By Order. )
Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time upon Thursday 28 April.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Committee on the Crossrail Bill have leave to visit and inspect the site of the proposed works and areas affected by the proposed works, provided that no evidence shall be taken in the course of such visit and that any party who has made an appearance before the Committee be permitted to attend by his Counsel, Agent or other representative.-- [Mr. Arbuthnot.]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Wardle) : My right hon. and learned Friend is considering the Local Government Commission's recommendation about future policing arrangements in the Humberside area.
Mr. Mitchell : I was disappointed to hear the Minister say that he is even considering the recommendation because I want him to reject it totally and out of hand. It came out of the blue ; it was made without any consultation with any of the interested parties. It is opposed by the police, the police authority, the Police Federation and the public in Humberside. It would decimate a well-run, efficient force of which we are proud and it would cart parts of the force off to be run by far away local authorities of which we know nothing. The Government should reject the recommendation.
Mr. Wardle : The commission consulted on its draft recommendations, but the hon. Gentleman is right in that it did not consult afresh on its final recommendations. Those recommendations will now be considered. However, my right hon. and learned Friend will not reach
Column 1022any decision about the Humberside police area without first consulting the police forces, the police authorities and others who would be affected by any such change.
Mr. John Greenway : Does my hon. Friend agree that people want to see more police officers on the beat ? Can he assure the House and my constituents that the proposed amalgamation of the North Yorkshire and the Humberside forces, which is in the Local Government Commission report, will deliver more police officers on the beat ? It is no good simply offering to consult ; we want more officers on our streets.
Mr. Wardle : As my hon. Friend knows, the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill will make provision for strong police authorities which reflect the interests of local people, set locally focused strategies and evaluate police performance. It will allow for a modernised, flexible and streamlined series of police forces with more officers released for operational duties.
Mr. Mike O'Brien : Will the Minister ensure that before there is any change in the area of a constabulary, whether in Humberside or elsewhere, there is a full and proper public inquiry that allows all the people in the area to put their point of view about the area that the constabulary should cover ? The Government should not simply try to push things through with a bit of consultation here and there.
Mr. Wardle : No. The hon. Gentleman obviously was not listening to the reply that I gave a few moments ago to the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell). In making recommendations about local government structures, the commission is required to consider, among other things, the arrangements for law and order services--in other words, all functions that are now part of local government. As I said a moment ago, my right hon. and learned Friend will not reach any decision without consulting the forces and the police authorities that might be affected by any change.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard) : A number of my proposals for reform of the police service will helto improve liaison with local communities, both in towns and in the countryside. They include wider representation on police authorities, a requirement to consult locally and to publish a policing plan that reflects local needs and the development of the parish constable scheme. I am delighted that there is now a parish constable in Bottisham in my hon. Friend's constituency.
Mr. Paice : May I assure my right hon. and learned Friend that the parish constable scheme in Bottisham has been widely welcomed ? The scheme represents a clear, visible police presence, which is what is needed by so many people in the villages who seek reassurance that the police are really there and are protecting their interests. Is he aware that any extension of that parish constable scheme in Cambridgeshire has now been severely
Column 1023jeopardised by a decision of the county council, which is controlled by the Liberal Democrats and Labour ? Having been given an extra £1.1 million in the police SSA, the council has decided to spend only £100,000 on the police.
Mr. Howard : I am afraid that the circumstances that my hon. Friend reports to the House are all too prevalent. Opposition spokesmen make fine noises in the House some of the time, but when their parties have control of local authorities they consistently fail to make available the money that they should for policing.
Mr. Blair : Is not the biggest threat to police and to communities in rural and urban areas the growing link between crime and drugs ? Will the Home Secretary give urgent consideration to two proposals ? First, he should put a national Government strategy behind successful projects such as King's Cross, where police, local government, schools and businesses are working together to drive the drug dealers off the street. Secondly, will he get together with the Secretary of State for Education to give us a comprehensive programme for drugs education among young people ? That is absolutely essential in deterring young people from the blind alley of drug abuse.
Mr. Howard : Of course I encourage schemes such as that in King's Cross, and of course we take the education of the young seriously. That is a part of crime prevention to which we attach great importance. The hon. Gentleman wrote an article about crime prevention in the Daily Mirror this week, in which he mentioned a number of local council schemes. He unaccountably failed to mention the fact that they all had one thing in common--they were all funded by the Government. He mentioned Wigan council, but failed to mention that it receives money from city challenge and estate action. He mentioned Newcastle, Bradford and Islington, which all receive money from safer cities schemes, but he failed to mention that factor. He even mentioned a close-circuit television scheme in South Tyneside which is funded by the Department of the Environment's urban programme. When will the hon. Gentleman give credit where it is due for the Government's excellent crime prevention programme ?
Mr. David Nicholson : Let me return to rural areas. My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that there has been a rising tide of crime in rural areas, as criminals have become more mobile, and such communities are vulnerable ? Is he also aware that there is a good welcome for the parish constables scheme and for the proposals in recent legislation for new age travellers and ravers ?
Mr. Howard : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support. I entirely agree that the measures contained in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill will make a significant contribution to fighting rural crime. That is something to which we attach particular importance and priority.
3. Mr. William O'Brien : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what was the number of burglaries on (a) private properties and (b) commercial properties in the West Yorkshire area and in England and Wales for each year since 1991 ; and if he will make a statement.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean) : The figures the hon. Member seeks are rounded as follows. Reported burglaries in a dwelling in West Yorkshire : 42,000, 52,000, 58,000. Other reported burglaries in West Yorkshire : 37,000, 38,000, 36, 000.Reported burglaries in a dwelling in England and Wales : 625,000, 708,000, 728,000. Other reported burglaries in England and Wales : 595,000, 647,000, 642,000.
My right hon. and learned Friend has made an increase in the number of detections for domestic burglary a national key objective of the police in 1994-95.
Mr. O'Brien : Does not that reveal that the Conservatives have lost the fight against crime ? In West Yorkshire, the numbers of burglaries are significant and there was a 5 per cent. increase last year. When will the Minister do something to improve safety for my constituents ? When will the Government introduce the Morgan report, which gives local authorities some responsibility for combating crime ? Does the Minister accept that high unemployment in West Yorkshire has an influence on crime ?
Mr. Maclean : I do not know where the hon. Gentleman has been this week. We announced that crime overall in West Yorkshire fell by 1 per cent. last year. [Interruption.] If the Opposition care to listen, since December 1993, domestic burglaries in West Yorkshire have dropped by 6 per cent. and non-residential burglaries by 14.5 per cent. In the Wakefield division, which includes Normanton, there was a drop of 19.6 per cent. in domestic burglaries in the first three months of this year. When will the hon. Gentleman welcome that trend ?
Dr. Hampson : Is my hon. Friend aware that people in West Yorkshire, and particularly Leeds, are conscious that the West Yorkshire force has done amazingly well, despite the fact that it has had great difficulties, largely because of a huge capital building programme which squeezes its revenue account ? If he also aware that if we compare the figures for West Yorkshire with those for South Yorkshire last year, they show a reduction in West Yorkshire and a 14 per cent. increase in South Yorkshire ?
Mr. Maclean : My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that fact. West Yorkshire police have been tremendously successful in the fight against crime. Where the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) does damage not only to his constituents but to the constituencies of all hon. Members is when he says that one cannot succeed in the fight against crime. The figures that we announced this week show that we can make an impact and we are not condemned to ever-rising crime. By sensibly targeting our resources, we can make a difference.
Mr. Hardy : I do not wish to get involved in bandying arguments about the achievements in West and South Yorkshire, where a high detection rate has been achieved over a long time. Would the Minister care to comment on the fact that it is essential that if burglars are caught, perhaps even red-handed, they should then be brought to court and convicted ? Would he care to tell the House how the conviction rate compares with the rate of arrests ?
Column 1025Secretary has introduced changes in the Police and Magistrates Courts' Bill to that effect. We need improved detection rates and measures in the criminal courts to ensure that those who are guilty of crime are convicted.
Mr. Maclean : In that case, the hon. Gentleman should have a word with his hon. Friends who abstained on the Third Reading of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill and others in his party who voted against the very measures for which he calls.
Mr. Maclean : There are vacancies for police officers in the West Yorkshire force. The figures have fallen dramatically in the past few months. The vacancy rate is down to 246 from a figure that was up in the 320s. Of course we all want to encourage the West Yorkshire force to deploy its resources to the maximum effect. The success in recent months on burglary seems to show that, with the present resources, the chief constable there is making a pretty good job of it.
Mrs. Campbell : Is not it about time that the Minister allowed a free vote in the House on the legality of field sports, bearing in mind the enormous amount of resources in police time, as well as, of course, the extreme cruelty to wild animals, that would be saved if field sports were banned ?
Mr. Wardle : The hon. Lady will know that in the last Parliament there was a debate and a free vote because the Government for their part regard such matters to be matters of individual conscience. I hope that the hon. Lady will welcome the proposals in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill which are aimed at all trespassers, including hunters, who wilfully disrupt a lawful activity on land.
Sir Anthony Grant : Is my hon. Friend aware that we could have more policemen on the beat and better use of police time if the police did not have to waste so much effort dealing with cranks and hunt saboteurs who unlawfully interfere with perfectly lawful field sports ?
Mr. Wardle : My hon. Friend is right. Indeed, in Cambridgeshire the police deploy a number of people for just such purposes. That ties up police officers who otherwise could be deployed elsewhere. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill gives the police powers to direct trespassers to leave land if there are reasonable grounds for believing that they intend to disrupt a lawful activity. It will be a criminal offence to return as a trespasser to that land within three months. The Bill also creates a substantive offence of wilfully disrupting a lawful
Column 1026activity or trying to intimidate someone into not engaging in a lawful activity while he is present as a trespasser on the land.
5. Mr. Llwyd : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many representations he has received on the subject of amalgamation of police forces in the last nine months ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Llwyd : Some weeks ago, I met the Home Secretary, who told me that the 1976 regulation which precludes an assistant being appointed chief constable in a police area had not been breached since 1976. However, it has already been breached twice in 1993--once in Essex and once in Dorset. Does the Minister agree that the advice of Earl Ferrers to a deputation from the North Wales police authority that it should place the assistant on the short list, interview and then not appoint to save face for the Home Office and avoid political embarrassment is nothing short of disgraceful ?
Mr. Wardle : The guidelines have not been breached as the hon. Gentleman suggests and my right hon. and noble Friend did not give that advice. The hon. Gentleman will be aware, and the House may wish to know, that the post of North Wales chief constable is to be re-advertised. The successful candidate will not necessarily be a Welsh speaker, but the hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that he or she must undertake to learn Welsh.
Mr. Allason : Does my hon. Friend agree that while there is a good case for greater integration of police forces--especially of criminal investigation departments and the use of computer resources--there is not necessarily a good case for big is beautiful and the amalgamation of police forces ? The Devon and Cornwall police force, in particular, is already large enough.
Mr. Wardle : The Government have no hidden agenda, as some would suggest, or a predetermined view about the right size for a police force. As my hon. Friend will know, provisions in the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill allow for full consideration of the views and wishes of interested parties when any amalgamation is proposed. Existing procedures, which stem from the Police Act 1964, are cumbersome, long drawn out and expensive and need to be simplified. The ground needs to be prepared in case of amalgamations.
Mr. Barry Jones : Why does not a British Home Secretary with roots in Llanelli think again about the matter ? Does he acknowledge that there are strong feelings and great resentment ? In the light of what the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) said, why does not the Home Office think again ?
6. Mr. Batiste : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Attorney -General's right to appeal against lenient sentences ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Howard : The Attorney-General's power to refer lenient sentences to the Court of Appeal has proved extremely valuable. It has ensured that the most serious offences are appropriately punished. So far, 116 cases have been considered by the Court of Appeal following referral from the Attorney-General and 95 references have resulted in an increased sentence.
Mr. Batiste : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that over- lenient sentences bring the criminal justice system into disrepute and are terribly unfair to the victims of crime ? Does he recall that when the Government introduced powers to overlook over-lenient sentences, the entire Opposition Front-Bench team voted against, as did all members of the present Opposition Home Office team ? What representations has my right hon. and learned Friend received on the subject since then ?
Mr. Howard : My hon. Friend is entirely right to draw attention to that fact. That is an extremely important power and it helps us to deal with a situation in which the law was brought into disrepute. The record of right hon. and hon. Opposition Members on the matter is little short of disgraceful.
Mr. Ashton : Is the Home Secretary aware that not all Opposition Members are against the powers given to the Attorney-General ? However, we wonder why he does not use them against millionaires like Levitt, who was given 180 hours of community service for swindling hundreds of thousands of pounds, Ronson, and Ernest Saunders of Guinness, who is the only person to have recovered from Alzheimer's disease, but who got out of prison early.
Mr. Howard : I am delighted to learn that at least the hon. Gentleman will no doubt support powers in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, which enable the Attorney-General to appeal against lenient sentences in serious fraud cases.
Mr. Maclean : The Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, contains provisions that increase the maximum fine available on summary conviction under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 for possession of all class B drugs, including cannabis, from £500 to £2,500.
Mr. Deva : Does my hon. Friend agree that if the Government had decided not to increase the maximum penalty for the possession of cannabis, it would have sent the worst possible signal to our young people ?
Mr. Maclean : My hon. Friend is right. Those penalties, which have not been increased since 1977, affect not only cannabis but all class B drugs. What signal would we be sending if the Government failed to uprate the penalties for drugs of that nature, which in most cases lead people to take harder drugs ?
Mr. Mudie : The Minister will be aware that, as a result of drugs, addiction, increasing crime, violence and even deaths are regular features of inner-city life. Will he therefore reconsider the call by my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) for a Bill outlining a comprehensive strategy for drug-related crimes, backed up with the resources for the police to deal with the matter ?
Mr. Maclean : If the hon. Gentleman would care to consult Hansard of last week and read the long and detailed answer that I gave to the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd), he would see the comprehensive strategy laid out. I shall briefly summarise that answer, which contained information about the Home Office drugs prevention initiative, which is providing schemes in 20 areas, and the safer cities programme, which has supported more than 3,500 crime prevention schemes. We have the toughest rules in Europe against those people who deal in drugs. We have effective police and customs action. Part of the national curriculum deals with the subject. Taking all those aspects into account, we are spending £500 million on drug prevention initiatives. We have put our money where the Opposition's mouth is.
Mr. James Hill : My hon. Friend will realise that all of us back his Department in wanting the severest penalties not only for cannabis but for all other drugs. I remind him that we passed through both Houses of Parliament an Act that would confiscate the proceeds of those crimes. I have heard little or nothing about that. Will he inquire into that and ensure that the courts are confiscating properties, cars and anything else that have been acquired as a result of that evil trade ?
Mr. Maclean : I can assure my hon. Friend that the measures did pass through the House. They are being used, effectively, by the enforcement authorities--by police and customs. I will happily write to my hon. Friend, giving him details of the latest catches and of how much we have confiscated in the past few years.
Mr. Flynn : Has the Minister noticed that the policy that the Government are following now has been followed in the United States ? The Americans have spent $8 billion on their anti-drugs policy. During the period in which they did so, the percentage of their young people using cannabis, increased from 5 per cent. in 1964 to 70 per cent. now. Will he tell us now the number of people who supported the Government's proposal to increase fines ? Did not the police, the magistrates and those who work in drug rehabilitation all condemn it, because they said that it would increase drug abuse and drug-related crime as cannabis users would steal more money or goods to pay the greater fines ?
Mr. Maclean : First, the hon. Gentleman seems to be obsessed with cannabis, whereas the proposals include all class B drugs, so the penalties not only for cannabis but for all class B drugs have been uprated. The hon. Gentleman must consider what the alternative would be. If we did not increase the penalties for certain drugs since 1977, two messages would go out from the House--first that there are now certain types of drugs that it is okay to take and secondly that no one cares about uprating the penalty. It was essential that the penalties were uprated.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : Oh yes they did. I have the voting record here. That report is highly federalist and would remove our right to veto changes in immigration and frontier policies, thus preventing us from keeping out drug traffickers. Is my hon. Friend further aware that 27 Conservatives voted against it and none for it ?
Mr. Maclean : The Herman report, if implemented, could have the most serious consequences for drug control in Europe. That is why I am appalled at the thought that 22 Labour Members of the European Parliament voted in favour of that report, although 27 Conservative Members of the European Parliament voted against. The Opposition should explain that to the country in the next few months.
8. Mr. Alan W. Williams : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on progress in implementing the recommendations of the 1991 Morgan report on crime prevention.
Mr. Howard : The Government have welcomed the report's endorsement of our partnership approach to crime prevention and accepted its general findings on the important contributions of the police and others. We see no need to implement the specific recommendations in the report about the role of local authorities in crime prevention.
Mr. Williams : Does the Minister accept that local councils have a unique role to play in pulling together schools, businesses, voluntary organisations and the police in devising locally based strategies for tackling crime ? Why is he so reluctant to implement the key recommendation of the Morgan report to give local authorities statutory responsibility for crime prevention ?
Mr. Howard : Many local agencies have an important role to play in tackling crime and one of the main responsibilities of the new police authorities will be the drawing up of local partnerships between the police and the public to tackle crime. I am surprised that, in asking his supplementary question, the hon. Gentleman did not congratulate the police force of Dyfed Powys, where his constituency lies, on a 22 per cent. fall in crime and a 27 per cent. fall in burglary during the last quarter of 1993.
Mr. Thurnham : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the success of Greater Manchester police in reducing crime by 6 per cent. last year ? Does not that prove that his excellent reforms are having a major impact, even before they reach the statute book ?
Mr. Howard : I should certainly like to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the Greater Manchester police on their performance last year. If he looks carefully at last year's figures, he will find that the figure for the last quarter was even better than the figure for the year as a whole. I join my hon. Friend in congratulating Greater Manchester police on their part in achieving that.
Mr. Maclennan : Is the Home Secretary prepared to withdraw the comment that he made on 3 November on the "Today" programme that nobody knows how to prevent crime ? If so, will he proceed to increase his Department's budget for specific crime prevention measures in local areas, to enhance its effectiveness and raise it from a quarter of one per cent., which is a disgracefully low figure ?
Mr. Howard : No one has found the complete answer to the prevention of crime. If the hon. Gentleman has, it is about time that he let us know what he thinks it is. He should recognise that we are spending £200 million a year specifically on crime prevention, without taking account of the £6 billion which the police spend on crime prevention and other things.
Mrs. Currie : With regard to the most rapidly rising sector of crime --taking from and taking away cars--is the Home Secretary aware of the efforts being made by the police in Derby to persuade people to empty their garages of rubbish, put their cars in them and lock the doors ? Is he also aware of, and does he support, the work being done by Nissan's research and development centre at Cranfield into modern devices that can be built into cars to reduce car theft to a minimum ?
Mr. Howard : My hon. Friend is right. We must take every measure that we can to prevent crime and inhibit criminals' ability to perpetrate the crime that they wish to commit. We should consider seriously and implement the measures that she identified.
Mr. Michael : As the Home Secretary does not appear to have read it, may I point out that the key recommendation of the Morgan report was the role of local authorities ? Will he now praise those Labour local authorities that have developed active partnerships with the police and local communities ? The Home Secretary is the missing player. Will he now agree to implement the Morgan report ?
Mr. Howard : I suppose that the local authorities that the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) chose to include in his article in the Daily Mirror were chosen because he thought that they were the best. What a pity that he did not mention the fact that all the crime prevention schemes that he identified in that article were funded by the Government. So it is the Government who are taking the lead in crime prevention and it is about time the Opposition recognised that that is the position.
Mr. Brandreth : Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, in the last quarter of last year, the number of recorded burglaries fell by 11 per cent., and that crime prevention has a major part to play in that improvement ? Will he use this opportunity to salute those involved with home watch schemes ? One in six households in my constituency belong to that scheme ; we need to encourage more to do so.
Mr. Howard : I entirely agree with my hon. Friend and I have made it absolutely clear that we shall succeed in the fight against crime only by building a strong partnership between the police and the public, in which schemes such as home watch have an important part to play.
Mr. Madden : Does the Minister accept that those who have been refusing food over the past two and a half months are protesting against the length of time that detainees, including those seeking asylum, are held in detention ? Why is the Minister so determined not to give the same democratic and legal rights to those held in detention under immigration control, including asylum seekers, as those available to all others held in detention and prison ?
Mr. Wardle : I shall take no lectures about our willingness to protect people in real danger of persecution. Our humanitarian record is second to none. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 gave all unsuccessful applicants the right of appeal. Anyone with an appeal pending may apply for bail. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that a number approaching 25,000 applications are made each year and about 1,500 may turn out to be genuine refugees. He visited Campsfield house and knows that the majority of people who embarked on hunger strike had either had their appeals heard or had had their applications refused and were waiting on appeal. It is a pity that some people embarked on the hunger strike, which may have endangered their health, but has not altered the merits of their case in any way.
Mr. Clifton-Brown : Does my hon. Friend agree that the reduction in the number of hunger strikers from 150 to three is a tribute to the professionalism of the orderlies and managers employed by Group 4 in that institution ? Does that not show that the public and private sectors can work perfectly well together to solve difficult problems in the sphere of protection ?
Mr. Wardle : My hon. Friend is right and I join him in congratulating the professionalism of Group 4 at Campsfield house, as well as the immigration service staff. I absolutely refute the suggestion made by some Opposition Members that our detention policy puts us in breach of the 1951 UN convention. It does not. If Opposition Members feel that we should not have the power of detention for those who will not comply with restrictions, they should say so loud and clear.
Mr. Allen : With so many individuals now on hunger strike, does the Minister admit that the Conservative strategy on the detention of asylum seekers is a complete shambles ? The rising figures over the past year show that the policy is not, as the Government said, a weapon of last resort, but is now a deliberate strategy. It is a strategy against people, many of whom are fleeing torture, death threats and persecution in their own land. Will he admit that the once fine record of this country as a haven for asylum seekers is now a source of international shame ?