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Mr. Baker: Yes. That is one of the matters that is being taken up in the strategy.
12. Mr. Alton: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what research is being undertaken by his department into the levels of violence in society and the broadcasting of violent material.
Mr. Maclean: The Home Office is funding a research project which will look at whether it is possible to identify images and concepts in videos which appeal to, and have a greater effect upon, young offenders, both at the time of viewing and subsequently.
Mr. Alton: I welcome the new research, which I understand will be undertaken over the next couple of years. Does the Minister accept, however, that common sense alone tells us that what we see is bound to have some effect upon us? Is he aware of the "Panorama" programme, which revealed recently that up to 10 per cent. of people who are predisposed to commit violent acts are likely to have them triggered by what they see?
Will the Minister take the opportunity to condemn the makers of violent television programmes, videos and films in which violence is glorified? Will he take the opportunity also to condemn those who set violence in an amoral context and who see the cultivation of violence as the ultimate fashion accessory of the 1990s?
Mr. Maclean: I am delighted to agree with every word that the hon. Gentleman says. It is true that the research conducted to date is inconclusive, but common sense tells us--this is the Government's firm view --that video and television images must have an effect. If television does not influence behaviour, why should hard-nosed capitalists spend £3,000 million a year on advertising? Of course television is bound to influence behaviour. There is a heavy burden on everyone who makes films-- not only videos but those who are in charge of news
Column 454programmes as well--to ensure that if there are scenes of violence they are set in a relevant context, that they are not gratuitous and that they are not included merely for titillation.
Mr. Rowe: Is my hon. Friend confident that the research project will deliver valuable results? I understand that much of the large budget of the Home Office that has been spent over the years on research has resulted in little of that research being used in the making of policy. Is he able to give us an assurance that that is not the case?
Mr. Maclean: I can give my hon. Friend a categorical assurance that, whatever the results of the research, the Government will implement them. I might not agree with the conclusions. We have tried to focus on the research. We commissioned it to seek to establish whether it is possible to identify certain images of concepts in videos that might appeal to youngsters of a certain disposition. For example, and without going into detail, my hon. Friend may watch the film "Terminator II"; he may or he may not; certain parts of it may appeal to him. Research has shown that some parts of the film--it is interesting that there are some especially horrific scenes--are of particular interest to young offenders. If we can identify the trigger mechanisms, we might be better able to guide censors in future.
Mr. Straw: While research directed specifically at the effect of violence on young offenders is welcome, does the Minister not accept that it is likely that the gratuitous violence that is seen on television, videos and through other media is corrupting not only potential young offenders but all young people, since it is bound to reduce their tolerance to violence? Although research is essential, it is also essential that action is taken, particularly by people like the British Board of Film Classification, to ensure that the gratuitous violence that is now on our screens is cut out.
Mr. Maclean: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. That is why, in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, we introduced new statutory criteria for the BBFC to have special regard to when classifying works. We also brought computer chips and cartridges under the scope of the Act for the first time. We gave trading standards officers new powers to deal with videos and introduced a new custodial sentence for the supply of unclassified video material.
I hope, by this summer, to lay before the House orders that will narrow the category of video works that are exempt from the requirement of classification, and to bring in powers to review old works, if the BBFC thinks that appropriate, because that will also help to cut out some of the gratuitous violence. I return to the basic point: the first onus is on film producers to be sensible.
13. Sir Michael Neubert: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what methods he uses to assess the extent of illegal immigration into the United Kingdom.
Mr. Nicholas Baker: There are no official estimates of the number of illegal immigrants in the United Kingdom. By its very nature, illegal immigration is difficult to measure and any estimates would be highly speculative.
Sir Michael Neubert: Did my hon. Friend see official figures this week that forecast that legal immigrants to
Column 455London from Europe and elsewhere will number more than 1 million over the next 20 years? Can he assure me and my constituents that controls are adequate to stop illegal immigrants adding to that number?
Mr. Baker: The figures to which my hon. Friend refers are projections and are not intended to be forecasts; they reflect inward migration assumptions that were published two years ago. Indeed, a large element in the figures is migration from other European Union nations. I can assure my hon. Friend that firm action is taken against those who are found to be here unlawfully. Some 7,200 illegal entrants were detected in 1994 and 4,750 overstayers, or persons working in breach of conditions, were issued with a notice of intention to deport. We take firm action against any illegal immigrants we find.
Mr. Madden: Can the Minister confirm that, unless elaborate, inconvenient and expensive arrangements are made to count into the United Kingdom every person who enters, and count out every person who leaves, estimates of illegal immigration can be nothing more than a wild guesstimate?
Mr. Baker: Estimates of illegal immigration that I have seen have been, as the hon. Gentleman said, wild guesstimates, and they do nothing to enable a proper atmosphere in which action can be taken and people in this country reassured. I must reassure the hon. Gentleman that we have a wide and busy programme of action to deal with illegal immigration, about which many people in this country are concerned.
Mr. Hawkins: While I welcome what my hon. Friend has said, does he agree that many people in my constituency and in constituencies across the country are concerned about illegal immigration and need to be reassured, and that the Labour party is hopelessly split on this issue, as on many others, because while the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) has said that he is in favour of keeping frontier controls, the Labour leader in the European Parliament, Pauline Green, the leader of the whole European socialist group, has said that she is in favour of dismantling all frontier controls, here and right across Europe?
Mr. Baker: What my hon. Friend says is absolutely right. People need reassurance. Notwithstanding that, they receive no reassurance when they listen to the Labour party. The action that we take is part of a full programme. We act through operations and exercises against illegal immigration. We follow up cases on a targeted basis. We liaise with the police and we take action against facilitators, who are perhaps at the worst end of the illegal immigration business.
14. Ms Church: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what proposals he has to announce a pause in market testing for prison services.
Mr. Howard: The prison service is committed to the policy for increased private sector management of prisons which I announced in September 1993. Four prisons are already under private sector management, contracts for two new prisons will be awarded shortly, two market tests of prisons have been completed and a further market test
Column 456is planned for this year. In addition, contracts are now in place for private management of the court escort and custody service in half England and Wales.
Ms Church: Now that the Home Secretary has realised that the proper priority for the prison service is to improve security and control drug- taking in our prisons, why does not he realise that the best steps to be taken would be to abandon the policy of market testing and concentrate on those priorities?
Mr. Howard: The facts do not support the hon. Lady's assertions. For example, the first two contracts on escorts have saved the taxpayer more than £10 million a year, the courts now receive a better service and escapes have been reduced by more than 40 per cent.
Q1. Mr. Dowd: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 9 March.
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. Dowd: Will the Prime Minister join me, and I am sure the whole House, in sending our deepest condolences to the family of Mr. Malcolm Murray, who died in Leeds general infirmary yesterday? Does he share the anger that we feel at the fact that he was in Leeds general infirmary because he had to be flown by helicopter some 200 miles after a fruitless search for an intensive care bed in London? Does not that demonstrate conclusively that the bed closure programme that the Government are pursuing in London has gone too far? Is he aware that he can do something immediately by instructing his Secretary of State for Health to accept the recommendation of the South-East London health authority that Guy's hospital must not close?
The Prime Minister: This is certainly a tragic incident and I share the view that the hon. Gentleman expressed about that. I believe that the whole House will join me in extending my deepest sympathy to Mr. Murray's family upon his death. This is a serious case and the South Thames region has set up an urgent investigation, the outcome of which we must await. The full facts of the case are not yet in front of me, but I understand that Mr. Murray required a highly specialised form of treatment with which Leeds was particularly able to help-- [Interruption.] --a highly specialised form of treatment, and that was the medical decision that was taken. Beyond that, we will have to wait for the result of the inquiry.
Mr. Neil Hamilton: Has my right hon. Friend seen that interest rates in France have had to be raised by 1.5 per cent. this week, notwithstanding the fact that-- [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker: Order. The House must come to order.
Mr. Hamilton: Has my right hon. Friend seen that interest rates in France have had to be raised by 1.5 per cent. this week, notwithstanding the fact that inflation is
Column 457virtually non-existent and that unemployment stands at 12.5 per cent.? That has been necessary in order to confirm France's status as an economic vassal state of Germany. Is it not therefore a cause for congratulation for our Government that we were not obliged to take the same course of action this week? Should we not make more of the fact that both the Opposition parties are committed to such a ruinous policy?
The Prime Minister: There is, indeed, a great deal of exchange rate turbulence, which has reflected itself in the interest rate increase in France, to which my hon. Friend refers. As I have told the House before, there has been a pretty massive flight into deutchmarks as a result of an unsettled international situation. That is the principal underlying reason that has led to such difficulties for the franc. As I told the House some time ago, I see no prospect of the United Kingdom returning to the exchange rate mechanism for some time. I have made that point perfectly clear. The fundamentals of the British economy are such that I am delighted that we are not suffering precisely the difficulty that France has.
Mr. Blair: Is it true that, when Ministers proceeded with the sale of electricity shares on Monday, they already knew that the electricity regulator was actively considering announcing a cut in prices?
The Prime Minister: There have been some distorted versions of what has happened, so I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to set out precisely what the circumstances are.
The fact is that Professor Littlechild did not decide to undertake his review until Monday afternoon, after trading had begun in shares in PowerGen and National Power. But, although the Treasury and the Department of Trade and Industry were aware that he was considering the possibility, he had not notified them even on Monday morning--when stock exchange trading began--that he had made any decision to go ahead.
I should also tell the right hon. Gentleman that the Treasury took independent financial and legal advice at the end of last week on whether, in the light of the possible uncertainty, the share sale prospectus was still accurate. The legal and financial advice that it received was that, even if the issue of price controls for the regional electricity companies was reopened, that was not material to the share sale of the generating companies. [Hon. Members:-- "Rubbish."] That is the legal advice that hon. Members say is rubbish. As for the generating companies, they are subject to a wholly different basis of regulation. It was in the light of that legal and financial advice that the Treasury decided to proceed.
Mr. Blair: That may have been the legal advice, but may I ask the Prime Minister about the duty of his Government? Will he confirm that the Government knew that the regulator was actively considering making such an announcement? That is the first point. Secondly, if they did know, does the Prime Minister not think that it would have been better to disclose the information to prospective investors?
The Prime Minister: As the right hon. Gentleman will have heard me say just now, that was precisely the point of seeking the legal advice: to determine whether the prospectus was right. The right hon. Gentleman himself is a distinguished lawyer--
Column 458[Interruption.] I suspect that, if the Government had sought legal advice on an issue of this sort and then not taken the legal advice that they had been given, the right hon. Gentleman would have been at the Dispatch Box asking why we had not taken the legal advice that we had legitimately sought and received.
Mr. Blair: I thank the Prime Minister for his compliment about my being a lawyer, but surely the point-- [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker: Order. I expect better behaviour from Ministers.
Mr. Blair: I cannot say that we do, Madam Speaker.
The question relates not to the legal advice, but to the responsibility of the Government. Does the Prime Minister not think that it would have been better to disclose that information? Never mind whether the Government were legally entitled to it; does he not think that it would have been better to disclose it? Or is the short truth that a privatisation programme already damaged by boardroom excess and customer complaints is now tarnished by at best incompetence and at worst double dealing by Government?
The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman has now asked the same question three times. I answered his third question with my first answer, and I made the position clear in my second answer. Other than to get in his ritual soundbite, I am not sure why the right hon. Gentleman has asked his question a third time. The fact is, as I have said, that the Government were aware that the regulator was considering the possibility at some stage in the future. He had not notified the Treasury and the Department of Trade and Industry, even on Monday morning, of whether he had determined to proceed, and whether he had determined what his statement would be. That is the purpose of ensuring that the prospectus is right; that is why my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer took legal advice. On the basis that it was right to proceed--that the prospectus was accurate --my right hon. and learned Friend proceeded. If he had not, the right hon. Gentleman would have been standing there asking why the sale did not proceed and why the Government did not take the legal advice that they had sought in order to do so.
Mr. Michael Spicer: On the question of exchange rate turbulence, does my right hon. Friend agree that the recent rise in the deutschmark against the pound is good for British exporters to Germany and bad for German exporters to Britain? Would it not be a bad thing if we were ever again to shadow the deutschmark?
The Prime Minister: We are not shadowing the deutschmark and I do not anticipate that we will. At the moment the performance of British exports makes it clear that both British industry and the British currency are performing well.
Mr. Ashdown: Why does the Prime Minister not cut the legal waffle? The real question is not what is legally possible: it is what is right. Is the Prime Minister proud that his Government had to hoodwink the public to get them to buy their electricity shares?
Column 459The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is not a distinguished lawyer. If he lets fly like that I hope that he is never sitting down where he has to take a cool, calm decision of what is in the national interest. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would care to read the three answers that I gave to the right hon. Member for Sedgefied (Mr. Blair). Perhaps upon several readings of them he will know the answer to his question.
Mr. Congdon: Does my right hon. Friend agree that devolving power to schools and hospitals has led to improved educational standards and more patients being treated? Would the imposition of an unnecessary layer of regional government harm that success?
The Prime Minister: I believe that it most certainly would. There are forms of devolution that I favour, most notably devolution down to the family and to the local community so that they can make their own decisions. We are certainly not committed to regional assemblies. There seems to be some confusion among the Opposition as to whether they are. On Sunday the right hon. Member for Sedgefield ( Mr. Blair) said:
"We are not committed to regional assemblies."
The deputy leader of the Labour party said:
"No, I don't say that is the position."
There seems to be some confusion about that on the Opposition Benches.
Q2. Mr. Burden: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 9 March.
The Prime Minister: I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave some moments ago.
Mr. Burden: When the number of full-time employees in the civil service has fallen by 29,000 in the past five years and the number on temporary contracts has grown by 82 per cent. in the same period, why are managers in the Employment Service being encouraged to sack temporary workers rather than let them have employment rights? Does the Prime Minister not realise that constant job insecurity is one of the biggest factors preventing any kind of feel good factor?
The Prime Minister: If the hon. Gentleman took a wider view rather than being concerned with the point that he mentions, he would also have mentioned the dramatic fall in unemployment in every region of the United Kingdom. Self-evidently, work loads in Departments fluctuate, and by limiting periods of casual employment Departments are obliged to fill permanent vacancies with permanent staff, as they should. That is what is happening in the Department of Employment.
Q3. Mr. Bellingham: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 9 March.
Column 460The Prime Minister: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave some moments ago.
Mr. Bellingham: Will my right hon. Friend find time today to consider those seven schools in west Norfolk that have become grant- maintained? If he visits those schools he will find high morale and excellent motivation and commitment. Is it any wonder that more and more Members on the Labour Front Bench want to send their children to grant- maintained schools, and is it any wonder that the public find that grossly hypocritical?
The Prime Minister: I am delighted to hear that there are seven grant-maintained schools in my hon. Friend's constituency. I hope that there will be more in every constituency in the future. Education is an important ladder that helps people to raise themselves to a higher standard of living. Grant-maintained schools offer a wide choice, which I commend to everyone and congratulate everybody on taking. I trust that everybody will ensure that it is open to all who wish to have it.
Mr. Enright: In spite of the headlong rush into vegetarianism, does the Prime Minister agree with Bob Reid, the former chairman of British Rail, that he would rather put money into a butcher's shop than into rail privatisation?
The Prime Minister: I think that the hon. Gentleman should have heard what else Sir Bob said. He also said:
"I do believe that privatisation is right."
The hon. Gentleman failed to mention that.
Q4. Mr. Lidington: To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 9 March.
The Prime Minister: I refer my hon. Friend to the reply I gave some moments ago.
Mr. Lidington: Although I welcome my right hon. Friend's efforts to secure peace in Northern Ireland, does he agree that, until terrorism has been eradicated, it is right that we should continue to support the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 to secure the protection of our fellow citizens in every part of the United Kingdom?
The Prime Minister: I do agree with that. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary made clear yesterday, we shall retain the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 as long as the powers are needed for the protection of the public in Great Britain and in Northern Ireland. I should add that we have accepted independent advice that all of the powers in the Act continue to be necessary and justified. My right hon. and learned Friend made that clear to the House yesterday.
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