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House of Commons

Thursday 22 February 1990

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Royal Assent

Mr. Speaker : I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent for the following Acts and Measure :

St. George's Hill, Weybridge, Estate Act 1990

New Southgate Cemetery and Crematorium Ltd. Act 1990

Hythe Marina Village (Southampton) Wavescreen Act 1990 Isle of Wight Act 1990

Buckinghamshire County Council Act 1990

United Medical and Dental Schools Act 1990

London Local Authorities Act 1990

Penzance Albert Pier Extension Act 1990

City of London (Spitalfields Market) Act 1990

Clergy (Ordination) Measure 1990


Redbridge London Borough Council Bill

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

To be considered on Tuesday 27 February at Seven o'clock.

Vale of Glamorgan (Barry Harbour) Bill

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

To be read a Second time on Thursday 1 March.

Adelphi Estate Bill

(By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Tuesday 27 February at Seven o'clock.

Mr. Speaker : As the next 11 Bills set down for Second Reading have blocking motions, I propose to deal with them as a single group.

Exmouth Docks Bill

(By Order)

Hythe, Kent, Marina Bill

(By Order)

London Docklands Railway Bill

(By Order)

London Underground (Victoria) Bill

(By Order)

Penzance South Pier Extension Bill

(By Order)

Shard Bridge Bill

(By Order)

Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority Bill

(By Order)

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Ventnor Harbour Bill

(By Order)

London Regional Transport (Penalty Fares) Bill

(By Order)

London Underground Bill

(By Order)

Midland Metro Bill

(By Order)

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 1 March.

South Yorkshire Light Rail Transit (No. 2) Bill

(By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Monday 26 February.

Cattewater Reclamation Bill

(By Order)

Humberside County Council Bill

(By Order)

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 1 March.

Oral Answers to Questions


Drugs Conference

1. Mr. Rathbone : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how plans are progressing for the international drug demand reduction conference in London from 9 to 11 April.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Waddington) : Plans for the summit are well advanced. It will be opened by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the presence of the President of Colombia and the Secretary General of the United Nations. On the second day, Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal has graciously consented to address the summit. A paper giving details of the outline programme is in the Library.

Mr. Rathbone : I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that information, but since, after studying that paper, there is concern that the conference may be taken off the rails--to follow the more newsworthy track of studying the cocaine menace--will my right hon. and learned Friend reassure me that it will concentrate strictly, as many hon. Members believe it should, on the important issue of demand reduction?

Mr. Waddington : I assure my hon. Friend that great concentration will be placed on the problem of demand reduction, but it is difficult to see how one can discuss demand reduction except in the context of the large numbers of drugs coming into the country, particularly cocaine.

Mr. Sheerman : Is the Home Secretary aware that Opposition Members are pleased that he did his homework in preparation for the conference by going to the United States and studying the problem there? Will he still have time to visit European countries such as Holland, France and Germany, whose experience may be more

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similar to ours than that of the United States? When he was in the United States, did he have time to talk about the fundamentals, not the superficial elements, of demand reduction? As drugs are rooted in poverty, bad education and underprivilege of every kind, when will the Government do something about them?

Mr. Waddington : The hon. Gentleman must face the fact that when living standards were much lower than they are today there was less of a drugs problem. I shall not have an opportunity to visit the European countries that he mentioned, but it is right to consider the experience of others and the position in different parts of our country. That is one reason for the new drugs initiative that we shall launch at the beginning of April.

Mr. Jacques Arnold : As Colombia is bearing the brunt of the war against the odious drug barons, is not it appropriate that President Barco will play such a significant part in the conference? What is our country doing to help Colombia in its fight, and what more should it do?

Mr. Waddington : I am glad to say that we give considerable help to that brave country and to its brave president. Recently, we gave Colombia £4 million of aid. The Home Office has contributed communications equipment for the anti-narcotics agencies, motor bikes for drug enforcement teams and training equipment for the judicial authorities.

Remand Centre, North Wales

2. Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to develop a remand centre in north Wales.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Mellor) : We have no plans to develop a remand centre in north Wales. The number of remand prisoners from that area is insufficient to justify separate remand facilities.

Mr. Jones : The Minister's reply is extremely disappointing. We have been pressing for a number of years for remand facilities in north Wales. The majority of its remand prisoners are sent to Risley, which has been the subject of serious concern in recent years. It also involves long travelling times for solicitors and prisoners' families. Will the hon. and learned Gentleman reconsider the matter and consult his colleagues in the Welsh Office to ascertain whether some provision can be made--even if it is not a full-blown remand centre--to meet the genuine concerns that have been expressed?

Mr. Mellor : I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. It is clearly unsatisfactory that people should have to travel long distances. In one sense, I suppose that it is good that not too many people from the hon. Gentleman's area are remanded in custody, as that suggests a lower level of criminality than in some other parts of the country. The average remand population from north Wales is about 80 which, unfortunately, does not make a separate establishment viable. That is the nub of the problem.

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Religious Broadcasting

3. Mr. Alton : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received about the provision for religious broadcasting contained in the Broadcasting Bill.

Mr. Mellor : I recently had meetings with a number of groups. The Broadcasting Bill is an improvement in significant respects on present legislation relating to religious broadcasting. For instance, the present blanket prohibition of religious sponsorship and advertising will be lifted, and the Bill will allow Christian and other religious groups for the first time to own radio stations. I have undertaken to consider further whether there should be a specific guarantee for religious programming on Channel 3 and an exceptional discretion to allow religious groups to own local and non-direct broadcasting by satellite TV services. A further announcement will be made in due course.

Mr. Alton : I am grateful to the Minister for that helpful response. I know from the discussions that he has held that the hon. and learned Gentleman met many of the complaints put to him. Clause 83 of the Broadcasting Bill could radically curtail Christian broadcasting. Will the Minister consider introducing an amendment to clarify formally a matter that is causing much unrest, and about which the hon. and learned Gentleman had received many


Mr. Mellor : I do not accept that there are restrictions on Christian broadcasting beyond those relating to editorialising which have always existed as part of the normal consumer protection arrangements covering British broadcasting. On the contrary, as I said in my original answer, the Broadcasting Bill makes possible an expansion in Christian broadcasting--which may go further, depending on the outcome of current discussions.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks about the discussions that I held. It has pained me that some of the leaflets circulating among religious communities are inaccurate, although, thankfully, a number of leading churchmen are making that clear. Those inaccuracies include the point that the hon. Gentleman made.

Mr. Alison : Is my hon. and learned Friend aware of how gratified Church and Christian groups, many of which have made representations to me and to other right hon. and hon. Members, are about the very positive way in which the Government are considering developing the Bill in the two directions he outlined? I and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) hope that my hon. and learned Friend will persist with his intended improvements and amendments ; he will carry the whole House, the Christian community and the country at large with him as he does so.

Mr. Mellor : I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is playing a leading part in the discussions. I hope that we shall soon bring them to a successful conclusion.

Mr. Corbett : We welcome the Minister's response to the all-party pressure and the pressure from a large variety of church bodies to require the new Channel 3 television station to carry religious programmes. Does he accept that the problem could have been avoided had the Government

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retained the public service broadcasting requirements for all new licence-holders, the better to ensure quality with quantity?

Mr. Mellor : I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's latter point. However, I derived great assistance from the discussion in Committee on the matter in which the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues played a full part. I hope that all who played a part in considering the Bill will feel that what emerges is useful and worth while. What stands to come out of the Bill is clearer definition and wider opportunities than have ever been available. Whether we choose to talk about a public service umbrella or whatever, there will be an expansion of responsible Christian broadcasting which I think most people would like to see.

Children (Care Duties)

4. Mr. Patrick Thompson : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received on his proposals to place the same duty of care on local authorities in respect of children in care as he proposes to place on parents for the crimes committed by their children.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten) : We have had no responses so far, but I expect any responses to be 100 per cent. in favour of the excellent proposals contained in my right hon. and learned Friend's White Paper, which has received such a warm welcome.

Mr. Thompson : I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply, and welcome the proposals, particularly as there have been instances in my constituency where young people in care have committed offences. Will my right hon. Friend explain how the victims of offences committed by young people will be affected by the proposals?

Mr. Patten : The present position is that the victim of an offence by a young person in the care of the local authority is denied any recompense via compensation from the court. We intend to put that right, as I am sure the whole House would want us to do on European Victims Day.

Mr. Thurnham : Does my right hon. Friend agree that local authorities have a duty to ensure that children in their care do not commit offences repeatedly? Is not it wrong for some local authorities to allow children to commit up to 30 or 40 offences while they are supposedly in their care?

Mr. Patten : I think that I can guess the local authorities to which my hon. Friend refers. One or two local authorities, in the past at least, have failed to exercise proper care over the juveniles remitted to them by the courts. That is something which the Department of Health's excellent social services inspectorate is working hard to put right.

Convicted Killers

5. Mr. Cran : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to review the procedures governing the release from prison of convicted killers.

Mr. Waddington : I am carefully considering recommendations made last autumn by the House of Lords Select Committee on Murder and Life Imprisonment to change the release arrangements for life sentence prisoners.

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Mr. Cran : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is somewhat unsatisfactory that, in the 25 years to 1987, 51 persons in England and Wales were killed by people who had previously been convicted of homicide? Against that background, when he considers the House of Lords Select Committee report, will he bear in mind, first, that more openness in the review procedure may produce more confidence and, secondly, the assessment procedure which is at the heart of whether a convicted murderer is released?

Mr. Waddington : I have discussed that with members of the House of Lords Select Committee. Cases pending before the European Court relate to the machinery that should be in place to decide on the release of people who have been sentenced to life imprisonment. We should not make a decision on this until we have heard the result of those cases before the European Court. I take my hon. Friend's point about openness. The difficulty is that the Select Committee says that decisions should be taken out of the hands of Ministers and given to an independent judicial tribunal ; but could such a tribunal assess the risk any better than a parole board? Whoever assesses the risk has an appallingly difficult job.

Mr. Battle : The Government have accepted that Armley, in Leeds, is the most overcrowded prison in Britain. It contains convicted prisoners and unconvicted young people on remand. Is the Home Secretary aware that this week the prison staff are in industrial dispute with his Department, and that the fresh start proposals have ground to a halt as a result of overcrowding? What steps will he take to alleviate the problem, and will we be offered any hope in the short term, rather than having to wait for long- term and medium-term solutions?

Mr. Waddington : I cannot see for the life of me what that has to do with question No. 5. As a matter of interest, however, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the prison department is trying to resolve the dispute.

Sir Fergus Montgomery : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the campaign to obtain parole for Myra Hindley? In view of the terrible crimes committed by Hindley and Brady, may we have an assurance that such people will never be allowed out of prison during their lifetimes?

Mr. Waddington : A formal review of Myra Hindley's case will begin in 1990, in accordance with the announcement made at the time of the previous review five years ago. It does not follow that the board will recommend release, or that I would accept such a recommendation if one were made.

New Prison, Fazakerley

6. Mr. Heffer : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will again reconsider the proposal to build a new prison in Fazakerley, Liverpool, bordering the Fazakerley hospital.

Mr. Mellor : I am afraid that I see no grounds for reconsidering the proposed scheme. Contracts have now been exchanged for the purchase of the site, and we shall shortly be approaching the Department of the

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Environment for a local public inquiry to be set up into the proposed scheme so that all relevant points of view might be aired and considered.

Mr. Heffer : That is a very disappointing answer. According to a written reply from the Minister, his Department considered 40 other sites for the new prison in the past two years. Why did the Department decide on a site immediately next to a hospital, in an area surrounded by housing? The city council, the local health authority, the parish council, local people and just about everyone else oppose the proposal. Why are the Government persisting with it when many other sites in the area and the surrounding districts could be used instead? Do the Government consider that we in Liverpool are a special type, and that we should become the prison centre of the north-west? We already have prisons there ; why must we have another almost next door to an existing prison?

Mr. Mellor : The two most recent questions from Opposition Members about prisons reveal the Home Office's difficulties. On the one hand, complaints are made about old and overcrowded prisons ; on the other, complaints are made when we propose to build a new one. The hon. Gentleman asks why the prison cannot be built somewhere else, but I dare say that others would object to that.

After the most exhaustive consideration, we believe that Fazakerley is the right site-- [Interruption.] It is no good the hon. Gentleman shouting at me from a sedentary position. I have announced today a public inquiry at which all legitimate points can be put and considered, and that is the proper way for such matters to be dealt with.

Mr. Loyden : The Minister is misleading the House to some extent. My hon. Friend did not say-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not alleging that the Minister is misleading the House deliberately.

Mr. Loyden : He is doing so inadvertently, however, by suggesting that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) opposes what we all recognise as the urgent need for more prisons to be developed and built. His point was that the community that he represents as a Member of Parliament, which includes a large housing estate, renders the site inappropriate for building a prison. Should not the Minister make a decision about the problem in view of the strong feelings throughout Liverpool--not merely in my hon. Friend's constituency?

Mr. Mellor : We cannot reject every site that is available for a new prison because people do not want it there. People are fully entitled to object to a prison being sited in their community. We are providing for a local public inquiry at which the wheat can be separated from the chaff and the legitimate arguments from the illegitimate. We shall be bound by the decision that is reached. What could be fairer than that?

Crime Victims

7. Mr. John Greenway : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to approve the arrangements for the support given to the victims of crime.

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Mr. Waddington : I have today published a victims charter, which sets out for the first time how victims of crime should be treated. It covers, among other things, keeping them informed of inquiries and court proceedings, helping them to secure compensation and how they are treated at court. The charter also raises some wider questions about giving victims a voice in criminal proceedings.

I have also announced today that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I have acted immediately on the recommendation of the Home Affairs Select Committee a fortnight ago that the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board should have more staff. We are meeting in full the chairman's request for 60 more staff to enable the board to gain control of the backlog. We are discussing performance targets with the board, but we are ready, with parliamentary approval, to make available another £17 million for compensation payments in 1990-91.

We also plan to increase our grant to Victims Support from just under £4 million this year to about £4.5 million next year to improve the help that local victim support schemes can give.

Mr. Greenway : Society has long demanded that greater prominence should be given to the interests of the victims of crime. I am sure that the whole country will warmly welcome the publication of a victims charter. On this day--European Victims Day--we lead Europe in the arrangements for looking after the victims of crime. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that we need to make our criminal justice system more victim friendly? Should not we give more consideration to the way in which vulnerable victims are cross-examined in court, as well as to keeping them informed-- [Interruption.] Opposition Members do not seem to pay as much attention to the victims of crime as do Conservative Members-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. That was a rather long supplementary question. Perhaps we may have a briefer answer.

Mr. Waddington : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his warm welcome for the victims charter. He is right to point out that the British scheme is probably the most generous in existence. We pay far more in compensation to victims than is paid in Germany or in France. It is absolutely right that the Government should spell out their commitment to improving the lot of victims, that we should make absolutely plain what are victims' rights and that we should point out the good practice that should be observed by each part of our criminal justice system.

My hon. Friend asked for a more victim-friendly criminal justice system. I am sure that that is part of the message in the victims charter.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing : I welcome the Home Secretary's announcement that additional staff will be appointed to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. How quickly will staff be recruited and appointed? Will more money be provided for the procurement of the new technology that is desperately needed and was recommended as far back as 1982? Will the Home Secretary advertise the scheme, given that only about 25 per cent. of the victims of violent crime and only a very small number of sexually abused children apply for compensation?

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Mr. Waddington : One virtue of producing such a document is to draw victims' attention to their rights. That meets the hon. Lady's latter points. We have already begun to install computers in the Glasgow office. That meets the hon. Lady's earlier point. Staff will be recruited in April and May, so they should be in place before very long. However, first we must provide the necessary accommodation for them. It is a big increase--20 to 25 per cent. more than the existing staffing level.

Sir John Wheeler : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that members of the Select Committee on Home Affairs will be delighted with his announcement today? Replying to a Select Committee report and accepting all the principal recommendations within two weeks must be a record. The United Kingdom now has the finest method anywhere in the western democracies of looking after the interests of victims, but what does my right hon. and learned Friend intend to do to ensure that the statutory agencies monitor the implementation of the victim support proposals that he has announced today?

Mr. Waddington : We shall, of course, do all that we possibly can to impress upon the statutory agencies the necessity to observe the high standards laid down in the victims charter. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. We saw the wisdom of the recommendations in the Select Committee report. That is why we accepted them without delay and are able to tell the House today that they will soon be implemented.

Mr. Hattersley : Will the Home Secretary confirm that despite today's announcement the victims of crime who in 1989 were disqualified from receiving compensation by the Government's change in regulations are still not eligible for the assistance that the Government provide and therefore a substantial number of victims are disqualified from his scheme?

Mr. Waddington : I think that everyone would agree that it is important to concentrate our energies on those victims of crime who have suffered the most. Our scheme remains the most generous in the world.

Dame Peggy Fenner : Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept what I know will be the grateful pleasure of the people who run the Medway victim support scheme in my constituency, the second such group to be set up in this country? Does he agree that the victims charter will provide most valuable support for many voluntary organisations which have sought to bring a personal touch into caring for victims of crime?

Mr. Waddington : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her remarks. The comments of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) were rather churlish in view of the fact that this morning the victims charter received the warmest possible reception from the chairman of Victims Support, Helen Reeves. I applaud the work of Victims Support up and down the country and I am glad that such schemes receive ever more support from the Home Office.

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Birmingham Pub Bombings

8. Mr. Meale : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has completed his consideration of the new evidence in the case of the Birmingham pub bombings.

Mr. Waddington : I have not yet completed my consideration of the further material which has been presented to me by a solicitor acting on behalf of the six men convicted of the Birmingham public house bombings. I will decide as soon as possible whether it justifies any intervention on my part.

Mr. Meale : As the Home Secretary is aware, some of the confessions that formed the major part of the case for the conviction of the Birmingham pub bombers were taken by the West Midlands serious crime squad. That group has since been disbanded because it was found to have been forging confessions. Is not that enough to warrant reopening an inquiry into the case?

Mr. Waddington : As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, it is my job to consider whether there is any new evidence or consideration of substance that may cast doubt on the safety of the convictions, and I shall carry out that duty. As the hon. Gentleman knows, an inquiry into the West Midlands serious crime squad is being carried out by the West Yorkshire police. Although their inquiry is concentrated on matters which have occurred since 1986, if they wish to take their inquiries further back in time because of matters that come to their notice, I am absolutely sure that they will do so.

Mr. John Marshall : Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that many people are rather tired of the concerted campaign to prove that those convicted criminals are innocent and to make people forget the nature of the crime that they committed?

Mr. Waddington : I hear what my hon. Friend says. I do not think that it is right for me to comment because I have a difficult duty to carry out. My hon. Friend will realise that I will carry it out.

Mr. Clay : Does not the length of time that the Guildford Four wrongly spent in prison haunt the Home Secretary as he continues to dither around finding one excuse after another for prevarication while evidence showing that the Birmingham Six were innocent builds up? How many more months, if not years, will they have to spend in gaol, wrongly, like the Guildford Four?

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