Mr. Maclean: I thank my hon. Friend for his warm welcome for those sensible provisions in the Criminal Justice Act. People want us to strike a sensible balance between those who can serve on juries and those who, because of their criminal conduct and being charged with an offence, would be inappropriate to serve on a jury. That sensible measure, too, has been welcomed by the police service.
14. Mr. Peter Bottomley: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will publish each year the proportions of each age cohort convicted of serious criminal offences for males and females by the ages of 15, 21 and 30 years.
Mr. Maclean: Yes. Future editions of the annual Command Paper "Criminal Statistics, England and Wales"--our well-known best seller--will include a table showing the results from five-yearly cohort studies giving the proportion convicted of a serious criminal offence by age and gender.
Mr. Bottomley: That is the best answer that I have received to that kind of question in the past five years. Given that some 2,000 serious crimes are committed each week and that 34 per cent. of men aged 30 have already been convicted of a serious criminal offence, does not that
Column 722closer tracking and monitoring show what methods work? Does he agree that our society can gain by cutting the number of people who become criminals?
Mr. Maclean: I welcome my hon. Friend's support for the answer that I gave. I hope that all my hon. Friends are happy with me, having heard the warm commendation from my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley). We look forward to publishing those statistics every year and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pressing me on that point.
Mr. Sutcliffe: When will the prison service change its procedures to allow the full facts of internal inquiries to be made available to the families of people who have died in prison? Are there any moves to allow that under way?
Mr. Forsyth: I think I know which case is concerning the hon. Gentleman. His distinguished predecessor, the late Bob Cryer, raised the matter with the Prison Service. Difficulties are involved in making internal inquiry reports publicly available because of security and other considerations. In view of the hon. Gentleman's further representations, however, I will discuss the matter with the Director General of the Prison Service. I will write to the hon. Gentleman as soon as I have done so.
Mr. Forsyth: It is certainly true that a number of prisoners have a history of drug abuse; it is also true that some prison suicides have been involved in drug abuse. It is important that we identify those who may be at risk at an early stage, when they are admitted to prison, and ensure that proper procedures are in place to prevent the recurrence of recent tragedies.
Mr. Howard: The criteria for bids under the CCTV challenge competition which I announced recently were set out in the bidding guidance issued to all local authorities and police forces on 9 November. Priority will be given to smaller centres of population but bids from large urban areas are not excluded.
Ms Jackson: I thank the Home Secretary for his reply. I welcome his somewhat uncharacteristic change of mind in finding Home Office funding for such schemes, but why will they run for only a year--given that they are clearly
Column 723effective--and why should the obtaining of such limited funds as are available be subject to the winning of a competition?
Mr. Howard: The hon. Lady must not make the mistake of supposing that such schemes can be introduced only as a result of Government funding. They are being instituted all over the country as a result of partnership between the private sector, local authorities and, where appropriate, central Government. Whether or not the hon. Lady's constituency succeeds in the challenge competition, I hope that she will encourage those concerned to do what is necessary to install closed circuit television.
Mr. McLoughlin: I welcome the advances that have been made in the provision of closed circuit television in urban areas. Will my right hon. and learned Friend also consider making such schemes available to rural towns, where police forces are not currently readily available for deployment? Closed circuit television could have a significant impact on the reduction of crime in such areas.
Mr. Evans: I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his response. Is he aware that many of my constituents fear that a number of convicted criminals who receive community sentences seem to be getting away with it? Will he give an assurance that, when the new guidelines are published, community sentences will become far stiffer? Currently, they may be seen as an affront to the police who have put so much time into the cases, and also to the victims of crime.
Mr. Howard: I believe that my hon. Friend's views are widely shared. The revised national standards ban holidays abroad and require every probation service in the country to impose tough physical work. I think that that is exactly what my hon. Friend had in mind, and I share his views.
Mr. Maclean: The Government encourage the police service to adopt community policing strategies which involve their local communities. The partnership initiative that we launched this year is aimed at developing projects in partnership between the police and the community to prevent and tackle crime locally.
Mr. Hughes: Does the Minister accept that one of the most successful ways of policing urban areas, particularly local authority housing estates, is just that partnership between the local police and the local people? When that is
Column 724successful, private security firms are not needed and can be dispensed with on all council estates. Public policing is what people want, not privatised policing in public areas.
Mr. Maclean: That is why we are delivering public policing through the partnership initiative. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will encourage his constituents, through neighbourhood watch and street watch, and that he will encourage his council to do what Wandsworth is doing in helping the police to recruit more special constables and more neighbourhood constables --people with the full powers and duties of a police officer. It is working, and the hon. Gentleman should support it.
The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major): This morning, I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.
Mr. McKelvey: In the course of his very busy day, will the Prime Minister show some concern for the plight of the disabled, the elderly and the poor in our society who suffer disproportionately because they cannot pay their fuel bills? Will he chuck the intended VAT increase into the dustbin where it belongs and replace it with an adequate cold climate allowance?
The Prime Minister: As the hon. Gentleman may know, my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People will be making a statement on the disabled after Question Time. On fuel and power generally, the VAT compensation package compensates not only poorer pensioners but others for VAT on fuel. The measures are worth about £2.5 billion over three years. From 1996-97 onwards, spending on benefits and pensions will have been increased permanently by £1.25 billion a year. That is an indication of the extent to which we are prepared to make and have made provision to help people on low incomes.
Mr. Gill: Does my right hon. Friend understand that I for one would rather resign the party Whip than vote for a Bill with which dozens of his right hon. and hon. Friends do not agree and for which there is no popular support? Will he recognise the absolute folly of imposing a highly unpopular tax for the purpose of paying the subscription to a highly unpopular and increasingly expensive club?
The Prime Minister: Like me, my hon. Friend has a large rural constituency and I suspect that there are many net gainers in his constituency as a result of our membership of the European Union. On the European Communities (Finance) Bill, as my hon. Friend knows, there was very broad support in the governing party and in other parties for the deal that I reached at Edinburgh in 1992. It has a small additional cost for the United Kingdom--£75 million next year, rising to £250 million in
Column 7251999. It preserves the United Kingdom abatement, which is very important and which has saved us £16 billion since 1984. As a result of the agreement that I reached, the United Kingdom's share of the cost falls proportionately by a substantial amount and becomes far less than that of many other member states. As a result of the agreement, we shall be below Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden and Norway in the league table of net contributors. It is an agreement that we can legitimately commend to the House and, on its merits, it merits support.
Mr. Blair: Now that the Cabinet has confirmed that next Monday's vote is indeed a vote of confidence, may I take it that the Prime Minister will be leading for and speaking for the Government in that debate?
The Prime Minister: The vote of confidence relates not just to the vote on Monday but, as I said to the House some time ago, to the passage of the Bill in all its essentials. In those circumstances, the Cabinet considers it right that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should open.
Mr. Blair: I find that extraordinary. Can the Prime Minister understand why people do not feel confident in his Government? Would the following be a fair summary of where he stands this week? The deputy chairman of his party is found to have written a memorandum which admits the total contempt that the British public has for his party. The vice- chairman of his party is forced to resign after remarks about our European partners which beggar belief in an adult politician. The chairman of the Prime Minister's Back-Bench Committee is challenged because he is too loyal to the Prime Minister. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, meanwhile, talks of suicide pacts among Ministers while getting his sums wrong on the European budget. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister's Back-Bench Members roll around the television studios in a state of anarchy. After this week, would not any objective, reasonable observer conclude that his party has become an ill- disciplined rabble incapable of governing this country?
The Prime Minister: As the right hon. Gentleman managed to muddle most of his facts as between deputy chairman and vice-chairman, he is certainly wrong on almost every statement that he uttered. If he really wants to know about divisions and rabbles, he might well look at the divisions in his own party, not least below the Gangway. He might well look at divisions between himself and the deputy leader of the Labour party. He might well look at the divisions in his own position on Europe. It was the right hon. Gentleman who said some years ago-- [Interruption.] I know that the Opposition do not like it, but perhaps they should hear it. It was the right hon. Gentleman who said:
"We'll negotiate a withdrawal from the EEC."
It was the right hon. Gentleman who said more recently:
"Well, I wasn't actually opposed to membership of the European Community."
Just a few days ago, it was the right hon. Gentleman who said: "Under my leadership, I will never allow this country to be isolated and left behind in Europe."
The only thing that moves that fast is a rabbit heading for its burrow.
Mr. Dykes: Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also agree that, apart from the comprehensive answer that he gave previously, the essential reality for Monday is that the glib repudiation of a solemn treaty, an
Column 726international agreement and a modest proposal for European Union financing increases would be almost as bad as a shameful attack on our closest foreign allies, which we have heard from other quarters in the past few days?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend touches on an important point that was missed by the Leader of the Opposition. The Government are standing by an agreement that we reached in 1992 with strong support in the House at the time and that we reached with our European partners. The Bill before the House implements an international agreement that was negotiated with full Cabinet backing, accepted by the Cabinet and widely endorsed by the House. It is for that reason that it is inescapably a matter of confidence that the Government should secure the passage of that legislation.
Mr. Ashdown: Whatever the Prime Minister's protestations, does he not realise that it is the view of most people in this country that his Government and their kamikaze Cabinet have now descended into farce and civil war? If, on Monday, they were forced to go, the whole country would cheer and a start could be made on putting our nation's problems right.
The Prime Minister: I sometimes think that the right hon. Gentleman spends all the time between Tuesday and Thursday and between Thursday and Tuesday practising his next sound bite. He certainly gives that impression week after week. I remind him that it is he and his party who claim to be strong Europeans, he and his party who time and again joined in procedural votes to try to wreck the Maastricht treaty, and he and his party who will find an excuse next Monday to vote against the Government. Their commitment to Europe is skin deep when it comes to essentials.
Mr. Ottaway: Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Cairo conference on population and development in September was a landmark in dealing with world population growth in that it produced a global action plan agreed by almost every country? Does he agree, in particular, that the best way to implement such a plan would be for other countries to follow the Government's example and announce a similar huge increase in funding of 60 per cent. such as he announced in July?
The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend. It is a very serious international problem and I think that the international conference which took place was an extremely useful and worthwhile event. As my hon. Friend indicated, we made a substantial contribution--I think, from memory, that the commitment was around £100 million over the next two or three years--and we played a very positive part in that conference. It is a matter of importance and one to which we shall give continuing interest in the future.
Column 727a short-term contract at British Telecom, will the Prime Minister be ordering an inquiry? If so, will it cover the huge increase in agency and casual labour since privatisation?
The Prime Minister: I have seen the report in The Independent this morning to which I assume that the hon. Gentleman is referring. I understand from inquiries made this morning that BT has carried out an investigation and tells us that it is satisfied that there has been no hacking of the system, nor any evidence that confidential information referred to in the article has ever been available on Internet.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman: Has my right hon. Friend heard of the presumptuous attempt by the town of Preston to usurp the place of the city of Lancaster as the county town of Lancashire? Will he put every possible obstacle in the way of that outrageous presumption?
The Prime Minister: I see that my hon. Friend has the cross-party support of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). As a southerner unfamiliar with this particular matter, I think that it would be unwise for me to commit myself, but, naturally, as my hon. Friend raises the matter, I shall look at it very carefully.
Mr. Hall: Is the Prime Minister aware that the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), yesterday told the House that he was disgusted with the Maples proposals for inter-party warfare, yobbos and trying to trick people into positions? He said that they were completely unjustifiable and called on the Prime Minister to repudiate them immediately. Will the Prime Minister do that this afternoon--yes or no?
The Prime Minister: If the hon. Gentleman is concerned that any of my hon. Friends would be nasty to the right hon. Gentleman, I give him my assurance that my hon. Friends will be very gentle with him.
Column 728determined to honour the agreement that I reached on behalf of the British Government two years ago with our European partners in Edinburgh.
Mr. Gapes: Is the Prime Minister aware of the acute financial crisis facing Redbridge and Waltham Forest health authority, which is asking Redbridge health care trust to do 10 per cent. more work for about £2.5 million less next year? Will he express his clear and unambiguous commitment to do everything possible to keep King George's hospital open and stop any closure of its accident and emergency department?
The Prime Minister: I will certainly study the position that exists within that health district and ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to examine it. I do not have the facts in front of me and I do not propose to commit myself until I have looked at them.
Sir Wyn Roberts: As the Leader of the Opposition welcomed the recovery, growth and low inflation in the economy, is there any reason why we should pay any attention whatever to the shadow Chancellor, who is intent on sabotaging those achievements?
Dr. Jones: Does the Prime Minister recall that, in an answer to the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright), he told the House "No Government have ever been more open than this one and there is no suspicion of sleaze."--[ Official Report , 26 April 1994; Vol. 242, c. 104.]
Is that still his view, or does he at last realise that he set the standard at the last general election when he accepted money from foreign-based business men in return for continuing tax concessions?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friends remind me of one person who formerly funded the Labour party. The hon. Lady ought to contemplate that. Perhaps the Labour party should return the money to the Maxwell pensioners which they donated to it some time ago.
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