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Mr. Lloyd : Because there are several ways that we might advance. We want the chief police officers' views before we decide on our route, but the most likely is one that involves the police national computer, which does not come on stream until next year. The hon. Gentleman appears to imply that the collection of information on missing people is not good, but that is not so. Each police authority organises its own information. The hon. Gentleman referred to young people who are lost, but the police in each area take quick action when young people are reported missing and they are nearly always found. The hon. Gentleman mentioned 98,000 vulnerable people who are missing. For the last year for which I have information, the figure stands at just over 100,000, but it is important to note that only 1.5 per cent. were not found after four weeks. That demonstrates that our existing methods are good, but we can use new technology to make them better.
Mr. Patrick Thompson : I have had missing persons' cases in my constituency. Does my hon. Friend agree that when we consider the matter we should look once again at the idea of a national identity card scheme?
Mr. Lloyd : I do not believe that that would help ; nor would it be a valuable investment. I believe that the plans that we are maturing are the best that can be devised to find missing people, which is what we all want to do.
Mr. Corbett : Will the Minister be more positive about setting up the register? He knows that the Association of Chief Police Officers is entirely in favour of it. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) has already mentioned the 98,000 young people who go missing on the streets of our towns and cities every year. The police national computer mark 2 is ready to come on stream. Will the Minister assure the House that he will set up that register as soon as conceivably posssible?
Mr. Lloyd : I said that we intend to set up such a register, and we shall do so, but we must have the new computer on stream before it is practical for that to be done. We are seizing the first opportunity to do that.
Mr. Rathbone : In this planning period will my hon. Friend ensure that there is co-operation among police forces throughout Europe? With the greater movement of people, particularly young people, it is essential to have a pan-European system.
7. Mr. John Hughes : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has discussed the Guildford and Woolwich or the Maguire cases with (a) the Lord Chief Justice or (b) the Master of the Rolls.
Mr. Hughes : Does not the Home Secretary share the public's serious concern that a number of leading judges are saying that the Guildford Four and the family that we are not allowed to mention are guilty? In the light of those ill-founded and irresponsible remarks which will pervert justice, will he demand their resignation?
Mr. Franks : As and when my right hon. and learned Friend meets the Lord Chief Justice, will he discuss the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the prosecution of Mr. Kevin Taylor, Mr. John Stalker's friend?
Mr. Tony Banks : Will the Home Secretary tell the House what the hell is going on in the British judicial system? We have had Woolwich, Guildford, the case we cannot refer to today because it is sub judice, and we shall have the Birmingham Six before long. Many people in this country are beginning to believe that a combination of perjured police officers, judges who are clearly biased and compliant Ministers is reducing the British judicial system to low farce. In view of the times that the Home Secretary has had to eat his own words, would not it be better if he printed them on rice paper to make his task more palatable?
Mr. Waddington : I am amazed at the hon. Gentleman's intemperate remarks. I certainly do not understand what he means by "compliant Ministers" because he knows perfectly well that I told the House on 14 June that counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions had told the May inquiry that, in his view, the convictions were unsafe. I said that in those circumstances the proper course would probably be for me to--
Mr. Waddington : The hon. Gentleman's suggestion was that there had been compliant Ministers. I was merely rehearsing the action that I had already taken and what I told the House as long ago as 14 June. I was going to remind the House of what I said in answer to a written question yesterday. I do not understand how that can be referred to as compliance. I have never heard such nonsense in all my life.
Column 447Mr. Speaker : I must say to the Home Secretary that it was he who caused this matter to become sub judice, and I now have to uphold that rule.
8. Mr. Knapman : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he is taking to encourage the other members of the Trevi group to adopt his four-point agenda in the Europeanwide fight against crime.
Mr. Waddington : I welcome the priority that my colleagues in Trevi have already agreed should be accorded to co-operation in respect of terrorism and drug trafficking, methods of detection, and confiscation of the proceeds of serious crime, and I will continue to press for effective action on all those fronts.
Mr. Knapman : I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that reply and for all the good works that he has done in this area. Does he agree that the idea of open frontiers may be better in principle than in practice if we are to contain the spread of drugs, contraband and illegal arms?
Mr. Waddington : We have made it absolutely plain to our partners in the Community that it would be foolish for us to abandon the advantages of our geography and that we have no intention of removing the controls to deal with serious crime, terrorism and drugs. That does not mean that we should not continue to try to get the maximum of police co-operation in the Community.
9. Mr. Flannery : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects the inquiry by the Devon and Cornwall police into the Birmingham pub bombings case to be completed ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. John Patten : Important aspects of this case are now being investigated by the Devon and Cornwall police. It is not possible at this stage to say when the Devon and Cornwall constabulary will be able to report on the results of their inquiries, but I know that the police are fully aware of the need to complete the inquiries as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. My right hon. and learned Friend will decide, in the light of the outcome of those inquiries, whether any further action is called for on his part.
Mr. Flannery : Is not it a fact that the report will go only to the chief constable of the West Midlands, and that it will not be published or made available to the solicitors for the Birmingham Six? What kind of democracy is that? In view of this melancholy and sordid business, can we have an independent public inquiry into this case which has gone wildly astray in the same way as many others?
Mr. Patten : About 45 police officers in the Devon and Cornwall force are working as fast and as thoroughly as they can to conduct their inquiries. I am sure that no hon. Member would wish to hinder that. The hon. Gentleman
Column 448was right when he said that the report will go to the chief constable of the West Midlands. Of course, the information will then be made available to my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary so that he can take it into account in deciding whether he needs to take any more action in respect of this case.
Mr. Madden : If 45 officers have been seconded to this inquiry why on earth is it taking so long? When is the inquiry due to be completed, how many people have so far been interviewed and how many have still to be interviewed?
Mr. Patten : I entirely appreciate the hon. Gentleman's impatience and his desire to know when the inquiry will be completed and the report returned. It is important for the police to be allowed to conduct their in- depth inquiries at their own pace and to look into everything. A number of people, including his eminence Cardinal Hume, have pressed my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to ensure that the investigation is not hurried and is properly carried out.
The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher) : This morning I returned from a meeting of the economic summit in Houston. 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. Dunnachie : Following last week's conviction for murder in Kilmarnock of a 15-year-old who was addicted to machine gambling, will the Government now impose the severest panalties on those who flout the law by exposing people under 18 to the dangers of machine gambling?
The Prime Minister : We have done our level best to increase the penalties for such matters, and not always with the support of the Opposition. I note the hon. Gentleman's strong views that such penalties should be further increased.
Mr. Amess : Recalling that it was this Government and the Conservative party alone who supported the right-to-buy legislation which was successfully piloted through the House, is my right hon. Friend aware that in Basildon we have sold 14,000 council, commission and development corporation properties? Will she consider further enhancing people's opportunity for home ownership by extending the rents-into-mortgages scheme to the rest of the United Kingdom?
The Prime Minister : I am delighted to hear that the Government's right-to-buy legislation is doing so well in my hon. Friend's constituency, as it is elsewhere. It gives a new opportunity to people to own their homes and
Column 449eventually to pass them on to their children. The pilot scheme that operates in Scotland and Wales to turn rents into mortgages is another advantageous way for people to own their homes, and that scheme is doing very well. When we have more experience of it we shall see whether it should be extended further.
Mr. Kinnock : Is not it clear to the Prime Minister that what the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry said to The Spectator cannot be unsaid and that therefore he can have no place in her Cabinet?
Mr. Kinnock : Is not it the case that when, within the terms of collective responsibility as everyone understands them, a Secretary of State expresses views strongly and graphically that are contrary to the views of the Government, that Secretary of State is sacked? Will not the Prime Minister recognise that what the right hon. Gentleman has said is not just deeply offensive to our allies and partners, but deeply damaging to our country's interests? He must go.
The Prime Minister : --and unreservedly withdrawn his remarks. They do not represent the Government's view or, indeed, my own. I have always understood that it is the custom of the House that when remarks have been apologised for and unreservedly withdrawn--as they have been in this case-- that withdrawal is gracefully accepted.
Sir Peter Hordern : When my right hon. Friend meets the leaders of the European Community countries, will she tell them that a country that controls its inflation better than any other by strict monetary policies and offers rapid economic growth to the benefit of the whole Community-- including the United Kingdom--is a country greatly to be admired, and that West Germany plays an important and useful role in Europe and the world at large?
The Prime Minister : Yes, Sir. Indeed, I said words almost identical to that at the economic summit, pointing out that Germany had managed to keep her inflation and unemployment low and to keep her growth, investment, savings ratio and exports high, and that all that was greatly to be admired.
Mrs. Margaret Ewing : Does not the Prime Minister realise that she cannot talk about increasing international co-operation while retaining in her Cabinet a Secretary of State who has not only been downright unneighbourly, but has cast a slight on the attitude towards the European Community? Does she agree that this is the worst example of little Englander behaviour that we have seen? [Interruption.]
The Prime Minster : The Government were prominent in furthering co- operation at the economic summit in Houston, to the benefit of each and every one of the G7 countries. I have nothing to add to what I said about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who has unreservedly withdrawn his remarks.
Mrs. Peacock : Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should all welcome Mr. Gorbachev's fine handling of his party's 28th congress in Moscow? Is not that a pointer for good international stability in the future?
The Prime Minister : Yes, Sir. The Government have consistently supported President Gorbachev's efforts towards reform in the Soviet Union, and we earnestly hope that they will be successful. Clearly, his political reforms have already been successful and have led to freedom of speech and of movement, and freedom to emigrate on a scale undreamt of two or three years ago. At the Houston summit we agreed that each of us should give-- some are already giving--technical assistance and know-how training, and we have embarked upon a study through the International Monetary Fund to see what further help can best be given and what criteria should be fulfilled before such help is given.
Mr. Ashdown : Is not the real significance of the comments of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry reported this morning that they reveal a deep and irreconcilable split on Europe in the Cabinet which is damaging Britain's interests and causing confusion in the Government's policy and contempt for Britain abroad? Does not the Prime Minister realise that if she will not sack
Column 451him, she condones him, and that her Government will remain in shambles for as long as he remains a member of it?
The Prime Minister : No, Mr. Speaker. Those remarks did not represent the Government's views or my own. Britain's influence and reputation were greatly enhanced at the Houston summit by the spirit of co- operation that we showed and by our efforts to bring about a successful communique at the end of that summit.
Mr. Lawrence : Since it appears from recent court decisions that the Shops Act 1950 is contrary to the treaty of Rome, will my right hon. Friend consider introducing amending legislation on Sunday trading, preferably after the next general election?
The Prime Minister : My hon. and learned Friend asks a bold question. Before the Government introduce legislation after the next election we should seek assurance from those who opposed the previous legislation that we have an acceptable compromise, particularly in view of some recent court cases. That would be advisable, and if my hon. and learned Friend would like to start collecting the voices and the views I should be very grateful.
Ms. Primarolo : The track record of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry of insensitive and outrageous statements on a number of issues is well known. Is there anything that the Secretary of State could say that would get him the sack?
The Prime Minister : I have indicated clearly that my right hon. Friend has unreservedly withdrawn his remarks. [Interruption.] When remarks are so unreservedly withdrawn we accept that withdrawal gracefully.
Mr. Moate : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, following the great success of the abolition of the dock labour scheme a year ago, there is now an urgent case for following it up with a new public enabling Bill to allow the rapid development of other port enterprises by the privatisation of the outdated trust port structures?
The Prime Minister : There is a great deal in what my hon. Friend says. The abolition of the dock labour scheme was a great success for the ports and their hinterlands. I understand that for other ports in the trust to be privatised it would have to be done by the private Bill procedure, which is very cumbersome. We are looking into the possibility of an enabling Bill so that they could be privatised more easily.
Mr. Reid : Is the Prime Minister aware that the fight for the steel industry in Scotland is concerned with saving Ravenscraig, a Motherwell steel plant, not Ravensglass, a Cumbrian village, which is what the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry seemed to believe when we met him? Is she aware that as part of the fight Sir Kenneth Alexander has been nominated for the board of directors of British Steel? Although she cannot endorse any particular candidate, will she testify to his fitness as a candidate, as a man of great learning, industrial experience and integrity?
The Prime Minister : I regret that I do not know the gentleman and it would be quite wrong of me to endorse one candidate because I was asked to do so. That is a matter for the shareholders of the company, as the hon. Gentleman realises and it is for those who put him forward to testify to all the things that the hon. Gentleman has enumerated.
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