[Lords] (By Order)
Order for Third Reading read.
To be read the Third time on Thursday 13 June.
Order for consideration read.
To be considered upon Thursday 13 June.
(By Order) Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [13 May], That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Debate further adjourned till Thursday 13 June.
(No. 3) Bill-- [Lords] (By Order) Orders for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Thursday 13 June.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten) : Prison service central records do not show this information on a daily basis and may, therefore, be incomplete. But we are aware of three people currently in prison as a result of refusal to pay after a means inquiry established that they were able to pay their community charge.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown) asked me to make a statement. My only statement can be that people who can pay, should pay.
Mr. Brown : As I said, this is a political issue because yesterday at Margate, Mrs. Ruby Haddow was imprisoned, along with her husband, simply because she had not paid her poll tax. If that had happened in South Africa or eastern Europe there would have been a public outcry. It is disgraceful that there is no public outcry. More important, let us remember that that would not happen in Scotland because the law is different. It is a north- south issue. If we are talking about the Government being even-handed, why can people in England and Wales be gaoled when people in Scotland cannot? Surely it is now time for an amnesty for everyone who has not paid the poll tax, particularly for those in gaol.
Mr. Patten : Those who can pay, should pay, and that applies as much north of the border as south of the border. The hon. Gentleman might spend his time more profitably trying to persuade his local authority, Lothian regional council, which has a disgraceful record on collecting community charge payments, to do as well as Labour-controlled Fife region. South of the border, the hon. Gentleman might speak to a few Labour authorities, such as Lambeth, Newham and Islington, which failed to collect their community charge payments in exactly the same way as they failed to collect their rates.
Mr. Tracey : The figure that my right hon. Friend has given will be read with some interest. It is viewed with interest by me, because I drove past Wandsworth prison last weekend and saw a crowd of people protesting against such imprisonment. Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that there is and will be no question of an amnesty for those people who have not paid, because such failure to pay is viewed with disgust by all right- thinking members of society?
Column 391whatever of any amnesty ever being declared for anyone who breaks the law. Rather than people waving banners outside Wandsworth prison, perhaps one day we shall see outside magistrates courts ordinary decent people who pay their community charge waving banners that say, "Those who can pay, should pay."
Mr. Nellist : Is the Minister aware that there are five such people in prison and that the sixth person was Mrs. Ruby Haddow of Ramsgate? She was the first woman to be gaoled for failure to pay and she is in Holloway. She has three daughters. Her only income is child benefit. Her husband came out of prison on Friday. He is an electrician and was made redundant in October last year. They have no income to pay the poll tax, yet she is serving 14 days and is being punished for her poverty. As not even I believe that this Government seriously contemplate gaoling the 16 million people who have not paid all of last year's poll tax, why do they not follow the logic of abolishing the poll tax and abolish the enforcement procedures that are putting people in prison for poverty?
Mr. Patten : No, certainly not. For people who do not pay their community charge bills, there is an exhaustive procedure which magistrates courts must follow and it includes a means inquiry. Courts alone decide who goes to gaol, not Ministers.
Mr. John Patten : In 1990, 26 per cent. of domestic burglaries in the Metropolitan police district involved no forced entry. Figures released today by the Metropolitan police show that that figure has increased. Comparable figures for the whole of England and Wales are not available for 1990, but 18 per cent. of burglary victims interviewed for the 1988 British Crime Survey said that their homes had not been left secure when they went out.
Mr. Brown : Does not that reply clearly show that people can do much to secure their homes? From the statistic that my right hon. Friend quoted, it seems that roughly one in four or five burglaries occurs as a result of the fault of the individual householder not securing the property. Is there not a way round that by giving much greater support to neighbourhood watch schemes? Is it not outrageous that some Labour local authorities refuse to allow neighbourhood watch scheme stickers and posters to be displayed on street furniture?
Mr. Patten : Alas, Mr. Deputy Speaker--I apologise, Mr. Speaker. I normally perform later at night when you are not in the Chair. Alas, Mr. Speaker, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is perfectly true that by joining a neighbourhood watch scheme and taking simple precautions, such as property marking and ensuring that good locks are fitted to doors, people can do a great deal to prevent burglary. It is impossible to make a home 100 per cent. safe, just as wearing a seat belt--something everyone should do--cannot make the wearer absolutely safe in a road accident. However, as my hon. Friend said, neighbourhood watch performs a valuable function. It is very sad that the Labour party nationally has not been
Column 392able to persuade some Labour-controlled local councils, such as Cleveland, to take the neighbourhood watch movement and support of it more seriously.
Mr. Sheerman : The British public are sick to death of the Government trying to shuffle off responsibility for rising crime rates on to the victims. Of course there is an element of carelessness among the public and we want people to be more security conscious, but we have had 12 years of astounding rises in crime. The Government cannot shirk the responsibility for that or for underfunding crime prevention initiatives. Why do the Government not once in a while back the police instead of stopping the police doing their job--[ Hon. Members :-- "Oh."] The police are crying out for resources to help neighbourhood watch, but will not get them from this Government.
Mr. Patten : The hon. Gentleman can do joined-up shouting, but he cannot do much joined-up thinking, as his question showed. When I gave him the opportunity, he lamentably failed to respond to my point about the need to talk to Labour authorities which do not back neighbourhood watch schemes. This Government have given more resources to the police than any other Government this century. There has been a 52 per cent. rise in resources for law and order under this Government. Finally with regard to crime prevention, according to the Labour party's policy document, Labour intends to give responsibility for crime prevention to local authorities. Tell that to the people of Lambeth and Liverpool.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Kenneth Baker) : The objective of crime prevention week was to raise national awareness of the need for positive crime prevention in our community. As such, we believe that it was successful. There were more than 6, 000 local events involving many organisations and individuals and, I am glad to say, in many cases many young people. It attracted a great deal of positive press and broadcast cover.
Mr. Coombs : Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to congratulate the staff of Crime Concern, an organisation located in my constituency, on their success in helping to organise the week? Will he also take this chance to congratulate the private sector, which responded in full measure to the call on its generosity to support the week? Will he ensure that Crime Concern continues to have the resources to enable it to do its important work?
Mr. Baker : Crime Concern has been a successful initiative undertaken by the Government. During crime prevention week it raised over £300,000. In addition, the Home Office secured support from businesses of over£1 million. Businesses throughout the country contibuted upwards of £5 million to support initiatives in schools, youth clubs and probation services. That is an involvement and commitment of business, with the police, in fighting crime.
Column 393Mrs. Mahon : Is the Secretary of State aware that during crime prevention week the crime prevention panel in Calderdale met? I have here the headline that resulted from that meeting. It says that there are 66 crimes every day in Calderdale. There has been a massive increase in every reportable crime. When will the Home Secretary fund West Yorkshire police force and the other police forces properly so that we can have community policemen and the public can be protected from such horror stories?
Mr. Baker : I remind the hon. Lady that in the past 12 years we have increased the resources of the police by more than any previous Government. The increase in expenditure has been some 53 per cent. We have increased the size of police forces in Britain by 27,000. We took over from a Government who held back police recruiting and who left a police force that was under establishment by several thousand.
Mr. Baker : My hon. and learned Friend is right. The figures announced today and those that were announced earlier show that many burglaries take place on private property where doors and windows are unlocked and that in a quarter of all car crimes doors have been left unlocked. The obvious message is that people must look after their property better. That is a sensible message to put across.
Mr. Hattersley : The Home Secretary properly and rightly congratulated Crime Concern on its work. Neighbourhood watch is also important in the prevention of crime. Does the Home Secretary agree with Crime Concern that what is holding back neighbourhood watch is inadequate resources from the Home Office for the police?
Mr. Baker : There has been an increase to more than 19,000 neighbourhood watch schemes. I am glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman is a late convert to them. I hope that he will ask all Labour authorities to put neighbourhood watch leaflets and pamphlets through doors and posters on street furniture. I sometimes wonder why the right hon. Gentleman is so half-hearted in his support for the forces of law and order.
Mr. Kenneth Baker : The opportunities available for an accused person to state his position and how far the courts may draw proper inferences from his failure to take advantage of them will be among the matters to be considered by the royal commission on criminal justice and we should await its findings.
Mr. Riddick : May I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend has set up the royal commission and that it will be able to consider this issue, especially as the police are becoming increasingly worried about the way in which criminals abuse the right to silence? Is it not the case that the right to silence helps suspects who have something to
Column 394hide? Should not courts and juries be able to draw an inference from the fact that a defendant is not prepared to say what he was doing or where he was at a given time?
Mr. Baker : There are many views about the right to silence. Some representations that we have had claim that it should be kept as it is, but I agree with my hon. Friend that the police believe that the right to silence is being abused in certain cases. Courts cannot draw to the attention of the jury the fact that, in excercising his or her right to silence, the accused may not be answering any questions during the whole process of the investigation. Nor can the court make any comment on that. The royal commission will have to address those matters and I assure my hon. Friend that I shall draw his question to the attention of the royal commission.
Mr. Maclennan : Does the Home Secretary accept that an abridgement of the right to silence would be an attack on the presumption of innocence which, for a very long time, has been the foundation of the criminal law and the protection of the individual in this country?
Mr. Budgen : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government should be deeply ashamed that although the right of silence in England has properly been subject to detailed scrutiny before any consideration has been given to taking it away, in Northern Ireland it was taken away without proper discussion or inquiry under the Order in Council procedure?
Mr. Baker : As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland explained, the Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1988 was introduced to meet the urgent and special circumstances of Northern Ireland. I agree with my hon. Friend that the issue must be considered, and it is right that the royal commission should do so.
Mr. Trimble : Does the Home Secretary recall that when the right to silence was modified in Northern Ireland under the legislation to which he referred, an undertaking was given that parallel legislation would be introduced speedily in England and Wales? Has any study been made of the effects of the modification of the right to silence in Northern Ireland? I am confident that if such a study were made, it would show that the modification has not had the alarmist effects that have been mentioned, but has proved to be a modest and useful measure. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the longer equivalent legislation for England and Wales is delayed, the more opportunity there will be for ill-intentioned people to suggest that some major, unacceptable change has been made in Northern Ireland?
Mr. Baker : We have certainly observed what has happened in Northern Ireland and I agree with the conclusion that the hon. Gentleman has drawn from the practice there. As I said, this is a matter for the royal commission and I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's comments to its attention.
Mr. Hind : My right hon. Friend will be aware that the 1967 royal commission report recommended the amendments that have now been made in Northern Ireland. His predecessor commissioned a report on the right to silence and possible alterations to it. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we cannot wait for the commission's report and that it is time that victims of rape giving evidence in the Crown court should not be confronted with allegations of consent from an accused who refused to say anything in the police station when questioned six months earlier?
Mr. Baker : That is one aspect, and an example of the way in which the right to silence can be abused. Another is that the accused can simply stare at the wall and refuse to answer any questions of any sort for months on end, yet that fact cannot be drawn to the attention of the court. Those are matters of concern and are covered by the terms of the royal commission. I shall draw to its attention the views of my hon. Friend, who has taken a great interest in the matter for some years.
5. Mr. Lofthouse : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has any plans to meet the chief constable of West Yorkshire police to discuss the reduction in the number of police officers in West Yorkshire.
Mr. Lofthouse : That is most regrettable. The Minister will be aware that to avoid being poll-tax capped, West Yorkshire police have fixed their budget in accordance with the tender criteria of the Department of the Environment. Is he aware that as a result, now, only two months into this financial year, there are vacancies for 66 police officers, 15 traffic wardens, 95 civilian staff and one assistant chief constable in that force and that those vacancies cannot be filled? It is anticipated that by the end of the financial year, there will be a staff shortage in that force of 500, both police and civilian. Considering the 27 per cent. increase in crime last year and an anticipated similar increase this year, surely the Home Secretary has an obligation to intervene and assist that authority in attempting to avoid a breakdown in law and order in West Yorkshire.
Mr. Lloyd : My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my noble Friend the Minister responsible for the police gave the various metropolitan authorities written advice that they should maintain their police strength at the authorised establishment level. Even if the resultant budgets had then exceeded the provisional capping criteria, it would not have led to automatic capping. Each budget is examined on its merits and West Yorkshire would have been capped only if there were scope for savings or greater efficiency in other areas of its operation. That clear message was sent from my right hon. Friend with the full agreement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and I am sorry that the West Yorkshire authority did not take heed of that advice.
Column 396Yorkshire police, in which he says that staffing difficulties facing the police may have had a bearing on the difficulties that arose in the investigation of a crime referred to me in a complaint by a constituent? Is he further aware that the letter also states that unless action is taken to resolve the financial difficulties of West Yorkshire police as a matter or urgency, the situation can only get worse? Is it not indicative of the seriousness of the situation that a police superintendent puts such comments in a letter to a Member of Parliament? When will the Minister act on this issue and treat it as seriously as it deserves?
Mr. Lloyd : Obviously, I am not aware of that letter, as the hon. Gentleman did not send it to me. There may be cases in West Yorkshire where there are problems caused by a manpower shortage because the authority did not heed the advice of my right hon. Friend to bring the numbers up to the level of the establishment that he recommended.
Mr. John Patten : As I announced last month, we will plough back drugs money confiscated here under international agreements into the fight against drug misuse. We intend to establish more local drug prevention teams, including teams in Salford and Manchester, as part of the drugs prevention initiative. The first priority of the new national criminal intelligence service is to be drugs.
Mr. Lloyd : In welcoming that statement, may I add that the ultimate victims of drugs in our society are not only those who use and abuse them, but communities whose areas are blighted by drugs and associated crime? Does the Minister accept that the view of many people in the areas that supply drugs is that drugs are not being given the priority that they should have by the Government and society in general? Even this week, the Secretary of State for Health told the House that drugs were not a priority for health initiatives. Will the Minister assure us that drugs are central to the Government's thinking and that they must have priority not only in the Home Office but throughout the Government, so that the attack on them is consistent and sustained? If drugs are not given such a priority we shall simply not begin to push back the scourge that they are causing in those communities.
Mr. Patten : I welcome the hon. Gentleman's suggestions. I know of his long-standing interest in those issues, which he had the chance to discuss with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department on 30 April. We wish to do all we can to ensure that drugs policy has a proper standing in all Government Departments. I also want people in the Manchester area to be helped, which is why we intend to try to set up in the area one of our new drugs initiative teams concerned with prevention. However, that requires the co-operation of the local community, which I know concerns the hon. Gentleman. Any help that he can give me in working with local people to find the right place to put those drug prevention teams would be welcomed, and I shall be happy to discuss the issue with him.
Column 397Sir John Wheeler : Does my right hon. Friend recall that the Home Office initiated an international conference on drug prevention which resulted in many initiatives and improved the co-operation of the police and customs, not only within the United Kingdom but outside it? That, in turn, has led to an increase in drug seizures. Will not that welcome development in suppressing that evil trade benefit our residential communities?
Mr. Patten : My hon. Friend is quite right. I saw the United Nations drugs commissioner, Signor Giacomelli this morning to discuss precisely these issues. What alarms him as much as it alarms me is the evidence of the increasing amounts of drugs--heroin, for example--coming from the Golden Crescent and reaching western Europe. We are also worried about the development of new routes--notably a Baltic route through the western USSR into the Baltic countries and thence into western Europe. This just shows how important international co-operation is.
Mr. Duffy : The Minister will know of my profound concern about drugs misuse, notably in South Yorkshire. I have conveyed that concern to the Home Department over many years and I am corresponding with the right hon. Gentleman about it. He will therefore understand my anxiety about the advance report of Judge Pickles' contribution to the BBC1 "Byline" series this coming Tuesday night, in which he is reported as saying that the struggle against drugs is now futile and has become hopeless. Has the Minister seen an advance report of Judge Pickles' remarks?
Mr. Patten : In that case I had better bite my tongue and speak in generalities. Suffice it to say that I and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary regard legalising cannabis in this country as entirely wrong. It would be the single most damaging step that we could take to stoke up the fires of drug misuse among our young people and in our cities.
Mr. Kenneth Baker : From 17 June, instead of one visit a month, prisoners will be entitled to two visits a month. At Holloway, mothers can now have all-day visits from their children at least once, and often twice a month. That has been very successful. We are encouraging other establishments, wherever possible, to set up similar schemes.
Sir Anthony Durant : Is my right hon. Friend aware that prisoners are often put in prisons a long way from their homes? Could that matter be looked at? Could they be put in prisons nearer their homes so as to assist visits from their families and help them to keep stable relationships with them?
Mr. Baker : Whenever possible, prisoners are placed as close to their families as possible. In some cases, particularly those of dangerous criminals, it is not possible. When I visited Reading prison in my hon.
Column 398Friend's constituency, there were a large number of short-stay local prisoners. The same applies in nearby Oxford. In the Oxfordshire and Berkshire area, a new prison, Bullingdon, is being built. So my hon. Friend's part of the country is well covered in this respect, but I agree in principle with what he said.
Miss Lestor : First, I congratulate the Home Secretary on increasing the number of family visits and on the experiment in Holloway of bringing children into prison. Allowing them to spend time with their mothers is to be welcomed--if we are to continue to put women with children in prison, the success of which I doubt, but that is another matter. It is certainly a good move to allow them to have their children with them for longer periods.
I wish to stress the length of time that families spend travelling to visit prisoners. Many of my constituents--and, I am sure, many of the constituents of other hon. Members--will spend three quarters of the day trying to get to a prison for a very short visit and then have to drag their children back home again after spending very little time with the prisoner. However much the Home Office may be trying to ensure that prisoners are placed near their homes, it is by no means being successful.
Mr. Baker : As I told my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant), we try to do that whenever we can, but it is not always possible. The hon. Lady knows, because she follows these matters, that assistance with travel costs can be obtained in certain circumstances.
I was grateful for the hon. Lady's welcome for the proposal, which is a sensible one, because when prisoners leave prison they have to resume their family responsibilities and they are often worried in prison about the break-up of their families. Anything that we can do to ease that problem is for the better.
Mr. John Patten : A wide range of charities and other interested bodies and individuals made helpful comments on the Woodfield report. The Government took account of those comments when preparing the 1989 White Paper and are continuing to do so in preparing forthcoming legislation.
Dr. Goodson-Wickes : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Woodfield report, which addresses the proper administration of charities, has gathered dust for far too long? Does he further agree that recent allegations about misconduct in well-known charities does enormous damage and undermines the confidence and thus the generosity of the British people's charitable giving?
Mr. Patten : We want to sustain charitable giving in this country at its present record level. The British people are very generous, but my hon. Friend is right to say that nothing undermines that generous streak in the British character more than the fact that money is not reaching the right target or the right people or that political agitation is linked to charitable activity.
Column 399Mr. McAllion : Will the Minister confirm that the complaints against Oxfam are focused on its support for the use of sanctions against the apartheid system in South Africa and on its opposition to international support for the murderous Pol Pot who threatens a new holocaust in Cambodia? Why is it too political for charities to put the needs of the poor before self-serving power politics in the west?
Mr. John Patten : Custody time limits have been introduced in stages following the successful pilot project in 1986. I am glad to announce today that we shall extend them by the end of this year throughout England and Wales.
Mr. Favell : That is very good news. My right hon. Friend may know that I am a lawyer. Within the privacy of these four walls I should like to let him into a lawyer's secret. No lawyer, whether he is a judge, a magistrates court clerk, a solicitor or a barrister, does today what can conveniently be put off until tomorrow. If they say that they cannot get the job done now, we should not believe them.
Mr. Stevens : I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement. Does he agree that long periods of custody are undesirable not only because they cause uncertainty and difficulty for prisoners and their families, but because holding people on remand wastes prison service resources? There is also the cost of transferring prisoners between the prisons and the courts.
Mr. Patten : My hon. Friend is entirely right. There is a great deal happening in addition to what I have announced. For example, 100 new bail information schemes and 1,000 new bail hostel places will come into being in the next year or so. My hon. Friend is right to imply that we should examine the technology and the economic feasibility of creating direct links between magistrates courts and remand centres in order to speed up remand hearings.
Mr. Steinberg : Is the Minister aware that at the beginning of the week a prisoner from Frankland prison in my constituency, who is serving 14 years for armed robbery and for holding a prison officer hostage, was given a free pass for a private operation in a London hospital? He was allowed to go unescorted and has absconded. Will the Minister set up an inquiry to see what happened in that case and to ensure that it cannot happen again, because many of my constituents are deeply worried about it?
Mr. Patten : I understand and share the fears of the hon. Gentleman's constituents. I am advised by the Minister of State, Home Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold), who is responsible for prison issues, that we are aware of the case and that an investigation is under way. I shall make entirely sure by letter that the hon. Gentleman is kept up to date with the progress of that inquiry.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mrs. Angela Rumbold) : Since my reply on 25 April to a question from the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright), up to 4 June we had received some 150 further written representations broadly in favour of greater Sunday trading and some 130 against.
Mr. Cran : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the present situation is absolutely anarchical and makes it quite impossible for local authorities such as mine, the borough of Beverley, to enforce the law, whatever it may be at the moment? That being so, will my right hon. Friend tell the House when proposals will be brought forward for reform, bearing in mind that no one wishes the issue to be rushed?
Mr. Rumbold : I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I am sure that he is aware that I am conducting consultations with all the interested parties in the hope that it will be possible to find some measure of agreement between them and to bring proposals before the House. The measures that are brought forward will have to be agreed, workable and enforceable, and carry general support.
Rev. Martin Smyth : Does the Minister agree that part of the problem is that there are those who will not enforce the law, which leads to further discrediting of it? Is the right hon. Lady aware that many of us throughout the country want to maintain the peace and quietness of our Sabbath day?
Mrs. Rumbold : The Government take the view that the law should be enforced and we stand four square behind those who enforce it. There are many who prefer Sunday to be at least a different and special day.