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Dr. Reid : The Home Secretary has said that the inquiry will cover two years. Is not the stark truth that the rot in the West Midlands serious crime squad goes back as far as the inquiry into the Birmingham pub bombings? I ask the right hon. Gentleman to face that fact sooner rather than later. Eventually he or one of his successors will have to do that in the same manner as it was done over the Guildford
Column 1037Four. I ask him for the sake of police morale, humanity and the good name of British justice to order an urgent and thorough inquiry into all the circumstances surrounding the arrest, conviction and incarceration of six men for the Birmingham pub bombings, whom many of us on both sides of the House believe to be wholly innocent of the charges laid against them.
Mr. Hurd : Mr. Shaw's investigation will concentrate on the cases that gave rise to it. I say for the third time that if the investigation reveals a line of inquiry that leads further into the past I would expect the police to follow it up. The point that the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Reid) has omitted is that I did act in the same way in the two cases although at a year's distance. In January 1987, I referred the Birmingham case to the Court of Appeal. There then followed a rigorous police investigation by the Devon and Cornwall police which was comparable with the one that the Avon and Somerset police undertook for the Guildford case. After that investigation, the Court of Appeal spent a month hearing the case again. That hearing took place at the end of 1987. The Court of Appeal came to the conclusion, on the information available to it and after the police inquiry, that the convictions were sound.
Mr Fisher : Will the Home Secretary not reconsider what he has just told the House? Did he not read the report in The Guardian yesterday that one of the officers concerned saw that the Birmingham Six were beaten up? Does not that indicate that there is new evidence available to Mr. Shaw and that unless the Home Secretary requires Mr. Shaw specifically to examine all the circumstances surrounding the Birmingham Six, there is a real danger of another miscarriage of justice taking place?
Mr. Hurd : The circumstances surrounding the confessions in the Birmingham pub case, including the question of violence, were considered in the Court of Appeal review at the end of 1987. It took account of all those points. If there are new points, they are matters that must be considered-- but nothing that I have so far heard or seen goes beyond material that was available in the very long and thorough rediscussion in the Court of Appeal. It resulted in a reaffirmation of the original verdict being given at the beginning of 1988.
Mrs. Mahon : Is not the Home Secretary aware that three of the officers currently under investigation for fabricating confessions were involved in obtaining confessions out of the Birmingham Six? The fourth, detective sergeant Brian Norton, has served time in gaol for obtaining confessions on that basis. Should not the right hon. Gentleman follow that line of inquiry?
Mr. Hurd : I understand that one member of the serious crime squad, which was disbanded in the summer, was involved in the investigation into the Birmingham pub bombing. That is to say, his period of service in the serious crime squad spanned those years.
The chief constable of the West Midlands set up the investigation by Mr. Shaw because of complaints and doubts about a certain number of recent cases. As the hon. Lady knows, certain procedures and papers were criticised, were not in the right order or were missing altogether. That was the purpose of the inquiry, and it is on that that it is concentrating.
Column 1038If that investigation were to lead back, by any means, to an earlier period or to the sorts of confessions to which the hon. Lady referred--I am not talking only about the Birmingham pub case-- and any convictions were called into question, we would have to reconsider them. However, that is not the current position.
Mr. Stanbrook : Although my right hon. Friend could not give a total figure relevant to the question, is it not clear to anyone who has studied these matters, and therefore only fair to say so, that the number of cases of defective evidence relating to confessions is infinitesimal compared with the total?
Mr. Hurd : Of course that is true. It is also true that since the Birmingham, Guildford and Woolwich cases the Police and Criminal Evidence Act has completely changed the framework and the circumstances--
Mr. Anthony Coombs : In the interests of the confidence and morale of the vast majority of good police officers in the west midlands, will my right hon. Friend confirm that whatever the activities of certain individual members of the serious crime squad, the West Midlands force enjoys the confidence of the majority of people, as evidenced by the fact that last year crime in the west midlands fell faster than in any other metropolitan authority? That is despite the fact that the chief police officer in Birmingham has not only investigated the serious crime squad but has abolished it.
Mr. Hurd : Each time I go to the west midlands and discuss crime and policing matters with all parties, I am impressed by the high reputation of the force, which performs very well under outstanding leadership.
Mr. Maclennan : In the light of the cases to which the Home Secretary has referred, will he further consider the possibility of allowing police officers to have a right of confidential access to the Police Complaints Authority where they believe that misfeasance or malpractice within the police force cannot be put right without external intervention?
Mr. Hurd : That has not surfaced today when we have had a serious set of exchanges about the course of justice in Britain, but I am sure that all Opposition Members will have taken note of what my hon. Friend has said.
Mr. Corbett : Will the Home Secretary take this opportunity to say sorry to the Guildford Four, since no member of the judiciary or the Government has yet been able to get that word past his or her lips? When the Home Secretary had talks with the chief constable on the investigation into the former West Midlands serious crime
Column 1039squad, did he undertake to keep an open mind on its outcome, especially if wrongdoings by officers raise renewed doubts about the safety of the convictions in the Birmingham Six and Carl Bridgewater cases? Will he assure the House that his mind remains open on those matters?
Mr. Hurd : Mr. Shaw's investigation was set in hand not by me but by the chief constable, Mr. Dear, of his own volition. It is taking place under the supervision of the Police Complaints Authority, which is completely independent. However, the hon. Gentleman is right. If the investigation, which was set up because of complaints about recent cases and so rightly and naturally will concentrate on those cases, gave rise to a train of thought or evidence that led to earlier cases, any convictions that arose from those cases would clearly have to be looked at. That is not the position at the moment and I have no reason to suppose that it will be.
I expressed regret in the House a week ago. I did that very clearly. But I hope that Opposition Members, in their pursuit of this matter, will take into account the fact that the people who suffered most from it were not those who were wrongfully imprisoned, but those who were murdered at Guildford.
Ms. Short : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that the Home Secretary will, on reflection, want to retract what he has just said. He has smeared the four people who were wrongly convicted in Guildford and he is wrong to do so.
Mr. Hattersley : My point of order to you, Mr. Speaker, is that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) and I understand your ruling that Question Time must continue in its normal way, but if the Home Secretary wishes to pursue the arguments, so will my hon. Friend and you must call the Home Secretary to order in just the same way.
Mr. Hurd rose--
Column 1040agrees that those who were killed were the victims, but surely that does not lead anyone to say that those who were wrongly imprisoned were not as badly treated--
Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman will have to pursue that through the Front Bench, not through the Chair. That is not a matter of order. The Chair cannot be held responsible for answers that are given to questions.
Sir Bernard Braine : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Since when has it been the practice to permit points of order to be raised during questions, wasting the time of hon. Members on both sides, when we all know that points of order can only be accepted by you after questions?
Mr. Speaker : Order. It has always been the practice that, if an hon. Member raises a point of order requiring my intervention--and I cannot judge whether it is such a point of order until I have heard it--it is dealt with at the time. What is not in order, as the whole House knows, is to seek to raise points of order immediately after questions on matters arising out of them. I heard that point of order at the time, to judge whether it was a point of order for me.
Mr. Hurd : The ministerial group on the misuse of drugs last met, under my chairmanship, on 16 October. It endorsed my proposals for the establishment of locally based drug prevention schemes in nine areas most at risk from drug misuse, and in particular from the threat of cocaine and crack.
Other issues discussed included plans for the next phase of the national drug misuse prevention campaign, developments in drugs education, drug- related development assistance overseas under the aid programme and plans for the world ministerial summit on drugs, to be held in London next April.
Mr. Baldry : While it must be right not to risk glamorising crack by dramatising its effects, is my right hon. Friend confident that every parent, teacher, school governor and community or youth worker--especially in vulnerable communities--is fully aware of the dangers that crack poses to all our children? Is he confident that they are aware of the collective action that is being taken, and can be taken, to fight back against crack?
Mr. Hurd : Yes. Whatever we do about enforcement, I think that education to reduce demand is the key. That is why it is so important that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science put drug liaison officers into each local education authority, and why the national curriculum will now ensure that every primary and secondary school provides proper education so that young people understand the acute dangers and miseries resulting from the misuse of drugs.
Mr. Randall : Is the Home Secretary aware of the various press reports suggesting that major drug suppliers in north America, the Caribbean and South America intend to target Europe and, in particular, the United Kingdom, with cocaine, crack and other hard drugs? Is he also aware that, according to Home Office statistics, the
Column 1041Government's policies have failed even to contain the growth in drug taking? How can the people of Britain be confident that the Government understand the scale of those threats to our country? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that a considerable increase in resources will be needed from the Government to crush this evil trade?
Mr. Hurd : I can certainly answer yes to the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question, without accepting the earlier part. We need to strengthen our defences at all points. That includes help for Third world countries, a serious effort to stifle the production of dangerous drugs, increasing the Customs and police presence at our ports and airports and retaining the necessary checks there, and substantially more expenditure on the communities at greatest risk, on education and on the treatment of addicts. All those measures are necessary, and all are being strengthened.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Tim Renton) : Discussions with our Community partners are continuing. We have continued to emphasise the importance of retaining at United Kingdom ports and airports effective checks to control immigration by non-EC nationals, and to deal with terrorism, drug trafficking and other serious crime. At the same time, we have shown our commitment to joining other Community countries in practical measures to strengthen the external frontier of the Community and co- operation between states in counter-terrorism and law enforcement. I believe that our position is increasingly well recognised within the Community.
Mr. Renton : Yes, I can certainly give that assurance : every unnecessary control will be removed. My hon. Friend will know that in March we introduced a new immigration channel that merged the British and EC channels, so that both British and all other EC nationals could enter the United Kingdom with the minimum of difficulty. I have no doubt, however, that frontier checks will remain an indispensable part of our control, to impose proper control on third-country nationals entering this country, and to prevent the entry of terrorists and major criminals.
Mr. Darling : Is the Minister aware of the growing concern about the quality of decision-making as it affects individual tourists visiting Britain? As we move towards a common regime for entry throughout Europe in 1992, will he consider the need to set up a review procedure so that badly taken decisions can quickly be looked at, especially as he himself has abandoned any pretext of reviewing decisions by individual officers?
Column 1042to the number of people who want to enter the United Kingdom. In 1978, 27 million people came into this country and in 1988 the figure was 45 million. Every time we try to improve the procedures, the Opposition vote against it. [Interruption.]
Mr. Hurd : We are already pursuing a comprehensive programme of action to tackle both the supply of and the demand for drugs including cocaine and crack. Recent measures include agreement to provide a substantial package of drug-related assistance to Colombia in the form of law enforcement training and equipment. We are also providing £2.3 million to set up locally based drug prevention teams in areas most at risk from drug misuse and in particular from the threat of cocaine and crack.
Mr. Lord : While congratulating my right hon. Friend on the measures he has already taken, may I urge him to take even sterner measures against the villainous men who organise drug trafficking, with particular reference to the sentences that they serve and the confiscation of their profits so that they are left in no doubt whatsoever that if they are caught and convicted they will serve long prison sentences and will never benefit from their ill-gotten gains?
Mr. Hurd : I agree with my hon. Friend on sentencing and on the confiscation of assets. Our new legislation is beginning to work well and the total confiscated is now £14 million. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister this week signed the 11th agreement that we have with other friendly countries to provide for the mutual confiscation of assets.
Mr. Bermingham : Does the Home Secretary agree that while it is all very well to talk in these global terms, perhaps a little more investment in police dogs and good equipment for the police forces would help them in the war against crime?
Mr. Hurd : I will be able to approve a further 1,100 police posts, to be allocated between provincial forces and the Metropolitan police, in 1990-91. I will take advice from Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary on the increases for provincial forces, and I hope to announce the approvals as soon as possible before the end of the year.
Mr. Pawsey : May I thank my right hon. Friend for that typically helpful response? Is he aware that in Warwickshire motorway mileage has increased substantially and police establishments have not kept pace with that growth? Therefore, I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend could reconsider the establishment in Warwickshire, particularly as officers are being taken from
Column 1043the beat to supervise motorways. Will my right hon. Friend comment on the fact that Warwickshire is successfully policed only because of the action of special constables who do a marvellous job? We would be grateful if he were able to reconsider the numbers of police in our county.
Mr. Hurd : I do not know of any police force that does not have a persuasive case for having a good many more police. Warwickshire had an extra 11 men last year and it has applied for another 35. As I have said, I shall consider that carefully when I look at the totals. My hon. Friend is quite right about the specials. He and I spent an impressive Sunday morning at a parade of the Warwickshire specials and I was deeply impressed by the people who came forward to help the community.
Mr. Nellist : Will the Home Secretary consider increasing the police establishment allocated to Mr. Shaw in his investigation of the West Midlands regional crime squad specifically to allow him to go back beyond the two-year limit set for that investigation so that the suspicion that the techniques involved in the Birmingham Six and the Carl Bridgewater murder case, both of which involved disputed confessions, little forensic evidence and officers from that now-disbanded squad, could be properly tackled by the investigation?
Mr. Cran : Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to condemn the Tandy Corporation stores group, which is currently marketing an electronic scanner device that facilitates eavesdropping on other people's telephone conversations? That has ramifications for security, the police and individuals in business. Does he agree that that is a gross invasion of privacy, and is he prepared to say what the Government will do about it?
Mr. Renton : I am well aware of my hon. Friend's deep concern about the subject, but I am not aware of the equipment to which he refers. I ask him not to overlook the 1985 legislation, which dealt with the interception of the public telecommunications system. If the use of the electronic scanner involves such interception, criminal offences and penalties, as set up by the Interception of Communications Act 1985, will come into play.
The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher) : This morning I presided over 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.
Mr. Day : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the proportion of income tax paid by Britain's high-rate taxpayers is greater than it was in 1979? Does she therefore agree that any proposal to increase that high rate to 50 per cent. or more would have a disastrous effect on the British economy? Does she further agree that that would lead to a reduction in revenue for the Exchequer? In view of that, has she any special message for my constituents in Cheadle, who would be adversely affected by such a proposal?
The Prime Minister : Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely correct. The top 5 per cent. of income tax payers now pay 28 per cent. of income tax yield, whereas they paid only 24 per cent. in 1979. Lower taxes have led to a higher yield. That higher yield and the extra wealth created by our policies of tax incentives and enterprise have not only meant a higher standard of living throughout the whole income tax scale but a much higher standard of social services.
Mr. Kinnock : Has it come to the Prime Minister's notice that since she was last at the Dispatch Box in July, Britain's balance of payments has moved a further £5.9 billion in the red, that Britain's home buyers and businesses have been hit again by higher interest rates and that in the meanwhile the number of Chancellors has doubled? In the interests of team spirit, will she get rid of the part-time one?
The Prime Minister : Interest rates will stay as high as is necessary for as long as is necessary to get inflation down. With regard to interest rates and mortgage rates, the right hon. Gentleman must be very glad that we do not have a Socialist Government, because in Australia mortgage rates are 18 per cent.
Mr. Kinnock : I understand the Prime Minister's reluctance to answer the question about Sir Alan, or indeed any other Chancellor of the Exchequer. It would be wholly inappropriate for her to dismiss Sir Alan when she so completely concurs with everything he says, and everybody knows it. Is she aware that the confusion that is at the heart of Government policy will remain as long as Sir Alan does?
Column 1045supplementary question. Advisers advise and Ministers decide. Ministers have decided, and we have an excellent economic policy.
Sir Anthony Grant : When the subject of sanctions on South Africa arises, will my right hon. Friend always recall that the Labour Government spent substantial sums of public money to promote trade with South Africa, and in that context treat anything that the Opposition say on that subject as total humbug?
Mr. Ashdown : Given the worries expressed today in the City about the possibility of a recession, will the Prime Minister tell the House whether she agrees with her Chancellor of the Exchequer that Britain's having a £20 billion trade deficit is not a serious problem?
The Prime Minister : As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, I have always supported my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his management and handling of the economy. He does not say that the deficit is not a problem. He says that the measures which he has taken will bring down inflation and the trade deficit.
Mr. Cash : Has my right hon. Friend noticed President Mitterrand's remarks on the question of a new treaty, as opposed to a revision of the treaty of Rome? Does she agree that this is a dangerous path upon which to embark? Does she agree that it would be extremely dangerous and not in the interests of either the European Community or any of the member states to pursue this proposal to a logical conclusion at the summit or in the run-up to the intergovernmental conference?
The Prime Minister : We have yet to absorb the consequences of the Single European Act and all the changes that will be brought about when we come to 1992 with a real common market. There will be a major change in the whole of Europe. It would be premature to have another intergovernmental conference before we properly come to 1992, and even then it will take years to absorb the consequences. It is, however, clear that an intergovernmental conference can be called by a simple majority at a meeting of Heads of Government, but in order for it to make any effective proposals decisions would have to be agreed with unanimity.
The Prime Minister : No. Workplace nurseries are treated just as other extra facilities are--as benefits in kind for those earning over a certain salary. It would be quite wrong if those who have nurseries available at work were not to regard that as a benefit in kind while other people who had to make their own arrangements had to pay out of net taxed income.
Mr. Watts : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the statement yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security contained unparalleled good news for the disabled and those who care for them, providing an extra £100 million a year over and above normal indexation to more than 500,000 people?
The Prime Minister : Yes. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security decided that the disabled were most in need of extra help and added to our excellent record on the disabled. We already spend, over and above inflation, 90 per cent. more on people who are disabled than was spent when the Labour party was in power. I notice that a family with a very severely disabled child will get up to £65 a week extra in benefits. That is very good news.
The Prime Minister : If the death penalty had been available, it would have been a matter for the courts and not for us. I believe however, speaking personally, because it is always a matter for the individual vote, that a death penalty should be available to the courts in cases of the most hideous murder. No one should be able to go out and perform the most hideous, bestial, and vicious murders and know that their own life is not forfeit.