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House of Commons

Thursday 7 December 1989

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Birmingham City Council

(No. 2) Bill--

Order for consideration read.

To be considered on Thursday 14 December.

Bromley London Borough Council (Crystal Palace) Bill

Considered ; to be read the Third time.

Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill


Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 14 December.

Private Bills (Procedure)

Motion made,

That--the Promoters of every Private Bill which originated in this House in the last Session and which is listed in Schedule A to this Order, or which originated in the House of Lords in the last Session and which is listed in Schedule B to this Order may, notwithstanding anything in the Standing Orders or practice of this House, proceed with the Bill in the present Session ; and the Petition for the Bill shall be deemed to have been deposited and all Standing Orders applicable thereto shall be deemed to have been complied with ; --every such Bill which originated in this House shall be presented to the House not later than the seventh day after this day ; --there shall be deposited with every Bill so presented a Declaration signed by the Agent for the Bill, stating that the Bill is the same, in every respect, as the Bill at the last stage of its proceedings in this House in the last Session ;

--every Bill so presented shall be laid by one of the Clerks in the Private Bill Office upon the Table of the House on the next meeting of the House after the day on which the Bill was presented ; --every Bill listed in Part I of Schedule A shall, after being so laid on the Table, be deemed to have been read the first, second, and third time, and shall pass ;

--every Bill listed in Part II of Schedule A shall, after being so laid on the Table, be deemed to have been read the first and second time and reported from Committee and ordered to lie upon the Table ; --when any Bill originating in the Lords, which was brought from the House of Lords in the last Session and to which this Order relates, is brought from the Lords in the present Session, the Agent for the Bill shall deposit in the Private Bill Office a Declaration, signed by him, stating that the Bill is the same, in every respect, as the Bill which was brought from the Lords in the last Session, and, as soon as a certificate by one of the Clerks in the Private Bill Office that such a Declaration has been so deposited has been laid upon the Table of the House, the Bill shall be deemed--

(i) in the case of the Buckinghamshire County Council Bill [Lords], the London Local Authorities Bill [Lords], the South Yorkshire Light Rail Transit Bill [Lords] and the United Medical and Dental Schools Bill [Lords], to have been read the first and second time and committed and shall be committed to the Chairman of Ways and Means, who shall make such amendments thereto as have been made by the

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Committee in the last Session, and shall report the Bill as amended to the House forthwith, and the Bill, so amended, shall be ordered to lie upon the Table ;

(ii) in the case of the Nottingham Park Estate Bill [Lords], to have been read the first and second time and committed ;

(iii) in the case of the Medway Tunnel Bill [Lords] and the Vale of Glamorgan (Barry Harbour) Bill [Lords], to have been read the first time and ordered to be read a second time ;

(iv) in the case of the Greater Manchester (Light Rapid Transit System) (No. 3) Bill [Lords], to have been read the first time and referred to the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills ; --in respect of all the Bills listed in Schedules A and B to this Order, the various stages deemed to have been taken shall be recorded in the Journal of this House as having been taken ;

--only such Petitions as were presented against any Bill brought from the Lords in the last Session which stood referred to the Committee on the Bill and which have not been withdrawn shall stand referred to the Committee on the Bill with the same title in the present Session ;

--in relation to any Bill to which this Order applies Standing Order 127 relating to Private Business shall have effect as if the words "under Standing Order 126 (Reference to Committee of Petitions against Bill)" were omitted ;

--in respect of any Bill originating in the House of Lords to which this Order relates and upon which the Examiners have reported in the last Session that no Standing Order not previously inquired into was applicable thereto, the Examiners shall, if the Bill is brought from the Lords in the present Session, be deemed to have made the same report in the present Session ;

--no further Fees shall be charged in respect of any proceedings on any of the Bills to which this Order relates so far as Fees were incurred during the last Session ;

--this House doth concur with the Lords in their Resolution contained in their Message [22nd November] relating to the River Tees Barrage and Crossing Bill [Lords] , the Happisburgh Lighthouse Bill [Lords] , the Great Yarmouth Port Authority Bill [Lords], the Southampton Rapid Transit Bill [Lords] , the Heathrow Express Railway Bill [Lords] , the London Local Authorities (No. 2) Bill [Lords] and the Greater Manchester (Light Rapid Transit System) Bill [Lords].

Schedule A

Part I 1. City of London (Spitalfields Market) Bill

2. Hythe Marina Village (Southampton) Wavescreen Bill

3. Isle of Wight Bill

4. New Southgate Cemetery and Crematorium Limited Bill

5. St. George's Hill, Weybridge, Estate Bill

6. Penzance Albert Pier Extension Bill

Part II 1. British Film Institute Southbank Bill

2. British Railways Bill

3. City of London (Various Powers) Bill

4. Redbridge London Borough Council Bill

Schedule B 1. Buckinghamshire County Council Bill [Lords] 2. London Local Authorities Bill [Lords]

3. South Yorkshire Light Rail Transit Bill [Lords]

4. United Medical and Dental Schools Bill [Lords]

5. Nottingham Park Estate Bill [Lords]

6. Medway Tunnel Bill [Lords]

7. Vale of Glamorgan (Barry Harbour) Bill [Lords]

8. Greater Manchester (Light Rapid Transit System) (No. 3) Bill [Lords]--[The Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Hon. Members : Object.

To be considered on Tuesday 12 December at 7 o'clock.

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Oral Answers to Questions


Concessionary Television Licences

1. Mr. Janner : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received concerning concessionary television licences for retirement pensioners living in sheltered housing.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Mellor) : Since the change in the regulations in May 1988, we have received deputations from four hon. Members, and received 373 letters, 191 of those from hon. Members, about aspects of the concessionary television licensing system. The nature of each representation is not separately recorded, but the main points raised were whether the scheme should be extended to ordinary housing, the treatment of new residents of schemes which no longer qualified and whether the circumstances of individual housing schemes fitted the new regulations.

Mr. Janner : Will the Minister look urgently into the case of 10 old -age pensioners in Leicester, five of whom live in Braunstone in my constituency? Their preserved right to a concessionary television licence has been lost entirely as a result of bureaucratic delays in the television licence office. Leicester city council was not informed or asked to produce a list of renewals until August 1988, four months after the cut-off date. Does he agree that it is cruel and wrong that those elderly people should lose that right? Will the Minister do his best to cut through the bureaucratic tangle which should never have existed?

Mr. Mellor : If the hon. and learned Gentleman will let me have details of the case, I will join him in writing to the national television licence records office to sort the matter out.

Mr. Devlin : Will my hon. and learned Friend look into the interesting and anomalous case of the sheltered housing at Willey Flatts in Yarm in my constituency? It is an establishment of segregated and sheltered bungalows for which there is an extra charge because there is a warden service. In the past, the residents enjoyed a concessionary television licence because they were old-age pensioners. The national television licence records office wrote recently to say that in future the concession will not be available. Having realised that the bungalows are separate and have been so for 20 years, it is seeking to change the previous ruling. Will my hon. and learned Friend intervene in that completely ridiculous situation?

Mr. Mellor : Once again, all that I can say is that while the interpretation of the regulations is not a matter for me, if I am provided with the full details and if I can be helpful, I shall try to do so.

Mr. Corbett : Does the Minister understand that the arbitrary system under which most pensioners have to pay for a licence but some do not causes friction and resentment? Now that only seven in every 100 homes has a black and white set and as pensioners own most of those, will the Minister give them a Christmas present by exempting all black and white sets from the licence fee? If

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the Government could do away with the licence for 7 million dog owners, why cannot he do the same for the far fewer pensioners who own black and white television sets?

Mr. Mellor : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that since its introduction in 1969 the scheme has caused a wholly disproportionate amount of grief to every Government who have had to deal with it. We have tried to tidy up the arrangements so that the scheme genuinely benefits those whom it was intended to benefit. Later on the Order Paper we may reach directly some of the proposals to expand the scheme. The schemes have a cost which would have to be borne by the average licence payer, many of whom, as the hon. Gentleman knows, are not particularly well off and would not thank us for adding to their burden in order to benefit others.

Mr. Latham : I was one of the 191 Members who wrote to the Minister. Is my hon. and learned Friend satisfied that local authorities now understand the regulations? I am still getting questions from constituents about the scheme and, obviously, in some cases there are serious anomalies.

Mr. Mellor : I repeat that a serious effort was made to clear out the anomalies in last year's regulations, but I am only too willing to look at any evidence from my hon. Friend that we have not succeeded in that brave endeavour.

Safer Cities Project

2. Mr. Rooker : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on progress in setting up the safer cities project.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Waddington) : Excellent progress has been made in setting up safer cities projects. Twelve are now operating and four more should be in place early in the new year. The multi-agency approach is the best way to reduce crime--and fear of crime. It encourages local authorities, voluntary bodies, local industry and concerned individuals to work in partnership in implementing imaginative measures, such as improving lighting in car parks and streets, and increasing home and office security.

Mr. Rooker : I agree with everything that the Home Secretary said, but may I put to him one particular problem about the budgetary arrangments for the safer cities projects? For all the projects the budget is the same. Without disparaging Hartlepool, there is no comparison between it and Birmingham, yet both receive £250,000. Birmingham is 12 times the size. The budgets for the safer cities programmes should be related to the needs of the area. This is new money, not existing money. By definition, the bigger the area, the greater are the crime rates. That should be recognised in the budgets, particularly for places as large as Birmingham.

Mr. Waddington : Yes, but the hon. Gentleman will recognise that when the scheme was first launched it was on the basis that there would be a set sum for each project, so there is no question about it. Birmingham knew perfectly well how much it would cost and decided that it was right to go ahead on that budget. I must stress, because it is important, that Birmingham has received some extra funding this year. What is much more

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important is that it was never intended that the whole cost of crime prevention should be borne by this particular scheme. This is pump priming and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that, for all the limits on the funds, these are excellent projects.

Mr. Wheeler : My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that the Select Committee on Home Affairs has today published a report on drug trafficking and related serious crime. Is he aware that some of the recommendations have a direct bearing on the safer cities initiatives? Would he care to comment on how drugs aspects might be further strengthened under the scheme?

Mr. Mellor : We are indebted to the Select Committee for having produced such a useful report and we shall give a full reply in due course. It may be worth reminding my hon. Friend that in April 1990 we shall launch a new initiative which involves setting up schemes in nine city centres where there are particular drugs problems. I am sure that my hon. Friend will give us all possible support in that endeavour.

Mr. Hattersley : Will the Home Secretary confirm that while this year's total expenditure on safer cities projects nationwide is more than £4 million, the reduction in annual grants to local authorities is running at £20 billion? As a quarter of that could be used for exactly the initiatives that he has described--lighting and other safety initiatives--is it not a poor deal for the Government to take away 1,200 times as much as they have given?

Mr. Waddington : The right hon. Gentleman is not comparing like with like. The object of the exercise is to have a multi-agency approach to crime prevention, which does not rely solely on the efforts of the local authorities. I might argue that if relying on local authorities were sufficient to crack the problems we would not have had to set up the safer city projects. The object of those projects is to have a multi-agency approach and draw in central Government agencies, local authorities, local industry, voluntary bodies and concerned individuals. I believe that that is the right way to go about it.

Sunday Trading

3. Mr. Simon Coombs : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the judgment of the European Court of Justice on Torfaen borough council against B & Q concerning Sunday trading.

Mr. Mellor : The judgment of the European Court indicates that the existence of the Sunday trading laws as such is not in breach of the treaty of Rome. It also indicates that the restrictive effect of the legislation on Community trade should not go beyond what is necessary to achieve its underlying economic and social policy. The judgment regarded the question whether the effect of the legislation meets this requirement as a matter of fact to be determined by courts in this country. The Government are considering the implications of the judgment.

Mr. Coombs : I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that answer. Does he agree that the ruling of the European Court of Justice on Sunday trading makes the law of this country a shambles? Does he recognise that every court and every local authority now has a free licence to make up

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its mind on this issue? Does he not regard that situation as wholly unsatisfactory? Notwithstanding the excellent efforts of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to bring legislation on this matter to Parliament when he previously held office in the Home Office, such legislation is still needed. When will my hon. and learned Friend bring it forward?

Mr. Mellor : I continue to regret that, in 1986, when the opportunity was accorded to the House to make alterations to what many believed to be an increasingly archaic piece of legislation, that opportunity was not taken. We are still looking at the judgment of the European Court, but on the face of it, it appears to ask British courts to make a difficult judgment. That judgment will not make the Shops Act 1950 any easier for the courts to interpret or, I suspect, for an increasing number of our people to accept.

Mr. Murphy : Will the Minister welcome the initiative taken by my local authority, Torfaen council, in bringing B & Q before the European Court on the issue of Sunday trading? Will he condemn B & Q for openly flouting the law of the land? Will the Minister and his right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General give as much practical, moral and financial help as possible to local authorities, which have to bear the burden in this matter?

Mr. Mellor : I must leave it to the people of Torfaen to judge whether it was a proper matter. All I can say is that the law is the law and its enforcement requires no commendation from me.

Mr. Stanbrook : Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that, now that the European Court has had its say, it is imperative that the law should be applied and enforced and that those people who are calling for breaches of the law and condoning and encouraging such breaches in their organisations should be proceeded against for the common law offence of incitement to commit a crime?

Mr. Mellor : Traditionally the question whether to prosecute has been left to local authorities. It is not for me to intervene in that process. I repeat that, whether some hon. Members like it or not, the fact is that the restrictions imposed by the Shops Act 1950 seem outmoded to an increasing number of people. Down the years, an increasing number of local authorities, rightly or wrongly, have refused to enforce it. Parliament has left a vacuum by its repeated failure to address this matter. I continue to hope that it will be possible to find some sensible way forward.

Mr. Maclennan : When the Minister is considering the implications of Sunday trading, will he take the view that the same position must necessarily prevail throughout the country? Is there not a strong case to be made for a local option and for allowing local authorities to decide whether they wish the law in their area to be the same as in others?

Mr. Mellor : Additional difficulties are certainly created when there are different prosecution arrangements, not least for traders who are only a short distance apart when some are left to trade freely on Sundays and others are not. For many years, a minority of authorities have decided to prosecute and others have not. I cannot help returning to this point : the problem is the continued attempt by the

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criminal law to enforce an outmoded view of what should or should not be sold on Sunday. That is the nub of it. One day, the House will have to address that issue.

Mr. Malins : Will my hon. and learned Friend take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of his predecessor, our right hon. Friend the Chief Whip, for his attempts to find a consensus on the way forward on the difficult issue of Sunday trading? Does he agree that while opinion in the House is so divided and while it is difficult to achieve a consensus, it would be wrong in principle to move forward to any legislation on the subject?

Mr. Mellor : That is certainly the Government's position--one forced upon them by what happened in 1986. I have participated in debates on this matter for a number of years. I have yet to hear any hon. Member say that the Shops Act 1950 is right, although we may disagree about what should replace it. On that basis, the House will need to try before too much longer to reach a consensus, on which we can then make some progress.

Mr. Hattersley : The Minister of State has been palpably ambivalent about the enforcement of the law. May I ask him directly whether it is his wish or, indeed, his instruction that local authorities should enforce the law as it now stands?

Mr. Mellor : The right hon. Gentleman knows only too well that, thank goodness, in this free society it is not for me--[ Hon. Members :- - "Answer the question."] I am answering the question in precisely the form in which it was put to me. It was put-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. The Minister cannot answer the question if he is not given the chance.

Mr. Mellor : It is not my fault if the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) chooses to formulate his question in a way that is not acceptable to those sitting alongside him. He asked whether I would instruct prosecution authorities to prosecute. It is not the function of a Home Office Minister in a free society to do that.

Neighbourhood Watch

4. Mr. Colvin : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many neighbourhood watch schemes now exist in England and Wales.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten) : At the end of September 1989 there were estimated to be about 75,300 residential neighbourhood watch schemes in England and Wales. That is almost 16, 000 more than the number recorded 12 months ago.

Mr. Colvin : That is good news. Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that one of the keys to the success of neighbourhood watch schemes is awareness by the criminal element in the areas covered that a scheme is in operation? Will he therefore take this opportunity to name and condemn those local authorities which still forbid neighbourhood watch signs on their streets?

Mr. Patten : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is a great shame when local authorities do not co-operate with local communities to help neighbourhood watch schemes. I should be happy if the right hon. Member for

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Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) would join me in writing a letter to councils such as Cleveland and Haringey asking them to change their policy.

Mr. Sheerman : Given the appalling levels of crime, which have risen steadily every year since the Conservative party has been in office, we wholeheartedly endorse the citizens' response to joining neighbourhood watch campaigns. We must ask, however, that those neighbourhood watch schemes do not just go on and on. They depend upon volunteers, but they must be managed. The police and local authorities are asking for some kind of structure to make them more effective. If the Minister wants a joint letter to local authorities to encourage local councils to participate, he will get it from Labour Members, but if he can get local authorities to collaborate on this, will he ask them about the Shops Act as well?

Mr. Patten : If the hon. Gentleman will come with me to a Labour- controlled borough such as Islington to see the Highbury Quadrant neighbourhood watch scheme, which includes about 800 households--largely council houses, but some in private ownership--he will find that that scheme, like many others in inner cities, is getting along extremely well with a bit of help and encouragement from the police, and is helping with crime prevention and with rebuilding the community, through concern for environmental and other issues.

Sir Ian Lloyd : The whole House supports the admirable development of neighbourhood watch schemes which do not offend civil liberties, but will my right hon. and hon. Friends pay attention to what might be described as the recent development of neighbourhood spying schemes in which a few chief constables have decided to offer the public freephones so that friends, neighbours and relations can report each other anonymously? That has not been authorised by Parliament and it is thoroughly offensive-- more reminiscent of the KGB, the Cheka and the Gestapo than of British justice.

Mr. Patten : My right hon. and learned Friend and I will certainly look into that in response to my hon. Friend's important question.

Birmingham Six

5. Mr. Bill Michie : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he last met Lord Denning to discuss the case of the Birmingham Six.

Mr. Waddington : I have not met Lord Denning to discuss this case.

Mr. Michie : In the event of the current investigation of police officers of the West Midlands force who were also involved in the investigations of the Birmingham Six finding those officers guilty of misconduct, will the Secretary of State confirm that he will again look into the case of the Birmingham Six?

Mr. Waddington : As the hon. Gentleman knows, this matter was investigated by the Devon and Cornwall police some years ago, leading to a reference to the Court of Appeal by my right hon. Friend the present Foreign Secretary. The case was looked at by the Court of Appeal over a very long period and the confessions were examined with great care. I am always ready to consider whether there is new evidence in a case or any consideration of

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substance that was not looked into by the trial court, but I see no circumstances now that would warrant my intervention in the Birmingham case.

Mr. Lawrence : Is not the often heard argument that, because there was a patent miscarriage of justice at one place at one time with one police force, that is evidence that there was another miscarriage of justice at another time and place with a different police force, wholly insane?

Mr. Waddington : My hon. and learned Friend is entirely right ; there is certainly no direct link between the Guildford case and the Birmingham case.

Mr. Benn : Is the Home Secretary aware that the House Library contains reference to 157 answers on the Guildford case like the one that he has just given, that this matter is being examined by the European Parliament and the American Senate, and that the Prime Minister of the Republic and the primate in the North have raised it? Is he aware that in the light of what emerged in the Guildord case there is no doubt that there is new evidence now because at the time of the Birmingham Six appeal it had not been established that the police had lied? Now that that has been established that is the new evidence justifying a fresh examination.

Mr. Waddington : That is the most ridiculous proposition that I have ever heard. The fact that there was misconduct in one case in one part of the country is hardly evidence of misconduct in another case in an entirely different part of the country. The right hon. Gentleman should know better than to talk such nonsense.


6. Mr. Jacques Arnold : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the average processing time for a non-urgent passport application at the London passport office ; and what was the comparable period six months ago.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peter Lloyd) : The London passport office is processing straightforward non-urgent applications in a maximum of nine working days, compared with 32 working days six months ago.

Mr. Arnold : I am sure that the holiday-making constituents of most hon. Members will be encouraged by that response, but is there not a danger of backsliding in the run-up to the next holiday season? What steps have been taken to ensure adequate staffing?

Mr. Lloyd : We are determined to avoid the difficulties that we had last year and we have increased computer capacity at Glasgow and Liverpool. We have taken on 220 additional permanent staff and the Belfast office is being expanded. Work will be transferred between offices next summer to ensure a balanced load between them.

Mr. Randall : How can the public be confident that the Minister's statement will not result in the chaos that we have had in recent years? Growth figures have been predictable and now we understand that the computer has gone wrong. Will the Minister implement the proposals in the Coopers and Lybrand report? Will he give us an

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