Home Page

Column 443

House of Commons

Thursday 9 March 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 16 March .

Queen Mary and Westfield College Bill (

By Order ) Order for Second Reading read .

To be read a Second time on Thursday 16 March .

Oral Answers to Questions


Corporal Punishment

1. Mr. Nicholas Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make it his policy to introduce legislation to enable courts to issue sentences of corporal punishment for certain crimes of violence.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean): Unfortunately, I have no plans to reintroduce corporal punishment into the sentencing powers of the criminal court.

Mr. Winterton: I am sorry to receive that reply. Does my hon. Friend accept that, despite the Government's herculean efforts to reduce crime in recent years, crime and the fear of crime continue to blight our lives? Does he not think that those young people who commit offences of violence against the individual should be in receipt of a dose of their own medicine and that the maxim "Spare the rod and spoil the child" is more appropriate and relevant today than ever before?

Mr. Maclean: My hon. Friend makes a very good point, which will strike a chord with many people in this nation. He is also right to talk about the fear of crime. Nevertheless, we must not forget that the last year for which figures are available saw a remarkable drop in levels of crime--down 5.5 per cent.--following a 1 per cent. drop the year before. I certainly accept my hon. Friend's point of view that a punishment of that kind would satisfy the desire of many people, but the deterrent value might be slightly more questionable. We have a wide range of penalties which, if they are

Column 444

used by the courts in all the appropriate circumstances, should be more than adequate for some of the young hooligans that we have to contend with today.

Mr. Maginnis: Is the Minister aware that, if he reconsidered his decision on that measure, it would have a significant effect in Northern Ireland in so far as it would bring the Government into line with the IRA Sinn Fein, to whose wishes, ethos and practices they have tried so hard to concede in the past few weeks?

Mr. Maclean: The hon. Gentleman lays a tempting trap, but it is not one into which I wish to step at present.

Criminal Justice and Public Order Act

2. Mr. James Hill: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what assessment he has made of the effect of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 against crime; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard): The Act received Royal Assent only last November, and it is too soon to say what effect it has had, but I am confident that, as the Police Federation has said, it will

"enhance the stature and ability of the criminal justice system to reduce crime, bring criminals to justice and significantly reduce the fear of crime, thereby improving the quality of life for many members of society".

Mr. Hill: Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that in some cases the law seems to protect the yobbos? I refer to the case in which a person who harassed a family, threatening to throw a baby out of a railway carriage, but was not punished; the policeman who hit the person doing the harassing was fined £150 while the young yobbo got away scot free. For the sake of the British public, we have to tighten up on that sort of harassment of innocent people by yobbos.

Mr. Howard: While I entirely understand the indignation that my hon. Friend expresses, which I am sure will be felt by many people, he will appreciate that I cannot comment on individual cases, especially as I remain the final appellate authority for police disciplinary matters. My hon. Friend will also understand that the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts are independent and that I have no responsibility for them.

Mr. Bermingham: As certain provisions of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 are not yet in place, in so far as they are not yet operative, will the Home Secretary reconsider the caution and the right to silence in the light of recent rulings by the European Court to the effect that there is a right to silence?

Mr. Howard: About two thirds of the Act are in force and I have no plans to look again at the caution or the changes that we have made to the so-called right of silence. I am confident that they do not conflict with any of our international obligations.

Mr. Congdon: Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is important that the courts use positively and purposefully the stronger powers given to them, especially in dealing with young people, and

Column 445

that the public are sick and tired of seeing young offenders--and young thugs, in particular--apparently walking away scot free from our legal system?

Mr. Howard: Yes, Madam Speaker.

Criminal Injuries Compensation

3. Mr. Ainger: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action he intends to take regarding the future organisation and level of criminal injuries compensation.

Mr. Howard: It would be premature to take any action in advance of the judgment of the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords. In the meantime, we are continuing to take note of any comments or representations made to us about the criminal injuries compensation scheme.

Mr. Ainger: In the light of that, is the Home Secretary aware of the case of Miss Merlyn Nuttall who, three years ago, was raped, strangled with a cheese wire, stabbed to the bone in her neck with a broken bottle and left for dead in a burning room? Last week, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board awarded her £76,101 compensation. How can the Home Secretary justify the fact that, under his tariff scheme, victims assaulted in that way today would receive only £7,500? Is it not a fact that the Home Secretary is only claiming to be hard on criminals, whereas in fact he is being hard on victims?

Mr. Howard: I am aware of the facts of that case but, as I have said many times before, unless and until the Opposition are prepared to give a commitment that, were they ever to come back into government, they would restore the old scheme in its entirety, it is pointless for the hon. Gentleman and his friends to make arguments of that type. The truth is that at least 60 per cent. of victims will receive at least as much or more under the tariff scheme, which will remain the most generous scheme of compensation for criminal injuries in the world.

Mr. David Atkinson: Can my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House whether those responsible for the criminal injuries are made to contribute towards the cost of the compensation to the victims, and if so, in what way, and if not, why not?

Mr. Howard: The courts certainly have the power to make orders of that type, and they frequently do so.

Mr. Michael: What kind of example is the Home Secretary setting for young yobs when he seeks to avoid responsibility for the consequences of his actions, as outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger) in the example that he gave? Does the Home Secretary still not realise that his rhetoric about victims has no effect when people can see the indelible effect of his one genuine policy, which is to cut the total sum available to victims, and especially to cut the level of compensation available for the victims of the most horrific crimes?

Mr. Howard: Far from being cut, the sum will continue to increase. We have had enough synthetic indignation from the hon. Gentleman and his friends. If they care as much about that topic as they say they

Column 446

do, they would make the commitment that they have consistently failed to make. In the absence of such a commitment, what they say on the subject is so much hot air.

Mr. Fabricant: We would all like the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board to increase its funds--as, indeed, my right hon. and learned Friend has said that it has--but is not our scheme already seven times more generous than that in France and 20 times more generous than that in Germany?

Mr. Howard: My hon. Friend is right. It is also more generous than the whole of the rest of the European Community and more generous than in the United States.

Police Establishment, North Yorkshire

4. Mr. Bayley: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement about the police establishment in North Yorkshire.

Mr. Maclean: Since 1979, the approved establishment of the North Yorkshire police has increased by 90 to 1,418. The budget for the North Yorkshire police will increase by 8 per cent. for next year, which will mean a real and substantial increase in resources for the force to spend as the chief constable thinks fit.

Mr. Bayley: According to the most recent figures, 24 fewer police officers are serving in North Yorkshire now than in 1979. How does that square with the Government's manifesto pledges to be tough on crime? Will the Minister give a guarantee to the people of North Yorkshire that when the new arrangements for funding the police are introduced in April, he will increase the number of police officers serving in the county at least to the authorised established figure of 1,418 which he mentioned?

Mr. Maclean: The hon. Gentleman has obviously not been following what has been happening in the House for the past year. The Government will cease to set establishment figures. The chief constable can use his 8 per cent. increase in next year's budget to spend as he sees fit on officers, civilians, a mixture of both, or technology. The hon. Gentleman's figures are right, but they are only part of the story. Had he bothered to check with North Yorkshire police, he would have discovered that, while the overall number of officers in the force has declined, it has been at the expense of support and administration staff, and the force assures me that it has 38 more constables out on the streets on operational duties, which is surely to be welcomed.

Mr. John Greenway: Is my hon. Friend aware of the difficulty currently faced by North Yorkshire police in rural areas in policing demonstrations by animal rights activists outside farms? Does he agree that that is yet a further reason why we need to concentrate new and more resources on policing in rural areas which, representing a rural constituency as he does, my hon. Friend knows only too well is so important for farmers and people who live in our villages?

Mr. Maclean: It is important that the law is upheld throughout the whole country, and I am confident that the 43 police forces in England and Wales will continue

Column 447

to uphold people's legitimate right to go about their lawful and legal business. That will be done in North Yorkshire, Sussex, Essex and throughout the country. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that rural areas require adequate policing. The budget increase of 8 per cent. for North Yorkshire police will enable the chief constable to deploy his resources appropriately and in the best possible way, giving maximum coverage to all parts of the county.

Sussex Police (Funding)

5. Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the future funding of the Sussex police.

Mr. Maclean: Sussex will have £145.78 million available for 1995-96, an increase of £14.2 million or 10.8 per cent. over 1994-95. In addition, it will not have to find £1.14 million, or 0.8 per cent., to pay for common police services. We have also allocated £7.62 million for building projects and the purchase of equipment. Those significant increases in resources will help Sussex police to continue their excellent performance.

Mr. Waterson: Is my hon. Friend aware how widely his generosity in the settlement for Sussex has been welcomed by my constituents in Eastbourne and how much they agree with the chairman of the new police authority, Dr. Walsh, who talks of

"a budget to be proud of",

particularly the recent announcement of an increase of more than 100 new bobbies on the beat in Sussex?

Mr. Maclean: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am glad that Sussex is using the increased funds available for that purpose. My hon. Friend has given us only half the story, however, as according to the latest survey in the Police Review magazine Sussex is to recruit not only 110 extra bobbies but 123 extra civilians. That seems to match the pattern around the country, where the survey reveals there could be 400 extra officers next year and 900 extra civilians. It is a safe bet that the vast majority of the extra civilians whom the police service intends to recruit will release yet more bobbies for operational duty, adding to the 7,000 extra officers released for operational work since 1983 through the civilianisation programme.

Warwickshire Police (Funding)

6. Mr. Pawsey: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received about levels of funding for the Warwickshire police.

Mr. Maclean: Representations about the proposed level of funding for 1995-96 have been received from the acting chief constable and from the chairman of the police authority. My right hon. and learned Friend and I have also received letters on that subject from my hon. Friend and other hon. Members.

Mr. Pawsey: I thank my hon. Friend for that response. Is he aware of the growing concern in Warwickshire about levels of police funding? It is alleged that, because of inadequate funds, police numbers will remain the same with no further increase.

Column 448

I am also advised that there will be no additional training and that there is a distinct possibility that promotion within the force will be restricted.

Added to that are the difficulties created by funding the policing of demonstrations currently taking place at Coventry airport in connection with live animal exports. All that adds up to a pretty grim picture for Warwickshire. What hope can my hon. Friend give me and other Warwickshire Members about funding for Warwickshire?

Mr. Maclean: The biggest item of police expenditure--police pay--is due to increase by 2.5 per cent. next year, but Warwickshire's overall budget will increase by 5.3 per cent. Of course, we will not take back the 0.8 per cent. for common police services. Warwickshire police should have more than 6 per cent. in new resources available to them next year. In those circumstances, I hope that they will not experience the difficulties to which my hon. Friend alluded. I believe that that will enable a good but very small force such as Warwickshire to continue its excellent record.

As to the policing of demonstrations, I know that some concern was expressed that costs were running at £27,000 per day, but I can assure my hon. Friend that that is not so; that was the one-off cost for the day of the funeral at Coventry cathedral. The daily cost to Warwickshire is about £5,000, and the Warwickshire force is sharing the policing operation with the West Midlands police and splitting the cost in that way.

Mr. Olner: Will the Minister respond to the honest representations that have been made? Over a number of years, the police force in Warwickshire has reduced senior ranks so that more money can be spent on the constabulary for policing the beat. I wish that the Minister would announce a settlement for Warwickshire that is as generous as the aforementioned settlement for Sussex.

Mr. Maclean: I have listened carefully to representations that I have received from all over the country and we introduced a formula in an attempt to get a fairer distribution of resources. To put the situation into perspective, since 1979 spending on the Warwickshire police has increased by 125 per cent. in real terms. The national average is 92 per cent. The strength of the Warwickshire police force has increased by 23 per cent. and the national average increase is 14 per cent.

I pay tribute to Warwickshire for having civilianised 122 posts since 1985, which has released more bobbies for the beat. Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary suggests that a further 80 posts could be civilianised. Perhaps Warwickshire will spend some of the 6 per cent. extra resource allocation this year to continue its successful civilianisation programme.

Prison Regime

7. Mr. David Evans: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to make the prison regime more rigorous.

Mr. Howard: Prison regimes should be rigorous, demanding and constructive. This year the Prison Service will be introducing a new system to ensure that

Column 449

privileges are earned by good behaviour and lost by bad behaviour. I have taken steps to strengthen the prison discipline system.

Mr. Evans: I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that reply. Will the Home Secretary put a stop to Sky Television and nine-hole golf courses in our prisons, together with the practice of inmates sending wardens out of prison to get steak and chips? Senior citizens in my constituency of Welwyn Hatfield are concerned when criminals want to get into prison and not out of it. They also want to know-- [Interruption.] --if the lot opposite ever got into power, would the nation be subject to hard labour like it was in 1979, with a 98 per cent. tax rate and 27 per cent. inflation?

Mr. Howard: I have no doubts about answering the last part of my hon. Friend's question in the affirmative. I think that the other points that he raised were covered in my original answer.

Mr. George Howarth: Is it not time that the Home Secretary understood--as everyone else does--that tough words and no policy are no substitute for a proper approach to our prisons? After almost 16 years in power, does he not realise that the Government have failed to produce a drug-free and secure prison system which keeps offenders properly locked up? Is he aware that failure is being trailed by Lord Tumim, the chief inspector of prisons, and the boards of prison visitors? When will the Home Secretary do something to ensure that our prisons have proper work-based regimes and are drug-free? We need prison regimes which work and positively rehabilitate people, rather than the mess that he has got the prison service into at the moment.

Mr. Howard: If the hon. Gentleman were remotely interested in what is happening in our prisons, he would know that we have already started our mandatory drugs testing programme, that we are taking firm action to deal with the all too prevalent problem of drugs in prisons, that we are implementing the security recommendations in Sir John Woodcock's report and that we are dealing with these matters. Effective action is indeed being taken.

Sir Ivan Lawrence: In view of the successes in relation to recidivism, will my right hon. Friend consider introducing into Britain a pilot scheme along the lines of the American boot camps? Will he bear in mind that they provide training in discipline and respect for other people, which we have lost since the abolition of national service, training in the work ethic and respect for other people in society--particularly families-- and that the advantages of those camps are beginning to percolate the American system and ought to be imitated here?

Mr. Howard: I know that my hon. and learned Friend and the Select Committee on Home Affairs visited a boot camp in the United States, as have I and a number of Prison Service officials. We are currently evaluating the study that has been undertaken of boot camps in the United States. I share my hon. Friend's enthusiasm for some of the facets of the boot camp system and I hope to make an announcement shortly.

Column 450

Schengen Agreement

8. Mr. Trimble: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the Schengen agreement.

Mr. Howard: I understand that the Schengen agreement is due to come into the operation as between seven of the Schengen states on 26 March for an initial period of three months. The United Kingdom is not a party to the agreement and has no intention of applying for membership, which would be inconsistent with the maintenance of our system of frontier controls.

Mr. Trimble: Has the Home Secretary studied carefully the arrangements within the seven Schengen countries for close police co- operation, which is appropriate for them as they are creating a common travel area? As there is already a common travel area in the British Isles, does he not consider it appropriate to have the same levels and the same provisions for police co-operation operating in the British Isles as will be operating within the Schengen system?

Mr. Howard: There has been considerable improvement in recent years in the extent of co-operation between the police in the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic and I hope that will continue.

Mr. Jessel: Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that our constituents will never accept that the control of immigration into Britain should depend on the uncertain reliability of policing of the coasts and borders of such countries as Italy, Greece and Austria, and that if the European Union ever dreams of trying to force such a policy on us it will begin--

Madam Speaker: Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is mistaken with his question on this particular agreement. Is there another Conservative Member--

Mr. Jenkin rose --

Madam Speaker: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will get the right question. I am sure that he knows what the agreement means.

Mr. Jenkin: Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the Schengen agreement represents the ambition of the hard core of the European Union to do away with internal frontiers? Can he allay the concerns arising from my right hon. Friend the Minister of State's visit to the Brussels Council today and confirm that a common visa does not bring any nearer a common system of immigration and the abolition of our frontiers?

Mr. Howard: I can certainly and without any equivocation give my hon. Friend that assurance. He will also be pleased to know that my hon. Friend the Minister of State is placing a parliamentary scrutiny reserve on the common visa format regulation which is before the Council of Ministers today.

Mr. Straw: I welcome what the Secretary of State had to say about not implementing the Schengen agreement in Britain. Does he agree that it would be quite inappropriate for us as an island to adopt that

Column 451

agreement and replace border controls with a potentially less effective but more repressive system of internal controls, street stops and compulsory identity cards?

Also, will the Home Secretary resist the imposition of any list of European Union common visas that, as currently proposed, would impose visa requirements on visitors from 29 mainly black Commonwealth countries, including Zambia, Zimbabwe, Trinidad and Barbados--but not one white Commonwealth country? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that such a policy would do nothing for equal rights or race relations in this country?

Mr. Howard: The visa list is still under discussion in the Council of Ministers. It is no use the hon. Gentleman making such points when he and his party committed themselves to a policy document that said that majority voting in the European Community should become the rule.

Mr. Salmond: Does not the Home Secretary feel foolish, at a time when all political parties in Northern Ireland are in favour of the common travel area through the island of Ireland, that members of the Government and Labour Front Benches are hostile to the sense of the Schengen agreement? When will members of both Front Benches stop pandering to the prejudices of their Back Benchers?

Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman will find, much to his electoral cost when the time comes, that the people of Scotland are as enthusiastic about the retention of external frontier controls as are the people of the rest of the United Kingdom.


9. Sir David Knox: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many people were in prison at the most recent count.

Mr. Howard: On Tuesday 7 March 1995 a total of 50,804 Prison Service prisoners were in custody in England and Wales.

Sir David Knox: Why is it necessary to lock up more people in prison in this country than in most other west European countries? Is not there a cheaper and more effective form of punishment for at least some of the people who end up in prison?

Mr. Howard: I advise my hon. Friend to view comparisons with other European Union countries with great caution. The latest figures available to me show that the number of prisoners per 100,000 population is higher in Spain, Portugal and Austria; the same as this country in Italy; and nearly the same in France.

Dr. Lynne Jones: Is the Home Secretary concerned about the large increase in the number of women sent to prison, which has increased 40 per cent. in the past two years? Many of them are fine defaulters. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman consider giving magistrates the same option as their counterparts in Scotland to issue supervised attendance orders to fine defaulters?

Mr. Howard: Courts have a wide range of sentences at their disposal, and they decide which sentence is appropriate in any particular case.

Column 452

Whitemoor Prison

10. Mr. Bellingham: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he next expects to visit Her Majesty's prison Whitemoor to discuss prison policy; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Howard: I visited Whitemoor prison on 10 October 1994. I have no plans for a further visit.

Mr. Bellingham: Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that I visited Whitemoor prison, just outside my constituency, last Monday? As well as meeting the excellent new governor, Mr. Brody Clark, I met many prison officers. The majority of them, while believing that there should be a balance between toughness and rehabilitation, feel strongly that when it comes to prisoners wearing their own clothes, doing their own cooking and receiving as many as five visits a month, there should be more emphasis on punishment.

Mr. Howard: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's interest. He will have heard the answer that I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans), which dealt with many of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham).

Mr. Mike O'Brien: Will the Home Secretary confirm that in his tough, rigorous prison system it is possible for IRA terrorists to carry Semtex from one prison to another?

Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman knows full well of the dreadful events at Whitemoor prison, which the House considered on a previous occasion at some length.

Prisons (Drug Abuse)

11. Mrs. Gorman: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what measures he intends to introduce to encourage greater vigilance among prison staff in respect to drug abuse in prisons; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Nicholas Baker): A new and comprehensive Prison Service drugs strategy will be announced shortly. It will contain a number of measures aimed at helping prison staff to be more vigilant in reducing the supply of drugs within prison. The new compulsory drug testing programme now being introduced will help further by identifying many more drug misusers than at present.

Mrs. Gorman: Is my hon. Friend aware of what I learnt recently during a visit to a prison in my constituency, which is what is known as the mogadon factor? It is the tacit approval of prisoners obtaining drugs because when they are stoned they are more docile and more easily placated. Does my hon. Friend agree that if there is such condonation of the use of drugs, it is the Government's duty and that of prison governors to ensure that it is stamped out?

Mr. Baker: I agree with my hon. Friend that reducing the level of drug misuse of any sort is one of

Column 453

the Prison Service's seven strategic priorities for 1994-97. The strategy that will be announced will embrace these very matters.

Mr. Tipping: Does the Minister recall that Judge Tumim, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, has recently reported on Styal women's prison, stating that almost all the prisoners there are using cannabis and that 80 per cent. of them are using opium? Does he recall also that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), the Leader of the Opposition, wrote in November 1993 warning of the problem? Why has action not been taken to resolve the problem?

Mr. Baker: A great deal of action has been taken. Research and resources have been mobilised. Work has already started on the drug programme in 12 prison establishments. The strategy that will be outlined shortly will reveal that a comprehensive training programme to enable staff better to recognise drugs and the introduction of mandatory drug testing for prisoners will be included. The problems are being addressed, and they will be addressed even more in future.

Sir Terence Higgins: Will the proposals include provision for physical barriers to prevent drugs from being passed from visitors to prisoners in prisons where there is known drug abuse?

Next Section

  Home Page