Home Page

Column 379

House of Commons

Thursday 5 December 1991

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


King's Cross Railways Bill

(By Order)

Order for consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered on Thursday 12 December.

Oral Answers to Questions


South Yorkshire Police

1. Sir Patrick Duffy : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on current manning levels in the South Yorkshire police.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, (Mr. Peter Lloyd) : At the end of September there were 2,998 officerin the South Yorkshire police--an increase of 438 officers or 17 per cent. since 1979. Eighteen additional police posts were approved with effect from 1 October 1991 and a further 15 posts from 1 April 1992.

Sir Patrick Duffy : Is the Minister aware that 21 years of casework in Attercliffe have left me wholly admiring of, and grateful to, the South Yorkshire police? I am confident that they could make the streets of South Yorkshire safer if they could expand their manpower levels just that little bit more, but within the scope of the present standard spending assessment. Will he ask his right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for the Environment to bring that home to the support services and the district decision-takers in South Yorkshire and to urge on them the prior claim of South Yorkshire police at this time?

Mr. Lloyd : I agree that the South Yorkshire police have a good record. Crime is lower in their area than it is nationally and the clear-up rate is higher. The hon. Gentleman asked me about future numbers. South Yorkshire police have asked for 17 posts for the coming year ; they have been given 16. The SSA is up by 17.4 per cent., which enables them to increase the precept by 15 per cent. They should have no difficulty in paying for those extra officers.

Column 380

Northumbria Police Authority

2. Mr. Clelland : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he next expects to meet the chairman of Northumbria police authority to discuss resources in the area.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Kenneth Baker) : I met the chairman of Northumbria police authority on 1 November when I visited Tyneside. Northumbria has received a generous increase in standard spending assessment of 17.3 per cent. In addition, it will be eligible for up to £3.66 million under the urban crime fund initiative that I announced on 26 November. Both the SSA increase and the experimental urban crime fund demonstrate clearly the Government's continuing commitment to a high level of police funding. The police authority has been facing serious difficulty in meeting the additional costs arising from the disturbances in Tyneside in September, so I am pleased to announce today that the Government will make a special payment towards those costs, at a rate of 95 per cent.

Mr. Clelland : That news will come as a welcome relief to the authority, which has been waiting for more than three months for a reply from the Home Secretary. Will he confirm that the 5 per cent. that the authority must now find from its budget is on top of the £4 million shortfall and the 116-officer shortfall in an area with rising crime? When will he get together with the Secretary of State for the Environment to put an end to the nonsense of capping, which is squeezing resources at a time of rapidly rising crime?

Mr. Baker : I do not agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said. I ask him to reflect on my answer. The increase this year in the Northumbria police SSA is 17 per cent. In addition, there is the experimental urban crime fund, from which Northumbria can benefit by £3.66 million. The 95 per cent. figure is the highest level that we have granted for any riot expenditure, and could involve a sum of between £5 million and £7 million, depending on the claims. That is a very generous, but correctly generous, settlement for Northumbria.

Mr. Devlin : I am sure that the people of Northumbria will welcome the excellent news that my right hon. Friend has given the House. Will he reflect on the fact that one of the most unpleasant duties of the Northumbria police is having to drag the mangled bodies of motorists from cars that have gone into ditches alongside the A1 while on their way to Scotland? The sooner that that road undergoes a major programme of improvement, with it possibly increased to motorway status, the better. Will he make the appropriate representations to his colleagues at the Department of Transport?

Mr. Baker : That question goes rather wide of the main question. I have driven along that road to Scotland many times and I know that beyond my hon. Friend's constituency it is not so good. I will draw my hon. Friend's suggestions to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

Mr. Sheerman : Can I put the Home Secretary back on the right road by telling him that the reason why morale in the Northumbria police force is low and why chief constables generally despair is not because the right hon. Gentleman suddenly makes a generous offer of help in a

Column 381

crisis, but because all chief constables, including the new chief constable of Northumbria, want consistency of funding so that they can be sure that they will get the officers and resources they require over a number of years ? This year it has been impossible to plan policing in Northumbria because the force has 112 fewer officers than last year. That is not the way to run a police force, and that is why police morale is low. When will the right hon. Gentleman give that consistency and leadership to the police and back them for a change?

Mr. Baker : I remind the hon. Gentleman that since we have been in office there has been an increase of 693 officers in Northumbria's police strength. I approved an additional 26 posts from 1 October of this year, with a further 27 from 1 April of next year. The hon. Gentleman talks of the need for consistency, but the only consistency under Labour was in cutting the numbers of police--and at that time the hon. Gentleman was a member of the Cabinet.

Mr. Beith : Will the Home Secretary bear in mind that the rural areas of Northumberland have been especially difficult to police while the urban areas have been under great pressure and there has been a shortage of officers? Will he encourage the chief constable in the task that he has set himself of increasing the number of officers available for normal duties within the community?

Mr. Baker : I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman. There is a very high proportion of police officers on the beat, although it varies from force to force. I should like about 80 per cent. of a force to be on the beat. I have spoken to the new chief constable of Northumbria and he is a most impressive officer. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has met him. We discussed the problems of policing rural Northumbria as well as the towns and cities. The hon. Gentleman's points are well made and I am sure that he will draw them to the attention of the chief constable.

Passport Agency

3. Mr. Robert B. Jones : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what measures will be taken by the United Kingdom Passport Agency to raise its standards of service.

Mr. Peter Lloyd : The Passport Agency has been very successful this year in speeding up the processing of passport applications. It has recently completed a major computerisation programme which will enable it to improve its service to the customer still further.

Mr. Jones : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. The Passport Agency deserves our congratulations on the improvements that it has already achieved. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is time for the public to play their part? As the vast majority of applications occur in the same peak period, should not people try to spread them so that there is not the same concentration? To that end, would it be a good idea to impose a surcharge on passport applications in the peak period and give a discount in off-peak periods, so providing an incentive?

Mr. Lloyd : My hon. Friend is right to say that there has been an enormous improvement. The average turnround for a passport application in the last year has been six

Column 382

working days. I agree that many applications come in the holiday period and that that makes it difficult to maintain that average. The Passport Agency is using advertisements to suggest that people renew their passports at other times of the year. It is for the agency to consider whether it would be sensible to alter the price for a passport depending on the time of year and then to make any recommendations to the Home Office.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell : Will the Minister consider establishing a passport office in the north-east, because at present people must travel to Liverpool or Glasgow to find the nearest office?

Mr. Lloyd : The hon. Gentleman might suggest that his constituents make their applications by post, as most other people do. It is an efficient service and it causes the customer much less trouble.

Rev. Ian Paisley : Does the Minister agree that his decision to retain the passport office in Belfast was a good one? He made that decision having listened to representations from hon. Members from Northern Ireland. Will he commend the Belfast office for being at the top of the league of all passport offices for getting passports out quickly for the people of Northern Ireland?

Mr. Lloyd : We listened to the representations of hon. Members from Northern Ireland, but, more particularly, we observed the great efficiency of the passport office. We not merely retained it but expanded it, and it has fully justified our confidence. I pay tribute to it.

Car Thefts

4. Mr. Battle : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent representations he has received about his proposal to introduce a Bill to address problems of youngsters under 17 years stealing cars.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten) : My right hon. Friend introduced a Bill last week to strengthen the law against those who criminally take other people's vehicles. We had numerous written and oral representations from hon. and right hon. Members and from members of the public. I am happy to report that they were all in support of an early change in the law.

Mr. Battle : I welcome the Bill, but will the Minister take seriously the views of the chief constable of West Yorkshire, whose recent report on vehicle theft--which has reached 85 per cent. in Leeds and 53 per cent. in West Yorkshire--stresses the need for preventive measures to identify potential offenders at an early stage, rather than wait for tragedies to occur? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of those measures could be a Government publicity campaign to warn youngsters that car stealing is as dangerous as alcohol or drug abuse?

Mr. Patten : I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is in favour of more Government publicity campaigns and I shall listen to his advice on that. I have not read the report of the chief constable of West Yorkshire, but I shall do so. Yesterday I was in Salford in the metropolitan police area and I went to a crime prevention scheme that endeavours to divert youngsters from continuing with or getting into car crime. It is an excellent scheme and such schemes should be developed more generally.

Column 383

Mr. Lawrence : Does my right hon. Friend agree that if more people locked their cars fewer 17-year-olds would get into them? If car manufacturers treated alarm systems as standard, there would be even fewer. Will the Government look into a way to encourage car manufacturers to install alarm systems as standard equipment?

Mr. Patten : I agree with my hon. and learned Friend. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I shall see British car manufacturers again in the near future to urge them speedily to incorporate immobilisation devices into cars. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is doing all that he can within Europe to achieve the speedy adoption of a Europewide directive, on which Great Britain has been in the lead, to get our Western European car manufacturing colleagues to do exactly the same.

Mr. Trimble : I welcome the Government's moves in that matter. Does the Minister agree that, although the problem in English cities is bad--I do not wish to underplay the tragedies that have occurred there--the problem in Northern Ireland, especially in West Belfast, is much worse? Many more tragic and fatal accidents have occurred there. Should not the Government act with similar urgency to remedy that situation?

Mr. Patten : I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is considering whether to change the law in Northern Ireland to meet the ends to which the hon. Gentleman referred. While noting that what the hon. Gentleman says about west Belfast is right, we should also note that, setting terrorism aside, Northern Ireland is the most law-abiding part of the United Kingdom. Long may it remain so.

Sir Michael Neubert : If my right hon. Friend is looking for ways to cut down car crime, will he have a word with the producers of "Inspector Morse". That police officer habitually, at the end of each episode, parks his red Jaguar unlocked and then strolls off--not into the sunset but into the nearest pub. What sort of an example is that ?

Mr. Patten : I am happy to inform my hon. Friend that that excellent series is filmed in my constituency. However, Inspector Morse's behaviour in not locking his car and in drinking heavily before driving is utterly disgraceful.

Miss Lestor : I agree with what the Minister said. May I add that the promotion of fast cars and reckless driving by the media is not good for the youngsters attracted by such aspects ? I refer the Minister to his reference earlier to a scheme in Salford, where my constituency is. Surveys have shown that of 4,500 youngsters on diversion schemes to stop them stealing cars, only about 100 have reoffended. Bearing in mind their success, does the Minister support such schemes, as many of us do, and will resources be forthcoming to finance them and make them viable ?

Mr. Patten : On the hon. Lady's first point, it is disappointing that car manufacturers advertise maximum speeds and acceleration more than security devices. In a period when car crime is a problem, I hope that manufacturers will begin to advertise cars using better security as a selling point.

On the hon. Lady's second point, yes, I entirely support such schemes. They are an important part of our twin-track approach so that we not only come down hard on offenders who commit the crime of taking vehicles, but

Column 384

we do all we can to prevent youngsters from offending. More resources will be made available through the safer cities scheme, which is funded by the Home Office.

Mr. Marlow : Can we use a bit of common sense on this vexed problem ? Is it not true that giving 17-year-olds fines does not work and sending them to prison is counterproductive ? Could we arrange for such offenders to have a sound thrashing ? Will my right hon. Friend do something about it ?-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman has every right to express his views.

Mr. Patten : As you know, Mr. Speaker, I often turn to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) for common sense advice. However, I deplore the way in which he is becoming increasingly moderate. This week he urges a sound thrashing ; last month he recommended immediate castration.

Immigration and Nationality

5. Mr. Maclennan : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what discussions he has held recently with Ministers in European Community countries about immigration and nationality questions.

Mr. Kenneth Baker : I attended meetings of European Community Ministers concerned with immigration matters at Berlin on 30 and 31 October, and at The Hague on 20 November. The Minister of State--my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten)--attended a meeting on my behalf at The Hague on 2 and 3 December this year. In addition, I have had a number of informal bilateral discussions with European Community colleagues.

Mr. Maclennan : As those matters are clearly occupying the time of Ministers in the European Community, and as interest in the issue is bound to deepen with the removal of internal border controls, does the Home Secretary accept the proposed draft treaty article A arrangements recognising the common interest of Community countries in such matters? Does he accept that there should be Community competence in that sphere? What will be the Commission's role in it in future?

Mr. Baker : The draft treaty on immigration, which is to be discussed at Maastricht next week, contains a series of proposals starting with article A. That proposes that immigration and asylum matters, together with certain police, fraud and drugs issues, should not come under the competence of the treaty of Rome, but should be dealt with on an intergovernmental basis--a view with which the Government completely agree. Article K allows for those matters to fall within the competence of the treaty only after a double lock--first, the unanimity of Ministers, and secondly, the specific approval of the House. The Government support that position and do not believe that immigration and asylum matters should fall within the competence of the treaty of Rome.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes : Does my right hon. Friend agree that while Jean-Marie Le Pen is legally entitled to come to this country, his obnoxious views on racism, immigration and nationality mean that he is simply not welcome in this country? His racist views will be rejected by all the people in this country regardless of party. Does

Column 385

my right hon. Friend share my view that those people who may wish to have a dialogue with Mr. Le Pen are simply selling short their country and their countrymen? Will my right hon. Friend say how unwelcome Mr. Le Pen and his views are?

Mr. Baker : I am sure that Mr. Le Pen's views are racially and politically unacceptable. I was asked as Home Secretary to consider whether I should ban his entry. I decided not to do so. I see that a former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), agrees with that decision. I think that it is correct. Apart from anything else, Mr. Le Pen is a Member of the European Parliament. However, I want to make it clear that, by allowing him to come to Britain, neither I nor any Conservative Member has any agreement whatever with the racialist views that he is peddling, and I am sure that that is true of Opposition Members as well.

Mr. Winnick : On reflection, does the Home Secretary consider that if someone is due to come to Britain with the sole purpose of inciting race hatred there is no reason why he should be allowed in, and that Le Pen should have been excluded? I welcome the view of the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) that Le Pen--a person whose only claim to fame is the manner in which in France he has agitated to poison race relations and incite hatred--is completely unwelcome in Britain and should not have been allowed in. Is it true that Le Pen is to meet a number of Tory Members and, if so, will the Home Secretary make it clear that that would be wrong?

Mr. Baker : The best way of dealing with poisonous views is to expose and destroy them, and that is what free speech does. Le Pen will have few converts in Britain. The views that he is peddling in France exploit the anxieties of many people in a ruthless and unacceptable way. We want none of his ideas here and I am sure that they will not become established.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : Will my right hon. Friend consider the remarks of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), who suggested that we were moving towards a cross-border liberalisation and liberation? Can my right hon. Friend explain why the hon. Gentleman's party suggests that we should increase the differences between those of us who live north and south of the border in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Baker : If these matters were to pass into European competence in the way that the Liberal Democrats want, there would be an inevitable weakening of our controls and our frontier controls, which I am not prepared to accept. We need greater co-operation in Europe in these matters, because immigration and asylum flows are a major political concern, as we have just noted from the exchanges about Le Pen and the way in which people are feeding upon his visit. However, that comes best through the co-operation of European countries rather than through competence under the European treaty.

Mr. Darling : I welcome what the Home Secretary said about Le Pen's visit to Britain, but will he go a little further and dissociate himself from those of his colleagues who are seeking to meet that man?

Mr. Baker : I have no information on who is meeting Le Pen. I have made my views clear--[ Hon. Members :-- "Come on."] I do not know who is meeting Le Pen and I

Column 386

have made my views clear. I regard Le Pen's views as totally and utterly unacceptable, and I have made that clear.

Neighbourhood Watch

6. Mr. Lee : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many neighbourhood watch schemes are now in place.

Mr. John Patten : At the end of December 1990 there were estimated to be more than 92,000 neighbourhood watch schemes in England and Wales, covering nearly 5 million households. They are multiplying fast.

Mr. Lee : I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be pleased to know that my Pendle constituency has 96 of these excellent neighbourhood watch schemes involving almost 20,500 households. Does he agree that not only do those excellent schemes make a positive contribution towards crime prevention, but they build bridges between the police and the community?

Mr. Patten : As my hon. Friend says, the schemes are valuable in building bridges between the police and the community. I was particularly interested to note that in the Whitefield area of Nelson in my hon. Friend's constituency, largely occupied by ethnic minority households, a neighbourhood watch scheme has recently been set up and is helping to build bridges between the ethnic minority residents and the police.

Mr. Vaz : I, too, welcome the growth of the neighbourhood watch schemes. However, does the Minister realise that the schemes place a great burden on individual residents in a particular area and that they depend on the co-operation of the police? In Leicestershire, the police are spending a great deal of their valuable time assisting neighbourhood watch schemes. What additional resources can be provided to local police forces in order to make the schemes even more efficient than they are?

Mr. Patten : Neighbourhood watch schemes are by their nature genuine voluntary organisations, although they receive Government support, in that substantial resources are devoted to them through the funding of the police, who themselves assist neighbourhood watch schemes.

While I am on my feet, perhaps I may apologise for referring in an earlier answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North when I meant my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens), who made the suggestion.

Mr. Malins : Neighbourhood watch schemes are very strong in my constituency and are a good example of the police and public working together in helping to beat crime. In the Croydon area, where neighbourhood watch schemes are strong, burglaries are down. Does not that show that public co-operation and awareness are major factors in reducing crime in our cities?

Mr. Patten : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That pattern is the same whether one is speaking of reasonably affluent, suburban Croydon, the outer estates of Luton, or the council house areas of Wythenshawe. Where there is sustained development of neighbourhood watch schemes, there is a sustained decrease in the number of burglaries.

Column 387

Mr. Randall : Does the Minister agree that not only crime but anti-social behaviour are causing immense alarm and distress throughout almost all of Britain? Does he accept that the overall effectiveness of the various schemes and agencies that contribute to crime prevention, including neighbourhood watch, is seriously impaired by the lack of co-ordination between them? Will he consider encouraging local authorities to formulate local strategies aimed at preventing crime and anti-social behaviour which are based on far greater co-ordination between the various agencies involved?

Mr. Patten : We are consulting further on a recent report on those issues. Suffice it to say that no one owns neighbourhood watch schemes, except those who belong to them and who have helped to make them a success. The schemes are not in the ownership of the police, local authorities, any political party or any business. They are in the ownership of their communities, which we should support in their endeavours--not try to take over something that they started only in 1982, when the first neighbourhood watch began. There are now 92,000 such schemes, entirely due to the endeavours of individual active citizens and communities.

Mr. Dunn : Will my right hon. Friend take time today to congratulate those who are running successful neighbourhood watch schemes in Dartford? Does he agree that neighbourhood watches can be deemed only an aid to proper policing, in terms of numbers and police efficiency? Will my right hon. Friend intervene with the chairman of Kent police authority to ensure that Dartford has its fair share of the new allocation of extra manpower for the county of Kent?

Mr. Patten : I will certainly consult my noble Friend Earl Ferrers, who is directly responsible for those matters, and will draw my hon. Friend's remarks to his attention. The additional 1,000 police recently announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be largely devoted to beat policing. My right hon. Friend has rightly ensured that 80 out of every 100 additional officers provided will go straight back on the beat, in Dartford and elsewhere.

Derek Bentley

7. Mr. Simon Hughes : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will now announce the results of his consideration of the case for the posthumous pardon of Derek Bentley.

Mr. Kenneth Baker : The representations made on behalf of Mr. Derek Bentley are still under consideration. I have asked the police to make inquiries and when I have the results of those inquiries I will be in a position to decide whether any action on my part is appropriate.

Mr. Hughes : The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the case for pardoning Derek Bentley was supported by his trial jury, which recommended mercy in 1952 ; by the Lord Chief Justice of the day ; by the trial judge, who said subsequently that he believed that Bentley would not hang ; a subsequent Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham ; by many members of another place ; by many right hon. and hon. Members of this House--nearly one third of whom signed a recent early-day motion ; and by millions of our fellow citizens. On the face of it, the case for a pardon is

Column 388

overwhelming. Will the Home Secretary expedite his consideration and either grant a posthumous pardon or at least instigate a public inquiry, so that what is regarded as the greatest injustice of our post-war criminal justice system left unremedied will be put right before the last member of the Bentley family dies without knowing the result?

Mr. Baker : I know of the hon. Gentleman's interest in and concern about this ; they are shared by many others. The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis has been asked to look at the allegations and to arrange for certain persons who are said to be able to shed new light on the case to be interviewed. When I get his report, I shall, of course, examine it carefully and examine the full details of the case. Until I get that report, I will not get immersed in the details. I think it is right for me to receive the report and then to examine it.

Mr. Alexander : Will my right hon. Friend, on the other hand, bear in mind the fact that when Bentley was apprehended and before PC Miles was shot, Bentley said to the police :

"He's got a gun and it's loaded"?

Will he bear in mind the fact that at no time did Bentley discourage Craig verbally from firing that gun, that he brought a 16-year-old accomplice, armed, to commit a robbery and that the Lord Chief Justice had every justification for what he did?

Mr. Baker : These are the sorts of considerations that I shall have to take into account. I am quite clear that I shall have to go into the evidence very carefully when the police report is available to me. I hear what my hon. Friend says, as I hear all representations on this matter.

Mr. Cryer : Will the Home Secretary acknowledge that fresh evidence was presented to him in the summer and that his review is long overdue? Will he acknowledge that this is an outrageous case of injustice? Derek Bentley could not have taken anybody anywhere ; he could barely get himself around. He had a mental age of 11, although in body he was 19, and evidence of his mental incapacity was never produced during the trial. In view of that, will the Home Secretary make sure that he examines the evidence as rapidly as possible? Will he also acknowledge the sterling campaign carried out by the sister of Derek Bentley, Iris Bentley, in making sure that that grave injustice and wrong is righted as rapidly as possible?

Mr. Baker : No one could accuse me of delaying consideration of allegations of miscarriage of justice when they have been presented to me. I have dealt with them very promptly, as, indeed, a Home Secretary should. I am awaiting further analysis of the evidence and I assure the hon. Gentleman that, when I get it, I will examine the whole case again.


8. Mr. Paice : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received regarding increases in the incidence of ram-raiding.

Mr. John Patten : I have received representations from the London and Provincial Antique Dealers Association and from Sir Stanley Bailey, the former chief constable of Northumbria police.

Column 389

Mr. Paice : Despite the short list that my right hon. Friend read out, he will be aware that the problem of ram- raiding is increasing substantially in parts of the country. The difficulty with that type of crime is that, because of the speed with which it is executed, burglar alarms and security systems are relatively ineffective. The only way to protect property is by the construction of bollards and barriers, but that requires the consent of landlords and planning authorities. Will my right hon. Friend do all that he can to open a dialogue with representatives of landlords and planning authorities so that they can encourage and enable retailers to erect something to protect their property?

Mr. Patten : That is a very constructive suggestion and I will certainly discuss it with my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning. I know that in some parts of the country, notably in the north- east, one or two local authorities have made it rather difficult for protective street furniture to be erected along the sides of roads where there has been ram-raiding. In my hon. Friend's own area in Cambridgeshire there have been no recent incidents. There have been many more incidents in the north-east, in particular, and that is why the recent transfer of Mr. J. A. Stevens from being deputy chief constable of Cambridgeshire will doubtless be welcomed in Northumbria. Cambridgeshire's loss is Northumbria's gain.

Mr. Bermingham : Does the Minister agree that the next time one of these offenders comes before the courts for sentencing, if the sentence does not contain a deterrent element, bearing in mind the increase in this type of crime, it would be wise for the Home Office to seek the guidance of the Attorney-General so that the sentence can be referred to the Court of Appeal, which could then lay down a guideline sentence for this type of crime which contains a deterrent element?

Mr. Patten : Again, I welcome the hon. Gentleman's constructive suggestion. I shall draw his views to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. The decision on whether to lay down guideline sentences is for the Lord Chief Justice, the deputy chief justice and others in the Appeal Court, not for me.

Mr. Janman : Although I agree with the sensible suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice), does my right hon. Friend agree that we must try to prevent these crimes from happening and that the best way to do that is for him to instruct magistrates courts throughout the country to pass very harsh sentences on those who are convicted of this outrageous abuse of private property?

Mr. Patten : I agree entirely that this is an outrageous invasion of private property, but I am sure that the House would not want Ministers to be able to instruct the judiciary to do anything, because we value its independence. A range of serious and severe penalties is available for those who are convicted of ram-raiding--for example, if robbery is involved, up to life imprisonment.

Column 390

West Yorkshire Police

9. Mrs. Mahon : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the allocation of police officers to West Yorkshire.

Mr. Peter Lloyd : Fourteen additional police posts were approved with effect from 1 October 1991, providing for an establishment of 5, 295. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced on 28 November that he had not approved the police authority's application for 79 additional police posts in 1992-93.

Mrs. Mahon : The victims of crime in West Yorkshire will not be satisfied with that answer. The Minister must be aware that, because of the threat of poll tax capping, by April 1992 we will have lost 200 police personnel on the beat and 200 civilian personnel. As the Government, with their policies of dividing society, have been responsible for the breakdown in law and order, cannot we at least expect bobbies back on the beat to protect us?

Mr. Lloyd : I do not accept that capping, or the threat of capping, is responsible for West Yorkshire's inability to recruit its full establishment. I think that the hon. Lady will find the answer in Her Majesty's inspector of constabulary report for 1991, which notes that

"West Yorkshire has one of the highest levels of expenditure per head of any police authority. If it could bring its

cost-effectiveness nearer the average, it could recruit up to the establishment that the Home Secretary has recommended."

The hon. Lady mentioned policemen on the beat. West Yorkshire has a smaller percentage of its force on the beat, which no doubt is partly due to its slow pace in the civilianisation of its various police activities.

Mr. Donald Thompson : Is my hon. Friend aware that the chief constable of the West Riding and one of his policemen wrote to me recently to say that there are no outstanding matters with the Home Office and that they welcome the £3.16 million to fight crime and the refurbishment and establishment of new police stations in Bradford, Leeds and Pontefract? Will my hon. Friend do his best to ensure that constituents and police combine to spend the extra resources wisely?

Mr. Lloyd : I am glad that my hon. Friend mentioned the extra expenditure under the urban crime fund, which is designed to tackle crime in particular areas. West Yorkshire has had the benefit of that. He is right that there are no outstanding issues with the Home Office. The outstanding issue is using the resources that the police authority has effectively.

Next Section

  Home Page