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House of Commons

Thursday 24 November 1994

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions



1. Mr. McWilliam: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the average cost of employing a police officer.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard): The present average cost of employing a police officer is £34,200 a year.

Mr. McWilliam: Given the high level of crime and individual risk to which police officers are now subjected, does the Home Secretary agree that that is a small price to pay?

Mr. Howard: I do indeed agree with the hon. Gentleman. I have always maintained that police officers deserve to be rewarded properly for the very considerable risks that they run on our behalf and for the difficult and dangerous job that they do.

Sir Donald Thompson: What will police officers think about the boy in my constituency who committed 130 crimes, who was arrested 88 times, who was a burglar, a shoplifter and a vandal yet who finished up doing 24 hours' community service?

Mr. Howard: I think that most police officers will react to those reports in much the same way as my hon. Friend and I react to them. The courts have powers to commit young offenders who are clearly out of control to the care of local authorities, which can ensure that they are detained in secure accommodation. The powers of the courts to deal with such young offenders will be much increased when the operative provisions of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 are in force.

Mr. Bennett: Given the considerable cost of employing police officers, does the Home Secretary agree that it is very important to ensure that they are employed on police duties and not on minding remand or convicted prisoners in police cells? Given the many occasions on which his predecessors have condemned the practice of holding prisoners in police cells from that Dispatch Box, can the Home Secretary tell us when the practice will stop, at least in Greater Manchester?

Mr. Howard: I very much hope that it will stop as soon as possible. We have provided a great deal of additional prison accommodation. I do not like the practice of detaining prisoners in police cells any more

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than the hon. Gentleman and I hope that we will be able to stop it quite soon. It occurs much less now than in the past.

Right to Silence

2. Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what comparison he has made of the use of the right to silence by criminals tried in the Crown court and by criminals tried in the magistrates court.

Mr. Howard: Research cited by the Royal Commission on criminal justice suggested that exercise of the right to silence may be higher in cases that go for trial in the Crown court.

Mr. Waterson: I am grateful for that answer. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that that research suggests that it is the more experienced and professional criminals who try to hide behind the right to silence, giving only their name, rank and serial number when questioned, which is one of the reasons why this change in the law is welcomed so widely not only by police men and women but by many law-abiding citizens throughout the country?

Mr. Howard: I do indeed agree with my hon. Friend. Research carried out on behalf of Kent constabulary suggests that experienced offenders with five or more convictions are more than three times as likely as suspects without convictions to refuse to answer questions during interviews. That bears out the proposition that was put to me by my hon. Friend: that experienced and professional criminals have made use of this device to a much greater extent than other suspects.

Mr. Mullin: In order to minimise hypocrisy, will the Home Secretary inform the House of any of his colleagues who have drawn an adverse inference from Lady Porter's decision to maintain her right to silence?

Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that we are talking about the right to silence in criminal proceedings. I thought from his intervention in last week's debate that we would be able to welcome him as a late convert to the change in the law. I am sorry that his question shows that such hopes are doomed to disappointment.


3. Lady Olga Maitland: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action he is taking to deal with the criminal use of knives.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean): The carrying of knives in public is severely restricted by the Criminal Justice Act 1988. Stronger police powers of stop and search in relation to offensive weapons have been introduced in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

Lady Olga Maitland: I congratulate my hon. Friend on responding to deep public concern about the carrying of weapons, and particularly knives, in public places. Will he confirm that the police welcome this measure

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and that it will help them in their task of protecting the public? Will he please keep the powers under review and extend them if necessary?

Mr. Maclean: I am delighted to give my hon. Friend the assurance that she seeks. Of course the police are keen on the new stop and search power in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, but that is not the only power to deal with those who carry or use knives. Those who carry knives in public can be caught under two provisions--that covering the possession offence or the offensive weapons rules if they show an intent to use a weapon. That offence can carry a sentence of imprisonment.

Mr. Cox: I welcome the Minister's reply. Is he aware that I recently tabled a question to his Department about banning the importation of a fountain pen that, within seconds, becomes a most deadly weapon with about a 4in blade? The Department replied that it did not regard the pen, which was found in a prison, as a lethal weapon, but the police, and especially the prison governor, regard it as such.

Mr. Maclean: We have power to ban certain weapons and we have used it to ban 14 weapons that can be imported. They range from rare and exotic implements from the far east to flick knives and other weapons. We are perfectly prepared to use that power again to deal with any other knives or offensive weapons if it is possible to come up with a legal definition that is sensible and is restricted to the item in question. In many cases, our ability to ban a knife is irrelevant because we have powers to deal with those who carry and use knives. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that it is possible to devise a rule to ban a knife that will deal with the people who wish to carry all sorts of knives in society, I am afraid that he is very much mistaken.

Mr. Key: Does my hon. Friend find it rather strange that knives are freely available in high street shops behind clear glass for people of all ages to see, yet betting shops are shrouded in secrecy behind smoked glass? Would he kindly consider deregulating betting shops and imposing tighter regulations on shops that sell knives?

Mr. Maclean: I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that of course we wish to improve visibility into betting shops; we shall certainly do that. The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) asked about the regulation and control of knives. There are hundreds of millions of legitimate knives in society that are used for perfectly legitimate purposes. I am perfectly happy to consider any individual case for banning an offensive weapon if that weapon can be clearly defined, but the most recent reports clearly show that the knives that have been involved in some attacks have been Stanley knives, kitchen knives and vegetable knives. It would not be sensible to draw up a law banning every Sabatier knife in the country.

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Criminal Injuries Compensation

4. Ms Jowell: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to amend the tariff scheme for criminal injuries compensation following the appeal court's recent judgment.

Mr. Howard: The divisional court found that the introduction of the tariff scheme was not unlawful. By a majority, the Court of Appeal took a contrary view. The court granted leave to appeal to the House of Lords, and I intend to appeal. It would not be appropriate for me to comment further while the matter is before the courts.

Ms Jowell: May I press the Home Secretary on this matter? As the Court of Appeal has found the tariff scheme to be unlawful, will he listen to Lord Carlisle of Bucklow, who said in another place that the scheme would discriminate most unfairly against those with the worst injuries? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman reconsider the scheme and withdraw it immediately?

Mr. Howard: No, though it always pains me to disagree with the noble Lord. Our scheme is by far the most generous in the world. More than 40 per cent. of compensation for criminal injures paid across the world is paid in Britain. We pay more than the rest of Europe put together, more than the United States and, after the changes, our scheme will continue to be the most generous in the world.

Mr. Trimble: I appreciate the Home Secretary's reluctance to anticipate the House of Lords' decision. Will he, therefore, give an undertaking that, irrespective of that decision, he will introduce legislation to put the criminal injuries scheme on a statutory footing so that the House can scrutinise the details of the scheme and victims in England and Wales can have legal, enforceable rights?

Mr. Howard: That is my ultimate aspiration, but it would be sensible to see how the tariff scheme works in practice before introducing legislation of the kind to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Mr. Straw: Will not the whole House applaud the unexpectedly perceptive insight of the Secretary of State when he said in September,

"Victims have had a raw deal"?

Is it not time for the Secretary of State to recognise that the victims of crime have had the rawest deal of all from the Government? When will the right hon. and learned Gentleman admit that he is now making victims pay the price of his own inability to control the relentless rise in violent crime, and that by these shabby changes, for which he has had no mandate at all, he has betrayed both the voters and the victims of crime?

Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that everything he says on the subject is so much hot air. He resolutely refuses to say whether any future Labour Government--should there be one--would restore the criminal injuries compensation scheme. As to the relationship between the payment of compensation and violent crime, as I told the hon. Gentleman when we last discussed these matters, the facts are that since the introduction of the scheme in

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1965 violent crime has increased by 500 per cent., the number of Criminal Injuries Compensation Board applications has increased by 3, 000 per cent. and the average award has increased by 40,000 per cent., so there simply is not the correlation that lay behind the hon. Gentleman's question.


5. Mr. Vaz: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what was the actual number of police officers employed in England and Wales in (a) April 1992, (b) April 1993 and (c) April 1994.

Mr. Howard: There were 127,760 police officers in England and Wales in April 1992, 127,963 in April 1993 and 127,489 in April 1994.

Mr. Vaz: Will the Home Secretary confirm that there will be no further reductions in the number of police officers as a result of the implementation of the core function policy?

Mr. Howard: As the hon. Gentleman may know, we have published the interim report of the core function review, on which we are working very closely with the police. The objective of the review is not to reduce the number of police officers but to enable the police to concentrate on the issues that matter most, and we are taking it forward with the police.

Mr. David Martin: Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that a relevant consideration is how police time is used? Will he do all that he can to ensure that the police are not required to pursue to court spurious crimes of rape, such as the one involving a former university student in Portsmouth, especially as the Crown Prosecution Service often undermines police efforts by failing to press proper charges in real crimes of violence?

Mr. Howard: The key to the concern behind my hon. Friend's question lies in the need for greater co-operation, communication and liaison between the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. The system works very well in some parts of the country and less well in others, but I am keen to encourage the whole country to emulate the standards of the best as soon as possible?

Mr. Beith: Will the Home Secretary explain why this year he refused requests from almost every chief constable in the country to deploy additional police officers, and why he presented the new police authorities with draft proposals for the limits on their budgets which would have meant that some of them would have to reduce the number of police officers on the beat?

Mr. Howard: The right hon. Gentleman is wrong in the first part of his question. The truth of the matter is that many chief constables have been able to employ more police constables by slimming the middle management ranks of their police forces in a way of which I hope the right hon. Gentleman would approve. As for the second part of his question, he will have to await my announcement next week of the detailed financing arrangements for police authorities.

Mr. Butler: Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the statistics that he gives are both accurate

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and misleading in the sense that the true test is not the number of policemen employed but the number deployed? Has not the latter increased significantly and more than pro rata with population growth in most police areas as a result of civilianisation and a reduction in paperwork in the past several years?

Mr. Howard: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is the key test and it is the objective that we seek to achieve. It is shared by chief constables, who are concentrating more and more of their officers on the type of duties that we all want to see them perform.

Mr. Michael: But does not the Home Secretary accept that the effect of the review of core functions will be a further serious cut in the number of police officers available on our streets? Does he accept that the Government reneged on a promise to increase the number of police officers by 1,000 at the last general election, because the actual number of police officers available for ordinary duty fell between April 1992 and April 1993 by 401?

Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman must have prepared his question not only before he heard my answer to the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) but as long ago as before the publication of the interim report from the core function review. Had he read that report, he would know that there was no substance whatever to his introductory comment. The figures all depend on precisely which month one takes. If one took the month of May instead of April, one would find a steady increase year on year for all three of the years mentioned.

European Immigration

6. Mr. Jenkin: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will support making European immigration issues subject to qualified majority voting.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Michael Forsyth): No, Madam Speaker.

Mr. Jenkin: May I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the provisions for qualified majority voting in article K and, moreover, the cross- reference with article 100c in the main body of the Community treaty, which also provides for qualified majority voting? Can he give a categoric assurance that the Government will take all steps to prevent other member states or the Commission from trying to involve qualified majority voting in immigration and other issues covered by article K?

Mr. Forsyth: My hon. Friend will be familiar with K.9--I mean not the character from Dr. Who but article K.9 of the treaty on European Union- -which provides for article 100c of the treaty to be extended. Article K.9 makes it clear that that can be done only by unanimity and with the consent of the House. The Government would never bring such a proposal before the House.

Dr. Howells: If the Minister is forced to take the advice of the Europhobes on his Back Benches, will he also put a little more pressure on the Government to start punching their weight to ensure that our invaluable links with the British Commonwealth are not weakened by draft legislation currently with the Commission in Brussels, which would ensure that Commonwealth

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citizens who currently do not need a visa to enter the European Union, including this country, will need a visa in future?

Mr. Forsyth: The hon. Gentleman refers to the provisions of article 100c of the treaty on European Union on the common visa regime. That was part of the Maastricht treaty, which the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends supported. It will still be for Britain to decide which countries are added to the common visa list. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would know that. As for Europhobes on my Back Benches, as he put it, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) was making the point that we would never give up our right of veto, which Opposition Members would give away at the first opportunity.

Police Bail

7. Mr. Streeter: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what are the latest statistics on breach of police bail; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Maclean: In 1993, about 59,600 defendants bailed by the police failed to appear. That figure consists of those on police bail who failed to present themselves either at a police station or at a court when required to do so.

Mr. Streeter: Is my hon. Friend aware of the widespread public support for the measures recently introduced by our right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, which tighten procedures relating to bail? Will he assure me that anyone who offends while on bail will be dealt with most severely and will certainly never be granted bail again?

Mr. Maclean: I thank my hon. Friend for warmly welcoming the proposals in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which tighten bail procedures such as the new police power of arrest for breach of police bail and the ability to attach conditions. It is a source of concern that many people who are charged with an offence and granted bail commit another offence. That leads to an unnecessary 50,000 crimes and an unnecessary 50,000 victims per annum. We have introduced a new power whereby in such circumstances magistrates need not grant bail. We have given them the power, which will be available for them to use. It is a pity that the Opposition could not wholeheartedly support those proposals when the legislation was going through the House.

Mr. Tony Banks: But what about people on remand in prison who, if found guilty of the offences with which they are charged, serve more time on remand than they would if they had been convicted? In such circumstances, surely bail needs to be looked at objectively, because there are plenty of people inside who should be on bail now.

Mr. Maclean: Of course, bail must be looked at objectively by the courts and magistrates, but many people who have been granted the important privilege of bail have breached that privilege. I do not accept that they have a God-given right to remain at large in

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the community committing offence after offence. The new power will help to reduce the 50,000 unnecessary victims each year.

Residence Rights

9. Mr. Fabricant: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the current rules regarding residence rights for nationals of countries which are not members of the European economic area.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Nicholas Baker): Rights of residence under the EC treaty applyonly to EEA nationals and their accompanying family members. Our policy is to restrict severely the number of third-country nationals coming to live permanently or to work in the United Kingdom. We keep the effectiveness of that policy under review.

Mr. Fabricant: Will my hon. Friend join me in applauding the United Kingdom immigration service for the work that it does? Does he agree that other EU countries may not be quite so stringent as us on immigration? Does he further agree that Churchill's reference to the "soft underbelly of Europe" possibly still applies? Will he ensure that the immigration service continues to maintain controls on people entering the United Kingdom from outside and within the EU?

Mr. Baker: I echo my hon. Friend's praise for the immigration service. I assure him that the Government's position on immigration controls is clear. In line with our interpretation of article 7A of the EC treaty, we are determined to maintain full immigration controls at our ports and airports on third-country nationals arriving from other EU member states. Frontier-based immigration controls on third country nationals are supported by a light passport or identity card check on EEA nationals.

Right to Silence

10. Mr. David Shaw: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what view he has formed of the right to silence; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Howard: The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 will enable inferences to be drawn by a court or jury if a suspect fails in the specified circumstances to answer questions put to him by the police or does not give evidence at his trial. These provisions, while not requiring anyone to forgo his right of silence, will ensure that silence will no longer be hidden from magistrates or the jury.

Mr. Shaw: I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for that reply, but in some ways have we gone far enough? Are not there serious crimes, such as terrorism and drug dealing, where suspects should be required to make a statement about what they were doing at the time of the crime.

Mr. Howard: The measures in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 represent a substantial step

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forward. They are closely based on provisions which have worked effectively in practice in Northern Ireland for some time, and they represent about the right balance.

Mr. Skinner: Are the Government not operating double standards in relation to the right to silence? Why do they not call on the last Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher, to give evidence at the Pergau dam inquiry?

Mr. Howard: I am delighted to welcome the hon. Gentleman as a late convert to our right-to-silence proposals. Will he now give them the support that seems to lie behind his question?

Mr. Deva: What views has my right hon. and learned Friend formed about the effectiveness of current laws against racially motivated attacks?

Mr. Howard: I refer my hon. Friend to the wise words of the Lord Chief Justice recently when giving judgment in a case in which it was made clear that the courts now have powers to pass appropriate sentences in cases of racially motivated crime without the need for a separate offence-- which would be counter-productive, lead to unnecessarily prolonged trials and do little to deal with the mischief that many people, from the best of intentions, desire to remedy through the creation of a new offence.

Madam Speaker: The Home Secretary might also have referred the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Deva) to question No. 27 on the Order Paper, as the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question was totally out of order.

Mr. David Shaw: But it was clever.

Madam Speaker: Order. It was not at all clever.

Asylum Seekers

11. Mr. Corbyn: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many asylum seekers are in detention.

Mr. Nicholas Baker: On 18 November 1994, 654 people who had claimed asylum at some stage were detained under Immigration Acts powers.

Mr. Corbyn: Does the Minister accept that it is totally disgraceful that more than 600 people who have committed no crime nor been charged with one are in detention? They have no right of appeal to an independent appellate body or of access to the courts. Some have been detained a long time. Is the Minister not disturbed at the number of people in detention under asylum legislation powers who have undertaken hunger strikes to draw attention to their plight? Is it not time for an independent appeal body to which such cases can properly be put?

Mr. Baker: Those detained represent well under 1.5 per cent. of asylum seekers, which is a small proportion. I assure the hon. Gentleman that detention is used only as a last resort. Most people in detention have rights to appeal and to apply for bail. They have that protection, and I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's other points.

Mr. Hawkins: Does my hon. Friend agree that rather than talk about the interests of foreigners who are in most cases properly in detention, and if the Labour party is to be taken seriously in its protestations about being tough on crime, the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr.

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Corbyn) should stop using every opportunity to speak out against the police? Until he and other Labour Members stop attacking the police, the hon. Gentleman should not talk about people who seek asylum.

Mr. Baker: Like my hon. Friend, I urge every Member of Parliament to give the police and other lawful authorities the support that they deserve.

Mr. George Howarth: Will the Minister confirm that it costs £800 per week to detain asylum seekers? Of the 600 current applicants, 230 are likely to be detained for between two and six months at a cost of £6,500 to £20,000. Is it not time that the Home Office took a long hard look at the procedures involved and speeded up the process, to save taxpayers money while at the same time providing some relief for detainees?

Mr. Baker: The costs cited by the hon. Gentleman represent a considerable overestimate. On the other hand, a firm detention policy, which does have a cost, is an essential part of immigration control.


12. Mr. Rowe: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many police officers will be returned to operational duties by his plans to cut paperwork and to reduce the number of police middle-managers.

Mr. Howard: This is a matter for individual chief constables to determine in the light of the particular circumstances of their own forces, but it should be possible over time for some 5,300 police officers to be redeployed to front-line operational police duties.

Mr. Rowe: Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that, according to the latest information from Kent, not much hope is held out for redeploying police officers as a result of computerising? However, will he commend the chief constable of Kent for redeploying up to 112 officers back to the beat as a result of his management review?

Mr. Howard: I am always happy to commend the chief constable of Kent, particularly for the reason given by my hon. Friend. That is a welcome example of the kind of progress that can be made in increasing the number of police officers deployed on operational duties as a result of the kind of reorganisation which lies behind my hon. Friend's question.

Mr. Mike O'Brien: Does the Home Secretary not understand the great concern among police officers about the mountains of paperwork with which they have to deal, much of which has been generated by the 56 Bills, including the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, passed by the Conservative Government since they came into office? The paperwork needs to be reduced.

Mr. Howard: Many of the provisions that have led to extra paperwork were inserted into those Bills at the Opposition's request. Whenever the Government want to take tough action to deal with law and order, the Opposition always come along with proposals for more and more so-called safeguards, most of which add to the burden of paperwork.

Sir Ivan Lawrence: Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that, even before the implementation of those

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proposals, the City of London police force has cut crime by half over the past three years? Will he congratulate it on that outstanding achievement?

Mr. Howard: I do, indeed, congratulate the City on the success that it has achieved. Other forces throughout the country are also achieving success in the fight against crime and we should all congratulate the police on the progress that they are making.

Mr. Alton: Recognising that the Merseyside police force has also made progress in the fight against crime and achieved a reduction in crime figures, does the Home Secretary agree that it is bound to lead to a loss of morale to publish proposals which the chief constable said could lead to cuts of 500 police officers and 100 civilians? Were that proceeded with, the only people who would benefit would be the criminals.

Mr. Howard: When we publish our proposals next week, the hon. Gentleman will see that the figures that he cited are wide of the mark.

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