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House of Commons

Thursday 12 January 1995

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]


City of Westminster Bill -- [Lords] ( By Order ) Order for consideration, as amended, read .

To be considered on Thursday 19 January .

Oral Answers to Questions



1. Mr. Winnick: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when the Director General of MI5 is expected to retire.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard): As has always been planned, the Director General of the Security Service is expected to retire in February 1996, when she will have completed four years in the post.

Mr. Winnick: Are there any grounds for extending her employment in that position? Does the director general of MI5 now accept that when she was in a responsible position in the organisation, but not yet director general, the decision taken under her supervision to target my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) and Patricia Hewitt was wholly unjustified? As I understand it, the Government no longer want to justify it.

Mr. Howard: I have answered the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question. As to the second part, there is absolutely no substance whatever in his allegation.

Mr. Fabricant: Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that now is not the time to be discussing the retirement of the head of MI5? Will he accept the congratulations of this House on the vigilant work that she and her department have done, with the exposure of an individual who was asked to leave the United Kingdom in the past week and who is a citizen of the Russian Federation?

Mr. Howard: We have a great deal for which every citizen of this country should be grateful in respect of the work of the Security Service.

Security Industry

2. Mr. McCartney: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will bring forward proposals for statutory regulation of the security industry.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean): We have no plans for statutory regulations, but

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I am looking again at policies in this area and await with interest the outcome of the Home Affairs Select Committee's current inquiry.

Mr. McCartney: The Minister knows that for the past 10 years I have been involved in a campaign to expose the activities of those in organised crime who have been infiltrating the security industry, particularly in the leisure sector. Organised crime is involved in jobs, prostitution and protection rackets. Was it not extraordinary that just before Christmas Conservative central office, through its security company, recruited one Bob King who had just served 15 years for armed robbery to work as a security guard at central office? Does that not prove that infiltration of the industry has gone right to the top, including the Government?

Mr. Maclean: If the hon. Gentleman has any suggestions of irregularity or criminality, the police are the appropriate body to which to make his complaints. I have given evidence on the security industry before the Select Committee. I repeat that I am looking at policies in this area, and I await with interest the conclusions of the Home Affairs Select Committee.

Mr. Mark Robinson: Does my hon. Friend agree that the private sector has an important part to play in the security industry and is making a major contribution to the fight against crime?

Mr. Maclean: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Crime is dealt with by the police in their public role, and the private security industry has a vital and major part to play in all the various sectors--technology, cash in transit, man guarding, and so on. Ordinary citizens, members of the public and local authorities working in partnership with the police and with the private sector also have a key part to play.

Mr. Trimble: Does the Minister recall that it was because there was evidence that organised crime was penetrating security firms in Northern Ireland that the Government put legislation on the statute book to regulate private security firms there, so there can be no objection in principle to extending that legislation to the rest of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Maclean: I am not suggesting that there is an objection in principle. We must look at the practicalities and try to pinpoint which sectors, if any, of the security industry face problems. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that every facet of the security industry, including locksmiths and those who install alarms or closed circuit television systems--or indeed those who work in other areas of the industry where there has never been the slightest suggestion of irregularities or problems--should have a massive bureaucratic system imposed on them. That is why I am keen to find out whether the Select Committee has delineated any areas where there may be problems. I am also keen to see what options and solutions may be available to deal with perceived problems.

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Closed Circuit Television

3. Mrs. Angela Knight: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he proposes to announce which bids for closed circuit television funding will be supported.

Mr. Howard: The successful bids for CCTV funding will be announced in March.

Mrs. Knight: Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the concern of many of my constituents in Erewash that bids from cities for closed circuit television will take preference over bids from towns--a concern emphasised on many recent occasions--which has resulted in funds going to the cities of Nottingham or Derby but not to the Erewash towns of Ilkeston and Long Eaton, which lie in between? Can he assure me that in this instance towns will not play second fiddle yet again to cities?

Mr. Howard: I can indeed give that assurance and I hope that it will go some way towards alleviating the concerns that my hon. Friend has expressed. I know how resolutely she works for the interests of her constituents. We have made it clear that the needs of smaller communities will be given particular attention as we assess the bids, which will, of course, be dealt with on their merits.

Mr. McWilliam: Does the Home Secretary accept that the funds available for the scheme--excellent though it is--are massively inadequate in terms of the demand for it? Is he aware that there is great concern among the business community of the Team Valley trading estate in Gateshead that its scheme should go ahead as it will not cost the Government or the local authority any money to run it once it is established?

Mr. Howard: The private sector, local authorities and other agencies are becoming increasingly aware of the significant benefits that closed circuit television can deliver and are contributing to the costs themselves. It is a very cost-effective way of dealing with crime. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who will know of the great success that has been achieved in the city centre of Newcastle, will be the first to accept that.

War Crimes Unit

4. Mr. Cyril D. Townsend: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to close down the war crimes unit at New Scotland Yard.

Mr. Maclean: This is a matter for the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. The unit is currently funded until 31 March 1995. It is expected that police investigations will be completed by that date.

Mr. Townsend: I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he not feel that employing 11 senior and experienced detectives under a chief superintendent at a cost of £5 million to look at alleged crimes in remote corners of eastern Europe more than 50 years ago represents a rather curious set of priorities?

Mr. Maclean: No, I do not. The House voted overwhelmingly for the action that has been taken. I believe that, where alleged offences are committed, we are under a duty to investigate them and see them through

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to the end. If there is sufficient evidence, the decision will be made by the Attorney-General, assisted by the Director of Public Prosecutions, on whether to prosecute. To put the cost into perspective, some £5.2 million over three years compares with Metropolitan police funding equivalent to some £5 billion over the same period.

Mr. Janner: I thank the Minister for that answer, which I am sure will be accepted by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Will he kindly tell the House how many cases are currently under investigation, how many cases have reached the Attorney-General and when he expects a decision to be made as to who will be prosecuted?

Mr. Maclean: Some 369 cases have been investigated by the Metropolitan police war crimes unit. The Crown Prosecution Service has decided not to prosecute in 236 of those cases, 112 people subject to investigation have died and 21 investigations remain with the police. Nine cases are currently with the Crown Prosecution Service to decide whether prosecutions should be brought. I am afraid that I cannot tell the hon. and learned Gentleman when a decision will be made on those, nor would he expect me to be able to influence, speed up or delay those decisions in any way.

Mr. Jessel: Is not the murder of 6 million people a completely different kind of crime from the murder of just 6,000, 600 or 60 people? Can my hon. Friend confirm that the overwhelming majority of the House to which he referred was in the ratio of about four to one?

Mr. Maclean: If I were one of the 60 or the six I might not necessarily take that view. However, these are more like Second Reading questions which have already been settled. The House decided by an overwhelming majority to set up the war crimes unit and to pass the legislation and we are under a duty to see that through. The task is well on the way to completion and it would be erroneous to abandon it as we approach the final hurdle.

Constitutional Reform

5. Ms Quin: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what proposals his Department has concerning British constitutional reforms.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Nicholas Baker): We have no current plans for constitutional reform in Great Britain. We believe that our present constitutional arrangements serve their respective purposes well.

Ms Quin: Does the Minister realise that there is deep public concern about the centralised quango-ridden system operated by the Government, and that by turning their face against any democratic reform the Government will win no friends? Would the Minister care to meet members of the Campaign for a Northern Assembly or members of the North of England Assembly of Local Authorities, both of which believe that regional government will not only be democratic and bring greater subsidiarity, but will help to bring about economic recovery and economic development in regions such as the north?

Mr. Baker: The Government do not believe that constitutional reforms are either needed or wanted by the majority of the British people. As to the hon. Lady's

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suggestions about regional devolved government, those are matters for my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Wales-- [Hon. Members:-- "No."] We take a very different view from that which has led to the proposals for regional government being put forward by the Opposition, which are based on the needs of the Labour party and would lead to the devaluation and subversion of the authority of the Palace of Westminster and the break-up of the United Kingdom: as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said-- teenage madness.

Dame Angela Rumbold: Does my hon. Friend agree that Britain already has sufficient in the way of local government and bodies which represent people at local level and that the only constitutional reform that is required in a country of this size--quite small--is to have rather more local local government and not to indulge in regional government and other constitutional reform which would inevitably result in nothing but further expense for the poor British taxpayer?

Mr. Baker: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The devolution proposals put forward by the Labour party are, in the words of The Guardian , which is no supporter of the Government, "an earthquake set to ripple through the land."

Mr. William Ross: Will the Minister give an assurance that, whatever constitutional positions may be arrived at throughout the United Kingdom, the authority will lie totally within the competence of the House?

Mr. Baker: I can certainly agree with and give the answer yes to that question.

Sir Fergus Montgomery: If we had devolution in Scotland and Wales, regional assemblies in England and a tax on the monarchy, would that not destroy the United Kingdom as we know it today?

Mr. Baker: Yes.

Mr. Salmond: Is not the Prime Minister, in his claim that the Union is the best possible arrangement, beginning to resemble the boy on the burning deck? What evidence does the Minister have for his claim that the majority of people in Scotland do not want constitutional change? Does he understand why there is such substantial irritation in Scotland and Wales with a Prime Minister who claims that this place knows better how to run those nations than the people of Scotland and Wales?

Mr. Baker: These are matters for Parliament. Scotland is a matter for the Secretary of State for Scotland. I concur with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who described this as a most dangerous proposal and the most dangerous proposition to be put before the British nation.

Sir Donald Thompson: Is my hon. Friend aware that the committee of the Council of Europe that deals with regional matters, which proposes the establishment of a regional assembly in Strasbourg, agreed on Monday that the current arrangements for the United Kingdom fit well into the pattern of regional government throughout Europe?

Mr. Baker: I agree with what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Beith: How can the Minister claim that Home Office Ministers are against all constitutional change when the Home Secretary is the biggest constitutional

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innovator around? Was it not he who sought to centralise control of police authorities, but was stopped by the other place? Was it not he who sought central control of the administration of the courts, and is it not he who is trying to rewrite the doctrine of ministerial responsibility so that Ministers are merely accountable--not responsible--for matters for which even "Questions of Procedure for Ministers" states that they are responsible?

Mr. Baker: My colleagues and I entirely reject that suggestion from a Member of Parliament who proposes a federal union in Europe which would have precisely the opposite effect.

Mr. Batiste: Is not the real motive of those who argue for regional government in England connected with the fact that they are afraid to face up to the consequences of the West Lothian question? Is that not a very bad reason to mess about with English local government--just to retain extra seats for Scottish Members of Parliament?

Mr. Baker: My hon. Friend is entirely right. Opposition Members have given no answer to the West Lothian question either before or now.

Mr. Straw: May I invite the Minister to agree with the following words? The words

"decentralisation to the provinces of England would result in local communities recovering a large measure of the responsibilities they have lost in so many spheres."

were the exact words that the Home Secretary's predecessor, now Chancellor of the Exchequer, used in a Bow Group pamphlet that he wrote recommending elected regional councils. [Hon. Members:-- "When?"] It was after he had been chosen as a prospective parliamentary candidate-- [Interruption.] Conservative Members are now revealing a further constitutional novelty: nothing that people say before elections should be followed after they have been elected. As a responsible adult and a prospective Conservative candidate, the right hon. and learned Gentleman wrote a pamphlet backing elected regional councils all over England. He was right then, and the Government are wrong now.

Mr. Baker: If the hon. Gentleman wants to be taken seriously, he will have to do better than dredge up 20-year-old quotations.

Mr. Harry Greenway: Does my hon. Friend agree that the people of London give thanks every day for the ending some years ago of the unlamented, overspending, bureaucratic, wasteful Greater London council and do not want anything like it again, either in London or in the rest of the country?

Mr. Baker: My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

Crime Statistics

6. Mr. Alan W. Williams: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the accuracy of official crime statistics.

Mr. Maclean: Two forms of official crime statistics are produced: crimes recorded by the police, and crimes measured by the British crime survey. Every effort is made to ensure that both sets of figures are as accurate as possible within their inherent limitations.

Mr. Williams: What does the Home Office intend to do about the problem which affects efforts to cut crime

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when police officers reclassify burglaries as criminal damage, thefts as lost property and car crime as tampering?

Mr. Maclean: The hon. Gentleman should not give the impression that there is somehow a deliberate attempt to classify crimes in the wrong way. That is not the case. However, if in its annual round Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary comes across anomalies, it will instruct the force to apply Home Office guidelines, which have not been changed, to try to ensure that all crime is properly classified. If someone comes across a broken window in a garden shed, it must be difficult in practice for officers to know whether that is an attempted break-in, criminal damage or vandalism. I hope that the hon. Gentleman was not giving the impression that somehow there is deliberate changing of the figures, because there is not.

Mr. Sykes: Is my hon. Friend aware that the so-called blip boy has been sent to a children's home in Scarborough? Is he further aware that North Yorkshire county council's social services department did not find it necessary to inform the police of his placement but instead said that the reason was a lack of secure accommodation? Does my hon. Friend agree that that enforces the need for new secure accommodation units as soon as possible?

Mr. Maclean: Yes. That is why we are bringing two sets on stream-- the proposals for new secure accommodation which we put in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which the Opposition opposed, and more local authority secure accommodation. We need both and it is appropriate to have both.

Mr. O'Hara: Is the Minister aware of one area in which the explosion of crime has generated false statistics? In some places there has been so much burglary that people can no longer get domestic contents insurance. They therefore do not bother to report burglaries as they know that they will not be resolved anyway. In view of the Chancellor's recent Budget increase in insurance premiums, the misrepresentation of crimes will get worse in future rather than better.

Mr. Maclean: I do not accept that there is misrepresentation of crime. The trend over the past 10 years has been for people generally to report more and more crimes. In 1981 some 31 per cent. of crimes were reported, according to the British crime survey. By 1991, the figure had risen to 41 per cent.

Prisons (Satellite Television)

7. Mr. John Marshall: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement about the availability of satellite television in prisons.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Michael Forsyth): Most prisons have access to satellite television, which is controlled. However, the costs are met by prisoners themselves and not by taxpayers.

Mr. Marshall: First, may I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment to the Privy Council? As most people do not have satellite television in their homes, will my right hon. Friend suggest to the lily- livered liberals

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within the prison establishment that prisoners should not enjoy in individual cells facilities that they would not enjoy in their homes?

Mr. Forsyth: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. In-cell provision of satellite television is limited to two prisons. I am sure that my hon. Friend will support the reforms that are to be introduced to ensure that privileges, of which access to television is one, are earned within the prison system. We hope to be able to announce those reforms shortly.

Mr. Tipping: Has not the availability of personal possessions in Whitemoor and Parkhurst prisons led to the situation where cells cannot be effectively searched? Is it not the Home Secretary's own policies which are causing problems in our prisons?

Mr. Forsyth: As the hon. Gentleman ought to know, the matter of the issue and quantity of possessions in cells was one of the topics that emerged from the Woodcock report. That follows the review of privileges which has been conducted within the Prison Service. I agree that it is important that prisoners' possessions should be limited to ensure that there is effective searching and I look forward to support from Opposition Members in ensuring that that policy is enforced.

Criminal Justice

8. Mr. Yeo: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received regarding the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

Mr. Howard: We have received about 2,000 letters from hon. Members, most of them covering representations from constituents, and about 2,500 letters from members of the public.

Mr. Yeo: Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Police Federation have warmly welcomed many provisions in the Act, including those to widen the DNA base and change the so-called rule of silence? Does he agree that politicians who opposed the measures in the House have proved that they are not only totally soft on crime but that, despite all the trendy sound bites, the modern Labour party still much prefers to protect the criminal rather than to prevent crime?

Mr. Howard: I agree with my hon. Friend. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 will be seen as a landmark in criminal justice legislation. It will mark a great advance, first, in helping the police to prevent crime, to bring criminals to justice and to get them convicted before the courts, and secondly, in providing the courts with the power to pass appropriate sentences.

If Labour Members believe that they have fooled a single citizen in this country by abstaining on Second Reading of the Bill but opposing the most important measures in Standing Committee and in the other place, they are grossly deluding themselves.

Mr. Cohen: When will the Home Secretary get the police to use the Act against people who demonstrate against cruelty to animals?

Mr. Howard: As the hon. Gentleman knows, I do not get the police to use the provisions of the Act against

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anybody. The police decide what use they make of the powers given to them under the legislation and I have every confidence that they will use their discretion wisely.


9. Mr. Waller: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on current trends in the levels of (a) car- related crime and (b) burglary.

Mr. Howard: In the 12 months to June 1994, the number of notifiable offences of vehicle crime recorded by the police in England and Wales fell by 9 per cent. Offences of burglary fell by 8 per cent. over the same period.

Mr. Waller: Can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that there has been a substantial improvement in the level of theft of and from vehicles as a result of the initiatives taken by motor manufacturers in fitting much better security devices? As there is clearly a better trend in the level of property-related crime throughout the country, especially in west Yorkshire, should not we congratulate the police and others responsible for that, rather than assuming that there is an inevitable rise in crime of all types?

Mr. Howard: My hon. Friend is right. Both the vehicle manufacturers and, in particular, the police deserve our congratulations on the steps that they have taken to reduce car-related crime. It demonstrates that the new methods being employed by the police through more effective targeting can have significant success in tackling crime and bringing under control some of the increases of recent years.

Mr. Flynn: Does the Home Secretary agree that as those who perpetrate crimes go to our five-star, drug-ridden prisons, where they spend their time eating lobster thermidor or using their escape kits to fashion master keys for use in escape, that makes the right hon. and learned Gentleman appear to be soft on criminals? Should not he reverse his decision under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act savagely to rob the victims of crime of the compensation that they deserve? He is soft on criminals and hard on victims of crime.

Mr. Howard: I look forward to the hon. Gentleman's support for the proposals that I shall announce shortly to ensure that what have come to be regarded as entitlements in our prisons are no longer regarded as such and that privileges will have to be earned by good behaviour and can be withdrawn for misbehaviour. I look forward to his total support for those measures.

Mr. Congdon: I welcome the figures given by my right hon. and learned Friend in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller), but does he agree that it is important to keep up the fight against such crime? In the light of recent events, does he further agree that it is important to ensure that prison continues to act as a deterrent? Therefore, is not it important to ensure that lax prison regimes are ruled out?

Mr. Howard: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Although the reductions that I have announced are welcome--and we must congratulate the police and others concerned who have played their part in bringing them

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about--the figures are still far too high. We must never cease in our efforts to do all that we can to help the police to tackle crime even more effectively in future.

Mr. Michael: Does not the Secretary of State realise that people throughout the country are stunned by his complacency over burglary and car crime? Why is he ignoring the facts in the British crime survey, which shows that 6 per cent. of households were burgled in 1993, that 20 per cent. of households had their vehicles broken into during 1993, and that people's experience of crime is rising two and a half times as fast as the recorded crime figures? As the increase in the experience of crime is far higher than the increase in the recorded crime figures, what will he do about it?

Mr. Howard: If the hon. Gentleman had listened to my previous answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Congdon), he might have had the wit to rephrase his question. Of course I accept that crime remains far too high and that we must never cease in our efforts to give the police the tools that they need to tackle it. That is why it is so absurd for the hon. Gentleman to rise at the Dispatch Box and ask such questions when he in Standing Committee, and his party in the House of Lords, opposed tooth and nail the measures that we have put into the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which will enable the police to act effectively.

Police Pay

10. Mr. David Evans: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the level of police pay in real terms (a) at present and (b) in 1979; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Maclean: The minimum salary for a new recruit to the police service in 1979 was £4,086, while the minimum now is £13,992. In real terms, police pay has increased since 1979 by 46 per cent.

Mr. Evans: I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Does not it confirm that we are the party of law and order, which is in stark contrast to the lot opposite, who criticise the police and support rent-a-mob, rent-a-crowd and black flag on television? They oppose every piece of legislation that goes through this place. Is not it a fact that we are the party of law and order and that they are the party of no-hopers and law breakers?

Mr. Maclean: The House would not expect me to match the excellent rhetoric of my hon. Friend, so perhaps I could rely on a few statistics. If it is legitimate for the shadow Home Secretary to quote from a Tory candidate's leaflet of 1958, perhaps I can quote from 1978, the last year of a Labour Government, when Lord Callaghan--who I understand was a former police adviser--was Prime Minister. In the last year of that Labour Government, 5,000 police officers resigned in disgust at the way that they were treated by the Labour Government. The first move of the incoming Tory Government was to recruit 7,500 police officers to bring us up to establishment and to recruit another 8,000 over and above that to give us today's number of police officers.

Mr. Pike: What is Lancashire to do with the number of police and with police pay now that it has been told that the decimal point in the figure for its forthcoming

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budget was in the wrong place and that the cut was not £200,000 but £2 million? What impact will that have on policing and police pay in Lancashire next year?

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