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8. Mr. Pawsey : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the number of special constables now attached to police forces in England and Wales ; and what steps he will take to encourage chief constables to recruit further, particularly among ethnic minority communities.
Mr. Peter Lloyd : At the end of June 1989 there were 15,625 special constables in England and Wales ; 453 of the total were from the ethnic minority communities. We shall discuss further measures to improve recruitment with members of the police advisory board at its next meeting in February.
Mr. Pawsey : I thank my hon. Friend for his helpful reply. Does he agree that special constables should not be regarded in any way as second- class coppers? Will he confirm that there is no ceiling on the recruitment of specials? Is there any area where recruitment is difficult? Will he consider a major national campaign to get more specials to assist the police with policing?
Mr. Lloyd : My hon. Friend is right. Special constables are not second-class policemen ; they are first-class citizens who give freely of their time to assist and support the police at points of unusual pressure. There is no ceiling on the number of special constables, and we certainly want more to be recruited. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that we are considering the idea of national advertising. We have run a pilot test in Suffolk and we shall be evaluating its results shortly.
9. Mr. Sedgemore : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he last met the Foreign Minister of Ireland to discuss the Birmingham pub bombings case ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Waddington : I met Mr. Collins on 8 January for discussion on a range of subjects. Mr. Collins asked me about the further material which had been submitted to me on behalf of the Birmingham Six. I told him that I will decide as soon as possible whether that further material justifies any intervention on my part.
Mr. Sedgemore : In view of the indelible and dishonourable stain left on the British legal system by the conduct of the Court of Appeal in this case, could not the Home Secretary make amends by telling the British public and the Irish Foreign Secretary that he will release the Birmingham Six forthwith and then invite the Director of Public Prosecutions to present the case to the Court of Appeal in such a way that their Lordships have no option but to allow the appeal of those innocent people?
Mr. Waddington : The hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense. The House knows perfectly well what my duty is. I have already made it absolutely plain that if new evidence or new considerations that were not before the court of trial were brought before me, I should be prepared to consider such new evidence. If it cast doubt on the convictions I would not be afraid to take the proper action. However, it is absolutely improper and ridiculous of the hon. Gentleman to cast aspersions on the Court of Appeal, which carried out a long and careful examination
Column 1045into the evidence given in the case, including the confessions and the circumstances in which they were made, and the forensic evidence.
The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher) : This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.
Mr. Fatchett : Now that Lord Justice Taylor has joined football supporters, players and the police in condemning the Prime Minister's ludicrous ID scheme, will the Prime Minister confirm that is her intention to drop the proposal? Will she say whether anybody in the country, apart from her, thought that it it was a good idea in the first place?
The Prime Minister : My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary received Lord Justice Taylor's report on 19 January. It is obviously right that the House should have the complete report before it is discussed. It will be printed and published as soon as possible--I hope by Monday--so that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary can then make a statement about it.
Mr. Fishburn : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the increasingly unsatisfactory state of leasehold law in this country? It is unsatisfactory for hundreds of thousands of flat owners and landlords alike. Will she give a fair wind to the Law Commission's draft legislation to permit flats to be owned on freehold? That reform has already been undertaken in Australia, Canada and the United States, and is overdue in England and Wales if we are to have full home-owning communities in our inner cities as well as elsewhere.
The Prime Minister : I am aware that, in the view of many, the present law on the matter is unsatisfactory. The Law Commission is continuing its work and we hope to have an opportunity soon to consider its proposals. We shall then bring forward any measures that we think necessary.
The Prime Minister : I think that the right hon. Gentleman was trumped by one of his hon. Friends who has asked that question. As the right hon. Gentleman has repeated it, may I say that the House should have the full published report, with all its
recommendations--from hooliganism to safety--and have a chance to consider it. We hope to get it printed and published by Monday, which is very quick, after which my right hon. and learned Friend
Column 1046the Home Secretary will make a statement. I should have hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would agree that it is best to read the whole report.
Mr. Kinnock : We look forward to the statement. Since this scheme was, without doubt, the Prime Minister's obsession and her scheme, does she agree that it would be appropriate if she came to the House next week and made the statement about the scheme? Meanwhile, may I invite her to make a little history this afternoon and simply say that she was wrong?
The Prime Minister : My right hon. and learned Friend will make a statement on the whole of the Taylor report. In the meantime, the right hon. Gentleman has the assurances that we gave to the House during the passage of the Bill. He knows that the measures that we have brought forward over the years to restrict the sale of alcohol at football grounds, to impose exclusion orders, to have closed-circuit television at most league grounds, to have segregation of football supporters, and the statement that the former Home Secretary made immediately after Hillsborough that football grounds should become all-seater stadia, have had an effect and have improved matters. There is a good deal more to do and we must consider what Lord Justice Taylor has said before coming to a conclusion.
Mr. Kilfedder : In view of my right hon. Friend's commendable concern for the environment, will she consult other Heads of Government about air pollution, which has been highlighted in the latest report of the World Watch Institute? It has pointed out that one fifth of the world's population, including the United Kingdom, is adversely affected by air pollution which causes the death of about 50,000 people a year in the United States?
The Prime Minister : I understand my hon. Friend's concern about air pollution caused by aircraft. We usually discuss this issue at international forums because we must deal with it on the basis of an international network. It will probably come up at the next economic summit and at future European Community summits. We do not have the full report on the matter. We shall consider it most earnestly when we receive it.
Mr. Ashton : Is it not a fact that despite the Prime Minister's wriggling, Lord Justice Taylor has said that her law is an ass? She brought in a verdict of guilty before she had heard all the witnesses. Is it not also a fact that the right hon. Lady has consistently confused safety with hooliganism to score points on a law and order issue and try to make political capital out of a disaster?
Will the Prime Minister now give two promises? First, will she drop the demand that British teams cannot play in Europe until we have an ID card scheme, and support their application to play in Europe? Secondly, will she try to find a way to use the £250 million tax that she collects from football pools to pay for ground safety and give to football the same sort of cash as she gives to the ballet, the opera, the arts, museums and all the other upper-class pastimes?
Column 1047The Prime Minister : Perhaps it would have been better had the hon. Gentleman waited until he had read the report. In the meantime, he will be aware of the assurance given during the passage of the Bill that there would be two opportunities for both Houses of Parliament to debate any football membership scheme.
On the question of finance, the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the considerable sums spent on transfer payments, which last year amounted to about £70 million. He will also be aware of the considerable sums that come to the football clubs from
television--about £11 million from ITV last year and about £6 million from the BBC--and of the further sums given by the football pools for the use of the fixture lists. Those are very considerable sums, added to those that come from the Football Trust. It is perhaps a pity that more has not been spent on the stadiums in the past by the football organisations. Perhaps they will consider spending a bigger proportion on behalf of the people who come to watch football rather than on transfer fees and other things.
Mr. Gill : May I remind my right hon. Friend of her answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) on 16 January, and urge upon her the necessity to dismantle green currencies, which are causing British farmers unacceptable losses and give rise to inadequate investment, which in its turn is fast eroding their ability to compete in the future?
The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is correct. It is our policy that all the green currencies shall be dismantled by the end of 1992. They do not give our farmers a fair deal. We are in favour of their dismantling, as are most other people in the European Community. I hope that they will be fully dismantled and that those opposed to it will nevertheless agree to its implementation.
Mr. Ashdown : Now that the Prime Minister has had the difference between fantasy and reality forcefully pointed out to her on the identity card scheme, will she assure the House that she will not penalise the banks for pointing out to her that her student loans scheme is equally flawed and equally foolish? After many years of being told that she is not for turning, have we reached the point where the lady is at least for learning?
The Prime Minister : The student loans scheme will enable a number of people to go to university who otherwise could not do so. It will enable them to have loans guaranteed by the Government if their parents do not meet their contribution towards the student grant. Many of them will welcome it. It is a disappointment that the banks are not taking part. That will not damage the scheme, but merely make it more difficult for students to have access to the bank branches.
Column 1048implications of the reunification of Germany? Does she further accept that there is likely to be even more concern surrounding the break-up of the Soviet empire? Will she therefore assure the House, in her usual forthright and robust way, that the defence of the United Kingdom remains safe in her hands?
The Prime Minister : I agree with the implication behind my hon. Friend's question--that times of great uncertainty are just those times when we need to keep our defences, both conventional and nuclear. They will be safe in the hands of this Government and NATO. With regard to German reunification, the Strasbourg summit of the Economic Community, fully supported by Germany, agreed that that could come about only having regard to the other obligations that have been assumed the four-power agreement on Germany and the Helsinki accord. Reunification could take place only against a background of stability and security, and having regard to NATO, too.
With a regard to the problems that my hon. Friend mentioned-- [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister : With regard to my hon. Friend's point about the Soviet Union, we all have great sympathy with Mr. Gorbachev and the problems that he is facing. We fully support him in his progress towards economic and political reform.
Mr. Foot : May I offer the Prime Minister some assistance with the fiasco of the football identity cards? Why does she not follow the example that she set with so many previous fiascos, and put the blame on somebody else? What about the Leader of the House? Should she not ask him why he did not faithfully report to her that, on every occasion that this matter has been debated in the House, the Government's case has been torn to tatters? Or is that what the previous Leader of the House told her, and is that why he had the chop?
Mr. Coombs : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the very existence of a democratic society depends upon the general and total acceptance of the rule of law? Is it not unacceptable and damaging for anyone--irrespective of political opinion--and especially for hon. Members of this House to refuse to pay the community charge, which has been passed into law and is enshrined in an Act of Parliament?
The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend. The rule of law is indivisible--one cannot pick and choose those to obey and those to disobey. That would be anarchy. We are a democracy. The law was passed by Parliament, in full Session, and should be obeyed.
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