for the economic development of certain less-favoured regions. I understand the Department of Economic Development discussed the STAR programme with both British Telecom and Mercury and subsequently selected BT to provide the infrastructure funded under the programme.
Sir Bernard Braine : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress has been made by the ministerial group on alcohol misuse.
Mr. Hurd : The group, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council has made good progress. A report of action taken during the group's first year is published today. This gives an account of work in progress and takes a forward look at issues to be considered in the coming months.
Dr. Kim Howells : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what proportion of his Department's budget is currently being devoted to crime prevention.
Mr. Hurd : Expenditure on crime prevention is met from Class XI, Vote 3, Home Office administration, immigration and police support services, England and Wales. In the current year, 2.8 per cent. of the total provision for this Vote is devoted to crime prevention.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many complaints have been received following the recent local elections with regard to the possibility of vote tracing.
Mr. Douglas Hogg : Since the county council elections on 4 May we have received five letters from hon. Members forwarding correspondence from constituents and two letters from members of the public on the procedure whereby a voter's electoral registration number is written on the ballot paper counterfoil when he or she votes.
Mr. David Marshall : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will give reasons for the abolition of channels designated for British passport holders at airports for passengers returning to the United Kingdom ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Renton : I refer the hon. Member to the reply given to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith) on 27 April 1989 at column 637.
Mr. Ian Taylor : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps his Department is taking to encourage crime prevention in Surrey.
Mr. John Patten : Our strategy for crime prevention applies to all parts of England and Wales. Police manpower and resources have been substantially
Column 43increased, Crime Concern was launched with Government support in May 1988 to stimulate, support and develop local crime prevention activity and the largest ever national crime prevention publicity campaign was launched last year.
My right hon. Friend approved a further 10 police posts for the force from 1 April bringing the authorised establishment up to 1,649, and I understand there are now 389 watch schemes covering approximately 20,000 households throughout Surrey, together with nine panels and four junior panels. The Surrey constabulary is one of 10 south east forces involved, with Home Office support, in an ambitious scheme "Secured By Design" which aims to encourage the construction industry to incorporate security measures as standard in new homes ; the scheme will be launched on 7 June.
Mr. Vaz : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what financial assistance is given to officers who are relocated in the prison system since the transfer grant for members of the prison service was stopped in 1984.
Mr. Douglas Hogg : Established prison officers qualify for financial assistance in accordance with the Civil Service pay and conditions of service code unless they are transferred at their own request. This covers, for example, the cost of a preliminary visit to search for new accommodation, night subsistence and lodging allowance, legal expenses of house purchase and sale, reimbursement of interest charges on bridging finance, interest free advance of salary for house purchase, removal and storage expenses, additional housing costs allowance and transfer grant.
This financial assistance is not generally available to civil servants including prison officers when taking up their first appointment.
Mr. Vaz : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has any plans to set up a major independent review of Home Office policy and practice with regard to asylum seekers.
Mr. Wigley : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department on which date he received notification from the independent adjudicator that he had acted wrongly in relation to the cases of five Tamils, Mr. S. Sivakumaran, Mr. N. Vathanan, Mr. V. Rasalingam, Mr. V. Skandarajah and Mr. N. Vilvarajah, who had applied for asylum in the United Kingdom ; on what date an application was made by Her Majesty's Government to the immigration appeal tribunal to hear an appeal against the adjudication ; and on what date an application was made to the High Court for a judicial review of the tribunal's refusal to hear the appeal.
Mr. Renton : On 13 March 1989 an adjudicator upheld appeals against refusal of leave to enter in these five cases. My right hon. Friend sought leave to appeal to the tribunal on 22 March but on 19 April the tribunal decided that it had no jurisdiction to consider this appeal because of a clerical error in the service of the papers. On 12 May
Column 44my right hon. Friend sought leave to move for judicial review of the tribunal's decision and leave was granted on 17 May.
Mr. Devlin : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement about the regime in youth custody institutions, and on any representations thereon which he has received.
Mr. Douglas Hogg : Youth custody centres and detention centres were replaced by young offender institutions when the new unified custodial sentence was introduced last October. Revised guidance on regimes for young offenders was issued then, emphasising the need to prepare young offenders for their return to the community, and recognising the importance for juveniles and short-sentenced young adults of participating from the outset in brisk, modular regimes built on experience gained in detention and youth custody centres. In general, the guidance was well received and regimes for the new sentence are working well. Representations have been received about one or two establishments which have experienced some difficulties and every effort is being made to resolve these problems.
Mr. Lester : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many recommendations of the Popplewell report which bear on the responsibilities of his Department have not been implemented ; what were those recommendations ; and, in each case, what are the reasons they have not been acted upon.
Mr. John Patten : Four recommendations of the final report of the Popplewell inquiry which bear on the responsibility of my right hon. Friend have not been wholly implemented.
Recommendation 9(i) and (iii) : as set out in the consultative document published in June 1986 the Government took the view that as safety certificates are instruments of continuing control it would not be appropriate to renew them annually or for local authorities to have powers to revoke them. The Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 provides for offences for a breach of any term or condition in a safety certificate and gives a separate power to local authorities to prohibit or restrict the admission of spectators to any part of a sports ground if there is judged to be a serious risk to their safety.
Recommendation 11 : the Government considered that it would be wrong to provide a power of search which went further than existing statutory powers based on reasonable suspicion. A club may refuse admission to its ground to persons unwilling to be searched. Recommendation 12 : section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 provides an offence of disorderly conduct which is applicable in all public places, with the qualification that someone within hearing or sight of the conduct in question is likely to be caused alarm, distress or harassment. The Government is not persuaded that this qualification should be dispensed with.
Recommendation 13 : section 5 of the Public Order Act 1936 has recently been re-enacted in the Public Order Act 1986 and is supplemented by the wide general powers of
Column 45arrest in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. The Government are not convinced that it is necessary to broaden these provisions further.
Mr. Vaz : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement regarding the use by police forces in the United Kingdom of video surveillance equipment in the community as a means of crime detection and prevention.
Mr. Hurd : The use of surveillance equipment is a matter for the operational judgment of the police acting in accordance with guidelines issued by the Home Office on 19 December 1984.
Mr. Colvin : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he intends to impose a visa requirement on Turkish nationals who wish to enter the United Kingdom.
Mr. Hurd : I will shortly lay before Parliament a statement of changes in the immigration rules which will include provisions requiring Turkish nationals to obtain visas before travelling to the United Kingdom. The necessary written notice of one month under the 1960 agreement for the abolition of visas (Cmnd. 1043) was given to the Turkish Government on 23 May. The new visa regime will come into effect on 23 June.
As part of the increasingly close co-operation between the member states of the European Community on immigration matters EC interior Ministers have for some time been discussing a proposal that visa requirements should be harmonised, and in this context that Turkish nationals should have to obtain visas to enter any European Community country. Most member states already require visas of Turkish nationals. Operational reasons now make it necessary for us to do the same.
For many years, the proportion of Turkish nationals arriving in the United Kingdom who were refused admission and removed has been growing. Between 1985 and 1988 it rose from less than 1.5 per cent. to 3 per cent. The number of Turkish nationals against whom action was started for breaches of the immigration law increased from 136 in 1985 to 401 in 1988. A growing number of
Column 46Turks have claimed asylum on arrival in the United Kingdom. Whereas there were only about 60 such applications in 1987, during May alone this year there were more than 1,500. We are observing the meticulous procedures for examining each application which are necessary under the 1951 United Nations convention, and they necessarily take time. Many of those who have been interviewed are young men who have admitted to making their claim because of employment difficulties in Turkey. During May 106 applicants for asylum withdrew their applications and returned to Turkey.
These developments have placed strains on the immigration control, creating long delays on occasion and inconvenience for the main body of passengers. We have no wish to detain more Turkish asylum applicants than is necessary. But it is often not possible to grant temporary admission, where those involved have no connections in the United Kingdom, have been unable to support or accommodate themselves without help, and may be tempted to abscond. The accommodation which we have for detaining immigrants is being fully used, but because of the large numbers we have also had to use prisons in the south-west. We are grateful to the churches and other organisations and individuals who have undertaken to provide emergency shelter and food for those who can properly be granted temporary admission. We have made it clear that we will consider reimbursing specific costs which community groups have incurred. My officials are also in contact with the British Refugee Council about the establishment of a short-term hostel in Tower Hamlets.
It will be several months before the cases of those who have already arrived can be processed. All claims to asylum by Turkish nationals will continue to be carefully considered. Priority is being given to interviewing those in detention.
Unless we take action now the situation is likely to deteriorate through the summer. That is why we have decided to impose a visa requirement on Turkish nationals who wish to enter the United Kingdom. The new visa regime will inevitably take a little time to settle down but the introduction of a visa requirement should benefit all bona fide travellers including business visitors who will be less likely to encounter delays on arrival in this country. Regular visitors to this country will be eligible for multiple- entry visas.
Mr. David Young : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what emergency action he intends to take for those who require full passports ; and if he will issue guidance for those requiring group passports.
Mr. Hurd : Delays which had been occurring in some areas during the peak season have been made worse by the recent industrial action in the passport offices. I very much regret the inconvenience that this has caused and will continue to cause to the public.
Following a ballot held by the Civil and Public Services Association (CPSA), 84 out of 295 staff in the Liverpool office came out on indefinite strike on 30 May. Following ballots at all other offices, members of the CPSA staged a one-day sympathy strike on 2 June in favour of the Liverpool action, when a total of 219 failed to report for work. A ballot held by the National Union of Civil and Public Servants (NUCPS) obtained no majority for a sympathy strike and, as a result, there has so far been no official action by NUCPS members.
All passport offices have remained open and counter services are being maintained, with priority being given to urgent cases. I am asking my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary to contact certain other Governments to see whether, in the special circumstances in which we find ourselves, they would consider accepting expired British passports or (where they do not do so already) British visitor passports (BVPs).
Travellers should be given the best possible advice and I am urgently considering ways of improving this. Those with an urgent need to travel in western Europe may apply for a BVP to any main post office in England, Scotland or Wales. BVPs are now available on Mondays to Fridays, and on Saturday mornings. Where a standard passport has been applied for in good time and has not been processed, BVP fees will be refunded on application. For countries where a BVP is not acceptable, travellers who have an urgent requirement (including for group passports) are advised to call in person at the most convenient passport office, where every effort will be made to ensure that a suitable travel document is provided.
We shall seek to bring this dispute to a satisfactory end. Management and unions are meeting tomorrow and I hope that they will be able urgently to identify means of resolving the dispute. The unions' principal demand is for an increase of 381 staff on the permanent complement of 1,000. The demand for passports is partly seasonal. Demand rises in the new year, reaches its peak in early summer and falls away in the autumn. It makes sense to deal with the busy period partly by employing temporary staff and using overtime. At present, for example, a total of 1,420 staff are employed. The unions are not asking for any increase in this total but that the permanent proportion be increased.
It is common ground that there have been changes in the pattern of demand. There is now a smaller difference between the peaks and the troughs. We therefore looked again at the case for a higher proportion of permanent staff. The National Audit Office has recently pointed out that it is not acceptable to staff troughs relatively more favourably than peaks. Nor would it be sensible to pre-empt the findings of the staffing review which both sides have already agreed should be undertaken once we
Column 48know of the effects of the present computerisation programme so far implemented only in Glasgow and Liverpool.
But as a result of this examination, the Home Office concluded that the present justifiable maximum addition to the permanent complement was 158, subject to the impending staffing review. We began to recruit these extra permanent staff some weeks ago and propose to complete the process by the end of July.
We have always been ready to provide in total--whether permanent or temporary--as many staff as can be justified by the workload and accommodated in the offices concerned. But we would not be justified in employing on a permanent basis staff who would have little or nothing to do during the slack period in the autumn and early winter.
We have begun the computerisation of offices with the new passport. This must be the right long term solution. There have been teething problems with the introduction of computerisation in Glasgow and Liverpool, but we must see these through with the help of the staff. We intend to give the passport office the status of an executive agency, and are discussing the timing and details of the change. We believe that this will free the energies of staff and management to give better service to the public.
Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the current delay in (a) acknowledging receipt of applications to renew passports, (b) acknowledging receipt of applications for new passports, (c) issuing renewed passports and (d) issuing new passports in respect of the Newport passport office ; and what specific advice he has given applicants by way of newspaper advertisements as to the lead-time for the two classes of applications.
Mr. Renton : Straightforward non-urgent postal applications of all types are being processed at the Newport passport office within a maximum of 46 working days. Urgent applications are given priority and are processed in accordance with travellers' requirements. Applications are not normally acknowledged. Information about current delay times is frequently given in response to enquiries from the news media, and in the recorded telephone message facility for callers to the Newport office, which is extensively used and updated weekly.
Mr. Speller : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will consider appointing major sub-post offices as agents for the issue of British visitors passports ; what size of local population would be suitable for such an appointment ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Renton : The issuing of British visitors passports is generally limited to the 1500 Crown post offices for reasons of security and economy. By agreement with the passport department, the facility is being retained by those Crown offices which are regraded to sub-office status under the Post Office's current restructuring plans, but we would not wish to extend this arrangement to other sub-offices.
Mr. Straw : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he intends to take to deal with the inadequacies of the telephone system and inquiry service at the Liverpool passport office.
Mr. Jack : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he is taking to improve the Liverpool passport office telephone inquiry service.
Mr. Renton : The Liverpool passport office has a 24 exchange line switchboard. A recorded message facility offering an additional 26 telephone lines was installed in April, and further improvements are planned which will route incoming calls directly to the inquiry section. Efforts are being made to reduce the backlog of passport applications which is the reason for most of the telephone enquiries received, but the situation has been adversely affected by the current industrial action at Liverpool.
Mr. Straw : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many passport applications are awaiting process in (a) Liverpool and (b) London passport offices ; what is the current average delay, in weeks ; and what reasons there are for this backlog.
Mr. Renton : The information for the week ended 28 May is shown in the table :
Passport office |<1>Application |<2>Maximum processing |times ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Liverpool |215,469 |15 weeks London |22,622 |5 weeks <1> Shows the estimated number of applications at the various stages of processing. <2> Shows the maximum processing time in weeks (averages are not recorded).
Normally most applications are processed well within the maximum period, with priority being given to urgent cases, but a sharp increase in demand early this year has led to an increase in processing times, and staff at Liverpool are also having to adapt to a new computerised system of passport issuing. Additional staff have been employed to help deal with the backlogs, and a system of free two-year extensions to the life of certain expired passports submitted for replacement has been introduced at Liverpool to help relieve the immediate problem there. The situation at Liverpool has recently been made more serious as a result of industrial action by some members of staff.
Mr. Darling : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the average time taken to process passport applications at (a) Liverpool and (b) Glasgow ; and what he expects the position to be by 1990.
Mr. Renton : Passport applications are processed according to the applicant's travel requirements, with priority being given to urgent cases. As a result, processing times in a given period vary considerably, and averages are not recorded.
The current maximum processing time for straightforward non-urgent postal applications at the Liverpool Passport Office is 73 working days, and at Glasgow 50 working days. Most applications are processed well within these maximum periods.
Processing time should be reduced next year when the new computer system is fully established, and staff have become fully conversant with its operation.
Mr. Darling : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will estimate loss of revenue to be incurred as a result of his decision to allow a two-year extension to passports without charge.
Mr. Renton : I take it that the hon. Member is referring to the special arrangement at the Liverpool passport office announced by my right hon. Friend on 11 May at column 978.
Column 50We estimate that the measure will cost in the region of £1.3 million in the current financial year. Since, however, the great majority of the applications concerned are likely to be renewed on or before expiry of the two year extension period, the overall loss in passport fee receipts is likely to be small.
Mr. Cran : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department on how many occasions since the introduction of the guidelines on the use of equipment in police surveillance operations authorisation to use electronic surveillance listening and visual devices in each of the provincial police forces has been given by officers other than the chief officer.
Mr. Hurd : I refer to my reply to my hon. Friend's questions on 26 May at columns 756-7.
Mr. Cran : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what control he exercises over the Metropolitan police use of electronic surveillance listening and visual devices other than that exercised by the force inspectorate.
Mr. Hurd : I refer to my reply to my hon. Friend's questions on 26 May at columns 756-7.
Mr. Andrew Smith : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many Vietnamese refugees there are currently in Hong Kong ; how many he estimates will apply to settle in the United Kingdom ; on what criteria their applications will be judged ; and how many it is proposed to admit.
Mr. Renton : On 25 May, there were 14,200 Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong. A further 19,243 Vietnamese were awaiting examination of their claim for asylum. It had been decided that 1,410 did not qualify for refugee status.
On 23 February 1989 the Government confirmed its intention to admit a further 1,000 Vietnamese refugees from Hong Kong for settlement in the United Kingdom. The 1,000 will include relatives of Vietnamese already here and others with the potential quickly to become self-sufficient in the United Kingdom, together with some who have been in the camps for a long time and have not been accepted elsewhere.
Mr. Mullin : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many Vietnamese refugees have had their travel documents confiscated for using those documents to travel to Vietnam.
Mr. Renton : Refugee status is accorded to those who have a well- founded fear of persecution in their own country. Although withdrawal of status is not automatic, travel to that country may put into question a continuing claim to refugee status and eligibility for refugeee travel documents. Following visits to Vietnam, 39 refugee travel documents have been impounded on return. So far, seven holders have been required to surrender their documents and decisions about the remainder will be made shortly, after careful consideration of the individual circumstances. In all cases, the persons concerned retain indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom. It would be open to them to apply for discretionary travel documents.
Mr. Darling : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) if he will indicate the reason for the delay in processing visa applications by his Department ; what he proposes to do about it ; and if he will make a statement ;
(2) on which date those applications for visas to enter the United Kingdom now being completed were submitted to his Department ; (3) what is the average length of time taken to decide visa applications made by non United Kingdom nationals.
Mr. Renton : The reasons for the time taken to complete visa applications and the steps in train or already taken to reduce unnecessary delay were explained in my reply of 23 March to the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) at column 809 in respect of all entry clearance applications.
The way in which visa applications are allocated within the immigration department means that it is not possible to give a common date on which those applications now being completed were first referred to the department. Visa applications are dealt with according to, first, their perceived priority and, second, the date on which the application was first received within the department. Information about the average length of time taken to decide visa applications is not readily available and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.
Mr. Battle : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has any plans to introduce time limits on periods of remand imposed on young people by magistrates in the Leeds area ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. John Patten : Custody time limits were introduced in West Yorkshire on 1 June. They apply to all those of whatever age remanded in prison department custody.
Mr. Vaz : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many new recruits to the prison service resign in the first 12 months of service due to unacceptable postings, according to the latest available figures.
Mr. Douglas Hogg : Between 3 May 1988 and 30 April 1989, 73 basic grade prison officers resigned from the prison service within 12 months of joining. Information about their reasons for doing so is not available.
Mr. Nicholas Winterton : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has any plans to introduce legislation to decriminalise incest between brothers and sisters aged over 21 years.
Mr. Vaz : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has any plans to improve working conditions for administrative staff in prisons.