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House of Commons

Thursday 14 March 1996

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker in the Chair]


City of Westminster Bill [Lords]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

    That if the Bill is brought from the Lords in the present Session, the Agents for the Bill shall deposit in the Private Bill Office a declaration signed by them stating that the Bill is the same, in every respect, as the Bill which was brought from the Lords in the last Session;

    That, as soon as a certificate by one of the Clerks in the Private Bill Office, that such a declaration has been so deposited, has been laid upon the Table of the House, the Bill shall be read the first and second time and committed (and shall be recorded in the Journal of this House as having been so read and committed) and shall be committed to the Chairman of Ways and Means, who shall make such Amendments thereto as were made by him in the last Session, and shall report the Bill as amended to the House forthwith, and the Bill, so amended, shall be ordered to lie upon the Table;

    That no further Fees shall be charged in respect of any proceedings on the Bill in respect of which Fees have already been incurred during any previous Session.

Hon. Members: Object.

To be considered again upon Wednesday 20 March at Seven o'clock.

Oral Answers to Questions


Magazines (Teenage Girls)

1. Mr. Luff: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what meetings he has held with the publishers of magazines for teenage girls to discuss a code of conduct for their publications; and if he will make a statement. [18982]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Tom Sackville): I recently met representatives of magazine publishers and retailers to discuss the widely expressed concerns about the suitability for young people of the material contained in some magazines for teenage girls.

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The publishers and retailers agreed to set up a working party which would draw up guidelines to deal with this problem. I look forward to receiving its proposals.

Mr. Luff: On a day when the innocence of childhood is inevitably at the forefront of all our minds, may I thank my hon. Friend sincerely for the robust and tough position that he has taken in discussions with the publishers? May I urge him to continue in that vein? Does he agree that their claims merely to be offering information to young teenage girls are, at best, disingenuous, and that in reality they are using sex to boost sales?

Mr. Sackville: I thank my hon. Friend for what he said. The more that I have learnt about the subject since he introduced the Periodicals (Protection of Children) Bill, the more I have realised that, whatever agony aunts and others may say, the material in question is not merely a sex education service. Sex is being used to make money, unfortunately in this instance at the expense of the innocence of children and young people. I think that my hon. Friend did us all a service in introducing his Bill and highlighting another area in which standards of public decency and morality are falling.

Fire Service

2. Mr. Canavan: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he plans to take to ensure that the fire service is adequately resourced. [18983]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard): The financial provision for fire brigades is decided by fire authorities. They are obliged to set budgets which will enable them to comply with their statutory duties under the Fire Services Act 1947. Total finance available to local authorities for 1996-97 will increase by 3.3 per cent. over 1995-96.

Mr. Canavan: Is the Home Secretary aware that the Chief Fire Officers Association has taken the unprecedented step of writing to all Members complaining about a shortfall of over £80 million between the current expenditure of the fire service and the formal allocations as expressed in the revenue support grant? The Fire Brigades Union has consequently warned of a crisis whereby the fire brigades will be unable to meet their statutory minimum standards of firefighting, rescue and other emergency services. Will the Government intervene to ensure that the fire service is given adequate resources, bearing it in mind that Government negligence could be putting lives at risk?

Mr. Howard: The 3.3 per cent. increase in finance that will be available to local authorities in the next financial year is clearly sufficient to enable proper provision to be made for fire authorities and for the fire service. The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that the Audit Commission, in its report on the fire service, found that savings of up to £67 million a year--that is 5 per cent. of total expenditure on the service--could be saved if efficiency improvements were made.

Mrs. Ann Winterton: I recognise the increased funding to the fire services and the fact that there could be increased efficiency, but will my right hon. and learned

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Friend accept that there is a resourcing problem, based on the cost of future pension provision? The structure needs to be examined to ensure that more and more finance will go directly to help fighting fires rather than to paying for pensions. Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider that and return to the House with his response?

Mr. Howard: We have indeed considered that. It was as a consequence of the requirement to fund pensions that special extra provision was made for the financing of pensions in this year's settlement. Cheshire county council has a 3.1 per cent. increase in its overall budget in 1996-97 as compared to 1995-96, and I believe that that enables it to make provision for funding its fire service.

Nationality Legislation

3. Mr. MacShane: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to amend nationality legislation to allow the transmission of citizenship to the grandchildren of British citizens; and if he will make a statement. [18984]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Timothy Kirkhope): None. We remain of the view that, as a general rule, British citizenship should not be transmitted beyond the first generation born abroad.

Mr. MacShane: I am disappointed by that response. I am raising this issue on behalf of the many hundreds of thousands, if not now millions, of British citizens who work and live overseas. If they have children, those children are British, but if they, in turn, live abroad and have children, nationality will not be transmitted to the grandchildren of the first generation, save by grace and favour on the part of the Home Secretary. That situation is causing real concern. We have asylum problems, and there does have to be a cut-off, but the grandchildren of British citizens should be allowed to remain British.

Mr. Kirkhope: The position--as it was deemed right by the House in the 1970s, and supported by the Labour party in its Green Paper--is that citizenship should be a mixture of rights and duties, that there should be some commitment on the part of those who seek to acquire it and that there must be some concern and interest with the country of their choice. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. I am not able to give him the assurances that he is seeking, but, as he knows, there are certain exceptions to the rule. If he has an individual case that he would like me to consider, I should be pleased to do so.

Sir Donald Thompson: None the less, will my hon. Friend ensure that people who work abroad are made aware of the position? My first grandson was born this week. His mother went to considerable trouble to come home from Spain to ensure that he was born here so that a problem would not arise when his--Edward Thompson's--children come to be born, perhaps somewhere else in the world. It is incumbent on us to ensure that British people working abroad should go to as much trouble as necessary to come here to have their children.

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Mr. Kirkhope: I fully accept what my hon. Friend says. Certainly in his own family's case, the necessary actions were taken to ensure that citizenship would pass to the children. We look sympathetically at cases involving people who work--particularly in the interests of this country--abroad.

Doncaster and Buckley Hall Prisons

4. Mr. Loyden: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on LEK Partnership's conclusions in respect of HMP Doncaster and HMP Buckley Hall and their public comparator group. [18985]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Miss Ann Widdecombe): The study by LEK evaluated the costs of private sector prisons with the most nearly comparable public sector prisons on 1993-94 data. The results showed that the cost per place was 21 per cent. lower for Doncaster and 26 per cent. lower for Buckley Hall than for comparable public sector prisons. The Prison Service has commissioned Coopers and Lybrand to update the study using 1994-95 data. I expect to have the findings by the end of this month.

Mr. Loyden: Does the Minister acknowledge, on the evidence that has been provided by her Department, that private prison costs--per year, per prisoner--are £200 more than costs for Prison Service accommodation? When will she realise that she should scrap the privatisation of prisons and return to the use of state prisons?

Miss Widdecombe: Let me try to help the hon. Gentleman out of his confusion. He is quite wrong in the interpretation that he has given to the House. The costs that he quotes for public sector prisons do not take account of significant costs that the Prison Service meets centrally, such as clothing, equipment, materials, uniforms and training. Furthermore, those figures, which were based on 1994-95 data, do not take account of the high start-up costs in the private sector.

Mr. John Marshall: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is very strange that when private prisons, on a like-for-like basis, are cheaper and private escort agencies are very much cheaper than the service that is provided by the state, the Labour party still wants to have everything done by the state rather than by the private sector? May we have an assurance that the new prisons referred to by my right hon. and learned Friend a few weeks ago will be provided by the private sector and not by the state sector?

Miss Widdecombe: I can indeed confirm that the prisons that my right hon. and learned Friend announced will be financed through the private finance initiative. My hon. Friend is right to say that it is extraordinary that, when all the advantages lie with the private sector, the Opposition still say on ideological grounds that privatisation is not working. Privatisation was found to work by many studies and was recommended by General Learmont when he conducted his studies. People who have been to Blakenhurst, including Lord Longford,

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have praised that prison. There is uniform recognition that such prisons have added to the richness of prison life and are doing a good job at a decent cost--

Mr. Straw: Regimes.

Miss Widdecombe: Yes, regimes are part of the richness of prison life. The shadow Home Secretary clearly thinks it is funny when we talk about constructive activity. He thinks that education and work for prisoners is funny. That shows how serious the Opposition are about anything at all.

Ms Lynne: Is the Minister aware that there has been a catalogue of errors and blunders at Buckley Hall prison in Rochdale? It seems to have a far worse record than other category C prisons. For example, 10 prisoners have not returned from authorised leave, and one ex-inmate described it as a time-bomb ticking away. Will the Minister instigate a full inquiry into the running of Buckley Hall by Group 4?

Miss Widdecombe: Buckley Hall performs well in a number of spheres and should be praised for that, but the hon. Lady is right to draw attention to particular concerns that have been expressed, and that the Prison Service is now investigating.

Mr. George Howarth: I shall take this slowly, so that we all understand. Will the Minister confirm that she has argued, on previous occasions and again today, that the 13.3 per cent. cuts proposed in the Prison Service over the next three years can be made from savings resulting from privatisation? Indeed, the Home Secretary has argued the same case. Will the Minister now admit that the truth, which has been confirmed in parliamentary answers from her Department via the Prison Service, is that, when like is compared with like, it costs £200 a year more to keep a prisoner in a privatised prison? Will she admit that what she said previously and her earlier answer today are wrong, and will she now tell the House how she is going to make 13.3 per cent. cuts over the next three years when all the evidence is that privatised prisons are a dearer option?

Miss Widdecombe: First, we have never said that all those savings will come from the private sector alone. We expect efficiency savings to be made across the Prison Service as a whole. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman spoke very slowly, but I think that he was waiting for his own understanding to catch up with him. I made it abundantly clear in my answer to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) that the particular figures that he quoted were not strictly comparable precisely because there are costs taken into account in one which are not taken into account in the other.

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