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3. Mrs. Ann Winterton: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress has been made by the interdepartmental working group on obscenity. [13851]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Tom Sackville): The interdepartmental group on obscenity has met four times so far. It has been considering the availability of pornography on computer networks; the display of indecent material in newsagents; and the sale of magazines to youngsters.

Mrs. Winterton: While I welcome that response, especially in respect of the enforcement of the law against child pornographers, may I remind my hon. Friend of the widespread view in the House that the definition of obscenity in the Obscene Publications Act 1959 is virtually unworkable? Will he bring forward proposals to improve the situation so that successful prosecutions can be brought?

Mr. Sackville: While I share all my hon. Friend's concerns, I remind her that in 1993, there were 293 prosecutions and 209 convictions under the Obscene Publications Act 1959. The flexibility in the formula of "depraved and corrupt" is, in the end, what a jury makes of it. That is one of its advantages. If we find that we need new legislation to control pornography--for the Internet, for example--we will act.

Rev. Martin Smyth: I welcome the information that the Minister has given us. Does he expect the working group to report in the near future or is it to be kept in being? When may we expect some decision from it?

Mr. Sackville: The working group has already been taking action, for example, in getting the service providers of the Internet together, so that we can work on a voluntary agreement--it has to be voluntary and international and there has to be co-operation--to try to prosecute those who are transmitting pornographic material on the Internet. That is one example of the way in which that interdepartmental group is already working. There are many others. Some may involve magazines and other new legislation that may be required.

Mr. John Marshall: Will my hon. Friend take note of the fact that many people would like stronger action to be taken against paedophiles who import videos showing themselves to be engaging in disgusting activities?

Mr. Sackville: The House is well aware of the Bill to deal with sex tourism which my hon. Friend has introduced. The question whether it is possible to extend

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territorial jurisdiction overseas is under review. He is right to say that, if there are problems over evidence in that type of sex tourism, it is one category where the evidence might be available and usable under our law.

Prison Escapes

4. Mr. Hardy: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many people escaped from prison during 1995; and how many who escaped last year and in previous years are still at large. [13852]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Miss Ann Widdecombe): One hundred and twenty two prisoners escaped during 1995--62 from establishments and 60 from escort. Of those, 28 are still at large. As of 31 December 1995, a total of 116 of the prisoners who escaped since 20 June 1988 were still unlawfully at large.

Mr. Hardy: While I welcome that necessary improvement, have not 1,200 hundred prisoners escaped in the past six years? Is the Minister aware that there is public concern that any reduction in public expenditure, any excessive reliance on dogma, or any greatly increased tension inside prisons could mean that that number will rise and the recent improvement come to shuddering halt?

Miss Widdecombe: It is significant that the hon. Gentleman chose the past six years. If he had chosen the past three, since the Prison Service became an agency, he would have discovered an 83 per cent. fall in the number of escapes. Will he welcome that and will he acknowledge that that reduction was due to the efficient workings of that agency and, therefore, dissociate himself with Labour Front-Bench proposals to bring the service away from agency status?

Mr. Garnier: Is my hon. Friend aware that there were no escapes from Gartree prison in my constituency last year? Is she also aware that that prison recently received a most satisfactory report from the inspector of prisons? Will she bear in mind the good news about Gartree and add it to that which she has given the House?

Miss Widdecombe: My hon. and learned Friend is right. I congratulate him on the performance of his local prison and I congratulate the governor and the staff of that prison.

Carl Bridgewater

6. Mr. Mullin: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many fingerprints on the bicycle belonging to Carl Bridgewater are so far unidentified; and if he will make a statement. [13854]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Timothy Kirkhope): Two fingerprints found on the bicycle have never been identified.

Mr. Mullin: How come 16 years elapsed before it was disclosed that two unidentified fingerprints were found on the bicycle belonging to Carl Bridgewater? May I put it

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to the Minister that this case is not going to go away, and that the quicker that it goes back to the Court of Appeal, the better for everyone concerned?

Mr. Kirkhope: The defendant's solicitors knew of unidentified fingerprints three weeks before the referred case in 1989. Furthermore, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that the provisional conclusions in the case were sent to the applicant's solicitors on 7 December last year. We await their making further representations. That may well happen shortly and we will then consider them.

Mr. Ashby: In view of the fact that all that substantial doubt has arisen and that there is so much extra evidence that was not available at the trial, should not the case be sent to the Court of Appeal so that it can consider all the extra evidence? It is a very worrying case and there may well have been a substantial miscarriage of justice.

Mr. Kirkhope: The evidence and information obtained in the case have been thoroughly examined--extremely thoroughly examined--over a long period of time. Every item that has been raised that is alleged to be new evidence has been carefully considered. As I said, my right hon. and learned Friend has reached his professional conclusion that the case should not be referred back to the Court of Appeal. The applicant's solicitors have an opportunity to make further representations, if they so wish, and we understand that we may hear from them shortly.

Mr. Hattersley: Is the Minister aware that 14 years ago I asked the previous Home Secretary about the missing fingerprints? I received an answer that could charitably be described as inadequate. Does not the Minister understand that almost every week that passes a new doubt arises about the case? Sooner or later it will go to the Court of Appeal once more--why does not the Home Secretary do the proper thing and refer it there straight away?

Mr. Kirkhope: Does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise the thoroughness of the investigations and inquiries that have been carried out? Four police forces have looked into the matter; all the evidence and the extra allegations that have been produced have been looked into carefully. Despite that, the provisional conclusions are quite clear: that the matter should not be referred back. It is now up to the applicants to come forward with anything further that they wish to put up at this time before final conclusions are reached.


8. Mr. Dykes: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what assessment he has made of additional immigration problems in parliamentary constituencies near Heathrow and other major airports. [13856]

Miss Widdecombe: We keep our immigration controls under constant review and do not hesitate to take measures to strengthen the system where necessary. We are always ready to consider representations from hon. Members representing such constituencies.

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Mr. Dykes: As local authorities undoubtedly face extra costs related to the provision of social, education and housing services locally--it is not anti-immigrant to state that as a realistic factor--does my hon. Friend agree that the necessary concomitant is to reassure people living in communities near the major airports that we have firm but fair and balanced immigration policies that oppress nobody from outside, but are fair to existing immigrants and other citizens?

Miss Widdecombe: My hon. Friend is right. Good, fair and firm control of immigration is essential to the preservation of good race relations. Of course, we recognise that some local authorities suffer disproportionately because of their geographical location. My hon. Friend will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has announced a special grant of £3 million to help unaccompanied children asylum seekers. He will also be aware that we are in negotiations with the local authorities to help towards the impact of our Bill in respect of both housing and services for children.

Mr. Henderson: Is not the Minister ashamed that, as a result of the social security regulations that came into force on 4 February and are linked to the Asylum and Immigration Bill, people with a genuine case for political asylum are now in London, sleeping rough on church floors and dependent on soup kitchens for sustenance? Will the Minister introduce amendments at the Report stage of the Asylum and Immigration Bill to reverse that outrage or does playing the race card take precedence over any sense of morality or justice?

Miss Widdecombe: If there is any outrage it is that caused by the Labour party in deliberately using the term "race" when discussing the problem. It is the Labour party that stirs alarmism; it is the Labour party that introduces scaremongering; it is the Labour party that attributes results to our policies for which there is no evidence. The Labour party causes the outrage. Good and fair control of immigration is essential to the maintenance of good race relations. Does the Labour party acknowledge that there is a problem? If there is a problem, what is its solution to it? If it has no solution to the problem, will it please welcome our solution?

Mr. Wilkinson: May I refer my hon. Friend to the particular problem of unaccompanied refugee children with which we continue to have to contend in the Heathrow area, particularly in the Hillingdon borough, in which my constituency is located? The £3 million that has been announced from the Department of the Environment is most welcome, but the borough that contains Heathrow within its boundaries is surely the most deserving.

Miss Widdecombe: All those boroughs that have to absorb extra costs as a result of the numbers of unaccompanied children deserve help, and I fully recognise what my hon. Friend has said. I am grateful to him for welcoming the £3 million grant and I assure him that we will not lose sight of the need to take due measures in respect of unaccompanied children, who must be looked after and for whom local authorities retain a duty of care.

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