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House of Commons

Thursday 18 June 1992

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]


London Underground (Jubilee) Bill

(By Order) Read a Second time and referred to the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills.

British Railways

(No. 4) Bill-- (By Order)

British Waterways Bill

[Lords] (By Order)

Crossrail Bill

(By Order)

East Coast Main Line (Safety) Bill

(By Order)

Greater Manchester (Light Rapid Transit System) Bill

[Lords] (By Order)

London Underground (Green Park) Bill

(By Order) Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 25 June.

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Oral Answers to Questions



1. Mr. Milburn : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to initiate a review of the law on shotguns.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Wardle) : Controls on shotguns were strengthened under the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988. The firearms consultative committee has a statutory duty to keep the controls of the Firearms Acts under constant review and make proposals to my right hon. and learned Friend as it considers necessary.

Mr. Milburn : Is the Minister aware that the number of shotgun offences in the northern region has more than doubled in the past six years? Is he concerned at the fact that the existing laws allow a shotgun certificate to be obtained without a person either giving good justification or undergoing proper training? Does he believe that it is in the public interest that children as young as 12 are allowed, legally, to hold a shotgun certificate? When will the Minister bring forward proper proposals to protect the public better from lethal weapons?

Mr. Wardle : I am aware of the increase in the number of offences involving weapons. However, it is worth bearing in mind that out of all the recorded incidents in 1990, only 0.2 per cent. involved the use of such weapons. I have seen the hon. Gentleman's early-day motion. Of course, he will understand that I cannot comment on the incident in Darlington because it is under investigation by the Police Complaints Authority. The consultative committee has a statutory duty to keep the law under constant review. In the debates we had before the enactment of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, consideration was given to placing shotguns under section 1 control. It was decided not to do that and that controls were best left in the hands of the police. The chief officer of a police force is empowered to withhold a licence if he believes that the public will be at risk or that the person applying for a certificate is unsuitable. The controls have been strengthened.

Identity Cards

2. Sir John Hunt : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what further consideration has been given to the introduction of identity cards ; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Kenneth Clarke) : I am not at present persuaded of the case for a national identity card system.

Sir John Hunt : My right hon. and learned Friend's reply is a bit disappointing. Is he aware that there is growing support in the country and, I believe, in the House for a system of identity cards as a means of combating fraud, terrorism and illegal immigration? As most of us

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carry a variety of plastic cards at all times, what is the possible objection to another one, with a photograph, which would add to our safety and security?

Mr. Clarke : I said in my reply that I was not at present persuaded, but, obviously, my hon. Friend will try to persuade me in the course of time. The last time the Government considered this issue we were simply not satisfied that there were any great advantages, from the law enforcement point of view, in introducing a national identity card system. That was then the opinion of most people in the police service. However, I am aware that, recently the Association of Chief Police Officers offered a rather different opinion when it gave evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs. I hope that it will send its representations to me and work out in more detail what value it thinks such a system might have for law enforcement. At the moment, I do not see that case.

Mr. Winnick : Is the Home Secretary aware that Labour Members are certainly not persuaded that there is any justification for such a scheme? It would be extremely unfortunate if in peacetime, despite terrorism, identity cards were reintroduced in this country. Some of us might consider that that is another continental idea that we can well do without in Britain.

Mr. Clarke : Countries on the continent are divided on the issue. Eight European Community countries have identity cards and four do not. The bulk of people in Britain are prepared to support anything that helps the police and other authorities in their proper work of law enforcement and detecting crime. We must be persuaded that identity cards would be of substantial help to them and that they would be used in a way that did not damage relationships between the police and any section of the community.

Mr. James Hill : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the first point that the police must establish is identification? What better way is there to make that identification than through an identity card with a photograph, and even a fingerprint, which would enable us to go back to the days when people were identifiable. That would surely help the police.

Mr. Clarke : All of us are used to having to produce some modest proof of identification on a number of occasions. Most people do not object to producing their driving licences or credit cards for someone who is entitled to ask to see them. A national identity card scheme would have to be much more secure, and a cost and difficulties would be involved in issuing identity cards. The police would have to put a case forward for saying that there was a sufficient problem in identifying people to make it necessary to go to those lengths.

Mr. Darling : Does the Home Secretary accept that a compulsory requirement to carry identity cards would be the subject of deep resentment for many people? Has he had any discussions with his European counterparts about the possibility of compulsory ID cards being introduced in the European Community after the removal of frontiers in continental Europe? I appreciate that we shall maintain our frontiers--the right hon. and learned Gentleman has our support--but what is the position on the carrying of identity cards by British citizens in this country and in continental Europe?

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Mr. Clarke : As usual, the House is accurately representing the range of views on whether people would object to carrying identity cards in this country. In the first place, it all depends on whether anybody can make a satisfactory case for carrying them from a law enforcement point of view. We shall then look at the objections that might arise.

There is no pressure on us to introduce a European-wide identity card and no such suggestion is coming from our partners in the Community. I have explained to our partners that, from the point of view of immigration control, we believe that we are entitled to continue to rely on our present system of frontier controls, and that is what we shall do.

Mr. Ashby : My right hon. and learned Friend must look at the reality of the situation. When internal frontiers disappear, as undoubtedly they will, a form of smart identity card will have to be introduced. Is this not the time to start planning for that? We should be going ahead with such a scheme for that, if for no other, reason.

Mr. Clarke : We stand ready to sign an external frontiers convention when the Spanish withdraw their objections to one of its provisions. But that will not provide the European Community with some impregnable external frontier which will obviate the need for internal controls from the point of view of illegal immigration, terrorism, drugs and other matters. We are satisfied that we are entitled, under our treaty obligations, to retain our present system of frontier controls and that is what we propose to do. We are not looking at identity cards in that context at this time.

Young Offenders

3. Miss Lestor : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will list the penal institutions for young offenders which Home Office Ministers have visited in the last 12 months.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Peter Lloyd) : The young offender institutions visited in the last 12 months were Portland, New Hall, Finnamore Wood, Moorland, Northallerton, Feltham, Drake Hall and Huntercombe.

Miss Lestor : Those visits having been made, the hon. Gentleman must be aware of the enormous concern that is felt by specialist groups and others about the conditions under which some young men are being held, with a lack of educational and recreational facilities and a lack of specialist psychiatric treatment. Is he aware that if we are to avoid more suicides and attempted suicides among people at a very vulnerable age, more measures must be taken now to ensure that proper accommodation and facilities are provided, particularly for the very young?

Mr. Lloyd : Much of the accommodation is extremely good, as the hon. Lady would know if she visited some of the establishments. There are, of course, great worries, and Judge Tumim highlighted a number of them in his report. He also said that good work was being done. I am concerned that there should be positive and purposeful activity in all institutions for young offenders. That is the aim of the prison service and that is what the governors of those institutions are dedicated to providing.

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Prison Building

4. Mr. Devlin : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the progress of the prison building programme.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke : Sixteen of the 21 new prisons in the Government's building programme have now opened, providing 8,000 additional places. Within the next 12 months, four of the remaining five are due to open, providing 2,250 places. In addition, this year we shall be spending nearly £200 million on improving the existing prison estate.

Mr. Devlin : I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on that wonderful answer-- [Interruption.] It is in sharp contrast to the 20 per cent. cut in prison building under the last Labour Government. We look forward in Stockton-on-Tees to the imminent opening of Holme House Farm prison. I suggest that the police in Stockton-on-Tees, who have faced a spate of riots among drug gangs on the Ragworth estate, should be given every encouragement to apprehend all those behaving so disagracefully and to ensure that they are thrown into the new prison as soon as possible.

Mr. Clarke : My hon. Friend may certainly congratulate me on my answers in those terms as many times as he wishes. It is true that there has been a spectacular prison building programme during the 1980s, after decades in which the prison service's needs were sadly neglected, which is why we still have so many old and unsatisfactory buildings. The new prison in Stockton opened this year and is a valuable addition to the service. I join my hon. Friend in congratulating the police on their handling of the disorders in Stockton. The disorders began when the police made arrests in an attempt to tackle a drug problem on that estate. I am sure that the police have the support of the vast majority of the inhabitants of the estate in dealing with the trouble caused by those young hooligans coming to the town.

Mr. Maclennan : Will the Home Secretary discontinue the practice-- some people would say the sharp practice--pursued by his predecessor of holding up the publication of Judge Tumim's reports for so long that their criticisms are somewhat blunted? Why has he not accepted the report in respect of the young offenders institution at Feltham, which is a damning indictment?

Mr. Clarke : I refute the suggestion that Ministers have ever deliberately held back Judge Tumim's reports. My predecessor did not do so ; nor have we. Delays have not been the result of ministerial decisions. I welcome Judge Tumim's reports, despite the fact that he is often outspoken in the public interest about the conditions that he finds in prisons. He describes the difficult situation in Feltham, which is being tackled by the prison authorities. Judge Tumim's reports are helpful to us in identifying problems and stimulating the efforts of the governor and his staff to deal with them.

Safer Cities

5. Mr. Waterson : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many areas are now covered by the safer cities programme ; and if he will make a statement.

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The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Michael Jack) : In the current safer cities programme, there are 20 local authority areas selected, on the basis of high crime rates and other factors, from among the 57 urban programme areas in England. We are considering how to implement and expand the programme in the light of achievements to date.

Mr. Waterson : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that that scheme has already notched up some significant successes, with a 40 per cent. cut in burglaries on a Wolverhampton housing estate, a 35 per cent. drop in car crime in a Nottingham car park and a 16 per cent. drop in crime in the centre of Birmingham? Does he agree that that shows that the Government have the policies to combat crime?

Mr. Jack : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his correct statement on some of the notable achievements in those areas in our safer cities programme. I am sure that he will be pleased to learn that Nottingham has been a beneficiary of those achievements. The whole approach that he illuminated for the House falls within the philosophy of the safer cities programme--that of reducing the fear of crime among vulnerable groups such as the elderly, ethnic minorities and particularly women. We shall certainly develop those imaginative initiatives.

Rev. Martin Smyth : Does the Minister accept that there may be people who are not yet aware of the programme? At a recent meeting in south Belfast I discovered that work had been going on but people were unaware of it. Is there not a need for greater publicity and co-ordination of efforts?

Mr. Jack : I am always delighted when hon. Members ask for information, and I can immediately produce a copy of a report dealing with the hon. Gentleman's point. I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman receives a copy of it and that copies are made available for any of his constituents who are interested in the subject.

Car Crime

6. Mrs. Peacock : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what information he has on the contribution made by the insurance industry to car crime prevention.

Mr. Jack : The industry has responded to the problem of car crime in a number of ways, including setting up the motor insurance anti-fraud and theft register. On premium levels, some reductions have been offered where anti-theft equipment has been fitted, but that has generally been limited to new cars. I hope that the industry will do more.

Mrs. Peacock : I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I appreciate that many car crimes involve vehicles that are left open, but many more involve locked vehicles. What is my hon. Friend doing to ensure that motor manufacturers make all vehicles much more secure and to encourage insurance companies to give even bigger discounts to all motorists?

Mr. Jack : I am pleased to be able to tell my hon. Friend that many car manufacturers have woken up to the fact that the installation of security equipment as standard on many models is a major sales feature. As we approach the peak August registration period, my hon. Friend can look

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forward to many advertisements recognising that fact. I am shortly to have meetings with representatives of the Association of British Insurers and shall press them to do more in respect of not only new cars but to the many millions of second-hand cars on which people can fit immobilisers and alarms. I should like the insurance companies to show greater recognition of those suggestions.


7. Mr. Grocott : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is his latest estimate of the prison population.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke : The prison population on Wednesday 17 June 1992 was 46,955.

Mr. Grocott : Can the Home Secretary confirm that the Council of Europe figures clearly show that the prison population in this country is the highest in western Europe and that as many as two thirds of offenders are reconvicted within two years of being sent to prison? Does he think that we have that dreadful record because the British people are uniquely delinquent or does he think, as I do, that the Government are uniquely incompetent when dealing with crime prevention, particularly reoffending?

Mr. Clarke : I am aware of the Council of Europe figures, although I always treat international comparisons with care. It is not the case that the levels of crime--for example, violent crime--in this country are particularly high when compared with other European standards, but they are quite high enough. The public require the Government to provide the courts with a full range of penalties and require people to be committed to prison where the severity of an offence justifies it. We are about to bring into effect the Criminal Justice Act 1991 to give the courts a wider range of effective penalties. The courts may decide to use non-custodial sentences in appropriate cases, where previously they may have given prison sentences.

Sir Ivan Lawrence : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, desirable as it no doubt is to reduce the prison population, it is absurd to expect judges to reduce the prison population by obliging them, under the Criminal Justice Act, to take no account of a man's previous convictions?

Mr. Clarke : The Criminal Justice Act tries to bring greater rationality into sentencing by setting out more clearly the matters that courts should and should not take into consideration. I have no doubt that the courts will continue to use the penalties at their disposal to the fullest effect that they think necessary to protect the public. I am sure that the Criminal Justice Act will not inhibit judges' ability to do so.

Mr. Sheerman : Is it not amazingly complacent for the Home Secretary not even to mention in his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) that, at the end of March, 11 prisons were overcrowded by 50 per cent? There are now almost 2,000 prisoners held in police cells. Is it not the Home Secretary's job to resolve the problem quickly? Will he start talking to judge Stephen Tumim and listening to his recommendations, rather than pursuing the silly policy of privatising prisons?

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Mr. Clarke : I have already welcomed judge Tumim's report. An independent inspector of this kind is an added incentive to raising standards. There is still overcrowding in our prisons, but it has dropped dramatically in the past two or three years. We have somewhat reduced the capacity of our prisons by introducing a programme to get rid of slopping- out by the end of 1994. I believe that the whole House supports that. Five prisons are under construction or have been commissioned ; they will add 3,000 extra places. We are producing more capacity for the prisoners and improving the regime in the prisons. We have quite a long way to go, but there has been a spectacular improvement in the past two or three years.

Vehicle Thefts

8. Mr. Streeter : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if his Department is including motor cycle thefts and business vehicle thefts in its plans to prevent crime.

Mr. Jack : I can confirm that both motor cycles and business vehicles are included in our overall strategy to prevent vehicle crime.

Mr. Streeter : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's reply. Is he aware that the increase in the theft of motor cycles in my constituency is a problem taking up a great deal of police time and resources? Does he agree that the main responsibility for the prevention of the theft of motor cycles lies with motor cyclists themselves, by ensuring that they have taken adequate security measures?

Mr. Jack : I have much sympathy with my hon. Friend's problem in his constituency. I hope that he will be pleased to know that we in the Home Office play our part in assisting the process that he has described. In the next edition of "Practical Ways to Crack Crime" we will incorporate a section of advice on motor cycle theft. A motor cycle theft action group has been established throughout the industry to deal with the problem and I attended, under the auspices of the Institute of Motor Cycling, the launch of a new security device. Technology and practical advice are being brought to bear on this important problem.

Prison Conditions

9. Mr. Cox : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he met the chief inspector of prisons to discuss his latest report on prison conditions.

Mr. Peter Lloyd : My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary met the chief inspector for a general discussion on 30 April. I met Judge Tumim on 28 April and again on 7 May, when I attended the inspectorate's training seminar in Eastbourne.

Mr. Cox : I thank the Minister for that reply. He and his right hon. and learned Friend will be in no doubt about the continuing criticism by the chief inspector of our prisons, the conditions in which many inmates are kept and the sad increase in suicides in prison. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that it is obvious from talking to senior prison governors and prison officers that the root problem in our prisons, as today's exchanges have shown, is gross overcrowding? It is

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not building new prisons that will release the tensions and solve the troubles in our prisons. When will this issue be faced up to?

Mr. Lloyd : Having spoken to the chief inspector, I am well aware that he believes that there are many excellent prisons, with good work being done in them. Contrary to what the hon. Gentleman says, the number of suicides has fallen in recent years. Any suicide is one too many, but there are fewer suicides now.

My right hon. and learned Friend referred to the building and refurbishment programmes, which are extensive. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will resist those members of the public who object to the building of new prisons in suitable places--as they are naturally inclined to do.


10. Mrs. Angela Knight : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is his estimate of the proportion of domestic burglaries which do not involve forced entry.

Mr. Jack : The last British crime survey carried out in 1988 showed that 18 per cent. of all burglary victims interviewed said that their homes had not been left secure when they went out. However, the latest data from the Metropolitan police district showed that 29 per cent. of domestic burglaries involved no forced entry.

Mrs. Knight : Is my hon. Friend aware that some of my constituents consider that at least part of the responsibility for rising crime in Derbyshire should be taken by the county council for not funding the police properly? As such a considerable proportion of break-ins are not forced, will my hon. Friend suggest that the public help themselves by locking up properly and by joining neighbourhood watch schemes such as those that operate in Erewash?

Mr. Jack : I hope that at the county council elections the people of Derbyshire will lock the door and throw away the key on Derbyshire county council. We have heard of their misdoings for too long. But in fairness, some members of the Derbyshire police force are making their contribution to solving the problems that my hon. Friend enumerates. I pay tribute to Inspector Rosey Kiddy for her work on neighbourhood watch schemes. I commend to the House an excellent crime prevention newspaper which advertises some of the excellent work that is being done by neighbourhood watch schemes to enable individuals to protect their properties as my hon. Friend suggests.

Mr. Barnes : Will the Minister have a word with the Secretary of State for the Environment to ensure that Derbyshire county council has a decent standard spending assessment so that the services needed can be provided? The Government, not the county council, are responsible for any problems that exist in Derbyshire, which has been acting within the Government's framework.

Mr. Jack : If the hon. Gentleman will convey messages back to Derby about the effective use of resources, particularly spending up to the amount that is available to be spent on the police service, I am sure that his remarks will be listened to by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

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Sunday Trading

11. Mr. John Marshall : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received recently about the operation of the Shops Act 1950.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke : So far this year we have received 149 written representations broadly in favour of more Sunday trading and 819 against.

Mr. Marshall : I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for promising to produce the Government's considered thoughts on the matter by the end of the year. Is he aware that Sunday trading is popular with the majority of shoppers, shopworkers and shopkeepers? Is it not high time that the British people were free to decide whether to shop or not to shop, to work or not to work on a Sunday?

Mr. Clarke : First, I have not promised to produce anything by the end of the year, so my hon. Friend will have to wait to see whether his thanks are premature. We are committed to bringing proposals to the House once the law has been made clear by the European Court of Justice for whose judgment we are still waiting. Then we shall obviously have to consider what to do to produce a solution that the House finds acceptable for the future. Meanwhile, I agree with my hon. Friend. Sunday shopping seems extremely popular with my constituents and is certainly not giving rise to any protests from anybody in my part of the world.

Mr. Ray Powell : The Secretary of State may not have promised to prepare anything before the end of the year, but I have prepared, with the Keep Sunday Special campaign, a Bill to change the law on Sunday trading. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman look at the Bill and give it the Government's support? It contains measures that were accepted on both sides of the House. On 22 January when I produced a similar Bill, 224 hon. Members voted in favour of it--

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman knows better than to test my patience in that way. He should put his question.

Mr. Ray Powell : I do not wish to test your patience, Madam Speaker, but--

Madam Speaker : Order. I was not giving the hon. Gentleman pause for a second breath.

Mr. Clarke : We are awaiting the judgment of the European Court of Justice on the Shops Act 1950 to see whether that can still be enforced. It certainly seems to be the case that no one wants the Shops Act 1950 still to be in force and people are proposing variations upon it in all directions. By the time we reach the hon. Gentleman's Bill, the position will be clearer and no doubt we shall debate the matter then. But I shall be surprised if there is any proposition which has only four opponents in the House.

Mr. Cormack : Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that there is a great deal of sympathy for the Bill being introduced by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell)? Will he ensure that there is a proper free vote on that Bill when it comes before the House?

Mr. Clarke : As I have said, we have not yet committed ourselves to introducing any measure of our own. We have

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therefore not yet taken a decision on the handling of the hon. Gentleman's Bill. However, I appreciate that views on the issue run across party lines and that strong views are held on both sides of the House. A feature of the proposed reform is that it seeks to distinguish between one type of goods and another, one type of shop and another and one type of hour of day and another. All those solutions are difficult to envisage in practice, but we shall consider them all once we have the judgment of the European Court of Justice and are clear about the present legal position.

Mr. Randall : Is the Home Secretary aware that Government incompetence has resulted in Dewhurst's having to announce the closure of 600 of its high street shops--one third of its network--because of illegal competition from certain super-stores? That has meant a serious loss of consumer choice and of jobs. As we can now expect an early decision from the European Court about the state of the Shops Act 1950, will the Home Secretary tell the House whether he is committed to introducing legislation as a matter of urgency after the decision has been announced, or whether he is going to connive with the law breakers like his predecessors?

Mr. Clarke : The Government presented a Bill that would have enabled us to reform Sunday trading. I spoke in favour of that Bill on Second Reading and voted for it, but the last Parliament threw it out on Second Reading and left the House unable to do anything about the existing state of the law. The House must address the issue and reach some clear conclusion. No one is breaking the law, because the House of Lords has decided that it is not clear what the law is. That is why the matter has been referred to the European Court of Justice ; when we have a decision from the court, we shall know the basis on which we are starting.

I do not accept that any company has been closed down by the impact of Sunday trading. If the Labour party's only contribution is to undertake to protect Dewhurst from competition, I do not think that that is a very good starting point. What we need is an accepted law on Sunday trading, within which all retailers can compete on level terms.

Mr. Higgins : Should not the principle of subsidiarity apply in this case?

Mr. Clarke : Our national Parliament has not made a tremendous success of getting the law right in this regard. Of all the legislation passed by the House, the Shops Act 1950 lends itself to least defence, and we all now want to change it.

Our European commitment extends simply to ensuring that national laws do not place any impediments in the way of free trade within the Community. This country is strongly in favour of that. We shall wait to see whether the European Court decides that it extends to the Shops Act ; there is a real possibility that it will say that this is a matter for the House of Commons to decide. If it says that, we shall face up to all the arguments that have just been presented.

Walton Gaol

12. Mr. Kilfoyle : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many prisoners are currently held in Walton gaol.

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Mr. Peter Lloyd : Yesterday, 1,205 prisoners were being held in Her Majesty's prison, Liverpool.

Mr. Kilfoyle : Given that the prison is the largest of its kind in the country, and given the close proximity of other penal institutions across north Merseyside, how can the Minister justify proposals to build another prison a mile away at Fazakerley in my constituency, and to introduce prison ships on the River Mersey? Does he not understand that the recommendations of the Woolf report on prisons in the community did not mean that all the prisons should be built in my area?

Mr. Lloyd : The hon. Gentleman is wrong. He has referred to other establishments. Certainly, there is an assessment centre for disturbed juveniles in the area, but that belongs to the local authority. There is a secure psychiatric hospital at Ashworth ; that belongs to the national health service. Neither of those establishments belong to the prison service.

The prison at Walton is overcrowded. We do not believe in keeping prisoners in overcrowded conditions. There is no proper place for young offenders on remand, and there is a need on Merseyside. A study by the Office of Population Census and Surveys of the prison system suggested that some 1,900 prisoners had Merseyside origins ; even when the prison is built at Fazakerley, there will be only 1,600 places for them in Liverpool.

Mr. Gill : Does my hon. Friend agree that the amount of interest shown in prison overcrowding during today's Question Time does not reflect the concern of our constituents? They are more concerned about the incidence of crime and its victims.

Mr. Lloyd : The supplementary question to which I am replying is not on all fours with the sentiments expressed earlier about overcrowding by the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox). We have put in a planning application and we shall see what the council says. I shall take close notice of its views.

Mrs. Jane Kennedy : Given that Liverpool is already the home of Walton prison, Ashworth and Dyson hall, will the Minister accept that many of my constituents are outraged at the proposal to build a further prison at Fazakerley? Does he have plans to privatise that prison?

Mr. Lloyd : We have no current plans to privatise that prison. As I explained earlier to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), the assessment centre belongs to the county council. It is not for prison service occupation but for disturbed juveniles who are not inside the prison system. The same applies to the psychiatric hospital. There is a need for extra prison places on Merseyside and our proposal would provide them.

Special Constabulary

13. Mr. Hawksley : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what proposals he has for expanding the special constabulary.

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