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Mr. Hurd : I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is entitled to say that, particularly when a large part of the public's recent misery has been brought about by the Civil and Public Servants Association and the action that it took in Liverpool.
[Interruption.] Hon. Members would not expect me to staff up the passport office to deal with bloody-mindedness on the part of the union. I agree that the long-term future includes a basic change in the way in which the passport office is manned.
Mr. Soames : Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge the real rage of some of our constituents who, in 1989, find it impossible to travel on their holidays or to go to the United States of America, purely because of the incompetence of the passport office? Will he assure the
Column 1124House that, whatever steps he intends to take, which the whole House will believe are entirely laudable, he will see that the reforms are pressed through with great vigour so that our constituents will no longer be so grossly inconvenienced?
Mr. Hurd : Yes, indeed. This is an example of a public service that has fallen below the level that the public should expect. There is a long history to it, which we can debate on another occasion. [Interruption.] I believe that we have now found, and are now putting into effect through computerisation, the correct answers. As my hon. Friend suggested, I intend to press on with all energy.
Mr. Livingstone : Does the Minister agree that, given that Albert Baker has now been in prison for over 15 years--admittedly for four horrifying sectarian murders of quite innocent Catholics--there is now growing suspicion that the constant refusal to make any move on the case of Albert Baker is related to the fact that he has begun to name those members of the security forces and the RUC who provided the weapons that he used in the murders, and that there is now an interest on the part of the Government to keep him inside for as long as possible so that those matters will not be properly aired when Albert Baker gets out?
Mr. Hogg : I have always noted that, when the hon. Gentleman gets to his feet, he brings discredit upon himself. The only reason why, hitherto, a refusal has been given is because the Northern Ireland Office has concluded that he would be at risk in the general prison system in Northern Ireland and that, by reason of his behaviour, he is unfit to be housed in the special unit. We are looking at the matter again, and he will be told the decision shortly.
Mr. Hurd : I have no present plans for a further meeting with the Governor whom I last saw in London on 8 June. But I am in constant touch with my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, who was in Hong Kong between 2 and 4 July and who is himself in close touch with the Government of Hong Kong.
Mr. Dalyell : From his own experience of Peking, does the Home Secretary accept that, throughout Chinese history, whatever their domestic agonies have been, they have at least respected their international agreements?
Is the Home Secretary aware that some of us think that at this time, of all times, trade missions and other contacts should go ahead not only for our good and the opening up of China, but for the good of the people of Hong Kong and for the students who died in Tiananmen square?
Mr. Hurd : The House will debate this matter this afternoon. It goes well beyond my responsibilities, but I am quite sure that we need to assume, and work for, the reality of the Chinese honouring their promises in regard to Hong Kong.
Mr. Dykes : Does my right hon. Friend agree that over-excited comparisons with Portugal and their provisions for Macao are not justified, because the people there who have automatic right of entry to Portugal, and therefore to the EEC, number only just in excess of 100,000? After the Foreign Secretary's declaration during his recent visit, there is plenty of time to work out, in a calm atmosphere, a rational solution for the people who wish genuinely to apply to come to this country. Is it not self-evident that priority categories should include people who have connections with Britain, who work here and who travel between here and Hong Kong frequently?
Mr. Hurd : My hon. Friend is right about numbers. Our citizenship law since 1981 has been based firmly on residency, as Portugal's has not. The thrust of the second part of my hon. Friend's question is, I think, right. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary and I are trying to work out ways in which the existing arrangements can be made more flexible so that key people in the public and private sectors can be given assurances of one kind or another which will encourage them to stay in Hong Kong.
Mr. Hattersley : Has the Home Secretary noticed that there is a feeling of revulsion throughout the country at the idea that some citizens of Hong Kong may be able to buy their way into Britain because they possess £150,000? Will he repudiate that principle for Hong Kong immigrants and for immigrants from other parts of the Commonwealth?
Mr. Hurd : The principle of people coming here with adequate means has been established for a long time, including under a Labour Government. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman to this extent any scheme that we work out--we are working on a scheme as I have just said--cannot simply be based on the principle that those with the longest purses have the greatest rights.
Mr. Maclennan : Did the Home Secretary hear the words of the Governor of Hong Kong who made it plain that, if the right of abode were granted as a last resort to British dependent territory passport holders, there would not be the sudden influx which appears to be what is worrying the Government about meeting their moral obligations in this matter?
Mr. Hurd : I do not think that the House of Commons would welcome it if the Government came to the House with a proposition based on that assumption, which we simply could not prove. If we suggest that the right of abode should, at least in theory, be given to a large number of people-- 3 million, 3.25 million or 5 million--I think that a responsible House of Commons and a responsible Government would need to consider the possibility of that right being taken up. I do not think that we can seriously discuss such a proposal without making that assumption.
Mr. Bowis : I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Assuming that they have not all escaped, that is rather good news. Does he have equally good news relating to remand prisoners held in police cells because a year ago they were keeping the police from their proper duty of guarding the streets of London and elsewhere?
Mr. Hurd : Yes, indeed, I do. My hon. Friend is right. At its worst, roughly 2,000 remand prisoners were held in police cells each night. The latest figure, for earlier this week, was 194, of whom 160 are in the north, because of the recent disturbances at Risley, and of whom only 34 are in the metropolitan area and the south-east. That is a big improvement.
Mr. Lofthouse : Is the Home Secretary aware that the figures that he has just given include young remand prisoners at Armley prison in Leeds and that there have been a number of suicides among these young men? Is he satisfied that the conditions in that prison are suitable for young remand prisoners?
Mr. Hurd : It will be a long time before I am satisfied that, despite all the efforts, the conditions in Armley prison are suitable for any prisoner, whether convicted or on remand. The hon. Gentleman knows that because we have discussed it. We have a long way to go before prisons such as Armley are in a satisfactory state. All that one can say is that over the past year there has been a great deal of progress.
Mr. Douglas Hogg : My right hon. Friend last met the chief constable of the Lancashire constabulary at the Association of Chief Police Officers' drugs conference in April, when they discussed a number of matters of mutual interest. My right hon. and noble Friend the Minister of State met the chief constable and members of the police authority on 11 July, to discuss police manpower and the costs of security arrangements at party conferences in Blackpool.
Mr. Jack : I thank my hon. Friend for that information. Can he confirm to the House the excellent progress that the Lancashire police force is making in increasing its crime protection rate to 49 per cent., while reducing the incidence of burglaries by 10 per cent. and implementing neighbourhood watch schemes? In the light of that excellent performance, can he give me the reassurance that he will take a broad range of representations into account when Lancashire next requests more police officers to further its excellent work?
Mr. Bendall : Has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity to look at the statement made recently by President Bush in Hungary? Does he agree that the western technology and finance that is now going behind the iron curtain will result, in time, in the rolling-back of the iron curtan and the end of 40 years of impoverishment for Communist countries?
Mr. Wakeham : I have. On this, as on so many other issues, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and President Bush share a common outlook and approach. The House will recall that when the Polish president visited Britain recently my right hon. Friend was able to announce a package of help for Poland on its road to democracy and free markets, of very much the same kind as that which President Bush launched during the successful visit that he has just concluded to eastern Europe.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Mr. Cryer : Will the Leader of the House tell the Secretary of State for Transport to stop sabotaging the talks between the trade unions and British Rail? The trade unions represent railmen on less than £100 per week while the chairman of British Rail is on £100,000. While he is about it, will he ask Maurice Saatchi of Saatchi and Saatchi plc who has just received an increase of £125,000 per year from £500,000 to £625,000, to donate a bit of time to a public information campaign to demonstrate that when there are strikes on the railways it is the fault of the Government who are pulling the strings of the puppet BR management?
Mr. Wakeham : I entirely refute the hon. Gentleman's accusation that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has intervened in the strike. He certainly has not. The strike hurts everybody and benefits no one. It causes misery to commuters in London and other big cities. It hits old people and children who are particularly dependent on public transport. In my view, the unions should stop it, go back to work and negotiate with the management.
Column 1128I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Mr. Dunn : Is the Leader of the House aware that British Rail's proposal to build a high-speed rail link in my constituency will have a massively damaging effect on five villages with no benefit whatsoever for local commuters or residents? Is he further aware that British Rail has a solution at its disposal, which is to give an undertaking to provide a further five miles of tunnelling and that if that undertaking were given and the five miles of tunnelling were provided, local opposition would largely be withdrawn?
Mr. Wakeham : I am aware of my hon. Friend's continuing concern about British Rail's proposal. British Rail's route, which was announced in March, will have significantly less impact on people and the environment than its original routes options. British Rail clearly took on board many of the suggestions put to it during the consultations. I recognise that my hon. Friend is not entirely satisfied with the changes that British Rail agreed. I hope that he will continue to pursue his concern direct with British Rail. I assure him, however, that before British Rail can proceed, it will have to convince Parliament that a new line is needed and that it has minimised the impact on people and the environment.
Mr. Kinnock : In his earlier reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), was the right hon. Gentleman seriously saying that British Rail, in its response to the pay recommendations by the arbitration tribunal, was not acting upon the advice of the Government?
Mr. Wakeham : I am absolutely saying that. I am saying that this is a dispute which is for the management of British Rail and for the trade unions to resolve. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has given it neither instructions nor guidance.
Mr. Kinnock : Will the right hon. Gentleman reflect on that answer? Is he seriously asking anyone to believe that the Secretary of State for Transport, in those circumstances, can meet the chairman of British Rail on Tuesday and the one thing that they do not talk about is the response that the Government want to the arbitration recommendations? Is that not stretching belief beyond all possible credulity?
Mr. Wakeham : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State told the House on Monday that he was seeing the chairman of British Rail on Tuesday, which he did. He discussed a number of matters with him. There was no question of the Government giving any guidance or instructions.
While the right hon. Gentleman is on the subject, he might have a word with his hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who one day says that the Government should intervene and the next day that the Government should keep out of it. Why does he not make up his mind?
Mr. Kinnock : The constant demand from the Opposition is that the Government should intervene constructively. That, too, is the demand of the travelling public. It disgraces the Government that they will not do that. Will the right hon. Gentleman give us here and now the absolute undertaking that the Government will in no
Column 1129circumstances make any intervention that will in any sense tie the hands of British Rail and prevent it from freely negotiating a proper bargain with the rail unions?
Mr. Wakeham : I remind the right hon. Gentleman--[ Hon. Members : -- "Answer".] I shall answer the right hon. Gentleman. I shall remind him of something that was said the last time that we had a major rail strike.
"It is wholly unjustified, damaging to the long term prospects of the railways and inexcusable in the inconvenience that it is causing to the travelling public."
That was a quotation from the last Labour Transport Secretary. It is a pity that the right hon. Gentleman has not a shred of responsibility and does not condemn the strike.
Mr. Tebbit : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition were a perfect example of why it is difficult to get good quality managers to work in a nationalised industry? It is because they are perpetually being mucked around by politicians and would-be politicians, such as the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock). Would it not be more appropriate for the Leader of the Opposition to ring up his friend, Jimmy Knapp, and tell him to quit all the posturing and come to an agreement on pay, without forcing railway men to lose more money in future strikes?
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Mr. Skinner : Can the Leader of the House confirm that the Governor of the Bank of England has called the leading banks to crisis talks in the next two or three days because of the massive increase in lending to the property market? Is he aware that yesterday's figures show that property lending is at the highest ever recorded figure--worse than during the Barber boom--at 14 per cent.? If that lending continues those banks will have to lend money so that the institutions can pay back just the interest, which has gone through the roof during the past few days. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in 1972 when we had the last Barber boom, it resulted in the then Government being kicked from office? The chances are that that is what will happen to this one.
Mr. Wakeham : I can confirm no such thing. I can confirm, however, that the summit countries are meeting in Paris and that the Prime Minister will be able to say that in the 1980s investment was growing faster in this country than in any other European country, that we have created more jobs than other European countries and that we have more people in work than ever before. We have a record rate of new business formations, and British business and industry have enjoyed better conditions and sound investment during the past few years than ever before. That is much more relevant to the real world than the machinations of the hon. Gentleman's mind. Q5. Mr. Patnick : To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 13 July.
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Mr. Patnick : Will my right hon. Friend join me in expressing sympathy to the graduates of university of Sussex whose ceremony yesterday was disrupted by picketing by members of the National and Local Government Officers Association? Does he further agree that the words of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) who said, expletive deleted, that the union would be better joining the Labour party, will not resolve the dispute?
Mr. Wakeham : I certainly share my hon. Friend's view. All those who were deprived of essential social services yesterday and children whose nurseries were closed by NALGO action deserve full sympathy. I even have some sympathy for the spot of bother experienced by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), but I think that the Labour party hardly needs another paymaster as it is already in hock to enough unions.
Mr. McAllion : Is the Minister aware that the number of young men committing suicide between the age of 20 and 24 has jumped by more than 60 per cent. during the past decade of mass unemployment? The Government, however, have carried out no research into any relationship between mass unemployment and the increase in the suicide rate. Are we to assume that the Government are not even interested in finding out the all too tragic consequences of their misuse of mass unemployment as a legitimate economic tool of management?
Mr. Wakeham : I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would therefore welcome today's announcement of a further fall in unemployment of 26,000 in June. That means that the figure has been falling continuously for 35 months. The hon. Gentleman should also note that the age group to which he referred has experienced the largest fall in unemployment.
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Sir Hal Miller : Will my right hon. Friend reflect further on the NALGO strike as another example of people inflicting maximum inconvenience on the public at minimum disadvantage to themselves? Surely that throws doubt on that union's professed wish to care for the public. Does it not further call into question the wisdom of our entrusting the care of the community to such people and their political masters?
Mr. Janner : Does the Leader of the House, who does travel by train, unlike the Prime Minister, recognise, as the public most certainly do, that the railwaymen's dispute over pay and conditions is entirely genuine? Does he not appreciate that British Rail has mishandled the dispute from beginning to end and that Government and ministerial statements amount to intervention of the worst
Column 1131and most divisive kind? Did the Secretary of State for Transport discuss this matter with the chairman of British Rail when he met him?
Mr. Wakeham : I cannot keep repeating the answer, but I shall do so for the hon. and learned Gentleman for whom I have a great affection. I said that my right hon. Friend had a meeting with the chairman of British Rail and that they discussed many matters. However, my right hon. Friend did not give guidance or instructions to British Rail.
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Column 1132the parole system to ensure that compulsive rapists are retained for their full prison sentence? Will he explain what has happened to the Carlisle report which has, apparently, been languishing on somebody's desk in the Home Office since November?
Mr. Wakeham : I can explain the position to my hon. Friend and sympathise with his question. The idea of having more supervision for serious offenders after their release is one of the recommendations of the Carlisle committee, which needs to be looked at as a whole. They would require a change in the law. Offenders are already placed under supervision if they are released on parole. David Evans was refused parole, as are almost all serious offenders serving five years or more. However, he was released when he had served his sentence minus the statutory remission when he could no longer be lawfully held in prison. This tragic case adds weight to the argument for a change in the law. Supervision could help, but it could not guarantee that a new offence would not be committed.
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