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Column 275There are considerable fears that the relationship established when the NRA was created--a gamekeeper-poacher split--will be undermined within the new system because the draft management statement gives considerable strength to the opinion of the regulated parties, the polluters themselves, and puts considerable emphasis on the need to minimise the burden on industry. Fears are being expressed that the new body simply will not be as resilient as the old one, far less a more effective body, because it combines several elements. There was talk earlier of the possibility of legislation on national parks being tacked on to the environment Bill that will be introduced this Session. It is not clear--since the Bill has not been printed--whether that is to be the case. There is continuing agitation to get the new legislation for national parks on to the statute book.
In my constituency, the legislation will come at a time of considerable tension in the national parks. But that is all the more reason why we want to see the new legislation coming forward to ensure that the people who live in the parks get proper protection. The problem in my constituency was, to some extent, created by the Council for the National Parks itself, which ill-advisedly organised a visit by Mr. Chris Bonnington, who gave people the impression that he wanted to remove the Army from the national park. Since the Army has been a significant contributor to the conservation of a large part of Northumberland throughout the many years that it has been there--far more than the national park--there was considerable local opposition, which undermined the good relationship that has been built up over the years between the Army, the national park authority and the local community. That is a reminder that people who live in a national park often feel left out of consideration, both by the authorities and by outside interests. That must be put right, but I do not know whether we shall proceed with the matter in the current Session. Surely we cannot go on waiting for ever to deal with the reform of national parks legislation.
There are, of course, other areas of relevance to the Home Secretary that we ought to consider in the Queen's Speech, but unlike the Bills that I have already mentioned, I had no expectation that they would be included in the Speech. I refer to constitutional reform, a fair voting system, freedom of information legislation and devolution. There should also be measures to deal with the morass of appointed bodies that the Government have created in their time in office. None of that was likely to be forthcoming, and it will not be until we have got rid of this Government.
I tried early in the debate to give the Prime Minister the opportunity to make it crystal clear that he would create for us the chance to hold a general election so that we can get rid of the Government and respond to the strong feelings that people have that the Government have been around for too long. I can report that the by-election in my constituency yesterday resulted in the Liberal Democrats holding a seat and the Conservative candidate polling 26 votes--a microcosm of the problems that the Government would face were they to go to the country now.
Column 276Many people felt that they did not want to hear another Queen's Speech emanating from this Government. Once they had heard it, it gave them even less confidence in the idea of keeping the Government in office.
Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South): I am grateful, as in previous years, to be called to speak in this debate. Despite some remarks by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), I welcome the appearance in the Queen's Speech of a disability Bill. I am sure that by the time it reaches the statute book it will deal with many of the concerns which, I am well aware, exist in the House and in my constituency. Those concerns were greatly stirred during consideration of the wide-ranging private Member's Bill in the previous Session.
I also look forward to Parliament taking further action on the way in which absent fathers are assessed for maintenance by the Child Support Agency, particularly taking into account arrangements made for the matrimonial home and legitimate travel costs.
After about four years I speak now having left my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary--an event that achieved the most extraordinary publicity. Among other things, it elevated me overnight to the doubtful description of "a senior Tory", and I was even given a foretaste of my obituary by being profiled as "man in the news" in The Times . It has been a great privilege to work for four years through some difficult times with one of the greatest of our Foreign Secretaries. Throughout I have received from him nothing but courtesy, kindness, an ever-open door and that magnetic combination of spontaneous words and wit, which I shall greatly miss.
My leaving had nothing whatever to do with my right hon. Friend or with any issue of principle in foreign affairs. After four years, I wanted to regain the freedom of comment and action that the role of the Foreign Secretary's Parliamentary Private Secretary restricts. Although privatisation measures appear in the Queen's Speech, I greatly regret the abandonment by the Government of plans to include the privatisation of the Royal Mail, and the effect that that may have on the future direction of policy. On the issue itself, few dispute that the Royal Mail requires a great deal more money and freedom for its work force--I include management in that; I do not separate the two--to compete with rivals at home and abroad and to put its services, including the postman's round and the uniform national pricing system, on a sounder financial footing, and to be able to expand its services. The crucial argument concerns whether that should or could be done with Treasury-guaranteed taxpayer's money and with Ministers and civil servants inevitably deciding how much, thereby being involved in the management. Or whether that should be done with private money, raised by commercial borrowing, shares and so on--including share holding by the work force. Should it be run with wings unclipped and with a minimum statutory regulatory framework?
Since 1979, the right way of tackling such challenging questions has been resolutely pursued through privatisation. That way, along with our union reforms, has proved of fundamental significance to our long-term economic strength. No Labour Government would have created such successes as the National Freight Consortium, British Airways, British Aerospace, Rover or
Column 277British Gas, or--most significant of all in the Royal Mail context--would have presided over the privatisation of the former Post Office telephone network, in the form of British Telecom. I clearly remember--I was living in Somerset at the time--the bitter opposition to the privatisation of the telephones; the twisting of the facts; the playing on the fears of rural people; and the dire warnings of wholesale closures of public phone boxes. The reality, including far more working public phone boxes, has proved so different, with more efficient services and massively expanded expensive technology. Because commercial freedom and competition work, it now costs only 10p for three minutes on a Sunday to call anywhere in the United Kingdom.
To coin a phrase, who would have thought it? The answer is: Conservative Governments did, and acted on it. Some things have been less successful, notably some ridiculous salaries in the water and electricity sectors, but the overall economic and social benefits of such reforms so greatly outweigh the disadvantages, that many countries look to Britain for inspiration and the Labour party is in total confusion as to which approach to adopt. Some Opposition Members are aware that there can be no going back to the memorable old days and are intent on ditching clause 4 to prove the fact. Others want to enshrine clause 4 and reverse privatisations wherever possible.
Mr. Gummer: Would my hon. Friend care to add to his litany of successes? Often, when Ministers take groups of business men abroad, gaining large contracts for Britain in the water industry and in telecommunications, they bring back jobs for British people; and some of the most successful businesses in that area are the privatised industries, which are winning orders throughout the world, but which would have been blocked in that endeavour under nationalisation. Is not it sad that that success cannot yet reach every part of the United Kingdom--for instance, in the water industry?
Mr. Martin: My right hon. Friend ably buttresses my arguments. Referring to the Government's handling of the Royal Mail issue, I should note in passing the seeming lack of relish on their part--with notable exceptions--for the task of persuasion that was undoubtedly required inside and outside Parliament. Sometimes I thought of the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians:
"If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?"
Certainly not those of my hon. Friends who scuppered the right policy and with it the right future for the Royal Mail. We should leave to Labour and the Liberal Democrats the false assertion that there is an inherently unresolvable conflict between profits and the needs of the community--the idea that free enterprise and the free market cannot provide services, even Crown services such as the Royal Mail, and even BBC services--in the public interest and for the benefit of the public.
Britain now has an economy firmly based on low inflation and steady growth. Since 1979 we have gained many more thriving, internationally competitive businesses. There is more home ownership; there are greatly improved standards in social services, health care and education. That has not happened by magic; it will not be sustained by magic either. Lower taxation meets
Column 278the needs of profitable businesses, great and small. We need maximum employment, minimum regulation, privatisation, sensibly restrained public expenditure, and smaller, competent and consistent government. There is no running out of ideas or of policies to be based on them in all that.
I firmly reject the fashionable view that after 17 or 18 years in office by the next election the Government will inevitably lose when the electorate votes for a change to a Labour Government. We have heard that sort of claim before, in previous Parliaments. Only defeatism can defeat us. Certainly, neither Opposition policies nor Opposition personalities will, as they come under the intense spotlight of general election conditions. Under the Prime Minister's leadership--and all talk of challenges to his leadership is for the birds--we shall surprise the pundits again not only nationally but in Portsmouth, South.
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): I shall speak on just one aspect of the Gracious Speech, the proposed criminal cases review authority, because for some time I have taken an interest in this matter. I resent what the Home Secretary said at the end of his speech when he suggested that in some way the Labour party was soft on crime. I speak as someone who has been burgled on more than 20 occasions and mugged twice. In the past 10 days, neighbours on either side of me have been burgled. The Conservative party represents rather leafier areas than Labour tends to represent and we suffer more than most Tory constituents from crime and are under no illusion about the effects of crime or what needs to be done to remedy the problem.
I give the criminal cases review authority a guarded welcome. It is long overdue, but the extent of my welcome will be tempered by the small print which we have not yet seen. I have some major reservations about what it is likely to contain and I shall later elaborate on that.
The Home Secretary started his speech by saying that the investigations would be carried out by the police and others. I am sorry that he is not in his place to clarify that, because it is crucial to the credibility of the organisation. Who are the others? When I asked him, they turned out to be customs officers. I had hoped that they might be people who were unconnected to the police who, as even the Home Secretary must have noticed, have been a source of problems in many of the most celebrated miscarriages of justice. Earlier this year, the Home Secretary issued a consultation document on the proposed criminal cases review authority to which I and many others and organisations which take the issue seriously responded. I do not think that many of them have suggested that only the police should be responsible for investigations in this area. There is no doubt that to be credible and effective, which is surely what we all want, the organisation will need to have a dedicated force of investigators to carry out inquiries where it is thought inappropriate for the police to do so. I shall shortly elaborate on that.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) said, some people have suggested that the Home Secretary's heart does not appear to be entirely in this proposal. I understand that in October he told a private meeting of Police Federation officials that it would not appear in the Queen's Speech unless he came under
Column 279further pressure. Only a week or 10 days ago, his officials told the press that it would not be in the Gracious Speech, and it was not.
I read press reports to the effect that the proposal would be placed in the Queen's Speech at the last minute, so I was surprised to see only a reference to
"further measures of law reform."
At the end of his response to the Gracious Speech, the Prime Minister said that the further measures referred to a criminal cases review authority and it was only then that I knew for certain that one was proposed.
I do not understand the Home Secretary's reluctance on this issue. I am aware that it will not win many votes in the saloon votes of Folkestone and Hythe, which is where most criminal justice policy seems to be formulated nowadays, but such a body has long enjoyed the support of people of all political persuasions and many distinguished people who are connected with the criminal justice system. Such a body was first suggested by the distinguished judge Lord Devlin as long ago as the late 1970s and the Select Committee on Home Affairs unanimously recommended one after its inquiry into miscarriages of justice in 1982. Sir John May's inquiry, which was set up by the Government, recommended it as did the royal commission, which was also set up by the Government. The Lord Chief Justice has been so concerned about the fact that we have not heard about it recently that he has taken to issuing appeals in the media to find out what has happened to it.
In the past seven years I have three times moved new clauses to criminal justice and courts and legal services Bills to introduce such a body. I did so once in coalition with the former Conservative Member for Harborough, Sir John Farr--one of the less likely political alliances in this place-- and the last occasion on which I did so was on 28 March this year, along with two of the Home Secretary's hon. Friends, the Members for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) and for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend). Therefore, such a body has always enjoyed all-party support.
The body's main features are, first, that it should be composed of persons with an inquiring frame of mind and a track record of scepticism towards official versions of events. With that in mind, it should be chaired by someone of the calibre and integrity of Sir Ludovic Kennedy. Secondly, it should not be dominated by lawyers, because they have been part of the problem and not part of the solution, although there are many honourable exceptions. I say that with respect to those of my hon. Friends who are distinguished lawyers.
Thirdly, the body must have the power to summon persons and papers and to conduct its own investigations and commission its own experts. Fourthly, as I have already said, it must not depend solely on police officers. When the Prime Minister referred to it in his speech two days ago, he said that it would be independent of the Government and the courts. I welcome that, but it must also have the capacity to be independent of the police. I cannot stress that too strongly. It would contain an absolutely fatal flaw and we would all be wasting our time if we set up a body as toothless and useless as the Police Complaints Authority. I have seen the PCA referred to as a model for the new criminal cases review authority, but it is a model of what not to do. The best thing for the
Column 280Police Complaints Authority would be to wind it up. I would not advise anybody with a complaint against the police to go to it: I would advise them to take a civil action in the courts.
It is no part of my argument that there are not plenty of honest police officers. I know that there are because I have met many of them in the course of my inquiries over recent years. I acknowledge that the Guildford Four and the Birmingham case were eventually brought to an end by honest, professional investigations conducted in the Birmingham case by Devon and Cornwall police and in the Guildford case by Avon and Somerset police. I accept that on many occasions properly supervised police investigations are appropriate. However, one would have to be blind not to notice that in many instances the police have been the cause of the problem. To this day, even in relation to celebrated miscarriages of justice that have long ago been accepted by the courts, a large number of policemen have failed to face reality. I am sorry to say that in many police forces it is an article of faith, even among intelligent officers, that the Birmingham and Guildford people are all guilty. One can hear that whispered where two or three are gathered together.
The only person whom one does not hear that whispered about is Judith Ward and that is because many people involved in that case knew from the outset, or at least for many years before she was released, that she was innocent. Two years ago, the Select Committee on Home Affairs went to Northern Ireland and we interviewed a deputy chief constable of the RUC. I said to him, "RUC intelligence on the IRA must be far better than that of the police on the British mainland, so you must have known all along that they had the wrong people in some celebrated cases." He said that he had never been involved in the Birmingham or Guildford Four cases and could not comment on them. However, he had been involved in the Judith Ward case and was able to say that she had been framed--that was his word--by West Yorkshire police. He added, "The irony is that when we were alleged to have done something wrong a few years later they sent over the West Yorkshire police to investigate us."
I know that many Conservative Members accept that there is a problem with the police. It does not suit them to say so out loud very often, but around the time of the releases, between 1989 and 1991, at least 30 of them, including several members of the Government and one or two members of the Cabinet, discussed the issue with me. Whatever they may pretend in public, they know that there is a serious problem and they would be unwise not to face it. The Birmingham Six case was the subject of at least three police inquiries, which cost millions of pounds. It was clear that the early inquiries did not try very hard. That might be a problem for the new authority if it is to be solely dependent on the police. Even though the Devon and Cornwall police ultimately carried out an honourable and professional inquiry, I well remember their first stab at it. Two superintendents, Mr. Essery and Mr. Reay, came to the House to interview me and it was absolutely clear that they had no intention of impartially examining any new evidence.
Mr. Essery waved a file at me that he said contained dirt on the new witness, an ex-policeman. I remember him telling me that people were queuing up to contribute to it, as I am sure they were. I told them, "I do not think you two gentlemen are trying very hard. If you don't try
Column 281harder, we will all be back here in two or three years' time going through it again." And we were. One great satisfaction was that when they came back, they were led by the chief constable, Mr. John Evans, who did a proper job. Mr. Essery was sitting sheepishly at his side. I regret to say that police investigating cases of alleged miscarriages of justice too often see their role as being to discredit new evidence and new witnesses. There is also a problem, which we should acknowledge, of police forces being riddled with freemasonry, especially in the detective squads. Those who have been down some of the alleyways that I went down during the Birmingham and Guildford investigations know that almost everyone involved in those cases, up to the level of chief constable in some cases, is a mason. That is deeply resented by officers who are not.
Only a week ago, a policeman who is not a mason telephoned me and said how deeply resentful he and similar colleagues feel about the way in which the promotion system and other matters are manipulated by those officers who are masons. Indeed, a couple of years ago I was at the classical music counter in Virgin Records when the chap behind me--an intellectual looking chap with spectacles--said, "Mr. Mullin, I want you to know that you have a lot of support in the Metropolitan police." When I scraped myself off the floor, he told me how angry he and many of his colleagues were at the way in which the masons carved up promotions.
Another Metropolitan police officer sent me a colour photograph of the Lodge of the Manor of St. James, the top Scotland Yard lodge, showing senior officers in their aprons. I have kept that photograph as a souvenir. If we want the new organisation to be credible, we cannot have one lot of masons investigating another lot of masons. That simply will not wash with the outside world.
Mr. Tony Banks: On behalf of many hon. Members, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work in bringing so many cases of blatant injustice to public awareness and to a resolution. He has performed a wonderful service for the whole country. On the question of masons, I think that a former Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis said that membership of a masonic lodge was incompatible with being a serving police officer. Can my hon. Friend tell us Commissioner Condon's view? Does he share the attitude of his former colleague?
Mr. Mullin: When Commissioner Condon came to the Home Affairs Select Committee, I asked him that very question, but he did not give a helpful answer. A memorandum in circulation, written by a former assistant commissioner--Mr. Laugharne--says that officers who wish to retain the respect of their colleagues should consider carefully whether they should be masons. I regret that the masons' response to that was to set up the Lodge of the Manor of St. James, which suggests a certain self-confidence.
I want to raise two outstanding cases of what I believe to be miscarriages of justice. If these cases are not resolved by the time the new authority is set up, they will be among the first to arrive on the desk of whoever is in charge of it. They show the scale of the problem. The first is the Carl Bridgewater case. Four men--one of whom is now dead--were convicted in 1977 of the tragic murder of Carl, a newspaper delivery boy.
Column 282It is obvious to most sensible people who have examined the case that it has entirely collapsed and that, should the Home Secretary refer it back to the appeal court, it will quash the convictions. The appeal court used to be a problem, but it has cleaned up its act considerably in the past few years. The problem is, the Home Office has not and neither have the police. The case is now going through its fifth or sixth police inquiry. All of this has cost millions of pounds of public money. If people say that it will be too expensive to have independent investigators on the new body, I will tell them that it will be a great deal cheaper than the present fiasco of the police inquiries. It is absolutely clear that they are intended to obstruct progress, not to achieve it.
The police currently investigating the case are deliberately dragging their feet. The foreman of the jury that convicted the men has called for the case to be reopened. One of the forensic experts employed by the latest police inquiry, who submitted his report 12 months ago, has written to the Home Secretary asking what has been done with it. It clearly shows that the case should be referred back to the appeal court, yet still there is no sign of progress. The second case that illustrates the folly of leaving these matters to the police is that of Brian Parsons, who was convicted of the murder of an old lady at Axminster in Devon. The case is of particular interest because the force involved is Devon and Cornwall, the very force that conducted the investigations that brought an end to the Birmingham and the Darvell brothers cases. We might expect, therefore, that that force at least might take seriously the possibility that a miscarriage of justice could have occurred, even on its own patch. Regrettably, that is not so. The case against Mr. Parsons was based mainly on forensic evidence--fibres from woollen gloves were found in the pocket of an overcoat and in his car. From the outset, many people have voiced serious doubts about the case and recently, as a result of the efforts of a local television journalist and an assiduous solicitor, a much more likely candidate for the murderer has been identified. Indeed, a sworn statement has been obtained from a witness who names the murderer. I have good reason to believe that officials in the C3 department at the Home Office are impressed with the new evidence, but what has happened? The case has been handed back to the Devon and Cornwall police for review. They are doing everything possible to head off even an inquiry by an outside force. Instead of investigating the new evidence, they are busy discrediting it. They are doing everything in their power to avoid having to make available the forensic evidence for independent examination.
Sadly, the officer in charge of this so-called review is Assistant Chief Constable Keith Portlock. I say "sadly", because he led the inquiry that vindicated the Darvell brothers. On that occasion, he was investigating another force. This time, he is investigating his own force, and is making no secret of the fact that he sees it as his duty to maintain the conviction of Brian Parsons at all costs. What is more, he is being particularly brazen. It is not hard to see why. If Mr. Parsons is innocent, the fibres from the gloves that led to his conviction were obviously planted by a Devon and Cornwall police officer--and that possibility is too awful for Mr. Portlock to contemplate.
Column 283I cannot emphasise too strongly that this is how a force with a reputation for integrity, and which has already conducted scrupulous inquiries into two miscarriages of justice, behaves when it comes to protecting its own. I say again that it would be folly to place sole responsibility for the conduct of investigations in the hands of the police, however closely supervised. It is essential that the review authority has its own dedicated force of investigators entirely independent of the police, who can be relied upon when there is reason to suppose that the police are not trying hard enough. One of the Home Secretary's objections to the deployment of independent, dedicated investigators is the cost. The two or three inquiries into the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six cases, and the five or six inquiries into the Carl Bridgewater case, cost millions and millions of pounds. If the Home Secretary is interested in public money, he will save a great deal by employing independent investigators. That will avoid repeatedly going over the same old ground.
Until now, it has been an unfortunate feature of miscarriages of justice that one stands a better chance of securing a release if one can attract the attention of a television company or journalist. Although it is right in a democracy that they should have a role to play in investigating miscarriages of justice, that cannot be a matter of satisfaction for those whose job it is to preside over our legal system.
The criminal cases review authority will provide a chance to repair the damage to our criminal justice system and to restore confidence. It is in no one's interest for that body to be as ineffective as the Police Complaints Authority. If the Government are unwilling to deal sensibly with the issue, I hope that a future Labour Government will make the necessary amendments.
We sometimes forget the victims of crimes where there has been an alleged miscarriage of justice. It is a cruel deception on victims to prolong wrong convictions, when victims must witness all the facts being rehearsed week after week and are reminded of the tragedy that befell their loved ones simply because we decline to face up to inconvenient reality. It is in everyone's interest that we face up to that issue once and for all. I hope that we shall do so.
Several hon. Members rose --
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse): Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, I remind the House that the wind-up speeches are to commence at 1.30 pm. Eight more hon. Members hope to catch my eye, so perhaps they will bear that timing in mind when making their speeches.
Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham): It is interesting to follow the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), because he has a great reputation for his assiduous campaigning. It is good to see him welcoming the general concept of the review authority, but he will be disappointed if he expects the authority, or even himself, to discover a conspiracy behind every case. Sometimes, he appears to do so.
Column 284I am grateful for this opportunity to contribute, because it enables me to record my general optimism at the Government's resolve and policy direction as set out in the Gracious Speech. A good deal of nonsense has been spoken about the Government's lack of direction or loss of nerve. That is so much rubbish. Anyone who believes it should carefully study the Gracious Speech, in which they will find confidence, coherence, direction and resolve across the broad spectrum of policy.
The only lack of direction in this place is to be found in the Labour party, which often does not seem to know where it is going, where it stands or where it is coming from. When it comes to Labour defining its driving ideals, it cannot even agree what they are not. Today, we are considering mainly home affairs and the environment. The Gracious Speech stressed that a priority was
"tackling drug misuse, drug trafficking and organised crime at home and abroad."
Drugs and crime go hand in hand. One begets the other, and both thrive together. The Government and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary have been firm in not listening to the siren voices of those who preach drug legalisation.
The Labour party, or at least most of it, shows commendable sense in that area. But that sense evaporates when one turns to the Liberal Democrat benches. Indeed, Liberal Democrat Members themselves appear to have evaporated. They seem to be led now by fantasies about drug taking and hazy dreams of armchair anarchists and part-time hippies, reflecting the extent to which their party has been taken over by a new and rather weird brand of fanatic.
Drug legalisation is the grossest form of social irresponsibility. Even to attempt to make the case respectable does untold damage to the work in drugs education, and undermines the efforts of police, teachers and parents. I hope, therefore, that the promise in the Gracious Speech will translate into a triple attack on drugs: stronger anti-drugs education; better international co-operation to break the activity of the distributors, and the criminal syndicates behind them; and tougher laws and better enforcement at home. We need to build on the very firm resolution already shown in the Government's legislation, with trafficking now attracting life imprisonment as a maximum sentence, and the confiscation of assets. It is excellent to see my right hon. and learned Friend today addressing confiscation, and extending it to other areas of criminal activity as well.
Evidence that I have been given, by local police and by teachers in my constituency, shows that the drugs problem is considerably worse than the official statistics tend to indicate. There is no doubt that a very high proportion of crime is drug-caused. It is a question not just of the habit demanding cash and therefore crime being committed to feed the habit, but also of the collapse of responsibility and judgment which so often accompanies a drug-induced state. A good deal of crime is carried out while under the influence of some form of drug.
Column 285Were any drugs to be legal, both those effects would still, of course, be present. Legalising drugs would not do anything to alter those facts. The argument that legalisation would somehow transform cause and effect is vacuous in the extreme. By definition, easier access to drugs would extend the problem and that would almost certainly mean that more people would be attracted and involved. We have enough social problems as it is. Why on earth pursue a policy that would clearly create more?
A tough line on drugs, on the other hand, would help roll back the problem, just as it is doing already with crime generally. The sudden fall in crime rates in most areas is not unconnected with the impact of recent legislation. In my constituency, latest figures show a drop in crime overall of 21 per cent., and for some crimes the drop is even higher--by 35 per cent. for non-domestic burglaries and by 29 per cent. for car thefts. Nothing is more welcome to the public. I believe that we will see those figures improving steadily as some of the more recent policies that my right hon. and learned Friend outlined, such as the attitude to bail, to cautioning and to sentencing, come fully into effect.
I know that my right hon. and learned Friend will stick resolutely to the line he charted last year, which he outlined again in his speech this morning. The howl of demonstrators, egged on by some sections of the press, should not divert attention from the very real strength of support he enjoys from law-abiding citizens.
I therefore hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will soon move to introduce his planned new system of prison discipline with privileges being earned rather than being of right. I trust, too, that he will take firm steps to ensure that prison rules are properly maintained and enforced. Prisons should not be places for parties, drugs and sex, any more than places of intimidation, violence or fraud.
All those abuses must be stopped by a rigorous application of measures based on firm regulation. My right hon. and learned Friend referred to the need to remove lax conditions, and I especially welcome the implementation of drug testing in prisons to help combat that problem.
Clearly, action against crime generally remains a top Government priority, and I warmly welcome that. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will also ensure that police manpower is increased in areas such as my constituency, where it is needed. I also hope that he will press ahead with his plans to help finance more closed-circuit television schemes, because those have proved to be a most effective deterrent and can be provided comparatively cheaply when set against the dramatic impact that they can have in many urban areas.
The Gracious Speech also announced legislation to put into effect the promise to create a new, integrated pollution control system. I shall end by referring to that system, but in a specific way that affects my constituency.
The thinking behind the integrated pollution control system is that one cannot separate one form of pollution from another; that the quality of the environment and society in general is dependent on the maintenance of high standards in all areas. Indeed, the Royal Commission on environmental pollution backs that thinking strongly. I shall refer briefly to environmental pollution linked with the channel tunnel fast rail link, since another important announcement in the Queen's Speech was the
Column 286intention to legislate to enable that rail link to go ahead. I strongly support that. As far as I am concerned, the quicker it is built the better.
I say that from an environmental point of view and not because I am particularly keen on seeing that huge infrastructure project blossom. Indeed, I rather question whether the tunnel itself and all the associated investment--huge investment--will turn out to be the best use of resources. I could certainly think of a better way in which to spend the vast amount of money involved, but I shall not pursue that argument. I recognise the reality of the tunnel having been built, and therefore that it must be used.
However, at present, of course, it is an inadequate reality from the environment viewpoint. It is inadequate because huge Eurostar trains are roaming through my constituency on quite unsuitable commuter tracks. Primarily, the trains are unsuitable because they cause noise, vibration and disturbance to hundreds of my constituents, because they disrupt busy commuter services, which are vital for the health of the capital, and because they are so clearly out of place on those lines. It is rather like landing jumbo jets at the local airfield. Of course, they are also unsuitable for the operators and the passengers. The sooner the trains get their dedicated line, the sooner they will be out of my constituents' back gardens. In the meantime, my constituents are disturbed and have no guarantee of compensation. The argument that they choose to live by the rail line and therefore deserve the trouble is fatuous. When they moved there, there was no prospect of a tunnel, let alone extra-long super- express trains with a particularly annoying new noise at either end as the power car goes past--twice, in effect.
It is as if someone were to move near a single carriageway and see it transformed at a later date into a motorway. In that case, of course, my constituents would get compensation, and it is good to see that the Royal Commission on environmental pollution recommends that the Government should look very closely at awarding proper compensation or insulation grants for those in areas facing road and rail noise in the day time, even if it is from existing roads and railways. That is specifically set out in the report.
I hope and believe that there is a quicker way to reach that objective. It should be reached via the review of the noise insulation regulation for railways, which I hope will be completed soon. Through that, the Government could include in their legislative programme this year measures that would overcome the difficulty faced by people living by the track. The Government could assure them of compensation in the years between now and the time at which the new dedicated link comes into operation.
I hope that Ministers will consider that closely, and ensure that my constituents, whose lives have been badly disrupted by the new venture, will be assured of the compensation they deserve. 12.45 pm
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): I shall try to be brief, but I must observe that it is ridiculous that half the time of the debate will be taken up by Front-Bench spokesmen. The time for Back-Bench Members is abridged accordingly.
Column 287The Gracious Speech does not contain any legislation on electoral law. I had understood from the normal post- election review, which the Home Office carried out, that it would introduce some comparatively minor amendments to electoral law. I am sorry that they are not included in the programme for this Session. It may be that they have been held back to take account of issues that Liberal Democrat Members feel particularly strongly about. If so, that would be a good thing. I notice that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) referred to fair voting systems. No doubt he will consider that the current farcical antics in Dublin are a good advertisement for proportional representation.
Some prisoners were transferred from England to Northern Ireland in September. I shall not return to the spectacularly inept timing of that transfer, from which I exonerate the Home Secretary. The real scandal involved the selection of the persons to be transferred. I should like the Minister to comment on that.
I understand that the Home Office consulted the Northern Ireland Office about who should be transferred, and that the Northern Ireland Office sent its man down the wings in the Maze to speak to the leadership of the Provisional IRA, who selected who should come over. I should like that issue to be followed up. The scandal involves the fact that the effective decision about who should be transferred was taken not by the Home Office but by the officer commanding Provisional IRA prisoners in Maze prison. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that as well.
The arrangements under which prisoners are transferred are somewhat dubious. As I understand it, prisoners have been treated as being on extended leave from England, and are still subject to the English prison regime. That is not a tenable position. One person involved in the administration of the prison service in Northern Ireland said to me, "What will happen at Christmas?" Come Christmas, the normal home leave arrangements in Northern Ireland will operate.
Northern Ireland prisons will be virtually emptied. Everyone will be on home leave except those who have been transferred from England, for whom the arrangements will not apply. That is not a tenable position. Nor is it tenable to say that prisoners are on extended leave from England, as I understand that the intention is that those prisoners are to serve the rest of their sentence in Northern Ireland. Sooner or later, this device will be challenged in the courts, and it may prove to be unsustainable.
A problem exists, and it should be tackled. The problem would not exist were it not for the differences between the prison regimes in Northern Ireland and in England. That applies to a number of points, which I shall not deal with in detail, as I have discussed them before and will discuss them again. It is safe to observe, however, that there should be a broad correspondence between the nature of the prison regime in England and the nature of regimes elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
The Home Secretary referred to national standards. That was fine, but are they genuinely national? They should be. They should apply not only throughout England, but throughout the United Kingdom. Failure to
Column 288have a broad correspondence between the regime in one part of the UK and that in another will lead only to problems.
In this Session, we shall consider, as we do annually, the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973. There have already been calls for part or all of that legislation to be repealed in the light of what we cannot at the moment be sure is anything more than a temporary ceasefire. Clearly, this is an area where we should hasten slowly.
I note that the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act is undergoing one of its five-year reviews. In light of the ceasefire, it would perhaps be appropriate to delay the review until the position becomes clearer. Certainly it would be better for the review to be carried out on a broader basis. It is well known that we have argued for some time that the anti- terrorism legislation should be consolidated--instead of there being two pieces of legislation, there should be a single Act. Clearly, the extent of that Act would have to be reviewed in the light of the present situation.
There is a strong argument for moving some parts of the legislation into ordinary law. Curiously, one of those parts was mentioned by a number of hon. Members, who referred to private security firms and the need to regulate them. Private security firms are regulated on a statutory basis in Northern Ireland, but under emergency legislation. It should be done under ordinary legislation, and the statutory arrangements in Northern Ireland could be applied to the rest of the United Kingdom, thus taking care of the problem.
One issue that has attracted considerable attention is the Government's proposal to introduce legislation to establish a criminal cases review authority. I am glad that such an announcement has been made, and that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has said that the review authority will cover Northern Ireland as well as England and Wales, and will have among its members people with knowledge and experience of the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland. I am especially glad that the legislation will be inclusive, and that the Northern Ireland Office's suggestion that there should be a separate authority or individual reviews in Northern Ireland has fallen by the wayside.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) mentioned the difficulties that arise when one force or group of people in a particular area try to investigate their own cases. The problem is especially acute when dealing with a small and closely knit professional body. Clearly, those connected with the legal system in Northern Ireland are a small and closely knit group of people. That is often a strength, but it does mean that people are sometimes not completely objective. Consequently, we were of the opinion, and recommended to the Northern Ireland Office and the Home Office, that the best approach would be to extend the remit of the review authority to Northern Ireland. We are glad that that is to be the case.
We also believe that the review authority should be able to call on the practical resources of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and other investigative resources in Northern Ireland, and to do so with regard to cases arising in Northern Ireland or in England and Wales. There is a lot to be said for bringing in outside minds that will be able to consider cases freshly. In addition, the expertise that exists in Northern Ireland might be of benefit in
Column 289dealing with cases that have arisen in England and Wales. The hon. Member for Sunderland, South reinforced that point.
Northern Ireland has not had as many cases of alleged miscarriage of justice as England and Wales, but, sadly, the worst is still unresolved-- the case of the UDR four. Three of the four have had their convictions quashed, but unfortunately there is the continuing injustice of the imprisonment of the fourth, Neil Latimer. I am sure that some hon. Members will recall the Adjournment debate last Session secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis). More than 150 hon. Members stayed for a debate that commenced after midnight, thus reflecting their concern about the case. That debate was many months ago, but the Secretary of State said at the time that he was considering a further referral of the case back to the courts in Northern Ireland. He has not yet made a decision, but I wish he would. I wish that he would have the courage to grasp the nettle, because an injustice has been done. I understand that one reason for the delay may be the nature of the new evidence that my hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone placed before the House on that occasion. Although it may not be admissible in court, and although there may be some difficulties in getting it into court, an obvious solution would be reference to the royal prerogative of mercy, which should be exercised in the case so that this long injustice does not continue.
I will not comment on other cases in which a miscarriage of justice has been alleged in Northern Ireland, except one. Some of those campaigning about the case, most unfortunately, have suggested that the Northern Ireland courts, in their interpretation of the law with regard to common purpose, have either done something unusual or have behaved inconsistently. I will not refer to the facts of the case, save to say that the suggestions about the application of the law by the Northern Ireland courts are quite wrong. It does not help the case for people to make quite unjustified reflections about the courts of Northern Ireland.
The section of the Gracious Speech dealing with environmental matters refers to the proposal to establish environment agencies for England and Wales, and for Scotland. I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you anticipate my next comment. Why has Northern Ireland been omitted? The need there is just as great. Reference was made to the National Rivers Authority. The need is just as great in Northern Ireland as elsewhere.
In 1990, the House passed the Environmental Protection Act. We are still waiting for equivalent legislation in Northern Ireland. Why can we not establish agencies on a United Kingdom basis? The need is there, and there is no reason why we cannot proceed. We have a good example in the criminal cases review authority, for which inclusive legislation will be introduced. We need to have inclusive legislation on environmental matters as well. We should not be subject to the delays and vagaries of the Northern Ireland Office, because there are particular problems with environmental protection in Northern Ireland. The same Department is supposed to promote development and to protect the environment.
Much of the problem in Northern Ireland stems from the fact that we do not have a worthwhile system of local government. That matter should be remedied, and I would
Column 290have liked to deal with that point. In view of the time, however, I shall conclude and give other hon. Members a chance to speak. 12.56 pm