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House of Commons

Thursday 25 January 1990

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


City of London (Spitalfields Market) Bill

(By Order)

Birmingham City Council

(No. 2) Bill-- (By Order) Orders for consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered on Thursday 1 February.

British Railways Bill

(By Order)

Order for consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered on Monday 29 January.

Redbridge London Borough Council Bill

(By Order) Order for consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered on Thursday 1 February at Seven o'clock.

City of London (Various Powers) Bill

(By Order) Order for consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered on Thursday 1 February.

Vale of Glamorgan (Barry Harbour) Bill

[Lords] (By Order) Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 1 February.

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Oral Answers to Questions


Public Drinking

1. Mr. Donald Thompson : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what conclusions he has been able to draw from the experimental byelaw banning public drinking in parts of Coventry.

The Minister of State, Home Department (Mr. John Patten) : The information available so far from the experiment in Coventry suggests that the byelaw is going extremely well. Research is in hand to assess the impact of the byelaw as fully as possible. Later this year we shall be studying analyses of results of the experiments in all the trial areas before deciding on the next steps.

Mr. Thompson : When my right hon. Friend is considering the evidence, he will remember that most drinking takes place on convivial occasions. However, there are times when that is not so. Will he consider allowing magistrates to have a little flexibility, so that they can ban outside drinking for an hour or two hours on a specific day, at a specific occasion, at a specific time and for a specific purpose?

Mr. Patten : My hon. Friend's suggestion does not surprise me, in the light of his distinguished service to the ministerial group on alcohol misuse. He has made a very interesting suggestion, which had not occurred to me. There is a power already in section 188 of the Licensing Act 1964 for magistrates to take emergency action of that sort when there is a threat of public disorder. However, we shall need to take account of my hon. Friend's constructive suggestion. In addition, it is true that, from time to time, drinking can be very convivial, as I remember with my hon. Friend in his constituency at the Hebden Bridge constitutional club.

Sir Dudley Smith : In view of the Government's sensible liberation of the licensing laws, would it not be prudent to consider banning open air drinking in open spaces in the towns adjacent to Coventry and in inner city areas throughout the country?

Mr. Patten : I am glad that my hon. Friend welcomes our new licensing legislation. We have in hand seven experiments that are examining the possibility of banning drinking in public places. As soon as the experiments are completed towards the end of 1991, we hope to be able to bring forward further suggestions. There may well be room for a radical extension of the scheme, provided that it proves successful.

Birmingham Pub Bombings

3. Ms. Short : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to complete his consideration of the new evidence on the Birmingham pub bombings case.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Waddington) : I am considering the further material

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that has been presented to me by a solicitor on behalf of the Birmingham Six, and will decide as soon as possible whether it justifies any intervention on my part.

Ms. Short : I am grateful to the Home Secretary for his answer. I very much hope that he will consider the matter with an open mind, in order to secure justice. These six men were convicted on the basis of two pieces of evidence, the--first, forensic and the second, confessions. By the time that the case returned to the Court of Appeal last time, it was clear that the forensic evidence was rubbish and did not stand, so we are left with only the confessions. The court said that to believe that the men were innocent, it would have to believe-- [Interruption.] Mr. Speaker, do you think that you could secure order?

Mr. Speaker : The hon. Lady is going a little wide. She must ask a question.

Ms. Short : No, I am not.

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Lady must ask a question.

Ms. Short : I am completely in order, Mr. Speaker. I hope that you will reconsider what I have said. It is a serious matter and Conservative Members should consider it seriously.

The second piece of evidence was based on confessions. The Court of Appeal said that to believe that the men were innocent, it would have to believe that a large number of policemen colluded and fabricated--

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Lady must ask a question. She is outlining a case.

Ms. Short : I am asking a question.

The Home Secretary knows that the serious crime squad has now been disbanded and that 11 of the 20 men involved in questioning those men have been disciplined. Hardly anyone in Birmingham believes that they are guilty -- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Lady really must ask a question. It is not fair to other hon. Members.

Ms. Short : I am asking a question, Mr. Speaker.

Will the Home Secretary assure the House that he is interested in securing justice for the six men, and in vindicating our system of justice, as its reputation is being eroded in Britain and internationally by the effects of the case?

Mr. Waddington : Like my predecessor, I shall always be prepared to consider whether any new evidence or consideration of substance may cast doubt on the safety of a conviction. In that light, I am looking at the material furnished by the defendants' solicitor. However, it is an important principle that questions of guilt and innocence are decided by the courts, free of political interference. It is also important to bear in mind that the matter has already been considered at great length by the Court of Appeal, which examined the circumstances in which the alleged confessions were made and the forensic evidence to which the hon. Lady referred.

Dame Jill Knight : Will my right hon. and learned Friend bear it in mind that many people in Birmingham still regard that crime, which killed and injured so many people, with utter horror? There have already been two inquiries and two appeals. One inquiry looked into the

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matter with great care. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is outrageous that persons such as the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), who claim to have more evidence, have repeatedly refused to make that evidence available to the police or to the relevant authorities?

Mr. Waddington : My hon. Friend will not be surprised--and the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) is present to hear it--that I find it quite extraordinary that anyone who criticises the convictions should be unwilling to co-operate with the police and to furnish the police with the evidence that he says casts doubt on the convictions. I hope that even at this late stage the hon. Member for Sunderland, South will realise how thoroughly irresponsible is the attitude that he has adopted.

Mr. Mullin : The Home Secretary is obviously unaware that at the request of his predecessor I was interviewed for four hours by two senior civil servants at the Home Office and by an assistant chief constable of the West Midlands, who told me that he was dragged here by the scruff of the neck by the Home Office. May I put it to the Home Secretary that the fact that the men were convicted partly on the basis of confessions obtained while they were in the custody of the West Midlands serious crime squad and that officers of the West Midlands serious crime squad, including a number of those involved in the original investigation, have since been caught red-handed forging confessions, without any other evidence, is sufficient reason to refer the case back to the Court of Appeal?

Mr. Waddington : The first part of the hon. Gentleman's question was mere flannel, because he failed to address himself to the point that I was making. He says that he knows who committed those diabolical offences, yet when asked to disclose their names, he flatly refuses to do so. He knows perfectly well that an inquiry is being carried out in the west midlands by West Yorkshire police, who are considering what has occurred since 1986, which gave rise to the complaints leading to the inquiry. I have made it plain on many occasions that if the Yorkshire police find any evidence or matters that lead them to believe that they should consider earlier matters, they are perfectly at liberty to do so.

Mr. Lawrence : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that if the European Parliament continues to make inquiries into matters such as this, it will give itself a bad name?

Mr. Waddington : I gather that the legal affairs committee of the European Parliament has not yet decided whether to delve into this matter. It is absolutely certain that it is entirely outside the competence of the European Parliament and nothing whatsoever to do with it.

Mr. Hattersley : If the West Yorkshire police, who are inquiring into the conduct of the West Midlands crime squad since 1986, discover that since the offences have been committed by officers who were previously involved in the investigation of the Birmingham pub bombings, will that, in the Home Secretary's view, justify a new inquiry, because it certainly will in our view?

Mr. Waddington : If new matters or considerations are put before me that may cast doubt on the safety of the convictions, I shall look into them.

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Mr. Roger King : Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the people of Birmingham have put up with the arguments for and against in this case for 15 years, but the issue still will not be decided until all the evidence is available from all the sources, and is not withheld, and a decision is made on whether the case against the Birmingham Six is to be upheld?

Mr. Waddington : The case against the Birmingham Six was upheld ; a jury of the land found against them. I remind my hon. Friend that as a result of an inquiry carried out by Devon and Cornwall police, the case was passed to the Court of Appeal, which carried out a most protracted inquiry. Literally days were spent considering the strength of the forensic evidence, and further days were spent considering whether the confessions could be relied on. Therefore, the House should bear those matters in mind before leaping to conclusions. I have said--and I say again--that I know my duty. If new matters and considerations are put before me that might cast doubt on the convictions, I shall take the appropriate action.


4. Mr. Haynes : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress has been made towards a common visa regime within the European Economic Community after 1992 ; and if he will make a statement.

12. Mr. Ron Davies : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress has been made towards a common visa regime within the European Economic Community after 1992 ; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peter Lloyd) : European Community immigration Ministers have agreed to a common list of countries whose nationals require a visa to enter a Community country, to the adoption of common questions to be put to applicants for short-stay visas and to exchange information about people to whom visas should not be issued. Those and other relevant developments are described in more detail in the immigration declaration, a copy of which is in the Library.

Mr. Haynes : Does the Minister agree that the refusal of visas for two teenagers to attend their murdered uncle's funeral was nothing short of disgraceful? Will the Minister tell me about the stupid question that they were asked--how many water buffalo their father had? I want to know what will happen in the future. The Government brag about compassion from the Dispatch Box. They should get off their backside and let us have some real action.

Mr. Lloyd : In the case to which the hon. Gentleman referred, the decision was reversed following further investigation, and the two were allowed into this country. The hon. Gentleman will agree that immigration officers have an extremely difficult task, which they set about with objectivity, honesty and fairness. The very fact that last year 3,000 overstayers and illegal immigrants had to be removed shows that a great many people seek to get by immigration officers dishonestly.

Mr. Ron Davies : Can the Minister really justify a visa system for people seeking asylum? Does he recall that when he deported two Tamils back to Sri Lanka, they were

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brutally tortured on their return? Does he not think that, in view of that, it would be far better to have an independent appeal system so that all applications can be considered objectively and independently?

Mr. Lloyd : The hon. Gentleman's last point does not match his first because an appeal system would come into play when an application had been processed and turned down. Visas have been introduced for quite a number of countries in the past few years but still the number of applications for asylum has increased. That suggests that the demand for visas has not prevented people from making asylum claims when they have grounds to do so.

Sir John Stokes : On visas and passports, can my hon. Friend explain why, when a Frenchman returns to his own country he goes through an exit marked "French passports" whereas when an Englishman returns to England he goes through an exit marked "EEC passports"? What has happened to the British passport?

Mr. Lloyd : My hon. Friend knows more than I do about the notices posted in French entry areas, but "EEC passports" naturally include British passports. British passports remain exactly what they were, as reliable as ever and just what my hon. Friend would like them to be.

Mr. John Greenway : I recognise that the free movement within the Community of European Community nationals is an important part of the single European market, but does not my hon. Friend agree that the combating of drug trafficking and terrorism is of far greater significance? Will he ensure that post-1992 we maintain proper controls against drug traffickers at our ports and airports so that the fight against drug trafficking--as evidenced by the recent seizures, for which the country and the House should be grateful to the police and Customs and Excise officials for their work--can continue?

Mr. Lloyd : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is essential that we should retain our own frontier checks to ensure that we exclude terrorists, drug pushers and illegal immigrants. We intend that that will be done after 1992. Our colleagues in the EEC understand, appreciate and, I believe, support our determination.

Mr. Darling : Does the Minister accept that there is a need to review our procedures before 1992? In that connection, can he tell us why the Government decided to pay compensation to three Kurdish refugees who alleged ill-treatment at the hands of immigration officers when they sought asylum in this country? Will he set up a full independent inquiry, and does he accept that there is now a need for an independent watchdog to look at the immigration service in the light of the growing number of abuses and also in the light of the fact that the amount of information-swapping between European countries is now growing and is beginning to get out of control?

Mr. Lloyd : I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's contention. I do not believe that there is a growing number of abuses. We have certainly accepted that in four of the cases under judicial review the original decision should be set aside, but as these are still part of the judicial process, I think that it would be wrong for me to comment further now. If there is anything more to be added at the end of the process, we shall certainly say so.

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Miss Emma Nicholson : I thank the Minister for his Department's careful scrutiny and subsequent lifting of two deportation orders on prisoners in Dartmoor--one on grounds of political persecution and the other on personal grounds. Will he confirm that the current system, which is very fair and good, will remain?

Mr. Lloyd : I can confirm that to my hon. Friend. The system works both ways. We hear only when people complain about the results, but there are many applications which, after careful inquiry, we can concede, and we are very happy to do so.

Director of Public Prosecutions

5. Mr. Andrew Smith : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he last met the Director of Public Prosecutions ; and what was discussed.

Mr. Waddington : I do not meet the Director of Public Prosecutions on a formal basis. Ministerial responsibility for the Crown prosecution service rests with the Attorney-General whom I meet from time to time to discuss matters of mutual concern.

Mr. Smith : Will the Home Secretary discuss with the Director of Public Prosecutions the collapse of the charges against Mr. Kevin Taylor? Does he recognise that public accountability and confidence in the rule of law can now be upheld only by a full and independent inquiry into the whole Stalker affair, both in Greater Manchester and in Northern Ireland, because the public sense that there is something very wrong about the whole business, and the truth must out?

Mr. Waddington : Certainly not. Allegations were made that resulted in Mr. Stalker being sent home on leave and later suspended by the Manchester police authority. In view of those events in Manchester, he was taken off the Northern Ireland inquiry and replaced by Mr. Sampson. The document that Mr. Stalker says that he is going to bring to my office will presumably arrive this afternoon. My officials asked him to produced it earlier, but he could not and I do not criticise him for that. I have no reason whatsoever to believe that anything improper occurred. Indeed, after the suspension of Mr. Stalker in Manchester because of the allegations made against him, it would have been extraordinary if he had remained in charge of the inquiry in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Norris : While it is regrettable that so much public money was devoted to the prosecution, which in this case so sadly lapsed, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that that sad waste of public funds, regardless of the innocence or otherwise of the person accused, is something that happens every day in British courts? Does he further agree that it is far more important that if the chief constable of Greater Manchester wishes to investigate the circumstances, as the DPP has advised him, and wishes to call on officers of another force to assist him in that investigation, it is entirely up to him to do so?

Mr. Waddington : Part of the case against Mr. Taylor rested on documents disclosed by the Co-operative bank as a result of an order made under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which was obtained from the recorder of Manchester, but doubt was cast on the truth of the evidence that was given to get the order. There is no

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connection whatsoever between those events in Manchester and the withdrawal of Mr. Stalker from the inquiry in Northern Ireland. Opposition Members should use a little common sense for a change and should not for ever be hunting for conspiracy theories, which are entirely inappropriate in this case.

Mr. Shore : When the Home Secretary next meets the Director of Public Prosecutions, will he raise with him the appalling three-year delay in bringing charges against the police officers who are accused of violence in the Wapping dispute in 1987, which as I have said, is now three years ago--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I believe that the case may be sub judice.

Mr. Shore : All that I am raising with the Home Secretary is the delays in bringing forward the charges. I particularly wanted to ask him this : does he agree that it is unfair to those accused to have such long delays between the charges being brought and the hearing of them in a court? Does he further agree that it is a matter of major grievance for those who have been injured and who have brought the charges against the police? Does not the whole affair greatly undermine the authority of the independent Police Complaints Authority?

Mr. Waddington : Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman did not understand the significance of my first reply. Ministerial responsibility for the Crown prosecution service rests with the Attorney-General and that is, of course, why I do not have official meetings with the Director of Public Prosecutions. I have no intention of having any such meetings and there is no reason why I should. When hon. Members talk about Wapping, while it is obviously important that people should be brought to trial as quickly as possible, it is also important that no mythology should surround what in fact happened at Wapping. The police came under regular and violent attack throughout the dispute-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. The Home Secretary will know better than I do whether this case is sub judice.

Mr. Waddington : I am not talking about a particular date or about 24 January. I am pointing out that over a year no fewer than 162 police officers were injured.

Mr. Shersby : When my right hon. and learned Friend next meets-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. I ask the House to settle down.

Mr. Shersby : When my right hon. and learned Friend meets the Attorney-General, will he make available to him any information that may come into his possession about the theft, and subsequent leaking to the BBC, of information from the Northamptonshire police about the Wapping incident three years ago? Is he aware that the leaking of such information is an offence under section 86 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984?

Mr. Waddington : I understand that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General is assessing the possible impact of media reports on the criminal proceedings. It is for him to consider what action, if any, should be taken against those responsible.

Mr. Sheerman : Does the Home Secretary accept that the Opposition are not talking about conspiracy theories

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either in Northern Ireland or in Manchester? Is he aware that there is a great deal of confusion in the public mind, and certainly in the minds of Opposition and Conservative Members, about what went on in Northern Ireland and in Manchester? Will the Home Secretary, as a first step, come to the House and make a full statement so that he can be asked why £1 million of public money was wasted in the Manchester trial and about what is in the document that Mr. Stalker has presented to him today?

Mr. Waddington : I am not responsible for confusion in the minds of Opposition Members. It is as plain as a pikestaff that if a police officer in charge of an inquiry in Northern Ireland is removed from his duties in the force of which he is a member, he can no longer remain in charge of the inquiry. That is what happened in this case. After the removal of Mr. Stalker from the inquiry in Northern Ireland, Mr. Colin Sampson took over his duties. Anyone who has followed the history of the inquiry thereafter will know that Mr. Sampson did not shirk his duty. Hon. Members will recall what he eventually reported to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General and the resulting statement by my right hon. and learned Friend to the House.

Young Offenders

6. Mr. Ian Taylor : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he intends to bring forward his proposal to make parents liable for the criminal activities of young offenders.

Mr. Waddington : Our proposals on parental responsiblity will be included in a White Paper setting out our plans for criminal justice legislation which will be published in the next few weeks.

Mr. Taylor : Such proposals will be extremely welcome. Will my right hon. and learned Friend note the belief of Conservative Members that parental responsibility is a vital part of family life and that the exercise of that responsibility is more likely to keep families together than allow them to drift apart? Will he therefore oblige parents to turn up in court if youngsters are brought to trial? If they are sentenced, will he make parents liable for the fines, should they be levied, but will he also ensure that they are means-tested fines?

Mr. Waddington : All right hon. and hon. Members will agree that one of the first duties of parents is to instil in the child an understanding of the difference between right and wrong, and to teach the child to respect and abide by the law and not to lie, cheat, steal or bully. There should be absolute agreement about that. It is slightly astonishing, therefore, that anyone should discuss the problem of what reforms may be necessary in our criminal justice system without acknowledging the central part of the parents. The so-called White Paper issued by the Labour party is entirely silent on this matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor) is right. I believe that parents should have to come to court with their children when their children face charges. I also believe that the parents' means should be taken into consideration when a decision is made on the appropriate fine to be imposed on the child, so that if the child does not pay, the parents have to pay a realistic penalty in the child's stead.

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Mr. Rooker : Will the Home Secretary take this opportunity to condemn the bailiffs Crilley and Sons, who earlier this week were reported as saying that after the introduction of the poll tax, when they go hunting for youngsters to get their goods and chattels, and the householder says that they cannot come in, although they, the bailiffs, have no right to enter their staff should try to get inside the house because, "once you are in you cannot be thrown out"? Is it right and proper for bailiffs to operate in that way when seeking young people?

Mr. Waddington : I cannot for the life of me see what that has to do with parental reponsibility.

Mr. Alexander : Is it not the case that by making parents criminally liable and thereby inculcating in them a sense of responsibility it is highly likely that we shall have far fewer youngsters sleeping rough in our streets at night?

Mr. Waddington : The possibility of making parents criminally liable has been considered, but I do not think that it is necessary. What is important is that parents should be reminded all the time of their responsibility when their child falls foul of the law. Parents can be reminded of that most efficaciously by insisting on their presence and by taking their means into consideration when deciding on the fine to be imposed on the child.

Mr. Randall : Is the Secretary of State aware that much informed opinion outside the House is concerned about a number of statements on this matter by the Government? What seems to come through is the Government's wish to punish the parents of children whose behaviour is not acceptable to them. Does he realise that that could make the relationship between children and parents far more difficult, when that is the last thing we want? Will he give consideration to the Labour party's position, which is to base such a scheme on the Scottish children's panel which has a successful record?

Mr. Waddington : It would be best to draw a veil over the emanations from the Labour party. The proposals that I am outlining will encourage parents to offer more support to their children and to take a constructive interest in their lives.

Mr. Malins : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the level of juvenile crime worries hon. Members on both sides of the House? Does he further agree that it is the duty of a parent to spend time with his or her child and to provide an atmosphere of love, security and respect for the law? Does he further agree that those qualities are sadly missing from today's society? May I therefore urge him to bring forward quickly proposals to make parents responsible for the fines of their children?

Mr. Waddington : My hon. Friend has heard what I have said. He and I are obviously thinking along the same lines, but the House will have to be patient and wait until our White Paper is published. That is not so far away.

Prison Officers Association

7. Mr. Cox : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he last met officials of the Prison Officers Association ; and what subjects were discussed.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Mellor) : My right hon. and learned Friend met members of the

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Prison Officers Association on 18 December. The terms and conditions of service for prison officers, resources, the possibility of agency status for the prison service and the possible use of the private sector to escort prisoners and to run remand centres were discussed.

Mr. Cox : I note the Minister's reply. Is he aware that Fresh Start, which has been working in the penal system for some time, is coming under increasing criticism not only from the Prison Officers Association but from prison governors because it has not resulted, as we and they were led to believe that it would, in extra staffing? If it is the policy of the Home Office to get inmates out of their cells--many of them are banged up for 20 hours or more a day--into work projects and into association, how will that be done without extra staffing?

Mr. Mellor : I hesitate to take issue with the hon. Gentleman because I know of his close interest in prison work, but over the past two years there has been a net increase in prison officer staff of almost 2,500. That is entirely consistent with the Government's commitments under Fresh Start. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will let me have further details of his comments so that we may try to remove the difference between us.

Mr. Conway : Has my hon. and learned Friend had representations from the Prison Officers Association about the delays in processing applications to purchase homes from prison officers in service? Is he aware that for three years I have had lengthy correspondence with his Department about the matter? Prison officers in Shrewsbury have asked me now to refer it to the parliamentary ombudsman because of the disgraceful delays in his Department.

Mr. Mellor : I am sorry that up to now we have not been able to give my hon. Friend satisfaction. I shall look at the papers personally to see whether we can do better.

Mr. Maclennan : Does the Minister agree with the premise of the Justice report, in the name of Lady Ralphs, that prison should be a penalty of last resort? In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the guideline sentences from the Court of Appeal and their failure to deal with the problem of disparity of sentencing and overlong sentences, will the Minister and the Government, in the forthcoming White Paper, consider favourably the Justice proposal for a sentencing council and the introduction of sentencing guidelines?

Mr. Mellor : It is common ground that prison should be a sentence of last resort. I think that the hon. Gentleman will find a great deal to his satisfaction on that in the forthcoming White Paper. He may be interested to know that the answer to a question, which unfortunately has been unstarred but would have been due for an answer this session, reveals that the proportion of prisoners who have been sentenced for what we all regard as the most serious offences--crimes of violence, sex crimes and so on--is 50 per cent. as against 33 per cent. in 1979, suggesting that we are making progress in our legitimate ambition to ensure that prison sentences are reserved for those who commit the most heinous crimes.

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