HC Deb 06 November 1978 vol 957 cc513-646

3.50 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Merlyn Rees)

I understand that the subject for today's debate is Home Office affairs. The Home Office covers an enormous variety of topics. There is not only the police, the prisons and the criminal law; there is also immigration and race relations, the fire service and broadcasting. There is even more: electoral law, liquor licensing, relations with the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, and betting and gambling. But I understand that the Opposition intend to place the main weight of their speeches on law and order, and I, too, will be concentrating on this aspect in my speech today—though my hon. Friend the Minister of State—as is always the case in the Home Office—will be ready to deal with anything at the end of the debate.

Before I come to law and order, however, I want to say something about another major Home Office concern—immigration and race relations. Earlier this year there was a great deal of public discussion on immigration, much of which was sadly misinformed. There was talk of our being swamped—at a time when immigration from the Commonwealth and Pakistan is largely confined to the wives and children of people who are already here. I made the Government's position clear in my statement to the House on 6th April and again in the White Paper published in July, comment- ing on the report of the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration.

The Government have three principal aims in immigration. First, we affirm our determination to honour our commitments to the close dependants of those who are settled here. It is only right that wives and children should be enabled to join their husbands settled in this country as quickly as possible.

The second objective of our immigration policy—bearing in mind the commitment to which I have referred—is to continue with strict limits on future immigration. We are a small and densely populated island. There have to be restrictions on the number of people we can accept. Undoubtedly that has a bearing on the harmony which exists among the people of this country.

The third objective of the Government is to prevent evasion and abuse of the immigration control. We are determined to take firm action against illegal immigration. The number of prosecutions and convictions for overstaying, the number of illegal entrants removed and the number of people ordered to be deported have, because of the change in 1973, all more than doubled since the last full year of the Conservative Government. We are concerned about this problem. But the recent controversy about immigration numbers has diverted attention from the real problem—that of racial discrimination and racial disadvantage within our society. The Government are committed to equal opportunity for all our people and we will settle for nothing less.

The Gracious Speech reflects this commitment in the proposals that it makes for the replacement of section 11 of the Local Government Act 1966. This section made provision for paying a grant to local authorities to meet the special needs of Commonwealth immigrants. It is proving increasingly defective and there is an urgent need to replace it. A consultative document setting out the Government's proposals is being issued to a wide range of organisations and individuals today. Copies have been placed in the Library.

The provisions of section 11 would be replaced by a broad enabling provision giving authority for grants to be paid to local authorities in respect of programmes designed (a) to meet the special needs of ethnic minorities, or (b) to promote racial harmony. Local authorities will be encouraged to review systematically and comprehensively the impact of the whole range of services they provide on ethnic minority communities. Comments on the consultative document have been asked for by the end of January 1979. Subject to the outcome of these consultations the Government propose to introduce legislation as soon as possible in the new year.

The Government recognise that the wider scope of the proposed new grant should be matched by a significant increase in the resources made available for expenditure on ethnic minorities. Details of this increase will be published in the White Paper on public expenditure. This new form of grant-aid will be separate from, and in addition to, the urban programme. There will be close and detailed discussions with local authority associations—not just on the principles of the proposals but on the sort of machinery necessary to advise the Government in the best ways of making use of the grant. The proposals for the new grant envisage that in the course of devising their programmes, and before submitting claims for grant, local authorities would consult the ethnic minority communities in their areas.

I turn now to the main theme of my speech—law and order—for the preservation of law and order must be the major preoccupation of any Home Secretary and Government. During the summer, many claims were made about the relative rate of increase in crime during various periods. Of course, statistics can be used—out of context—to show that crime has risen faster under this Government—or any other—than under their predecessor—25 per cent. overall in 1974–77, as compared with 6 per cent. in 1970–73.

But different statistics can be used to prove precisely the opposite. Violence against the person increased by 49 per cent. in 1970–73 compared with 29 per cent. in 1975–77, and criminal damage increased twice as fast in the earlier period under a Conservative Government as in the later one. I fear that, as usual, it depends on what one is trying to prove and on what statistics one wants to use. Innumerate people in public relations and advertising will be able to prove what- ever they wish, and what they say will have no bearing whatever on the problem of law and order.

The truth is that crime has risen relentlessly, under both Labour and Conservative Governments, for over 20 years. During that time there have been only two years, 1967 and 1973—one Labour and one Conservative—when the number of indictable offences recorded has gone down. In recent years the rate of increase, although subject to wide fluctuations, has seemed to be slowing down.

The 15 per cent. increase of last year must be seen in the context of a 1 per cent. increase in 1976 and 7 per cent. in 1975; while the first two quarters of this year showed increases of 3 per cent. and 1 per cent. respectively compared with the same quarters last year. But one quarter's figures—even one year's figures—by themselves do not tell the whole story.

The Government are determined to deal firmly with this rise in crime. One determination, but only one, is reflected in the tougher penalties that were provided in the Criminal Law Act 1977 and the greater powers which that Act gave to the courts to deal with younger offenders.

Since 17th July of this year, magistrates have been able to impose a maximum fine of £1,000 on offenders convicted of theft, burglary, violent offences, criminal damage and many others. The amount of compensation which an offender may be ordered to pay—on summary conviction—has been increased from £400 to £1,000. The Criminal Law Act enables the Home Secretary to increase by order the maximum fine on summary conviction of most serious offences, should this be thought necessary following a change in the value of money.

The Criminal Law Act strengthens the supervision orders for juveniles. It enables the courts to prescribe additional requirements and contains powers to deal with breaches of any requirement by fines or an attendance centre order. Under the Act, juvenile fines are increased to £50 for the under-14-year-olds and to £200 for the 14 to 16-year-olds.

Magistrates' courts have new powers to enforce fines on juveniles. Within that legislation I am glad that we were able to do something for the victims of crime This is an aspect which is of increasing concern to us.

The Government's determination to deal effectively with crime is also reflected in the high priority that we have given to spending on law and order, even in times of financial stringency. This year the Goverment will spend over £2,000 million on law, order and protective services, of which over half is on police.

In the 1977 public expenditure survey about £50 million a year in real terms was added to previously planned expenditure from 1978–79 onwards. This included a special law and order package of about £9 million announced in November 1977. Additionally, about £5 million was provided for law and order capital expenditure from the construction industry package.

More recently has come the Budget package of April of this year, which provided about £10 million, of which £5 million was for the police, £2 million for the prisons, £2 million for the courts and £600,000 for the probation services. In real terms we are now spending over £300 million a year more on law, order and protective services than in 1974.

Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

Will this expenditure encompass the question of getting the police into the schools for lecture courses as was envisaged in the Scottish recommendations? That seems to be an excellent idea.

Mr. Rees

It does seem a good idea, but it is a matter for the chief constable, or the commissioner in London. I know from my visits to police forces in different parts of the country that this sort of thing is done. It is valuable particularly in that it introduces the community constable for an area to the schools, particularly the primary schools.

I turn to the question of police manpower and premature retirement, which is particularly important. An adequately manned and equipped police service is of central importance in sustaining the fight against crime.

We made clear in the Gracious Speech that the Government are firmly committed to support strengthening the police. That is why we accepted without hesitation the recommendations of the Edmund-Davies committee on pay.

We were right to have a deep investigation into Edmund-Davies, giving the very big increases this year. To have given 10 per cent. plus something last year, which would have made people feel that a victory had been achieved, would not have given the deep-seated investigation which was so necessary since the report of 1960.

What will be the effect of Edmund-Davies? It would be wrong at this moment to be more than cautiously optimistic. There has already been a noticeable effect on wastage rates. The overall rate in the September quarter was 25 per cent. below average. Premature wastage dropped by 17 per cent. and retirements on pension by 37 per cent. As a result, the total strength showed a net gain of 241 in the September quarter, compared with losses of 371 in the June quarter and 31 in the January quarter.

Metropolitan Police recruitment showed a rise of 27 per cent. above the average for the first six months of the year, and wastage fell by 30 per cent. As a result, the force showed a net gain in strength for the September quarter of 44, compared with losses of 228 in the June quarter and 153 in the March quarter. The strength now stands at 21,675. When I asked in the Metropolitan Police about these figures the other day, it was pointed out to me that it was impossible to show a figure that was meaningful until the end of the year because one must take account of the time it takes people to apply and go for tests.

The Edmund-Davies committee is now taking evidence on the third part of its inquiry—the rights, duties and conditions of the police representative bodies—and it hopes to submit its report next spring. The Government and the House await the report with interest.

This Government believe that the most effective way of dealing with crime must lie in improved methods of prevention. It is not enough, as someone has put it, to suppress the bad, although that is important; we must also activate and liberate the good in society. Everyone agrees that there is considerable scope for minimising criminal behaviour through practical steps.

Vandalism is a good example. I held a conference only last week with a number of interested bodies to investigate the action being taken to tackle vandalism and to exchange information. All kinds of interests were represented—the police, local authorities, people involved in education, planners, architects, and voluntary bodies.

What clearly emerged from our discussions was that vandalism has to be tackled in the localities where it occurs. The advantage of a conference of this kind is to swap information, and I want to take further steps of circulating information from the local authorities on what is being done in other areas.

Many groups have a part to play in this. The police, of course, have a primary responsibility for preventing crime. But they need information. Wherever there is vandalism—in a housing estate, in a park, or in a shopping precinct—the police must be told so that their expertise can be used in planning counter-measures. But local action to counter vandalism must be joint action. The police cannot do this job alone. Local authorities have a very important role to play, as do others in the schools and in voluntary bodies. Joint local action has to identify where the vandalism is happening, what is being done, what counter-measures can be taken, how a plan of action must be implemented, and how the results can be monitored.

Following the conference, I hope that this can be done in three ways—through the police, local authorities, and voluntary bodies. There are some very interesting experiments taking place with the aid of social workers, for example, in Widnes and Wythenshawe, in Manchester. The result of those experiments are very valuable. Because of my responsibility for broadcasting, I am very interested in the possibility of a good local station bringing together people to discuss this matter with very good practical results.

In my constituency last Saturday I went around a small and fairly new housing estate. It was clear to me that the police were not informed enough about what was going on. One suggestion that I put, which should be looked at, was that a local authority should have a centre in the council offices where people can telephone about the problem of vandalism in their area. There is a lack of knowledge about this and there is sometimes exaggeration about what is going on. In a couple of hours on Saturday evening, when I went around with a police inspector to people's houses, I found that I, as a constituency Member, had made the beginning of an effort to stimulate interest in these matters. There is no simple solution to the problem; it is a question of responding to local problems with local measures.

There are those who have suggested particular panaceas, and I should like to look at them. One suggestion is for anti-vandalism patrols. I have checked with the police and they have told me that they already carry out such patrols. But they have also told me that they must decide to do it. Anti-vandalism patrols are a matter for the chief constable. The question of how they use their resources is a matter for them. They must decide these questions in the light of the needs in their own areas.

In other areas the primary need will not be for such patrols, but for different housing policies or for special efforts in a school. Again on Saturday evening, the children who came up to me made it clear that a lot had been done on the estate but there was no provision for open space.

Where prevention fails, those responsible for breaking the law must be caught and dealt with appropriately. In some cases there is the problem of penalties, and I should like to take up this point in more detail. Some people say that harsher punishments are needed. It is, of course, entirely right that offenders, whether they be young or old, should receive appropriate punishment for the offences they have committed.

But I do not think we can afford to underestimate the rigour of the punishment inflicted by a simple act of imprisonment. The very fact of being uprooted from one's normal life and placed instead in a Prison Department establishment—whether it be a detention centre or a borstal, or a prison—is a shock, and, indeed, a sharp shock. We cannot afford to underestimate that fact. To add to the shock of incarceration a regime that is designed to be oppressive and punitive would, in my view, go beyond the limits of what society would accept as reasonable. I say this, having visited prison establishments recently, because they are not holiday camps or places where life is easy. When people talk about a system that is more oppressive, they do not take into account the existing system.

We must provide firm discipline in our establishments and I believe that we do, but it would be a mistake to assume that an excessively rigorous discipline for short sentences would be able to overcome the effects of any previous indiscipline in the offender's life. When I discussed this with the prison staffs they did not agree that it was necessary. They said "Look what is happening here already."

It is far more profitable, sensible and humane to provide a firm framework of discipline in our young offender establishments and to concentrate on our positive efforts, rather than on adding to the rigorous aspects of the discipline. They are there. We need to add to the offender's capacity to conduct himself properly in society after his release and I think that not sufficient people know about the positive work done in these establishments through education and industrial training.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)

Does the Home Secretary recognise that there has been an increase of more than one-third in criminal damage in the past year and will he pay attention to the paragraph in the report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary that says that many agencies other than the police have a responsibility and a part to play in a concerted effort on a broad front?

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if one could bring in the special constabulary and local volunteers to assist, they might be able to help with the detention of people over the weekend, particularly on Saturday afternoons? This would have a very much better effect than having to incarcerate them in prison. If their efforts were directed towards work over the weekend, it would not interfere—

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is almost a speech rather than an intervention.

Mr. Rees

It is not the view of the police that the hon. and learned Gentleman's suggestion is the way to do it. I was going to deal with attendance centres.

There are 70 junior attendance centres and plans are in hand for another 10 or so during the next 12 months. The increase of the past 12 months is a very great achievement. We recognise the arguments for extending the range of these junior attendance centres, though that was not the general advice that I received from those involved when I first looked at the matter.

Eight of these centres have been extended for an experimental period to take offenders aged 17 and 18 and we shall be studying the experiment carefully to see what lessons it provides. It is important that it should be an experiment. It is far too easy for all of us to say that something should be done. Sometimes we set up something and let it go on for a long period when it is not doing what we originally thought it ought to do.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the two original senior attendance centres in Greenwich and Manchester were set up on an experimental basis and ran for years without the Home Office even observing what was going on? Are we to have a repeat of the same thing?

Mr. Rees

I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I hope that he will not suggest that what came out of those experiments was clear. The reason why I have authorised the new experiment is that there has been a feeling on both sides of the House that it should be done. I have not set it up in the knowledge that it will be a success. Let us see. People have said that it should be done, so let us see what happens.

Some people argue that the courts do not have sufficient power to impose effective fines on children whose offences do not merit their being sent to attendance or detention centres. We have already acted on this aspect. The Criminal Law Act 1977 increased maximum fines for children and young persons and provided for parents to be made liable, in certain circumstances, for their children's fines. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) asked that this should be done. It is being done under the 1977 Act.

The courts have new powers to enforce fines, to make attendance centre orders, to require the offender's parents or guardians to enter into recognisances to ensure payment and, subject to certain safeguards, power to order that any sum remaining unpaid should be transferred to the parents or guardians.

The Government are concerned about the problem of vandalism, but, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in his message to the vandalism conference last week, unless we can create a caring, sharing society which will make outcasts of vandalism and violence, we shall all, as individuals, be failing our children and jeopardising the future of this country.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that part of the problem, though only a part, is caused by the packs of youngsters who collectively commit violence and attack people, including the police? Has he set in motion any experimental work to examine the role of the gangs, which are often a problem?

Mr. Rees

I have spoken to Her Majesty's Chief Inspector about this matter and I know that the police are giving attention to it. There is no doubt that group action is important, but, as I know from correspondence and from what I learned last week, individual action also matters.

I yield to no one in my concern about the problem of unemployment. I was brought up among unemployment, and those experiences will never leave me. In discussions about law and order, I have found a number of people who have said that they wished that others did not claim that vandalism and violence were caused by unemployment. People who are unemployed are not necessarily those who are involved in these matters. Often it is people with plenty of money who are involved, as is seen in some instances of football hooliganism. I have no doubt that there is a link, but it is not as clear as is sometimes suggested.

Turning to the prison service, I do not accept that the service is being starved of resources. This year, we are spending £23 million on new construction and £8 million on repairs and maintenance of existing premises. Present plans are expected to produce about 4,500 additional inmate places—to use the jargon —over the next four years, and some improvements to essential services.

The new big prison will not be started until 1981–82. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border and I shared experience of problems in Northern Ireland, though perhaps I had more practical experience of this matter. When I went to the Northern Ireland Office and we were concerned about getting people into prison through the courts and doing away with detention in open prisons, I asked for the plans of new prisons. There were no plans. After obtaining planning permission west of Belfast, we set about building a new prison, based on the new prison that is to be started here in 1981–82, but that prison in Northern Ireland, also, will not be started until 1981–82. Anyone with ideas of building a proper new prison of that nature should know that it takes eight or nine years. In Northern Ireland, we were able to get new buildings put up in the Maze for the short term, but nothing could have been done in the past four years to bring new prisons on to the stocks now. They take time.

Mr. Mark Carlisle (Runcorn)

I accept what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but can he explain why his Government cut £80 million from the prison building programme in 1974–75? This money would have been coming on stream in 1977–78 and 1978–79.

Mr. Rees

I am pleased to debate public expenditure and £300 million extra, in real terms, is being spent. We did rather well overall in the Home Office. It is no good Conservative Members calling for cuts in public expenditure and then weeping about them whenever something in particular is affected.

Mr. Carlisle

Now answer the question.

Mr. Rees

It was cut because every budget had to take a knock. We in the Home Office did better than did other Departments. By the end of 1981–82, total capacity in the prisons is expected to reach 41,700 and the daily average population for that year to be 43,800. On the existing plans, our view is that the level of overcrowding may then be reduced by up to one-third.

In regard to industrial action in the prison service, members of the Prison Officers' Association came to see me today, and to say that they were upset is to put it mildly. The action in the prison service is unofficial; it is not being carried out by the POA. Some parts of the press have been talking as if it were the association. Certain people have been flaunted on television and in the press as being important. It has been put to me that this sort of thing does great harm to those working responsibly in these matters.

I will give the House the position as it was at 11 o'clock this morning. A total of 26 out of 113 prison service establishments are taking industrial action of some kind in pursuit of their claim for continuous duty credits—that is, meal breaks. We must be clear about the situation. A further four establishments are considering their positions. This figure does not include Parkhurst, where staff have been taking industrial action for some time in support of their claim for special allowance. Of the establishments taking action, 14 are located in the South-East region, seven in the South-West region, five in the Midland region, and none in the Northern region.

There are 13 establishments in which the action being taken in some ways restricts the regime—for example, education classes, industrial training, and so on—and one establishment where prisoners are not being accepted from magistrates' courts. That establishment is in London. The situation is different in the case of the Crown courts.

The position is still very fluid, and full information about what is happening and, in particular, about how police holding facilities are likely to be affected will not be available until late this evening. If I learn anything further before close of play today, as it were, my hon. Friend the Minister of State can bring it to the House.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)

On Thursday my right hon. Friend made a statement on the prison officers' dispute. He said that the action of certain prison officers is clearly illegal in preventing prisoners appearing at court or probation officers, social workers, relatives and lawyers having access to their clients or relatives. He said that this situation "cannot be allowed". What action is he taking?

Mr. Rees

On that matter, can we wait to see what happens today? What is quite clear is that if the disciplinary code were broken action would have to be taken. I have only been able to convey to the House the position as it was at 11 o'clock this morning. It may be different before the evening is out, and I would rather wait to see what the true picture is.

I turn now to the claim for continuous duty credits—the meal breaks claim. Reference was made to this last Thursday, when I made my statement. It has been suggested in the press that the Prison Department has made an offer to certain branches of the POA which have been taking action. This is completely untrue. I make it clear that on such matters the Prison Department deals only with the national executive committee of the POA and with nobody else. We are in daily contact with the NEC, and I met the chairman and general secretary only this morning.

They have assured me that the action now being taken by these branches is contrary to the policy of the NEC. The NEC has throughout been acting entirely responsibly in this matter and, as I made clear in my statement last Thursday, it is mainly in consequence of the points put to me by the NEC in recent weeks that the Government decided that an inquiry should be held. It is vital to the prison service that these proper channels of communication with the NEC of the POA should be preserved.

There has been comment in the press on the question whether the inquiry would cover continuous duty credits. The terms of reference are being discussed with the staff associations, but the POA has already made it clear to me that it will expect this matter to be included in the inquiry's review of pay and conditions of service, and that retrospection must also be considered in the light of the inquiry on the principle of the matter. I can say now, in advance of the drawing up of the precise terms of reference, that I see no objection to these proposals, and I have so informed the POA.

It is essential that the inquiry should proceed as fast as possible. I am hoping for a report as early as possible and I shall impress this upon the chairman of the inquiry.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

I welcome the last remarks of the Secretary of State. Does he appreciate that there is evidence that prison officers in many parts of the country seem to have lost confidence in their association? That is why staff in a number of prisons are carrying out this action. Is he prepared to say, here and now, that the Government will accept the inquiry's findings on these claims?

Mr. Rees

It would be one thing for me to say that I would accept the findings but it would also be necessary for other bodies to say that they would accept the findings. We had better wait until we have the terms of reference.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

How long it is going to take?

Mr. Rees

I have said that it will be done as fast as possible.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Weeks? Months?

Mr. Rees

It is a matter of months. I hope that it will not go long into next year.

The national executive committee of the association is an elected body. That is the case with trade unionism as a whole. [Interruption.] That is not true, but if there are people who feel it to be so they have the remedy in their own hands. The committee is the elected body. The NEC has been responsible and I understand that some of those who appear on television are speaking without the full authority of those in the prisons from which they come.

In this situation, therefore, it is important that I, and, I believe, the House, should speak up for the POA, with which I have been in contact for some time now about industrial relations and the running of the prisons. It is not part of the wider problem of the prisons. It has made clear to me the particular things that it wants looked at; so have the governors and others.

Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)

The right hon. Gentleman has had experience of difficulties with firemen, police and now prison officers. Is there not a case for having a permanent independent review body available to look at special cases in the public sector, irrespective of whether the Government have a formal incomes policy?

Mr. Rees

It is quite surprising how many special cases there are. The hon. Gentleman had better consult his Front Bench, who want a free-for-all on the matter.

Mr. William Whitelaw (Penrith and The Border)

No, we do not.

Mr. Rees

The right hon. Gentleman says that they do not, but certain Front Bench speakers go round saying the opposite.

I turn now to the Official Secrets Act. The Gracious Speech states the Government's policy. We intend to push ahead with proposals also in the related area of open government. I know that it is very important to replace section 2 of the Official Secrets Act by an up-to-date provision.

Broadcasting loomed large in the last Session. We have explained our proposals in the White Paper, and there is the passage in the Gracious Speech. A number of the proposals require detailed discussion with the organisations concerned. Those discussions have already begun and legislation is promised in the Gracious Speech, possibly in the next year. But some of our proposals need not await legislation. The House will have noted the proposals for the expansion of local radio. The stations have been announced, and I hope that, before we come to the General Election towards the end of next year, I shall be able to make an announcement also for further local radio stations.

The Government recognise the depths of the concern felt at all levels of our society about crime. The Government share that concern. But resources alone will not win the day. There is only one way in this, as there is in aspects of incomes policy or pay policy, or whatever it is called—we will only win through if the people of the country as a whole help. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border and I both learnt this lesson in Northern Ireland. Civilised life depends on the support of the community for the forces of law and order.

The Government give their support to the forces of law and order, and I am sure that the House as a whole does. But over-simplification on the hoardings only means that those involved with preserving law and order laugh and say "Is this what politicians provide?" Such oversimplifications are nonsense. This House supports the forces of law and order in dealing with a very complicated matter.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. David Howell (Guildford)

I begin by reassuring the Home Secretary of one thing. He may sometimes feel that events are moving against him on every side, especially when he reads the newspapers, but let me make it clear that we fully back all firm steps that he and his Department take to tackle crime and uphold the law. In particular, we back every step that he now feels necessary to maintain order in the prisons and safeguard the proper administration of the law against any threats from the current industrial action. I shall make more comments on the prisons later, but I thought that I should make that clear now.

We have also supported all along the approach through the Edmund-Davies committee inquiry. Indeed, we urged it on the Home Secretary and thought that it should have come earlier. On Thursday my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) said that he welcomed the prisons inquiry, although some of us have criticised it for being a bit belated. We were glad to learn about the Home Secretary's conference on vandalism and were glad of the message of concern about vandalism on the part of not only the right hon. Gentleman but the Prime Minister.

We are glad that that matter has been taken on board, although I must say that the Central Policy Review Staff, the Think Tank in the Cabinet Office, still has something to learn about the dangers of producing sketchy reports—or illustrative and rapid reviews, as I think it calls them—on issues as sensitive as this. I am not sure that that is the right role for the CPRS to play, and I do not think that its report added much to our understanding of matters.

We have followed the Home Secretary's efforts and support the moves that we believe are firm and right in tackling this matter. Naturally, we hope to push him a little further or at any rate to lay the foundations for the reforms that we plan to carry out under the next Conservative Government. Meanwhile, we are glad to see that the Home Secretary recognises the importance of the law and order issue, not always with quite the support from behind him that one would like to see. We shall back his constructive efforts.

The second preliminary point that I want to make is addressed to those who believe strongly and sincerely in penal reform, and who in a sense have had all the running in the past 20 years in our penal policy. The impulse for penal reform is a very fine thing, of course, but unless and until society is more reassured than it is now that violence is being con tamed and dealt with, and particularly violence by violent young people, [...]believe that it will be virtually impossible to carry forward sensible penal reform or to tackle prison overcrowding, which the Home Secretary mentioned.

We believe that the public are entitled to more protection than they have had and even than they are now getting, and that vigorous action is required at all stages in the cycle of crime control and the system of criminal justice. It is not good enough to react to crises as they develop or to blame each development on nameless forces. There is a need for action at every stage in the process of administering the law, right from policing and prevention at one end through the whole problem of the powers and procedures of the courts, up to the structure of punishment and penalties and the organisation of penal institutions at the other end.

We recognise that that is an enormous programme. It will demand the calling out of major resources of energy. It is not correct to say that we are doing all we can, as has been suggested. Without a doubt there is much more to be done, and it should be done.

I come to some of the areas that the Home Secretary touched upon, beginning with policing and crime prevention. As I said, we strongly welcome the Edmund Davies conclusions. We on the Conservative Benches are convinced that it would have been much better to pay the increase all at once and not to have phased it. There we are echoing the conclusions of the report, which made it quite clear in paragraph 206 that that was what the committee recommended.

Clearly, what the Home Secretary says about recruitment is welcome. I should like to know how that spreads over the regions. Is the increase only in London, where there is the additional London weighting, or can the right hon. Gentleman tell us good news all over the country? Are the resignation rates really down? Has the bleeding stopped? That is the real problem—not just raising the number of recruits by increasing pay rates, but stopping the experienced men going. Can the right hon. Gentleman bring us good news about that?

We have always said, and the right hon. Gentleman himself has said, that those questions are vital, but they are not the only questions when it comes to improving policing. There is, first, the whole problem of easing the administrative burden on the police. I was interested to see in the Edmund-Davies report a list of no fewer than 98 laws passed since 1960 by this House that have added to the administrative and paper work falling on the police. It must be possible to reduce some of the enormous administrative burden and to release more manpower and womanpower for policing on the beat and in the housing estates. I am sure that there are gains to be made here.

Then there is the question of traffic. Over the past 10 years there has been an increase in traffic offences—not just parking tickets, but offences involving the police—from about 1½ million to well over 2½ million. It must be right to consider the idea of simplifying the traffic laws and of having ticket offences. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) has said a certain amount about that in recent days. It is an area to which the Home Office and the right hon. Gentleman should be applying their minds.

That is the first point—the burden must be eased to release more manpower so that it can go on the beat. The second need, which the Home Secretary touched on, is to encourage the public to be not only law-abiding but law-assisting. That means a number of things.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) referred to co-operation with the schools, and the Home Secretary added to her point. It is a very valuable one. It is not merely a question of expecting chief constables and police forces to make the first approach. I should like to see the education authorities suggest that it would be a good idea to welcome the police into the schools, for two reasons. One is that there could perhaps be fitted into the curriculum some basic and interesting tuition on how the legal system works and how the system of criminal justice operates. The second is that the school authorities and police authorities in a particular locality could keep closely in touch and that in general the police in the locality could have the firm support of the school authorities, local trades people, local public service officials and all the rest.

I think and hope that the Home Secretary recognises that the need is to give the police firm and unstinted support. But that applies not only at the local level, in the village, in the street, in the city centre, but all the way up—in Whitehall as much as at the town hall and in the village. I am not saying that we want, and we would certainly be against, any development towards a national police force. But it is disturbing to find that it is clear that some chief constables—they are the people who have to run the police forces—feel and give expression to a lack of support from the top and from Whitehall. I believe that improvements could be made in co-ordination and in the regular contact that those with the difficult job of managing our police forces have with Whitehall and with Ministers.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman can help me. Can he tell me which chief constable said that? I have met the chief constables recently, and they have not put that matter to me.

Mr. Howell

I shall certainly provide the Home Secretary with a number of comments, both published and in papers circulated to hon. Members, about worries expressed by chief constables that they are not receiving enough support from the Government and the highest authorities. I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman asked me about this, because a number of these matters have been published in the press. There is a great deal of worry that Ministers have not been showing sufficient support for the forces of law and order, [HON. MEMBERS: "Where"?] If hon. Members want examples, they know them. They do not need to ask.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Brynmor John)

Name one.

Mr. Howell

Perhaps the Minister of State remembers that some of his Cabinet colleagues went on the picket lines at Grunwick.

I have said that I shall provide the Home Secretary with details—

Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is not sufficient for him to give this important information to my right hon. Friend? He should give it to the House. He has suggested to the House that the information is available. We suggest to him that he should present it to the House now.

Mr. Howell

I have made it clear that a number of chief constables have expressed their worries about the lack of support from on high for the forces of law and order. I shall certainly provide details to the Home Secretary. I am very willing to do that, and there is no problem about doing so. What is more, hon. Members know that this view is quite widespread.

From the problem of policing, I now move one stage along the cycle of law enforcement to the area of arrest and police interrogation, which is a very difficult one.

I do not agree with all that Sir Robert Mark, the former Commissioner, has had to say recently. But I thought that he was hitting the nail on the head when he wrote the following in his book: The surest and quickest way to reduce crime and to achieve a more humane and enlightened penal system is to increase the likelihood that the guilty will be convicted. I think that that is profoundly true. I know that these are matters at which the Royal Commission is looking. But this matter has been debated for a very long time, as the Home Secretary knows. In 1972 the Criminal Law Revision Committee, under Lord Justice Edmund-Davies, as he was then, recommended that adverse inferences may be properly drawn from the silence of the accused —a matter about which the police are very concerned. I do not know when the Royal Commission will reach its con- clusion—I hope that it is soon—but on the present time scale it could be as late as 1982 before much begins to happen in this area.

Let us at least agree that the Royal Commission needs to get on with its work with all speed, because these matters have been debated for a very long time and they are very important in the campaign against crime.

I come next to the courts and their powers. Here the Opposition have a straight disagreement with the Home Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman now believes that the powers of the courts are adequate. I have tried to check this, but I think that he said it last to the Bromley Rotarians. On that occasion he said precisely that. His words were: Some people think the powers of the courts are inadequate to deal with crime. I do not believe this to be true. So he is now satisfied that the courts have all the powers that they need. The Opposition disagree with that view, especially in the case of juvenile courts, but also in one respect for the courts generally and for the Crown courts.

I deal first with the juvenile courts. We in this House have all seen enough of the Children and Young Persons Act, which has been in partial operation since 1971, to realise that it is profoundly unsatisfactory to magistrates and social workers alike. The Opposition's belief is that magistrates should have restored to them the power to make secure care orders, both when making care orders and when renewing them. In our view, it is unsatisfactory that at present the juvenile courts have no say in how care orders are discharged. It is true that under the Criminal Law Act 1977 they can attach some conditions to supervision orders, but in the case of care orders they have no say. We think that that is wrong and that it would be desirable for magistrates to be able to make care orders specifying secure accommodation.

Of course, it is obvious that that means more places for secure accommodation. As I understand it, there are now only 223 places—[Interruption.] That was the information supplied in a parliamentary Answer which one of my hon. Friends received in July. Another 217 are being built, but there are only 223 now.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

July was four months ago.

Mr. Howell

Presumably more have come into operation. That is progress. But clearly the need is for more secure accommodation. If we do not have it and magistrates feel that a care order cannot be under the control of the courts, it leads to overloading of detention centres, and I am not sure that that is a healthy development. Certainly I shall have a great deal more to say in a moment about the results of what is happening in detention centres.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I appreciate the hon. Member's concern, and it is one which is expressed on both sides of the House and outside it. However, there is no point in giving magistrates or courts powers to make secure care orders unless and until the facilities to hold juveniles are built. The hon. Member will know that that is not a criticism of the philosophy of the Children and Young Persons Act. It is in fact an indictment of successive Governments of both parties for not providing sufficient resources to build community homes and the secure units in community homes to hold these children. Unless and until it is done, no amount of additional powers given to magistrates will remedy this very difficult problem.

Mr. Howell

I am not sure that the hon. Member is right, although I know that he follows these matters very closely. It is a question of who has the powers. After all, the 1969 Act actually reduced the powers of magistrates and reduced their involvement. It put the social workers in the front line of dealing with juvenile crime and placed on them what in some areas is an impossible load. I think that it is right to start redistributing that load back in favour of the magistrates.

I now come to detention centres and detention centre orders. Here, too, the Opposition think that the situation is profoundly unsatisfactory. In the case of junior detention centres, the present average sentence comes out at about 42 days —six weeks. It is really three months, but there is almost automatic remission so that it is about 42 days. We think that six weeks is a useless length. In some senses it is too short, in others it is too long.

Let me explain that. For many youngsters, what is needed is a shorter and sharper sentence, especially for young criminals early in their careers. Anyone in a junior detention centre will explain that six weeks is unnecessarily long in some cases and that it could be much shorter provided that it was sharper. For other youngsters, six weeks is a hopelessly inadequate length of time because there is no time to begin training for a new skill and to build up proper rehabilitation. That is what I mean when I say that it is both too short and too long. It satisfies neither criterion. It does not help in either way. It is clear that change is needed.

The Opposition do not want to tell the courts their business. That is not our proper role. However, I think that in this area three changes are required and that the Home Secretary should apply his mind to them and, I suggest, move away from the view which he expressed in September that the powers of the courts are adequate to deal with these matters I do not think that they are.

First, I should like to see the pattern established by which young offenders are sent to detention earlier in their criminal careers. There is nothing more depressing than talking to some of these young people who have committed their fifth, sixth or seventh offence and are veterans of every kind of caution, care order and supervision order. It is much too late then, and the detention centre is doing them no good. They should go earlier. There should be powers vested in magistrates to give shorter and more flexible sentences generally—possibly down to 14 days—and they should be of a more rigorous and sharper kind. Two new centres should be provided for these shorter sentences to be served. The Opposition think that that is a development worth trying, and we regret the attitude so far—it may change; we have managed to get the Home Secretary to change his mind—that this is not a serious proposal or a serious intention. It is. We believe that it could be tried, that it would get the support of some of the staff, and that above all it is greatly preferable to waiting until young thugs become totally iured and hardened veterans of endless care orders and are sent to overcrowded detention centres, often arriving at the gates without adequate documentation, when it is really too late.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the same concept of the short, sharp early prison shock should be applied to adult offenders as well as to juvenile offenders?

Mr. Howell

I should like to see the first development in the case of juvenile offenders, but it may be that the same philosophy, which after all was the orginal philosophy of the detention centres when they were first set up under the 1948 Act, should be applied at the senior level as well. That is the way that the Opposition would like the system now to develop.

As for the 17 to 21-year-old offenders —my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) has just mentioned older offenders—we should like to see senior attendance centres also expanded. We cannot understand the objection of the Home Secretary to this development. He told us last April that 18-year-olds would be admitted to some junior detention centres. He mentioned that again today. But what are the arguments against the expansion of senior attendance centres? We see that as a valuable development, and we should like an explanation of what the Home Office thinks about it.

We should like to see the repeal of section 3 of the 1961 Criminal Justice Act which restricts sentences for those young offenders who have not already served a sentence to either less than six months or more than three years. I know that there were reasons why it was felt that that restriction was desirable, but we believe that it should be changed. That is another change that we should like to see in the courts' powers. Our broad aim is to have a fitting range of penalties, which we lack at present, with prison as the final penalty in the range.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Does my hon. Friend recognise that there is plenty of room in the senior attendance centres and other places for weekend attenders, particularly as many of the older offenders are in work? Does he not think it would be best if they attended only for the weekends, when they could be directed to do appropriate work?

Mr. Howell

I recognise that there are arguments in favour of such a suggestion.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

My hon. Friend has made some constructive suggestions. Can he say clearly that it would be his intention to see that any juvenile offender who, while in the care of a local authority, committed a second violent offence must be removed from the care of that local authority and at least be eligible to suffer a more severe penalty?

Mr. Howell

My hon. Friend would not expect me to commit myself precisely on that matter. I am sure that his suggestion is worth examining.

I turn to the question of prisons, which is a topical matter. I have already reminded the House that my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border has welcomed the inquiry. It has been set up with such speed that we do not yet know its terms of reference, its chairman or the form that it will take. On Thursday the Home Secretary appeared to indicate that hon. Members would have an opportunity to submit evidence to it. It will be a wide inquiry. I do not know how that will be reconciled with the urgency of it. I should like to know the form of the inquiry as soon as possible. There has been criticism of the Home Secretary and of Ministers for the delay in setting up an inquiry. It is right that we should at least take note of the comments of the distinguished home affairs correspondent of The Times. On Friday he wrote: the worsening crisis has not been treated with the urgency it deserves…warnings have not been heeded or they have been dismissed as sensationalism, and action has been delayed until violence has made it impossible for the authorities to ignore it any longer. That quotation is from a reasonably independent source. That is not partisan criticism but is a correspondent making a point which is shared widely outside the House. It is right that I should quote it.

The Home Secretary cannot say that he was not warned about these matters. We have had the all-party Expenditure Committee's report on prisons. There was a debate in the House in March 1977. The all-party Committee was chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes), and the Committee warned about the need for an inquiry into prison conditions. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) led the debate in the House. There has been plenty of warning that something needed to be done.

The inquiry comes at a time when pay disputes and the question of meal times are aggravating the issue. The inquiry will be made no easier as a result. Two separate and equally difficult issues will be mixed—the problems of pay and of the whole organisation of the prison service.

First, I wish to deal with the question of organisation. The prison officers want a service of their own. They feel that their organisation is lost in the upper reaches of Home Office bureaucracy. In saying that, I make no criticism of existing officials or the director-general of the prison service, whom I know and respect. But the officers are worried because the service is not distinct and its upper echelons are too closely bound in with the departmental processes.

In some cases there seems to be ill feeling between the prison officer and governor grades. Rigid norms have played havoc with differentials. The Prison Officers' Association has behaved responsibly. I firmly endorse what the Home Secretary said about that. But it is not in control of all its branches. I am not sure that I go all the way with the Home Secretary's belief that he and his colleagues have done everything possible to encourage a more coherent approach, at least over the last few years.

The probable need—the inquiry will have to decide this—is for an autonomous service under a commissioner who is responsible to the Home Secretary. That is my bet on what will come out of the inquiry.

I turn to the question of overcrowding. I find it difficult to see how the inquiry will be able to deal comprehensively with overcrowding because it extends far beyond the prisons into the whole penal system. We must be careful about bending sentencing arrangements and penal policy to suit the accommodation available. That is the wrong way round.

The protection of the public must come first. There is a hard core, ruthless element in our prisons from whom society must be protected for a long time. I hope that I am not being too pessimistic when I say that I expect its numbers to rise.

There is a case for shorter sentences for the lower categories of prisoners. Some of my hon. Friends have produced a useful report entitled "The proper use of prisons." We believe that it is the first impact that counts. That is a change that should be introduced for its own sake and not a desperate expedient to try to ease the pressure on our prisons. That is the wrong way.

There are several hundred psychiatric cases who should be in secure hospitals. However, the Home Secretary would say rightly that they must first be built. More places are required in secure mental hospitals.

There are also a few hundred alcoholics and inadequates. Some might be better treated outside, but we must remember that alcoholics are usually in prison for having committed violent crimes. That must be borne in mind.

It will take a long time for any of these changes to have any significant impact. There is no avoiding the need to build new prisons. They must be prisons from which it is hard to escape. That is the most expensive type. There is no avoiding the need for a programme which goes beyond the programme of new places built since 1970 or that are in the pipeline. We must face the situation. There is no easy way round by juggling with penal policy.

I have been speaking about crime itself and the response to it. I make no apology for that. The balance has gone too far towards seeking excuses for crime in deeper and more vague causes. Often one tends to address oneself to anything but crime when dealing with the problems of law and order.

Wider influences are a vital part of the problem. Many of our troubles begin in the home. There is a need to give parents more support when they are trying to bring up their children in a disciplined manner. Many of the troubles begin in the schools. There should be an all-out campaign for better standards. Many of our troubles come from poor public example by leading figures in authority who might and should know better. I know that this is controversial, but some of our troubles also come from the nightly television message that violence is a good way to settle an argument.

The need in all these areas is to pursue policies which make it profitable for people and families to think and act responsible rather than policies which constantly take responsibility away and imply that everything will be handled elsewhere at some loftier or official level. This approach that I urge is needed not only in respect of discipline of upbringing and law observance. It extends to policies far outside the traditional Home Office area of preoccupation. It extends to matters such as taxation, education, housing, the social security system and even attitudes to pay bargaining.

Some will say, and no doubt it will be said in the debate today, that it is impossible in an era of State domination and bureaucratised welfare to move in this new direction. I do not agree. In the past two years there has been a resurgence of public demand in all parts of the country not merely for government to come to grips with lawlessness but for policies which reinforce personal and family responsibility and the standards of conduct upon which a settled society rests. That demand is coming from supporters of all parties. We are receiving the pressure and we recognise it, and in that sense I think that there is a turning point in the public mood.

In our view, the politicians' response should be to stop blaming the situation on the media, the Opposition or anyone else and to start giving a vigorous lead from the top on all questions of law and order. Frankly, we do not see that approach from these Ministers. In my view, therefore, the task will fall to the next Conservative Government.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

Order. Before I call the next speaker, I should tell the House that Mr. Speaker desires me to say that a considerable number of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen wish to speak in the debate. He asks the House to be mindful of the needs of others.

5.2 p.m.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Ormskirk)

I welcome the sensible and moderate approach adopted by the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), which is at least in some sense a welcome relief from the kind of hysterical outpourings that we normally get from the Opposition. I noticed that he did not refer to the Conservative Party's recent advertisements on law and order. It was interesting that in his final remarks he called for leadership from the top and for a unified approach, and yet, only a couple of months ago, a Conservative advertisement appeared in most magazines that attempted to give the impression that the Government were in some mysterious way responsible for the increase in crime among certain categories of offenders.

No one disputes—my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary did not dispute it today—that there has been an increase in certain categories of crime during the life of this Government. But if we are to play that disreputable numbers game it is equally fair to point out that there was a 300 per cent. increase in vandalism under the last Conservative Government. This was accompanied by a 100 per cent. increase in fraud and blackmail, a 50 per cent. increase in woundings and a 600 per cent. increase in, of all things, riots. No one on the Labour Benches, however, would want to suggest that the previous Conservative Government were in some way responsible for the increases in those offences. It is equally absurd to suggest that the present Government can in some way be held responsible in similar respects for what has happened in the past four years.

It debases public debate generally and detracts from an important social issue which has been handled properly and adroitly by the Opposition spokesman today but which cannot be dealt with in that way if it is subject to the kind of emotional hysteria which was represented in Conservative advertisements published at a time when it was thought there would be an election.

The Government have probably done far more to combat crime than have any of their predecessors, of either party. Police pay has been dramatically increased. More police are being recruited every day. There are 7,000 more police at work today than there were in 1974, when the Government took office. There has been increased spending, in real terms, on law and order. The figure is up by one-fifth during the life of the Government, compared with that of the previous Administration. The only time when there was an absolute drop in the number of prison officers was during 1972–73, when the Tories were in office, yet they have the temerity to present themselves as the guardians of something called law and order.

The Criminal Law Act, referred to repeatedly by the two Front Benches today, increases the range and severity of penalties on a whole variety of offences. It created a whole host of new offences, many of which I and some of my hon. Friends resented deeply and opposed vigorously. Though I disagreed with that development, it exists, and it is part of the Government's record. Not least a part of that record is the new power to make parents legally responsible for the actions of their children. Yet the Opposition still demand that provision, which indicates how little they study what is happening to criminal law while they make their hysterical pronouncements on the issue.

It is not conceivable that the Government could have done a great deal more. On many occasions we make too much of crime. Like sex, crime has always been with us, and it always will be. It is something that we must learn to accommodate and live with. It is important to put it in its context. There were 2 million crimes in 1976, only 5 per cent. of which were violent crimes, and a very large percentage of those were solved. There were fewer murders in England and Wales in 1976—including murders perpetrated by terrorists—than there were in Detroit in the same year. We demean our country if we do not make these comparisons, if we try to create the impression that we are a lawless society, because that is not the case.

I have the authority of no less a person—and I have disagreed with him on many other occasions—than the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Robert Mark, who, writing in his autobiography "In the Office of Constable". said, in speaking of crime: seen objectively against the background of the problems of 50 million people it is not even amongst the most serious of our difficulties. Of course, he is right. We should not be deflected from the real problems in our society by an overemphasis and an over- concentration on the easy vote-puller of cries for law and order.

Law and order should not be a political football. It should not be an issue between the two major parties. Presumably we are all in favour of law and order. The hon. Member for Guildford said that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary did not get support from the Benches behind him. Let me make it clear that my right hon. Friend has that support. We, too, defend law and order. We, too, believe in the maintenance of a civilised, tolerant and democratic society. One cannot have such a society unless order is maintained and the sovereignty of the law upheld.

Of course, we accept the need for and defend and uphold law and order. It should not be an issue between the parties. We may disagree on the need for some laws and on the efficacy of others, but we surely do not disagree, as has been implied in the Tory advertisements, about the major issue. We, too, want to see criminals caught and punished. We do not condone the actions of the mugger, the rapist, the bank robber or the football hooligan.

I say to my hon. Friends that it is no part of my philosophy—and it is certainly not part of the philosophy of Socialism—to condone or defend in any way antisocial behavour of any kind. It could be argued that Socialism and its ideals, and the principles and ethics of Socialism, make greater demands upon citizens than does the philosophy which preaches selfishness, the grasping ethic, the philosophy that makes every man the enemy of every other.

We demand and expect higher standards of our citizens and should therefore be vigorous and outspoken against those in our society who engage in antisocial actions against the community. We should be just as vigorous and outspoken in our condemnation of price rings as we are of bank robbers and of firms which pollute the atmosphere as we are of thugs who attack old ladies; and of those engaged in tax evasion as we are of football hooligans. We cannot accept, nor should we tolerate, double standards.

Certainly we must look at the causes of crime—whatever they are. No one knows. We have been looking at these causes for generations now without being adequately able to identify them. We need to identify and eradicate those causes, whatever they be, whether they are high levels of unemployment, inadequate housing, or social deprivation. There is a direct correlation between all those social indicators and high levels of crime. The high levels of crime, juvenile delinquency and vandalism are found in the inner cities rather than in the more salubrious suburbs. They are found in places such as Kirkby town, in my constituency, where these factors correlate with a high level of unemployment, inadequate housing, bad education and social deprivation. That is not to say that they are the cause. However, the correlation is so strong as to suggest that we ought to look more closely at the causes of crime. That is long term.

Even if our most fanciful aspirations for dealing with crime were to achieve reality, that would not happen for a long time. We have to deal with the here and now. We have to deal with those who are a menace to our fellow citizens, with those who are anti-social, with the recalcitrant elements in our society. They have to be prevented from committing crimes, they have to be caught and punished. That punishment does not have to be barbaric or harsh. Much more important, it should be constructive and entail the offenders who have acted against society putting something back into the community, by way of making them work for it, whether through a variant of the community service order or by way of some form of restitution to victims.

I am glad that the Home Secretary made at least a fleeting reference to victims. Although I have made a great deal of play in the past—and I will do so today—about the need for penal reform, it is a fact that the offender has the whole apparatus of our social and welfare services around him. He has the psychiatrist, the social welfare worker, the probation officer, the visitor, and after-care when he comes out of prison. It is as if all the resources of our social and welfare services were devoted to the offender. Yet the victim, let it be said, gets an extremely shoddy and shabby deal.

There is a limited extent of help from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board but the board is remote, bureau- cratic and insensitive to the victim's needs. We need—no party in this House has yet developed this idea—a comprehensive national scheme of after-care for victims. If there is one blot on our judicial system it is that we do not show sufficient concern, care or compassion for those who, through no fault of their own, have been the victims of crime. That is an important area, which I hope my right hon. Friend will take further.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe)

Does my hon. Friend include the setting up of rape centres as part of his after-care services for the victim?

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Of course. I do not think that that needs any elaboration.

I accept that there are criminals who are vicious and selfish, and who are deliberate and premeditated in their attacks upon either individuals or society. Society needs protecting from them. Equally, there is no inconsistency in being firm and hard upon such people and at the same time showing care and compassion for the many offenders who are inadequate.

We have spoken about prisons. The present position in our prisons is an indictment of every person in this House and of every previous Administration. It is an indictment of our society. A society can be judged by the way in which it runs its prisons and by the nature of those incarcerated within them. To be judged by those standards is indeed a condemnation of the values and ideals for which our society is supposed to stand. We have gross overcrowding in outdated and outmoded Victorian conditions—conditions which affect the prison officers just as much as the prisoners. Indeed, if the prison were a factory or an office it would probably be regarded as an illegal working place.

Within our prison system we have a variety of offenders who ought not to be there. I do not refer only to those on remand and who are still technically innocent. Many of these will, if convicted, receive non-custodial sentences, while others will be found not guilty. This group includes schoolchildren. If they are put on remand they ought not to be incarcerated for such a length of time and certainly not in prison. This happens to adults in spite of the effects of the Bail Act 1976.

There are mentally abnormal offenders within our prisons. It is a blight upon our society that we should be putting such people into prison because we do not care enough, because we do not have the foresight, the guts and the will to provide alternative resources outside in the community. More than a year ago in the debate on law and order the Minister of State said—I wonder whether he recalls the words: It is no part of a civilised policy to put the mentally ill in prison and make prisons the receptacles of those whom no other agency in society will accept."—[Official Report, 18th March, 1977; Vol. 928, c. 864.] What have my hon. Friend and his right hon. Friend been doing about that since? It is no good he or any other person in this House saying that it is no part of a civilised policy to put the mentally ill in prisons and, a year and a half later, still to be putting them into prisons. It is no good their coming here and wringing their hands, joining the bleeding hearts brigade and saying "What else can we do?" It is in their hands to do something else. They are part of the same Administration which encompasses the Department of Health and Social Security.

If the present explosion and crisis in our prisons does nothing else it should strengthen my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in kicking up the backside those who are recalcitrant in the Department of Health and Social Security. Why is my right hon. Friend not doing that? It is not his responsibility—neither is it the responsibility of the prison officers or the prisons—to look after the mentally ill. It is no part of their policy to look after those who are disabled. It is no part of their remit to look after the alcoholics and the vagrants. Yet they do. We are using our prisons as social dustbins, into which we put all the social inadequates of society, about whom no one else cares, whom no one else wants to know. We can conveniently put them there and forget about them because they are not members of any powerful, articulate pressure group which will speak on their behalf. Consequently the Government can conveniently forget about them. It is only rarely that anyone will even raise their plight in this House, through Questions or speeches.

Mr. Ernest G. Perry (Battersea, South)

I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that no matter where the Home Office or anyone else tries to place a home for the mentally sick, the area which is selected objects strongly and wants the home to be sited elsewhere.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I am aware of that. My hon. Friend will know of my interest in the matter. The prisons have to accept such persons because the National Health Service will not do so, because these is not sufficient room in the three special hospitals, or because people who are transferred to the psychiatric wing of a NHS hospital cannot be accepted because COHSE, NUPE and others will not accept them.

Let me ask one simple question. Who runs the NHS? Is it run by the DHSS, or the unions within the NHS? Is the NHS run for patients or administrators and ancillary workers? Surely one does not need to ask that question. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary should be a little bit more of the thug in doing something about complacency within the DHSS. Why should he and his hon. Friend have to take the rap in this House for looking after the mentally abnormal, the disabled, the alcoholic and the vagrant when that responsibility is legitimately with the DHSS? Yet we still do not have the interim secure psychiatric units, the detoxification centres or the hostels that were promised many decades ago—even as long ago as 1872 in a House of Commons Select Committee's report.

We know that the Home Secretary has now belatedly announced an inquiry. All that has been said in the House by many hon. Members, including myself, over the last five years has been forgotten. Nobody did anything about the situation until certain prison officers at certain establishments decided, for whatever reason, to take industrial action. I leave aside the merits of the case. It is, we are told, an industrial dispute over pay which is a matter for negotiation, but the consequences are a matter for this House.

Suddenly the Home Secretary is an electrified figure. He has suddenly announced an urgent wide-ranging inquiry. I must say, with all respect to my right hon. Friend, that it is too late. He was warned a long time ago about the crisis in our prisons—not least by his predecessor as Home Secretary. His predecessor in 1974 at the NACRO conference, and on many other occasions, said, in effect, that if the prison population reached 42,000, the position would just blow up. There was the Home Secretary warning himself about the crisis in the prison service, yet nothing was done. Nobody in the Department did anything about the position until it was forced to take action by a sudden show of strength by certain prison officers and there was a new-found interest in the media. Suddenly and thankfully, prisons and their inhabitants are news. Suddenly the Home Secretary acts. However, the process is too slow, too cautious and too unimaginative.

I am afraid that the impression given by my right hon. Friend—or at least the impression he gave until Thursday—is that he is besotted with complacency. Is it not ironical that the Home Secretary sets up an independent inquiry into his own Department? He should not need an outside body, with an independent chairman and unnamed other figures, to tell him what is wrong with the prisons. I am not talking about my right hon. Friend's advisers. He is responsible for those advisers, and any criticism of them should be directed at him. What has he been doing in the last three and a half years? Why did he not know of the impending crisis?

Contrary to what my right hon. Friend said this afternoon in reply to my intervention, it is not just now that the prison officers are taking industrial action. Prison officers at Parkhurst took industrial action over a year ago. Why has it taken this long to act? Why do we always have to be seen to be acting only because we are forced to do so? Why should we always take action under pressure rather than because we want to take that action? Why should we be led into taking action for other reasons—not because we believe that there is something wrong with the prison system, or that we should be able to cope with the mentally abnormal, those on remand, the disabled person, or the petty offender?

My right hon. Friend made many nice-sounding comments about petty offenders. He agreed that the prisons are over-full with petty offenders who should not be there, who are no danger to society and for whom further incarceration serves no real purpose. What about an amnesty now? If my right hon. Friend sincerely wants to take such action, if he wants to clear the prisons of all the petty offenders, let him do it now. At least he can pretend that he is doing it under pressure, if not for the real reason that he sincerely believes in such a course.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Surely, an amnesty is taking the matter too far. I am with the hon. Gentleman in his general logic. Surely, many of the petty offenders—recidivists in a small way, inadequates in the main—could be released to hostel centres, subject to supervision, where they might be able to undertake work. Such a course would take many people out of prison. Alcoholics, for example, could be dealt with in centres which could be set up quite quickly, because they need no custodial background at all.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

This has been said many times. I accept that it will not make a significant impact on the prison population, but my point is that, as a matter of principle, those offenders should not be in prison anyway. I believe that prison officers and staff should not be asked to look after such offenders. It is not the function of the prison officers, and they have not been properly trained for the work. It is wrong to ask them to do that job. Such prisoners should have been moved out of prisons a long time ago. We should have introduced shorter sentences, as was recommended by the Advisory Council on the Penal System a long time ago. Alternatives to imprisonment should have been implemented long ago.

What has the Home Secretary been doing? He has had constant warnings both in this House and by many organisations and individuals outside. Nothing has happened. In his remarks today he did not announce one new initiative. I am afraid that that is a condemnation of the whole philosophy and working of the Government. It is an abdication of responsibility that he has set up an inquiry into this aspect of his Department. The present inquiry is not enough. We need a far more wide-ranging inquiry into the prison system, such as can properly and effectively be done only by a Royal Commission.

We need to take a more effective look at the purposes of imprisonment. We should look at the type of person for whom prison is intended, for how long, and for what reason. We must accept that prison officers as well as the prisoners are captives of an outdated, repressive system that is unnecessary and pointless. The system does not reform or rehabilitate. It fails on every criterion for a prison system, except that of harshness and inhumanity. We have probably the most overcrowded, disreputable, pernicious, barbaric, harsh, inhumane system in the Western civilised world, and we have the temerity to lecture other countries on how to treat their prisoners. It is a condemnation of everybody in this country that we have allowed this situation to exist for so long.

What we need is a changed emphasis on the role and work of prison officers. There is no need for the prison officers to have a quasi-military role. They should certainly be less custodial in their function. Furthermore, there should be more training of prison officers. They should have a greater and enhanced professional status, with a greater orientation to rehabilitation. I would expect that status to be far more constructive and rewarding and to give them greater job satisfaction than the present living and working conditions which they have to undergo.

In the meantime, I have some specific questions on the inquiry which I hope the Minister will answer tonight. What action is he taking against illegal action by some prison officers? What measures is he taking to provide legal access to prison by lawyers, social workers, families and probation officers? How many prisoners are now in police cells, where and under what conditions, and how many prison rules are being broken in the process? How many of the police cells come up to the normal certification standard? What contingency plans does he have if the dispute is exacerbated? What is to happen if there is a complete breakdown of the prison system? The public have a right to know and should have answers to the questions that I have put. The Home Secretary has a duty to volunteer answers. It should not be necessary to have to prise them from him.

In my right hon. Friend's reaction to the crisis in our prisons we have, unfortunately, another example of the Merlyn Rees first law of politics, which is that one does not have to do anything, one does not have to act, however desirable and necessary action may be, unless and until it is an issue in Ormskirk. The Government will not and need not act unless forced by public pressure to do so.

That is not my assumption. We have the words of my right hon. Friend's reply to me on the 19th July on the Official Secrets Act. We have his statement on the Act. We have there an enunciation of the most dispiriting, depressing and cynical doctrine—namely, that the Government will act only when they are forced to do so. That has been exhibited with the Officials Secrets Act, with freedom of information and now with the prisons.

It is no good for Ministers to continue wringing their hands. We have seen that take place on many occasions. We have heard their promises many times. They have made some fine promises and some extremely eloquent speeches.Hansard is full of their fine words. We all know what needs to be done. What we need now is action to do it.

Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At 5 o'clock you asked that speeches should be brief. The previous speech lasted for 29 minutes. Is that what you meant when you asked for brief speeches?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Mr. Speaker said that he hoped Members would be mindful of the needs of others. The debates are read by Mr. Speaker and he will understand.

5.32 p.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling on me to speak after my neighbour, the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk). I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his philosophy on law and order, certainly as it must apply to Merseyside. It is useful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you have called two Merseyside Members as the first two Back-Bench Members to take part in the debate.

We are suffering a severe wave of crime on Merseyside. I shall take up one of the arguments of the hon. Member for Ormskirk, especially on crimes of violence and their effect on the victims.

I am sure that when you called my name, Mr. Deputy Speaker, Ministers' advisers reached for their notes headed "Do not bring back the birch". The Minister of State may relax on this occasion. I do not intend to inflict upon him my speech about bringing back the birch, which he has heard on several occasions—although it does not spoil for repeating.

The Minister knows that public support for corporal punishment being available to the courts has increased over the past two or three years. It is increasing, and it will increase as long as we have the upsurge of crimes of violence.

The aspect to which I call the attention of the House is not so much offenders but victims. The Home Secretary said that we should consider carefully the position of and what we can do for victims of violence. Two or three years ago when I started making speeches about corporal punishment and arguing that it should be available to the courts to deal with convicted muggers, vandals and hooligans, I had great assistance from two persons on Merseyside. One of those persons is a constituent of the hon. Member for Ormskirk and the other is a constituent of mine. They started to investigate the position of victims. By means of newspaper cuttings, help from the press and especially help shown by the police, they tried to ascertain what was happening to the victims. They managed to trace many of them.

I am sure that it will shock the House to learn that the pattern was the same in almost every instance—namely, that no social worker had called on the victim, no one had helped him or her to make a claim for compensation and no one had helped the victim physically.

Some of the victims were badly injured. Right hon. and hon. Members may have seen page 9 of this morning's Daily Mail. It bears a picture of the victims of violence on Merseyside. It is a picture of over 20 victims who belong to a club set up by the two persons I have mentioned, Charles Oxley, a headmaster, and Joan Jonker, a housewife. Their association is called "Victims of Violence". The qualification for joining the club is that the applicant has suffered at the hands of violent criminals.

The picture in the Daily Mail shows 25 such persons who have so suffered. What will shock the House even more to learn is that the organisation was established to help victims of violence only 12 months ago, and since then 400 Merseysiders have joined, each one having qualified as a result of suffering from a crime of violence. If right hon. and hon. Members have not seen the picture in today's Daily Mail and the report beneath it, they may have heard the television and radio reports of the coach outing that these victims were given. They went from Liverpool to Blackpool for a day.

Some of the reported interviews of the victims were heart-rending. I have mentioned some of them in the House before. In the picture there is Stephen Sherlock, the legless cripple who was beaten on his own bed until he was unconcious. He is now blind in one eye through being beaten. There are other cases that I could quote. These are the cases of individuals who are not in the picture. These are other Merseysiders who have suffered.

For example, Gladys Taylor, a widow of 74, was attacked in the street, thrown to the ground and jumped upon. She is now extremely lame, and very nervous. Alice Mitchell, a widow of 78, was beaten about the head, face and hands with her own walking stick. She was a pianist. Her hands are now useless and her nerves wrecked. Alfred Smith, an 87-year-old widower, was held against a wall when he answered his front door bell. He was beaten about the head and suffered a lacerated eye. I have many of these cases. These are only the tip of a terrible iceberg of coldness in the way in which we are treating the victims of vicious and violent crime.

Rightly, the Daily Mail, uses the caption at the top of the picture: A picture that will shame the nation's conscience this morning. The picture and the 400 members of Victims of Violence, the Merseyside association, are a measure of the failure to provide adequate deterrents for the prevention of the surge of violent crime from which we are suffering throughout the country but certainly severely in the North-West.

For each of the victims it is the closing chapter of the story. That is so whether it is the 20 or so who are pictured in the Daily Mail or the 400 who have joined the club. It is the closing chapter and we have to start at the beginning. We must have enough policemen to catch the criminal, stern enough sentences to deter criminals and adequate accommodation for punishing them.

But with all that we shall still have the victims. For them I would urge the following. First, there should be well organised passing of information from the police to the social services. I know from my discussions with the police that they would organise that, and that they are only too happy to do it, but there is no proper organisation set up by the local authorities to which to pass this information. There should be priority action by social welfare to help these victims. There should be immediate Government action—whether it be local or central government—to find the compensation for the victims, never mind the fact that there may be some compensation at the end of some long procedure for claiming it.

The Home Secretary said "We have raised the amount of compensation which magistrates can give from £400 to £1,000." That is of no use if the offender pleads guilty and the police tell the unfortunate victim "You need not attend court, the man has pleaded guilty and we do not want to waste time." I am not exaggerating. I know of cases in which this has happpened, with the result that the victim has not known that he could claim compensation through the magistrates. It is no good increasing the amount if the victim does not get to court to claim it. An investigation should be made into that procedure, so that the Government take over the responsibility for compensation and can get it back from whoever is responsible for the crime.

Mr. Carlisle

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that the victim does not have to claim, and that the magistrates should be encouraged to make compensation orders in all cases, whether or not there is a claim?

Mr. Edward Lyons (Bradford, West)

It should also be borne in mind that whereas the magistrates' order can include compensation for damage to property, where it is a case of personal injury, as in the instances that the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) has described, there is recourse to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, by which compensation can be awarded.

Mr. Page

Yes. The injury to the cripple whom I mentioned just now occurred two years ago. He is still waiting for payment from the board. He has to prove some case. The Government should compensate at once and should then themselves take over the business of a claim. These victims want immediate compensation to relieve their suffering. They also need attendance, and so on.

Mr. John

I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has brought this case to the notice of the Home Office, but in many cases interim payments are made by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. We are both members of the legal profession and can understand that there may be medical reasons why a final award cannot be made. In such cases the victim should apply for an interim award.

Mr. Page

Of course, if the victim, like the Minister and myself, knows something about law and knows how to make a claim, he will make the claim, but in some of these cases the people concerned are widows of over 80, and no one has told them how to do it. They have been lying in their own homes after attacks of this sort, terrified to go out or even answer the door. It is these people who require social welfare assistance, not only in making claims but in looking after themselves on these occasions.

In the case of redundancy, to draw a simple parallel, it is very important that a man should not be thrown out of work without having any support or any recompense for having worked for a firm for a length of time. If the firm goes into liquidation and is unable to pay, the Government take over the matter and pay the compensation. How much more important is it, in the case of victims of violence, that the Government should recognise that principle? After all, the main purpose of the State is to keep the peace, and, if there is a breach of the peace, the State should pay compensation to the victims. When the State has failed to provide protection against crime, it should recognise that there is a heavy responsibility upon it to look after the victims.

I ask the Home Secretary—and, indeed, the Minister of State, who is listening to the debate—to look at the picture in the Daily Mail and to realise that, even in taking into account what is happening to the victims on Merseyside, the number has to be multiplied by about 20, and that in considering the whole country it has to be multiplied again by the appropriate figure. We must not continue to regard so callously the victims of our failure to suppress crimes of violence.

5.45 p.m.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe)

I have listened with great interest to the speeches in the debate so far. One of the interesting things about the debate is that people have been constrained to discuss the subject from several different angles.

I welcomed the Home Secretary's speech but I felt that possibly we were not altogether approaching the subject from the right angle. After all, law and order are, in a sense, the responsibility of every one of us. We are the State, and unless we are prepared to contribute to a stabler society it will be exceedingly difficult for others to enforce laws that we have passed. The hazard arises when those who come into this Chamber asking for special concessions for hostels to deal with alcoholics, and for social workers to deal with the victims of crime, have in other debates been calling loudly for cutting down and cutting back in the amount of money spent on the social services.

With the very greatest respect to the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), I ask him how many social workers are there in the area of which he was talking who are already grossly overloaded with work on the straightforward social service side? How capable are they of dealing with the problems of the one-parent family, or the child who needs support and is not going to school? It is these very real social problems which possibly in some instances contribute to such great difficulties that those concerned develop into criminals in their later life.

How often are Conservative Members, who are today talking about the need for more social workers, for better psychiatric social workers, and for the creation of special penal units, prepared to follow that up with a very strong commitment to the amount of money that that would need? How often do they say to the Conservative-controlled authorities with which they work "You have a responsibility to your citizens to put money into those services which are most desperately needed in order to contribute to a stable society"?

My hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) said that it is not the responsibility of the prison service to look after those who are most in need of specialised care. I agree with him absolutely. Is he saying that it is the responsibility of the National Health Service? Is he also saying that he would be prepared to join me in trying to get a doubling or trebling of the amount of real money that is put into the specialised services, possibly at the cost of some other services? If he is, I think we are talking about a realisable programme. If he is not, I say to him, with the greatest respect, that the remarks he has addressed this afternoon to the Home Secretary are superficial and meaningless.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

For the last five years I have been doing precisely what my hon. Friend is asking me to do.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Then my hon. Friend has had astonishingly little success in convincing not only his colleagues but even those members of the Health Service unions who do not regard this work as being the sort of thing which should automatically be lumped off on them. If an alcoholic, for example, has also committed a crime, there are very special reasons for treating him in a specialised way, but it is not the responsibility of the National Health Service to undertake a job that would be better done inside the prison service with particular support.

I want to talk about the role of the police in our society. We sometimes forget that one reason that the police service is efficient is that largely it has the support of the ordinary man and woman. If we look at the number of police officers in our society and at the size of our population, we can begin to understand that in this country we have always operated on the assumption that the majority of ordinary citizens not only accept the discipline of law and order but are prepared to support those who have to enforce it.

One constructive result of the recent extremely generous pay offers has been the removal of what seemed to me to be a red herring about difficulties in the police service. I do not doubt that policemen should be properly paid. However, we have not yet discussed the changes which have taken place not only in the police service but in relations between the police service and society as a whole.

When I was a small child many working class boys of considerable native intelligence went into the police service because it was a proven way of getting promotion and security. They were able to enter a service which welcomed their intelligence and they were able to make progress. Because of the changes in our education system, such boys are now likely to go on to university training. Yet the police service does not seem to have changed its attitude in line with the changes in our evolving society. For example, there was a discussion recently about the amount to be paid to graduates if they were to enter the police service. I see little sign, from chief constable down, of any effort to encourage graduates to enter the police service. Indeed, I believe that they are not being properly exploited.

I should like to give a particular example. In the comprehensive school in which my eldest son was trained there were a number of boys, but one in particular, who entered the Metropolitan Police service. That boy became a successful constable. Because he had specific linguistic skills, he was recruited at an early stage in his police career into a specialised unit. As he spent a great deal of time in my home with my eldest son, I was able to follow his progress and to argue about the ideas which he appeared to be developing in contact with some of his senior officers. He discovered that there was a facility for constables to go for higher education and better training. Therefore, he wished to avail himself of that facility. I shall not bother the House with all the details. The result of his considerable efforts was that the Metropolitan Police service seemed to believe that, even though the facility existed and was exploited by some sections and divisions, it should not be encouraged and that the average police officer who wanted to go for training should restrict himself to the police college and a narrow specialised form of police training.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has specific direct contacts with universities. Throughout American universities degree courses are available. In many countries in the Western world specific efforts are made to ensure that police officers are highly trained and aware of the changes which have taken place and are taking place in technology, computers and a number of different sciences.

I was allowed to go to Scotland Yard to talk about the boy to whom I referred. I met with great courtesy, but a total lack of understanding of what I was trying to put over. I did this personally and privately, because I did not believe that I could achieve anything by making a public speech about a particular individual. The result was simple. The boy left the police force.

I shall no doubt be told that was one isolated case. But when I listen, for example, to Sir David McNee talking about the role of the woman police officer and to the speeches made by chief constables, in many instances giving classic examples of their inability to understand the changes which have taken place even in man management during the last 40 years, I am moved to believe that it is not an isolated instance. I think that police forces will face real difficulties unless they change their internal procedures and, in particular, their attitudes towards their men. Following that line through, I suggest that they must also change their attitude to the public as a whole.

In recent times I have encountered a number of cases where young people have been in—not conflict—contact with police officers of their own age. I know about the difficulties and problems of the 18-year-old out on the beat when he is the only officer available. The result has been that many young people in the uniform of jeans and sweat shirt are regarded by police forces as automatically likely to commit offences. I do not think that is their attitude. But if that feeling is growing among groups of youngsters, is it not possible that that liaison, that partnership, that has existed in the past between the public and the police will be lost? I believe there is a danger of that happening.

I understand that there will be a directive from the EEC on the question of illegal immigration. If by some dreadful mischance we should follow some of the lines taken by the EEC in that directive, I believe that we shall see an even greater deterioration in the relationship between immigrant communities and the police. For example, it is likely that the directive will widen the powers of the police to such an extent that they will have the right to enter places of work to check whether people are illegal or legal immigrants. They will also have the right to enter homes. I know that they have that right now if they believe that a crime has been committed. But an Asian woman, already isolated from the community in which she lives and possibly unable to speak English, confronted by an officer of the law knocking on the door demanding to come in to check her family's papers and their right of residence, will be very frightened. She will be as frightened as some of the people about whom the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) was talking.

Whole sections of our community do not now have the same trust in the police as they once had. They no longer feel that the police will automatically protect the interests of all societies in Great Britain. In some instances they have good reasons for such beliefs. In many instances, there has been a total breakdown in communications. The work of community officers has not followed through the relationship between the ordinary constable and the ordinary immigrant family. It is that way that the real danger lies. If immigrant communities feel that they must create vigilantes to protect themselves and feel that they can no longer go to the police for assistance, we shall get racial strife in the centres of our cities. Therefore, it behoves the police to be aware of that situation.

If we are to have properly equipped police forces capable of dealing with social problems, they must be intelligent, well educated and highly paid. They must act in an efficient and modern way. The day when we could line up vast numbers of police officers and deal with them as an army unit has long gone. The men will not accept that situation, and there is no reason why they should. However, we shall not get such forces while chief constables talk as they do and believe their own publicity. There is no greater danger than the chief constable who believes that only he is the fount of all knowledge and that only through his ability can law and order be transformed. That is not the situation. The chief constable is not only the spokesman for his force but the representative of every citizen. Let him lose that sense of involvement and responsibility at his peril. If he does, he will destroy his own force and the quality and calm of our cities.

6.0 p.m.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

I do not want to follow the hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) down the path she took except to say that for the first time in my life, three or four months ago, I marched through the streets of London in protest against the policy of local authorities in pulling down houses that I did not think should be pulled down. We were escorted by the police with the utmost courtesy, but on that Sunday alone they were dealing with no fewer than 10 marches through the streets of London. I thought that the way they did their duty was magnificent.

I think that there is much validity in what the hon. Lady said about the change in attitude in certain areas, but I realised immediately on that march some of the problems that the police have to put up with and the amount of time they spend on these things. I think that the general public could be a little more considerate in the demands they put on the police, although I agree with quite a lot of what the hon. Lady said.

I welcome the commitment in the Gracious Speech to improve the funding schemes designed to help ethnic minority groups. I understand that this involves amending section 11 of the Local Government Act 1966. We made representations to the Home Office in the last Session on this subject, and my noble Friend Lord Avebury in particular will be pleased to have the commitment in the Gracious Speech.

Like others, we shall wait and see on the question of reforming section 2 of the Official Secrets Act. We await further information. We rather suspect that it may turn out to be a damp squib. The recent experience in the Department of Transport over the heavy lorries controversy will, I hope, persuade the Government to be more forthcoming.

I want to deal to a large extent with the crisis in our prisons. The right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) referred to Stephen Sherlock, who was attacked although he is limbless. "Stephen Sherlock" are my first two names, and my ancestors come from the Liverpool area. The architect of the Walker gallery was an ancestor of whom I am proud. I wish Stephen Sherlock well. It is a tragic case and I hope that at least he gets the compensation he deserves.

There have been many warnings to the Government about the prison situation. The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) has listed a number of them. There have been many articles in The Times by Mr. Peter Evans over the last two or three years. He is a very responsible correspondent. At last, the Home Secretary has taken action—very late in the day, when tempers are frayed and relationships within the service are at a low ebb.

I remind the right hon. Gentleman—no one else will, because no credit is ever given to the Liberals—that on 20th December 1976, at about 10 o'clock in the morning, I raised the subject of prisons. I said: It surely is time that we tackled the whole problem comprehensively and had the determination to establish sufficient funds to structure a service of which we can be proud, rather than fail to face up to the problem that faces us and risk the backlash that is inevitable unless action is taken."—[Official Report, 20th December 1976; Vol. 923, c. 390.] Two or three months later, the hon. and learned Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) had a full-scale debate in which he made an excellent speech. We have had the recent report of the Expenditure Committee. But all these things have apparently been ignored. I do not accept the view of the hon. Member for Ormskirk that it was the industrial action in the prisons that caused the Home Secretary to act. I think that it was the action of the assistant governors, who finally decided that they must come out into the open and make their fears and suggestions known. After that, the Home Secretary could hardly have failed to act.

The governors of our prisons are as frustrated as the officers who serve under them. Are their grievances to be investigated by the inquiry, particularly their pay structure? How long is it since the Home Secretary actually met a group of the governors? I gather that the communications have not been very good. Again, why have the representations of the prison visitors not had the priority that should have been accorded to them? It is two years since the prison visitors at Parkhurst came to London and met Lord Harris, warning him of the worsening situation in Parkhurst. I have no doubt that similar representations have been made from other parts of the country.

Parkhurst is our oldest prison establishment on the Isle of Wight. It has always had a record of consistently good, honourable service. The fact that it is Parkhurst that is in this dispute is symptomatic of the deteriorating situation within the prison service.

Albany is a new prison, built in 1966. I hope that future new prisons will not follow the design of Albany, since millions of pounds have had to be spent to put it right. It has had many problems. A book has been written about it. Parkhurst was always the settled prison, the one with the tradition, yet this dispute has been going on there for 11 months.

In Parkhurst, more than 70 inmates are in need of psychiatric treatment. No fewer than six of them have been certified under section 72 of the Mental Health Act and the medical officer says that another 24 should probably be added, but it is no use certifying them because they have nowhere to go. The position continues to deteriorate.

Two weeks ago a prison officer at Parkhurst was attacked with a knife and gashed from nose to lip. It was no isolated incident. One has read stories about Gartree and about electric traps for officers. If these are correct, they reveal a frightening situation.

If prison officers could see some definite proposals for dealing with the situation it would help, but it seems that there is nothing in the pipeline. We have heard that some of these responsibilities lie at the door of the Department of Health and Social Security, and if that Department cannot help the Home Office must act on its own initiative. Broadmoor, Rampton and Moss Side are full and there are plans for some additional places at Parkhurst, but not until 1981. Cannot these plans be brought forward?

There are three prisons in my constituency, so it is particularly vulnerable. My constituents are entitled to an assurance from the Home Secretary that he has adequate contingency plans available if the position should deteriorate any further. We used to have barracks on the Hand, but the Army is not stationed there at all now. We have some pretty tough customers at the prisons. I do not think that the situation will so deteriorate. I think that the prison officers will be responsible. But there is urgent need to defuse the most immediate cause of discontent. In most areas this relates to the outstanding claims for continuous duty payments, but at Parkhurst it also relates to a cost of living allowance.

I reject any suggestion that I have been irresponsible in this matter. When those claims were first put at the end of last year, the representatives of all three prisons came to see me and I agreed entirely with them. This happens to be part of a fight that my constituency has been having with the Department of the Environment, because it is time that it was recognised that we quite naturally have higher costs on an island. I thought that we had won that battle but, unfortunately, the Tory controlled Association of County Councils did not support us, and I believe that the Isle of Wight is now about to resign from that body. The cost of living on the Isle of Wight is higher than on the mainland. For a start, petrol is 83p a gallon. We have never had any concessions on that, and there are few parts of the country where one cannot buy petrol cheaper than that.

Therefore, I supported the prison officers in the general line of their claim. I saw the Home Secretary and some of his chief officers. I also saw the secretary of the Prison Officers' Association, a very able and nice man.

In April the offer was made of an extra 73p. It was accepted in Albany and Camp Hill but not in Parkhurst. Parkhurst has continued with industrial action and, unfortunately, relations between Parkhurst officers and officers at Albany and Camp Hill are not good. I think that the Parkhurst officers probably should have settled on that offer, but they did not. I have been concerned at what has been going on there. Civilian workers have not been allowed in the prison, and this has cost the taxpayer a lot of money because we have been paying these workers basic rates for 11 months without their going through the gates of Parkhurst to work. All the laundry has been going outside. A great deal of public money has been wasted.

The Home Secretary must accept the situation for what it is. It is no use saying that disciplinary action should be taken. One cannot take disciplinary action against staff in 40 or more prisons. In any case, I do not think that it is called for, because most of these officers are simply men at the end of their tether. They are reasonable men. If they could receive an assurance that these claims in particular will be dealt with expeditiously, and provided that the Government commit themselves to accepting the findings of the inquiry, whether favourable or not—they did so in the case of the police—I believe that the immediate crisis could be surmounted.

I also believe that the cost of living allowance in relation to Isle of Wight prisons must be taken into account. Other such allowances exist. There are allowances for London and for Dartmoor which are substantially higher. I do not know whether it was the Prison Department's idea, but it was nonsense to put a bloke from Southampton University on the screen to say that prices in Cowes, Isle of Wight, were less than they were in Southampton. He had to admit it afterwards. He said that the figures had been quoted out of context. That shows some of the stupidity with regard to the way in which this issue has been dealt with.

Of course, there are other issues which will take a long time to resolve. That is understood, and the prison officers understand it. It is important to get the right solution, and it cannot be done quickly. I should like to mention some of the questions which we should be asking. For instance, should prison officers remain within the Civil Service, to be controlled directly by the Home Office, or should they go back to being their own department? I think that they probably should. How can their career structure be improved?

Is the civilianisation process, which has been going on over the years, to continue? The prison officers feel strongly about this. They regard themselves merely as "lock and key" men. Should not the process be reversed so that prison officers themselves can play a far more meaningful role within prisons? What is to be the future position of the civilian instructors? What about maintenance men? These responsibilities have been taken away from prison officers.

What about education? At present this is the responsibility of local authorities, although I do not think they know very much about what is going on All sorts of people work in prisons, people such as night security guards, who have nothing to do with the prison officers. They are continually coming to me and saying that they are not getting the treatment or pay which they deserve. All these things are wrong, and they have been simmering under the surface for a long time. So many different people are involved in the day-to-day work of a prison that it is almost impossible for a layman to comprehend who is responsible to whom.

I suggest that the prison governors should have greater local jurisdiction. particularly over matters such as rent allowances, which are a great controversy, especially on the Isle of Wight. Some very harsh decisions seem to be have been made in respect of families living in their own homes. There are other issues such as removal expenses. I am now considering a case in which a prison officer will retire next year and would like to move to Winchester to be near his ultimate retirement home. That officer served 15 years at Camp Hill, qualified as a carpenter and then went to Parkhurst. He has done over 20 years' continous service on the Isle of Wight, but because of the seven-year rule under which a person qualifies for removal expenses, he has been unable to have his expenses paid for by the State. That is stupid and it is one of the rules which could be dealt with by the local governor.

As well as little or nothing being done about the provision of secure accommodation for the psychopaths, to which I have referred, what hope is there for the younger generation who fall foul of the law? Last Thursday, The Guardian reported the case of the schoolboy killer who has been detained for life. It concerned a boy from Plymouth, 14-year-old Simon Hennessey. According to the report, the judge said that It was obviously a case for careful supervision and treatment: 'It is not a case for me to inflict punishment upon you for some wickedness for which you were responsible, and there is no doubt that until a great deal more is known about your particular illness and how it may be treated it would be quite wrong for you, your family, and for society in general if you were to return home'. The article added: The judge said the papers in the case must go to the Home Secretary, who would determine a place where the boy could go for medical treatment. I seriously ask whether the Home Secretary is satisfied that we have centres with the right sort of environment to provide the necessary treatment for boys such as that, where some cure for his malaise may ultimately be found.

I am afraid that my experience with the Diana Irons case does not give me much confidence. In that case, Diana did not murder her parents, although she set fire to the house in which they were living—but she was detained for life. She has now been in Broadmoor for over two years. I do not criticise the treatment that she has received, but the fact is that as a nation we have not seriously faced up to this problem.

It is a disgrace that 14 and 15-yearolds, who have never been known to do anything out of the ordinary before, should suddenly end up in Broadmoor. What a catastrophe that must be for the parents. I have now visited Broadmoor three times, and, despite all the work that is being done, I do not think that is the right environment for a child such as Diana. When she reaches the age of 18 I do not believe that there is any hope of her being moved. This is a matter which should have our priority and it is something about which the country and this House should feel strongly.

At the present time, our prisons are facing a dreadful situation with no less than four or five inmates to a cell. Winchester prison is one example. That is degrading, not only to the inmates but also to the prison officers. I do not admit to know why children who have lived perfectly normal lives suddenly do terrible things, but I believe that it has something to do with the society in which we now live. Kids today are brought up on an overdose of television and magazines which exalt violence and treat the sanctity of life as expendable.

I never thought that I would support censorship, but there are now many magazines on sale in London and elsewhere which plunge to such depths in their depravity that I believe they should be banned. Some of the bestial scenes turned out nightly for our so-called entertainment must wash off on to impressionable youngsters. I believe that a programme on this subject was shown on Thames Television last night. I did not see it because Southern Television is on strike, but I believe it came to the conclusion that there was a connection. I believe that we can do without scenes such as those in some Italian Westerns where Henry Fonda rides up and shoots a kid because he has been recognised, or the hanging scene where one brother with a rope around his neck stands on his brother's shoulders so that when the boy succumbs to the heat of the sun he kills his own brother.

I believe that there is a connection between that sort of violence and crime among young people. I therefore welcome the promise in the Queen's Speech that listeners and viewers will have a greater say. I am sure they will want to tell the broadcasting authorities that they should have better taste, because there is now too much violence on television.

It is all very well calling for tougher sentences all round, but surely we should provide the proper foundations for a civilised society. I am afraid that my feelings of despondency about this country grow more and more when, in a month which threatens to see the demise of The Times and The Sunday Times, Trafalgar House and Beaverbrook Newspapers launch the Daily Star. To me, that is one of the less acceptable faces of capitalism which will not contribute one iota to restoring some morality to our society. I gather than even Mr. Matthews does not want the newspaper in his own house.

If we do not change direction quickly, a future Government—it may well be the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw)—will be forced by public demand into a ghastly period of retaliation with regard to punishment. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman would want that if he were a future Home Secretary. I certainly do not want to see it. I believe that the Prime Minister is right to warn of the repercussions of granting execessive wage claims unrelated to productivity, which will affect all of us, and in particular those least able to help themselves, but the Home Secretary should also be warning of the real outcome of the growing breakdown in family life.

My Housing (Homeless Persons) Act was criticised by some, mostly Tory councillors, but I believe that it was absolutely right because it is surely the sort of environment into which a child is born that is of paramount importance to his future way of life. A social worker wrote to me recently about his concern for the way in which child care services have been affected following reorganisation in 1970–71. I believe that there is now discussion about this within the Departments of Education and Health and Social Services.

That social worker wrote: I still do not see how a children service, which is only part of the concern amongst many in Social Services Departments, can really meet the needs of children in trouble. There is as a result of this amalgam, a diversification of resources and skills and there is no service which can fight exclusively for the needs of under-privileged children. We are only able to make bids to meet the needs of children alongside all other calls on the Local Authority Social Work time. He has just come back from Norway and was very impressed with what was being done there with regard to flexible working hours. It is established by all families there that they will try to have one of the parents at home when the child leaves for school and another parent at home when he returns. Surely we should be looking at that sort of thing in this country. If we can get that right, and if people start to commit some of these ghastly crimes, I shall go along with some of the ideas about much tougher penalties. But it is the basis on which our society is built which is at fault, and it is time we tried to set a better example.

Finally, I wish to express my concern about the way in which we treat prisoners who are deported after serving their sentences. The Minister of State will know that I have had one such case very recently. The fact is that we shove them out of this country with hardly a penny in their pockets. My case was that of a West Indian deported to Jamaica, where he had no friends or relations. All his friends and relations were either in this country or in Canada. We give these people virtually nothing with which to return to their countries. Surely that is a recipe for absolute disaster when they land on those shores.

I put a Question down to the Home Secretary on this subject, and I was told that there would be a review of the scales of allowances to be paid to or left in the possession of persons deported from this country for their subsistence on the journey and a few days after. I trust that we will do a bit better than that. The change surely cannot be made too soon.

6.20 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing, Southall)

I want to deal with that part of the Queen's Speech which alludes to race relations and immigration. This is the first time since publication of the controversial report of the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration last March that I have had the opportunity to speak in the House on this matter. All that I have been able to do is ask the Home Secretary a question or two when he has made announcements on some aspects of that report.

I shall comment on the speech of the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) only in regard to the fact that throughout the existence of the Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration—it is 10 years old—there has been provision for representatives of the Liberal Party to be on it. However, for the bulk of the time recently there has not been a Liberal representative. It is seriously remiss of the Liberal Party not to be able to find a member for that Committee. I am sure that by resolution of the House the membership could be extended from its present 10 members. It is not good enough for the Liberals simply to rely on Lord Avebury in the other place to be a spokesman for a party which is supposed to dote on this issue. I have nagged at the former Liberal leader over this matter for a long time. More recently I have nagged the present leader and the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith), who could add considerable weight to the Committee should he decide to come on to it.

I have a great belief in the ability of this House to get this question right. Because of that belief I went on the Committee in the first place, and I have remained on it. I am the longest serving member of it.

Our recent report, which we realised would be controversial and would have more attention drawn to it than any other report that the Committee has produced, has suffered from gross misunderstandings in certain quarters. It therefore bears examination and re-examination, and I should have thought that long before now we would have debated the matter in the House.

I draw attention to the fact that the Opposition spokesman today did not mention this aspect of the Queen's Speech, even though the Home Secretary did so in his speech. I am sure that this was no accident. I believe that there is a certain sheepishness on the Opposition Benches about the excessive degree to which Conservative Party policy has gone—needlessly so—in contradicting the Select Committee's report. That is why the Leader of the Opposition did not make use of our report in her speech to the Tory Party conference, which I followed very closely. In fact, I followed closely the debates on this matter at the two major party conferences.

I wish to comment on just one part of the Select Committee's report. It is impossible to deal with the whole of a report that covers 29 recommendations. When the former Minister of State, Home Office, my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon), tabled a motion criticising aspects of the report, he said that the evidence did not support the conclusions. In fact, the evidence was not then published. What he meant was that the evidence did not in all respects fit the conclusions at which he had arrived as Minister of State.

I regard the agreement of the five hon. Members from this side of the House, who could not by any stretch of the imagination be regarded as glued in any way to one particular wing of the Labour Party, and of the five members from the Opposition, who similarly cannot be regarded as being in any particular enclave, as significant.

It is all very well to talk about the proposals that we now have—I applaud the practical aspects of them and remind the House that these follow very closely an earlier report of the Select Committee—but there is no need for the excesses to which the Conservative Party says it will go if it becomes the Government at the next election.

The Tories talk about going back on the changes that were introduced by the former Home Secretary, Mr. Roy Jenkins, on male fiances. They also talk about halting completely immigration from the Indian sub-continent and the West Indies as a sort of cut-off pending registration of dependent relatives. The Franks Committee dealt with this, and the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) who is sitting on the Conservative Benches tonight, took part in the investigation into the practicabilities of such a proposal. That investigation reached the conclusion not that such registration would not be a good thing if an accurate report of dependent relatives could be obtained, but that it was not really worth the candle. That was the position at which the Franks Committee arrived.

Certainly it is not worth a candle if it means cutting off the right under present British law of dependent relatives to join the breadwinner in this country. There is still far too much delay in processing applications at British posts overseas. The process must be speeded up in cases where relatives have a lawful entitlement to join the breadwinner here.

Our Select Committee report made specific, practical recommendations on how the process could be expedited. Of course the report was not right in every letter and there was confusion and misunderstanding about the proposed 12-year-old cut-off, but this was done from a good will point of view. We wanted the child to be here with the breadwinner as soon as possible, preferably More the age of 12, to put him through the British education system. Probably we expressed that quite badly and that is why it was taken up.

The other part of our recommendation on registration was grabbed hold of by the ultra-Left on the fringes of the Labour movement who claimed that it was an outright proposition for the registration of black people in this country. That is an absurdity and a downright untruth. No such proposals were made. In fact, we did not even propose that there should be registration. However, we were mindful of what my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) told us earlier today, that we could well get a directive on this matter from the Common Market.

Let us pitch our thoughts forward to the inclusion in the Common Market of Greece, Portugal and Spain, with the effects that that will have on the labour market in this country. If we get our economy into the ascendancy, it will be a magnet, although most migrant workers are currently moving into other European States. All countries have their stories to tell about the movement of migrant labour in the middle 1950s, which is when the movement to this country also began.

With very few exceptions, no primary immigrants have been coming to this country for many a long day. It is because our port control is the toughest in Europe and our internal control on the migration of labour and its employment is the weakest in Europe that we get such nastiness arising at British ports. I have been to the Punjab on several occasions, and I know that for young lads there the chance of getting into this country and securing a livelihood is an enormous prize. The Select Committee had a number of practical things to say on this matter and I hope that hon. Members will study them much more seriously because I believe that the Home Office will be obliged, in logic, to work closely towards the findings of our report.

A Green Paper on British nationality law and possible changes was issued in April last year. It is not mentioned in the Gracious Speech, and I assume that the Government want to allow more time for the discussions to proceed. The previous Minister of State said at the Labour Party conference that the question of a nationality law was urgent, and the Select Committee said that soon, though perhaps not this year or next, there must be a determination of who are the nationals in this country. The Green Paper suggests a two-tier system, and that deserves very deep examination.

One notable absentee from the discussion on this part of the speech is the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). I have dubbed him the "Wolverhampton Wanderer" because he went from the Midlands to Northern Ireland. He has had a great deal to say on the subject and has built up a reputation outside the House—though not inside the House because here he falls flat on his face when he talks on this subject as he has to deal with people who know as much as, and often a damn sight more than, he does. He is a great parliamentarian, but he is a notable absentee from this debate.

My local paper sent a representative to the press conference that was held after publication of the Select Committee report, and its banner headline was: Migrants go home idea ended. None of the three major parties advocates that pressure should be imposed on our black and brown people in an effort to get rid of them.

We now have second and third generations who know no other land but this. I used to be a railway worker, and it is natural for me to talk to railwaymen when I am waiting for trains. I was speaking the other day to a ticket collector who told me that he came from Jamaica originally and that he had saved hard in this country and taken his three children, all of whom were born in South London, to Jamaica for a holiday. He said that they were all excited at the prospect, but that after only four days on the island the children had said to him "Let's go home dad." Home to them was Brixton. Home for lots of young black people in this country is the Midlands or my constituency which has an unusually large number of people from the Punjab, many of whom are Sikhs. I am proud to represent them because they are fine, noble, hard-working people who are a great asset to the British community.

The Home Secretary said that copies of the proposals for relaxing section 11 of the Local Government Act 1966 were available. I do not know whether they are available in quantity, but I had difficulty in obtaining a copy. We have not had an opportunity to study the document in depth and are therefore unable to use it in this debate, but at first glance it looks to be moving in the right direction. Without being too modest, I can say that it has been pushed by earlier work of members of the Select Committee who agree with those working in this area that we should remove section 11 as the criterion for assessing the needs of ethnic communities in this country. For example, it has not been possible to provide for capital expenditure, but only for the reimbursement of local authorities which employ extra staff as a result of having ethnic communities in their areas.

I am delighted to see so many people of West Indian origin dazzling our football fans. It is a healthy development for race relations to see white folk cheering their heads off at the brilliance of some of the black footballers now coming on the scene. I am sure that we shall have one or two, perhaps even three, black footballers in the England side before long.

The creation of the Anti-Nazi League and other developments are very good, but I should like to see more assistance given to West Indian communities, particularly for their favourite sport, cricket, which is almost a religion in some respects. I should love to be able to get them more facilities for cricket, because in the urban areas where they live there is a dearth of playing facilities. I have tried to get some old gasworks land for the use of a Caribbean association. Reference was made earlier to self-help within the ethnic communities. I agree with the need for this, and the West Indian groups have been rather slower to move in this direction than have the Asian communities. We have seen the ugliness of attacks on people from Bangladesh, and even some murders in the East End of London. As an executive member of the London Labour Party, and in my constituency, I have taken a deep interest in these matters. My constituency is on the west side of London, but the people affected in the East End have asked for my view on whether they should set up vigilante groups, and so on. I decry that suggestion, because I believe that those concerned should collect the evidence and supply it to the police. I have had discussions about these problems and the Home Secretary has told me what actions have been taken and will be taken. I applaud what the Home Office is doing.

As the Home Secretary said, immigration is intertwined with race relations. Following the most recent announcement about immigration, I applaud the manner in which the Minister of State, Home Office, is living up to the promises made earlier to the House that Home Office Ministers would look very closely indeed at individual cases which hon. Members were arguing called for an abnormal degree of compassion.

As we have cut primary immigration, we can be more lenient. Instead of going in the way that a section of the Tory Party wants to go, we can be more liberal about the admission of dependent relatives, such as the old widow or the old father, people at an advanced age, in spite of the fact that the old father may have a little land, or, within the existing rules, is not wholly or mainly dependent upon the breadwinner here. I hope that we can be much more flexible. If I do not miss my guess, I believe that the Minister of State thinks that such people might be countenanced as well.

It is a matter of argument. Above all, it is a matter of consensus. I do not believe that immigration will be an issue at the next General Election, in spite of the Leader of the Opposition, but race relations will be a matter for continuous discussion in the House and in the country.

6.41 p.m.

Mr. Edward Gardner (South FyIde)

The subjects which the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) chose to bring to the attention of the House are of the greatest importance. I have a personal interest particularly in the views that he expressed about the need for a new nationality Act. I must, however, resist a natural inclination to follow up the hon. Gentleman's remarks on those subjects, because I should like to speak, very briefly, about a subject that has, as we all know, immediate urgency, and that is the crisis in our prisons. In particular, I want to speak to one aspect of this crisis which I think the House will agree is among the more serious facets of the diffi- culties that we face in our prisons today. I am referring to overcrowding.

I think we would all agree that there have been repeated warnings over a long time, as has been pointed out by the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk), from organisations such as the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders and the Society of Conservative Lawyers, from a study group set up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw), from the Home Secretary's predecessor, Mr. Roy Jenkins, and from prison governors and prison officers.

I agree with the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) that it was the agitation of assistant governors, rather than of prison officers, which brought to a head the need for immediate action, which we hope the Home Secretary is now about to take. There can be no doubt that the Home Secretary must have known what was happening in Her Majesty's prisons and, indeed, must know what is happening in them today. Even the harshest of the Victorians would have been dismayed by the dangers and the damage which arise from having three, four or five prisoners contained in a cell which was built and designed for one person.

Last week a jury found that David Evans, a boy of 17, had been murdered by four of his fellow prisoners in a cell at Risley remand centre. The parents of David Evans live in my constituency. I hope that the House will allow me to express sympathy towards the parents for the tragic loss of their son.

Risley was supposed to be—some still believe that it is—the most modern of remand centres and a model for others. It was completed in 1965 at a cost of about £l. million. Those who designed it, and the Home Office which approved it, intended that it should be used for 560 male and 80 female prisoners. I have not been to Risley. However, I should like to put some figures before the House, and I have no doubt that the Minister of State will put true figures before the House if mine are erroneous.

If my figures are correct, it would appear that Risley is a very disturbing example of overcrowding and what can happen, it seems, if there is overcrowding of this kind. Instead of 560 male prisoners, it seems that there are now 760 male prisoners there—200 more than originally intended. Instead of 80 female prisoners, which the remand centre was supposed to accommodate, there are now almost double that number of female inmates. One cannot but be alarmed at that state of affairs.

I never met or saw David Evans, except in pictures which I happened to come across in national newspapers. I hope that his parents will forgive me when I say—they may well be the first to agree with me—that David Evans appeared to be a timid, weak and rather pathetic boy. He was in Risley remand centre for a sexual offence. The four people who were accused of his murder, and were ultimately found guilty of it, by hanging him in a cell which they shared were all in their teens. Two of them, aged 18 and 19, were sentenced to life imprisonment. The other two, both aged 16, were sentenced to be detained during Her Majesty's pleasure.

All those four accused, young men in their teens, had records which included sexual offences—two of them for indecent assault, and two for indecent assault and rape, and such pathetic offences as stealing women's underwear. What sort of people were these to put in the same cell—if they were put in the same cell—and what are we up to in dealing with our youth in this way?

A Home Office official, described in a newspaper as a Home Office spokesman, said at a press conference after the case that there were enormous pressures at Risley. We all understand that. He added that there were unstable conditions at Risley and that in those unstable conditions people deteriorated very quickly. The deputy regional director of the prisons department in the Lancashire area is reported to have said that what happened at Risley in the Evans case could happen again.

It is for that reason that I am asking for an immediate public inquiry into what happened at Risley. I ask for the inquiry in the interests not only of the parents, but of the public. We must know what contribution overcrowding made to the tragedy of David Evans and how it came about that he was exposed to the dangers that concluded in his death.

The hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Evans), who has now been given a Government appointment that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for him to involve himself in this debate, has been good enough to pass on to me a letter that he sent to the Home Secretary. The hon. Gentleman gave me his consent to refer to the letter, in which he, too, asks for a public inquiry. In his letter the hon. Gentleman raises what seem to me, and I hope will seem to the Home Secretary, to be a number of pertinent questions.

I do not wish to comment on the evidence adduced at the trial or to ask the House to draw any inferences from that evidence, but it seems to me that the questions raised by the hon. Gentleman demand an answer. They include the following: Why were so many young persons (seven) locked up together in one cell? Is this a common practice, and is it a desirable practice? What supervisory staff were on duty during the night in the block where the death occurred? If, as a prosecution witness alleged, the deceased prisoner screamed and fought when he was dragged from his bed, why did the supervisory staff not intervene? Is screaming during the night so commonplace at Risley that it is ignored? Had the deceased…complained"— —as was apparently said by a prosecution witness in court—about being bullied and beaten? If so, why was he transferred into a cell with his tormentors? In view of the evidence of a prosecution witness that another prisoner…was beaten up and threatened with hanging, how prevalent asks the hon. Gentleman, and I join him in this question— are bullying and intimidation in Risley? Those questions cannot be ignored. They demand an answer.

Perhaps I should be fair in telling the Home Secretary that I suspect that he will not require much persuasion before coming to the conclusion that there is no alternative but a public inquiry.

6.55 p.m.

Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)

I hope that the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) will forgive me if I do not follow the same line of debate as he did. I want to ride my hobby horse and deal with a question that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) touched on towards the end of his speech.

Serious consideration should be given, and given now, to the vexed question of violence and sex on television. The Government have left the responsibility for programmes with the broadcasting authorities—the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Independent Broadcasting Authority. Their governing bodies are appointed as trustees of the public interest in broadcasting.

I have had correspondence with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on this matter. In one of his recent letters he said: The BBC and IBA have a duty to maintain proper standards in their programmes and "— this is very material— to ensure so far as possible that programmes are not offensive to public feeling and do not encourage crime or disorder. In my view the broadcasting authorities have not done that. They have certainly not ensured that programmes do not encourage crime or disorder.

My right hon. Friend continued: The Government is in no doubt that the only safe course is for broadcasting authorities to assume undesirable effects unless convincing evidence to the contrary emerges. But it seems to me that instead of assuming undesirable effects unless convincing evidence to the contrary emerges", the authorities assume desirable effects unless evidence to the contrary emerges.

There have been a number of cases in which crimes have been committed and the offender has said that he or she had seen a similar action on television and had been influenced by it. The result of the showing of the film "Born Innocent" comes to mind. When a little girl is sexually attacked with a bottle by older girls who have been influenced by a film they have seen on television, it is about time we stopped pandering to the salacious and sadistic instincts of the more depraved in our society. We cannot even attempt to gauge the grave effects which this experience will have on that little girl for the rest of her life.

Another case that comes to mind is the fairly recent tragedy of the young teenager who hanged himself after seeing it done on television. He had told his friends that he wanted to see whether it worked, and it certainly did work. He was dead before they cut him down.

It is no use saying, as it is often said, that the programmes in question are put on after 9 p.m. or at a late hour. My right hon. Friend will know that, notwithstanding their parents' objections, children stay up and watch. Therefore, in my view it is up to us to protect children from the consequences of their viewing undesirable scenes. At present they cannot see that kind of thing in the cinema, where a certain protection is given when a film is marked "X". But they can go home and see something 10 times worse on the television. What is the use of having the different categories in the cinema when they are completely ignored on television?

I feel very strongly that a clampdown should be made on such programmes immediately. If the BBC and IBA are too thick-skinned or blind to the effects on young people of such broadcasts, the Government should step in smartly and do for them the job which they should have done themselves.

I wish to add one further comment on a completely different subject. In the Central Criminal Court last week, Judge Abdela sentenced five youths to borstal training and to other sentences. People in the public gallery screamed and fainted as he did so. The judge complained that the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1961 prevented him from dealing with young offenders in the way which he considered fit. Under that Act, offenders under the age of 21 can be given up to six months' imprisonment or more than three years. If they have completed borstal training for previous offences, they can be jailed for more than 18 months. The judge said that the lower end of the scale was too lenient and that the other end of the scale was too harsh. There was a lacuna in the law.

I quote what the learned judge added, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will take note of it. As he passed sentence, he commented: Judges from the highest to the lowest courts in the land have complained about this lacuna and it has still not been remedied. Regrettably, the politicians, over whom we have no control, take no notice.

Mr. John

Judges are sometimes rather impatient with people whose views differ from their own. The judge to whom my hon. Friend has referred cannot say that politicians have not considered the matter, even though they may not assent to it. Anyone who has read the debates in Committee on the Criminal Law Bill 1977 will know that it was debated long and deeply. The fact is that the Government do not agree with the learned judge, but that is very different from saying that we have not considered it.

Mr. Tuck

Then I ask that we be allowed to consider it again. I ask the Government especially to consider it again so that the lacuna can be remedied.

7.2 p.m.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (South Angus)

I wish to intervene very briefly in order to introduce a Scottish voice into what so far has been an exclusively English and Welsh debate. I promise English and Welsh Members that my remarks will be very brief. My speech will be measured.

I appreciate the presence of a Scottish Office Minister, though I regret that there is no Scottish Conservative Member here. However, bearing in mind the views of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), perhaps that is just as well.

I welcome the Queen's Speech proposals for additional help for the police services, and I wish to point out to the Minister the great concern felt by ordinary folk about the apparently all-pervasive increase in crimes which is now taking place. I want especially to stress the deep-felt desire to clamp down on crimes of physical violence against the person. Vandalism and crimes against property are bad enough, but action must be taken urgently to combat the fear of innocent citizens about physical violence. We had examples of the human reality behind it given to us earlier in the debate.

Activities which nowadays should be pleasant recreational ones for ordinary folk, such as football matches, now seem to be regular areas of combat which is taken for granted each Saturday. When I see such crimes committed even at poorly attended games, and when I see acts of vandalism even in the smaller villages in my constituency, it seems to me that the time has arrived for urgent action to be taken. Solutions will come neither easily nor cheaply, but they must be attempted, and I welcome the attempts of the Home Secretary to look constructively at these matters.

I want to make a specific plea for additional resources for children's panels. Members of children's panels are very worried about the service that they provide. The Minister will know that children's panels have been criticised strongly at various times. However, they are to a great degree constrained simply by the lack of resources. When children are sent to a list D school and there are no places available for them, the whole system is brought into doubt. This happens far too often.

It is time to take a fresh look at the children's panel system. The lack of action over a review of the powers of children's panels is a national scandal. In this House more than two years ago, the SNP persuaded Parliament to consider amended powers for these panels. However, the proposals were narrowly defeated. Following assurances from the Minister involved, the Government won the day on promises that there would be a full review. Since then, little has happened. Consultation documents have been issued. The Dunpark committee on reparation by offenders has reported. But there has been no White Paper, and no Bill has been put before Parliament. This is a regrettable omission from the present Queen's Speech.

I am a supporter of the system of dealing with child offenders differently from adults. However, since its inception in 1971, I doubt whether anyone can say that it has worked so well that the original experiment should remain unaltered. Now is the time for a fundamental review.

I accept that there are some signs in Tayside and Fife, for example, that the worst of the outbreak of juvenile delinquency may have eased marginally. But we have still a very long way to go, and members of the public who are uneasy about the general risk to law and order and who see visible evidence of vandalism all round them in Scottish cities are not being reassured as they should be.

Leaving aside the vexed problem of resources, two main questions should be asked of the system, which is sometimes considered to be "soft". The first is whether it possesses the necessary powers to deal with the wide range of offenders coming before it and, secondly, whether these powers are being used. If we accept the basis of the panel system—that it attempts to deal with the child as an individual—it follows plainly that the hearings should have open to them and under statute a whole range of powers. The argument has gone on long enough about the nature of these powers. They should be given to the panels which, having studied all the background reports on children, should then have the discretion on how the powers should be applied, if at all. Given those powers, I believe that the system will respond adequately.

I believe that the panels should be reinvested with, for example, the right to fix monetary penalties, even if of a token nature, especially as reparation for vandalism or theft. The panels should also be able to buttress supervision orders with cash deposits against good behaviour and in suitable cases to make children carry out voluntary community service. I welcome the positive steps being taken to encourage young persons and other offenders into community projects where suitable, and I know that some experiments are taking place in my own constituency.

I make a plea for greater uniformity of sentencing wherever possible, and I hope that the Minister will use any influence that he has. Lack of uniformity in sentencing brings courts into disrepute. Therefore I ask, wherever possible, for better training of and co-ordination between judges and magistrates. I hope that this will be looked at urgently, although I well understand the problems of politicians intervening in the realm of the judiciary. Even so, co-ordination between judges and magistrates would be of great help.

I wish to raise a specific matter with the Minister. I note that in England a system of probation hostels exists. They are unknown in Scotland. These hostels provide an additional method of care. Does the Scottish Office have any plans to extend this system into Scotland? I know that it has powers to do so, but will they be used? I hope that the Minister of State will be able to give some advice to his colleague in the Scottish Office about how well these probation hostels in England are working.

The Scottish penal system must be looked at in its entirety, involving the whole range of its activities—from crime committed by young people right through to the prison service itself, which must be reformed as a matter of urgency. I hope that in this Session Parliament will take a good clear look at the issue of law and order and that suitable action will follow.

With the indulgence of the House, I shall take this opportunity briefly to range over a portion of the Queen's Speech from a Scottish and a constituency point of view, and I hope that the Minister will take note of what I say.

The Queen's Speech is a quiet, dulce affair as the Government progress towards a General Election. If it can be faulted, most certainly it can be faulted by its omissions rather than that which it contains. A closer look at its content shows a callous betrayal of Scotland's interests. The Government talk of using the benefits of North Sea oil further to improve long-term recovery". What does that mean in practice? Whose long-term recovery, and whose benefits have the Government in mind? At a time when vast wealth is being extracted and exploited daily from the land and sea of Scotland, precious little benefit is being returned to us. If the London Government are sincere in their promises to give the Scottish people the benefit of the oil revenues, we should now have new roads, schools, hospitals and houses. We should be experiencing action to combat crime. Most important, we should also be seeing action to stabilise long-term job opportunities in Scotland.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Harry Ewing)

Perhaps the hon. Member has forgotten the long-term recovery in the constituency of the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) and the hon. Member's own constituency involving the building of a chemical complex. The long-term recovery is happening in South Angus. No doubt the electorate will note that.

Mr. Welsh

The Government need ICI's help in order to do this. That is only part of the answer.

Instead of investing the oil revenues in Scotland the Government are deliberately starving Scotland of the necessary funds to regenerate and revitalise our economy. Scotland is bearing the brunt of oil activity, pollution and the problems involved with it. But Scotland is not receiving the benefit. If the Government really mean what they say, they should set up an oil fund for Scotland so that the vast wealth can be retained to help transform Scotland's economy. Such a fund could guarantee our country a modern, stable, prosperous and expanding economy. However, that is not the Government's intention according to the Gracious Speech.

London is squandering the oil revenues. It is returning precious little to those who are exploited. I can point to positive examples in my own constituency. The signs are there. The roads which lead to Aberdeen, which is the Houston of Europe—

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, East)

Steady on.

Mr. Welsh

If the hon. Member knew Aberdeen he would know what I mean.

Mr. Aitken

I do know Houston.

Mr. Welsh

These roads bear the brunt of oil related traffic and they are inadequate for that task. The Minister must consider that problem. Instead of improving the roads, the Government have chosen to throw off their financial responsibilities by detrunking the coastal route through Arbroath. That proves the Government's brutal philosophy that London will take all the revenue created by the oil related traffic and throw the financial burden on to the shoulders of local ratepayers. So much for any pious statement in the Queen's Speech about using the oil revenues to produce long-term recovery and benefits, either for Scotland's society or its economy.

The A92 is totally inadequate. It is a danger to life and limb, as the villagers of Marywell and Muirdrum know to their cost. In direct contradiction to the promises in the Gracious Speech, the Government stand idly by and shrug off their responsibilities.

Both main oil routes to Aberdeen should be trunked and brought up to a higher standard. The Government have the finance to do that.

The small town of Forfar deserves the Government's attention. It is an example of the miserly and unthinking attitude of the Government to the whole of Scotland. Massive traffic flows will pour into For- far and the town will be paralysed by unprecedented traffic congestion and danger to life.

The danger signs are plain as is the remedy. A bypass is needed. That would cost a small amount compared with the alternatives. But what happens? In spite of the Minister's earlier statement, to meet an immediate, acute and foreseeable problem the Government are failing to take action. The earliest possibility for the building of such a bypass is 1984, and even then the date is a vague possibility. The Minister's words sicken and pale when compared with the reality in Scotland.

Mrs. Dunwoody

What a load of rubbish.

Mr. Welsh

I hope that the hon. Lady's words are recorded in Hansard.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I know that it will come as a great shock, but the hon. Member will be interested to know that elsewhere in Great Britain there are many constituencies which have great problems with their roads and which have to take their turn before receiving any money. The hon. Member is talking in simplistic and astonishingly bigoted terms. I wonder if it ever crosses his mind that my constituents might wonder at the amount of money that is poured into Scotland when we do not indulge in the type of behaviour in which he indulges.

Mr. Welsh

The hon. Member's words will be noted throughout Scotland. Her attitude is typical. Her Government promised that Scotland would benefit from oil revenues and that those areas that were particularly affected would particularly benefit. I invite the hon. Member to visit my constituency so that I can show her exactly what I mean.

I can give another example of the failure to invest. The Frairton bridge in Perth has no lighting and the fencing around it is so inadequate that the first lorry to hit it will end up in the River Tay. It has no pedestrian walkway. One can only assume that it will take 10 or 15 years for the Government to fulfil their promise. In the Queen's Speech the Government have failed the people of Scotland. They have failed to fulfil their own freely given promises.

The picture is clear. If Scotland were to receive long-term benefits there would be the infrastructure which is necessary to maintain the North-East of Scotland as a viable economic area. However, that has not happened. The Government must stand condemned by their own inaction in Scotland.

The inadequate communication system foretells that the Government see no meaningful, continuing long-term future for the North-East of Scotland. In other words, they do not wish to see another Norway or Switzerland on the Northern border.

Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)

Can we take it from this tirade against the Government that the SNP is to vote against the Queen's Speech?

Mr. Welsh

I invite the hon. Member to have patience. No doubt, if he listens to the words of wisdom from my right hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) he will be given advice that he would be well advised to follow.

If the Government had plans for a long-term future for the North-East of Scotland, oil revenues would be already invested in Scotland. However, there is no Scottish oil fund. There is no London belief in Scotland's future. That will come only with self-government.

Mr. Harry Ewing

It would be a pity if the House were to be subjected to this tirade without being reminded that we have just experienced a by-election in Scotland in which the SNP lost its deposit. All the rubbish that we have been listening to is just that—rubbish. The people of Berwick and East Lothian have expressed their opinion.

Mr. Welsh

I remind the Minister that one battle does not complete a war. There is a long time to go in Scottish politics before our viewpoints decide the issue. Crime rates are not unrelated to economic conditions. I presume that the Minister is a Socialist and I hope that he takes note of that.

The Queen's Speech has little to offer Scotland. It comments on "full employment". That is a magic incantation, which Government Ministers use regularly to charm us all into a sense of complacency. If Scotland ever came anywhere near enjoying such full employment it would be a United Kingdom economic miracle. The hon. Gentleman must bear the brunt of the responsibility for that.

Such talk, particularly from a Scottish Minister, verges on high cynicism. Under both Labour and Conservative London-based parties, Scotland has suffered massive and disproportionate unemployment. That poorer quality of life in Scotland has much to do with our crime rates and conditions in the central belt. Where in this Government package is there the method to finance the remedy for this problem? It does not exist.

Let me remind the Minister of our commitment to use North Sea oil for the long-term benefit of Scotland. There are clearly long-term needs in Scotland, and judging from the Government's record it is clear that those long-term benefits will not come to Scotland until Scotland has meaningful control over its own resources.

The crime rate has some correlation to poverty levels and low living standards, and Scotland's crime rate, like its economic future, has received scant regard from consecutive London Governments—both Tory and Labour. The Queen's Speech package does not adequately match up to the task that lies ahead.

The effort and resources required to deal with these problems will demand self-government, and I look forward to the day when a truly Scottish Queen's Speech gets down to that task.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

In view of the large number of hon. Members still anxious to speak on the main topic of today's debate—Home Office affairs—I hope that hon. Members will be reasonably brief in order that they may help one another.

7.22 p.m.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)

I am glad that the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Welsh) spoke so quickly. If he had not done so his speech would have lasted even longer, and it seemed of inordinate length as it was. I know Scotland well. I drove the length and breadth of it earlier this year, and it seemed to be enjoying a great deal of extra prosperity. Ever since the Labour Government of the 1960s established the Highlands and Islands Development Board, it has been set fair upon its course. I resent the niggardly approach of the Oliver Mac-Twists on the nationalist Bench who always ask for more, and do it quite ungraciously.

I wish to deal first with a matter that has long caused me concern, and that is the provision of television licences for the elderly. In the late 1960s the television licence concession was allowed for retired persons living in warden-controlled housing. It was welcomed by those who enjoyed it, but those who did not felt aggrieved. In the years since the scheme was introduced many hon. Members have made detailed representations about it.

This year there was a step forward. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary removed the need for wardens to be involved. The housing condition, however, had to be retained. In my local authority area the concession was enjoyed originally by 2,500 to 3,000 people. This year's extension will allow that number to be doubled. However, the people who still do not benefit feel even more aggrieved and resentful than before.

The present qualification for the concession is the occupation of accommodation designated for the elderly. This leads to one sad anomaly, which is that elderly people who live in areas which are controlled by the Conservative Party, areas which are not renowned for building for such old people at an adequate level, are at a particular disadvantage. By and large, it is the Labour-controlled authorities—there may be honourable and rare exceptions among the Conservative authorities—which are forging ahead in providing proper accommodation for the elderly. Therefore, those elderly persons living in the salubrious south who depend upon local authority housing stand very little chance of receiving the licence concession. I do not believe that we should ignore that. The Government should endeavour to ensure that this anomaly is removed.

I can illustrate the second anomaly by referring to a case from my constituency. The elderly persons who occupy the ground floor of a block of flats there are allowed the television licence concession. However, pensioners who live on the floor above do not receive it. Although the House may find itself attracted to many of the ingredients of the Queen's Speech,: I hope it agrees with me that it would be extremely desirable for the Home Office to remove these anomalies.

It would, of course, be even better if it was decided to phase out television licences completely. I know that the BBC is not keen on that idea, but I believe that ordinary people face sufficient demands for lump sum annual payments, and that a larger share of the BBC's income could well come direct from the Treasury, rather than that we should impose burdens on people, particularly those who are retired, who do not receive the licence concession.

I wish to turn my attention principally this evening to the question of law and order. There is, currently, anxiety about prisons, but it seems that the recommendations of the Expenditure Committee may have been overlooked. I hope that both my right hon. Friend and the inquiry will pay proper attention to the views of our Committee which were published in September. I believe that they are more relevant to the issue than some of the comments that we have heard in the Chamber this evening.

Comments that we have heard so far from some Conservative Members have been extremely superficial. I recall that some of us on the Labour side noted the rapidly accelerating rate of crime between 1970 and 1974, and on a number of occasions mentioned the inadequacy of the police strength at that time. I believe, therefore, that the strictures of the Opposition are more superficial than they would like us to realise. I do not say that to score a debating point, but rather to suggest that the rate of crime in this country does not reflect the political complexion of the party in power.

To a large extent, crime increases if the population aged between 12 and 25 increases. If there is an increase in the number of teenagers, it is likely that the crime rate will rise. There may be many reasons for that, and some may lie in the weakness, or perhaps the triviality, of our society. But whether society is weak, whether it generates crime, or whether it is trivial so that offensiveness is almost encouraged, the rules which society imposes have to be kept. For that reason, although one may regret the causes of delinquency which lie within society itself, we have to be concerned that delinquency is properly dealt with.

Unfortunately, we have heard today the superficial response, which is that the younger offender requires a short sharp shock. Some of us on both sides of the House will have paid careful attention to that superficial response in the last year or so. Hon. Members may well have noted the views of the Prison Officers' Association, which is certainly well equipped to comment. We may well have good reason to assume that there is no possibility of any extensive development of the short sharp shock treatment, of the extension of the sort of institution which could perhaps best have been found in a recruiting depot of the French Foreign Legion of the 1930s. It may be that society could not find, and nor should it employ, the sort of person who would be able to involve himself in the brutality of the short sharp shock.

That does not mean that I am in any way advocating a supine attitude by society. I suggest, however, that there are alternatives to the short sharp shock approach. It is those alternatives, which may be alternatives to prison, which I should like briefly to explore.

In my area the community service order has worked very well. It should be extended, and I regret that the Home Office has been too reluctant to promote its extension. The courts should be able to send the hooligan and the vandal to the community service scheme, whether or not the offence allows a custodial sentence to be imposed.

The Home Office could be more enthusiastic. I was rather disappointed at its failure to support my local authority committee in promoting the able organiser of our community service order arrangements in the Rotherham area. We have done particularly well there. If the Home Office looks at the scheme it will find that the excellence I have claimed for it is justified and that the persons responsible for that excellence deserve to be commended and promoted, if possible.

I also believe that the fine defaulter should be liable to be sentenced to a period of community service. It is ridiculous that society should have to incur perhaps even greater cost than the amount of the fine in obtaining the fine. It is far better for the defaulter to be made to serve the community rather than to be left in the queue for a fortnight's incar- ceration. In short, the community service arrangements should be much more flexible. The courts should be able to decide what is relevant in the light of the information about the case. As I believe the community should be served, so too do I believe that the victim should receive more consideration. Because hon. Members have already spoken on this topic I shall not press the point.

I am particularly anxious about sentencing policies, particularly as they affect young people. Too often fines are derisorily low. A sentence which is derided, particularly by a young person, is seriously inadequate and could contribute to future problems from that individual. A young hooligan sentenced to a fine of £5 or even £20, may be getting off far too lightly, so lightly that the deterrent element of the law is brought into contempt. For this reason, the courts should be advised that if Parliament says that the penalty for an offence should not exceed £100, for example, they must not automatically assume that a fine of £20 is appropriate. If fine levels are not relevant to modern values, sooner or later Parliament will have to consider stating what the minimum penalty should be, as well as the maximum.

I can give an illustration of this. A year ago I took a Private Member's Bill through the House. It does not matter what the Bill was. It sought to raise the penalty for an offence. The penalty had been £20, and it was raised to £100. The next case that I read of, some months after the Bill had gone through Parliament, reported that a fine of £2 had been imposed. Such a fine today is foolish and may well do more harm than good.

Our sentencing policies need to be revised. Not long ago in South Yorkshire several officials of a working men's club were sent to prison by the Crown court for stealing from a one-armed bandit. They were sentenced for theft and the abuse of trust. Their sentence was substantial. I do not argue that we should lightly dismiss cases of abuse of trust or theft, but on the same day, in my own county, a gang of elderly men who had been responsible for sex offences with a number of young girls were given suspended sentences.

It is not for me to say whether those sentences should have been suspended but it seems to be rather odd that in the same part of England on the same day one group of men can be sent to prison for stealing from a one-armed bandit, while another group can be given suspended sentences for what I consider to be a much more dangerous and harmful activity. I regret that in that latter case the judge took it upon himself to be extremely critical of the school involved when consideration of all the details did not allow that criticism to be regarded in any way as reasonable. It was also rather unfortunate that the girls were described fairly pungently by the judge in question.

We need to look carefully at the consistency of our policies. Although it is important that property should be protected, it is important that the value of human life and of a person's character —and this was certainly relevant in the case that I have mentioned—should also be considered. We need to examine our sentencing policy. Despite what I have said about the Crown courts, the need for consistency within the magistrates' courts may be more relevant at present than it is at any other level of the judiciary.

I do not advocate long sentences. With most of our non-hardened criminals—first offenders in particular—we are wasting money in sending them to prison for a substantial period. Certainly for first offenders the most effective part of any sentence is the first two or three weeks' imprisonment. That being so, we should dramatically extend our use of, and capacity to use, mixed sentences. In that way young people might spend three or four weeks in prison and have the remainder of their sentence suspended. The shock of three or four weeks—without it being three or four weeks of pernicious brutality—in prison may suffice in the majority of cases involving first offenders.

Since many offences are committed by children, my right hon. Friend has been perfectly justified in the initiatives that he has taken in this regard. I hope that the Home Office will maintain an adequate research involvement into the causes and nature of delinquency, certainly where those under the age of 16 are involved.

The Government have already taken several key steps. We need an efficient and capable police force. That is essential if the effort to promote law and order is to be successful. The steps taken by my right hon. Friend have been necessary and correct, but neither the House nor the country has given sufficient attention to the implications of the decision of my right hon Friend to implement the Edmund-Davies recommendations. The principal implication is that, perhaps for the first time, we are entitled to expect that the police force of Britain shall be a thoroughly professional body, in a way which the traditional policeman of 10 or 20 years ago could not begin to comprehend. My right hon. Friend has made this possible, and I hope that the House and society generally will be prepared to give the police—with their new professional salary structure—the capacity to respond to the challenges which they face.

There are three conditions which must be met if law and order is to be properly served. First, we must have a society which does not corrupt. Despite all that is wrong in Britain today, despite the existence of national newspapers of the kind to which reference has been made, we would be foolish to be excessively alarmist. Secondly, we need a capacity to detect and locate the offender. My right hon. Friend has moved in that direction. Thirdly, we need a system of sanctions. Those sanctions must be wise and appropriate. They should be neither negligent nor corrupting. Brutality itself could corrupt. What is required is a more deeply thought out and consistent policy, which certainly has not yet been revealed by any Conservative Member. Bearing in mind the lip service which the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) paid to his Back Benches, and the rather snide innuendoes contained in his speech, it does not seem that the need for such a policy has penetrated to the Opposition Front Bench.

Mr. John Ryman (Blyth)

My hon. Friend has mentioned three matters which he thinks are important—and obviously they are important—as a prerequisite for the catching and sentencing of criminals.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Ryman), but I know that he is anxious to be called. Surely he can wait to be called so that he can make his contribution at greater length.

Mr. Ryman

I was leading up to my question, which I shall put as briefly as I can. Does my hon. Friend agree that a most important consideration, which he has not mentioned in making his list, is that before a suspect can be sentenced he must be prosecuted and convicted? Therefore, is it not most important to introduce legislation to enable the courts and the prosecution to do that effectively?

Mr. Hardy

I am sorry that I gave way to my hon. Friend, because I referred to a third element, namely, a system of sanctions. Perhaps I did not refer specifically to the courts or the legal profession at that point in my speech, but the legal profession is always capable of defending its own image and presenting its own virtues in this House. I am not employed to take on that job.

I hope that the values represented by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—the values of the family and of a decent community—allied to the steps which have already been taken to secure a proper policing and to improve the system of sanctions will result in an enhancement of good law and order in Britain. My right hon. Friend has done a great deal to promote that end, and I commend his approach. Therefore, I wish to underline the references in the Gracious Speech to Home Office matters and, indeed, to all other aspects of Government policy within it.

7.42 p.m.

Mr. Mark Carlisle (Runcorn)

I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate. For a period of almost four years I was responsible in the Home Office for some of the matters that are being debated today. I spent part of my time in the criminal department, part in the prison service and part in the police service.

Although I do not agree with some of the conclusions arrived at by the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy), I wish to deal with the two matters to which he drew attention. He referred to broadcasting. I hope that the impression given in the White Paper that legislation will not be introduced urgently to deal with the BBC will be taken as an oppor- tunity by the Home Secretary to rethink the idea of service management boards. Those bodies have been totally opposed by anybody who has made a considered comment on them. I believe that such boards are unacceptable. They contribute nothing to the efficiency of the BBC, and add yet another layer of bureaucracy to a Department which is sometimes claimed to be over-bureaucratic. It may well open the door to potential political interference by increasing the power of patronage of the Home Secretary towards the activities of the BBC.

I disagree with the comment of the hon. Member for Rother Valley in hoping that the licence fee will be phased out. Although I believe that the licence fee is the right way for the BBC to be financed, I share the hon. Gentleman's view about the great concern caused by the inconsistency of concessions for old people because of the injustice of the present arrangements. I hope that a fairer means of concession can be found.

I welcome the stress in this Gracious Speech on the need for racial tolerance, and I was delighted when the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) made it clear that he accepted that neither the Labour Party nor the Conservative Party advocated compulsory repatriation of immigrants. Racial tolerance requires fair treatment, but it also means a strict limit on the numbers of immigrants as the Home Secretary said. As a member of the Franks Committee, I regret that two years after the setting up of that body we still have not debated its report. We were asked to report merely to provide the basis for informed public debate on the control of dependants, and similar matters. I hope that we shall be able to debate that report at some time in the near future.

I wish now to deal with the subject of law and order. The fundamental task of the Home Office and, indeed, of government, must be to ensure that we remain a free, law-abiding society in which people can move around without fear of attack. Although it is exaggerated to suggest that law and order have broken down—because we all know that there are no riots in the streets—the fact is that there are parts of this country in which the volume of crime is leading people to question whether they live in a law-abiding society and whether they can go about their everyday lives without fear of attack.

In the last four years from the beginning of 1974 the volume of crime has increased by about 50 per cent. I realise that there is no simple answer to this problem. I accept that we must continue to consider, debate and examine the causes of crime—causes which are involved and complex. Social, employment, education and environment policies have their part to play in the causes of crime. I accept the view that people's environment and the question whether they have pride in their own area are major matters in considering the volume of vandalism. The Home Secretary referred to a scheme at Cunningham Road, Widnes. The scheme is supported by NACRO, in which I am involved, and it has been most successful in reducing the degree of vandalism in that area. The results of that scheme require to be studied.

The first duty of the Home Secretary is to provide a law-abiding society. In that respect he is the front line of defence for the country. The right hon. Gentleman made an argument based on statistics, but the fact is that, contrary to the comments of the hon. Member for Rother Valley, when the Labour Government took office crime had been reasonably static for about three years. At that time the prison population was dropping and the prison building programme inherited by the Labour Government was the largest ever undertaken in this country. The morale of the police was then high, and the morale in the prison service was reasonable. Yet now, four years later, the morale of the police is appalling and that in the prison service is at an all-time low. There has been a substantial further increase in the volume of crime and we have a prison crisis upon us. However, in the face of all this the Home Secretary, even in his remarks today, appears to be somewhat complacent.

Let us focus on the situation in the police force. The Home Secretary gave figures in his speech today showing an increase in police numbers in the last few months compared with the previous few months. That is a welcome trend, but it is not enough for the right hon. Gentle- man to repeat time and again that there are now more policemen in the force than there were at the end of 1973. However, that is no answer to the problem. The fact is that the demands on the police are steadily growing and the volume of crime has been steadily rising. The police are still woefully short of establishment and the establishments themselves are still way behind what is needed.

Last year there was a tragic and substantial drain of trained officers from the force. Because of the implementation of the pension provision in one lump as against the pay being spread over two years, many officers who otherwise would have retired are staying on an extra year to obtain the higher pension. The Home Secretary says that over these 12 months we are already seeing a reduction in the number of officers leaving the police force before the age when they are required to do so. However, that is not bringing back into the service one of the trained officers who left in the preceding two years.

The Home Secretary is right to welcome the implementation of the Edmund-Davies report. The criticism of the right hon. Gentleman is not about the setting up of the Edmund-Davies committee but the fact that he took so long to do it. The right hon. Gentleman was pressed for many months by my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) to take that action, but at the time he rejected it as unnecessary.

What has happened with the police has also happened with the prisons. Surely the right hon. Gentleman is at fault in allowing the discontent to rumble on to the stage when he finds that it has reached crisis proportions before acting. That has happened despite the warnings that he has been given from time to time.

There is one matter that I wish to take up with the Home Secretary and the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk). It is true that there is severe overcrowding in the prisons. I ask rhetorically "Whose fault is it?" The Home Secretary talks about the disregard of a generation. With respect, in 1970 as an incoming Government Conservatives were faced with a similar potential crisis. We were warned of an explosion within the prisons. We tackled the potential crisis in two ways. We introduced new non-custodial penalties. For example, we introduced the community service order, to which the hon. Member for Rother Valley referred. Happily, there has been an extremely good response to community service orders. I am proud that as a Home Office Minister in the Conservative Government I was responsible for introducing the community service order in the House.

On the other hand, we started a major prison building programme that was aimed to keep up with the increase in the population that we were advised would take place. It was of a nature and size to reduce the volume of overcrowding that existed and to enable us to start modernising, rebulding and, in some instances, pulling down the Victorian prisons. We made provision so that if we reached the stage when we could sell off Strangeways or Walton, for example, the proceeds would return to the Treasury to compensate for the prison building programme that was being pursued.

I remind the House what happened. I have described the purpose of the prison building programme that the incoming Labour Government inherited. The first act of Mr. Roy Jenkins, the then Home Secretary, was to reduce the prison building programme by £43 million. That was done in 1975. In 1976 a further £40 million was cut from the programme. That was done by the present Home Secretary. Both those cuts—these matters are all itemised in the expenditure reports and in the annual report of prisons—meant that many more programmes for the building of new prisons had to be abandoned.

The Home Secretary takes pride in the fact that 4,500 places are due to be completed in the next four years. The programme that the Labour Government inherited would have completed 11,000 places in the same period. The predictions of the Home Office on the future population of prisons appear to have changed very little since 1973. Although the population has not reached the size predicted by the Home Office, we have the impression that today overcrowding is worse than in 1973.

I have two quotations to put before the House. The first is from the 1974 annual report of prisons. It reads: The prison building programme has two main aims. The first is to provide new places both against any increase in the prison population and to relieve existing overcrowding. The second is to enable a modest start to be made on replacing some of the obsolete accommodation in which about half the present prison population has to live (many sleeping two or three to a cell in Victorian local prisons) and in which staff have to work. What had that become by 1975? In the report that year there is set out the various prisons that were not to be built.

In 1976 the annual report stated that Prior to the 1975 Public Expenditure Survey, the Department envisaged a continuing programme of new prison building coupled with increasing emphasis on redevelopment, as the number of places caught up with the expected population. It was hoped that additional places would not only enable a reduction in overcrowding, but would also permit prisons or parts of prisons to be closed, either for complete rebuilding or for partial rebuilding with radical modernisation of those buildings that were retained.…There is now no foreseeable prospect of progress on these lines. This year's report states that The major preoccupation"— that is the £31 million to which the Home Secretary referred— of the building and maintenance programme was keeping the existing deteriorating facilities in operation. Prior to that it is stated: The essential redevelopment of the Victorian estate seemed in 1977 more remote than at any time in the past 30 years. It is not enough for the Home Secretary merely to say that it takes seven years to build a prison. The right hon. Gentleman cannot blame the Conservative Government. With great respect, I blame him and his predecessor for cutting the programme that was under way, which would have produced the places in 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1979.

At present there is much talk, and rightly so, of shorter prison sentences. That is a matter to which the hon. Member for Rother Valley referred. I welcome that prospect, provided that it is justified on penal grounds. We should deal with as many offenders as possible without sending them to prison. However, there will always be a number of criminals—in a more violent age a continuing and increasing number—whom society requires to be punished by depriving them of their liberty. It would be totally unacceptable if the argument for shorter sentences were dictated by expediency as a result of inadequate resources rather than on penal policy.

Industrial action by certain parts of the prison service must be deplored. The Prison Officers' Association is part of a disciplined service. Action by individual members interfering with the freedom of the individual cannot be tolerated by the Home Secretary. If we are to retain a disciplined service, it is necessary that it should be seen to be properly provided for. It must retain a position that is properly recognised and rewarded. I hope that the inquiry that the right hon. Gentleman has initiated will achieve that end. In view of the warnings that he has had over the past two years, he has left it late in the day.

7.58 p.m.

Mr. Stan Thorne (Preston, South)

We are debating the Queen's Speech, and I shall make brief references to it in the form of quotations. It is stated: My Government are resolved to strengthen our democracy by providing new opportunities for citizens to take part in the decisions that effect their lives. We can only say "Good" on reading that.

It is later stated that legislation will be introduced to ensure that employees and unions are able to participate in discussions of corporate stategy". That means decision-making on future events and conditions that affect their lives.

The Gracious Speech also refers to the better functioning of local democracy and a new charter of rights for public sector tenants". It also refers to making every effort to recruit the aid of the whole community to defeat crime and vandalism. Those ideas are relevant in a debate on home affairs. It is for that reason that I mention them at the beginning.

Unhappily, one cannot look with any real optimism on the notion of the whole community working together to defeat crime, for a variety of reasons. I suggest that the whole community has not agreed on the goals that society ought to pursue, and that in the absence of that sort of agreement it is hardly likely that we shall get the whole community working together, as is suggested. We do very little about what we consider to be relevant to the cause of crime and vandalism in certain areas.

I believe that it was my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) who said that we have not really analysed the cause of crime and vandalism, and I think that must be accepted, but where we have some inkling of the cause we take little or no action because it is argued that censorship might be involved or there might be infringements of individual or group liberties.

Some causes, such as unemployment low incomes and environmental deprivation are, in my view, used as too simple explanations by themselves, yet obviously they are extremely relevant. Given that urban slums are a breeding ground for crime, that it stems from a multiplicity of factors such as income, family, education, community socialisation, types of dwellings, the culture of the group, the nature of ideas to which members are subjected within their peer group, the nature of the media, visual and oral. with which they are connected, the examples which are set by social leaders within groups, or without the group with which they are particularly connected, and given the strength or weakness of local welfare institutions—one could go on listing the many and varied factors which influence social behaviour—we can all agree that there is no one simple explanation for anti-social behaviour, and therefore no one simple solution.

We in this House have a particular responsibility. A constituent of mine had cause to remind me of it quite recently in rather terse terms. She said "It is for you people to do something about it"—"it" being crime and vandalism. I am sure, from her attitude, that she had a remedy—"Whip' em, gaol' em for longer periods", and so on. There is nothing new in this, of course, to most hon. Members. The logic of that approach—I am sorry that some Conservative Members seem to be attracted by it, judging by some of their statements over recent months—is that we should reexamine the rack, and probably the thumbscrew. We might even consider whether amputation of the hand for theft would be worth restoring.

We have, however, reached the stage where we are far more enlightened about the treatment of human beings than people were in the days when possibly that sort of treatment was commonplace. It is our responsibility to legislate so that people can live a life free from the threat of violence. The question is "How?" In the absence of proven causal connections—and I have referred to some of the suggested ones—I shall nevertheless argue that there is a correlation between the lowered standard of social behaviour within our society and the values of society which appear to get considerable support from the decision makers within our society.

In the 1930s, for example, there were about 3 million unemployed—Mr. Deputy Speaker no doubt remembers the era—but there was not then the level of violent crime that we are experiencing now. What has changed? Is it the introduction of the television set into our homes? I hope that my previous remarks, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will not result in my not being called for some considerable time henceforward.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am just preening myself as Mr. Mastermind.

Mr. Thorne

Is the change due to the introduction into our homes of the television set which day in and day out produces film after film, many of them imported from the United States of America where crimes of violence are an even greater problem than we face here? These are films in which the gun is the tool to be used to achieve one's ends. Only a partial explanation, I suggest, exists here.

I watch very little television, but I was struck recently by a programme on Granada concerning the Daily Star in which a moron of an editor talked of full frontal nudity in a "fun paper", and was clearly extremely delighted that that was the goal of that newspaper. That, I suggest, implies a deterioration in values when compared with those of my parents, and a general erosion of values in our society over the years.

A recent poster that many in this House—and certainly many outside—will have seen contains the slogan "Happiness is car-shaped". Millions of youngsters might be forgiven for believing that there really was a correlation between having a motor car and being happy. Merseyside, where I live, is a place where youngsters of 11, 12, 13 and 14 are picked up for stealing motor cars. How far does the sort of message portrayed in that slogan reflect the values of society which we are seeking to pass on to the younger generation?

We cannot ignore a report from the Samaritans that over recent years the number of people under 25 committing suicide has doubled. Indeed, 25 per cent. of all cries for help received by the Samaritans today come from the under-25 age group. What does that imply? I can accept, from my own personal experience of an inner city area, that young people leaving school without any real qualification and with little prospect of a job—not to say a satisfying job—can drift into anti-social behaviour. Indeed, tribute should be paid to the hundreds of thousands of young people who avoid getting involved in some scrape or other in a situation of alienation from the institutions to which they look for assistance in their difficulties.

I regret that we have not included in the Queen's Speech mandatory grants for the 16 to 19 age group, because that might have assisted many youngsters in our society to relate to some useful form of activity. It is also unfortunate that at this time students are having to pay higher charges for their accommodation in certain of our colleges, leaving them with grossly inadequate student grants.

I happen to believe that it is essential to change completely the motives which underpin present society if we are really to reduce anti-social behaviour to manageable proportions. I do not believe that we can foster production for profit, throw labour on the scrapheap in a haphazard fashion, extol the virtues of the successful business man who has made a million, and inculcate into human beings an acquisitive drive through all the processes of socialisation at our disposal, in order to sell consumer goods. We cannot deliberately encourage the "I'm all right, Jack" mentality, ridicule the notion of collective orientation, lambast the Welfare State and then expect people to consider the interests of others in relation to their own social behaviour.

Time prevents me from developing my argument in the depth which, in my view, the subject justifies, but I suggest that there is hope for change in the short and medium term if, as the Gracious Speech implies, we give citizens the opportunity to take part in decisions which affect their lives.

I should like to illustrate this matter by brief reference to certain situations in the Preston area. In Preston there is an area known as Ashton, through which certain "Big Brother" institutes wish to drive an Ingol distributor road. Ingol is the name of the location. That would adversely affect a park, which has considerable history, and many private properties. The central Lancashire development corporation and the Lancashire county council will no doubt listen to objections from the people in the area, but will they heed their voices? Will they say, yet again, that commercial and business interests must prevail? If citizens acting together make their views known and those views are ignored, how will that contribute to increasing community care and social responsibility?

In another part of Ashton the local county council is hoping to convert a former dining centre into a social centre for the mentally ill. This subject has already been mentioned by others of my hon. Friends. I am sure that is a major need in the area, but how far has the council sought the views of the community? More important, in what ways has the council sought to involve the community in meeting its responsibility to the mentally ill? Had it done so, it would not have received the objections that it is now getting to the establishment or use of this centre for the mentally ill.

I am sure that at Government level there is concern about the work done by citizens advice bureaux and the need to enlarge their capability to serve their local communities. But how can that be done if we are to cut back on the allocation of resources to citizens advice bureaux? I hope that the Government will take the opportunity at an early date to reassure hon. Members that it is their intention not to diminish the activities of CAB services but to provide further funds so that they can extend their activities.

Looking at the Front Bench, I seem to be getting a message that it is time I wrapped this up. On council estates in most major towns and cities there is room for improvement in the very areas to which I hope the Gracious Speech is referring. Why is it not possible, on major council housing estates, to establish some form of estate committee made up of residents, local coluncillors and council officers appointed by them to administer repairs and maintenance, new amenities for the estates, use of school halls and playing fields on a community self-held basis with funding from the local authorities, with some form of local tax being raised by the communities themselves to control their environment? It seems to me that against that background we could increase pride in the community—pride which is clearly lacking in most of our major housing estates because of the very nature of the thinking that went into creating them.

In my view, there is a connection between local and industrial democracy within factories. If we can establish a situation in which workers at all levels within factories are able to take part—indeed, to take the initiative from time to time—in decision making about such things as the quality of their environment, their conditions of work, their future and what they produce or ought to produce, that will tend to make them adopt a more responsible attitude to the overall part that the factory plays within the community. And so it would be on the housing estates, given that people feel that they are able to participate in taking decisions which affect their lives.

I shall have to cut short my speech to allow others to take part in the debate. However, I wish to make one final point which seems highly relevant to this debate in view of a phone call that I received today from Preston gaol. The prison service starts industrial action in Preston on Friday. I understand that the prison officers are starting this action because of their frustration over payments for meal breaks. That may sound extraordinary. They argue that 90 per cent. of the frustration of prison officers throughout the service stems from this non-payment for meal breaks. Having gone on duty at 7.45 in the morning, until 1.45 p.m., and then to be told that they must stay on until 5.30 p.m. because of shortage of staff, overcrowding and so on, without any payment for the meal break that they have to take in that prison, represents a considerable affront to them. I hope that it will be possible to avoid industrial action being taken at Preston and elsewhere by an assurance being given—if not today, during the week—that meal breaks and payment for meal breaks will form part of the prison service inquiry which is to be launched.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have some doubt whether I should make appeals for brief speeches, because they seem to fall on deaf ears. However, in the next 50 minutes 10 hon. Members who have been sitting patiently throughout the debate are anxious to take part. I hope that they will respect the needs of others in the length of their contributions.

8.18 p.m.

Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)

In view of what you have just said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall not follow the argument of the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne), who introduced perhaps the only clear sociological analysis of what lies behind the debate. Nor shall I comment on what was said by the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Tuck) about the effect of violence on television. I would only draw attention to Appendix F of the report on the future of broadcasting, which dealt with the subject at great length.

I want to deal with the sections of the Gracious Speech which refer to the needs of the people of Wales and, in particular, to the commitment on broadcasting.

I know that the Minister of State will understand if I pay great attention to the wording in the Gracious Speech referring to the various proposals which will benefit Wales. I read: Legislation will be introduced to provide additional finance for the National Enterprise Board and for the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies. Obviously, I warmly welcome such legislation, having pressed for it.

Equally warmly I welcome the commitment to introduce legislation to improve the law on education in England and Wales and to enable grants to be made in Wales towards the cost of bi-lingual education. There are two other commitments which Plaid Cymru pressed for inclusion in the Gracious Speech, which I may describe kindly as being open-ended commitments not having the kind of definite verb form of those earlier commitments to which I referred. The first is a commitment to examine schemes to provide compensation for those such as slate quarrymen who have suffered respiratory diseases from dust in their employment. The second commitment is on broadcasting. That is even more open-ended: The proposals set out in the White Paper on Broadcasting will be pursued, with a view to legislation on changes in the constitution, structure and organisation of broadcasting. What exactly does the Gracious Speech mean by "proposals…will be pursued"? Are they to be pursued during this Session? Will they be pursued before Christmas? Will they be pursued some time next year?

The letter that I received on the day before the Gracious Speech was delivered, from Lord Harris, the Minister of State, is not helpful in enabling me to read accurately between the lines of the Government's broadcasting commitment. I shall not quote the letter because of the short time available, but it refers to bringing forward legislation "at the earliest opportunity." Again, the Minister of State tries to reassure me in the letter that the Government are pressing on with the arrangement for implementing those of the White Paper proposals which are proper to legislation "as quickly as practicable."

That phrase is clearly a favourite phrase of the drafters of Home Office correspondence. It occurs yet again in the final paragraph of the letter, where the Minister talks about pressing ahead with additional funding for Welsh language programmes for children, on which the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells), the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) and myself have campaigned for over a year with the Government. This crucial provision, again, is being pressed ahead with "as quickly as practicable." What I want to know this evening is how quickly is "as quickly as practicable".

This campaign to improve the extent of television coverage within Wales, to increase the number of programmes in the Welsh language and in the English language, produced in and for Wales, is a long-standing campaign. We had initially the Crawford Committee on broadcasting coverage, which recommended that the fourth channel in Wales should have priority over the rest of the United Kingdom. The Siberry working party then followed. Then we had the Annan committee and its recommendations. Now we have the Trevelyan Littler working party, whose report was issued on the same day as the broadcasting White Paper. Therefore, there has been a continuing delay in implementing the Government's commitment on the fourth channel.

What I should like to drag out, if I can—it depends on how forthcoming the Minister is when he winds up the debate—is an indication whether it is now the Government's intention to introduce legislation or at least to take executive action which will lead to the setting up of the fourth channel in Wales before 1982, and whether the Minister intends to put action into effect in this Session. If we are not to have the legislation for the whole of the United Kingdom this Session, we need to know what specific action the Government intend to take to honour their commitment. We need to know whether the Government can take the kind of executive decision they have already taken in the case of commercial radio, and whether they can authorise the IBA to get on with the work of setting up the network of transmitters that is necessary for transmitting the fourth channel in Wales, and whether, in the event of not going ahead with legislation for the whole of the United Kingdom, that executive decision could be taken, now.

Nothing would do more to divert young people in Wales from the kind of anti-social behaviour about which we have heard from the hon. Member for Preston, South, in the context of the campaign for more Welsh language programmes, than a clear commitment from the Government that it is the intention, in the present Session, either to proceed with legislation for the whole of the United Kingdom, or, if that is not to be the case—and from my close reading of the text of the Queen's Speech, it would seem to imply that—if it is not that we are to have the United Kingdom post-Annan legislation, let us be told that executive action will be taken on the required transmission work immediately.

The IBA has repeatedly stated—Sir Brian Young told me last July and it has been repeated in the report of the working party on the Welsh television fourth channel project—that the IBA has the funds, the capability and the willingness to do the engineering work immediately. All that it needs now is a go-ahead from the Home Office to say that this engineering work should take place.

I should like to comment briefly on the White Paper proposals as far as they affect Wales. I think that we shall see, in the proposals for the Open Broadcasting Authority and for the Welsh Language Television Council, the introduction of yet a third tier of nominated management of television in Wales. We already have the BBC structure, with its National Broadcasting Council in Wales, and its Welsh governor as the chairman of that council and as one of the national governors. We have the structure of the advisory committee of the IBA in Wales. We are also to have now this Open Broadcasting Authority which is to be linked through the Welsh Language Television Council, with the chairman of the television council being a member of the OBA.

This would seem to me to be a far more complicated structure and certainly a far less democratic structure than that which many of us proposed to the Annan Committee. There ought to be a broadcasting authority which could take over the functions of the BBC, the IBA and the OBA in Wales, and this would provide a far more simplified structure of answerability and management for the broadcasting media in Wales.

The opposition to such a devolution in broadcasting is basically a political opposition. That was the implication in the Annan committee's report, when it rejected the proposals for a Welsh broadcasting authority. But it seems to me, logically, that rather than introduce yet a third advisory committee for Wales on media policy, one ought to integrate these areas of media control and establish them in a Welsh broadcasting authority answerable indirectly to the Welsh Assembly. That would seem to me to be a more reasonable proposal than the duplication, or triplication in this case, of yet another tier of Welsh advisory management within the broadcasting system.

However, the question of how the service is organised is secondary to the question of when we are to have a decision to move on, because unless we are to have a decision in the present Session, my concern is that young people and, indeed, older and more responsible people in Wales, who feel very keenly about the need for the Government to honour their commitment, will be driven to take up more extreme stances. Whereas we in this House can certainly condemn forms of illegal activity undertaken by people to further aims of this kind, that condemnation is less than useless unless it is followed by a commitment to take rational political action. If the Minister of State is to refer to this question and to condemn the direct action that has been undertaken and is being undertaken by Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, I hope that he will be equally frank in stating that the Government have a firm commitment that they will seek to honour.

Mr. John

Would the obverse of that remark apply? If I were to be definite in my commitment to the fourth channel, would the hon. Gentleman condemn Cymdeithas yr Iath Gymraeg in unequivocal terms?

Mr. Thomas

Yes. I have done so on a number of occasions. I have always tried, in this situation, to act in a kind of mediative role between the Government and Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, as the Home Office knows. Indeed, only last week I was in contact with the Home Office and tried to secure a meeting between that Department and the chairman and broadcasting spokesman of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg in order to avoid the confrontations that we have seen in Wales and in order to assure people in Wales, particularly those who are anxious for cultural development to take place, that the present Government are not seeking to delay progress on this issue deliberately.

We await a firm indication from the Government this evening that they will go ahead with their promise of implementing the fourth channel in Wales. It is a policy that is supported not only by myself but by the hon. Member for Cardigan and by many hon. Members on the Government Back Benches. I look for a firm statement from the Minister tonight.

8.28 p.m.

Mr. John Ryman (Blyth)

Reference has been made to the prison officers' dispute and the unofficial industrial action which has been taken by some prison officers. I should like to make two comments about that. First, I have had the opportunity of discussing the grievances of prison officers with a large number of prison officers in the last few months at various Crown courts in the country, and I recognise the strength of their feelings and the sincerity of their views that they have got a legitimate grievance. Notwithstanding that, I respectfully suggest that the action already begun by prison officers, and due to be intensified this week, is wholly unjustifiable. The best thing the prison officers can do is to return to full-time work immediately if they are to persuade the inquiry which has now been set up as to the validity of their various claims.

It is utterly wrong for officers in that position to take the law into their own hands and to take it upon themselves to decide which prisoners they should admit to remand prisons and what work they will do. It goes without saying that the effect of their industrial action will not only be a real threat to security within the prisons—because prisoners, particularly dangerous prisoners serving longterm sentences, are very quick to exploit to their own advantage a lowering of morale in prison staff—but will also interfere substantially with the administration of criminal justice, and it is most important that defendants are delivered to courts on time and taken away on time in accordance with the wishes of the judges of those courts.

An intolerable situation has now been created, in which a relatively small number of prison officers could within a few weeks bring the courts of this country if not to a standstill then certainly to such a degree of administrative inconvenience and chaos that matters would be seriously disrupted. The Home Secretary has now announced the establishment of this inquiry, which I hope will be set up soon, and the prison officers will have every opportunity of making submissions to that inquiry, with respect to both their pay and conditions and other long-term considerations.

Having said that, I ask the Minister of State to consider Ibis matter. One of the grievances which the prison officers have, rightly or wrongly—I am not expressing an opinion about it because I have not heard the evidence—is that substantial sums of money are owing to them—sums which have accrued over a period of between 18 months and two years in respect of duties performed under an existing agreement. I suggest to the Home Secretary that a sensible and fair thing to do to meet the grievances of the prison officers pending the result of the inquiry and the recommendations to the Minister would be to offer to pay those prison officers something on account in respect of their outstanding claims, namely, that interim payment should be made to these prison officers in view of the nature of their claim which, if it is anything like accurate, amounts to about £2,000 to £2,500 per officer. That is a substantial sum of money in relation to the earnings of such officers.

Unless those figures are wildly wrong, and unless the allegation is wholly unfounded, it is quite obvious that at the end of the day a substantial sum of money will be owing to each officer. One knows from experience that these inquiries take a long time to gather evidence, to report to the Minister and to make recommendations, particularly an inquiry with terms of reference as wide as the one envisaged in the Home Secretary's statement in the House last Thursday. In those circumstances I ask the Minister to consider most seriously giving the prison officers payment on account pending the publication and the recommendations of the inquiry.

I know that many other hon. Members are anxious to speak, but in what I hope is a very short speech I should like to deal with two other important points in the Gracious Speech in relation to this subject. The first relates to the paragraph on the last page of the Gracious Speech which promises to introduce a Bill to improve the arrangements for legal aid. This is a subject which has given cause for great anxiety in recent years to many persons concerned in the administration of legal aid.

It was a Labour Government who, by the Legal Aid and Advice Act 1949, introduced legal aid in civil cases, following the Crown Proceedings Act of 1947, which for the first time gave rights against certain Government Departments in litigation.

There are three main criticisms of the administration of legal aid in civil cases. Indeed, there may be more than three, but for convenience I have reduced them to three main headings. The first is that inflation has eroded the levels of eligibility for legal aid which are currently operating.

The second is that the number of people who are entitled to legal aid is nowhere near as large as it should be. Large numbers of people cannot benefit from legal aid and therefore cannot pursue or defend litigation when on merit they have a case in the opinion of the local legal aid committee.

The third criticism is really against legally-aided persons. It is that a non-legally aided litigant is often placed in an impossible financial position when faced by litigation from a legally-aided person. That has been well established in a huge number of cases for years past. I hope very much that when the Government introduce the Bill mentioned in the Gracious Speech they will seek to deal with that anomaly. It is very hard indeed for a person who is not entitled to legal aid to face litigation by a legally-aided plaintiff, even if the person who is not legally aided eventually wins. He is often infinitely worse off financially, because he has to pay his own costs and he cannot hope to recover them from an unsuccessful legally-aided plaintiff.

I am in favour of the spirit behind the legal aid system to entitle people to bring litigation subsidised by public funds if they cannot afford to do it themselves, but it is wholly wrong to put a person who is not entitled to legal aid at a tactical disadvantage, because he or she will not defend proceedings on their merits, because at the end of the day he or she will spend more time and money defending those proceedings. Even if such a person wins, he or she will still be out of pocket. That is manifestly unfair. It is an anomaly that has long been recognised, but nothing has been done about it.

The second limb of that argument is that there are many tribunals and forms of litigation which at the moment do not come within the scope of legal aid when they should do. There have been dozens of cases over the years where patent injustices have been done because a person wishing to appear at a planning tribunal or inquiry, an industrial tribunal, a medical appeals tribunal or an administrative tribunal of one kind or another has been unable to afford legal representation. Because legal aid does not apply, that person has not been able to present his or her case as forcibly or as fully as a person represented by a lawyer.

With the spread of administrative law and the huge increase in the number of administrative tribunals, particularly in relation to employment and medical appeals, it is high time that people appearing before such tribunals should be allowed, subject to financial limits, to be entitled to apply for and be granted legal aid for that purpose.

In criminal cases the position is not at all satisfactory. The Minister and his Department must know it to be unsatisfactory. In criminal cases it appears that legal aid is very readily granted, and rightly so, because it involves questions of the liberty of the subject, but there is a great feeling of disquiet over certain aspects of the administration of legal aid in such cases. One recognises the shortage of money, and whatever proposal is made in the Bill that the Government will present, and any ramifications of it, will obviously involve a substantial increase in public expenditure.

I declare my interest as a practising lawyer, but I have to say that at the moment the country is getting its legal aid system on the cheap. While a substantial sum of money is being spent by legal aid authorities, the legal aid remuneration of solicitors and members of the Bar in criminal courts throughout the country is appallingly low. The legal profession is the only profession whose fees in legal aid matters have stood still for six years and, in some courts, have been reduced.

Every generation talks about decreasing standards and deplores modern trends, but we shall not achieve high standards in anything if we attempt to do it on the cheap. The fees being paid in legal aid cases in Crown court cases are so appallingly unattractive that it must affect standards in the long term.

The Government are often not given credit for having done a great deal of rather quiet work that has materially assisted the administration of law and order. I refer particularly to the enactment of the Criminal Law Act last year. That has been most helpful not only in the creation of certain statutory offences, such as statutory conspiracies, but in various procedural matters.

It was also a Labour Government that passed an immense number of very helpful statutes in the late 1960s, including the Criminal Law Act and Criminal Justice Act and subsequent legislation which helped considerably not only in the apprehension of criminals but in their conviction and subsequent sentencing. As I attempted to point out in an intervention during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy), it is no use catching a criminal unless we get him convicted—and that is probably the most difficult procedure of all.

However, the Government's enactment of the Bail Act, which has been on the statute book for a relatively short period, has not been helpful. Perhaps it is too early to say precisely what trends are coming from it, but the experience of many responsible police officers and members of the legal profession is that the Act means that the onus upon the prosecution to prevent a person being given bail has become very strong and that time and again magistrates at remand hearings are releasing on bail defendants who, in the long period between committal and trial, commit many more offences of the sort for which they were originally arrested.

At a time when the police, through their chief officers, are asking in memoranda to the Royal Commission on criminal procedure for an extension of police powers I deplore the provisions of the Bail Act, which make the work of the police much more difficult.

I remember clearly a most serious recent robbery case in the Metropolitan Police area. Persons with very bad criminal records for offences involving violence were brought before the court and because many papers had to be served on the defence before committal proceedings could take place, there was a long adjournment and a remand hearing was necessary. The defendants were allowed bail and committed many other offences. Many other persons were involved in crimes of violence, a great deal of property was stolen and people were injured. The police made strenuous objections agains the granting of bail at the magistrates' court, but because of the provisions of the Act, bail was allowed.

It cannot be right, in a case where one is dealing with defendants with violent records—and the court is entitled to look at defendants' records in an application for bail—to allow bail in such circumstances. By all means allow bail in proper circumstances, but that could have been done under the old legislation when courts were constituted as they were before the Bail Act was passed.

In his recommendations to the Royal Commission on criminal procedure, Sir David McNee is asking for very substantial increases in police powers in relation in particular to powers of search, of stopping persons and to the whole question of the caution. This demand for fresh powers, whilst it must be looked at very carefully, has a lot of good points in it. I have felt for a very long time that the caution in its present form is thoroughly unhelpful to the police and to the interests of justice, because it encourages crooks to keep quiet and not incriminate themselves, and deters an innocent person from giving a full explanation to an investigating officer at the first opportunity.

I think that Sir David is right in his submission to the Royal Commission on that point. Indeed, there have been many comments about the position of the caution in modern criminal procedure. It was amply justified in the old days, when the police were dealing with very simple crooks, if I may put it that way—people unsophisticated in crime, uneducated, and so on—but in the context of modern crime the caution does have the effect that I have described, so I suggest that there is a lot to be said for Sir David's recommendation.

On the other hand, the recent utterances of Sir Robert Mark have been utterly irresponsible. Of course he is right to draw attention to the serious state of crime. Of course he is right to draw attention to the problems of the police. But what he did—and I am sure that it was wholly unconnected with his wish to promote the sales of his books, which he, like certain other authors, were busy signing, although not in trains, I gather—was whipping up some kind of hysteria.

Sir Robert Mark, who is not averse to pubicity, appeared amongst the clamour of publicity whipping up hysteria to proportions quite unjustified by the facts. One hesitates to say it about a former eminent police officer, but he wildly exaggerated the picture. I hope that the Government will put the matter into perspective while recognising the seriousness of the situation. They should not lend weight to the impression given by Sir Robert Mark that crime has got completely out of hand in the Metropolitan Police area and other parts of the country, because that is not the position, although the police have an immensely difficult job to do.

Recognising as I do that the Government have a difficult job and have done a good deal, by legislation and executive action, for law and order, I ask what has gone wrong? It is obvious that at the moment the position is unsatisfactory, in that, rightly or wrongly, in the opinion of many people the Government have a reputation for being soft on crime and soft on criminals.

Why has that impression got around, in the light of a good legislative record and good executive action? It has got around for two reasons. The first is that the Opposition, as usual, have been thoroughly dishonest about the whole issue and have sought to make political capital and mischief out of matters completely beyond the control of any Government. Secondly, I do not think that the public fully appreciate what the Government are doing about law and order. That is the fault of those Ministers, whoever they are, who are responsible for telling the public what the Government are doing. It is a question of lack of communication. If the public appreciated what was happening, they would probably feel a good deal happier.

At present there is also the hysteria—it normally comes from the extreme right of the Conservative Party—about "flog' em, hang' em", and all the rest—the belief that if we do that we shall in some way be dealing with law and order in a stronger and fairer way. What those who say that, including Conservative Members, do not realise is that the Government do not impose sentences. The Executive must never interfere with the judiciary. All that the Government can do is to give the courts power, and the courts then administer the law and impose the sentences.

It is true that the Lord Chancellor's Department organises very helpful conferences on sentencing policy for judges and magistrates, but it would be wrong for the Executive to seek to interfere with the sentencing policies of the judges at Crown court level or with magistrates' courts. Therefore, all the wild attacks on the Government's alleged weakness and on individual issues that arise from time to time are not justified by the facts, because once the Government have given the power to the courts it is a matter for the courts to use it strongly but fairly. [HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."]

I know that there is a degree of impatience in the Chamber, and I do not want to take up any more time, but the question of law and order is probably one of the most important issues raised in the Gracious Speech. There is always too little time to debate the matter here and elsewhere. Therefore, I regard this as an important opportunity to ventilate one or two points that occurred to me with regard to the current crisis.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

The time is 8.52 p.m. I call the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims).

8.52 p.m.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

I note your earlier remarks about the length of speeches, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I shall be guided by them.

The Gracious Speech contains a reference, which will surely be welcome, to a Bill to be introduced to improve the funding of schemes designed to help ethnic minority groups. That must surely assist in the whole matter of race relations, because, as the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) said earlier, it is important that in areas where immigrant communities live there should be adequate facilities. That type of assistance, persuasion and example are the best ways to improve race relations, in my view.

It is arguable how far the law should be invoked to improve race relations. Some of us on the Conservative Benches think that, for example, the present law with regard to the incitement of racial hatred has perhaps gone a little too far. Therefore, I was rather concerned to see the speech by the Home Secretary last week about the monitoring of Government contractors' compliance with race relations legislation. I think that there is a real danger that there will be a reaction from the indigenous population if they feel that the law is giving undue preference to certain sections of the community or being unduly oppressive.

It seems to me, however, to be one thing to require Government contractors to confirm that they are complying with race relations legislation but quite another to have legislation, as the Home Secretary is apparently contemplating, requiring contractors to supply on request to the Department of Employment information about their employment policies and practices. I hope that he will think again about the possible effect of that and have second thoughts.

Race relations is an area which is wide open to the operation of extremist groups and those seeking to stir up trouble or to make political capital. I am happy to say that there is at least one organisation at whom those charges cannot be levelled. I refer to the Joint Committee against Racialism, of which I am one of the two Conservative Party Members, where, under the chairmanship of Miss Shelagh Roberts and the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor), Labour, Liberal and Conservative politicians, black, white and brown, Jew and Gentile, work together in the interests of race relations.

We held a rally a few weeks ago in Trafalgar Square where the views of all the various parties were made clear. It was disappointing that within a week the Leader of the Liberal Party felt it necessary to refer to the racialism that so pervades the thinking of the Conservative Party. That is hardly the sort of language which is likely to encourage the racial harmony which we all seek, and it is unfortunate that sometimes Government supporters find it necessary to emphasise their commitment against racialism by accusing others of indulging in it.

The Opposition believe that everyone legally resident in this country is entitled to equal treatment under the law. Race is not an issue between the three main political parties, nor should it be. There are many matters which are issues between us. Race relations is not one of them, and we all work together for the same ends.

One matter giving cause for concern in the preservation of good race relations is the law which is usually described in shorthand as "sus", to which reference is made in an Early-Day Motion which appears on the Order Paper. In view of the time, I shall not pursue the arguments for and against that law, but there is one area allied to it to which attention could be drawn. It is that the police appear powerless to deal with truants. The association between truancy and crime is well established and was referred to in the recent report on vandalism. But the police have no powers to deal with lads whom they see wandering around in shopping centres when obviously they should be at school unless, of course, they are actually seen indulging in shoplifting. Police forces which have tried these truancy sweeps found that they have had to withdraw them because they have no legal power to stop any lad who obviously should be at school. This is an aspect of the law at which it would be well worth while looking further.

Turning to the treatment of offenders other than those in prison, reference was made by the Home Secretary to senior attendance centres. The extension of senior attendance centres has been advocated constantly in this House and outside it by magistrates, police, Opposition Members and so on for several years. The Eleventh Report of the Expenditure Committee in 1975 advocated the extension of senior attendance centres. Now we have the Fifteenth Report on prisons, which again advocates their extension.

The reaction of the Home Office to the original attendance centres which were set up was extremely dilatory, and I am sorry that even now the Home Secretary finds it possible only to extend a few junior centres to take senior offenders for a limited experimental period. I hope that this experiment will prove rather more effective and will be monitored more than the previous experiment was.

Another more traditional way of dealing with offenders outside prison is by probation. It is disturbing to note that there has been a reduction in the number of probation orders made in the last few years. Reference was made to this in the Expenditure Committee's recent report. The figure fell from roughly 29,000 probation orders in 1973 to 27,250 last year, despite the increase in crime and in the number of probation officers. There could be various reasons for this on which I shall not elaborate. However, there are certain offenders who can gain very much from a period on probation, from working with someone who will advise, assist and befriend them. Probation officers are dedicated people and at a cost of £4 per probationer per week they offer a valuable service to the courts and give good value to the community both figuratively and literally.

Turning to the question of juvenile offenders, the problem of secure accommodation and the powers of the courts to make orders is one constantly under discussion. The various arguments are very well rehearsed in the report of the joint working party of the Magistrates' Association, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Association of County Councils. I shall not rehearse those arguments because of the time, but agreement was not reached between the parties. I refer to paragraph 56, in which reference is made to the possibility of a residential care order. The report says that A legislative change of this kind, which does not also involve the provision of additional facilities for children, would do nothing to improve the situation. That is self-evident. The trouble is that those additional facilities have not been forthcoming. The report continues: Initially Department of Health and Social Security policy did not fully recognise the priority which should have been accorded to capital projects for children. That is the problem. The Department has not provided sufficient secure accommodation for children. It is an example which is similar to that put by the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) in his forthright speech. He criti- cised the Department for failing to provide adequate facilities.

Because of the time I shall not elaborate on my arguments. But we should consider seriously the question of the age of criminal responsibility. It is extraordinary that we accept that each year 9,500 children aged 10 commit offences but that no children under that age can be brought to court. That is despite the fact that in the Metropolitan Police area last year 675 young children under the age of 10 were arrested for being involved in crimes of violence or for taking and driving away vehicles. In only a few cases was it possible for those children to be brought before the courts because they did not fall within the care provisions.

The Minister will tell the House that such children can be brought before the court under the care provisions. However, they cannot be brought before a court unless they are found to be in need of care. If they have committed an offence and their need of care cannot be proved they cannot be brought to court.

We should look seriously at the possibility of lowering the age of criminal responsibility. My concern is for the child. If such a child is not deflected from a career of crime at an early age he will finish up a criminal. I am also concerned for the welfare of the community which might suffer at the hands of such a child if his career is allowed to develop.

I hope that the House will reflect on whether it is right to continue with the present policy in that respect. A number of European countries do not have an age for criminal responsibility, or they have a younger age.

9.3 p.m.

Mr. John Sever (Birmingham, Lady-wood)

Because of the hour I shall take only a short time. I shall telescope my original short speech into two or three questions.

I visited Winson Green prison yesterday and spoke to a number of the officers there. The Minister will accept that, at best, the situation appears to be confused. I think that the suggestion made earlier was sensible. Whilst we are waiting for the inquiry we might consider making a one-off payment to settle the immediate grievance of the officers that something is due to them as a result of a misunderstanding about meal breaks. If it can be established that a misinterpretation has worked against the officers, a tremendous amount of good will could be created if the Home Office were to agree to such a suggestion.

I turn to the question of policing in the inner city areas. Ladywood is an inner urban area. One of the recurring themes that I noted at meetings during the recess is that people regard policing as a priority. They are asking that immediate assistance be given to local communities by chief constables.

The police argue that they are under strength and that the manning problem is difficult to resolve. I hope the Minister will say that he will do everything that he can to assist chief constables, particularly in the cities, to step up beat patrols so that patrolling officers are seen in the neighbourhoods. I hope that they will be seen as being not only a detective force, but a crime prevention force. There is nothing more discouraging to the would-be criminal or street offender than the appearance of the local bobby just as the offender is about to throw a brick through a window. If we could give additional support to chief constables to encourage them to step up these patrols it might be possible to combat the vandalism which occurs.

When we are considering immigration matters, as we have been briefly today, particular attention should be paid to the leaders of those ethnic minority groups in the inner cities who are desperate for additional funds and support in seeking to combat a major problem. Certainly in the inner areas of Birmingham we would welcome whatever additional support the Government could provide in this regard, and I hope that the helpful remarks by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in his opening comments this afternoon will be implemented shortly.

9.6 p.m.

Mr. William Whitelaw (Penrith and The Border)

I hope, by the time I finish, to prove that it is not always the Front Bench that makes the longest speeches. I suspect that I shall make a shorter speech than some that we have heard today from the Back Benches. I am glad that I put back my time to speak in order to give my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Sever) the opportunity to speak. Both their speeches showed that it was worth while my doing so. That is not always the case, but it was on this occasion, and I am glad that I did so.

The Home Secretary began with a reference to immigration and race relations. We stand by our proposals on strict immigration control which we believe are an essential condition for good race relations. We support the right hon. Gentleman's view of equal opportunities for all our citizens. Against that background we shall naturally wish to study the right hon. Gentleman's consultative document, as well as any subsequent legislation on the providing of moneys to ethnic minority groups.

No doubt extra expenditure is desirable in many of the areas in which ethnic minority groups live, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst made clear. Therefore, clearly, this provision could be valuable. However, we must remember that such expenditure is needed for all the people, whatever their race and colour, who live in these areas. If there is the suggestion of limiting the money to any one group, there is always the danger of resentment building up, and that is a factor that we in this House have to consider.

The Home Secretary also referred to broadcasting, as did the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas). I can tell the Home Secretary that we shall not support his proposals for an OBA because we believe that they will lead to extra public expenditure, which means taking more money from the taxpayer. On financial grounds, therefore, we do not believe that the scheme will work.

As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) said, we shall not support the BBC management boards. This is a curious proposal. I have seen all sorts of reasons for it. I understand that it was suggested that the BBC was too bureaucratic in its organisation. The Government therefore propose to solve that problem of bureaucracy in the BBC by instituting a whole lot more bureaucracy, with many more management boards. That is curious, but we shall see how the right hon. Gentleman's legislation, when it is pursued, will proceed.

A change has come over our law and order debates. There has been a change of attitude by the Home Secretary and some of his hon. Friends. Even a year ago such debates were derided. They believed that there was no problem. The issue was blown up by the wicked Tories, they said. Now, however, there is a new and welcome note of realism. The right hon. Gentleman and an increasing number of his hon. Friends have been shaken out of their complacency by their constituents. Suddenly they have discovered that people are fed up and are demanidng better protection.

As a result, a debate on law and order actually took place at the Labour Party conference. A resolution was passed which was described by some as being so despicable as to be acceptable even to the Tories. Ah well! So far so good. Some delegates were dragged into that debate, apparently, literally kicking and screaming. The hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Gilroy-Silk) tells us that all Socialists are keen on law and order. I advise him to look at a television screening of that debate at the Labour Party conference. Some of those who took part in it had a very funny way of showing their keenness for law and order.

The Home Secretary had to stand up to a vociferous and totally unjustified attack on the police. It may do him little good, but I should like to say that many of us thought that he did it rather well. Once again, this afternoon on many issues the right hon. Gentleman has been moved by pressure of public opinion a long way towards the point of view which we have been putting forward. We welcome his conversion. There is always, however, a danger that the right hon. Gentleman's change of attitude is too slow and painful and that, as a result, his response to events is too slow and too late.

In that respect I refer to the police. Our original demands for an inquiry into police pay were brushed aside. When, a year ago, we stressed them yet again, the word went round Whitehall that we were irresponsible. I found that people kept coming up to me and saying "Fancy you being so irresponsible" I said "Well, well. That is all right, because I happen to be right." Of course I was right, because a month or two later the right hon. Gentleman proudly announced the setting up of the Edmund-Davies committee. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn said, the delay meant that there was a serious fall in police morale. Recruiting figures dropped sharply and many experienced officers resigned prematurely. That, it must be faced, was due to delay.

The Edmund-Davies committee recommended that the full rise should be given at once. We said that the Government should respond to that view and pay the full amount in September. Instead, the Government decided to phase the payment. I do not believe that their reasons for doing so stand up on grounds of pay policy, because there will be the same problem when the second tranche is paid. We believe that it should have been done at once, and I still maintain that that would have been the wisest thing to do.

I am glad to hear from the Home Secretary that there is an improvement in the recruiting figures. I hope that it will extend beyond the Metropolitan Police. I understand that there are certain, more difficult, areas, such as the West Midlands where the position is possibly not as good. It may be that the current position is due to the London allowance given to the Metropolitan Police. Let us hope that the recruiting figures will be good, because this is a most important factor.

I agree with the hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) that pay is not the whole problem. However, I believe that a new pay structure for the police is an essential prerequisite to the proposals that she is putting forward. I agree with her about the need for more graduates in the police force. This is important, but it will follow only as a result of getting the whole career structure correct. Having had the Edmund-Davies committee, and having had a good report on the future structure of the police—and a career structure—we should now make sure that we implement the report and see that it is used as a background for action in improving our police service. This is the opportunity that we now have. However, a better career structure and better pay are not the whole answer. We need to ensure that we, as a nation, give full support to the police and use them to the best advantage.

I hope that replying to the debate the Minister will be able to assure us that the Royal Commission on criminal procedure will report as quickly as possible. I know that these Commissions take a long time. At present we are getting the worst of both worlds, because many people are sounding off in one direction or another with their evidence to the Royal Commission and we are getting a somewhat disjointed view. Therefore, we need the Commission's findings so that they may be implemented as soon as possible.

With regard to the use of the police, I wish to take up a point that was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) who spoke of the need to help the victims of crime. This is a most important matter. He made the point that if the police had the manpower they would be anxious to help. But it appears that the procedure by which the police, in conjunction with the local authorities, can help victims is not working satisfactorily in some areas. It is no good simply saying "People can pursue their rights before the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board", because many who find themselves victims of crime do not know their rights, do not know where to go to obtain them, and are frightened to find out. Therefore, I hope that my right hon. Friend's point will not be dismissed too easily, because it is important.

If the police have the correct manpower levels they can do much to assist in community relations work, and also work in the schools. Both tasks are of the utmost importance. I hope that both matters will be followed up as, I trust, manpower increases.

The police have a major role to play at attendance centres, both junior and senior. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst said, we have been pressing the Home Secretary to recognise the need for such centres. They are inexpensive to run and can be provided with comparatively little expenditure of resources. I believe that such centres are valuable at both junior and senior level because they take up the maximum amount of leisure time of those concerned. If they take up the leisure time on a Saturday afternoon of some of the people who cause trouble at football matches, the offenders will be denied the opportunity to attend football matches or to cause trouble in other ways for a considerable number of Saturdays. In some cases this will bring the culprits to their senses and stop them from becoming involved in trouble at future football matches.

The police also have a major role to play in any action that we take against vandalism. The Home Secretary did not appear to be sure what I had in mind in this respect. I certainly had in mind the fact that any anti-vandal squads should be run by the police. I wish to emphasise that the police must be in control of such squads. If I did not make that clear, I very much welcome this opportunity to do so.

Here again, on the subject of vandalism, it is the old story of changed attitudes and of the Government eventually coming round to our point of view. The Prime Minister has now discovered that vandalism is a problem and has issued a great message to the Home Secretary's conference. The Home Secretary waxed very eloquent indeed about the need to deal with vandalism. It is a pity that he and the Prime Minister did not warn the poor old Think-Tank that their attitude was about to change. If that had happened, the Think-Tank would never have said, as it did, that vandalism was not a matter which greatly affected many people and that in many cases it was some form of play. The right hon. Gentleman may have found that attitude embarrassing, but it might have helped if the Think-Tank had realised that the Government were about to change their minds. The Think-Tank was still subscribing to the old doctrine and, as a result, got slightly out of step.

I turn to the subject of juvenile offenders. I wish to make it clear at the start, as I have done consistently, that we believe in the value of non-custodial sentences for many juvenile offenders. Therefore, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn made clear, we strongly support community service orders, which we as a party introduced. We support probation work and all efforts to try to deal with backward offenders who can be dealt with by way of non- custodial sentences. However, we have consistently said that unless we as a society can find means of dealing with young thugs who do not respond to any of that treatment we shall make it impossible to get public support for noncustodial work. The public will believe that such treatment will not work because it does not deal effectively with a limited number of young thugs. That is why we have always placed enormous stress on dealing with the minority of hardened young thugs.

We maintain that if we are effectively to deal with these problems magistrates must be able to back up their powers under the Children and Young Persons Act. I realise the problems underlying secure accommodation. I merely say that we should examine carefully the resources that we spend on detention centres, borstals and all the different methods of custodial treatment. It may be that we should spend more on secure accommodation and less on borstals. I have grave doubts about the value of borstal training as it is now carried out. That is a matter that should be considered carefully.

It appears from the remarks of the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) and other Labour Members that the proposal that I and my right hon. and hon. Friends have put forward concerning detention centres is controversial. The Home Secretary, when talking about senior attendance centres, said that it was right to have an experiment because no one could be sure that they would work. I trust that we have made it clear from the start that in putting forward our ideas for a harsher regime of short sentences at detention centres we, too, are suggesting an experiment. We are as entitled as is the right hon. Gentleman to say that we believe that there should be an experiment. We do not know whether it will work, but we say that it should be tried. Unless some treatment of the sort that we propose is tried for the hardened young thugs we shall not get public support for many of the other proposals for dealing with offenders which I regard as extremely important.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

The right hon. Gentleman has frequently talked about toughening up the regime in certain detention centres. Indeed, that is what he has said today. Surely he owes the House and the country some explanation of what sharper sentences would mean. What does toughening up mean in practice?

Mr. Whitelaw

I shall seek to explain. My hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) made it clear that we believe that in some, instances there should be shorter sentences of about three weeks. If we are to have a rigorous regime, we do not believe that it can or will be successfully maintained for more than that period. When we talk of a rigorous regime, we mean one where those concerned are under pressure from early morning until they go to bed for an early lights out.

I tell the hon. Member for Rother Valley that the last idea in my mind is that there should be brutality. If there were, the whole experiment would fail. That is not what I have in mind.

Mr. Hardy


Mr. Whitelaw

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not mind if I do not give way. I gave way to the hon. Member for Ormskirk and that took up some of my time.

We have in mind a regime where privileges have to be earned rather than taken for granted. At the beginning there would be no privileges, and by behaving properly those in custody would earn them. Under the present system, an offender starts with privileges and loses them if he offends. We believe that a rigorous regime of the sort I have described would be right.

The Home Secretary says that he does not believe that staffs want such a regime. The right hon. Gentleman and I probably share one common experience, namely, that many people tell us what they think we want to hear. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman has been told that the regime that we propose would not work. Others with just the same experience as his advisers tell me that it would work. Who might be right? I am asking for an experiment, but if the right hon. Gentleman is to rely on what people tell him, I am equally entitled to rely on what people tell me. They say that they believe that it would work, and I believe that it would work.

Many hon. Members have rightly spoken about the dangerous and delicate situation in our prisons. I do not intend to say anything tonight that will make that delicate position any more difficult. I believe that that is my responsibility on this issue. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn made a responsible and reasoned statement of the position over the past years, and I hope that the Home Secretary will carefully note what my hon. and learned Friend said.

I want to concentrate entirely on the future. We support the broad inquiry, and it is welcome. Will the Minister, when he winds up the debate, assure the House that there will be real urgency in setting it up, announcing the chairman, the members and the terms of reference? I believe that speed is of the essence here.

There is no doubt that the leaders of the Prison Officers' Association have acted responsibly. The Home Secretary said that. I too have seen them, and I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I feel, therefore, that everything should be done to help them in their relations with their members who feel, as many hon. Members with experience in these areas have said, frustrated and resentful. If the Prison Officers' Association is to be able to hold its members to a responsible line and to prevent unofficial action—which would be damaging and, I believe, in certain circumstances could even be dangerous—it is important that this House should speak out on the need not to have this unofficial action. At the same time, if we are to speak out in that way, I think that the Government owe it to us to make sure that they do everything to make it easy for responsible leadership to bring that action to an end, or to prevent it arising. I believe that the way to do that is to set up the inquiry with the maximum possible speed.

The debate has again shown that the Home Secretary at least now wants to deal with crime and violence in our society. He will, however, need considerable willpower to reverse some of the widely accepted wisdom in penal reform which has been tried and has not proved successful in practice. He will need great determination to overcome much of the prejudice within his own party against action. But if he made up his mind to give a really decisive lead he would find enormous support from the large majority of the citizens of this country. I must say to the right hon. Gentleman that he has little time left. Let him use it wisely.

9.29 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Brynmor John)

I agree with the concluding remarks of the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw) in the sense that if I am to answer the whole debate I certainly have little time left.

I think that we all ought at any rate to agree—I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman departed somewhat from this standard—that Members of this House are united in favour of law and order, although we sometimes differ, and differ quite sharply, as to the means by which we think law and order can best be brought about. My hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) made this absolutely clear and I think that I should make it clear on behalf of the Government.

I think that it behoves the House to acknowledge that this problem is not an easy one to solve. It is not a matter that is amenable to the simple phrases of an advertising slogan. If we pretend that it is, we doom people to disappointment, because no Government can fulfil the battle against crime easily, cheaply and simply. The disappointment that people feel may redound against any Government who are guilty of that kind of error.

The real criticism of the Conservative Party during the summer in allowing that dreadful poster to go out under the imprint of Saatchi & Saatchi was that it cheapened the whole debate at a time when the debate demanded great seriousness.

Mr. Lawrence

It certainly woke up the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. John

The hon. Gentleman said that it woke me up. I can only conclude that it is because he wakes rather late in proceedings. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border had a great deal of innocent fun in saying that what we had been saying all the time was somehow now a movement towards the view that he had been advocating. We have had one conference on vandalism since then. The hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) forgets that we had a confer- ence on vandalism soon after my right hon. Friend took office. He appears to have ignored that completely. [Interruption.] Conferences are good if they involve the people at local level who are responsible for the overcoming of the problem of vandalism. If the hon. Gentleman, who is a latecomer to this Chamber and the debate, knew something more about vandalism than interrupting, he would not have made such an egregious statement.

If only the question of penalties were involved in criminal policy, the solution to criminality would be simple. If all we had to do was to be harsher and harsher, it would be easy to solve the problem of crime. But crime has been both persistent and widespread not only in the Western world, but throughout the world where punishments are much harsher than in this country. We have to ask ourselves: what are the underlying causes? If we are content with merely treating the symptoms, we risk the underlying moral health of the country getting worse rather than better.

The second point that I want to make—this agrees very much with what the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) said—is that there is a duty which is and should be inescapable on the part of every individual and family in this country to uphold standards in their personal and community lives which will contribute towards law and order. I put it in that way because the community is wider than the family. It is easy to act within the family circle with complete kindness, tolerance and consideration and yet, outside the home, to act towards others with complete selfishness.

I believe that we need a sense of community responsibility. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border may take what he likes from the debate at Blackpool, but my brand of democratic Socialism is one which, if anything, demands a higher sense of self-discipline and responsibility on the part of the individual than that asked for by him.

One of my worries is that the selfishness—the "I am all right, Jack", "What is in it for me?" approach—which has been prevalent in our society for many years is now becoming the exact converse of that. The right hon. Gentleman and the Conservative Party have preached "You never had it so good". The attachment to personal gain and selfishness, which is still evident in speeches by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), is not calculated to build the community spirit which alone can tackle the fight against crime. Let no one in this Chamber kid himself or herself that the passing of laws alone will solve the problem of crime. We need a concerted attack on the problem.

The question of prisons has obviously and rightly filled a large part of the debate. As the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border said, there is a need to be as frank as possible with the House without at the same time exacerbating the position. I should like to give the latest information on the prisons as given to me at 8 o'clock this evening. The situation is very much as it was when my right hon. Friend made his earlier report. Durham prison has now joined the action. It is the only prison in the North to have done so.

My second point—here I very much agree with the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border—is that the question of the inquiry will be treated as a matter of urgency. It is important to support the national executive committee of the Prison Officers' Association. In fact, the NECs of the POAs in Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as England and Wales, are meeting officials of the Home Office tomorrow to discuss and, I hope, finalise the terms of reference of the inquiry.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk and others dealt with the question of psychiatric and alcoholic prisoners. I admit there is an argument on merit for suggesting that such people ought never to be in the prison system, but that argument cannot be extended as far as saying that by the transfer of either of those categories we shall thereby solve the problem of overcrowding. The issue either has to be accepted on its merits or not at all.

As a Government we have provided a considerable amount of money to the area health authorities for regional secure units to help with prisoners with psychiatric disorders. I hope that those area health authorities will proceed with diligence in order to provide them. But under the reorganisation of the Health service piloted through by the Conservative Party the Government have no power to direct area health authorities. In some cases, both in communities and in hospitals, it does happen that those who have to live with the people thus transferred are not amenable to such a transfer. This is a question of overcoming attitudes, and that will best be done by persuasion rather than by overbearing their concern.

I repeat, not in any spirit of sententiousness but as a real feeling that we as a Government possess, that the sooner we can transfer people with psychiatric disorders out of the prison system and into regional secure units the better. At the moment, along with the DHSS we are considering the categorisation of what people ought to be transferred so that that process can proceed.

Mr. Stephen Ross

Earlier the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) pointed out that union members were refusing to take certain people into these secure units. My understanding is that administrators themselves are saying "No". A case in point is that doctors in charge of these secure units can refuse to take patients. Will that situation now be resolved by what the hon. Gentleman has just said?

Mr. John

If that is so it is a matter of persuasion. Of course, there are difficulties which are not only confined to the porters, the lab technicians and so on. They run through many strata of some hospitals. But it is a matter of persuasion. We cannot dictate or overbear and there is no magic wand. What I am saying is that we as a Government are trying to overcome prejudices wherever they exist in order to effect the necessary transfers.

Let me deal with the question of alcoholic prisoners. In his somewhat enthusiastic condemnation of the Government my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk was a little unfair in the sense that he did not acknowledge that in the Criminal Law Act 1977 imprisonment was abolished for offences of simple drunkeness People are now imprisoned only if there is an element of disorderliness or if they refuse to pay fines. This is a very difficult problem. However, I can tell my hon. Friend that at 30th September there were only 120 people in prison for failing to pay fines. Therefore, the numbers are not vast. As I have said, it certainly would not solve the problem of overcrowding if those people were transferred.

Of course we have a problem. We have the problem of what to do with persistent inadequate offenders. Many prisoners are inadequate in some ways. However, I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk and to other hon. Members that one half of the bail hostels and one half of the probation hostels that exist in Britain today—inadequate in number though they may be in the view of my hon. Friend—have been built during the lifetime of the present Government. Therefore, we are trying, by non-custodial means, to help inadequate people to live in the community so that they need not be sentenced constantly to custodial sentences.

The other point is that my hon. Friend said that such people ought never to be sentenced to such terms. I return to the point that has been raised several times. It is worth bearing in mind that it is the courts that are responsible for the sentencing of prisoners when they have the opportunity of seeing them and forming the best judgment possible. It is no good hon. Members saying that there are tremendous disparities between this sentence and that sentence. Unless they know the individual case, they cannot hope to judge properly.

What we as a Parliament must do is to ensure that the weapons at the disposal of the courts by way of disposition are adequate. We must then and should then leave it to the good sense of the court to impose that sentence which will prevent re-offence. After all, what we are talking about is not harshness. We are talking first about trying to prevent crime and then about trying to detect crime if that has occurred, because the best deterrence is the certainty of detection. It is only if all other deterrent means have failed that we are concerned with sentencing at all.

I suggest that the main responsibility that we have at that stage is to impose a sentence tailored to the needs of the individual which will best prevent him from re-offending. What we really do not want are the recidivists who spend half their lives in gaol until they are so institutionalised that they cannot bear the idea of living outside an institution, outside a place where they are catered for and their every thought is unnecessary.

Arising out of the prison dispute, my hon. Friend also asked how many prisoners there were now in police cells. The latest information I have is that there are 20 such prisoners.

Concerning contingency plans, the best thing I can do is to say that the House would not, obviously, want me to go into great detail about what plans exist, but hon. Members can have the assurance that contingency plans are available to deal with the situation in whatever detail it should exist. I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is concerned with dealing with the dispute and trying to resolve it as quickly and as easily as possible. There are some occasions when the threat of sanctions is counterproductive. But, on the other hand, should the need arise, my right hon. Friend will burke neither the issue of disciplinary matters nor the issue of breaches of the law, should that prove to be necessary. My hope—I think that it is the hope of the whole House—is that such measures will not prove to be necessary.

I turn to the question of crime, which has formed an equally large part of the debate. The hon. Member for Guildford asked me about police recruitment, and whether any increase was country-wide. That matter was referred to by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border. At this very early stage one cannot say that district A is benefiting or that district B is not benefiting. However, one can say already that it is certainly wider than the Metropolitan Police area, because the net gain in the whole country for the September quarter was 241, whereas in the Metropolitan Police area it was only 44, so there has been a net gain for the country as a whole. Of course, there will be some areas in which it will be more difficult to recruit than in others. However, we shall have to await a later stage in the year before we can possibly hope to refine those figures.

I thought that the hon. Member for Guildford was at his least convincing, in an otherwise reasoned and reasonable speech, when he was talking about chief officers' criticism of the Government for not supporting law and order. No such criticism has been conveyed by any chief officer to my right hon. Friend. One would have thought that if such criticisms were to be made, they would have been made directly and properly and not made in some circularised material, the details of which are still unparticularised as far as I know.

However, to be fair to the hon. Member, he suggested, in an attempt to put a fig leaf over what would otherwise have been a completely naked argument, that it was the example of Cabinet Ministers going on the picket line which had caused this sudden deterioration of law and order. These members of the Cabinet took part in a peaceful picket. My understanding of the law is that peaceful picketing is still not illegal in this country. However, the sedentary mutters from the Opposition Benches make one wonder how much the Conservatives have learned from history.

Mr. David Howell

The Minister of State has raised the question of chief police officers calling for more support from Government for their duties. I have in my hand a circular letter from the Chief Constable of Merseyside which was sent to many Members of this House in which he specifically points out that There has to be an understanding that there is a need for discipline—applied and personal—that those charged with the responsibilities of leadership must be supported by Parliament, by Government, by boardroom, by committee,… He goes on in that vein. That is a view that the Minister of State must recognise. It is held by many hard-working senior police officers and it should be recognised by the Home Office, and not put aside as if it is something unthinkable.

Mr. John

I am very glad that the hon. Gentleman does not draft pleadings in the court. If he deduces from that generalised statement a specific criticism of my right hon. Friends in the Cabinet, he is really stretching credulity too far. He indicates now that he did not say that but it is within the recollection of all Members of the House who sat through his speech earlier that he made such a point.

I turn now to the question of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969. Here there is a clear and unmistakable difference between the parties. The rise in juvenile crime has existed and has carried on unabated since 1956. The 1969 Act was enacted half-way through that period. It was enacted as a response to the obvious failure of the approved school system. To hear the Opposition talking one would have thought that in 1969 we left behind some golden age when everyone was disciplined and there was no juvenile crime.

The Children and Young Persons Act, the philosophy of which I wholly support, moved away from the approved school system as a means of best preventing re-offence within the ages quoted.

The local authority and magistrates' associations have discussed the matter. They did not reach agreement, as the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) rightly said. However, a point was reached where the local authorities felt able to issue a code of practice and guidance to social services departments which meets some of the points raised by the magistrates. I hope that we will all give that code of practice a chance to work and not rush in with unspecific criticisms of the Act which can only have the effect of confusing control and working against our aim of minimising the risk of re-offence among young people.

On the question of violent crime, the clear-up rate is more than 80 per cent. My hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk made the point that the clear-up rate for violent crime is about double that for general crime. That shows the priority that the police place upon violence and its effect upon people.

The right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk, dealt with the question of the victim. We must all agree that this is not a sudden concern for the victim. After all, the Labour Government of 1966–1970 introduced the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. This is no sudden conversion to the plight of the victim. We believe that with personal injuries, for example, the person who has been maltreated by a criminal should be compensated. I shall study with great care the suggestions that have been made about making this compensation more widely available. We believe that there is fairly wide knowledge of this provision, but I shall try to ensure that it is used even more widely.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Hardy) for his encomium upon the value of community service orders. We all believe that they are valuable, and I am pleased to say that with the exception of Dyfed, whose last major criminal was, as far as I remember, Twm Sion Cati, the whole country will be covered by community service orders by 1st December. Dyfed will be covered by March of next year, so from March the whole country will be covered by these orders.

On race relations, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) mentioned the EEC directive against illegal employment. We have noted that every United Kingdom member of the European Parliament, irrespective of party, voted against the directive when it came before them for advice. We shall come to the House before any decision is taken so that we may get the feelings of hon. Members on this matter. We accept that in the prevention of one minor evil, it is possible to overstep the mark and create a much greater evil.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) referred to nationality. As a result of the discussion document, we shall issue a White Paper. It will not be quick or easy—my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has never promised that it would be—to enact legislation on this matter. It will be a very long and complex Bill, and we shall need to look at the matter most carefully in the light of the 230-odd representations that we have received as a result of our discussion document.

The question of violence and sex on television has also been raised in the debate. It is extremely difficult to discern whether this has an effect on people. On the one hand, it is asserted as a fact that it does, but on the other it is stated, with equal firmness, that it does not. The effect on television on individuals varies so much that no one can blindly seek to impose his will or standards upon others. The broadcasting complaints authority, which we have suggested should be set up, would be one of the parts of the Government's response which the right hon. Member for Penrith and the The Border will not include in his general opposition to our proposals.

The Home Secretary will be meeting a number of hon. Members to discuss concessionary television licences. No decision has been taken about the proposal on licence fees and I suggest that the matter should be raised when that meeting takes place.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

There is a strong body of opinion that says that television has an effect on the people watching it. I think that violent films have an effect. Indeed, I go further. If there is no correlation between what people see on television and the way in which they act, why do all the parties have political broadcasts?

Mr. John

I am tempted to reply "Heaven alone knows why". I am very dubious about the effect that party political broadcasts have upon people's voting habits. I believe that in some cases there is a relationship between what a person sees and how he acts, but this is bound up with many other factors and the generalised, simplistic way in which it is put by many advocates of the "violence on television equals crime" school is not proved by experience.

I turn to the question raised by the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) regarding the fourth channel. There is a definite commitment in the White Paper towards the creation of a fourth television channel for the Welsh language and Welsh matters by the autumn of 1982, and to the creation of a service which will include 20 hours of broadcasting in the Welsh language. I understand that there is no need for legislation to that effect, and discussions with the relevant bodies have already started.

It cannot be done before 1982, otherwise the coverage, particularly in the Welsh-speaking areas, would be so minimal because of the engineering works that we might find that fewer people were watching more programmes in the Welsh language.

I urge the hon. Member for Merioneth to exercise whatever authority he has with those people who advocate violence as the solution to the problem of the fourth channel and the salvation of the Welsh language, be they young people—where it is more understandable—or geriatric archdruids whose revolutionary fervour is a bit more difficult to understand. I urge him to bring home to them that the effect that they are having on the Welsh language, and particularly on the acceptance of enlightened action to save it in the south-east of Wales, where the bulk of the people are, and where good will is needed if the language is to survive, is truly disastrous, and that, in one unguarded weekend or one unguarded phrase, they are doing more to kill the Welsh language than ever any Government in their supposed lack of provision for the language.

The Welsh language can survive only if it is accepted by the majority of the community, and some of the statements made by Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg and by the archdruids have been directly contrary to the best interest of the Welsh language.

I felt it right to say this because I think that people in Wales feel strongly on the matter, and, of course, it has a bearing on law and order. All of us in our debates in the House have a duty to the country to see the situation as it exists. The situation is that crime has, over the past two decades, been rising steadily, whatever the Government. Its treatment is complex. One cannot devise simple solutions to combat it. One can provide the people who will detect its commission; one can hope to set a moral tone which will prevent people from committing that crime; one can give to the courts the tools with which they can best prevent re-offence by those concerned.

Mr. Edward Gardner

Will the hon. Gentleman address his mind to the question about Risley raised not only on behalf of my own constituents but on behalf of the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Evans)?

Mr. John

I will deal with that point. I had intended to do so before the end of my speech.

We had an inquiry immediately after the incident. Although there will be no public inquiry, we are re-examining the facts that emerged from the trial in order to learn what lessons have to be drawn and what facts were not taken into account in the inquiry immediately after the occurrence of the event.

It is obviously a horrifying crime. Ironically, it was caused, according to some newspaper reports, as a result of a desire to segregate certain types of offender from other prisoners in order to shield them from the violence which is often visited upon sex offenders in remand centres and prisons. It had an unfortunate effect. We are learning the lessons. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will accept my assurance that we are looking at the result of the trial and intend to learn any lessons necessary to prevent a recurrence of that tragedy.

The Government have never been complacent and will never be complacent about the incidence of crime. As many of my hon. Friends have said, we have been working for over four years to provide the practical help that the community needs to wage the fight against crime. I hope that everyone will determine to join together in the fight against crime, because it is only if we have a country united on the side of law and order that we can possibly bring about results—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.