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House of Commons

Thursday 15 June 1989

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

PRAYERS

[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]

PRIVATE BUSINESS

Associated British Ports (No. 2) Bill

(By Order) Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [23 May], That the Bill be now read a Third time.

Debate to be resumed on Thursday 22 June.

British Railways (Penalty Fares) Bill

[Lords] (By Order)

London Regional Transport (Penalty Fares) Bill

[Lords] (By Order)

Buckinghamshire County Council Bill

[Lords] Orders for consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered on Thursday 22 June.

Hythe, Kent, Marina Bill

(By Order)

London Underground (Victoria) Bill

(By Order)

British Film Institute Southbank Bill

(By Order) Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 22 June.


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Oral Answers to Questions

HOME DEPARTMENT

Teenage Crime

1. Mr. Gill : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received from the Conservative Family Campaign regarding teenage crime.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd) : I have received two letters from the Conservative Family Campaign about young people's involvement in crime. I greatly welcome the growing interest in the role of the family in steering young children away from crime. The fact that the peak age for offending in this country is 15 underscores the truth that the family is our country's first line of defence. Parents and teachers have a clear responsibility to instil into children habits of self -discipline and respect for others.

Mr. Gill : Will my right hon. Friend undertake to respond positively to the family campaign and say what action he will take in the light of its suggestions and recommendations? In so doing, will he welcome the emphasis that the family campaign puts upon the responsibility of parents in an age when we hear all too much about individuals' rights? Will he furthermore take the opportunity to confirm the Government's commitment to parents and to the concept of the family unit?

Mr. Hurd : Yes, indeed, and I have tried to do that in my earlier answer and on several other occasions. I agree with my hon. Friend. As regards his first point, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten), will be receiving leaders of the campaign shortly to go through with them the specific proposals that they have made.

Mr. Marlow : As the majority of teenage crime arises from bravado, should not retribution be swift, painful and humiliating? Could the Government look again at the possibility of introducing corporal punishment, or alternatively some humiliating punishment like the stocks in modern guise?

Mr. Hurd : The House considered the matter not long ago. I remember the debate and I remember its conclusion. If the matter were put to the House again, I am not sure that it would reach a different conclusion. It is worth noting that as a result of the efforts that have been made the number of juveniles sentenced or cautioned has fallen substantially from 170,000 in 1984 to 140,000 in 1987.

Mr. Sheerman : Is the Secretary of State aware that it is often boredom rather than bravado which leads young people into mischief and crime? Is it not about time that he talked not just to Conservative party committees but to British local authorities which desperately want to supply leisure facilities and the creative leisure that the French are so much better at providing? Is it not about time that we took on an Ete Jeunes programme, which the French have and which has been so successful in reducing crime in French inner cities?

Mr. Hurd : If the hon. Gentleman went up and down the country he would find a number of different organisations


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in Staffordshire and Humberside, for instance, where the police are putting into effect on the ground precisely the schemes that he wishes to encourage. That is already going on and I hope that the Labour party and Labour local authorities will do their best to encourage it.

Television Licences

2. Mr. Thurnham : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many people were fined for non-payment of television licence fees in each of the last five years ; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Tim Renton) : The following information has been supplied by the national TV licence records office and relates to the number of convictions in each of the financial years 1 April to 31 March :


        |Number         

------------------------

1984-85 |110,042        

1985-86 |123,122        

1986-87 |174,509        

1987-88 |158,182        

1988-89 |172,604        

Mr. Thurnham : Bolton magistrates court tells me that these are by far the most miserable of all the fines that it has to collect as 60 per cent. of those fined are female, many of them single mothers with young children, and there are known cases of women having to resort to prostitution to pay their fines. Is it not high time that my hon. Friend brought in a subscription pay-as-you-view revenue system for the BBC instead of listening to Mr. Hussey saying that people like paying their licence fees to fund a grossly overstaffed BBC?

Mr. Renton : I listened with care to my hon. Friend. We accept that people with limited means may find it hard to pay the BBC licence fee. For that reason, we are doing two things. We are encouraging the BBC to develop other streams of income--for example, through subscription--and, from this September, we will introduce a pay-as-you-go instalment scheme. A successful pilot scheme has been run and, as from September, it will be possible gradually throughout the country for the television licence fee to be paid quarterly.

Mr. Haynes : Is the Minister aware that many pensioners are caught up in this problem? The Government should be ashamed of themselves? [Interruption.] The Tories may laugh, but this is a serious matter for pensioners. We have asked regularly for all pensioners to be treated the same and to have a £5 television licence instead of the increase that the Government have introduced. Why do we not have fairness so that pensioners can keep themselves out of court and enjoy their later days? The Government are unfair to the elderly. Let us have the Minister at the Dispatch box saying that he will come my way.

Mr. Renton : The hon. Gentleman has not studied the Labour party policy review with the precise attention that I would have expected. The review says that the BBC licence fee is the core of the BBC's income for the future. To do as the hon. Gentleman suggests would remove £400 million from the BBC. The only way to recoup that would


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be to put up the licence fee by about half for everyone else. The hon. Gentleman has not thought his argument through, but that is no surprise.

Mr. Redwood : Does the Minister think that under the pressure of satellite broadcasting and commercial television the BBC's audience share might be so low that this method of financing would no longer be appropriate?

Mr. Renton : Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. I have no doubt that as we are giving our blessing to a new terrestrial channel--Channel 5--to be financed by advertising and subscription, and in view of the number of satellite channels that are coming and the increasing success of cable, the BBC in its forward planning for the 1990s will be thinking carefully about what it should do if its audience share falls in the way suggested by my hon. Friend so that the continuance of the licence fee would be an intolerable burden on many households who are willing to look at channels other than the BBC.

Police (Leicestershire)

3. Mr. Janner : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make a statement concerning police provision in Leicestershire.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg) : Twenty seven extra police posts were approved for Leicestershire in April so that a total of 54 have been approved since May 1979. In addition, some 130 police officers have been returned to operational duties as a result of civilianisation and other efficiency measures.

The police authority has applied for my right hon. Friend's approval of 75 more posts in 1990-91. Our aim is to announce decisions on this, and applications from other authorities, towards the end of this year.

Mr. Janner : Is the Minister aware that one of the few areas in which the Members of Parliament for Leicestershire agree, with the possible exception of the right hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson), is that we do not have nearly enough police, that the level of crime, which has doubled since the Conservatives came to office, is insupportable, and that it was wrong to turn down the applications of two successive chief constables for a considerable increase in the number of policemen? Is he aware that all Members of Parliament for the area have expressed in the House their view that it is not safe for people to go out at night in parts of Leicester because there are not enough policemen on the beat and that the Government's continued refusal to accept the recommendations of chief constables is unworthy and wrong?

Mr. Hogg : I have good news for Leicestershire. As I have said, we have increased police posts by 54, a process of civilianisation has freed 130 officers for operational duties and that process is continuing. There is more good news. In 1978-79 expenditure on the Leicestershire constabulary was £15.65 million. In the current year it is £57 million--a huge increase. There is more good news. The hon. and learned Gentleman may have noticed that in 1988 there was a fall of 9.3 per cent. in sexual offences and 5.7 per cent. in burglaries. All that is good news and it is a great pity that the hon. and learned Gentleman did not point out those facts.


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Mr. Tredinnick : Is my hon. Friend aware that, contrary to the opinion of the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), the recent announcement of an increase in police for Leicestershire has been widely welcomed, although it may not be an ideal figure? Will my hon. Friend congratulate the force on the tremendous strides that it has taken towards civilianisation? Is it not a fact that spending on police in England and Wales has been higher than spending on almost any other area of government during this Administration?

Mr Hogg : As one would expect from my hon. Friend, he has given a comprehensive summary of the position. I am sure that the House would like to know that spending this year, compared with the last year of the Labour Government, is 54.9 per cent. up in real terms--a huge increase. We never hear any mention of that from the empty Opposition Benches.

As regards the efficiency of the Leicestershire constabulary, it is a great pity that the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) did not draw attention to its exceptionally high clear-up rate--42.8 per cent., compared with 35.2 per cent. in England and Wales. I am also glad to say that the county has a much lower crime rate of 5,712 per 100,000 of population, compared with 7,396 in England and Wales, excluding the City and Metropolitan police.

Mr. Speaker : Order. We shall make slow progress if we have long answers.

Child Crime (Parental Responsibility)

4. Mr. Amess : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received seeking steps to make parents responsible for the criminal activity of their children.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten) : The great majority of the 100 or so letters that we have received in the past few months support the idea. Many specific provisions already existing in law are, however, little used. For example, the power to impose a curfew on juvenile offenders was used by the courts on only eight occasions in 1986 and 1987.

Mr. Amess : Is my hon. Friend aware that his ideas for greater parental involvement in the consequences of children offending has received widespread acclaim throughout Britain? Is it not a tragedy, however, that the powers of curfew have been so seldom used? Will my hon. Friend comment on the suggestion that that is because some probation officers have refused to co-operate in the implementation of such orders?

Mr. Patten : My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I greatly welcome the support in the majority of the correspondence that the Home Office has received for our radical and far-reaching new ideas to deal with offending by children. I am advised that there have been problems with some probation officers about co-operating with the courts. In 1985, the National Association of Probation Officers made it its policy not to co- operate with the courts in enforcing and supervising supervision orders. That is extraordinary because probation officers are officers of the court. If they will not fulfil their responsibilities, we may have to look for others who will.


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Mr. Tony Banks : Is the Minister aware that attempting to make parents somehow responsible for the criminal activities of their children is entirely superficial and misses the point? Is he further aware that there has been a most alarming upsurge in crime by adolescents in the United States in recent years and that within five to 10 years a similar situation will develop here because Britain is following closely the social and economic policies pursued in the United States? Should not the Minister go for a far deeper study of the causes of crime by adolescents in Britain rather than grasping at the chimeras offered by Conservative Members?

Mr. Patten : During the past year the ministerial group on crime prevention--on which 13 different Government Departments are represented-- has been conducting an in-depth study of the causes of crime among children and young people. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) is absolutely right that we must search for those causes. I do not believe, however, that the search would be aided by simply dismissing parental responsibility for the behaviour of children as something of no importance. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, the family is the first line of defence against crime by children.

I do not believe that on every occasion trends in the United States are followed 10 or 15 years later in this country. In the past 10 years we have seen a welcome, though slight, reduction in juvenile crime. What alarms my right hon. Friend and myself is that the peak age for offending remains at 15. We are determined to do something about that.

Mr. Patrick Thompson : Bearing in mind that many young children are drawn into crime as a result of addiction to amusement-with-prizes machines in arcades and that many parents, responsible and irresponsible, are involved in such distressing cases, will my hon. Friend seriously reconsider my Bill, which has support on both sides of the House and would give discretion to local authorities to ban under-16s from amusement arcades?

Mr. Patten : I know of my hon. Friend's longstanding interest in this important issue and of the way in which he has dealt with it in the proposals that he has put to Ministers and in his Bill. He is a model of how such a campaign should be conducted. We believe, however, that we should respond to the need for change in the criminal justice system when, to borrow my hon. Friend's phrase, there is clear evidence of a link between addiction and criminality. Independent research carried out by the Home Office's internationally renowned research and planning unit, which is independent in the way in which it conducts its business, supported by the Gaming Board for Great Britain, produced no evidence of such a link. If my hon. Friend and those who support him in his campaign can come forward with firm evidence we shall, of course, reconsider the issue.

Mr. Heffer : May I ask the Minister to take more seriously the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) about the reasons for child crime? Surely the suggestion that parents are responsible for all the criminal activity of their children is not a serious one, although it is a populist demand on the part of some Conservative Members. [ Hon. Members :-- "Yes"]. There are many Members of Parliament whose


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children have committed criminal activities. We all know of next-door neighbours and so on whose children have carried out criminal acts. Parents are in no way responsible.

Mr. Tony Banks : It is a superficial suggestion.

Mr. Heffer : Exactly. Of course there is a connection between parents and their children's criminal activity up to a point, but it is a minor one. We must consider this issue much more carefully. I ask the Minister to ignore totally the irresponsible and populist demands that have been made by Conservative Members.

Mr. Patten : I am extremely surprised that the hon. Gentleman, with his well-known upholding of Christian values about which he has told this House on many occasions since I have been here, should feel that parents have no responsibility for their children. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said, it is critically important to appreciate that the first and best line of defence against offending not just by juveniles, but by children under 10 who commit some 6,000 offences each year, are the parents. I believe that the country appreciates that. I entirely accept that a thuggish, 16-year-old young man may be difficult for a single parent to control, but I do not accept that the parent of an eight, nine or 10- year-old should be exonerated from providing care and attention.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. We are making extremely slow progress. I ask for brief questions and briefer answers to them.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett : My hon. Friend has already referred to the fact that the peak age for criminal activity is school age. Much of that criminal activity takes place during school hours. Will my hon. Friend have a word with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to get schools to check that pupils are attending on a lesson basis rather than on a half-day basis and to ensure that education authorities speed up the process of taking parents to court when children are truanting? The court process should also be speeded up so that it no longer takes between 18 months and two years to bring a truanting child and his parents to court.

Mr. Patten : My hon. Friend makes three important points. Such discussions have taken place between my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Education and Science in recent months. In addition, we are delighted that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has asked the National Curriculum Council to consider the inclusion of lessons on parenthood and responsibility in the national curriculum. That is an important suggestion.

Cross Report

6. Mr. Holt : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if any conclusions have yet been reached following the Cross report ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. John Patten : Lord Cross delivered his arbitration on matters of dispute between the Horserace Betting Levy


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Board and the Horserace Totalisator Board in 1979. We have had no reason to question the acceptance of the arbitration by both boards since then.

Mr. Holt : I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who will realise that 10 years of peace are about to be broken. The proliferation of tote facilities at race courses is now seriously jeopardising on-course bookmakers. Ahead of privatisation, in the not-too-distant future, that proliferation could well result in a problem landing on my hon. Friend's doorstep. I ask him, therefore, to look seriously at the present acceleration in the siting of tote facilities at race courses which is driving away small bookmakers.

Mr. Patten : I have enjoyed more or less a decade of de tente with my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) and I hope that hostilities are not about to break out over this of all issues, which we have discussed on several occasions in a variety of settings over the years.

We look to the levy board for advice on this issue, but we have had no such advice from it. However, I believe that the representative bookmakers association has written to the chairman of the levy board, Sir Ian Trethowan, about this and we await his views with interest.

Crime (Greater Manchester)

7. Mr. Sumberg : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress his Department is making towards reducing the level of crime in the Greater Manchester area.

Mr. Hurd : In the first quarter of 1989, offences recorded by the Greater Manchester police fell by 4.5 per cent. compared with the same period in 1988. The two largest categories--burglary and theft, and handling stolen goods--fell by 14.6 per cent. and 3.1 per cent. respectively.

Mr. Sumberg : Is my right hon. Friend aware that Bury is one of the safest places to live in Greater Manchester, with a fall in recorded crime of 4.5 per cent. compared with last year's figures? Will he join me in saluting that achievement and in thanking the local police, who are obviously part of it, together with all those in the community who are promoting greater involvement--there are now 320 home watch schemes--and the local paper, the Bury Times, which has made the public aware of the greater dangers which face the elderly in particular?

Mr. Hurd : I know that Bury, Bolton and several of the old Lancashire towns within the Greater Manchester police area have made great progress and have forged ahead. It is good news that there are now 8,000 home watch schemes in that police area. There must be some connection--a close connection I believe--between all the efforts that my hon. Friend describes and the fall in total recorded crime in the area not just in the first quarter of this year, but with last year's decrease of 8 per cent. compared with 1987.

Mrs. Peacock : I hope that when looking at the great progress that has been made in the Greater Manchester area my right hon. Friend will not be persuaded to go along the lines recently suggested especially in urging parents not to be responsible for their children's criminal


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activities. Does he agree that it is absolute nonsense not to hold parents responsible? I hope that my right hon. Friend will make that positive move in the rest of his work.

Mr. Hurd : I am obliged to my hon. Friend. Exchanges earlier this afternoon have shown the wide interest and support for the general principle that my hon. Friend the Minister of State has floated.

Drink-related Crime

8. Mr. Atkinson : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has made any recent studies of methods used in the United States of America in combating drink-related crime ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Hurd : Experience internationally--the failures as well as the successes--is taken into account as we work out policy. We have done a lot to tackle alcohol misuse here through crime prevention. We have also strengthened the powers of licensing justices and the law on sales to under -age drinkers, and I have approved experimental byelaws in seven areas to ban the consumption of alcohol in public places.

Mr. Atkinson : Can my right hon. Friend confirm that, in response to rising drink-related crime among young people, every American state has now raised its legal drinking age to 21? Will he ensure that the lessons of that experience will be considered not only by his Department but by the ministerial group on alcohol misuse, which is chaired by our right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council?

Mr. Hurd : I believe that my hon. Friend is right in saying that all the American states have raised the legal drinking age to 21, and I gather that a lively debate about that degree of prohibition is still in progress. I would rather ensure that our own law, under which the legal drinking age is 18, is enforced effectively, and that magistrates and police are reminded of the powers that they already have to deal with disorderly pubs or places where under-age drinking occurs. I agree, however, that we must keep an eye on what happens in the United States as a result of the change.

Mr. Sheerman : The Home Secretary knows that the work of his own research unit shows that disorder and drunkenness go together, not so much in the rural regions as in the non-metropolitan areas. That research was invaluable in pinpointing the sites of such disorder. In the light of what it has shown, will the Home Secretary do two things? First, will he talk to the traditional friends of the Conservative party--the brewers--about their advertising and about helping to enforce our existing drinking laws? Secondly, may I again ask the right hon. Gentleman to give local authorities and others involved in youth work the resources to provide young people with creative leisure, which--whatever the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) may say--they do not enjoy at present?

Mr. Hurd : Of course my right hon. Friend the Lord President, as chairman of the ministerial group, is constantly in touch with the drinks industry, and we co-operate closely with the industry in such matters. The


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link between drinking and disorder which the hon. Gentleman has accurately described is contrary to the industry's interests, so it is naturally on our side.

I repeat what I said before : a mass of schemes exist to provide leisure facilities, and I do not think that young people in this country have ever had more such facilities. The difficulty is that expectations of excitement are also much greater than they have ever been. The matter cannot be dealt with just as the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Mr. Barry Field : Can my right hon. Friend reassure hon. Members on both sides of the House, as well as the brewing industry, that one of the American methods that he will not be studying is prohibition?

Mr. Hurd : Indeed, Sir.

Licensing Laws

12. Mr. Knox : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has any plans to introduce further legislation to liberalise the licensing laws in England.

Mr. Douglas Hogg : No, Sir, but we shall keep the position under review.

Mr. Knox : Following the success of the recent legislation, does my hon. Friend consider that there is a case for taking modest steps towards further liberalisation in the near future?

Mr. Hogg : When we have seen such a case, we have taken steps. We do not see a case for further steps at present.

Mr. Janner : Does the Minister agree that what is needed now is not a further liberalisation of the licensing laws, but a tightening up of efforts to stop people who have been drinking in licensing hours from driving on our roads? Instead of introducing more time in which people can drink, should not more steps be taken to prevent them from endangering the lives of others and killing on the roads after drinking?

Mr. Hogg : That is a very general point, and of course it is correct as far as it goes.

Mr. Allason : Is my hon. Friend taking steps to establish from the police the exact results of the liberalisation of licensing laws? Is he aware that--certainly in the south-west, and in particular in my constituency, where there have been a few moments of disorder at closing time in the past--the liberalising of licensing hours has been of enormous benefit, not only to people who have indulged in recreational drinking but to the police? Will he assure the House that he will report on the police attitude to the liberalisation that has already taken place?

Mr. Hogg : The police attitude has been broadly favourable and along the lines outlined by my hon. Friend. That is also the feeling of the justices, in so far as they are able to make an assessment at present. The Office of Population Censuses and Surveys will be conducting a survery of alcohol consumption and drinking patterns for the Department of Health in the autumn against which to measure the effects of longer opening hours, and I imagine that a summary of its conclusions will be made available to the House in due course.


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Crack

15. Mr. Tredinnick : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what new initiatives he has taken recently to prevent imports of the drug crack ; to what extent organised crime is involved in crack imports ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Hurd : I take very seriously indeed the threat posed by cocaine and its derivative crack, not only to this country but to the whole of Europe. That is why I called the meeting last month of the Council of Europe's drug co-operation group, the Pompidou group.

The initiatives we have taken include the provision of £1.8 million of drug-related help to Latin American countries over the past three years ; posting drug liaison officers to countries on the cocaine trafficking routes ; working hard to develop international agreements and bilateral agreements to confiscate the assets of convicted drug traffickers ; setting up Customs teams to combat cocaine smuggling ; and calling an international conference next year to look at reducing the demand for drugs and, in particular, for cocaine.

Mr. Tredinnick : I welcome that reply. Does my right hon. Friend agree that fighting organised crime before it gets a grip on Britain, particularly from the point of veiw of crack, is of the highest possible priority and that we may have to invest now to avoid serious outbreaks of crime in the future? Is he aware that hon. Members who were in Newark, New Jersey last year during the presidential election campaign were told that they should not leave the hotel for fear of being attacked by crack-crazed youngsters aged under 16?

Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend is entirely right. The Under-Secretary, who is chairman of the ministerial group on drug misuse, has visited the United States even more recently. All the information that he has come back with and everything that we have heard directly from the enforcement agencies in America confirms the anxiety that my hon. Friend voices. That is why we are taking such energetic action in time.

Mr. Tony Banks : Is the Home Secretary aware that this is yet another example of seeing what was happening in the United States five years ago and projecting it on here? I asked a parliamentary question about crack some four years ago-- [Interruption.] I am sorry that Conservative Members seem to think that this is a flippant subject. The Home Secretary must make sure that far more study of the problem takes place in the United States to anticipate what will happen in this country. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that instead of making cuts in the number of Customs and Excise officers, he should increase the numbers of enforcement officers at the ports of entry to try to intercept this evil drug before it takes over our youth?

Mr. Hurd : The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the number of Customs officers employed in this work--and he is right about their importance--has been substantially increased.

Mr. Wheeler : My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Home Affairs Committee will be visiting Washington and the United States next week to investigate this very subject. The members of that committee dare to go where others fear to tread, to see for themselves how the drugs menace has impacted on American society. Does my right


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hon. Friend agree that our defences in this country are well prepared at airports and seaports, that our police and Customs are working well together and that while so far the seizures of crack have been low, we are preparing a plan to deal with the future?

Mr. Hurd : That is exactly the position. We must, and we do, keep in touch with experience in the United States. Our defences must be in advance, beyond our shores, in America and in Europe on the cocaine and heroin smuggling routes. They must be at our ports and airports, and that is important in the discussion of 1992. They must be in our cities, with our police, and they must be in our schools and in our homes in persuading parents and children that these are routes not to happiness and power but to disgrace and misery.

Prison Building

18. Mr. David Nicholson : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the progress of the Government's prison building programme.

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 shortly. Five more are planned to start on site this year, and eight are at various stages of planning and design. The building programme also covers the expansion and improvement 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 then two years. By the mid-1990s we will have added about 25,000 places to the system. The prison department directorate of works has also begun a five-year programme to provide over 6,500 cells with access to sanitation in addition to its ongoing programme of maintenance, improvement and renovation.

Mr. Nicholson : Is my hon. Friend aware that I recently received representations, which I forwarded to him, from some of my constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller)? They included one from a former prison chaplain who preaches at my local parish church and they concerned the serious problem of overcrowding in prisons. Does my hon. Friend recognise that such overcrowding is not tolerable in a civilised country such as we consider ours to be? The figures that he has given in his answer are most welcome. Will he continue these operations and consider alternatives to imprisonment for those convicted, and particularly for those on remand?

Mr. Hogg : There are two important points here. Yes, there is overcrowding in the prison system, but it is very confined. There are about 50,000 people in the prison system, and 20,000 of them in the local and remand centres are overcrowded. The balance of 30,000 are not in any sense overcrowded in the circumstances in which they are living. The overcrowding of the 20,000 is a serious matter, but we have a whole range of policies designed to address that problem. Most specifically, we are building new places--25,000 between 1979 and the mid-1990s. I hope that we will have substantially eradicated the problem by the mid-1990s.


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Mr. Harry Greenway : While congratulating my hon. Friend on the substantial number of new places in prisons, may I ask him if he will do all that he can to expand prison education, especially for people on remand, some of whom spend three years on remand and are then not convicted of anything? Secondly, is he not concerned about the large number of people in prison dormitories? Is not that a threat to security?


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