Previous Section Home Page

Column 258

he commit a future Labour Government to reviewing the Act of a former Labour Government--the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974?

Mr. Hattersley : I commit at once the next Labour Government, which the hon. Gentleman is right to anticipate, to take all the steps that are right and proper and practical to defeat terrorism.

Since the hon. Gentleman raises the subject, let me respond at once to the Home Secretary's implication that the Opposition are reluctant to deal with terrorism. It was not from the Opposition Front Bench that the announcement came that the IRA could not be defeated ; it was from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The Home Secretary had better be careful what allegations he makes when he is surrounded by colleagues whose incompetence is encouraging terrorism in Northern Ireland rather than defeating it.

At the end of his period of office, the previous incumbent of the high office that the right hon. and learned Gentleman now holds, who was also Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, came up with a new idea which he announced as being central to his responsibilities, and the new Home Secretary referred to it today. That was the idea of "individuals engaging themselves more fully in the community". The previous Home Secretary wrote :

"one way of bringing that about is to give people more power and more scope to take decisions affecting their lives. By devolving power to people and communities we will capture the spirit of the time."

The Opposition have no doubt that passing power from a centralised bureaucracy to the British people is essential to the extension of liberty and freedom, but we are sceptical of the Government's sudden conversion, particularly to devolution.

No Government in modern times have done more than this Government to concentrate power in Westminster and Whitehall or to destroy those parts of our system which provide checks and balances to arbitrary government--free trade unions, autonomous local government and a free press. The Cabinet is led by a Prime Minister who is intolerant of criticism, impatient with dissent and determined to extinguish opposition inside and outside the Cabinet. The Prime Minister has spent 10 years aggregating more and more power to Downing street and now one of her more senior Ministers blandly announces the importance of passing power out to the people.

I know very well that over the past few weeks dissociation from the Prime Minister's policies has become a sport among Cabinet Ministers, but sudden enthusiasm for devolution is taking the joke a little too far.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : The right hon. Gentleman will know that there are two interesting and entertaining amendments to the Government motion. One is in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) and some of his mates. Another diverting amendment has been tabled by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and his chums of the Romanian tendency. As they conflict with one another, what is the position taken by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley)? Which of those amendments has the support of the members of the Opposition Front Bench? We would like

Column 259

to hear more about the Opposition's policies rather than listen to the right hon. Gentleman's knockabout speech on Government policies.

Mr. Hattersley : I confess at once to the hon. Gentleman a dereliction of my duties, because I have no idea of the content of either of the amendments to which he refers. The House has no intention of voting or ability to vote on them tonight. I speak for and represent the policies of the official Labour party--the policies of the next Government. I advise the hon. Gentleman to concentrate on the same.

I was talking about the previous Home Secretary's sudden, new-found enthusiasm for devolution. There will be no devolution of powers under the present Prime Minister and no diffusion of power under the present Government--but both will occur when Labour is elected. The next Labour Government will devolve powers to the nations of Scotland and Wales and to the regions of England.

Those powers will not be stolen from local councils, which must be restored to democratic independence. The regional assemblies will enjoy powers previously exercised by central Government, for democracy requires that as many decisions as possible are taken by the people whom those decisions directly affect.

Mr. Holt : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hattersley : I must proceed, but I will give way later to the hon. Gentleman, who has been anxious all afternoon that I take pity on him.

The preservation and extension of democracy require a series of other specific measures designed to protect and entrench our civil liberties. They include measures to guarantee equality of treatment and status to women and to the black and Asian British, and measures to ensure equal access to, as well as equal treatment under, the law.

Because of the courts' archaic procedures and present organisation, they remain forbiddingly inaccessible to many potential plaintiffs. The cost of justice is beyond the resources of many families. Since 1979, the number of British citizens eligible for legal aid has decreased by more than 13 million. The changes and extensions announced by the Lord Chancellor last week are certainly welcome, but cover only a small proportion of the men and women denied legal aid by the Government. Unless their eligibility is restored, any reform of the legal system will be meaningless to the millions of men and women who are denied, because of cost, the basic civil liberty of access to the courts.

Mr. Holt : The right hon. Gentleman has moved on from the point on which I wanted to question him--regional assemblies. Is it part of the Labour party's plans that regional assemblies will have the power to raise taxes locally and thereby do away with the raising of income tax centrally? If so, will not the people of the north of England suffer as a consequence of being denied access to funds from the south, which are currently pouring into the north of England as a result of Government activities?

Mr. Hattersley : I welcome the hon. Gentleman's conversion to the concept of redistribution, which is at the heart of the policies that we support. Of course, the more prosperous areas must contribute through the fiscal system

Column 260

to investment in and the welfare of less prosperous regions. Equally, areas such as that which the hon. Gentleman represents, where strength of feeling for regional government is overwhelming, should have the power to take decisions on behalf of their own communities. Under the next Labour Government, they will be provided with that power.

Last year and the year before, the Home Office became the instrument by which civil liberties in this country were eroded. Instead of following the example of other western democracies and placing the security services under the control of Parliament, on the initiative of the Home Office the security services were made the creatures of the Government. Instead of a freedom of information Act to ensure that people would know the basic facts behind decisions that condition their lives, there is new official secrets legislation that enables Ministers to release or to suppress information according to their own judgment. Under the present Government, that judgment will always be based not on the national interest but on party advantage. That, I fear, is all part of the pattern : there has never been a time in our history when news has been manipulated more unscrupulously by the Government of the day.

Democracy requires that the media be neither intimidated by Government nor owned and controlled by a handful of millionaires. Yet, during the past 10 years, the courts have been misused to postpone publication of books that might embarrass the Tory party. Broadcasters have been bullied to the point of midnight raids on studios and the confiscation of property, which was not justified--because it could not be justified--by any form of subsequent legal action. Newspaper editors and proprietors have been bribed with knighthoods and peerages--with the exception of Mr. Rupert Murdoch, who, having found it convenient to become an American citizen, had to be compensated with the ownership of The Times and Today without the inconvenience of an inquiry by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. Now we are to have a broadcasting Bill, which might have been agreed between Mr. Murdoch and the Prime Minister over one of their cosy Christmas lunches.

Mr. Maclennan : I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, because I recognise the force of a good deal of his criticism. Why, however, do he and his party refuse to allow the citizens of Sparkbrook to seek the protection of the European convention on human rights in the courts of the realm, forcing them to take the expensive and circuitous route to Strasbourg? That omission rather vitiates the right hon. Gentleman's apparent commitment to the fundamental rights and freedoms of our citizens.

Mr. Hattersley : I think that the hon. Gentleman has said in so many words that he supports the concept of a Bill of Rights. My objection to such a Bill is not that it does harm, but that it is a chimera of a protection, which could be overturned by a single-clause Bill passed by an authoritarian Government in power five years later. Such a Bill could be vitiated through the addition of a single clause to a piece of authoritarian legislation, providing that "a Bill of Rights cannot apply to this instrument".

What we need, and what we shall provide, is a number of specific rights enshrined in individual laws, and the constitutional reform to make future Parliaments unlikely to move away from protections for the individual citizen.

Column 261

I object to the idea of a Bill of Rights not because it would do damage, but because it would provide a pretence of protection. What we stand for is the reality, which must be provided in a different form.

Mr. Skinner : May I point out that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), who represents the SLD or whatever it is, could have done with a Bill of Rights at the time of the merger of the parties? If there had been such a Bill when the Doctor, Paddy Backdown and the other party leader were all involved, the hon. Gentleman--who took over for a period shorter than that for which the present Chancellor of the Exchequer was Foreign Secretary--might have been given some protection.

Mr. Hattersley : I am finally convinced that I should press on, and not allow so many interruptions.

Let me return to the subject of the broadcasting Bill, and remind the House that on Tuesday the Prime Minister made two assertions about it. On the evidence of previous ministerial statements, both asssertions were wrong. The Prime Minister said that choice was to be extended, and that quality would be assured. Like all assertions made by the Prime Minister-- especially those made with force and passion--these require careful examination.

Certainly, if the proposals in the broadcasting White Paper become law, some viewers will in future own television sets with more buttons to press than those which they own today. More buttons, however, do not necessarily mean a greater variety of programmes, and therefore do not necessarily mean more choice. The evidence from countries where there are many channels but little regulation is that channel after channel provides similar inferior programmes : second-rate old films, quiz games, soap operas and cartoons. Diversity requires regulation, but regulation is to be abandoned. Without diversity there is no choice-- [Interruption.] I hear the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) crying, "Rubbish." I ask him to consider the Bill's proposals. I suppose that he understands that television franchises are to be awarded to the companies that make the highest bids. The White Paper stipulates that the companies that make those bids will have to conform to certain minimum requirements. There was almost universal agreement outside the Cabinet that those minimum requirements--the thresholds, as the previous Home Secretary called them--were inadequate, so on Tuesday the Prime Minister changed the tune, or the language, if not the proposal. She promised that franchises would be awarded only to those companies whose programme proposals passed a quality test. As the evening wears on, I hope that the Government will at last make clear what that quality test--or is it minimum standards--really amounts to.

As described by the former Home Secretary on 13 June, the process of maintaining standards would be wholly bogus. He promised that companies

"which failed to satisfy the Independent Television Council that they would meet the requirement would not have their bids considered."

I hear the words "Hear, hear" from the Treasury Bench. Then, however, he said that it would be for applicants

"to interpret both the quality test and the diversity test in drawing up their programme."

How can the ITC impose a quality test if the criteria against which quality is to be measured are decided by the

Column 262

companies themselves? The Home Secretary must know that the men and women who bid for television franchises will be tough customers. They will not be interested in vague promises by Ministers or the Prime Minister's exaggerations about the powers of the new authority. They will be interested in the law.

The Home Secretary made it clear on 13 June that the ITC's decision as to who should receive a franchise would be subject to judicial review. Franchises will be given according to the powers that the Bill specifies for the ITC. Three questions immediately arise. First, will the Bill clearly stipulate minimum standards that companies must accept before a franchise bid is considered? I suspect that the answer to that question is yes. Secondly, will those minimum standards include requirements that were originally omitted from the Government's proposals--the duty to produce education, religious and drama programmes and the requirement to provide a high proportion of locally produced regional programmes--or shall we still be considering the low threshold proposals that in truth do not amount to minimum standards?

Mrs. Dunwoody : Will my right hon. Friend comment on the fact that children's television will be very much at risk if the Government do not give a clear message that the hours during which children's television is shown should be protected and that the quality of those programmes should be guaranteed to prevent them from deteriorating into mere advertisements for toys?

Mr. Hattersley : I agree most emphatically with my hon. Friend. When I was in France two weeks ago, representing the party that my hon. Friend and I serve, I switched to Sky Television. I had the advantage of seeing it for the first time and watched what passed for one of their children's programmes on a Sunday morning. It was devoted entirely to an attempt to sell toys, nursery furniture and things for which children could be relied upon to agitate until their parents bought them. That is a highly disreputable practice and I should hate it to be extended to British television.

My third, and most important, question for the Home Secretary is this : what happens if two companies both promise to observe the minimum standards, but the one which makes the lower bid is most likely, in the judgment of the ITC, to produce the best balance of high quality programmes? In those circumstances, will the ITC be able to say, "We know that you have bid less than your rival, but as in our judgment your programmes are superior to theirs, we propose to award you the franchise"? The IBA now possesses that power. If it is to be denied to the ITC, in effect the Government are abandoning a major quality protection. Abandoning quality protection is abandoning diversity.

I make it clear today that if a new Labour Government are elected before the franchise negotiations envisaged in the Bill are completed, we shall feel no obligation to continue them in the way stipulated in the White Paper--giving the franchise to the highest bidder irrespective of the quality of the programmes proposed. Of course, if the contracts are already awarded, it will be our duty to honour them, and honour them we shall. But if the process is not complete, we shall extend existing franchise arrangements until we can introduce a system that permanently preserves the quality of so much British television.

Column 263

The Prime Minister made a second point about broadcasting. She told us that the Broadcasting Standards Council will

"safeguard decency and keep the violence that is unacceptable off our screens."-- [Official Report, 21 November 1989 ; Vol. 162 c. 32.]

That was not a task laid down for that body by the Home Secretary. The provisions for its annual report and code of practice made it clear that it has no powers to safeguard decency, keep violence off our screens or do anything else but

"focus public concern and act as a watchdog."

On the evidence of the Broadcasting Standards Council and the Home Secretary's speech today, it appears that on Tuesday the Prime Minister was wrong, although I realise that it would be suicide for the Home Secretary to admit it during this debate.

Mr. Grocott : Will my right hon. Friend emphasise that the threat to programme quality is not a speculative matter for the future should the Bill become an Act? Programme standards are declining now as a result of the threat of legislation. Budgets for documentaries and films are being cut in anticipation of the bids that will have to be made.

Mr. Hattersley : Not only is my hon. Friend tragically right about broadcasting and television but he is demonstrating a trait that characterises much of commercial and industrial policy under the present Government. So much time and effort is spent on preparing for takeovers and to combat takeovers that the real work of industry is not being done. Until the Government understand that, great damage will continue to be caused to manufacturing industry and broadcasting.

Mr. David Shaw (Dover) : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hattersley : No.

One aspect of the Gracious Speech, although not categorically wrong, is clearly misleading ; and if the Home Secretary's speech today is anything to go by, it was intended as such. We were promised that the Government

"will vigorously pursue their policies for reducing crime". From that, the innocent abroad might suspect that the Government had achieved some success. I certainly hope that the Government will pursue such policies and that they will be more successful than they have been in the past 10 years.

On Tuesday the Prime Minister constantly referred to what had happened and what had changed since the 1970s. However, she did not compare the present crime rate and prison population with that pertaining under the Labour Government. We should not be surprised by that. Now that the right hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) has left the Government, the Prime Minister is their best statistical manipulator. Let me set out some of the facts which neither the Prime Minister on Tuesday nor the Home Secretary today decided to tell the House.

In 1979 there were 2,536,000 recorded crimes in England and Wales. In 1988- -the latest recorded year--the figure had risen to 3,709,000. That represents an increase in recorded crime of 46 per cent. in 10 years. That is the record of a Government who were elected on a promise of law and order and who continue to posture as the party of law and order. Under this Government violent

Column 264

crime continues to increase. It rose by 12 per cent. last year. Families feel less safe in their homes than at any time in recent history, and every right hon. and hon. Member now meets men and women who are afraid to walk in the street or to travel on public transport--[ Hon. Members :-- "Why?"] I hear some of my hon. Friends ask why and I am about to explain the reasons to the Home Secretary whether or not he wants to hear them.

The rise in crime can be attributed to a variety of causes, some of which could be combated directly by Government action.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge) : I am interested in what the right hon. Gentleman said about violent crime. Does he agree that one reason why it may appear that there is more violent crime is that the police have encouraged those who suffer from violent crime to report those cases?

Mr. Hattersley : Knowing the hon. Gentleman's association with the police, I am surprised that he got that not only wrong but categorically wrong. The fear is that because so few crimes are solved people are not reporting them ; there seems to be no point in doing so. We all hear of people who have had a small crime committed against themselves or their property and who have found that there was not the slightest hope of the culprit being caught or prosecuted. I assure the hon. Gentleman that in inner cities if one's car is broken into or one's windows are smashed the tendency is to ask whether it is worth while reporting it because there is no hope of a result. The statistical probability is that the crime figures are much higher than those reported.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hattersley : No, I must get on.

Some of the causes of rising crime could be combated by direct Government action. We accept the need for more police and more civilians to assist the police and to release police officers to perform their primary duties. Of course, we welcome the Home Secretary's announcement today that more policemen will be recruited next year. We welcomed the same announcement in the public expenditure White Paper, and another one two months ago by the former Home Secretary. If we had as many increases as we have announcements, the position would be much healthier. However, recruiting extra policemen is not the only way to tackle and reduce crime. In other respects the Government are failing the police. The proposal to privatise the police national computer was bitterly opposed by the police and inevitably will undermine confidentiality, which is crucial to the proper relationship between the police and the public. The Government's refusal to exercise any control over the private security industry damages the status of the police and from time to time puts the general public at risk. However, the extra police are welcome. We shall certainly support that proposal and the Government's suggestions for combating drug trafficking and enabling greater co-operation between the police forces of the western world. The provision of more police officers is only the beginning. There are other things which the Government should do but are failing to do. There should be more spending on services that prevent crime--ranging from

Column 265

better street lighting and greater security in blocks of flats to a real drive against youth unemployment and the petty crime that results from boredom and despair. Many of those improvements are held back by cuts in local government finance. This week the Government boasted about small specific grants for crime prevention--£750,000 over three years. But rate support grant to local councils has been cut by over £20 billion. Much of that money, had it been available, would have been spent on services to reduce and deter crime.

Mr. Rooker : Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hattersley : With respect to my hon. Friend, I must make progress. I have given way many times and many other hon. Members wish to speak.

Real remedies for crime are neglected for another reason--the bone-headed belief in the deterrent effect of stiffer sentences. Because of the present clear-up rate of fewer than one in five crimes, many criminals believe that they will never be caught. They do not have a thought for the severity of the punishment if they are convicted. Yet there is still the belief that stiffer sentences will automatically reduce crime. That belief is epitomised by the mindless call for the return of capital punishment. That call is now led by the Home Secretary, who announced today that if there were evidence to support the view that capital punishment was a deterrent, it should be returned. Has he not been in this and his previous job long enough to realise that there is not a shred of evidence to support the view that capital punishment deters? The only evidence is that it encourages and rewards the atavistic instincts of right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Benches.

Mr. Brazier : Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hattersley : No.

There is a further cause of crime that few people now dispute. There is no better way of ensuring that a young man becomes a regular criminal than by sending him to prison for the first time for a petty offence. Prison breeds crime, yet in Britain more people receive custodial sentences than in almost any other Western democracy. I see the ever-eager Minister of State waiting to pounce because when I made this point in a previous debate he said that I was wrong and that, of the countries of the Western European Union and the Council of Europe, Austria, Luxembourg and Turkey sent a larger proportion of their citizens to prison than we did. Since that time, Turkey and Luxembourg have so reduced their prison populations that now only one country in the Western world sends more of its citizens to prison than we do. I do not believe that it is because we have a more criminally inclined population than anywhere else from the Urals to the Atlas mountains ; but the culture of prison has somehow taken root in this country and results in our sending too many people to prison and keeping them there too long.

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting) : Has my right hon. Friend seen the recently published report by the chief inspector of prisons on Wandsworth prison? We are sending enormous numbers of people to prison and, despite every promise from the Government, from the time when Lord Whitelaw was Home Secretary, none of the recommendations promised has been enforced in Wandsworth or in any other of our major prisons.

Column 266

Mr. Hattersley : It is extraordinary that in Wandsworth and many other major prisons we are keeping men, and in some cases women, in Victorian gaols in conditions which the Victorians would not have tolerated for a day. The Victorians would not have had people in prisons where they could wash only once a week, where there was no remedial training, and where they would have no exercise except for a minimum of one hour a day. It is a rebuke to our civilised society that we continue to keep such prisons in operation. They will remain in operation for as long as we send too many people to prison and keep them there too long. I want to compare the number in prison in 1979 with the prison population today. In 1979, the prison population was 42,220-- [Interruption.] If the Minister of State wishes to argue with my figures, he is welcome to do so. However, since the figures were given by him in a parliamentary answer, he can decide whether he is wrong now or was wrong then.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten) rose--

Mr. Hattersley : I shall give the figures first, then the Minister can argue with them. That seems sensible.

In 1979, the prison population was 42,220. The latest figure this year is 48,609--an increase of 6,000. We welcome and support the increased emphasis on non-custodial sentences--with, of course the exception of electronic tagging. That was a publicity stunt promoted by the Minister of State which, now that it has proved a fiasco, will, I trust, be dropped by the new Home Secretary.

Mr. John Patten : The right hon. Gentleman said that he would give way once he had given the figures. Will he tell the House how much money the Labour Government put into prisons between 1974 and 1979? They never built a prison, they put no money into refurbishment and they are largely responsible for many of the problems that we have had to try to clear up.

Mr. Hattersley : The hon. Gentleman does not realise that the answer to this crisis is not more prisons with more prisoners, but fewer people being sent to prison in the first place. The entire thrust of his answer was the old belief that putting people in prison is the answer to crime. It is not. Non-custodial sentences are clearly not appropriate for crimes of violence or in cases where a convicted man or woman might abscond or commit a further offence. However, in other instances non-custodial sentences are not the soft option but the sensible option. They often allow restitution of damage done or suffering caused. Unlike prison, they avoid exposure to the criminal environment that encourages crime.

In some areas non-custodial sentences are working successfully. To make the application of non-custodial sentences general we need a new Act of Parliament which ensures that the facilities for punishment outside prison are generally available and that the courts are encouraged to award them. We need a new Act of Parliament for many things concerning the system of criminal justice--not least the questions arising from the miscarriages of justice in the Guildford and Woolwich pub bombing cases.

The previous Home Secretary conceded that an examination of the entire appeal system was necessary. The Opposition believe that a new additional form of appeal must be created which enables the examination of

Column 267

contentious convictions in a forum that is not the exclusive preserve of solicitors, barristers and judges. If a layman--someone from outside the judicial system--had earlier been involved in the examination of the Guildford and Woolwich cases, I have no doubt that that wrong would have been righted much earlier. There will be arguments about how that problem can be solved. However, I hope that there is general agreement that it must be solved quickly. The solution, like the solution to overcrowded prisons, requires legislation.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hattersley : I cannot give way any more.

It is typical of the Government's standard of values that the Gracious Speech gave preference not to a Bill to reform our judicial system but to one whose primary result would be a reduction in the quality of our television. One of the Government's more disreputable techniques is to spend much time and effort announcing what needs to be done while having no intention of doing it. The Opposition have not been at all impressed by the Home Secretary's insistence that the prison population must be reduced. He could have accelerated the reduction by including in a new criminal justice Bill powers to extend non-custodial sentences and by including that new Bill in the Gracious Speech. He chose not to do so.

Of course, we have the legal services Bill--or at least half of it, compared with the first flash of reforming zeal displayed by the Lord Chancellor. All the signs are that attempts to open up the legal profession have generally been thwarted by the vested interests in it. The Government have capitulated. Judges are to have the power of veto over any proposed solution to what amounts to a demarcation dispute between solicitors and barristers. Consistency requires the Government to give the Trades Union Congress general council the right to adjudicate on whether there should be a closed shop. The hallmark of the Government is not intellectual consistency but prejudice and the belief in every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost. We now have the picture by which history will remember this Administration and which typifies the standards and values of the Thatcher years--the Secretary of State for Transport standing in a used car salesroom trying to sell fancy number plates. That says all that we need to know about the present Administration. No wonder they have been rejected by the people of this country.

5 pm

Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North) : The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) will perhaps forgive me if I do not touch on all the many subjects that he introduced into the debate. I am certain that many Conservative Members will agree that his diatribe on what may be in the forthcoming broadcasting Bill would be best left until Second Reading.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook about a tribunal to review serious cases of miscarriage of justice. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be aware that the 1982 report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs made that recommendation. I pray that, after Sir John May has reported, we shall reconsider that

Column 268

important recommendation, when hon. Members may believe that an additional measure should be inserted in our criminal justice system to deal with such serious cases.

I warmly endorse everything said by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. He made a fulsome speech of vigour. It was typical of his character that he should have addressed the issues associated with what we are meant to be discussing--rights and freedoms.

In Britain, the concept of the citizen and his or her rights goes to the centre of the nature of our society. It is often expressed by that marvellous term, "the peace of our sovereign lady the Queen." By that we mean that every citizen has a duty to uphold the law and to ensure that there is an all-embracing atmosphere in which people may enjoy their freedoms and rights.

Because we have a long history of that concept, it is worth touching on some of the milestones over the centuries that led to the concepts and principles that mean so much to us as a society. The Justices of the Peace Act 1361 created justices of the peace in England. Their duty was to uphold the peace and to ensure that fellow citizens could use the streets freely and without fear. It is typical of the character of our country and its people that the people who held that office were unpaid, as they are today. Some 30,000 of them serve in a voluntary capacity to keep the Queen's peace.

The concept of good citizenship and keeping the peace was further buttressed in 1829, when the first paid police force was established. I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's statement of increases in the establishment of our paid police service. The 19th-century concept of the police is the same today. The establishment of a paid police force did not remove the obligation on all citizens to keep the peace. Thus, in our age we see the policies of crime prevention as an essential part of our contribution to the well-being of our people.

I take issue with the assessment of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook of the crime problem. It is easy to reel off figures and statistics, but they mean little unless one considers the underlying analysis. He must know, as Conservative Members know, that over 90 per cent. of crime relates to property. Most crime is committed by young people, and the peak age for offending in males is 15. We know that that crime is prevented and stopped by what the citizen does in his or her neighbourhood to protect their homes and to involve themselves in their communities, villages, towns or districts. The Government have sought to sustain and encourage those principles through their programme of crime prevention and good citizenship. Those are the rights, freedoms and privileges of the British citizen. They go back through the centuries, and we wish to see them encouraged and sustained.

I welcome the remarks made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary about international policing and the initiatives to deal with drugs and international crime. The Select Committee on Home Affairs will contribute to the work of the Government and the House on those matters when it publishes an important report on 7 December listing no fewer than 49 recommendations to help to sustain and encourage the control of serious crime, especially that relating to drugs. Over the course of the next year, it intends to play its part in the contribution that European parliamentarians made to encouraging the suppression of crime that is organised beyond our frontiers.

Column 269

The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said much about expenditure, and I heard two pledges made--first, expenditure on what he called regional authorities. I wish that I knew what the cost of those authorities would be, but they sounded suspiciously substantial. Secondly, he suggested expenditure on other parts of the criminal justice system, which again was uncosted. He did not refer to the Labour party's policy review, which brings sharply into question the fitness of the Labour party to form a future Government. As I understand it, it is pledged to repealing the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 and to amending, and eventually repealing, the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1987. In the city of Westminster, those pledges are serious matters indeed. I remind the House that, during the past 17 years of mainly Irish terrorism, more than 100 people have been foully killed on the United Kingdom mainland as a result of terrorist acts, and many others have been injured. I am glad to see my right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) in his seat. He and I share an awesome burden in the city of Westminster, because over recent years we have had to consider the murder and injuring of people by the Harrods bombing, the Knightsbridge bombing and the Regents park bombing in my constituency. The repeal of those two measures would directly damage the safety and security of the British people. I challenge the Opposition to reconsider their policy review pledges in that regard.

Since the establishment of paid constabularies in 1829, the police system has been independent of politics. The chief officer of police is free to enforce the law in accordance with Parliament's instructions through Acts of Parliament. He is not controlled by the so-called police authorities or by committees of local politicians. I understand that the Labour party has pledged, in its policy review, to ensure that every police authority is made up of elected members, and that responsibility for the Metropolitan police will be taken from my right hon. and learned Friend and the House, and will become the responsibility of an elected body of people. That is a direct challenge to freedom and to the independence of our police service.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : The hon. Gentleman is not logical. Is the Home Secretary not elected? Are not Members of the House of Commons elected? If we are elected, and certain Ministers control the police in London, why can we not have locally elected representatives to control the police?

Mr. Wheeler : I am grateful for that intervention, because it enables me to say, without fear of contradiction, that my right hon. and learned Friend and Ministers in the Home Office do not control the police. They are the police authority--responsible for funding and producing resources--but they do not control the police or give them instructions.

The public fear that the Labour party policy review will mean that there will be people on police committees who will seek to control and manipulate what the police do. Outside the metropolis, justices of the peace comprise one third of the existing police authorities. As I said at the beginning of my speech, those justices of the peace, who have been appointed since 1361, are citizens of England.

Column 270

They are unpaid. They ensure fairness and balance, and they keep the peace, and that is the system which the country cherishes. The Opposition have also pledged, as I understand it, to introduce immigration procedures which will be open and fair. They say that they would repeal the Immigration Acts of 1971, 1981 and 1988 and the primary purpose rule.

As Minister of State at the Home Office, my right hon. and learned Friend controlled immigration fairly, and he will continue to do so. Immigration has ceased to be a great issue in Britain. My right hon. and learned Friend has brought peace to the inner cities, because he has reduced the conflict which existed in the 1970s and early 1980s. We are grateful to him for that.

By pledging to repeal that legislation, the Opposition will reintroduce the immigration debate into Britain, and reintroduce anxiety about the future. That is not in the interests of people who live in Britain.

Next Section

  Home Page