[Lords] ( By Order ) Order for consideration, as amended, read.
To be considered on Thursday 16 February.
By Order ) Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Thursday 16 February.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean): I regard crime prevention as a matter of the highest priority. I am delighted that Portsmouth, with its excellent record of encouraging crime prevention initiatives through partnership, is to have one of the new safer cities projects to help tackle crime and the fear of crime in the area.
Mr. Martin: May I make my hon. Friend aware of the concern of many people in Portsmouth who are particularly sensitive about crimes of drunken, late-night violence and vandalism associated with clubs similar to the one in Aldershot? This week, four men in Winchester were given grossly inadequate sentences for a serious and mindless assault. Does that not sum up the lack of confidence in law and order enforcement that many people feel? They are worried about the failure of the courts to back up the efforts of the police and the clubs themselves to stamp out this behaviour. Will my hon. Friend support my asking our right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General to refer this case to the Court of Appeal for a proper sentence?
Mr. Maclean: That case is not in the referrable category, but I congratulate Hampshire police on their excellent crime prevention initiatives. Last year, crime fell in Hampshire by 7 per cent.; burglaries were down by 14 per cent.; and robberies were down by 14 per cent. I accept my hon. Friend's point, however, that the criminal justice system is a seamless robe and that all parts of it must work in harmony if the public and our constituents are to be assured that there is justice.
Column 440The House has given the courts powers to impose sentences of up to 14 years for burglary, 10 years for killing someone while drink-driving, five years for inflicting bodily injury and life imprisonment for unlawful wounding. I suggest that any public indignation at a perceived failure to use the extensive powers that the House has granted should be directed at those responsible for sentencing.
2. Mr. Hanson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department who gave instructions to the Director of Custody (Prisons) with regard to the removal from office of the governor of Parkhurst prison on 10 January.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard): The decision to move the then governor of Parkhurst to other duties was taken by the Director General of the Prison Service after consulting the directors of custody, security and personnel.
Mr. Hanson: Is the Home Secretary aware that there is a strong suspicion among the press, the public and prison staff that the governor was removed directly on his orders as a sacrifice to the House on 10 January? Does he further agree that, however the matter was resolved, it has had a detrimental effect on prison governors' morale and on the morale of the Prison Service? The right hon. and learned Gentleman should face up to his responsibilities by accepting that he had a hand in the removal.
Mr. Howard: I refer the hon. Gentleman to the minutes--available to everyone--of the evidence that I gave to the Home Affairs Select Committee just two weeks ago, in which I dealt with this and similar questions in great detail. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the record of my answers, he will find that the suspicions to which he referred are quite without foundation.
Mr. Barry Field: Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm yet again that none of the staff moved from Parkhurst prison was dismissed, and that people were moved for their own safety pending the outcome of the inquiry into the escapes?
Mr. Howard: I made it absolutely clear, as I told the House on that occasion, that the movement of those concerned was pending the outcome of disciplinary investigations and any subsequent proceedings. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to that fact.
Mr. George Howarth: Is it not precisely because of the evidence in the minutes to which the Home Secretary referred that suspicion remains? Is not the clear truth of the matter that, in his desperation to retrieve his damaged political reputation, the Secretary of State was determined to come to the House on 10 January with Mr. Marriott's head on a platter? The manner in which Mr. Marriott has been scapegoated brings credit on neither the Home Secretary nor the Prison Service. It is a downright disgrace.
Mr. Howard: I notice that neither the hon. Gentleman nor other Opposition Members have seen fit to suggest how they would have acted in similar circumstances. It was essential that the management of that prison, with the number of high-risk category A prisoners still there, should be carried out efficiently and effectively in all the circumstances. It was made absolutely clear at the time
Column 441that that was why the director general made his decision. If we are to have the kind of criticism that we have just heard from Opposition Members, they should tell us what they would do, or would have done, in similar circumstances.
Mr. Brazier: I have a prison in my constituency. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, while we cannot prejudge the outcome of the disciplinary proceedings, if the events at that prison were substantially as they have been reported, it is right that people should be held accountable for them?
Mr. Howard: My hon. Friend and the House will understand that I cannot and will not prejudge the outcome of those disciplinary proceedings. It has been made absolutely clear time after time why the director general took the action that he took on that day. We shall have to await the outcome of the disciplinary proceedings in due course.
3. Mrs. Jane Kennedy: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what assessment he has made of the number of awards for criminal injuries compensation which will be reassessed if the tariff scheme is withdrawn.
Mrs. Kennedy: Will those 51,000 victims of violent crime be further disadvantaged by having to wait another period before receiving payment in compensation? Exactly how much public money will be spent on the reassessment of those cases if the tariff scheme is withdrawn? That money could have been spent on the victims of violent crime.
Mr. Howard: I think that the hon. Lady is under a misapprehension. The whole purpose of taking action under the tariff scheme was to ensure that people did not have to wait for payment of compensation and that they had those payments before the ultimate judgment of the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords in this matter. The whole purpose of making payments under the tariff scheme during the interim judgment while we await the ultimate judgment is to ensure that people do not have to wait longer than necessary for their money.
Mr. Michael: Will the Home Secretary explain why there has been a slowdown in the flow of paperwork from the Home Office on claims under the criminal injury compensation scheme? Leaving aside the dubious legality of how he sought to change the scheme, which still hangs in the balance, will he now admit the obvious: that victims of the most serious crimes of violence will not gain under his scheme and that compensation for those who suffer the most horrendous attacks and therefore need that compensation most, including police and fire officers injured in the course of duty, will be slashed?
Mr. Howard: Time after time, it has been made clear that 60 per cent. of the victims of crime will gain by way of compensation under the tariff scheme at least as much as, if not more than, under the old scheme. Time after time, the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on the
Column 442Opposition Front Bench have failed to give an undertaking that they would restore the old scheme. Unless and until they give such an undertaking, all questions of the kind which the hon. Gentleman asked are the hottest of hot air.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Michael Forsyth): My right hon. and learned Friend has the power to release on licence a prisoner convicted of murder provided that the parole board has recommended release, and after consulting the Lord Chief Justice and the trial judge, if available.
My right hon. and learned Friend also has the power, in exceptional circumstances, to release a life sentence prisoner on compassionate grounds and may recommend the exercise of prerogative powers in respect of any convicted prisoner.
Mr. Riddick: Will the Home Secretary use the powers at his disposal to free Private Lee Clegg at the earliest opportunity? Is he aware that I have received many more letters about the plight of Private Clegg than I have received, for example, about veal crates, because my constituents are outraged at the fact that that British soldier is serving a life sentence for murder, having become entangled in that terrible situation simply because he was doing his duty?
Mr. Bermingham: Is it not a fact that if the Home Secretary relinquished his powers to interfere in judicial decisions and got rid of mandatory life sentences, the problem concerning Private Clegg would never have arisen, because the judge would have been able to sentence him appropriately?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the mandatory life sentence enables my right hon. and learned Friend, on an individual basis, to decide on the basis of risk whether a life prisoner may be released and on the basis of appropriate retribution and deterrence the length of sentence that should be set as a minimum as part of the tariff-setting procedure.
Sir Ivan Lawrence: Does my right hon. Friend share the view that the public expect that the most heinous of all crimes should be visited by the most serious of all punishments; that life imprisonment is the substitute for capital punishment, which the House gave to the country in 1965; and that, if that is right, those who seek to require that judges decide how long a prisoner shall serve for the crime of murder have a difficult case to prove?
Column 443Obviously, it was part of the arrangements made following the abolition of the death penalty for murder that the Home Secretary should have a role in deciding the length of sentence that would be served as part of the tariff-setting procedure. It is important that that ability to set a tariff, on the advice of the judiciary, and to assess whether a prisoner will be released on licence, should take account of risk to the whole community, and that that power should rest with the Home Secretary.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Nicholas Baker): An estimated 55,255 applications for asylum were outstanding at the end of last year. For applications received since the implementation of the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 and decided in the period between 1 October and 31 December 1994, the estimated average time between the receipt of a completed asylum application and the decision was seven months.
Mr. Banks: Is it not a fact that that appalling backlog and the long time taken for consideration are caused by the immigration service being overstretched and underfunded? Is the Minister aware that there are more than 5,000 of those cases in my borough of Newham alone? That is 10 per cent. of all applications. Is he aware of how much pressure that puts on the people who are waiting for a decision, and how much pressure it puts on the hard-pressed services of Newham in terms of housing, social services and education? Will he give further resources to the immigration service and speak to his comrades--friends--in other Departments, so that boroughs such as Newham can be given additional resources to tackle the problem?
Mr. Baker: Perhaps I could point out to the hon. Gentleman that before the 1993 Act, the average time taken on those cases was 18 months, so seven months is an improvement on that. I share the anxiety expressed by the hon. Gentleman about the time that is being taken, and am urgently considering, in conjunction with the Lord Chancellor's Department, ways in which we may reduce those times, precisely to deal with the problems that the hon. Gentleman describes.
Mr. Brooke: Does my hon. Friend, whatever the delay, encourage applicants for refugee status to spend the time learning English, which is in their direct interest and also in the interest of the community into which they are seeking to integrate?
Dr. Howells: The Minister has placed in the Library a copy of the report that he commissioned from KPMG Peat Marwick on the workings of the refugee asylum appeals procedure. Has he read that report? If so, how can he explain the huge overload in existing work and the shambles that has resulted from 15 years of Government
Column 444administration of that department? What will he do to clean up the mess in order to introduce common decency and efficiency into the entire procedure?
Mr. Baker: That report is in the Library. I urge anyone who is interested to look at it and to let me have their comments. We are, of course, studying it carefully. It makes a number of radical proposals, as well as sensible ones. We are looking urgently to see how we can improve the system in the light of those proposals.
Mr. Evennett: I congratulate my hon. Friend and his officials on the work that they have done in that difficult area and on shortening the time during which asylum seekers have to wait before their cases are processed. Will he assure me and my hon. Friends, however, that bogus applicants are sent back as quickly as possible?
Mr. Baker: One of the purposes of speeding up the appeals system set up in the 1993 Act is to deal quickly with appeals so that those genuine asylum seekers are given that right of asylum and those bogus asylum seekers to whom my hon. Friend referred are expelled as quickly as possible.
Mr. Maclean: Police forces will receive an extra £180 million in 1995-96. The allocation of those resources within each force is a matter for the chief constable. He must decide on the most effective use of his resources, taking account of local priorities and needs.
Mr. Miller: I wonder whether the Minister has seen the letter sent to the Home Secretary by the local section of Parents Against Drug Abuse in my constituency in which those parents expressed their concern at the closure of the Customs and Excise operations at Ellesmere Port and the fact that no police officers are dedicated solely to the task of policing the drugs problem. Does he not understand that that failure to monitor that port leaves the door wide open for drugs? Does he not believe that children in my constituency and right across the country deserve better protection than that?
Mr. Maclean: They are getting it. The Government's comprehensive drugs strategy commands expenditure of more than £500 million throughout Departments. The hon. Gentleman should not misrepresent the proposed changes to Customs and Excise. They will not detract from the effectiveness of the customs response to drug smuggling. The proposals are designed to enhance and develop existing strategies, and to provide better flexibility and better targeting for customs operations against drug smuggling. Customs and Excise assures me that there will be no customs-free port or airport in the United Kingdom. It will be able to make flexible use of regionally based, mobile, anti-smuggling teams and that represents a good response to the problem.
Column 445advocate the legalisation of so-called "soft" drugs understand the nature of the problem with which we are dealing. The signal that would be given to our young people, to the effect that some drugs are okay to mess about with while others are not, would be disastrous. That is the view of the police force and Her Majesty's Government.
Mr. Beith: Is the Minister aware of newspaper reports that the Security Service, MI5, is seeking a role in dealing with drug-related crime? Although it may have the capacity to assist in dealing with drug trafficking and money laundering, will Ministers bear it in mind that much of the work to combat drug-related crime depends on working closely with communities? Many police forces are doing just that and are accountable for that work to local communities in a way that the Security Service cannot be.
Mr. Maclean: Although I agree with the last part of the right hon. Gentleman's question that, of course, there is a role for various agencies, the 43 police forces in England and Wales and those in Scotland have a continuing and complete role to carry out in relation to drugs. I was slightly surprised that when we are discussing the legalisation of drugs the right hon. Gentleman from the Liberal party should rise on cue, as the Liberal party is one of those ridiculous organisations that believe in the liberalisation of some soft drugs.
Mr. Spring: Does my hon. Friend agree that the fight against drug- related crime can be enhanced by a proper public understanding of drugs? Is he aware that there are now certain varieties of cannabis which cause hallucinations and can exacerbate conditions such as phobias and even schizophrenia? In those circumstances, does my hon. Friend share my view that those who regard some drugs as only recreational and safe send out entirely the wrong signal in the fight against drug-related crime?
Mr. Maclean: I have read some articles in some trendy newspapers which were given to me suggesting that some champagne socialists can pass the pot around at dinner parties quite safely. No doubt, some people can safely handle some drugs and know when to stop, but many more do not. The signal that legalisation would give young people in particular--that it is safe and trendy to participate in drugs--would be absolutely disastrous. It would lead to the use of harder drugs and would make the task of the police infinitely worse. The police are totally opposed to it, as are all right- thinking people. The Government remain totally opposed to legalisation.
Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) made clear to the Minister our opposition to the legalisation of cannabis, and that remains the case. On the alarming decision this morning by the European Court of Human Rights to declare unlawful certain aspects of the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986, let me make it clear to the Minister that we fully supported those provisions--including the retrospective provisions--when they came before the House in January 1986, and that remains our position. I believe that the court made a bad decision that the British public will find almost impossible to understand. It is entirely right that those who profit from drugs should be hit in their pockets.
Column 446Does the Minister also accept the view of the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, that the problem might have been avoided had the European convention been incorporated into English and Scots law? [Hon. Members:-- "No."] That was the hon. and learned Gentleman's view on television at lunchtime, and it is what the Opposition have consistently argued.
Mr. Maclean: I fail to see the consistency. The hon. Gentleman has just pointed out the incorrectness or daftness of the decision which has come from a European organisation on legislation which was passed with the full support of the House. I share the hon. Gentleman's concern that there should be an attempt to make us remove those powers. We shall need to reflect carefully on the judgment. The hon. Gentleman then said that the problem could be solved by incorporating the European convention into British law, but I do not see how that could be achieved. I shall debate it with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. The hon. Gentleman has lifted what my right hon. and learned Friend said and is apparently proposing it as Labour party policy. It does not make sense of the judgment to attempt to incorporate it into English law. We shall look carefully at the judgment, but the whole House shares the indignation at the decision that those jurists have reached. It is not the view of the British Government. We have robustly defended our corner; we shall reflect on it, but we remain convinced that the laws are appropriate for dealing with drug dealers.
Mr. Nicholas Baker: The Government share the disgust of all hon. Members for racially offensive and anti-semitic material. That is why we introduced in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 a new power of immediate arrest to deal with the publication or distribution of written material intended or likely to stir up racial hatred. This will significantly improve the enforcement agencies' investigative powers to take swift and effective action against those engaged in the dissemination of such offensive literature.
Mr. Gapes: Will the Minister go further and take up all the proposals of the Home Affairs Select Committee and the Labour party to strengthen the law in that area? Is he aware that I wrote to the Home Secretary on 1 November and forwarded to him material which was sent to me by Lady Birdwood and her racist organisation? I have received a reply from the Director of Public Prosecutions saying that he is not prepared to prosecute in that instance.
Is the Minister also aware that Hizb ut-Tahrir, an extremist organisation, has been issuing leaflets in my constituency calling for death to Jews, and that the Radio Authority recently gave a broadcast licence to an organisation associated with Hizb ut-Tahrir? Will the Minister please do something to stop this?
Column 447to stir up racial hatred an arrestable offence. We have very strong laws in place and we hope that they will be enforced.
On the hon. Gentleman's second point, we welcome the
recommendations in the Home Affairs Select Committee report on racial attacks and harassment. We were not able to accept every recommendation, but much of the work called for in that report is already being carried forward by the interdepartmental racial attacks group.
On the question of Hizb ut-Tahrir, I am aware that the Jewish community is very concerned about the activities of extreme Islamic groups. If any group engages in illegal activities, it is liable to be dealt with using the full force of the law. I believe that the laws that we have in place are effective in dealing with precisely the kind of literature to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
Dame Angela Rumbold: Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to remind the House about the Government's consistent attack on racial discrimination? Will he remind the House that that has always been the Government's policy and that we shall continue to condemn racist attacks and any kind of racist or offensive material?
Mr. Baker: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The new law that we have introduced to deal with intentional harassment goes further in dealing with racial attacks which concern so many hon. Members.
Mr. Trimble: What steps have been taken to deal with the printing and distribution of racist and anti-semitic material in Dublin? Has the Minister made any representations to the Irish Government about that?
Mr. Howard: For the 12 months to June 1994, the number of crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales decreased by 5.5 per cent. compared with the previous 12 months. This is the largest fall over 12 months for 40 years. This decrease in recorded crime is a welcome step in the right direction, but we must continue to do all we can to help the police make further progress in the fight against crime.
Mr. Booth: Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept congratulations from Conservative Members on the fact that the figures represent a marked improvement on past figures? Can we also welcome a reduction in the number of recorded burglary offences? Will my right hon. and learned Friend challenge Labour Members to join Conservative Members in being tough on crime? Will he also challenge them to take a vow to stop the scaremongering about recorded crime statistics which so worries the elderly?
Mr. Howard: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but his congratulations should be directed towards the police whose effective operations have been responsible for the fall in the recorded crime figures. I believe that we are
Column 448seeing much more effective action by the police, and the credit for the fall in figures is theirs. So far as the Labour party is concerned, I am not prepared to wait as long as it would take to accept its co-operation on these matters.
Mr. Llwyd: When will the Government acknowledge that drug-related crimes are a direct threat to the fabric of society? Is the Secretary of State aware, for example, that, in some south Wales valleys, some vile and unspeakable people are giving heroin free to primary schoolchildren? What will he do about that?
Mr. Howard: Drugs-related crime is undoubtedly a very serious cause for concern. We have made that plain for a considerable period. We are taking effective action to deal with it. The hon. Gentleman will, I hope, be aware of the co-ordinated strategy that was announced towards the end of last year. We must take effective action to deal with what I entirely agree is a dreadful menace, not only in the south Wales valleys but elsewhere in this country.
Mr. Alexander: Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the figure that he gave just now will be widely welcomed? But is he further aware that much of the crime is committed in rural areas and that many people who live in rural areas see a policeman only when a crime is committed and he comes to see what happened? Will my right hon. and learned Friend do something to ensure a greater police presence in our villages, our rural areas, the residents of which are deeply worried about the continuing crime figures?
Mr. Howard: We have taken a number of initiatives to help to deal with rural crime. I hope that my hon. Friend will join me in reminding people in villages that there is much that they can do to help themselves, for example, through parish constables, neighbourhood constables and a number of other initiatives, which are having a considerable impact on the crime figures in many communities throughout the country.
self-congratulation and complacency will go down very badly with the British public, and that although any reduction in crime is welcome, the British public know that, over the past 15 years, crime has doubled, that violent crime continues to rise and that robbery has gone up almost fourfold? Against a background of repeated election promises from the Government that they would act to cut crime, the public know the truth: the Tories can no more be trusted on law and order than on tax.
Mr. Howard: It would help if the hon. Gentleman was prepared just for once to listen to the answer that I have given. Far from self- congratulation, I specifically directed my hon. Friend's congratulations to the police, to whom the credit for the fall in the crime figures rightly belongs. We are prepared to give them that credit; the Labour party would deny them it.
Mr. John Greenway: Will my right hon. and learned Friend concede that the measures to deal with bail bandits and to lock up persistent offenders for longer are also having a big impact on the crime figures, and that if one locks up persistent offenders one keeps them out of people's homes and cars? That is what the Labour party will never accept.
Column 449truth that the Labour party has consistently denied. That is why it tried to wreck and undermine the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. That is why it fought and obstructed every measure that we have taken to deal effectively with crime. That is why it will never have the confidence of the British people on those matters.
Mr. Wareing: In response to that fully complacent reply, the Home Secretary should study the situation on Merseyside and throughout the country. On Merseyside, the shortfall in the Government's assessment of our needs is £2.9 million, even to stand still. If the authority were to carry out the Government's statutory growth requirements, the shortfall would be £4.7 million. How can the Government justify that? The Merseyside chief fire officer is saying that he cannot make cuts other than in pumping appliances and closing stations. When will the Government put people's lives before tax reductions and electoral bribes?
It is for the Merseyside fire and civil defence authority to set a budget for 1995-96, in the light of the criteria for council tax capping. That budget should allow it to comply with its statutory duties to provide fire cover.
Sir Donald Thompson: When assessing the exact amount of cake that must be divided among the fire authorities, will my right hon. and learned Friend take more carefully into consideration the topography of an area and its special needs?
Mr. Howard: I am certainly prepared to consider the point raised by my hon. Friend when we plan next year's standard spending assessment for fire authorities. My hon. Friend will know that the Audit Commission has come up with a series of valuable
recommendations of ways in which money can be saved in the fire service, and I am sure that all fire authorities will examine them carefully.
10. Mr. Mike O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received from chief constables about inadequacies in their constabulary funding settlement for 1995-96.