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House of Commons

Thursday 13 January 1994

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

PRAYERS

[Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]

PRIVATE BUSINESS

British Waterways Bill

[Lords]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the Promoters of the British Waterways Bill [Lords] may, notwithstanding anything in the Standing Orders or practice of this House, proceed with the Bill in the present Session and the Petition for the Bill shall be deemed to have been deposited and all Standing Orders applicable thereto shall be deemed to have been complied with ;

That, if the Bill is brought from the Lords in the present Session, the Agent for the Bill shall deposit in the Private Bill Office a declaration signed by him, stating that the Bill is the same, in every respect, as the Bill which was brought from the Lords in the last Session ;

That as soon as a certificate by one of the Clerks in the Private Bill Office, that such a declaration has been so deposited, has been laid upon the Table of the House, the Bill shall be deemed to have been read for the first and second time and committed (and shall be recorded in the Journal of this House as having been so read and committed) ;

That all Petitions relating to the Bill presented in the last Session which stand referred to the Committee on the Bill, together with any minutes of evidence taken before the Committee on the Bill, shall stand referred to the Committee on the Bill in the present Session ;

That no Petitioners shall be heard before the Committee on the Bill, unless their Petition has been presented within the time limited within the last Session or deposited pursuant to paragraph (b) of Standing Order 126 relating to Private Business ;

That, in relation to the Bill, Standing Order 127 relating to Private Business shall have effect as if the words "under Standing Order 126 (Reference to committee of petitions against Bill)" were omitted ;

That no further Fees shall be charged in respect of any proceedings on the Bill in respect of which Fees have already been incurred during the last Session.-- [The Chairman of Ways and Means.]

Hon. Members : Object.


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Oral Answers to Questions

HOME DEPARTMENT

Crime

1. Mr. Dowd : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received in response to his 27-point plan to reduce crime in the United Kingdom.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard) : I have received a large number of representations and comments on my 27-point plan, including one from the chairman of the Police Federation, who said :

"My message to the Home Secretary is what you have proposed is first-class. It will help tremendously in the fight against crime."

Mr. Dowd : Will the Home Secretary tell the House why, after almost 15 continuous years of Conservative Government, and within but a few months of his appointment, he felt compelled to introduce a package of such dubious complexity? Does that indicate the indolence and ineptitude of his Tory predecessors or his own desperation in the face of a national problem, which, throughout those 15 years, despite their fatuous pretence to the contrary, the Government have done nothing but exacerbate?

Mr. Howard : It may take me a little time to work out whether "dubious complexity" is an improvement on a "series of gimmicks". The truth of the matter is that, whatever phrase the Opposition attempt to fasten to the package that I announced, and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill which implements it, they could not make up their mind what to do about it on Tuesday--they could not say yes and they could not say no. They simply abstained at the end of the day.

Mr. Ashby : Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall reading that the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) said that we should not be hesitant to praise the Government when they got things right? Has my right hon. and learned Friend received any sort of praise or representations from the hon. Member for Sedgefield as a result of those points?

Mr. Howard : I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. I have received no praise, but lots of hesitancy. Hesitancy is the watch word of the Labour party.

Mr. Blair : Does the Home Secretary agree that there is no more serious cause of crime than the link between crime and drugs and drug abuse, particularly among young people? Is he aware that the police estimate that, in certain parts of the country, 70 per cent. of crime is linked to drugs, and that last week the Home Office report said that there was an urgent need for a national programme of drugs education and prevention through the country? In those circumstances, why did he take the Tory party to vote against Labour's amendment to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, which included precisely that, among other things?


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Mr. Howard : I certainly agree that there is an important relationship between crime and drugs. We must take the influence of drugs on crime very seriously. That is why the Government have introduced into the national curriculum comprehensive education for children in our schools on the question of drugs.

Mr. Nigel Evans : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that if a suspect refuses to answer a simple question in a police station, the courts should be told and be allowed to take that into account?

Mr. Howard : My hon. Friend will be aware of our proposal to enable the courts to draw the appropriate inferences from the silence of those who are asked questions. He will also know that it has been warmly welcomed by the police, the public and the majority of the judges who gave evidence to the royal commission.

Television (Violence)

2. Ms Lynne : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what studies he plans to commission into the effects of violence on television and video on children and young people.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Peter Lloyd) : We intend to examine the results of research into the viewing behaviour of juvenile offenders which has been commissioned jointly by the British Board of Film Classification, the Broadcasting Standards Council, the BBC and the Independent Television Commission. Pending the outcome of that examination, the Government have no plans to commission further research on the subject.

Ms Lynne : As research figures show that 118,000 children under the age of 16 saw Child's Play 3, the film mentioned in the James Bulger and the Susan Capper trials, is the Minister in favour of amendments to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill to make a new classification of "unsuitable for home viewing" for particularly gratuitously violent films and videos, particularly as, unlike the Minister, I do not believe that current legislation is operating successfully?

Mr. Lloyd : We will consider all the ideas that come up, but, as I just said, we want first to see the results of the research which I believe is due in March. The hon. Lady is right to say that we should look at the classifications under the 1984 Act, and no doubt there will need to be a great deal of discussion on that, but we have the strongest law on video classification in the world. It may well be that it could be stronger, but it would be wise to obtain all the information that we can to see how it can be effectively strengthened, rather than giving an immediate reaction to a particularly horrid case about which we all know so much.

Sir Ivan Lawrence : Is my right hon. Friend, whom I congratulate on his recent honour, aware that this is a matter of concern not just for parts of the House but for the entire House and the entire adult population of Britain, and that the time has come not for studies but for action to stop child pornography and child violence coming on to the screens at times when children can watch it?

Mr. Lloyd : I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for his kind remarks. He referred to child pornography


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coming on to the screens, but the law is extremely tough against child pornography. It is being strengthened by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. However, what I think he is referring to, about which the great majority of people on both sides of the House and in the country at large are concerned, is the continual diet of violence on programmes of the broadcasting organisations and on videos. The difficulty is that, as I think my hon. and learned Friend will agree, any one particular item will, for most people, do no harm whatever ; it is the cumulative effect and the repetitiveness that are dangerous. The law may well be strengthened, but the first line of defence is the editorial good sense of broadcasters.

Cleveland Police Authority

3. Mr. Mandelson : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will increase the resources available to the Cleveland police authority to fight crime in the area.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Wardle) : Provision for policing in Cleveland in 1994-9will increase by more than 4 per cent.

Mr. Mandelson : Is the Minister aware that crime in my constituency has risen by 132 per cent. since the Government came to power, burglary by 148 per cent. and auto crime by 281 per cent., resulting most recently this morning in a tragic death in the town? As my constituents have almost despaired of anything being achieved to stop that crime wave, will the Minister give a clear answer to the question this afternoon : will the Government's new Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill cut crime for my constituents or not? Yes or no?

Mr. Wardle : First, I join the hon. Gentleman in the regret that he expressed about the death to which he referred. I know that he prides himself on his presentational skills, so it is a pity that he did a disservice to the House. In the year to 30 June 1993, crime fell in the area of the Cleveland constabulary by 2 per cent. The hon. Gentleman has not told the House that, for the current year, Cleveland's police standard spending assessment increased by 3.9 per cent., but the county council cut the police budget by 2 per cent. and, in nine of the past 15 years, has not even applied for an increase in its establishment. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question of course is yes.

Mr. Devlin : Turning to another aspect of the Cleveland police, is my hon. Friend aware of how pleased the police in Stockton are that they are to be testing the new side-handled baton, which they called for and which the Home Secretary was only too ready to grant them? Will my hon. Friend further congratulate the police in Stockton on the greatest fall in burglary rates in Cleveland?

Mr. Wardle : I happily join my hon. Friend in congratulating the police in Stockton. He is right, too, about the value of the trials of the baton to which he referred. I am sure that both he and the House will be aware that the Cleveland force has done an excellent job. Not only has crime fallen by 2 per cent. throughout the area of the force, but the clear -up rate is better than the national average. Civilianisation is proceeding apace ; by the end of


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1992, 100 uniformed officers had been released by civilianisation, and it is planned to release another 40 for operational duties this year.

Mr. Mike O'Brien : Whatever may be happening in Cleveland, are not large numbers of constabularies, including Warwickshire constabulary, facing budget cuts--in the case of Warwickshire, of 2 per cent.--as a result of Government policy? Does not the Minister understand that if the Government fail to deliver to constabularies the resources that they require to put officers on the beat, that is a false economy? If we do not provide police with the resources that they need, we will pay the price in higher insurance rates and in the rise in crime over which the Government have presided for the past 14 years.

Mr. Wardle : As the hon. Gentleman knows, provision for police spending will increase by 4.4 per cent. What local authorities do with their budgets, having received their police SSAs, is a matter for them. If some Labour local authorities are willing to spend more on social services and less on their police budgets, that is a matter for them and a matter for which they will be answerable to their electorates.

Madam Speaker : Mr. Gyles Brandreth. [ Hon. Members :-- "Where is he?"] Order. Mr. Roy Hughes.

Police Reorganisation

5. Mr. Roy Hughes : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what further discussions he has had with representatives of police committees concerning reorganisation.

Mr. Charles Wardle : Ministers and officials have had many meetings with representatives of police authorities about our proposals for police reform.

Mr. Hughes : Will the Minister appreciate that delay and speculation about reorganisation are undermining morale in the police service at a time when the police need to be ever more vigilant in the fight against crime? Will he recognise the greater efficiency of smaller forces such as those of Gwent and Dyfed-Powys? Given such efficiency and high levels of crime detection in these forces, is not the message to leave well alone?

Mr. Wardle : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will recall the answer that I gave on 13 May last year to the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan)--that as a result of local government reform in Wales, some changes in the policing arrangements as between south Wales and Gwent are likely to be necessary. Home Office officials have already met the police authorities and chief constables and are making a detailed assessment of the options.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern that there should not be unnecessary delay. That is why the consultations are already under way and, as soon as the detailed assessment is completed, decisions will be taken.

Mr. Rathbone : Does my hon. Friend consider it correct if police authorities undercut the morale of their own police forces by spreading rumours about the ill effects of the new police authority formation, as is happening in my hon. Friend's and my county of Sussex?

Mr. Wardle : There is a lot of needless scaremongering about the reforms. As my hon. Friend knows, the new


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police authorities will be small, efficient bodies able to focus on key strategic tasks. A statutory obligation will be placed on them to consult locally, to draw up with the chief officer a local plan or strategy, and then to be answerable for that by reporting the results of policing every year.

Tariff Sentences

6. Mr. Madden : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to relinquish his powers to impose tariff sentences on those sentenced by the courts.

Mr. Howard : I set tariffs only in relation to those persons who have received a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. I have no plans at present to change that arrangement, but I am still considering the recent report of the Committee on the Penalty for Homicide, chaired by Lord Lane.

Mr. Madden : Does not the Home Secretary agree that the case of Abdul Qayyum Raja and Mohammed Riaz illustrates the urgent need for decisions on the duration of mandatory life sentences to be left to the trial judge, who is in possession of all the facts and the legal arguments? Is that not better than the Home Secretary's exercising power in an arbitrary and unaccountable way--which, in this case, has extended those two men's sentences far beyond those delivered by the trial judge?

Mr. Howard : I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's assertion. Of course full weight is given to the opinions of both the trial judge and the Lord Chief Justice, but the final decision in such cases is a matter for the Home Secretary.

Mr. Heald : Does my right hon. and learned Friend recognise the huge support in north Hertfordshire and the country as a whole for tougher sentencing powers to deal with persistent young offenders? If they are locked up, they cannot commit offences. Will my right hon. and learned Friend reassure my constituents that these excellent proposals will not be watered down by the Opposition, in Committee or elsewhere?

Mr. Howard : Subject, of course, to the will of the House, I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. We certainly have no intention of watering down the powers, because we appreciate full well that the public need to be protected from the activities of the relatively small number of young offenders who commit a disproportionate number of offences. That is why we are introducing these provisions, which we intend to implement as soon as possible.

Jury-nobbling

7. Mr. Couchman : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received regarding jury-nobbling ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Peter Lloyd : My right hon. and learned Friend has received no recent representations. We are determined that criminals should not be allowed to escape their just deserts because of interference with jurors. As soon, therefore, as the necessary details can be worked out, we intend to ask the House to approve provisions which, if approved, will allow retrials to be held after proven instances of jury nobbling.


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Mr. Couchman : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. Let me add my congratulations on his recent elevation.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the nobbling and intimidation of juries, like the intimidation of witnesses, is a serious abuse of the criminal justice system and seriously undermines justice? Does he agree that the weight of prosecution evidence that now has to be disclosed to defence counsel is leading to an increase in the number of such abuses, and that disclosure needs to be reviewed carefully in accordance with what our senior policemen are telling us?

Mr. Lloyd : Yes, of course that is true.

Mrs. Roche : Does the Minister agree that more support schemes for witnesses are needed in the Crown courts to deal with jury nobbling and the intimidation of witnesses? Why are the Government cutting such schemes, rather than expanding them?

Mr. Lloyd : The hon. Lady is entirely wrong ; we are expanding them.

Lenient Sentences

8. Mr. Oppenheim : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress he has made on preparing an order on referral of lenient sentences.

Mr. Howard : I can announce today that an order will be laid shortly which will extend the Attorney-General's powers with effect from 1 March. The order will bring within those powers offences of indecent assault, cruelty to children and making threats to kill.

Mr. Oppenheim : If the policy of referring lenient sentences is central to the fight against crime, how seriously should we take the representations of those who like to claim the moral high ground on the law -and-order issue, and who constantly pontificate about the need for the Government to take tougher action on crime, but who bitterly opposed and voted against the referral of lenient sentences? They include the Opposition home affairs spokesman.

Mr. Howard : The seriousness with which we can take the Opposition's attitude can best be tested by recalling what was said by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley)--then shadow Home Secretary--when the powers were first introduced. He said :

"It is quite wrong that a man or woman should be required to serve the longer of two sentences imposed on them. It is wrong that the obviously political intrusion which this system provides should be introduced into our legal system. It is wrong that the

Attorney-General should be subject to the campaigns inside and outside this House."--[ Official Report, 18 January 1988 ; Vol. 125, c. 693.]

He was followed into the Division Lobby against the measure by all senior members of the Opposition Front Bench and all members of the present Opposition home affairs team, including the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). I can well understand why the hon. Gentleman does not like to be reminded of those facts.

Mr. Grocott : In line with his tough view on sentencing policy, what does the Home Secretary think would be an appropriate sentence for the squandering, waste and misappropriation of £21 million of taxpayers' money?


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Mr. Howard : The hon. Gentleman knows full well that that is a matter for the district auditor. [Interruption.] It is still under consideration by the district auditor and it is a remarkable illustration of the Opposition's attitude to justice that they are anxious to leap in on the basis of provisional representations before the law has completed its course.

Custodial Sentences

9. Mr. Clappison : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what research he has conducted into the effectiveness of custodial sentences ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Howard : The research and statistics department of the Home Office regularly publishes material relevant to the consideration of the effectiveness of sentencing, including custodial sentencing.

Mr. Clappison : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the value of custody lies not only in giving the best possible protection to the public from serious and persistent offenders but in improving the effectiveness and credibility of non-custodial sentences by giving a sanction to the courts against those who refuse to comply with non- custodial sentences and who will not respond to them but commit further offences? Are not those who talk about whether prison works ignoring that fact and are they not inviting house burglars, car thieves and the like to cock a snook at the courts?

Mr. Howard : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is precisely because of the point that he has raised that the figures that we derive from our research consistently underestimate the deterrent effect of imprisonment.

Ms Ruddock : Does the Home Secretary know, however, of the calculation made by the head of research at the Home Office to the effect that it would require a 25 per cent. increase in the prison population to achieve a reduction of 1 per cent. in crime? Surely that would cost in the region of £1 billion. Given the fact that only one in 50 crimes leads to a conviction, would it not be much better for the Government to have a comprehensive crime prevention policy, which would be not only cheaper but much more effective in reducing the rate of crime?

Mr. Howard : The point that the hon. Lady makes is thoroughly absurd. Of course, most offences and most offenders should not be subject to sentence of imprisonment so to compare rates of imprisonment with all offences committed, as she has done, is of no relevance to the argument. Much more relevant is the research which shows that between three and 13 offences could be prevented for each convicted domestic burglar who is imprisoned for a year rather than sentenced to community service. That is the relevant statistic--why do the Opposition run away from it?

Elderly People (Attacks)

10. Mrs. Gorman : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many people aged over 70 years have been attacked in their own homes in 1993.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean) : I regret that the information requested on people aged over 70 is not available from statistics of


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recorded crime. However, data from recent British crime surveys suggest that those aged 60 and over are less likely to suffer incidences of violent crime in and around the home than those in younger age groups.

Mrs. Gorman : I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Is he aware of the circumstantial link between drug addiction and the growing number of cases of elderly women in their own homes who are being badly battered, raped or, in one case, locked in a cupboard, thrown face down and left to die? Does he not think it is time that the House had a full day's debate on drug addiction and the growing number of innocent people made victims because we are trying to prevent silly people taking drugs and destroying themselves?

Mr. Maclean : Elderly people are vulnerable and they fear crime more than younger people. Many of them are afraid to go out at night for fear of burglary or mugging. There have been despicable and cowardly attacks on old people, which we all condemn and deplore, but statistics clearly show that people under 24 are about 20 times more likely to be victims of crime than those aged over 60. It might seem--although we cannot go only by anecdote-- that junkies and others are targeting their own age group rather than the elderly. I assure my hon. Friend that we are doing more research, but whether a debate is held is not a matter for me.

Mr. Allen : As the Minister has had a couple of days to think about the answer, will he tell elderly people, hon. Members and people watching on television whether the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill will cut crime? It is a very simple question. Will the Minister answer today since he could not do so the other day?

Mr. Maclean : I will tell the Labour party what the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, on which Labour abstained, will do. It will make our criminal justice system the most effective possible, and of course we shall see results. We want cautioning to fall and, following the issuing of new guidelines by my right hon. and learned Friend, it is starting to do so. We want to see fewer police officers behind desks and more on the streets, and with cuts in their paperwork and less middle management that is exactly what we shall see. We want to see persistent juvenile offenders off the streets and in custody and, with our new secure training centres, that is what we shall see, yet that is what the Labour party abstained on. Above all, we want a criminal justice system in which everyone--the public, the police and the courts--can have confidence, and that is the yardstick by which I shall judge the Bill.

Mr. Allason : Is my hon. Friend aware that many elderly people fall prey to young violent criminals, including those under the age of 15 who are now subject to the Children Act 1989? Will he confirm that the secure training orders envisaged in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill will put such young thugs behind secure bars and locks for the first time, which will give some reassurance to the elderly, who fall prey to them?

Mr. Maclean : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, which was given a Second Reading on Tuesday and about which the Labour party could not make up its mind, gives courts for the first time the power to send directly to secure accommodation youngsters aged under 15 who have a history of persistent


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offending. That will give some peace of mind not only to elderly people but to many in villages, towns and housing estates throughout the length and breadth of this country and in Labour constituencies. I am not sure how Labour Members will be able to face their constituency executives tomorrow night and tell them that on this major measure, which affects their constituents, they did not know what to do.

Sunday Trading

11. Mr. Bayley : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many additional police officers he estimates will be rostered for duty on Sundays as a result of the partial deregulation of Sunday trading.

Mr. Peter Lloyd : The number of police officers rostered for duty is an operational matter for chief officers.

Mr. Bayley : Does the Minister accept that it will be necessary to roster additional police officers, environmental health officers, street cleaners and trading standards officers to police Sunday trading? Who will pay for them?

Mr. Lloyd : The Association of Chief Police Officers suggests that the resource implications for policing are minimal and manageable. I think that I prefer the police's judgment of the matter to the hon. Gentleman's.

Neighbourhood Watch

12. Mr. Winnick : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on neighbourhood watch schemes being involved in street patrolling.

Mr. Howard : A number of neighbourhood watch schemes already patrol as part of their voluntary crime prevention activities. To encourage such local initiatives, I have asked for a code of practice to be drawn up in consultation with the police.

Mr. Winnick : Does not the Home Secretary realise how ridiculous and dangerous it is to advise neighbourhood watch schemes to get involved in street patrols? Has not he been told that the police consider it to be very dangerous? Why does not he admit that what he wants is for residents increasingly to use private guards, which is another form of privatisation of the police service?

Mr. Howard : No. The hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense. If anyone really wanted to see the Labour party's attitude towards such matters he should have observed the manifest derision of Opposition Members when I recounted to the House on Tuesday the work being done by Town Watch in Sandwich, patrolling the streets to reduce crime in the area and to escort elderly citizens who want to be taken out at night to visit their friends and neighbours. I went out with Sandwich Town Watch on Sunday night, and I was greatly impressed by what I saw. Such work should receive a tribute from the Labour party, not the derision that we saw on Tuesday. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. The House must settle down. There are far too many noisy conversations going on. [Interruption.] Order. The House must settle down now.

Mr. Paice : Is not it true that people who become involved in the patrolling schemes alongside neighbourhood watch understand clearly that the idea of people


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patrolling and keeping watch is a major deterrent to those involved in much of the petty crime that besets our housing estates? Is that not the real reason why my constituents in Cottenham, and people in many other places, have become involved in such schemes? They are a means of helping to keep down crime, especially in rural areas. Do they not represent a sensible way forward, alongside the special constable scheme, which is also being widely welcomed in my constituency?

Mr. Howard : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend but such schemes are of use not only in rural areas. I have told the House of my experiences in Sandwich on Sunday night ; last Thursday night I patrolled in a similar way with a group of concerned citizens in Washington DC. They said to me, "People behave differently if they know that they are being watched." [Laughter.] That is the principle behind neighbourhood watch.-- [Interruption.]


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