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Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton) : I warmly welcome and congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on the statement that he has made to the House today, in particular the part which affects the responsibilities of parents for their under-age children. In view of this reinforced responsibility, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it would be logical for parents to be given the right to at least be informed if their under-age children are prescribed contraceptive drugs or devices or have abortions performed upon them?
Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher) : My right hon. and learned Friend will know that most people in Britain will be relieved that prisoners will stay in prison for the sentence that was thought appropriate when they were sent down by the courts, and that is a welcome move, but will he also take note of the wide welcome for the new youth courts, for which credit should be given, as my right hon. and learned Friend said, to my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) for his work over many months, which will ensure that parental responsibility comes back into our judicial system? Will he consider whether parents should carry out community service?
Mr. Waddington : I would not advocate that, but I do advocate that, as at present, parents can be made to pay the fines which it is thought appropriate to impose on their children. It is high time that courts had the power to impose much more realistic fines so as to bring home to
Column 774parents the true gravity of the offence, and I am all for exercising persuasion on parents to see whether we can obtain their attendance at some of the sessions when their children are taking part in community service orders.
Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North) : In reassuring the House that it is his intention that community service should be a rigorous rather than a soft alternative to imprisonment, will my right hon. and learned Friend also consider making community service available to youth courts for application to those under 16 as well as those above? May we hope to see a Bill incorporating all that in the next Session of Parliament?
Mr. Waddington : I think that I am right in saying that, for those under 16, the attendance centre is available, and there is no reason why attendance there should not involve a tough regime. I am not entirely convinced by my hon. Friend's argument, but I am prepared to study it.
Mr. Waddington : I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. A serious drug trafficking offence merits a sentence well over seven years, in which case parole could not be granted except by the Secretary of State.
Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend say a little more about his proposal to use volunteers in the wider probation service? He will know from his professional experience, as do I, that, unfortunately, many criminal children come from feckless or criminal parents, or both, and they will never accept responsibility for their children's actions. In those circumstances, would it not be a good idea if the child were assigned to a sensible volunteer, on a one-to-one basis, to guide that child into adulthood, failing which the child would have to be put into care?
Mr. Waddington : We shall be publishing a Green Paper on the probation service in the near future, and that may answer some of my hon. Friend's questions. I have already made it plain that probation officers are highly skilled people who give advice to and prepare reports for the court and there is a strong case for their advising on the appropriate type of punishment. However, voluntary organisations such as the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders should be used to carry out individual programmes. After all, it is unnecessary for the probation service to run hostels. It is far better that voluntary organisations should do so.
Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that there will be trepidation among Conservative voters when they learn that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) supports his proposals, but that, when they read paragraphs 3.12 and 3.13 of the White Paper and realise that it is the Government's intention that those who are convicted of sexual offences, violent offences and offences involving the burglary of dwelling houses will receive longer prison sentences than before, they will be reassured, and I am sure that they will support my right hon. and learned Friend's twin-track policy?
Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow) : My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware of the substantial support for his proposals to make parents responsible for young offenders. Will he challenge those who think otherwise to say who is responsible for young offenders if not the parents who brought them into the world?
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) : The right hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me if I do not make the bonhomie total on this occasion. We in the Labour party welcome all converts, and much of the White Paper shows a conversion on the part of the Conservatives to many of the policies that we have been advocating, after they have been getting their policies wrong for 10 years.
The result of their policies has been an increasing crime rate--60 per cent. up in 10 years--overfull prisons and a criminal justice system that is seen not to be working. That is why they are introducing policies that we have been advocating for a long time. There are objectives in the Government's proposals with which we agree, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said. But we must point out that the results of research into the sentencing policies applied throughout the country in different courts, from magistrates courts to Crown courts, show that something must be done to achieve uniformity in sentencing policy if justice is to be seen to be equal throughout the country. That leads us to believe that yet again there will have to be a Government backtrack or U-turn in this matter.
Any Home Secretary, when introducing a document such as this, must be aware that rehabilitating offenders in the community is a tough job. The right hon. and learned
Column 776Gentleman paid tribute to the probation service and the social services. He was right to do that, because those services carry much of the load that goes with the responsibility of caring for and rehabilitating the offender.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman must also be aware that the work of those in the probation service and the social services must be undertaken against the background of other policies that the Conservatives have introduced in the last 10 years. Providing the right type of help to the offender and released prisoner is extremely difficult in the atmosphere and environment of the social security and benefit changes that have occurred during that time.
Great changes have been made in the policies of the Department of Health from the point of view of care in the community. Many people who are today in prison and who are coming into the criminal justice system should not be there. It is happening because of a misconceived care in the community policy adopted by the Conservatives over the years.
He began by congratulating the Government on introducing policies which, he said, Labour had been advocating. He has it slightly wrong. Labour is not advocating what we are proposing. Labour is still soft on the issue of parole and is still saying that violent offenders should be released on parole after serving only one third of their sentences. Therefore, I shall not be put in the same bracket as the Labour party, with which I am in fundamental disagreement on that important point.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield went on to talk about sentencing uniformity. Nobody is after that, because sentencing uniformity is unattainable. We are concerned with more consistency of sentencing practice, and I spelled out how that could be achieved by the weapons already at our disposal.
I pay tribute to the probation service. I have done so already, and I do so again.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) : I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,
"the announcement this morning of 150 redundancies at A. Sykes and Company- -better known as Dorlux--bed manufacturers, in Halifax." According to the management, those redundancies are being made as a direct result of the Government's economic policies. High interest rates and a decline in consumer spending are the reasons given for the proposed job losses. In fact, after the irresponsible consumer boom sponsored by the Government, and within the context of a 7.7 per cent. inflation rate, the Government are now trying to put the brakes on the economy through their high interest rate strategy. That is undermining economic growth and investment and is slowing down the rate of productivity. Not only will high interest rates and the decline in investment make our long-term inflation and balance of trade position even worse, but they will mean a rise in unemployment, as we see with the latest redundancies in my constituency. In spite of some welcome jobs from the Halifax building society, Halifax remains--as do many towns in the north--a manufacturing town. For generations, people have used their skills to manufacture goods to sell in the marketplaces of the world. Dorlux is a well known name with a reputation for producing quality goods. The Government should understand that the 400 people who work there have real jobs. The 150 people who will be made redundant want real jobs and work, not some Mickey Mouse scheme that helps the Government to fiddle the unemployment statistics.
Those redundancies need never have happened. We are entitled to ask Tory Ministers what twisted logic allows them to claim as a success the slowdown in the economy that leads to those sort of job losses. How many more jobs have to be lost before this madness stops? Interest rates have increased 11 times in the past 18 months, and our interest rates are the highest among the leading industrial nations. After 10 years of this Government, Britain stands on the brink of another damaging recession. The manufacturing base in my town suffered severely at the beginning of the 1980s, causing great misery. Between 1979 and 1989, the north lost 30 per cent. of its manufacturing and employment--almost 1 million jobs-- [Interruption.] I am sorry that the Minister finds it funny. We certainly do not. We cannot afford to lose another million jobs. The House should debate this issue immediately and make it clear to the Prime Minister--
The hon. Member seeks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that she believes should have urgent consideration-- [Interruption.] Order. These are serious matters--namely
"the announcement today of redundancies at A. Sykes and Company, bed manufacturers."
I listened with care to what the hon. Lady said. As she knows, I have to decide whether her application comes within the Standing Order and, if so, whether the debate should take priority over the business set down for today or for tomorrow. In this case, I regret that the matter she has raised does not meet the requirements of the Standing Order. I cannot, therefore, submit her application to the House.
Mr. Corbyn : Like you, Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the Standing Order No. 20 application by my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) There was one interruption. It is convention that the Minister should come and listen to the application lest you, Mr. Speaker, should grant it. He did not listen--he was smirking and laughing throughout and talking to his hon. Friend the Minister for Corporate Affairs. My hon. Friend was only drawing attention to the misery created by the market forces--
Mr. Jimmy Hood presented a Bill to amend the Telecommunications Act 1984 so as to make it a criminal offence to send, or allow to be sent, certain types of message by means of a public telecommunications system : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second Time upon 30 March and to be printed. [Bill 63.]
That the draft Hill Livestock (Compensatory Allowances) (Amendment) Regulations 1990 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Dorrell.]
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law relating to the supply of unroadworthy motor vehicles and trailers and the alteration of vehicles so as to render them unroadworthy ; to regulate the manner and circumstances in which vehicles may be supplied, repaired and serviced ; to regulate the way in which mileage information relating to motor vehicles is recorded ; and for connected purposes.
The purpose of the Bill is to protect the consumer from those motor traders who practise dishonesty, deception and fraud. This is by no means all motor traders, and I wish to say at the outset that national organisations such as the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and the Vehicle Builders and Repairers Association have contributed to consultations about the Bill and support the proposed measures. Dishonesty, deception and fraud are, however, rife in the motor trade and the time is long overdue when these problems should be tackled by legislation.
Each year, 7.5 million second-hand cars are sold, half of them through the motor trade. The Institute of Trading Standards Administration reports that three out of every four of these cars will be sold in an unroadworthy condition. The law requires and consumers expect that vehicles offered for sale are safe to be on the road. The Bill does not create a new offence or impose onerous restrictions on the trade, but, as was recommended in the North report, through the amendment of section 75 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, the law, and the rights and exceptions of consumers, will be strengthened and made more effective.
Trading standards officers are responsible for consumer safety in almost everything from disposable napkins to funerals, yet, because cars are exempt from the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act 1987, the customer buying a car--probably one of the most expensive undertakings after home buying--enjoys much less protection. The Bill therefore proposes to give trading standards officers powers to inspect used cars for sale on garage forecourts to check that they are roadworthy. If a vehicle offered for sale is not roadworthy, the dealer must indicate this on the vehicle's windscreen and documentation.
These steps would mean that the motor trade and the sale of used cars would be covered by laws similar to those already operating for other goods under the Consumer Protection Act. Too often, consumers are sold cars that are potential death traps to both owners and other road users.
The provisions of the Bill will also apply to hire vehicles. In a survey of 12 hire companies in Mid Glamorgan trading standards officers found that 13 of the 16 vans and tipper trucks examined, including vans used for furniture removal and waste disposal trucks, were unroadworthy. They were so unsafe that they were banned from the county's roads. Only one vehicle had no faults at all. Companies that use hire facilities may well be unwittingly putting their employees at risk.
The Bill also tackles another problem, the sale of so-called insurance write-offs. An old horse racing practice consisted of switching two identical horses immediately before the start of the race to beat the bookies and punters.
Column 780It was called "ringing". The ringing of cars is now big business, and its success depends upon the present unsatisfactory arrangements for dealing with write-offs.
When a severely damaged car is sold, the vehicle registration documents go with it. If the wreck is purchased by a criminal he will then steal a car of the same year, model and colour, switch the wreck's registration, chassis and engine numbers to the stolen car and openly sell his stolen vehicle for the full market price with a "clean" registration document. That is today's ringing.
The car thief makes thousands of pounds for a few hours' work. The insurers pay out on the wreck and on the stolen car. The consumers' car insurance premiums must reflect the scale of this type of crime. The Bill proposes that when a car is assessed by insurers as a write-off the registration document is surrendered to the driver and vehicle licensing centre. This simple and basic measure, as advocated by the ACPO report of the working party on police examination of relicensed, total loss motor vehicles and the 16 consumer organisations, under the chairmanship of Sir Gordon Borrie at the Office of Fair Trading, will virtually eliminate ringing. The Bill will also require insurers to inform the DVLC of a write-off and the reason for the write-off. At present this is a voluntary arrangement and not all insurers comply. The DVLC receives notification of well over 280,000 written-off cars a year. The Automobile Association and the Institute of Trading Standards Administration estimate that around half of these go back on the road. They will be more or less seriously damaged cars, repaired or rebuilt more or less properly. They will have had no safety check, and the purchasers will buy at full market price without knowing that, a short time ago, the cars were more or less wrecks. An AA survey in 1985 found that one in eight accident-damaged and repaired vehicles was immediately unsafe and 50 per cent. still had defects. In a Royal Automobile Club survey 3 per cent. of all the cars examined had had post-accident repairs, and 20 per cent. of the repairs had been done badly.
The DVLC computer already marks the records of cars notified as write-offs. At present this information is used by the police to check relicensed cars, although checks are minimal because of the scale of reregistrations and the lack of police manpower. The Bill proposes that a write-off will be relicensed by the DVLC only after the rebuilt vehicle has satisfactorily passed a safety test, and that the new registration document will be marked to indicate that the car has been a write-off. These proposed measures would meet both the interests of consumer safety and the right of consumers to know that the cars had been written off.
The Bill will therefore meet a fourfold consumer interest in write-offs : it will reduce theft and resale of stolen cars, protect insurance premium levels, improve car safety and allow consumers to know what they are buying.
The Bill will also give the Secretary of State powers to make laws to prevent the "clocking" of cars, where the number of miles is put back. This practice is one of the major sources of fraud, amounting to £100 million a year. One in five of the second-hand cars sold each year is likely to have had its recorded mileage doctored,. Every 1, 000 miles reduced on the car clock adds £30 to the value. Unscrupulous dealers have been known to make up to £1,000 on a car sale from this business. Every year since 1980, between one in two and one in four of all convictions under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 have been related to clocking.
Column 781The simplest means of preventing such fraud is for a record of the mileage to be made when the car tax is due every six or 12 months and by buyer and seller when the car changes ownership. The Office of Fair Trading has suggested that this scheme could be made to be self-financing. However, the Bill leaves the Secretary of State free to choose to adopt whichever scheme he thinks appropriate and most able to protect the public from this massive fraud.
The proposals in the Bill are supported by many organisations, and I commend it to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Gareth Wardell, Mr. Tom Clarke, Mr. Stephen Day, Mr. Nigel Griffiths, Mr. Iain Mills, Mr. Barry Sheerman and Mr. Gary Waller.
Mr. Gareth Wardell accordingly presented a Bill to amend the law relating to the supply of unroadworthy motor vehicles and trailers and the alteration of vehicles so as to rend them unroadworthy ; to regulate the manner and circumstances in which vehicles may be supplied, repaired and serviced ; to regulate the way in which mileage information relating to motor vehicles is recorded ; and for connected purposes ; And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 23 February and to be printed. [Bill 68.]
[Relevant documents : European Community Documents Nos. SEC (89) 2097 on the agricultural situation in the Community in 1989, 8076/89 on set-aside, 10912/89 on definition of lambs fattened as heavy carcases, 7548/89 on monitoring of export refunds, 7549/89 and 10850/89 on scrutiny of European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund (Guarantee Section) expenditure, 7566/89 on physical inventory checks for intervention stocks, and the unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum submitted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 22nd September 1989 on the sheepmeat regime ; Minutes of Evidence taken before the Select Committee on European Legislation on Thursday 1st February 1990 (HC 188--i.]
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : I should announce to the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken). In view of the large number of hon. Members who wish to take part in the debate, Mr. Speaker intends to impose a 10- minute limit on speeches from 7 o'clock.
That this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. COM. (89) 660 relating to prices for agricultural products and related measures for 1990-91, 7010/89 relating to adjustment of agricultural structures, 8309/89 and 8877/89 relating to the quota system in a milk sector, the Court of Auditors' Special Report No. 1/89 on the agrimonetary system, the proposals described in the unnumbered Explanatory Memorandum submitted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food relating to 16th January on use of agricultural commodities in the non-food sector and of the Government's intention to negotiate an outcome on the price proposals which takes account of the interests of United Kingdom producers and consumers and of the need to maintain the progress made in reforming the European Community's Common Agricultural Policy.
This is a good time for us to be discussing these matters, not least because we are now beginning the price-fixing negotiations in the European Community. I am most interested to hear hon. Members' views and, as I suspect that many hon. Members will support the Government's policy, I hope to be able to use their comments in our debates in the European Council. This is also a most convenient date for the debate, because we published today the 1989 edition of "Agriculture in the United Kingdom", which is an improved version, copies of which are available-- [Hon. Members :-- "Where are they, then?"] Copies are available ; if there are none in the Vote Office I apologise.
Dr. David Clark (South Shields) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Minister has said that the document is available, but it is not. It is not available in the Vote Office, and we have been informed that we cannot get it unless we submit a green form and wait for it to be sent by post. In view of that fact, I suggest that we should not debate the document today.
Mr. Gummer : I should be quite happy not to debate the document today. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman should have found it unavailable, although he had only to ask, and I would have put matters right. I will supply him with a copy--[ Hon. Members :-- "What about us?"] And any other hon. Member who needs the document. I note
Column 783that we are having a ritual beginning to this debate, because there is not much that divides us in the issues themselves.
Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Minister is admitting contempt of the House. That is what he is doing, and I want you to rule on this. More often than not, when we are told that reports are in the Vote Office, we can go and get them, albeit late, but in this case, the Minister stood there at the Dispatch Box and said that copies were available when they were not available. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) has one, but I do not know where he got it.
Mr. Gummer : The document is not a command document : it is available in the way in which it has always been available. Opposition Members are merely trying to score points. Previous editions have always been available in this form and the Opposition have never complained before. If hon. Gentlemen wish to make a complaint, I am quite happy to answer it, and to ensure that they have what they need.
There is no problem between the two sides of the House. I am quite happy to consider whether the system that we have always operated for the circulation of such documents should be revised, but I do not see how I could possibly be accused of contempt of the House.
In 1989, there was an increase in farm incomes of about £200 million, or 16 per cent., on the low figure for 1988, but I would not put too much emphasis on that. [ Hon. Members :-- "Why?"] For a reason that hon. Members know is perfectly right : farming is not one business but a whole range of businesses. Although that aggregate figure may show an increase it does not help the farmer who has had a poor year to be told that other farmers in other parts of the business have had a rather better year.
The figure that I have cited is useful only in making a comparison with previous years and it is fair to say that, in general, this year has been better than the previous year. I lay no more emphasis on it than that. The figure is largely based on improvements in the intensive livestock, potato and dairy sectors and in my other sectors, such as the arable sector, things have been more difficult.
Column 784are fair-minded people and they cannot see anything fair about receiving 19.5 per cent. less than other people because of the green pound rate. I know that my right hon. Friend is fighting hard, but will he tell the Community that the farmers of this country will simply not tolerate a mere one-third devaluation? They want the whole thing--not in 1992 but now.
Mr. Gummer : I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) has raised that matter, as I was about to move on to what seems to be the most important point in the negotiations that we are having at the moment--the green pound. I know that my hon. Friend will accept the point that I have to make to her.
The concept of dealing with farmers at a time of surplus is itself a difficult one. When supply exceeds demand, farmers lack confidence in the future because they do not have the security of market that they do when there is a shortage. Moreover, they are concerned that competition should be fair competition. There is no doubt that times of surplus are difficult times, and the one thing that makes a difficult time impossible to bear is the fact that someone else is not bearing the same burden. That is why the devaluation of the green pound is essential, and why it ought to be a substantial devaluation.
My hon. Friend asked me for a specific commitment. I remind her that I am engaged in negotiations in which the United Kingdom is on one side and all the other member states are on the other, because no other country has an interest in the change in the green pound. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that while those negotiations are in progress, which are bound to go on at least until the end of March and at perhaps even into the first fortnight of April, it would be better if I was not too forthcoming about my negotiating tactics. It is nevertheless important to try to achieve an end, and I shall try to describe what I believe that end should be.
Mr. Gill : My right hon. Friend pointed out that we are one against 11. Does he agree that the other 11 countries have a big vested interest in maintaining the status quo, which is to their great advantage and to our great disadvantage?
Mr. Gummer : My hon. Friend has put his finger on it. Anyone who thinks that the negotiations will be easy or that the Commission's proposals will be automatically accepted by the Council does not understand the negotiating process.