§ Mr. Speaker
In view of the late start which was clue to the two statements, it will be necessary to put a 10-minute limit on speeches between 7 pm and 9 pm. I also ask those who are called before that time to limit their speeches to about that period in the interests of their colleagues.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Kenneth Baker)
The title of the debate on this day on the Queen's Speech has traditionally been "Rights, Freedoms and Responsibilities", words which sit rather more easily in the Conservative vocabulary than in the socialist lexicon. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) will tell us at length what his proposals are on rights, and whether such rights should be enshrined in a charter or in a Bill. In the past, he has expressed enthusiasm and lack of enthusiasm for both.
I hope that he will also touch on responsibilities. It is an axiom of Conservative belief that a stable society can derive only from the acceptance of responsibilities as well as from the declaration of rights. Over the past 12 years, this Government have introduced a number of measures to ensure that people fulfil their basic responsibilities, especially towards their children. Through the Criminal Justice Act 1991, parents can now be held more directly responsible for criminal acts committed by their children. We have also ensured that fathers will not be allowed to walk away from their financial responsibilities, because fatherhood is for life.
We have encouraged responsibility at a local level by developing the network of neighbourhood watch schemes, now 92,000 nationwide. We have encouraged more people to come forward as school governors through our education legislation. We have given council tenants the right to own their own homes, a hugely successful policy. Home ownership increases people's sense of responsibility.
In the Queen's Speech, we are further extending and increasing rights. First, there are the rights of parents to have more information about how their children are performing in school. Secondly, there are the rights of consumers, involving bringing the powers of the regulators of the utilities up to the level of the strongest. Thirdly, in the Asylum Bill, we are extending new rights of appeal. 352 Fourthly, we are increasing the right of people to own shares in the denationalised companies for which they work.
Let me also remind the House that we have extended the rights of trade unionists to participate in the affairs of their union, and we have given individual employees the right not to have to join a trade union if they so wish. We have given every employee the right not to strike unless there has been a ballot beforehand.
In our proposals for the citizens charter, we are giving rights to people to ensure that the public services which they get are provided efficiently. The victims charter sets out for the first time the rights, the entitlements and the expectations of those who have been victims of crime.
We have improved and protected the rights of suspects in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. We are now examining where the proposals there can be extended from tape recording to video recording. We have announced the establishment of a prison complaints adjudicator in the prison service.
I am obliged to the Opposition for choosing this area for debate because it allows us to remind the country of the rights that we have created, of the freedoms that we have protected and of the responsibilities that we have enhanced.
§ Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
When the Home Secretary considers further extensions of rights, will the Government consider extending the rights of occupational pensioners in so far as they are protected by the Occupational Pensions Board, which is a public body, and will they especially consider protecting the rights of the 35,000 pensioners of Lucas Industries who do not get the full pension allowed by the Inland Revenue? Yet the company is about to milk the pension fund by £150 million. Those pensioners need to have their rights protected, because the company has not paid a penny piece into the fund for the past six years. Where in this catalogue of rights are the rights of those people to be extended by strengthening the powers of the Occupational Pensions Board to stop the actions of companies such as Lucas?
§ Mr. Baker
I will certainly draw what the hon. Gentleman says to the attention of my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the Secretary of State for Social Security. I will look into the case. I was not aware of the circumstances to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
I was making the point that we have extended many new rights during our term in office. Those rights have enhanced the freedoms and responsibilities of our people.
Since 1979, this Government have given the highest priority to expenditure on law and order. Expenditure on the police has risen by 67 per cent. in real terms since 1979, which has led to an increase of 15,000 uniformed officers and 12,000 civilian staff. We are pround of this record and we intend to continue it. Next year, there will be a further 1,000 uniformed police officers.
Compare that to the miserable record of the previous Labour Government. They cut expenditure by 3 per cent. They left the police forces of our country 8,000 under establishment. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook was a member of the Cabinet which approved that. He cannot shrug off his responsibility and he cannot take refuge in his usual complacency. He was one of those who sat round the Cabinet table and agreed cuts in law and 353 order expenditure. The reason why he and his colleagues did that is that Labour's heart has never been in law and order. The Labour party marches to different tunes.
In his lengthy article in The Observer four weeks ago, the man who is the shadow Home Secretary did not once mention law and order. He did not mention the police or the prevention of crime.
§ Mr. Baker
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook is too easy a target for such a pointed jibe. In his party conference harangue, which lasted for half an hour, only three paragraphs—10 per cent. of his speech—were on law and order. That shows the low priority that he attaches to these important issues.
§ Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)
I hope that the Secretary of State takes the subject seriously. Does he agree with Peter Nobes, the chief constable of West Yorkshire, that there has been a doubling of almost every crime over the past 10 years? Does he agree that the chief constable makes a good request when he asks to have back on the beat the police who have been taken away from us because of poll tax capping? What is the Secretary of State going to do about it? It is all right to have a knockabout and a jest, but people in my constituency and in West Yorkshire generally are in danger every day because of the Home Secretary's irresponsibility.
§ Mr. Baker
I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Lady has said. One of the most effective ways in which the increased number of police officers which I have announced can be used in the next year is on the beat. Our civilianisation programme means that jobs that are done now by uniformed officers can be done by civilians which releases even more uniformed officers on to the beat. As hon. Members will know from visiting their local police stations, it is now quite common to find that the people working in the reception area where the public come in are now civilians. That allows the uniformed officers who normally work there to work on the beat. That is not one of the issues that divides us. Lots of things do divide us on law and order, but it is commonly understood that we all want more policemen to be out on the beat because the public find their presence reassuring.
I was making the point that when Labour and the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook were in office, they showed a total indifference to these problems. I want to be fair to the Labour party, because I must not accuse it of having no ideas or policies on law and order.
§ Mr. Baker
I shall give way to my hon. Friend in just a moment.
The Labour party has specific policies that have been published in copious and interminable publications such as "Meet the Challenge, Count the Change". I give the Labour party full credit for having policy ideas.
The Labour party believes that the police should be accountable to police authorities consisting of elected councillors only. In a recent opinion poll, the public were asked their reaction to that, and a whole 8 per cent. agreed 354 with that Labour policy—what a ringing endorsement. The Labour party has another policy that is nearly as popular—to make local councils responsible for crime prevention. It proposes giving them a duty, rather than a power, to do so. Once again, the opinion poll revealed what the public thought of that proposal. This time, a whole 3 per cent. supported that policy. On the other hand, 60 per cent. of those polled believed that the police together with local neighbourhoods should be responsible for crime prevention—which is the Government's policy.
There is another policy that the Labour party has worn like an albatross around its neck for the past seven years. It wants to abolish the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act. How does that sit with the public? In the same poll, that Labour policy won the endorsement of 3 per cent. of the public. Only 3 per cent. of the British people supported that long-standing Labour party policy. Yet again the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook has dealt his party a losing hand. It is little wonder that, when the right hon. Gentleman displays his hand, his colleagues throw up theirs in alarm.
§ Mr. John Carlisle
My right hon. Friend mentioned the status of police authorities. Is he aware that, in the county of Bedfordshire, which is Labour-controlled, some of the money directed from my right hon. Friend's office to the police authority—specifically designed to increase police numbers to strengthen the police force in the county—has been siphoned by the local authority into other areas? The police did not receive the full allocation of moneys that my right hon. Friend intended that they should have. Is such action rare, or is my right hon. Friend aware that that might have happened elsewhere?
§ Mr. Baker
It is not a rare case. Certain other authorities where Labour has been in office for some time have not allocated the same priority to spending on law and order as other authorities. My hon. Friend has given us a good example and I am sure that he will make the most of it to his constituents, because law and order should be given the highest priority. As I said earlier, law and order is not the highest priority for the Labour party.
§ Mr. Baker
I shall give way in a moment.
The right hon. Gentleman wrote an article for the New Statesman and Society in which he returned to his familiar theme of attacking the judges. He said:There is no doubt that the character and position of the judiciary is in urgent need of change.How will that happen? Who will appoint the judges? Will they be appointed by the Labour party's national executive? After all, it is appointing candidates up and down the country. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook is the biggest deselector of Labour candidates. Now he wants to be let loose to deselect judges. That is equivalent of the politicisation of the judiciary. That is the prospect held out to the electorate by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Leighton
I know that we are near to a general election, but would the right hon. Gentleman please remember that he is not the current chairman of the Conservative party, he is the Home Secretary? We do not expect such a flippant presentation, we expect something rather more serious. If he is claiming that law and order is close to his heart, why have we had so little law and order in the past 12 months [HON. MEMBERS: "Twelve years."] of this Government? Why has crime doubled in that time?
§ Mr. Baker
We have been in office for a little longer than 12 months. We have been in office for 12 years and we intend to be in office for much longer.
I have attempted to set out some of the differences between the Labour party and the Government on law and order and it is entirely legitimate for me to do so.
Crime prevention is an important matter. The hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton) referred to the crime figures. He should be aware that the Home Office is spending £15 million a year on crime prevention schemes. As a result of our safer cities programme, we already have schemes operating in 19 cities. Hon. Members will be aware of the other projects that we intend to launch. Fourteen drug prevention teams have been established through our drugs initiative programme.
It is essential to reduce car crime, which now constitutes nearly 30 per cent. of all recorded crime.
§ Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)
Although the measures that the Government have introduced are welcome, does my right hon. Friend agree that they will not reduce auto crime until we have a system under which juvenile offenders can be locked up? At the moment, a small number of those offenders constantly reoffend. Without such a system, some of those who are bailed, and bailed again, constantly reoffend.
§ Mr. Baker
The Home Office will complete a research project about reoffending on bail in a matter of days and we will publish the results. That project will draw together the experience gained across the country.
In several public statements, I have made it clear that, when young offenders appear before the courts, the magistrates should think carefully before granting them bail. I shall go no further than that because it is not for a member of the Executive to instruct or to pressure i n any way any elements of the judiciary. However, the courts must be aware of the dangers that exist if some young accused hooligans are not committed to custody.
Earlier this year, I published a Green Paper about juvenile custody. We do not have enough places for secure accommodation for juveniles, and some authorities have closed them down. Many Labour authorities believe strongly that no one under 16 or 17 should be committed to custody in any circumstances. That view is not shared by the Conservative party. The policy advocated by some Labour authorities is one of the reasons for the Green Paper, in which I state that we need more secure accommodation for juveniles.
§ Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)
Is my right hon. Friend aware that facilities were made available for secure accommodation in Leicestershire but that they were voted down by the Labour and Liberal parties?
§ Mr. Baker
That is one example, and I have heard of other Labour authorities that have specifically reduced or eliminated secure accommodation. The sad fact that one 356 must face is that there are some juveniles below the age of 16—soon it will be below 17—who must be kept in secure custody: for example, those who commit severe crime. We do not want to lock up hundreds of thousands, but there are some juveniles who must be held in secure custody because of the seriousness of their crime. It is regrettable that in some parts of the country Labour authorities have closed such accommodation.
§ Mr. Lofthouse
Did I understand that the right hon. Gentleman agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) that more young people should be locked up? Although no one condones crime, surely it would he better policy to find such youngsters some work.
§ Mr. Baker
We will produce a consultation document, before Christmas I hope, that deals with the roots of criminality and what leads youngsters, principally young boys, into crime. The hon. Gentleman will find that it contains many positive proposals to try to ensure that those youngsters do not set out on a path that leads inevitably to custody.
The House is aware that, three weeks ago, the Cabinet agreed to my proposal that a new offence should be introduced to deal with joyriding—the House will appreciate that that crime should not be known as "joyriding". That offence will deal with the crime of stealing a vehicle without the owner's consent when that offence is aggravated by damage or dangerous driving.
§ Mr. Baker
I have given way a great deal and I should like to proceed with my speech for a while.
It would not be enough just to increase the penalties for taking and driving away from six months to two years. The new offence needs to be carefully defined to hit the mischief of damage and injury associated with the theft of the vehicle.
Since I made my announcement lawyers in the Home Office have been working on the definition of the new offence so that it will be tough and effective. The Bill is now being drafted and I can assure the House that it will be introduced as soon as it is ready. I am glad to hear that the Labour party has agreed that that Bill should go swiftly on to the statute book.
§ Mr. Baker
No. I shall give way in a moment.
Our campaign to reduce car crime goes much wider than the Bill. The House will be aware that I have spoken to motor manufacturers to persuade them to fix more secure locks on their cars, to introduce burglar alarms and also to invent a device that immobilises a car when someone has broken into it. I have had two meetings with 357 the manufacturers, the second much more positive than the first. I can assure the House that I want progress on these matters.
I have also spoken to the insurance industry. Within the past month its members have made significant changes to their policies in respect of theft from and of cars. Owners will bear a share of the loss. Those fitting certain protective devices will get a reduced premium. The premium for cars that are the favourite targets of young thieves will be much higher.
I want to say a word about our support for the victims of crime. We have given them a great deal of support and an entitlement to that support. There are now 360 voluntary local schemes providing help and support to the victims of crime. In 1986, only £136,000 was being spent on this programme. That has risen this year to £5.4 million, and next year it will increase to £7.3 million. We have also published a victims' charter which sets out in detail the advice and support available to victims.
§ Mr. Martlew
In March this year I wrote to the Home Secretary on behalf of the Cumbria police authority asking him to ban the sale of skeleton keys, which are a major problem in the north-west. They are used in crime and can be bought for as little as £50. A Home Office Minister replied that he did not intend to take any action against the free sale of such keys. Surely the right hon. Gentleman should be doing something practical instead of waffling on like this.
§ Mr. Baker
I have given way a great deal and I must pursue my arguments now.
Since the House last debated the Queen's Speech, Lord Justice Woolf has produced his report on the riot at Strangeways. In a White Paper I announced the acceptance of virtually everything in that report. We have introduced the largest measure of reform of our prisons this century. Many of the improvements are already in hand.
The House will know that I announced that slopping out, which is a degrading practice, should be eliminated by December 1994. This was faster than Lord Justice Woolf recommended. Already the building and plumbing programmes for that are well in hand.
Many other changes are also being introduced. They include the number of extra visits that prisoners have from their families. I know that that concerns many hon. Members. Pay telephones are being provided throughout the prison system. The training of prisoners is being improved. Education opportunities have been improved and increased so that prisoners have a chance of learning a skill which will encourage them to lead non-criminal lives when they are released.
Since 1987, the number of prison officers has increased by some 4,700, an increase of 27 per cent., at a time when the prison population has fallen by about 3,000. I am glad 358 to tell the House that next year we will increase the number of prison officers by a further 1,600. To staff the new prisons which are coming on stream, we are recruiting and training prison officers at the unprecedented rate of 2,500 a year.
I am also glad to tell the House that tomorrow we shall be awarding a contract for the private management of the new Wolds prison in Yorkshire.
The House will also know that in the Queen's Speech we announced that there would be a Bill creating the new offence of prison mutiny, which will carry with it a maximum sentence of 10 years. We will also increase the penalties for aiding and abetting escapes to a maximum sentence of 10 years.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
Can the Minister explain why, 18 months after the Strangeways riot, 760 prisoners are still being held in police cells in the Greater Manchester and surrounding areas? Is it not time that these people were held in proper prisons instead of these degrading circumstances?
§ Mr. Baker
The hon. Gentleman has come in right on cue, because I want to deal with that matter now, as the House would expect me to in a debate of this kind.
We are about a third of the way through the biggest ever prison building programme, which is going to increase the number of cells over the next two or three years by several thousand.
Unfortunately, at the moment—I agree with the hon. Gentleman about this—we have far too many prisoners in police cells—about 1,800 a day. This is fairly close to the maximum that the police can deal with. It should not be the duty of police officers to look after prisoners in police cells.
The reason for this is the unprecedented surge in the prison population over the last few months. There are 3,000 more convicted and remand prisoners than the experts predicted. This has occurred at a time when some prison accommodation is out of use as a result of the Strangeways riots, and it bears particularly heavily on the Greater Manchester force. Over the course of the next few months many more places are becoming available.
The present problem is exacerbated by a number of industrial disputes in our prisons. I am glad to say that disputes at Pentonville and Wakefield have been satisfactorily settled. Threatened industrial action at Birmingham and Brixton has been suspended. We are doing everything we can to resolve the disputes at the other prisons. I do urge the Prison Officers Association to take to heart the recommendations of Lord Justice Woolf about industrial action. The population of a prison should not be determined by the Prison Officers Association.
To assist with the pressure before Christmas, I have decided that the new young offenders establishment at Brinsford, which is just north of Birmingham, should be brought on stream early. That will allow us to stop using the prison at Brockhill for young offenders and instead keep it open on a temporary basis to hold adult prisoners.
If the prison population continues to rise, we will have to consider calling upon the assistance of military personnel on a temporary basis. I do not judge it necessary just at this moment to do so, but this is a subject which I will hold constantly under review.
The Asylum Bill is one of the most important in the Queen's Speech. Many people are now leaving their own 359 countries, and claiming to be political refugees. We have a proud centuries-old tradition in our country of welcoming those who have a genuine and well founded fear of persecution. We will continue to provide refuge for such people, but we cannot accept the abuse of this tradition.
The purpose of our Bill is to distinguish quickly, fairly and openly between the genuine applicant and the bogus applicant. Genuine applicants will be allowed to stay, and indeed will have the right for their families to be reunited with them. Bogus applicants should be returned to the country from which they came.
The Opposition motion calls for rights. The Labour party will therefore welcome our Bill, which creates two new rights: a right for all applicants to appear before a tribunal, which some applicants do not have today, and a further right of appeal to a court of appeal, which also does not exist today. It is recognised across the whole of Europe that action on these lines has to be taken. Every country in Europe is taking similar action.
I was therefore astonished when, at the Labour party conference, the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook stridently promised to oppose this Bill. I will remind the House of his words. He said of this Bill:I make this absolute promise. We shall fight that shameful proposal in Parliament with the ferocity that comes from deep and abiding contempt that it could ever have been considered and put before us.
§ Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
I am fully behind my right hon. Friend, but did I understand him to say that everyone will have a right to go before a hearing? On 2 July he said in the House:The Bill will provide for accelerated handling of clearly unfounded cases. An adjudicator will be able to dismiss an appeal without an oral hearing upon deciding that there is manifestly no substance to the claim."—[Official Report, 2 July 1991; Vol. 194, c. 167.]Is that still true?
§ Mr. Baker
As I said in last week's press release and as the immigration rules and the rules issued by the Lord Chancellor stipulate—I hope that we will have an opportunity to debate these matters soon—the Bill will attempt to shorten the determination process to three months. The decision by immigration officials of the Home Office will take a month, and there will be eight weeks after that for the appeal process. Some manifestly unfounded cases may not go to appeal. It is up to the adjudicator to decide that.
§ Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
A moment ago, the Home Secretary said that every applicant for asylum would have the right of appeal to a tribunal. I see the Under-Secretary nodding at that. The right hon. Gentleman made a statement in the House about a fast track procedure under which some applicants would be sifted out immediately and would not have the right of appeal—at least not the right of audience in an appeal or representation in an appeal. The adjudicator would deal with the papers there and then. If that is the case, the Home Secretary's statement of a few moments ago is wrong.
§ Mr. Hattersley
A moment ago, the Home Secretary said that every applicant for asylum would have the right to go to an appeal tribunal, and his hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) rightly picked him up on the point. If that were the case, the Bill would be very different from the one that is being presented. The hon. Member for Lancaster rightly said that what the Home Secretary called the fast-track applicant will go not to a tribunal but to an adjudicator with no new evidence.
§ Mr. Baker
Even today, some claims are manifestly unfounded. Some applicants arrive from Canada claiming refugee status. There are a few each month. Every refugee applicant will have the right to appeal to the adjudicator. That was set out in our papers last week. Opinion polls over the weekend showed 80 per cent. support for the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman's determination to oppose the Bill shows an abiding contempt for the feelings of ordinary voters, including no doubt many in his constituency.
It is not for me to offer helpful advice to the right hon. Gentleman, but I shall do so: when in a hole, one should stop digging. Only a week ago, the right hon. Gentleman appeared on BBC Radio's "The World this Weekend" and dug with the vigour of a navvy. First, he pooh-poohed the idea that the number of those claiming asylum was continuing to rise. He said:I only admit there will be some few—not very many—but a few, who will apply bogusly.If the right hon. Gentleman believes that, he is in the most solitary position in Europe. His attitude betrays staggering complacency.
I shall give him the figures of refugee applicants for the past three months. In August, there were 3,300; in September, there were 3,500; and in October, there were 4,400. The problem is not getting smaller; it is growing. If the right hon. Gentleman were responsible for the matter, we are assured that today he would be doing exactly nothing about it. His hallmark on this issue is complacency and indolence. He needs to stir himself.
§ Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)
My right hon. Friend says that we are to continue our tradition of offering a haven to refugees. It is important for him to define a refugee. During the recent troubles in India, many of the people who came to this country and who said that they were refugees from oppression by the Indian Government were proposing various forms of armed or violent protest against that Government. Are they to be defined as refugees? That was a real issue during the troubles in the Punjab and had a real effect on Wolverhampton.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. In accordance with practice, the Home Secretary is required to reply before giving way again.
§ Mr. Baker
The definition of refugee is laid down in the United Nations convention. I do not think that it is possible to change that definition. A refugee is defined as someone who suffers from a well founded fear of persecution, and the process has to determine whether such a fear is well-founded. That determination process is carried out by the Home Office and the adjudication tribunal.
§ Mr. Baker
The purpose of the Bill is to distinguish between the bogus and the genuine refugee applicant.
The problem affects the whole of western Europe. I was at a conference in Berlin on Wednesday that was attended by ministers of the interior for the Twelve and for the countries of eastern Europe. Several parts of Russia and the new countries of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were also represented. They were all very alarmed by the prospect of substantial movements of people. This year Germany expects to receive applications amounting not to 50,000, which is the rate approached by the United Kingdom, but 250,000 non-German speaking refugees. The Germans say that they cannot absorb that number, and country after country is saying the same. Hon. Members will be aware of the unpleasant aspects in political debates in some countries in Europe. I am taking action which I am sure is responsible and necessary.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
Will the Home Secretary confirm that his adviser on race matters, the Commission For Racial Equality, have made representations to the Government that their proposal to withdraw legal aid from applicants would leave the Government in breach of the provisions of the Race Relations Act 1976? In order to override that, they intend to introduce a statutory instrument.
§ Mr. Baker
I do not accept that interpretation. As I made clear in July and as the Lord Chancellor made clear, the provision of green form legal aid will be withdrawn when other services are available, but not until then. The House will appreciate that the Government provide funds for green form legal aid and for the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service, a body which represents refugee applicants at the initial process of determination and at the tribunal hearing.
§ Mr. Corbyn
Will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to condemn the campaign that is being mounted in some sections of the popular press? That campaign is racist in intent and is against the interests of people who are seeking asylum from situations of great danger. The Home Secretary is promoting his Bill by saying that people who are fleeing from political or social oppression do not deserve to come here and do not deserve political asylum. Because of his fast-track methods, such people may well be returned to face even greater danger to themselves and their families in the countries from which they have come. The proposed legislation undermines the principles of the 1951 Geneva convention.
§ Mr. Baker
That is absolute rubbish and I expect the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook to condemn it as such. That is not the purpose of the legislation. I am not prepared to condemn the various newspapers which have written about this subject in a responsible way. There is genuine concern about this problem. The Opposition pooh-pooh the matter and the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook says that it is not really a problem and that the 362 numbers are going down. He would do nothing about the problem, and that is why he is unsuited to hold the office of Home Secretary.
I have tried to show the real gap between Labour and the Conservative party and Government on matters of law and order. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook is happy to describe himself as a socialist on many occasions, although the advice from Mr. Mandelson is to drop the word. Only last weekend, the right hon. Gentleman said:For socialists, constitutional reform is not an end in itself. It was one of the ways by which a more equal society can be created.It is clear to the right hon. Gentleman that for him the banner of rights and freedoms that he would wave represents a very different set of outcomes from those in which Conservatives believe. For the Opposition, the subjects of this debate are strictly for the realm of rhetoric. The rhetoric of socialism claims to enhance rights, but the practice of socialism invariably extinguishes and restricts peoples' rights. The rhetoric of socialism talks of freedom, but the practice of socialism involves the restriction of personal freedom.
People will not give up lightly what they have gained under this Government, and they will not easily embrace a creed that has been rejected by so many nations in recent years. I am glad that at the next election the choice will be between conservatism and socialism. Nowhere will the difference be more marked than in the attitudes towards law and order.
The Labour Government neglected and cut resources for law and order, and the right hon. Gentleman sat at the table agreeing to those cuts. We have shown our commitment to law and order as a major issue. It is what concerns most people. I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that indolence, sloth and complacency are not enough.
§ Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
There is only one thing to say about the Home Secretary's speech: I have heard more intellectual contributions from Lord Waddington on the subject, and I never believed that I would make that statement about anyone holding the office of Home Secretary.
Let us return to a serious discussion of the subject before us. Inevitably, two aspects of the Gracious Speech have focused special attention on the Home Office. They are the inclusion of the Asylum Bill and the absence of any commitment to action against what we still—inappropriately—refer to, as the Home Secretary did today, as joyriding.
The absence of the joyriding Bill, to use the misnomer adopted by the Home Secretary, is not the only surprising omission. The legislative programme should have included a criminal justice Bill to prohibit conviction on confession evidence alone, to bring some consistency into a chaotic sentencing policy and to give statutory rights to the victims of crime. The programme should also have included a Bill to deal with the crisis in our prisons, by implementing at least part of Lord Justice Woolf's report. Above all, the Gracious Speech should have included a crime prevention Bill.
Today, we debate a legislative programme that could have been proposed only by a Government who have no purpose other than hanging on to office for a few more 363 months. Extraordinarily, the Queen's Speech does not even include the usual platitudes, promising, in the words of last year's speech; that the Government wouldvigorously pursue their policies in fighting crime.This is the first Queen's Speech for 20 years not to make such a general promise. I can only assume that the words were left out because an assurance "vigorously" to continue "fighting crime" would have raised only a horse laugh when offered by a Government with a record of this Government on this subject. They preside over the fastest increasing crime rate in our history.
At the beginning of his speech, the Home Secretary went to some lengths to compare what life on this subject was like under a Labour Government in 1979 with what it is like under a Conservative Government now. He failed to make only one comparison—that on crime rates. That is hardly surprising, as the crime rate has doubled in the 12 years since the Conservative party was elected on a promise of law and order.
The Home Secretary excused the appalling record on law and order by saying that, for every year since the war, the crime rate has increased by 6 per cent. on average. So it has, but last year the crime rate increased by 18 per cent.—three times the average—and the Home Secretary had nothing to say about that, and not a single mention of that subject appears in the Queen's Speech.
§ Mr. Tredinnick
Is it not a fact that, under the Labour administration, police pay was on a disastrous slide and policemen were leaving the force in record numbers? How does the right hon. Gentleman reconcile that with what he is saying?
§ Mr. Hattersley
I can make three points. First, it is not true that police officers were leaving the force in record numbers. Secondly, the report on police pay which led to police being properly paid and allowed public forces to expand was initiated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) and me during that Labour Administration. Thirdly, we did not need as many police officers when the crime rate was 50 per cent. of what it is today. The Home Secretary will not focus on the fact that, after 12 years of Tory administration, the crime rate has risen and there is not a word in the Queen's Speech about how the Government propose to deal with that.
There is the repeated, and inevitably broken, promise to regenerate the inner cities, but the Prime Minister arid the Home Secretary have been explicit in rejecting the connection between crime and deprivation, so that is nothing to do with contributing to more peaceful streets and safer homes. The Government, who have failed to combat crime, have, judging by the Queen's Speech, given up the battle altogether.
The Home Secretary has at his disposal the framework—[Interruption.] Perhaps I should have a brief pause in the hope that the Home Secretary will begin to listen to the debate. The Home Secretary will have at his disposal the framework of a crime prevention Bill—the Morgan report, prepared by a working party in his Department, which sets out a series of practical measures which, were they implemented, would reduce crime. They include better street lighting, more secure pensioner flats and bungalows, the demolition of derelict property and a social programme aimed specifically at unemployed and 364 disadvantaged young people—a programme which the Home Secretary despises, but which everybody else regards as central to the fight against crime.
The Morgan report echoes and repeats the essential elements of the crime prevention programme set out by the Labour party two years ago, including proposals that local authorities should be given specific responsibility for crime prevention. The proposal that the Home Secretary chose to scoff at is a proposal from his Department. Furthermore, it has already been adopted by the progressive and most successful local authorities.
The Home Secretary always represents Labour local authorities as failing in their duties on crime prevention. I say "always", but it is not quite always. On 30 October, the Home Secretary issued a circular boasting about the success of the safer cities project and he listed four local authorities that he thought were particularly to be commended for their action in this sector. He mentioned four schemes that he thought were a paradigm that other local authorities should copy. They are a reduction on domestic burglary on a housing estate in Wolverhampton—Labour; a reduction in crime in car parks in Nottingham—Labour; the introduction of a new security system in central Birmingham—Labour; and the improvement in home security in pensioners' housing schemes in Lewisham—Labour
Every one of the examples of a good crime prevention policy was from Labour local authorities, but today, in a trivial way, he scoffs at them. He must understand that the legislation that we want to involve local authorities in crime prevention is intended to bring the laggard Tory authorities up to the level of the Labour authorities about which, on other occasions, the Home Secretary boasts.
These proposals should have been backed up by a real increase in resources and in police manpower. I repeat what the Home Secretary ignores but cannot deny—there is not a chief constable in England or Wales who believes that his resources are sufficient for the task that he is required to perform. There has been an increase in numbers over the past 10 years, but the obligations on the police have grown far faster than the resources.
Let me remind the House of some of the new tasks imposed on the police. For example, there is the operation of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, highly desirable, but highly complicated. They have also to enforce the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, the Road Traffic Act 1991, the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 and the Football (Offences) Act 1991. There is also the supervision of remand prisoners in police cells, neighbourhood watch, the arrest of visitors who overstay their visa date and the massive increase in crime itself. All this has imposed an enormous extra burden on the police, and the increases in manpower have done nothing to match these new tasks.
Because of those new tasks—I quoted only a few of them—police forces are more overstretched than at any time this century. Let me tell the Home Secretary what the chief constable of Cleveland told me last Wednesday. He estimated that over the past two years, his resources had increased by 3 per cent., but his obligations had grown by 30 per cent. He also said that it was no good the Home Secretary announcing a higher establishment; higher establishment levels were of no use or interest to him, because his authority did not have the money to employ the additional policemen.
I offer an even more startling example from Derbyshire, an authority which Conservative Members enjoy deriding. 365 The police authority in Derbyshire has recently been the subject of what is clearly an adverse report from Her Majesty's inspector of police. I do not know how many Conservative Members who study these matters know what the inspector said. In paragraph 2.35 of his report he stated that not enough money was spent on the police in Derbyshire because the authorityhas chosen to spend precisely the amount determined by the standard spending assessment for the police.The complaint against Derbyshire is that the money spent on the police was what the Government required the authority to spend.
In paragraph 8.10, the inspector stated that plans to recruit extra officers in Derbyshire were abandonedas a result of community charge capping.It is the Government's funding programme which must, and does, bear the brunt of the blame for inadequate policing. The Government go into their dying months without any proposals to match resources to obligations and, therefore, to mount a real assault on crime.
Nor do the Government, as the Home Secretary made clear, pathetically, have any proposals for constitutional reform. The debate on the role of Parliament, the method of voting and the power of the Executive has passed the Tory party by. In every other party, there are healthy debates on these matters. There are healthy discussions between all the other parties.
The sole Conservative contribution to the discussion on the constitution and its necessary reform has been a press conference. It was called in August with the specific purpose of announcing that the party had nothing to propose on the subject and nothing to say about it. It seems that our matchless constitution is incapable of improvement. That has been the policy of the Tory party from Wellington to Major. Even so, constitutional change will come, leaving Conservatives as outdated on the government of Britain as they are on Britain's role in Europe.
The next Queen's Speech will announce a legislative programme that will include devolved government for Scotland—a Scottish Parliament. It will include also a freedom of information Bill, but that will be only the beginning.
§ Mr. Keith Raffan (Delyn)
The right hon. Gentleman has told the House that a Labour Government would introduce a devolution Bill for Scotland, but what about Wales? Why has Wales been left out? Will he tell us when a Bill for Wales would be introduced if the Labour party were returned to power?
§ Mr. Hattersley
If I had not given way to the hon. Gentleman, I could have given the waiting Principality the information that he seeks 10 seconds earlier. I said that devolved government for Scotland and a freedom of information Bill would be only the beginning. Comprehensive constitutional reform is essential to the re-establishment of genuine democracy, and that must include devolved government for Wales and the English regions.
In the summer, the chairman of the Tory party——
§ Mr. Hattersley
The hon. Gentleman has got it, but does not want it.
In the summer, the chairman of the Conservative party, in a moment when he euphorically believed that there would be a November election, said that the policy of his party was to trust the people. The Labour party is prepared to trust the people so much that it proposes constitutional reform that will protect them from autocratic and insensitive central Government.
Of the Bills that the Government are prepared to risk, we shall support the Charities Bill. The Home Secretary did not, I think, mention that measure during his introduction of what is a slim programme by any standards, and we might have expected him to mention every item within it. We support the Charities Bill. We believe that it is important to reinforce the public's trust in registered charities. The Woodfield report made it clear that to achieve and justify their trust it is necessary to make substantial changes to charity law, and we certainly intend to co-operate in bringing about those changes.
As well as the Charities Bill, the Government have found time for what I suppose could be described as two major Bills. The first measure concerns the new offence of prison mutiny. It is a promise to the Tory party conference that the Home Secretary did not subsequently forget. The Conservative party has been over the ground of prison mutiny before. A White Paper—Cmnd 9920, which was published in 1986—examined the case for creating such an offence and rejected it. The Home Secretary of the day told the House that there was no case for such legislation. If I ask what has happened since then to change the Government's mind, I have no doubt that the Home Secretary will reply, "Strangeways."
Let us consider the relevance of the proposed Bill to Strangeways. At the time of the riot I supported—I still do, against the background of a good deal of criticism from both sides of the House—the sensible and moderate action that was taken by the Government. I should have known that sooner or later a Conservative Home Secretary would want to make an obeisance to bone-headed opinion in the Conservative party.
Let us recall what happened when the riot took place at Strangeways. Desperate men were on the roof trying to set the prison on fire. The Home Secretary told us that some of them were made even more irrational by a gross misuse of drugs. The ringleaders were serving life sentences for murder. The Home Secretary told us that some had attempted to murder other prisoners. Only those attending a Tory party conference could imagine that such men would look at one another round the chimneys on the top of Strangeways and say, "Hang on a minute, we've forgotten the prison mutiny Bill. We had better go straight down and surrender to the prison governor."
It is clear that Lord Justice Woolf could not imagine such a fantastic situation. At the Home Secretary's invitation, Lord Justice Woolf examined the prison system and the prison service, but did not propose the introduction of a new offence of prison mutiny. Instead, he proposed a programme of practical reforms. These included reforms to tackle overcrowding, to ensure the speedy resolution of grievances and to establish the efficient management of the service.
367 We welcome the end of slopping out and the increase in visiting, and support and congratulate the Home Secretary on those grounds, but the right hon. Gentleman's response to most of Lord Justice Woolf's recommendations was a series of half-promises and commitments to take action at some future unspecified date. One essential recommendation—a precise statement of every prisoner's obligations and rights—is to be tested in a pilot scheme, which will not even begin until 1992–93. Another major recommendation—a firm limitation on prison numbers and a duty on the Home Secretary to report to Parliament when the total has been exceeded—was ignored. We must therefore presume that it was rejected.
The prison system is in chaos. It is caught in a vicious circle. Judge Tumin said that Brixton was unsafe because it was overcrowded, and that the overcrowding must be ended at once. That was his recommendation. Overcrowding itself, however, has prevented the recommendation from being implemented. Brixton prisoners were supposed to be removed to Belmarsh, but the number of remand prisoners in police cells has meant that transfers have had to be postponed.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mrs. Angela Rumbold)
§ Mr. Hattersley
I see that the Minister of State is shaking her head. If she reads the ministerial reply to the debate on London policing that took place a week last Monday, she will find that the Under-Secretary of State told me—this is in Hansard—that the Belmarsh transfer had been postponed because of overcrowding in London police cells.
Despite that background, the Home Secretary makes no attempt to solve the crisis. Instead, he attempts to deflect attention from his failure by provoking confrontation with prison officers and introducing the generally pointless prison mutiny Bill. The Bill will do no harm to anything or anybody except the right hon. Gentleman's reputation. We shall therefore see it through, with whatever improvements and amendments we are able to introduce against the barrage of unthinking support that I expect for the Home Secretary.
The House will recall that the Brixton fiasco was blamed by the Home Secretary on junior civil servants, none of whom, it seems, are to be the subject of disciplinary action. I was one of the few participants in the prison debate who did not call for the right hon. Gentleman's resignation. I was chivvied and chased from programme to programme by journalists of every sort, who thought that I was negligent in my duty in not demanding that he should go. I have no doubt that the House will hear some of my hon. Friends echoing the opinion that it was a failure on my part not to demand his resignation. Not only were everybody in the media and most people in politics demanding his resignation; even the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler) was critical—and when he is critical, the Government must be in a terminal state.
I said—and I repeat today—that the Home Secretary's failures should result not in his resignation, but in his staying in office for the few remaining dying months of the Government to clear up the mess that he had made. Even today, I do not altogether give up hope of his beginning that task. He knows that it requires a great deal more to put the prisons right than a prison mutiny Bill. That Bill 368 will be written off by history as just another one of the placebos intended to see a beleaguered Home Secretary through his party conference. It will join the short sharp shock and the electronic tag in the graveyard of gimmicks that mark the last resting place of failed Ministers.
The prison mutiny Bill has not yet been presented to Parliament, yet it was announced in the Gracious Speech—and quite right, too. Why, then, was the measure designed to deal with joyriding not included in the Gracious Speech, whether or not it was ready for presentation? Its omission has been explained in two conflicting ways. Some Ministers said that it was regarded as appropriate for private Members' legislation; others said that the Government would introduce the Bill when was ready. Both excuses are patent nonsense, although at least on this occasion we were spared the Home Secretary blaming the mistake on junior officials in his Department. The truth must be that the Government had no intention of proceeding with the Bill until the public outcry on the day of the Gracious Speech.
I want to make the Opposition's position absolutely clear. Three years ago, the Government decided that car theft should be dealt with summarily in magistrates courts and be subject to a maximum sentence of six months. The Opposition supported that proposal, and we still do. Were we to revert to previous law, the courts and the prisons would be swamped. More important, a large number of young men who should not be sent to prison would receive custodial sentences. However, that being said, there is no doubt that the change in the law—which I repeat we supported, and for which we take as much responsibility as the Government—has resulted in a severe problem. It is a severe problem for the police, for car owners, and especially for residents in areas where cars, once stolen, are driven recklessly and dangerously.
I can best illustrate the problem for the police by again repeating what I was told last week by the chief constable of Cleveland. He said that, because of the Attorney-General's guidelines and the attitude of the Crown prosecution service, it was often difficult even to get a car thief to prison. In Cleveland, such offenders can be cautioned as many as seven times before being charged. Attempts are now being made to identify young men—some of them might more properly be described as children—who are likely to become constant offenders. Initial attempts are being made to divert them from their activities.
The Home Office has led the way in one sense. Its Standing Committee on Crime Prevention reported on the examination of 4,500 young men guilty of car theft who were required to undertake a special training scheme. Of the 4,500 so required, only 100 offended a second time. That is an essential first step—diverting the first offender from reckless irresponsibility and dangerous practice. We want the Government to promote many more such schemes, backing them with an obligation under the law.
I have no doubt that, for those who continue to offend, prison must be the final sanction. If the Government were to introduce a Bill which first backed the non-custodial sentences, but stipulated prison as the punishment for constant or aggravated offences, the Opposition would support it. I look forward to having a more constructive and concise explanation, in the near future, of what the Government really intend in that area.
I come now to the Asylum Bill, and I wish to make it clear immediately that, if the Bill's purpose was what the 369 Home Secretary unctuously pretended, and what the Gracious Speech suggested, no one would oppose it. No one wants or would be prepared to support the entry of bogus asylum seekers, and the fraudulent applicant must be rejected. However, the genuine applicant fleeing from persecution must be given sanctuary. That is our obligation under the 1951 United Nations charter, but if the Bill becomes law in its present form we will no longer adequately fulfil that duty.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I must get a little futher on with my speech, but I shall bear the hon. Gentleman in mind.
§ Mr. Hattersley
The hon. Gentleman need not get excited, as I will not forget him.
Some of the proposal's supporters will be interested to learn what the Gracious Speech actually says about the Asylum Bill. Apparently, the intention is no more than to enable applicants for asylum to be dealt with quickly and effectively. That is the version to be submitted to the European Court of Justice and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. If that is the Bill's only purpose, why does the Home Secretary attempt to make the country's flesh creep with stories about 7 million Russians moving west? That is what the right hon. Gentleman told the Tory party conference. Even here, addressing a far less gullible audience, he came close to warning us that 7 million Russians were moving out of the Soviet Union towards the democracies of the west.
The right hon. Gentleman may like to know that this year 117 Russians have applied for asylum in the United Kingdom and he may want to tell us—and I shall give way immediately if he were to be gracious enough to grant me the audience that I seek—[Interruption.] I shall go throught the whole passage again for the Home Secretary's benefit. It is well worth repeating. Speaking to the Tory party conference——
§ Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington) is constantly interfering with Ministers.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I do not want to take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton), but I am grateful for the activities of the PPS. It was clear from the Home Secretary's speech that he did not understand the provisions of the Asylum Bill, so anyone who can impart that information to him as the debate proceeds is to be welcomed.
The Tory party was told by the Home Secretary that 7 million Russians were preparing to move west. Last year, 117 applied for asylum in the United Kingdom. Which figure does the Home Secretary think is the most realistic estimate of what will happen next year—117 or 7 million? The Home Secretary sits there, knowing that he conjured these figures out of the air with the aim of worrying people about a potential problem that is the grossest exaggeration of the position that this country faces.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I want to avoid the hon. Gentleman having a heart attack, so I shall give way to him.
§ Mr. Nicholson
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I am in the best of health. A week before my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary addressed the Conservative party conference, the right hon. Gentleman said that the Conservative party would try torevive its flagging fortunes with a squalid appeal to racism.How does the right hon. Gentleman justify that appalling remark? Was he referring to the Asylum Bill, which is supported by 80 per cent. of the electorate? Is he therefore attacking that 80 per cent? In view of his remarks about my right hon. Friend resigning, should not the right hon. Gentleman resign today?
§ Mr. Hattersley
Had I not been aware of the facts from my hard experience, I would have known them today when the Home Secretary endorsed the front-page leads that appeared in the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and The Sun three weeks ago. I do not believe that anyone who did not have the most squalid attitude to these matters could have done anything other than condemn those three front-page leads. If any further evidence of my assertion is necessary, the Home Secretary provided it today.
§ Mr. Shersby
Leaving aside whether it is 7 million Russians or 117, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is a serious problem facing Britain—a sophisticated racket which is resulting in a substantial number of bogus asylum seekers coming to Britain, running this year probably at the rate of about 1,000 per month? Is not that a problem which needs addressing by both sides of the House?
§ Mr. Hattersley
Of course it is a problem, but it is a different problem. I have made it clear that I do not wish to see and would not allow in the bogus asylum seekers. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short), not here today but usually assiduous in her attendance at these debates, has been pressing the Government to take legal powers to punish severely the agents of bogus asylum seekers and immigrants. The Government will not do that. I would, because the people who make money out of the misery of such poor people should be prosecuted with the greatest possible severity. I want to tackle the real problem. My complaint, as I propose to go on to show, is that the Home Secretary is not tackling all of the real problem and is trying to frighten the country by overstating it.
§ Mr. Corbyn
Will my right hon. Friend concede that the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987 and the fines on carriers of people into Britain who are subsequently not admitted have encouraged the growth of unscrupulous agents all round the world, enabling them to make a great deal of money out of the misery and sorrow of some poor and desperate people?
§ Mr. Hattersley
Clearly, the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act is not working. A number of things are happening. One is that unscrupulous carriers and agents are letting people in despite that Act if such people underwrite the fine that they might be required to pay. That is abominable and should be stopped. Many carriers 371 are not paying their money to the Government and, as I understand it, the Government are not finding out how much they owe or making them pay.
British Airways is coming to see me tomorrow to complain that, first, it is treated as an immigration official, which it does not want; secondly, it does not believe that it is capable of carrying out the task, making the point, which the Home Secretary does not understand but BA does, that someone escaping from a tyranny is unlikely to have queued in the capital of that tyranny outside the British high commission or embassy in order to get papers; and, thirdly, thanks to the absurd Act which is not working, every legitimate passenger on BA is required to pay more for his ticket in order to enable BA to pay the tax. The Act is a farce and a fiasco, but it is not the main principle to which I take such great exception.
§ Mr. Kenneth Baker
Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that if he had responsibility for these matters he would dispense with that Act?
§ Mr. Hattersley
I would go for the people organising the trade. Just as I would go for drug traffickers more than I would go for drug addicts, so I would go for immigration traffickers more than I would go for immigrants. The Home Secretary's failure is that he will not go for the root cause; he just goes for the easy answer and the easy policy.
§ Mr. Baker
Other countries are introducing legislation on exactly similar lines. Some countries already have it and other countries are about to have it. At the conference that I attended last week in Berlin, one of the clear declarations of all the countries that attended was that they should bring in such penalties. The right hon. Gentleman must tell us clearly whether he is in favour of the common carriers' liability remaining or will he take the legislation off the statute book? Yes or no, please.
§ Mr. Hattersley
The question is not susceptible to being answered yes or no. The Home Secretary knows perfectly well that I have said that we shall improve a measure which is at the moment unjust and ineffective by attacking the people who do the trafficking in illegal immigration. That is how the matter should be dealt with.
I want to deal with the central issue of what the Home Secretary still claims to be his attitude of wanting no more than a fairer and faster system of asylum application adjudication. If that is all he wants, why did he talk in Blackpool of the alternative to his Bill being an open gate policy? He knows that to be untrue. Why did he speak of millions of asylum seekers wanting to come to Britain? He knows that to be absurd. The idea of Poles, Czechs, Hungarians and Romanians flooding into Britain is preposterous. By confusing the problem facing Britain with the problem facing Germany, he is simply pandering to prejudice.
I make it clear that I believe that the Foreign Secretary is right to insist that we apply our own system for the examination of asylum seekers and the control of immigration. We believe that, within the Community, border control must be a national responsibility, and we shall support the Home Secretary in that. Our situation and the situation in Europe are different. [Interruption.] I hear the Home Secretary crying, "Good," but it is the Home Secretary who pretends otherwise. While the Foreign Secretary is in the Hague saying that our immigration situation is different from that in Europe and 372 we need to have our own regulations, systems and border controls, the Home Secretary is in England talking about 7 million Russians, Poles, Czechs, Turks, Hungarians and Romanians.
We are firmly on the side that the Home Secretary has rejected. The immigration situation in the United Kingdom is special to us and the distinction must not be blurred by the pretence, in the words of the Under-Secretary of State on Friday, that people will walk across the borders, the normal way of seeking asylum. No one will walk across the borders into the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Hattersley
How do I know? I simply say that I do not believe that the principles set out in the Gracious Speech—speed and justice—are the Home Secretary's genuine intention.
§ Mr. Hattersley
Were speed and justice the Home Secretary's only intention, he would have proceeded quite differently. He proposes to withdraw legal aid, the green form scheme, from asylum seekers, and that proposal is intolerable. It is made no less so by his apparent attempts to bully the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service into taking sole responsibility for the representation of refugees—a responsibility which it has already made it clear it does not want to discharge. A man who fears imprisonment, torture and death should be allowed and is entitled to the lawyer of his choice.
Similarly, the proposed changes in the appeal system are equally intolerable. Let me now explain to the Home Secretary what they are. We want to see applications processed more quickly, but the fast track system is a simple denial of justice. Applicants refused under the fast track procedure have, in effect, no real appeal at all. They are rejected by an official. They are allowed what is misnamed an "appeal" to an adjudicator, but there is no personal appearance, representation or new evidence; there is just a re-reading of the original papers, and that is a mockery of justice.
The Home Secretary claims that any other system, a judicially respectable system, would take an unacceptable amount of time. But the general council of the Bar has offered discussions in the belief that a speedy and just appeal system can be devised. Why does not the Home Secretary even now take advantage of that offer?
Last Friday, discussing the matter, as reported in The Times, the Under-Secretary of State made what I can only describe as a shameful admission. He said that the new scheme would exclude some genuine asylum seekers.
§ Mr. Hattersley
If the Under-Secretary of State gives me that assurance, I am pleased to hear it. Since it was in The Times, the paper of record, I hope that we shall see a letter from him in that paper tomorrow or the day after making it clear that its distinguished correspondent, Mr. Philip Webster, got him diametrically wrong. I am delighted to hear what the Under-Secretary says and astonished that Mr. Webster, for whom I have such regard, could have made such an error.
If all that the Home Secretary wants is speed and justice, why above all else does he propose to penalise asylum seekers who demonstrate in Britain against the Government who persecute them? I will gladly give way to the right hon. Gentleman while he answers me this question. Does he really mean that if Kurds in Britain, refugees from Saddam Hussein, march to their embassy to protest against Saddam Hussein's enormities, their chance of asylum will be reduced? Whether or not that is what the Bill says, does the Home Secretary really mean that to happen? The right hon. Gentleman remains in his place, and he will understand why we reacted to his attitude with what I rightly described as contempt.
If the Bill passes into law, as we must assume that it will, despite our opposition, we will introduce a proper appeals system and restore the right to legal aid. That will ensure that the genuine asylum seeker is not turned away, and will restore the reputation that Britain has enjoyed for 500 years as a country that accepts refugees as a moral duty, in the understanding that we benefit from the acceptance of those refugees' citizenship.
The Home Secretary and the tabloid newspapers that he avidly supports choose to confuse asylum with immigration. They are distinct issues. No one I know wants the open-door policy on immigration about which the Government whisper. Primary immigration into Great Britain is over for ever, but I believe that the country wants a more compassionate attitude shown towards those immigrants who want particularly to join their families in this country. They are a small group, but we act against them in a way that prejudices the lives and happiness of British citizens.
I believe that the country would support the reunion of husbands and wives, and I cite a case as evidence of the Government's callous disregard for some British families. I draw the Home Secretary's attention to it again, having already done so in correspondence.
The man in question is a British citizen whose wife has for some years lived abroad. He now suffers from a disabling and possibly terminal disease, and is almost blind with cataracts. His solicitor suggested in the application for his client's wife to join him that by her coming to this country, a net saving in public funds would be achieved—because although the wife would qualify for benefit, the husband would require less expensive hospital care.
The husband's application was refused, and on appeal the adjudicator stated that he believed that allowing the man's wife into the country would produce a saving in public funds, but since to do so would result in an extra charge on one area of public funds, the law did not allow the application to proceed. However, the adjudicator recommended that the Home Secretary use his discretion and, out of compassion for the man and common sense in respect of public funds, allow the applicant's wife to enter this country. The Home Secretary refused to use his 374 discretion in that way. I do not believe that there is a family in the country who would regard the Home Secretary's decision in that case as anything but wrong.
§ Mr. Hattersley
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I am terrified out of my wits of what he might say.
The Home Secretary's decision lacked not only compassion but common sense. It could only be based on the principle that people should be kept out at all costs. How can the right hon. Gentleman justify such a decision? How can he justify many of the absurdities and enormities that flow from the existing regulations? I am not sure that the country or even the Home Secretary is aware of them. Does the Home Secretary appreciate how farcical they have become?
A British citizen living in Britain does not have an automatic right to be joined in this country by his wife, but a German, French, Belgian or Dutch citizen living in Britain does. A British citizen living in France, Belgium, or Germany has an automatic right to be joined by his wife. That is because we are required by the Community to act with common sense and decency towards its citizens, in the way that it acts towards its own citizens—but we are not required to act with common sense and decency towards our own citizens. In immigration matters, our own citizens are in an inferior position to those of the rest of the Community. It is no use the Home Secretary looking bewildered again, because all that is true. The fact that he does not know it is indicative of the right hon. Gentleman's entire attitude to the job that he does.
Let me astound the Home Secretary again. I tell Irish people living in my constituency not to take British nationality, for by doing so, they will sacrifice rights that they currently enjoy, because EC nationals in Britain have more rights than British citizens. That is palpable nonsense. The new Government must end the absurdities that cause so much pain and hardship—changes that will result in a small increase in immigration but an enormous increase in human happiness.
The absurdities that I described confront British citizens. It is our intention, by our charter of rights, to guarantee equal treatment to British citizens of every race and colour. The charter will outlaw discrimination on the grounds of race or gender, and will reflect the simple truth that the establishment of rights must be reinforced by the creation of real opportunities. It is no use telling a low-income mother that every job is available to her and leaving it at that. She can take only a job that offers flexible hours, and only if nursery facilities are available for her children while she is at work.
It is the understanding that, for millions of British men and women, freedom will not become a reality unless there are greater resources that teaches us that equality and liberty go hand in hand. Those are the twin aims of the Labour party, and they will be the twin aims of the Government who introduce the next Queen's Speech.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
It must be admitted by all fair-minded persons that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) is a very good 375 performer. He usually puts on a good show, but as most of us who study these subjects know, it is mostly show. It is not very impressive stuff to those of us who follow it closely—and if public opinion polls are anything to go by, the British people are not very impressed by Labour's law and order programme.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook made a strident attack on the Government's prison programme, but he hopes that everyone has forgotten that a Labour Government, with him as a member of the Cabinet, slashed the prison building programme, and did nothing to stop slopping out and other stinking aspects of the prison regime. The right hon. Gentleman was also scathing about the present crime figures, but hopes that everyone has forgotten that Labour backed the miners against the police during the miners' strike, thoroughly demoralised the police, and insulted the judges. Labour's incompetence in handling law and order matters was one of the prime reasons why the last Labour Government fell.
The right hon. Gentleman totally ignores also a factor that any reasonable observer would concede. Given that there are now 16,000 more police officers and effectively 26,000 more on the beat, of course more offences will be detected. Given also that such a high proportion of the population have telephones, that the police are more caring in dealing with offences against women, that greater consideration is shown by the courts, and that women are encouraged to report domestic or other types of assault, of course crime figures will increase. Given that an individual cannot claim insurance unless he can prove to his insurance company that he reported the matter to the police, of course crime figures will rise. So was the right hon. Gentleman telling us the whole truth, or was he putting on an act? If public opinion polls on Labour's law and order policies are anything to go by, the country certainly knows the answer to that question.
The right hon. Member jested about the prison mutiny Bill, saying that no prisoner would be deterred. We had a very good laugh. But if no one is ever deterred, why do we need criminal offences at all? Does the right hon. Gentleman believe at all in the power of deterrence? Does he think that it plays any part in the criminal system? This is the man who thinks that the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act is wrong, and ought not to be on the statute book. What credibility can there be fo r such a man, and such a party, on matters of law and order?
The Gracious Speech addresses three particularly important aspects of law and order. It will be widely welcomed except,—of course, by Labour. First, it is clear that something must be done to limit the number of bogus asylum-seekers: those who are certainly not in any fear of prosecution, but who pretend to be in order to jump the immigration queue.
How does the right hon. Gentleman explain to constituents who want their families to be brought into this country, as is their right under the immigration laws, but are held up by those who seek to jump the immigration queue? How, for that matter, does he explain to constituents who ask him why he has not helped them to obtain council housing that their problem is being caused by asylum-seekers whose aim is also to garner the advantages of a not ungenerous social security system?
As the world explodes socially, and as masses of people migrate from country to country, we shall all have to man our defences; otherwise we shall be swamped by the sheer weight of numbers of people, of every colour, who will 376 enter our countries. Half a million applications for asylum are expected this year by the European Community. Last year, Germany received a quarter of a million such applications, and the number of applications received by our country has risen from between 3,000 and 4,000 to between 50,000 and 55,000 over the past two years.
People have only to claim asylum; then they can lose themselves in the community for a year or two—or three—while their claims are thoroughly checked by efficient and committed immigration authorities. By that time, of course, it is too late to send them home. When they are found, it turns out that they have married, had children and done good works in the local church: in such circumstances, it is almost impossible to reject them. Moreover, three out of four do not land in Britain as terrified, impoverished, homeless outlaws; they arrive on ordinary visitors' permits, with no mention of fear of persecution, and refer to persecution only when their time as visitors runs out. It is therefore not surprising that, according to official estimates, 75 per cent. of such applicants are bogus.
This great humanitarian nation will always offer sanctuary where it is needed, as it has always done in the past. Nevertheless, we got fed up with being taken for a ride by those who exploit our good nature. The proposals in the Bill will do something very sensible: they will speed up the decision process, promote greater efficiency and, by not raising false hopes, lessen distress for thousands of people.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary: it would be ridiculous to have 30,000 lawyers paid out of the legal aid fund every time an appeal was made. Let me add, however, that if that system is not to prevail, we need to fund the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service—or some other independent advisory body—far more adequately. That must be done if the human rights of people with whom we are, of course, constantly concerned are to be protected properly.
§ Mr. Maclennan
The hon. and learned Gentleman said that, according to the official view, 75 per cent. of applications for asylum were bogus. I have heard no Home Office Minister say that. If it is true, why have 90 per cent. of those who have applied in previous years been allowed to stay?
§ Mr. Lawrence
As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is very difficult to send back a person who has been in this country for two, three or four years, and who has settled into a community. That would mean saying, "You must go back to a country with which your ties have been completely cut. You will distress your wife, your children and the rest of your family." Very few Home Secretaries, however hard-hearted, could face that. Very few could refrain from saying, "All right—on humanitarian grounds, we will allow you to stay." That is the simple explanation.
Let me ask the hon. Gentleman whether he considers it remotely likely that most of the people who come here not from the place of first asylum—and not proclaiming themselves to be in fear of persecution—but on a visitors' permit to study, can possibly and conceivably be in genuine fear of persecution on their return.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will take it from me that, whatever the reason for not sending back asylum-seekers, it is not the reluctance of the Home Office to send men out of this 377 country because they have lived here happily and peaceably for three or four years. I can provide him with long lists of people who had exactly that experience. The immigration rules are constantly interpreted in such a way that men and women who have been here for some years—overstayers—are sent back. Whatever the reason for the phenomenon, it is certainly not the one cited by the hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ Mr. Lawrence
I do not accept that. In my experience in my constituency, more have been allowed to stay for humanitarian reasons than have been sent back; and people have been sent back only if those humanitarian reasons are not very strong.
A few weeks ago, someone came into my surgery and said, "I am an overstayer: I suppose that I will have to be sent back." I said, "I think so." I arranged for him to go to the police station—as he was quite willing to do voluntarily—but he will become a statistic on the ground that he was sent back. As he had not settled here with a family, there was no humanitarian reason for him to be allowed to stay.
Secondly, something must be done to prevent people from rioting in our prisons and walking out of them. The prison authorities seem to have had inadequate facilities, laws or organisation to stop the appalling troubles that occurred last year, when the Home Office was made to look a bit silly.
Many years ago, I dealt with a case in which three prisoners climbed over the wall at Brixton prison. For many years, the wall was not raised to stop prisoners leaving, and since then others have done the same. Surely a prison service that does not improve its own perimeter security needs some attention.
§ Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman
Some years ago, a dear old lady knocked on the large gate at Lancaster castle and said, "Do you realise that there are sheets hanging out from the top floor of the prison, and two men have just shinned down them?" Lancaster is now secure, and it is an excellent gaol; but that shows that such escapes can easily happen.
§ Mr. Lawrence
I know what is secure: the population of Lancaster, who live under the care and governance of my hon. Friend, who speaks for that city so frequently and well in the House.
There was even talk in the newspapers of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary having to resign because people were walking out of prison. That, of course, was ridiculous; in other respects, my right hon. Friend has been a most effective Home Secretary. In any event, in this Bill he is taking the right action. The new offence of prison mutiny will carry a sentence that will make potential mutineers think twice—and their helpers, too. We always forget the helpers, but it is those who help who are often deterred by such sentences—even if the prisoner, in the heat of the moment, is not. The measure will be good for all of us: the taxpayer, the police, the prison officers and, in the long run, the prisoners themselves.
Thirdly, for a long time action has been needed to deal with the unsatisfactory state of charities in Britain. More people would give to charity if they were confident that their money would go to the charity concerned. The Bill will reduce fraud by strengthening the powers of the 378 Charity Commission, and by improving the financial management of charities. It will also reduce the amount of money—a fair amount—lost to the Exchequer, because some organisations call themselves charities without doing much charitable work. Charities are very big businesses, involving £15 billion a year. It is in the interests of everyone, giver and receiver, that these businesses are more efficiently run.
The so-called anti-joyriding Bill is not mentioned in the Gracious Speech, but I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for making it clear that he intends to do something about it. If that is the criticism to which the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook was alluding, I agree fully with him—that the Bill should not be called an anti joyriding Bill. It is not joy that is created when young people steal cars and kill other people. That is death riding. We ought to call it a death-riding Bill. Young people might then feel that it was less attractive to engage in such an appalling activity.
There are many more law and order matters for which no time can be found before the election, so the Queen's Speech said nothing about them. However, I confidently expect that we shall have at least five more years after the next election to deal with some very difficult problems. We shall have to think less about a larger police force and more about a more efficient police force—better managed, better trained and better organised. The report of the independent Police Complaints Commission, submitted last week to the Home Secretary, about the West Midlands police authority makes dismal reading. Something will have to be done about such management.
Our prisons need to be made more efficient, healthy and cost-effective. That embraces not just the privatisation of prison escort services, which is cheaper and takes some of the burden off the hard-pressed prison service, but the privatisation of prison buildings. There are excellent examples of that working well in the United States, of which we ought to take cognisance.
There ought also to be an expansion of the pilot scheme for privatising remand prison centres. Remand centres cause the most severe pressures on the prison service. There is not the slightest reason why those who have not yet been convicted of any crime should not be housed in privately run, decent, modern and healthy prisons. There would be less justification for letting persistent offenders out on bail to offend again while on bail—a considerable problem now—if there were more decent places to which to send them, whether private remand centres or private bail hostels.
Finally—only because this has to be a short speech—something has to be done about the appalling miscarriages of justice which seem to be coming to light on an almost weekly basis. Why do they occur? Usually because police officers lie, or forensic scientists come to false conclusions, or eye witnesses make mistaken identifications, or vital witnesses are not available or are not called or make a mess of their evidence at the trial. To prevent future miscarriages of justice, an end would have to be put, as far as possible, to such occurrences.
How do we do that? Human nature being what it is, it will probably be impossible to stop some police officers inventing confessions, or planting incriminating evidence when they believe the suspect to be guilty but have insufficient honest evidence to put before the jury.
The opportunity for wrongdoing has been greatly reduced since the 1970s, when most of these miscarriages 379 of justice took place. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 is now on the statute book. It lays down strict criteria for the production of police evidence and for the protection of suspects, breaches of which are liable to ensure the exclusion of their evidence. The new technology can detect dishonest note-taking. Above all, interviews with suspects are tape-recorded, which makes it almost impossible for the police to invent confessions at the police station. Eye-witness errors are being guarded against by newer and stronger warnings to juries to require the most stringent proof of identification. The DNA technology, coupled with improvements in the quality and availability of forensic services, should further help to reduce what are, after all, human errors.
A new, practical postgraduate vocational course for training barristers is in operation now, to help to sharpen the cross-examination weapon, one of the best yet devised for protecting the innocent. If a jury mistakenly convicts, despite these improvements, the matter goes to the Court of Appeal, which has the power to quash a conviction or order a re-trial. Those powers, which are very limited, have not been fully exercised in recent years, and they ought to be. A new look is being taken at the extent of the Court of Appeal's powers.
Once an appeal has been considered and rejected by the Court of Appeal, the next stage for correcting mistakes of fact lies with the Home Secretary. The process by which he refers cases back to the Court of Appeal gives people the wholly wrong idea that political considerations may enter into the matter. It would therefore be much better if the power to make reference back were handed to a small "ombudsbody" of former judges who understand the legal rules, perhaps supplemented by non-lawyers. That body would need resources to enable the investigation of matters which might change the picture earlier presented to the courts.
If, in addition, the Court of Appeal could overcome its reluctance to interfere with the jury's verdict on principle, the chances of perpetuating any miscarriages of justice that might have slipped through the new, improved safety network would be much reduced and public confidence restored.
The conviction of the innocent is only one kind of miscarriage of justice. The other is when the guilty are acquitted. While media attention has focused on the conviction of the innocent, we shall all be just as concerned about the acquittal of the guilty. The guilty, when set free, often commit more crimes.
At first sight, it looks as though the inquisitorial system on the continent would be very much worse than the adversarial system that we have here. These matters are being looked at by the Runciman royal commission. Even now it is applying its mind to the comparative advantages and disadvantages of the two systems. I hope that it will make more proposals that lead to the avoidance or the reduction of both kinds of miscarriage of justice.
It was unfair of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook to complain that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said nothing about these matters. Although the Conservative party would have loved to come forward with proposals on the miscarriage of justice—it would have been an excellent part of our programme in the forthcoming election manifesto—most responsibly my right hon. Friend took the only proper course: to refer all 380 these matters to the Runciman royal commission. When it reports, we shall then, in an objective and independent frame of mind, be able to proceed much more sensibly.
When we do, we shall have to address all the problems that the report reveals and the ways in which to deal with them, in the next Parliament. I hope that we shall be able to do so in such a way that public confidence is restored in our criminal justice system—which, I am sorry to say, has received a bit of a knock in recent years. That was not the Government's fault. The occasion for many of those knocks occurred before this Government came to power. It is only under this Government that those miscarriages of justice have come to light, and they have been properly dealt with.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
I appreciate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, having been given the opportunity to take part in the debate. The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) gave us the benefit of his legal experience. I pay tribute to the Home Office for the way in which it dealt with immigrants who came to Northern Ireland. According to my understanding and knowledge, those who were sent back were those who had avoided the due process of immigration and had kept others out. I pay tribute to the fairness of the Home Office in dealing with the cases that have come to my attention.
The right hon.Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), who has left the Chamber, seemed to be aspiring to be the next Home Secretary, but he appears to have forgotten that there is a land frontier between the United Kingdom and another nation. Some of those who travelled across that frontier were illegal immigrants. The right hon. Gentleman served as a junior Minister in the Northern Ireland Office, but his knowledge of what goes on in Northern Ireland is rather strange. He refused to give way to the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder). I was utterly amazed to discover that the right hon. Gentleman thought that the hon. Member for North Down did not want devolution.
I agree with what was said about joyriding. We do not have "joyriding" in Northern Ireland; rather death, destruction and tragedy are the result of young folk indulging in the habit of taking other people's vehicles and running around in them for all sorts of purposes.
I must put on record again in the House the fact that, although the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has granted the UDR Four the right of appeal, it would appear that the Crown solicitor is still withholding information from the defence. Apparently, the Crown is not required by law to provide such information. That is a miscarriage of justice. Four people, having served their community, have been confined for some seven years and now find that their right of appeal is being hindered by some legal technicality or misinterpretation of the law.
I suspect that tensions concerning rights, freedoms and responsibilities have been with us since the earliest days of humanity. The Old Testament has enshrined rights and responsibilities. The apostle Paul in I Corinthians 9 said, "Have we no rights?" He was prepared to forgo some of his rights, but I contend that the state is required to defend those rights for the benefit of its citizens.
I welcome the concept of a new charter of rights. Reference has been made today to the rights of victims. I should like to think that such rights will be dealt with 381 speedily. Tragically, from experience, I have discovered that Government Departments have not been speedy in dealing with the rights of victims of terrorism in Northern Ireland. I suspect that higher amounts of compensation have been paid to those who have been allegedly ill-treated by the state than to the victims of terrorism in the Province.
The idea of patients' rights sounds excellent but, having read the press and listened to what is going on, I suspect that the idea promises much but will deliver little. There are already signs that the rights are to be so qualified as to become ineffective. For example, it is said that no one should be on a waiting list for longer than two years. However, the little word "normally" is slipped in, so that it can be argued that there are extenuating circumstances. The "Yes, Prime Minister" syndrome seems to be working in Government Departments.
Seven years ago, while I was visiting Togo, the chief of Porto Seguro proudly showed me a walking stick presented to his ancestor by Queen Victoria to mark the emancipation of slaves in 1832. Some think that the abolition of slavery occurred in 1807. That might have been so in this nation, but it was not the case throughout the empire. Even in 1832, slavery was abolished only within the old empire. It was as late as 1970 that Muscat and Oman abolished slavery.
Amidst the challenges of human rights, including hunger in 1991, slavery remains, in the opinion of many, the single biggest human rights issue. When people in this nation argue against a minimum wage policy, it would be salutary for them to remember that there are hundreds of domestic slaves in this country who are grossly underpaid. Child prostitution flourishes in the world, involving an estimated 5 million children. At a recent anti-slavery function, it was revealed that there are some 50 million bonded labourers, many in India and Pakistan. Such issues should concern the House and its Members when we are talking about rights, responsibilities and freedoms.
We should stress responsibilities. One person's meat may be another person's poison. For example, we have been thankful for the improvement in the quality of our air with the development of clean air zones, but we must not be complacent. Many still claim the right to indulge in smoking, but they have a responsibility to care for those who may suffer from respiratory conditions. Secondary smoking has become one of the nation's killers. Now, faced with the curbs on tobacco advertising suggested by the European Commission, the tobacco barons and their advertising colleagues are striking back. They do so all in the name of freedom.
Life is more precious than profits, and the right to life is the most precious of all rights. I speak as a representative who came into the House as a result of the murder just 10 years ago of the then Member for Belfast, South. Thousands have been denied the right to life in Northern Ireland and Great Britain as a result of a body of dedicated terrorists seeking to impose their will upon the nation. It is long since past the time when Her Majesty's Government should take political and security decisions that would deny success to terrorists.
The visitors from the media who make great play on occasional visits to Northern Ireland about so-called human rights abuses would serve humankind better by 382 dealing with those who trade in human life—our greatest right. I know that the House is aware of the monstrous depravity manifested in my constituency on Saturday when a hospital was attacked by those who, through their elected spokesman in west Belfast, complain bitterly about so-called cuts in the health service. They have now left a hospital needing to be replaced as well as depriving people of their lives. The damnable hypocrisy of such people should be exposed by the media instead of spending time trying to blackball the upholders of law and order in the security sevices in Northern Ireland.
The House has applauded the spread of democracy in eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and even China and Africa, yet the United Kingdom Parliament continues to enforce upon the people of Northern Ireland bureaucratic and unaccountable government. Some 148 unelected and unrepresentative quangos spend £1.5 billion of the nation's money. The Leader of the House continues to thwart the will of the people and the recommendation of the Procedure Committee by refusing to bring to the Floor of the House a motion to set up a Select Committee for Northern Ireland.
I do not pretend that that would solve all our ills, but, I argue for the right of Northern Ireland to be governed as part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and for its Members of Parliament to be given a proper role in scrutinising the Northern Ireland office. I know that there are some in the House who say that, if we take part in more debates, we may have a greater impact. I have often sat here with colleagues trying to participate in major debates, and I know of the difficulty and despair as we are called back by the Northern Ireland Office and others to deal with issues that should be dealt with on the Floor of the House.
I recognise that there are some Northern Ireland Members who do not often grace the House with their presence. They have been arguing over the weekend that we should not have a Select Committee. The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) said that it was no substitute for devolved government. I admit that more needs to be done to restore accountable democracy to Northern Ireland, but a Select Committee would be a welcome move in the right direction.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East does not attend as regularly as he might. He may prefer to be a big fish in a small pool, but I believe that he and others could be more involved if they were given a role in this place.
In a recent broadcast, the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) showed lamentable ignorance of the process of Select Committees. He said that a Northern Ireland Select Committee would be out of sight, out of mind, and that issues would be debated upstairs rather than on the Floor of the House. He overlooked the fact that the Defence, Home Affairs and Health Select Committees are sitting. Their fine work means that hon. Members in the Chamber are better informed to fulfil their role of scrutinising the Government.
It is a shame and tragedy that there is no Northern Ireland Select Committee and that the Northern Ireland Office has run its own empire irrespective of the views of hon. Members. When will Bills such as those in the Gracious Speech be applied to Northern Ireland other than by an Order in Council, which does not allow us to debate and amend the legislation?
383 Select Committees play a pivotal role in modern Westminster practice. It is time that the Northern Ireland Office was similarly scrutinised.
§ Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)
With the exception of the speech of the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. M. Smyth), the debate has concentrated on the rights, duties and responsibilities of the Home Office. I should like to consider other aspects of that theme that are affected by the Gracious Speech.
First, and perhaps foremost, is the concept of the extension of rights and freedoms under the citizens charter, to which the House will return time and again. At this stage, I wish only to commend to the House the new approach to the enshrining of individual rights, responsibilities and freedoms by that mechanism.
I should like to concentrate on a matter that has not been mentioned, but where the rights and freedoms of individuals are as much affected as they ever were by changes affecting law and order and the Home Office. The Gracious Speech refers to a Bill that will radically transform planning procedures. I should like to use an example in my constituency to show how individual rights can be drastically altered and individual freedoms drastically curtailed without some of the processes being observed.
Last year, the Civil Aviation Authority advised the Secretary of State for Transport that an extra runway would be needed to serve the south-east—I emphasise "the south-east"—by the year 2005. One of the 10 options identified by the CAA was to use about half the runway capacity at Filton. By no stretch of the imagination can Filton be considered part of the south-east.
More than 40 years ago, Filton was considered for development as a commercial airport, but it was decided that the airport for the region—not the south-east—should be Bristol Lulsgate, which I am told by its management is still capable of considerable development. Forty years later, that decision, which drastically affects virtually everyone living in the region, is being reconsidered not because of any sudden growth in unsatisfied demand for air traffic to the Bristol region but simply because London and the south-east are not prepared to accept the traffic consequences of the airline movements that that region generates.
In the intervening 40 years, traffic patterns have adapted to prevailing airport space. Housing has been built around Filton to an extent and density that, on its own, would prove a barrier to airport development anywhere else in the world. The environment of the Severnside region has begun to be valued at its true worth, and the consequences to public health and living standards close to a major airport are beginning to be better understood.
When we consider the effects on the environment, which can only be considered under the heading of rights, freedoms and responsibilities, the answer to the noise of a major civil airport is not just double glazing—people appreciate the opportunity to sit in their own gardens. The so-called new quieter jets are by no means quiet if one's home is at either end of the runway. It is noticeable that, when one of the rare military aircraft lands at Filton, all work in neighbouring schools has to stop.
384 The Severn estuary is regarded in Britain and Europe as a major area of environmental excellence that requires protection. The right to enjoy the environment is an aspect of individual rights and freedoms that is only beginning to be explored, not only in this country but in the rest of the world. Yet that environment would be within the pollution footprint of a commercial airport at Filton.
If the airstrip at Filton did not exist, there would be no question of building it in the heart of the green belt, yet without any let or hindrance it is open to a Department to identify that airstrip as an area that is capable of producing untold misery for many thousands of people. Nowhere else in the world would housing development of the nature and extent that has taken place around Filton be permitted so close to a commercial airport. It has been reliably estimated that 25,000 houses would be directly affected by such an airport.
It can be argued that the planning process, even as it is proposed to be amended, is capable of dealing with such objections, but I suggest to my hon. Friend the Minister that that is not sufficient. A committee called RUCATSE—Runway Capacity To Serve the South-East—is eliminating nine out of 10 proposed airfields for the south-east of England. It will eventually make one or, at most, two proposals, and only then will my constituents have an opportunity to argue why their lives should not be disrupted, why their property should not be damaged and why their environment should not be made considerably worse by a planning process that will already have largely decided the issue by the decision to limit the consideration to one or at most two major places. It would not be so bad if the region I represent were to benefit from these proposals, but their purpose is to eliminate traffic congestion in a different part of the country.
I suggest—this is my reason for raising the issue under such a broad heading as rights, freedoms and responsibilities—that the actions of Government, which are under consideration in the form of the citizens charter and the various other charters that will emerge, need to address the extent to which people may be adversely affected by governmental decisions that are not open to public discussion from day one.
The reference in the Gracious Speech to accessibility to planning decisions, moving away from the non-consideration that frequently applies in dealing with private Bills to more matters being considered by local inquiries, is a major advance which is to be commended. Under the considerations that lead us to debate today the rights and freedoms that will be established by the citizens charter, we need also to consider how we can develop those rights and freedoms much earlier in the planning process.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. I remind the House that, between now and 9 o'clock, speeches must not exceed 10 minutes.
§ 7.1 pm
§ Mr. David Young (Bolton, South-East)
I watched the Home Secretary on television addressing the captive audience of the Conservative party conference on the subject of joyriding. That tough speech was perhaps only equalled by the deafening silence in the Queen's Speech on that subject. "Joyrider" is just a euphemism for a potential killer in a car. Between 1 September and 30 October, 12 385 youngsters died because of joyriding—some were the children slaughtered in Liverpool, some were the people who had stolen a vehicle.
Car theft is not a new phenomenon. Some of the causes are the social deprivation and hopeless unemployment resulting from the Government's policies. That must be set against the concepts laid down by the Government—that the main thing in life is instant material satisfaction and that an individual should seek his own advancement, no matter what the cost to the community and to ordinary people. The real casualties of joyriding are people in the community: the law-abiding citizen whose vehicle is misappropriated; the nurse who comes off a late shift to find her vehicle gone; the disabled person whose car is stolen or vandalised; the lad who is trying to hold on to a job with unsocial hours, having experienced years of unemployment, and who finds his means of transport taken; and the member of a family who is slain because of joyriding.
Yesterday, I sought information from the senior police officer covering Bolton. In 1990, 3,235 cars were stolen compared with 3,764 in 1991—an increase of 16.4 per cent. The detection rate was 26.4 per cent. in 1990 and 37.2 per cent in 1991—an increase of 10.8 per cent. Even on those figures, the criminals are showing a comfortable dividend.
When I talked to the police, they said that their problem was not detection but the person who repeatedly offends while on bail or the person who has been caught and let off and who reoffends—the habitual offender. Each of the nearly 4,000 cars that are stolen represents a personal tragedy in one way or another, either to the family who own the car or to the families of those who are killed. It is about time that we gave some thought to the victims in my constituency who suffer because of joyriding.
I ask for a credible and effective deterrent. I am in favour of rehabilitation, but there must be custody for someone who reoffends. That is better than having children slaughtered in the streets by a high-powered vehicle that is out of control. The real casualties are my constituents, many of whom are not well off. They abide by the law, but their vehicles may be misappropriated or damaged.
Now I turn to the Asylum Bill. No one argues that there is not a problem because of the number of alleged refugees, but I quarrel with the Government's plan to remove legal aid. It may be that a lawyer cannot represent someone during an immigration appeal, but it is a poor immigration appeal if a case is not prepared properly. Legal advice is a key factor in providing justice.
I come from the area where a high proportion of the population orginally came from overseas. I am well aware of the excellent job done by the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service, but it is neither geographically placed—it has no office in my constituency—nor legally resourced to advise on or to prepare cases. The removal of the right to legal representation—which is what happens if legal aid is abolished—will prejudice not the person who tries, without justification, to get into this country but the person who needs to do so for the sake of his and his family's safety. A law on such terms will not be in favour of better immigration procedures but will be a blow against democracy and for those repressive Governments who make people flee for their lives.
386 I find it difficult to understand that in this country, the mother of democracy, we should take rights from genuine refugees in the hope of providing a fast track to get rid of people who wish to come here for safety. This approach is no help to me in a community which for a long time has successfully sought to build a multiracial society. Whatever one may say, those most affected by this proposed legislation will come from the non-white races, and that lesson will go home to every multiracial community as discriminatory.
I also find it reprehensible that we are using the airlines to do the job of the immigration service. People who work abroad for the airlines are trained to deal with tickets; they are not trained to survey immigration documents. By introducing the change, the Government are doing no favours either to the airlines or to the passengers, the cost of whose tickets will increase. More than that, the Government are doing no service to the legitimate refugee who may find that he is deprived of his life or his future because, in the interests of no longer interviewing people properly, he is refused at the point of entry. For all those considerations, I ask that the proposal be reconsidered.
Many of us come from constituencies like Bolton, that have successful multiracial societies. When the subject of immigration is emotively raised, it appears that the intention is to target those who come from the third world and from nations whose skin colour is different from ours.
§ Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)
I will concentrate on one or two local matters which fit in neatly with the debate. In the Gracious Speech, the Queen said:My Government will continue their fight against terrorism in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. They will vigorously pursue their policies to combat drug trafficking and misuse of drugs, nationally and internationally.I have been sounding out the Government on the idea of introducing legislation to isolate solvent abuse and glue sniffing. These days, there are many other substances that youngsters can sniff and with which they can kill themselves, not realising the great danger. A doctor who is as concerned as I am about the problem said that such youngsters virtually drown in their own blood because they destroy the tissues in their lungs. There is a terrible second danger, because the youngsters may destroy their thinking capabilities—their brain cells—and they will be reduced to vegetables.
I have said that the problem should be put on a higher plane even than smoking. We had a very able private Member's Bill in the previous Session which sought to prevent tobacconists from selling tobacco substances to youngsters under the age of 16. It is pretty easy to identify cigarettes and it is pretty easy to put up warning notices in tobacconists' shops. It is pretty easy to make tobacconists answerable in terms of their scrutiny of various customers. The Bill was excellent and went through with all-party support.
I propose an even more serious Bill. In a hardware shop there may be 20 or 30 different canisters that can kill. There is no real warning on the cans. They must be marked with an easily identifiable emblem, whether a skull and crossbones or red for danger all over the can. The cans must be isolated from the normal shelves. The person in the shop must identify the need for the substance. If a youngster wants three or four tins of a substance, the proprietor should be on the alert. Perhaps the Government 387 will take up that proposal, or if any hon. Members are lucky in the private Members' ballot, they may take it up. If I were lucky, that is what I would do.
My second point does not concern joy and death riding, although I realise that it is a terrible new sport. In the vast estates in my constituency, I have been trying to combat gang warfare. There are gangs of youths who terrify all. I do not want to overstate the problem, but I have been informed that they have been able on several occasions to smash a supermarket that was kept open to 9 pm for the convenience of the shoppers in the area. I made a call on the supermarket last week. It now closes at 6 pm and there was no one in the supermarket except a cashier who looked—and I hope that I am not doing her an injustice—terrified. The gang has made a whole row of shops there put up steel shutters and it is destroying an excellent facility.
A Mr. Sheath, whose name appeared on the front page of my local newspaper, was terrorised by a gang when his car was smashed and windows were smashed. He called the police and the police did what they could, but they do not have the numbers to organise constant surveillance during the hours of darkness. We all know how difficult estates are in the summer when the children are off school, but they are even worse in the winter when the children gather. We all know of children's playgrounds that have been ripped apart. We all know of gangs gathering round the homes of old-age pensioners. We know that when we are canvassing it is a litte difficult to get people to come to the door at night, not because they are terrified of us, but because they are terrified of coming to the door. I had to make that point clear. Some people, certainly the elderly, live in great terror in certain parts of our cities.
I was heartened when the Home Secretary said a t the conference that he would provide another 1,000 police. I said in an open letter to my local paper that in Southampton, we should have 250 more. Normally we apply through the Hampshire chief constable for about 50 and generally, after a Solomon-like decision, we get half that number.
The crucial point that I am trying to make is that such youngsters must be apprehended and must be dealt with by sentencing and not by bail. The overstretched social services, the probation service, the police, the parents who cannot control some of those youngsters, the teachers in the schools and everyone, including the Member of Parliament and the councillors, must work together to find a solution, otherwise some of the estates could become no-go areas in which the old get out during daylight and everyone gets back home before dark. There must be a firm process of law and order.
I was rather dismayed by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), although I realise that he has to face several ways on these emotive issues. He seemed to have a namby-pamby and softly, softly approach to the necessary law and order. We cannot allow our citizens to be persecuted after dark, and a firm Home Secretary has to make the right decisions and fight his corner with the Treasury.
We are told that there will be a new penalty of six months to two year. I hope that it is not bail, bail, bail and then perhaps six months and then perhaps two years. All hon. Members are conscious of the fact that criminals are getting younger. Some of the children's courts do not 388 know how to deal with them. At the end of the day they go on bail and, unfortunately, they go on to commit exactly the same crime.
It should be much more difficult to get into cars and more alarm systems must be fitted. If one pays the price for an expensive car, it must have the best security that the manufacturer can fit. If insurance companies grade their insurance policies according to a car's security system, I am sure that motor manufacturers will seek to introduce better systems. I visted the motor show at Earl's Court the other day as a guest of the Association of British Insurers. That association now offers a vast number of insurance bands—about 14—and some will offer cheaper insurance if one's car is less likely to be damaged because of suitable security.
I am keeping my eye on the clock and I believe that I have about three or four minutes left.
§ Mr. Hill
I just want to say a few words about the Asylum Bill. That legislation had to come. We all know that more and more refugees of whatever category will come to Europe. We must have a structure to enable those refugees to be given a fair hearing. That structure should not allow economic refugees——
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
Among the rights that it is important to debate in the Chamber, perhaps the democratic rights of the citizen are among the most important.
Many observers of the debate will find it strange that it has been devised that, as spokesman for the Liberal Democrats on Home Office affairs, I am entitled to speak for 10 minutes only in a debate lasting the whole day. That is a reflection on the failure of the procedures of House of Commons to recognise the strength and support that the party to which I have the honour to belong enjoys in the country. I hope that they will be amended soon and in accordance with the recommendations of the Select Committee on Procedure.
It cannot be said that we live in a democracy simply because an Act of Parliament prescribes from time to time that the Prime Minister must call an election. The art of governing in a democracy involves listening. Democracy is a dialogue, not a series of barked commands issued from time to time by the Government and ended only by changing the tenant at No. 10 Downing street.
Most of the failures of the Government, and theree are many, can be traced directly to their unwillingness to listen. The centrepiece of the Gracious Speech, the introduction of a new local government tax, would have been wholly unnecessary if the Government had listened to the case against the poll tax. The right hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) would not be looking for new ways in which to give London a voice if he had listened to the clear voice of Londoners who opposed the abolition of London government in 1986. Today, Ministers might not be crying foul at those who question their commitment to the national health service if they had listened to the outcry, even from their own Back Benchers, against the introduction of charging for eye tests.
389 I ask Conservative Members to recall that it was Edmund Burke, one of their heroes, who said:In my causes I have known and, according to my measure, have co-operated with great men; and I have never yet seen any plan which has not been mended by the observations of those who are much inferior in understanding to the person who took the lead in the business.The Home Secretary stands head and shoulders above his colleagues as the Minister who does not listen. He is the Minister who did not listen to Judge Tumin who warned that Brixton could not safely contain high-security prisoners. He was the Minister who turned a deaf ear to the High Court, when it had forbidden the deportation of a refugee from Zaire, and prayed in aid sovereign immunity. He is the Minister who has announced that he will withdraw legal aid from asylum seekers in this country. In response to my intervention, he made it clear that he has no intention of listening to the Commission for Racial Equality, which has pointed out that that proposal contravenes the Race Relations Act 1976.
We shall have other occasions on which to debate the Asylum Bill at length and I hope that I will not be so confined in my remarks on that occasion as I must necessarily be today. The Bill is deplorable and disreputable and it will almost certainly cause us to be dragged before the European Court of Human Rights. It is certainly a violation of our international obligations under the United Nations convention of 1951. It denies asylum seekers the proper right to be heard and have their cases duly considered. The Bill will rob them of the right to independent legal representation, which is a grave injustice.
The other matters with a Home Office content referred to in the Queen's Speech are minor compared to what might have been included. The proposal on prison escapes is simply a smokescreen to cover the Home Secretary's negligence in the Brixton case. Violent prisoners are, of course, already subject to the full rigours of the law. The Home Secretary, by introducing such legislation in the dying days of the Government, is simply misguidedly diverting attention from the inadequacy of his response to the Woolf committee's programme for prison reform.
In the few weeks before the Maastricht conference, I ask the Home Secretary to raise with his colleagues the possibility of strengthening our protection against racial discrimination in this country by seeking an amendment to the treaty of Rome that would state clearly the Community's competence to legislate against such discrimination.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to seek to protect our citizens who live abroad within the Community by calling for a directive that will outline measures to combat racial discrimination. I ask him to support freedom of movement within the Community for all permanently settled third-country nationals, giving them the same rights as EC nationals with regards to employment, establishment and family unity.
The time has come for the Home Secretary to recognise that our citizens' rights are bound up with those who live in other parts of the EC. Some other countries that have not legislated on this matter should do so. Unless there is such legislation—I believe that it should result from an initiative of the Community—citizens will not enjoy the protection to which they are entitled.
390 It is not only the Home Secretary who is responsible for the rights or the abridgement of rights that the Government have perpetrated during their term. The Foreign Secretary, in his discussions with China, has abandoned the provisions of the joint Sino-British declaration of 1984 that guaranteed that judges from overseas jurisdiction could be appointed to the Court of Final Appeal. That international obligation, enshirined in the Basic Law, has been abridged by an agreement announced on 27 September. That agreement will curtail the right to appoint foreign judges, so our citizens in Hong Kong wil be exposed to the whim of the Beijing Government in the Court of Final Appeal, notwithstanding the Government's alleged support of human rights in that colony.
Other Ministers have also opposed the protections available under the law. The Secretary of State for Employment is currently seeking to oppose the Equal Opportunities Commission, which is seeking to protect women's rights as part-time employed people. The Minister is relentlessly pursuing through the courts the idea that equal opportunities legislation, although it is, by the admission of British judges, discriminatory, should not apply to part-time women workers.
The Government have an appalling record on rights. I wish that it could be said that we could look to the alternative, to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), with any degree of optimism, in the hope that he would show himself more sensitive to these matters. But he reaffirmed his position in an extraordinary article in this week's New Statesman and Society—that the adoption of a Bill of Rights with enforceable protections in our courts was to be postponed beyond the achievement of a socialist utopia. If he were at the levers of power he would be no more sensitive than a Conservative Minister. It was noticeable today that he would not answer the question about carriers' liability, although he was pressed to do so. The House will have drawn the conclusion that he has every intention of keeping the obnoxious legislation in place and using carriers as immigration officers. Had it not been so, he would have taken the opportunity to deny it.
Until the House is prepared to adopt as superior law fundamental rights against which we can strike down legislation that curtails the freedoms and rights of citizens, we shall fail in our obligation to protect the citizens of this country.
§ Mr. Iain Mills (Meriden)
The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) spoke of dying stages. If he wants to play undertaker, I suggest that he looks at the ashes of his own party, not at the vigorous programme proposed in the Queen's Speech. We look forward eagerly to many months of debates in Committee on some of these important measures.
§ Mr. Mills
Absolutely. I still look forward to it after 12 years. I quite enjoy Standing Committees and discussions with the statutory Liberal Democrat spokesman, who rarely appears—but we are kind to him when he does.
The Queen's Speech introduced several important measures. I fought in the early 1980s with my right hon. 391 Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbitt) on trade union legislation, and the right not to strike and the new legislation that we propose are vital.
We have increased police establishments. There are arguments over resources, but efficient police authorities can cope. The West Midlands authority will cope, having achieved much through civilianisation and putting more policemen on the beat.
The right hon.Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) talked about devolution and constitutional reform. His party apparently wants us in a federal Europe with a centralised bureaucracy under which we would be dictated to by non-elected people in Brussels. Yet the right hon. Gentleman talks about devolving power to Scotland, Wales and the English regions. That is illogical. Perhaps the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson), who is on the Opposition Front Bench, will ask her right hon. Friend to comment on that lack of logic when he returns. It defies logic to want devolution in this country and centralisation in a federal Europe.
Halloween has just taken place. Perhaps, in a Home Office debate, we should consider it for the future, especially the trick or treat phenomenon. I do not believe that this is a Government problem, but it is one with which communities are having to deal. On Saturday morning constituents came to my advice bureau telling me that pensioners in bungalows in Chiswick Green had bricks hurled through their windows—presumably that was the trick because the pensioners had not given a treat. Other pensioners in my usually well-behaved constituency had eggs thrown at them.
I cannot propose any real solutions yet. Perhaps there should be more national publicity warning older people in sheltered accommodation that young people who knock on their doors may cause them some harm. Perhaps greater parental control is the answer. Why are these young people out at that time of night indulging in these tricks?
I represent an area that includes the national exhibition centre, Birmingham international airport and Birmingham international station. All three have the biggest car parks in the United Kingdom, if not in Europe, and they are filled with luxury cars that are vulnerable, due to their design, to what my hon. and learned Friend the member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) and I agree are death riders.
Luxury cars in these huge car parks near the M6 are vulnerable targets. The thieves deliberately choose the highest-powered models and spray slogans on the back, such as "Chase me, Charlie", to get the police involved. They then go up to another part of my constituency, Chelmsley Wood or Castle Bromwich, where there are many walkways. There they perform high-speed runs. There has been one fatal accident and there have been many other serious ones. The death riders go to the end of the walkways, stop and run off. It is extremely difficult for the police to chase them without going in for the same sort of speeding. The fantastic Ford Cosworth and the BMW 7 series are the favourite models to steal, and the police have no chance of keeping up unless they too indulge in dangerous driving.
I seek an assurance from the Minister that the penalties that we shall propose against this vicious and dangerous crime will be severe so that they act as a deterrent. Solihull and Birmingham magistrates have told me of their 392 frustration when prosecuting these young offenders because of the difficulties of imposing stiff enough penalties under current legislation.
Earlier this year, I tabled a parliamentary question, to which the Minister replied that the Home Office had no plans at present to increase the maximum penalty of six months' imprisonment for taking a motor vehicle without the owner's consent. He said that, when those who have taken a car are convicted of reckless driving, they are liable to as much as two years' imprisonment, or five years if they have caused a death. What are the Government's intentions? I was worrried about their absence from the Queen's Speech, but I am delighted to have confirmation from many sources that the Government are to introduce a severe penalty.
Like most Conservative Members, I have been a committed European. What concerns me is that the removal of "Economic" from the title European Economic Community and the apparent delight on the part of Monsieur Delors and others at that fact both have a real impact on the affairs that we are discussing tonight.
I am worried about the effect of a federal Europe on our home affairs policies. I am speaking not just about immigration but about many other issues of policy. The Bill fairly to assess refugees who seek asylum is wholly justified. How would a federal Europe encompassing foreign and defence policy without NATO and the Americans allow us to provide for the protection of our people and formulate domestic policy on rights, freedoms and responsibilities? Are those things to be negated by means of a great bureaucratic dream of a socialist republic?
We must maintain our national sovereignty on all key issues. Before the referendum on Europe, I worked to make sure of an economic Community. Why have we left the single market and the economic Community apparently to seek what eastern European countries are now rejecting—central bureaucratic control? They are rejecting that with joy and moving towards freedom and individuality—which raises the question of access to a totally federal Europe of people from other European Countries.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
I welcome the opportunity to discuss rights, and stress that the one about which I am most concerned is the right of my constituents not to have their lives marred by crime. Britain needs more police. My constituency certainly needs more. Yesterday, I went to see the newly appointed chief constable of Greater Manchester to plead with him to provide more police in my constituency. Of course he would love to be able to provide more police in my constituency and in the rest of Greater Manchester, but that cannot be done because of the Government's failure to provide money to increase establishment.
I was delighted to hear that tomorrow's financial statement will propose money for an extra 1,000 police. I hope that that is true. Although 1,000 extra police sounds impressive, Greater Manchester would get about 50. When that number is divided among all the areas of Greater Manchester, my constituency might receive one extra policeman for three or four days a week.
I do not want to dwell too long on resources. The Government could have done much to improve rights at 393 no cost. We are all proud of the fact that we live in a democracy, but we cannot call it a genuine democracy if we deny people the information that they require to make decisions. It is tragic that the Queen's Speech contains no proposals for a freedom of information Act. Democracy is about much more than elections and votes. It is about having informed debate and, where possible, reaching consensus. There is not much point in asking people to vote every four of five years for a man in a grey suit or a dark suit, for someone with or without hair or for someone wearing a rose or a primrose. We must give them the information on which to base a decision. We will not have genuine democracy until we have a freedom of information Act.
I have often argued that it would be dangerous for the House to support a Bill of Rights which merely transferred power from Parliament to unelected judges. However, we are now in difficulties because we have signed the European convention on human rights, which means that we have a second-hand Bill of Rights providing very slow justice. That is unsatisfactory. We must search for a way to produce an effective Bill. I welcome the fact that the National Council for Civil Liberties has advanced a peoples charter with mechanisms which do not remove the sovereignty of Parliament but nevertheless try to enshrine rights. I hope that my hon. Friends will look carefully at those proposals.
The Data Protection Registrar deals with computer records, but it is a scandal that there is no system to control paper records. The police national computer No. 2 was brought into operation in the autumn without checks or safeguards. In 1978, the Lindop committee said that a national computer system for police records would have to separate factual information from criminal information and supposition. That has not happened and the Home Office does not seem to think that there is a problem. There is a major problem because, if there are 40 million records on the police national computer, it is high time we had a proper mechanism to control it and to allow people access to it. After the activities of the West Midlands serious crimes squad, it is essential to have proper safeguards for confessions on which people are convicted.
I shall now return to the subject of policing in Greater Manchester. The Minister of State, Home Office has not been particularly fair to the House in her answers to questions about what has happened in the aftermath of Strangeways. As she knows, I have tabled many questions and I have had an Adjournment debate. I received repeated assurances from Ministers that they are dealing with Greater Manchester's problems about looking after prisoners. The situation is now worse than it was immediately after the Strangeways riot. There are now 760 prisoners from Greater Manchester in police cells. Only 300 of them are in Manchester police cells; the other 460 are scattered around the country. Eighteen police forces now hold prisoners who would normally be in prison.
The Minister has been to Greater Manchester and knows that some of the cells in which people are being held are totally inadequate and unsatisfactory. That has been going on for 18 months and I understand that it has cost the Home Office £27 million. Probation reports cannot be prepared and solicitors cannot see prisoners effectively 394 when they are being held in police cells. The system is unfair to the prisoners and their families. Some convicted prisoners have served the whole of their sentence in a police cell. That cannot continue. Although the Home Secretary addressed the issue when I intervened, he has not come up with a satisfactory solution.
Strangeways has created another problem for Manchester police. A substantial number of officers have spent the past 18 months interviewing prisoners and collecting statements. Soon they will have to appear in court and present their evidence. That work means that those officers have not been on the beat in my constituency and in other Greater Manchester constituencies dealing with crime. The Government should have provided extra resources to take account of that.
I shall now deal with car thefts—so-called joyriding. I welcome what Stockport police and others have accomplished through vehicle watch. Perhaps they could take the scheme a little further and consider having three number plates on cars. The additional one would contain a vehicle watch number and it would be removed by the owner when he leaves the vehicle. The car thief would then have the problem of having to provide a third number plate. It might not stop sophisticated criminals, but it would certainly stop many kids who are tempted to take cars.
I urge the Government to be careful and not to rush through a joyriding Bill. Their rushed legislation on dogs turned out to be worthless. It has involved the police in much more administration and has given little benefit.
Policemen in Greater Manchester who have to chase criminals who have committed serious crimes increasingly have to go to places where the criminals have rottweilers, Staffordshire bull terriers or other such dogs. It is not very nice tip-toeing up to the door to canvass, or just to put a leaflet through it, but police officers who know that they have to go into the house quickly to try to apprehend a criminal are put off by the knowledge that such vicious dogs are behind the door. The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 has made no useful impact. I hope that the Government will not go through a public relations exercise on joyriding that will do nothing to solve the problem. This is a complex problem, which needs effective legislation.
In the debate on liberty and rights, we should emphasise that the first thing that a civilised society should have is an informed democracy in which people can make decisions based on genuinely free information. Once we can do that, we have to ensure that we confer on the people we do not like the same rights and privileges. That is extremely difficult. Too many of the policies in the Queen's Speech take away rights—for example, those of asylum seekers—and assume that other people can be subject to a different quality of life from that which we want for ourselves.
§ Mr. Chris Butler (Warrington, South)
Crime cannot be cracked and freedom cannot be guaranteed by the hard clamp of the law alone. With 5 million notified offences every year and only 40,000 prison places, prison cannot be the only answer. Nor can the harshness of punishment be any guarantee of rehabilitation. When convicts were transported to Australia in the last century and still 395 rebelled, their flesh was sometimes flogged off their backs to the extent that their shoulder blades shone like polished ivory, yet they still reoffended.
Our criminal justice system must be the long stop when homes and schools have failed to socialise individuals. Individuals are first taught respect for other individuals in the family unit, and if the family is weakened or derided, as it has been all too often since the 1960s, it cannot be surprising that there has been an increase in the blind selfishness of criminality. The permissive society has so often become the uncivilised society.
Many single parents are single parents through no fault of their own. Sometimes, it is a result of a personal tragedy. The majority of them strive courageously to bring up their children well, but I cannot help thinking that it is a handicap when a key archstone of the family unit is missing. When we came to power in 1979, the illegitimacy rate was 10.6 per cent. It has nearly trebled since then, to 28 per cent., which represents a social time bomb of nuclear proportions.
In some areas, single motherhood has almost become a local industry. It is embarked upon in order to obtain a council home and an independent income. All too often, these incentives seem to outweigh the long-term trap of dependency and relative poverty. The United States experience shows that things can get even worse. Broken families have become so common that whole neighbourhoods have become sinks populated by a violent under-class. Some United States politicians have developed a theory of "bridefare", in which fathers are forced to assume their responsibilities, even to the extent of being provided with workfare employment if they try to shuffle off their financial responsibilities on to the taxpayer. That is not a bad idea.
In education, we are still reaping the whirlwind of the 1960s. The louts production line in education must be stopped. Adventure methods, ill-discipline, a scorn for competitiveness and the "anything goes" attitude of the 1960s are all taking their toll. The British Institute of Management undertook a wide-scale survey of its members, in which they repeatedly said that school leavers were incompetent in mathematics, reading and writing. Those are the basic educational skills, as basic as the moral respect of one person for another. I hope that the new fleet of school inspectors will look at moral education as a priority.
If homes and schools are not made into the mechanisms of socialisation that they should be, our crime wave will continue. In the meantime, we must tailor law and order and strengthen it so as to maximise our protection. Therefore, I welcome the Bill against death racing, because that crime epitomises the selfishness of the lout.
I wonder how many of those death riders are already on bail. The Avon and Somerset police say that half the people arrested for car crime or burglary are on bail for another offence. In Warrington, 72 people arrested over a two-month period were already on bail. The chief constable of Cheshire is concerned about these bail bandits. He says that 10 per cent. of all criminals arrested are already on bail. In Bristol, that figure reaches 35 per cent. One Northumbrian youth admitted to 274 offences while on bail and the Northumbrian police believe that there would be 5,000 fewer offences per year if bail were more restricted.
The head of the Avon and Somerset police says: 396I am under pressure to reduce crime, but the law as it stands is tying one hand behind my back.Chief Inspector Brookes of the same force says:It is devastating to the morale of officers to spend hours and hours, sometimes days, dealing with the same offenders only to find them coming back again and committing more crime and to receive more bail.The chief constable of Northumbria says:The right to bail has to be graduated. You would not let a mad animal loose—you would lock it up.Too often, magistrates have released supposed offenders on bail in the teeth of police opposition. There have been suggestions of a separate offence of committing a crime while on bail. The United States has an offence of habitual criminality. Perhaps that is the way for us to go.
Police magazine of August 1991 highlighted the danger for us when it said:the small group of offenders who, in every area, account for almost all the domestic burglaries known to the police…are being arrested, and they pass in and out of the police hands with almost monotonous regularity…The bail scandal is a microcosm of what is bound to happen as this Government's policy of 'punishment in the community' takes effect…It's the criminal who takes the liberty. It's the community that takes the punishment.That is it. There is a link between the rise in crime and the number of persistent offenders, and it must not be ignored. If Government policy is to recycle these persistent offenders back into the community, ultimately the public will say no, and the policy will collapse.
Prison has the role of punishment and deterrence where the processes of socialisation have failed. It also has a legitimate role in containment. Police magazine of March 1988 summed it up when it said:Any sentencing procedure which allows the persistent offender to go on offending is a contradiction of the judiciary's first duty—to protect society.That should be our first duty as legislators as well.
§ 8 pm
§ Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)
The hon. Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) typifies Conservative Members on both the Government Front Bench and their Back Benches. When there is a success, they will take the credit for it; when there is disaster, they claim that they are not responsible. Unfortunately, many of the problems that are caused by young people are the result of the Government's policy failures. In many instances these are Thatcher's children, and the Government should take responsibility for their actions.
Crime is increasing in Cumbria, including my constituency. The area does not have inner-city problems and there is still a good quality of life, which we are trying to preserve, but last year crime in Cumbria increased by 36 per cent., one of the highest increases in the country. That had much to do with the Government's policies, and I see nothing in the Gracious Speech that will help to alleviate the problem. The Government are running away from crime prevention and I suggest that we should be talking more about prevention and less about what we do when we catch criminals. Surely it would be better if crime were not committed.
The Government believe in free market economics even when we talk about crime prevention, and the people are paying the price. They realise that when their bills come through the letter box. The cost of house insurance has increased by about £100. The rate of burglaries has soared in Cumbria as it has everywhere else. Are we seeing the privatisation of crime prevention? The cost of insuring a 397 car has increased by £100, or perhaps by £200, yet insurance companies are making massive losses because insufficient attention is being given to crime prevention.
If anyone had walked down the street where I live 10 years ago he or she would have seen no burglar alarms. Today, about 90 per cent. of the houses have alarms. The owners of the other 10 per cent. have large dogs. It costs £250 or even £500 for a good burglar alarm system, and then there is the cost of installing security lighting and security locks. Many citizens are paying about £500 a year to prevent criminals from entering their homes. Surely it would be more sensible to place an extra £10, £20 or £30 on poll tax charges to enable more policemen to be recruited to reduce the crime rate.
That is not the Government's way. They believe in the free market. They say, "Let the people look after themselves. If they cannot do that, that's too bad." Those who suffer from crime are, in many instances, not middle class or rich but the poor. Poorer people can ill afford to be robbed or in other ways to be the victims of crime.
The Government do not discuss providing any extra assistance for crime prevention. The Home Secretary ridiculed our proposals to give more crime prevention powers to local authorities. The responsibility for crime prevention that is with the police should remain with them, but the police will never give priority to crime prevention because they are always busy trying to solve crime. We need, therefore, to adopt a new approach.
A good doctor friend of mine did not believe in health education. He said, "If you give me an extra £10,000, I will save an extra three or four lives." If we give the police more money, more police officers will be employed to catch more criminals. As I have said, the police will not make crime prevention a priority. That is why we must give local authorities a role.
We must plan and design with a view to reducing crime when we build houses and estates. We must take crime into consideration. There is a well-designed shopping precinct in my constituency, St. Nicholas Gates, which is in a residential neighbourhood. Unfortunately, the design did not take into account the activity of boy racers, who made the life of the nearby residents intolerable. The boy racers were carrying on until 3, 4 or 5 o'clock in the morning. It has now been decided, after a great deal of fuss, that the precinct will have gates. If gates had been part of the design at the beginning, the boy racer problem would not have arisen.
I understand that building regulations will have to be altered to take account of smoke detectors and fire regulations. Surely some emphasis should be placed on ensuring that there is general security, so that there are fewer burglaries and fewer crime-related problems.
Many public car parks are not manned and are not illuminated. They present opportunities for car thieves and great worries for many women, who are terrified to enter them in the dark. Surely car parks should be manned and floodlit. That would reduce crime.
We believe that car manufacturers should improve the security of their products, and I understand that the Home Secretary has entered into serious discussions with them. There should be legislation to ensure that the manufacturers have a minimum security standard. There are minimum safety standards and we should introduce 398 security standards. Such legislation would mean that no motor car manufacturer would be at a disadvantage. That would be a positive approach to crime prevention. As I have said, crime prevention does not rest with catching criminals.
The Government have many reasons to be disgusted with themselves. They have created an underclass, which the hon. Member for Warrington, South mentioned. There was no talk of it 12 years ago. We may have had a working class, and we were proud of it, but there was no underclass. The Government have created a society which is devoid of the social qualities which we once knew, and they should not be surprised if there is an increase in crime. Their policy of dividing the nation between the rich and the poor has had its consequences. We must not make excuses for criminality, but perhaps that is a reason for what has happened.
Some of the most hardened criminals are those who left school and went to find their place in the labour market during the first Tory slump. Police officers will say that those people are the most hardened criminals, but we must do something to try to help them. If they are using violence, intimidation, firearms and weapons generally, however, they must be locked away, and in many instances for long periods. Decent citizens should not have to tolerate the anti-social behaviour that terrorises so many in urban areas and, in some instances, rural communities.
We need a policy for the future that will start to eliminate poverty, which is the breeding ground for crime. The Governemnt created the swamp and we have to face the consequences.
The process of justice needs to be quickened. The granting of bail has been criticised, but one of the reasons for it is the overcrowding of prisons and police cells. People cannot be kept in prison because our system of justice is too slow. Surely those who have been on remand for many months must have been insulted when an actor took a newspaper to court because it had accused him of being boring. Surely we should be doing something more productive with our courts than using them to deal with such trivialities. Similarly, many of those who have suffered industrial injuries must have been insulted by the action to which I have referred. I am sure that if the allegation of being boring were to be directed to politicians, there would be many law suits. The complainant received £50,000, which suggests to me that there is something wrong with our society.
Carlisle, and Cumbria generally, needs more police officers. We are asking for them. There are problems in rural areas as well as urban areas. When the police committee asks for 24 additional constables, I hope that the Home Secretary will agree that they should be recruited and appointed. In the past, the area has done extremely badly.
§ 8.9 pm
§ Mr. David Porter (Waveney)
I am grateful for the opportunity to make a brief contribution to the early stages of what will probably be the longest general election campaign in modern times. Even so, this is a shortened Session, and as we must wait until next year for the start of a fourth Conservative term in office, we must now get on with the measures contained in the Gracious Speech.
In considering rights, freedoms and responsibilities, we must consider the choice already afforded by Conservative 399 legislation. It is freedom of choice built on the view that it is individuals—not big brother, bureaucrats, councillors or even Members of Parliament—who know best. Whether individual voters, parents, taxpayers, travellers or patients, it is the individual who counts.
There is to be an offshore safety Bill. It is a relatively modest measure which should enjoy a trouble-free passage because it is welcomed by both sides of the offshore industry. I will not make a Second Reading speech now, but simply say that a safety culture built around individuals and the operating companies' involvement and responsibilities is the only way to ensure the safest possible working environment.
In education, extended parental choice has been a marvellous idea put into practice effectively. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State's tackling of the vested interests in education and the Government's push to put children first—individual children, which means putting parents alongside them—is to be applauded. Local management of schools, giving parents more information, and the assessing of schools, children and teachers have all been good ideas.
I sound one warning note about individual choice—it works in towns where parents can be given a choice of schools, up to the physical capacity of a school, but in rural areas that choice may be only theoretical. In many country areas there is no choice of school, doctor or pub. However, bearing that in mind, freedom of choice is best stimulated by exposing schools to some element of market discipline.
One of the themes of the 1990s that we can identify for ourselves—although what history will make of it we must wait and see—is the concept of government by charter, with the underlying idea that poor public service can be remedied by better management held by force and compensation to higher performance standards. One journalist in the Evening Standard last week likened the rain of these "whingeing charters", as he called the current spate of them, to confetti. I take the view that the charters go in the right direction. I suppose that any idea that catches a mood and a time will have many fathers. I know that my right hon. Friend and the Downing street team, the socialists with their council contracts, and the Liberal Democrats because they know a good bandwagon when they see one—and they must have seen one, because not a single Liberal Democrat is present—all claim to have sired the citizens charter concept.
In fact, the truth can now be told. It was not Downing street, the Labour party or the Liberal Democrats who sired the citizens charter—it was me, at least in the parliamentary sense. In May 1989 I first introduced a ten-minute rule Bill—the Public Service Contract Bill—which sought to establish minimum standards of public service with automatic compensation for failure. Of course, that Bill is now confetti, but it focused on local authorities, the Post Office and British Rail. Matters have moved on since then and those ideas are now very much on the agenda, and I am delighted by that.
Something that is not on the agenda, and that is disappointing, is a commitment to privatise British Rail quickly. There is a simple statement of intent in the Gracious Speech, but of itself that is not enough to stimulate a lumbering giant like British Rail into market-style change. Unless we can achieve that, the travellers charter will, at best, be only half-hearted.
400 When I think of the misery, the frustration and the anger caused to my constituents on the east Suffolk line, I despair. When the promised sprinters were not delivered on time, when the fares increased in proportion to the decline in reliability, when children are stranded because trains have broken down, when Conservative-controlled Suffolk county council subsidises the late night train, and when central Government grant for British Rail goes up, yet the service is still like a lottery, I despaired, I despair, and I will continue to despair until we give individuals, travellers, employees and taxpayers a real incentive to make it work—the freedom to succeed in the private sector.
All that leads me to British Rail Bills, and the fact that only now are we talking about ditching the procedures of 150 years ago. That is symptomatic of our failure sometimes to move on. The dawn of the railway age brought in that bizarre, cumbersome process of private Bills for new and altered rail lines and other works. I speak as an hon. Member who has served time on four such Bills during the four years that I have been in the House—the City of London (Various Powers) Bill, the Tees and Hartlepool Port Authority Bill, and the London Underground Bills Nos. 1 and 2. Therefore, I can speak of the experience when four hon. Members sit in quasi-judicial godliness hearing the arguments for and against.
We are all familiar with that quaint parliamentary phrase, "It may be for the convenience of Members", and then some information is imparted that is often for anything but the convenience of hon. Members. Sitting on a private Bill Committee is in practice, if not in theory, designed for the maximum inconvenience of Members, especially when the learned counsel are paid by the hour—at least, it feels like that—or by the ream of Committee paper. Of course safeguards are necessary for the environment, for local residents, for local communities and for the right to a decent quality of life, so I warmly welcome the transport and works Bill, which will defend the safeguards but speed up the decision process.
On the proposed council tax, I have just one point to make on the theme of individual freedom. The basis of the tax—a two-person household—is wrong; it should be one person. If it must be two, the 25 per cent. reduction for one is insufficient. In addition to the single people who choose to be alone, there are many hundreds of thousands of widows, widowers and unmarried people who do not choose to be alone, but are. They should have a 50 per cent. reduction if the tax is to be as fair as it needs to be.
I have not homed in on the word "rights" in my remarks. We used that word a great deal in the 1960s, when I had shoulder-length hair and many of my colleagues had even some hair. It is a word that trips too lightly off many tongues—often the tongues of those demanding rights without considering, in the same breath, the responsibilities. The theme of today's debate shows something of Labour party values. It promises the people the earth and excites them with talk of rights; it pays lip service to freedom and choice and to freedom of choice, and then it lets someone else have the responsibility of paying for it.
I support the programme in the Gracious Speech. I do see it not as the fag end of an old Parliament, but as the threshold to continuing non-socialist government in this country
§ Miss Joan Lestor (Eccles)
I want to refer to the Asylum Bill and to some of the comments made by the Home Secretary. The Guardian has nicknamed the Bill the national humbug Bill. Unless the Home Secretary or the Minister can answer a few questions, that nickname may remain.
I am not surprised that the number of people seeking asylum in this country or elsewhere has increased. We all know that repression, war, political persecution and many other matters in various countries throughout the world have now been forced to the forefront. The Home Secretary did not answer the question: what is the point of this country's encouraging people to resist that sort of persecution and to stand up and fight for their rights if, when things get too hot for them and they want to become political refugees, we say, "You can't come here, we don't want you"?
The Home Secretary and the Minister must know that, if someone is fleeing persecution or political oppression, that person does not have his documents with him. He does not run back and say, "Where is my passport? Where is my visa?"—[Interruption.]I wish hon. Members would not mumble when I have only a few moments to make my speech. Such people are caught in a terrible trap. If they try to falsify their documents, as many do, they are excluded.
If the Home Secretary is over-zealous in not allowing entry to someone who he believes is not a genuine refugee, and actually sends back a genuine refugee either to roam the world looking for somewhere to live or to persecution and possible death, he must face the reality of life for such people.
Next Wednesday, the Princess Royal will meet refugee children seeking asylum at the centre at Heathrow airport. She will later attend a seminar. She, more than most people in this country, knows something about refugee children and the problems facing them. I do not know whether she will be accompanied by anybody from the Home Office. I hope that she will, and I hope that that person listens to and understands the suffering and the plight of those children.
There are no special provisions in the Bill to deal with unaccompanied refugee children, but that does not surprise me. In June last year, the Refugee Council put forward proposals for a new voluntary agency to provide care and assessment for children newly arrived in this country. Although, in fairness, the Home Secretary whispered to me behind the Chair that discussions were taking place, the council is still waiting for a reply. At that time, we were talking about 30 to 50 children a year, but in August and September last year some 170 children fled from the fighting in Eritrea and their arrival in this country brought into sharp focus the appalling lack of resources, knowledge and skills that local authorities need to look after the children properly.
A Refugee Council survey of 17 local authorities revealed that 25 children were held in detention by the immigration service. It is disgraceful that a child should be detained in that way and I want an assurance from the Minister that that practice has now ceased.
Seventy children had to wait up to three months for a local authority to respond to their needs, many being moved more than three times in that period. A substantial number of them had no contact with people of their own culture and language during that time.
402 Those children were sent to Britain by loving families and friends who were anxious that their children at least should escape to a better future, free from the traumas of war and persecution. They arrived in Britain frightened, confused and lonely, and they look to us to do something for them.
We should not forget that, when war broke out in Britain, hundreds of our children were sent to Canada and elsewhere to escape the traumas of war. We have not yet ratified the convention on the rights of the child, but I hope that we shall. We are a signatory to the convention on refugees, but the convention on the rights of the child gives children the right to escape the oppression of war and its consequences. I hope that we shall honour that.
Because of the exceptional leave arrangements, those children were denied the right to be united with their families. We owe it to them to provide them with safety. We need a properly funded care agency to co-ordinate plans for their future. They need an expert allocated to them on arrival to act as an independent advocate, someone who can promote the rights of each child. They need to have their cases dealt with quickly and fairly.
The Government must recognise their responsibilities in the matter to local authorities through increased financial support for projects which can benefit refugee children such as day care, housing and language classes. They must also recognise their responsibility to the international community and especially to the third world through adherence to the spirit and letter of the United Nations convention on refugees and the convention on the rights of the child. Above all, they must recognise their responsibility to the children who experience the traumas of war and separation from close family only to be met in Britain by suspicion, inflexibility and a lack of compassion.
I hope that the Minister will explain why there is no mention of those children in the Bill, since that is what the Refugee Council understood it would deal with. I understand that the feedback from the Department of Health has been positive, but the Home Office said a short time ago that the Refugee Council would have to wait for the thorough review of the asylum procedures which has resulted in the Bill.
As the Bill does not address the problem and it is crucial that Britain should consider it, will the Minister give an assurance that a positive response to the Refugee Council's proposal is on its way and that we will be taking seriously our responsibilities to the world's refugees who are children?
§ Mr. John Browne (Winchester)
Two of the most fundamental of human rights are the right to a fair trial and the right of appeal. Those two fundamental rights are enshrined in clauses 1 to 4 and in clause 5 of article 14 of the United Nations international convention of 1966 to which Her Majesty's Government are a signatory. That convention applies to both civil and political trials.
Political show trials follow a classic structure. First, they are preceded by a secret inquisition or inquiry, at which the prosecution case is established. The accused is then paraded in front of the public for a sham trial, in which the accused is not permitted any of the normal rights of defence. The prosecution holds sway and the jury is fixed.
403 What is typical of almost all show trials is that there is no mechanism for appeal. That, in itself, is a breach of one of the most fundamental human rights enshrined in clause 5 of article 14 of the United Nations convention.
We are accustomed to thinking that political show trials happen only in foreign countries under regimes such as those that existed in Nazi Germany or communist Russia. The fact is that they do happen, very occasionally, even in our own country. The late Lord Boothby was subjected to one before the war, and one was slipped past the nose of the House on 7 March 1990. It is important that the House and country know something of what happened.
The accused was charged with no crime, just technical errors. He was therefore given none of the legal protections that the law normally affords to all those accused.
In examining my case, the Select Committee on Members' Interests systematically denied me almost every basic human right to natural justice. All its sessions were held in secret. None of the evidence was heard on oath. The onus of proof was placed squarely on the accused.
Contrary to Standing Orders of the House, I was not allowed even to attend and therefore to hear the evidence of the complainant or any other witness. I was therefore unable to cross-examine any witness in person.
I was specifically denied the authority to call witnesses in person for cross-examination. No representation was allowed to the accused. I was given no rights of discovery in order to put stolen documents selectively submitted against me into proper context.
No statute of limitations was imposed, with the result that great injustices were done by the vague but heavily coaxed recollections of witnesses of events some seven to 12 years earlier. Time pressures were allowed to affect the evidence sessions.
No prosecution case was ever made for me to answer. I was therefore given no structure and no knowledge of what points were considered important by the Committee. It was a vast case, involving some 20 companies over a period of some 12 years.
I was allowed to make no verbal defence to the Committee, but merely to answer almost 1,000 rapid-fire questions put by 11 prosecutors at random during long sessions. No declaration of interests was demanded of members of the Select Committee regarding their own relationships with witnesses. No requirement was made of members even to attend the evidence sessions on matters upon which they would vote.
Despite that catalogue of injustice, I was allowed no appeal. Again, that was in direct violation of article 14 of the United Nations convention.
The subsequent debate in the House was also subjected to quite deliberate and finely engineered pressures of injustice. In particular, there was no official Government-sponsored motion of clemency offered to Members upon which to vote. From the outset, hon. Members were encouraged in the normal parliamentary manner to follow the Leader of the House and vote for his amendment, thereby upholding the prestige of the House.
I was allowed to make not a speech but only an uncontroversial statement which the House was to hear in silence. I was therefore given no opportunity whatsoever to defend myself in the debate and was specifically denied the ability either to question or to challenge the speeches and interventions of other hon. Members in the debate. 404 The speeches of the Leader of the House and the Chairman of the Select Committee in particular were seriously misleading, but went unchallenged.
Despite all that, the tone of the debate was for clemency. However, the vote of the House was along strictly party lines and was fixed or whipped with the Government operating a payroll and informal Whip. We had the spectacle of hon. Members, despite the pretence of a free vote, not being free to vote according to their consciences even in a judicial vote upon a fellow Member.
Finally, to rub salt into the wound, the House changed the rules retrospectively immediately after my sentence. However, there was no mechanism for appeal against that judgment. Again, that is in direct violation of the United Nations international convention.
Here, for example, I ask the House to consider the dreadful implications of the undeclared interest of a member of the Select Committee. Sitting in judgment over me was a member of the Select Committee who was a friend of Mr. David Leigh, the chief complainant, and had a close working relationship with him, with an implied pecuniary relationship.
None of that was declared either to the Select Committee or to the House. In columns 935 and 936 of Hansard, the hon. Member even resisted the declaration. That Select Committee member pressed me very hard about a libel case that I had out against Mr. Leigh on the Sama and Chidiac affair. The libel case was sub judice——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. I am obviously listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman is saying, and I know that he feels strongly about the way in which he has been treated, but he is now getting close to casting aspersions on other hon. Members. If he intends to do so, can he assure me that he has given those hon. Members notice that he intended so to do?
§ Mr. Browne
At the end of the previous parliamentary Session, I signed early-day motion 1210 drawing particular attention to the matter.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am asking the hon. Gentleman whether he has given personal notice that he intended to make these remarks this evening.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Then I must ask the hon. Gentleman to move on to other matters and to leave that one. He has had a good run on that point.
§ Mr. Browne
I was referring of course to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), who is identified in early-day motion 1210.
My unintentional transgressions resulted in no financial gain to me, harmed no one, and neither influenced nor changed any Government policy. I was, however, subjected to a sustained denial of human rights and to deliberate injustice.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I ask the hon. Member to respect my judgment. He is now casting serious aspersions against other hon. Members. I am glad that he was frank with the Chair in admitting that he had not given notice of his intended remarks to the hon. Members concerned, and accordingly he must desist from that line of argument.
§ Mr. Browne
I respect your decision, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was offered a guarantee, described more fully in 405 early-day motion 1211 of the last Session, that I would not be punished by the House in any way, provided that I stood down from my seat. That offer was entirely unconstitutional, in that it sought to deny to my constituents the right to vote for or against their sitting Member of Parliament at the next general election. Worse still, it was a grave abuse of judicial power.
The House was grossly misled throughout that political show trial. I place on record the fact that I do not hold the vast majority of Back Benchers to blame in any way, for they voted and even spoke in complete ignorance of what was happening and of the facts.
The deliberate injustice of a political show trial still exists, even in our country.
I have submitted a formal appeal to my right hon. Friends the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister, in the hope that they, as honourable gentlemen, will move quickly and decisively in investigating my case and will bring it back to the House in Government time, so that such a thing will never again happen to another right hon. or hon. Member, as it happened to me and to the late Lord Boothby.
I hope that my right hon. Friends will respond positively to my request that the United Nations convention be allowed to operate freely in our country.
§ Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)
A subject mentioned only briefly in tonight's debate is that of constitutional reform—or as I prefer to describe it, the break-up of the Westminster system. Tonight's debate falls on the anniversary of another attempt to blow up the Westminster system, but I stress that it is my intention to change it by democratic means and the force of argument, and by no other method.
Our debate concerns in part the question of freedom, whose definitions include autonomy, self-government, and independence. By those definitions, the Scottish nation remains unfree while we debate freedom in the context of the Queen's Speech. Scotland remains neither autonomous, self-governing, nor independent. It could have chosen otherwise. The Scottish people could have opted, of their own free will, to remain part of the unitary Westminster state and of the indivisible whole that is the union of the United Kingdom. They have long had the perfect political vehicle for doing so, and it is called the Conservative and Unionist party, whose Members of Parliament form the majority in the House, and which is now the only political force in Scotland that still stands for the status quo.
The freedoms that the Tories offer come wrapped inside the Westminster state. They are the freedoms to choose private medicine, benefit from the assisted places scheme in private education, and personal tax cuts. They offer the freedom to say, "I'm all right, Jack", provided that is done under the Tories and under the Union Jack of the Westminster state.
Where is the evidence that the Scottish people want those freedoms within such a political state? It cannot be found in the opinion polls, which regularly show that a huge majority of Scottish people oppose the Conservative and Unionist party and are in favour of some form of autonomy, self-government, or independence. Neither can 406 the evidence be found in the results of the last general election. Although this may be painful for Government members to recall, they represented nothing less than a wholly unambiguous rejection of the status quo.
The evidence cannot be found in the parliamentary by-elections held in Scotland since 1987. Whatever else might be said about the constituencies of Glasgow, Govan, Glasgow, Central, Paisley, North or Paisley, South, they can hardly be described as ringing endorsements of faith in the Westminster state. The Conservative candidates in all four by-elections polled just 10,000 votes from a total of 110,000 cast. The other 100,000 votes were cast against the principles for which the Government stand.
It may be argued that Glasgow and Paisley are not representative of the whole of Scotland. They certainly are not representative of those parts of Scotland that the Tories claim to represent. However, what about the constituency of Kincardine and Deeside, which has traditionally been a Tory seat in a traditionally Tory and prosperous part of Scotland, having little unemployment, and situated well outside Scotland's central belt? It is precisely the kind of seat that should be susceptible to Tory scaremongering about a Scottish Parliament dominated by Strathclyde, yet there is little comfort for the Unionists in Kincardine and Deeside.
The latest opinion polls from that constituency scream out a message that must be heard even within these walls—that by majorities of three and four to one, the voters there intend to support parties that are committed to radically reforming the Westminster state and to establishing a Scottish Parliament. Soon the Unionists will be reduced to the third party in a four-party country and a political irrelevance, and they are on course to becoming an even greater irrelevance after the next general election.
Where is there any recognition in the Queen's Speech of those political realities in Scotland? It recognises that freedom is bound up with acceptance of national identity and the right of small nations to self-determination. The Gracious Speech commits the Government to settling the Palestinian problem and therefore to recognising the inherent right of the Palestinians to self-determination. Similar recognition is extended to Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania.
The Government promise to work for democratic institutions in central and eastern Europe, and even to help build a democratic society in South Africa. They pledge their support also to national self-determination and democratic institutions everywhere in the world, except in the United Kingdom and Scotland. One searches the Queen's Speech in vain for any reference to Scottish freedom, Scottish democracy, or Scottish nationhood. The Queen's Speech is silent on all three. That cannot be right, and neither can it be defended—for the Government's defence is non-existent.
The Government begin by telling the Scottish people that we do not know what is good for us; that autonomy, self-government, and self-determination are bad for us and for our country. It does not seem to matter that we vote time and again for some form of Scottish autonomy, because the Government say that the Scottish people do not know what we are about and that they know what is best for us. That is the worst kind of imperialist and colonialist arrogance, but sadly it is typical of the Government who have dominated the House for the past 12 years.
407 We are told also that the elected national parliament that we seek will be just another layer of bureaucracy between the people and the kind of country that they want. The Government ignore the 10,000 Scottish Office bureaucrats who are wholly unaccountable to the Scottish people's elected representatives. A Scottish parliament will not create an additional layer of bureaucracy, but will make accountable to the Scottish people an existing level of bureaucracy that currently does not answer to them. In doing so, it will extend the fabric of democracy in our country.
We are told that the democratic forums created in Scotland outside the formal Westminster structures are not democratic. Ministers describe as self-appointed the Scottish Constitutional Convention—a body that contains the majority of Scottish Members of Parliament. I t also ranks among its numbers representatives of all Scottish local authorities, all of whom were individually elected by the Scottish people, Scottish political parties, Churches, trade unions, and other Scottish bodies. Yet they try to tell us that that convention is self-appointed and undemocratic.
We are expected to believe that democratic legitimacy rests with the Tory rump here in Westminster—a rump that holds less than one seventh of Scotland's parliamentary seats, and controls not a single council or local authority in Scotland; a rump that cannot even find enough Conservative Back-Benchers to staff the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. The Government who are responsible for that undemocratic debacle have the nerve to lecture us in Scotland about democracy, freedom and the rights of our people.
Dealing with the Asylum Bill, the Home Secretary described my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) as harbouring an abiding contempt for the views of ordinary voters. He advised my right hon. Friend as follows: when he found himself in a hole, he should stop digging. Let me ask the Home Secretary which party harbours abiding contempt for the views of the Scottish voters, and which party is digging itself into an ever-deepening black Scottish hole. It is not the Labour party; it is the Conservative and Unionist party, which refuses to listen to the democratically expressed views of the Scottish people.
Ministers would do well to heed their own advice, and to stop digging themselves into an ever-deepening Scottish hole. They would do well to begin to climb back into the daylight of mainstream Scottish political life from which they have been excluded for so long. They will have to understand something that they are beginning to understand already in a European context: that political unions depend on the consent of the parties to those unions. If that principle applies at European level, it must be said to apply equally at United Kingdom level.
The survival of the United Kingdom depends on the consent of the Scottish people to the union that created it; that consent in turn depends on constitutional reform, and, specifically, on the establishment of a Scottish Parliament. Unless that is forthcoming, the Scottish people will withdraw their consent from the union that this House represents.
§ Mr. Keith Raffan (Delyn)
The issues for debate today are rights, freedoms and responsibilities. Like the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion), I wish to address them in the context of constitutional reform of the future government of Wales, at both local and national level.
It may be thought that my party would be wise to approach all matters relating to the reform of local government—its functions, format and finance—with considerable caution. It is now widely accepted on both sides of the House that the reform of local government structure during the Administration of my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) was an unmitigated disaster. This time we must get matters right, and get them right once and for all.
Because of the political necessity of replacing the poll tax, and of doing so before the general election, we are, in my view, dealing with local government reforms the wrong way round—indeed, in reverse order. Surely it would have been more logical, and would have made more sense, to start with functions and internal management, then to go on to format and structure, and finally, move on to the vexed issue of how to finance the new structure with its revised functions. That would have been the common-sense approach; but, sadly, political necessity has dictated otherwise.
The Gracious Speech refers to the introduction of legislation to establish a review of local government structure in England, but makes no such reference to Wales. The Principality is not to have an independent local government commission, the reason ostensibly being the virtually unanimous view in Wales that unitary authorities are desirable.
It is true that the local authority associations are divided. The Assembly of Welsh Counties wants a commission, whereas the Council of Welsh Districts does not. Despite that, I am not sure that the Government are wise not to set up such a commission in the Principality. By not doing so, they open themselves up to the charge that Wales is not receiving equal treatment with England; their action also goes against the words of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, who said on 25 June:We will not repeat the errors of the 1970s. Then, local views were ignored when local government boundaries were redrawn. That must never be allowed to happen again. Under our proposals, we intend to give local people the opportunity to say what sort of structure suits them best. So there is no question of central Government dictating how local government should be organised.Those are sensible words, but, in Wales, central Government will dictate how local government should be organised.
Yet it must be desirable for the new structure to command as wide a consensus as possible, so that future Governments do not continually tamper with it. That is why I believe that we need an independent local government commission for Wales, as in England, to take evidence, encourage informed debate, do justice to what are, indeed, complex issues and so reach objective, independent conclusions.
The number of authorities and their boundaries must be decided independently. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales for his assurance that the local government boundary commission will draw 409 up the boundaries for the new authorities in Wales, but the commission must have complete freedom to create coherent local authorities. The building blocks for those authorities should not be limited by the Welsh Office to existing district council areas. Community council areas make more sensible building blocks and would give the commission more flexibility to create coherent, integrated authorities.
Obviously, the local government boundary commission will have to consider a wide variety of views. It would have been much easier for the commission if it had had at its disposal views collected, collated and analysed by an independent commission.
Unitary authorities will not be fully effective without an all-Wales tier to discuss major infrastructure, transport, strategic planning and other all-Wales issues. Contrary to what the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said, constitutional matters are discussed within our party; indeed, half the Welsh Conservatives in the House have said that they are in favour of some form of devolution.
Issues such as the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill, which I am delighted to see included in the Gracious Speech,and a Welsh language Bill, which I am sad to see has been excluded, could be discussed much more fully by an all-Wales tier. We need such a tier to respond to the distinctive needs of the Principality and its people. So far, the Government have opposed such a tier, on spurious grounds.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) looks astonished. I have expressed such views in the House before. Perhaps he is not here very often; if he listens, he may learn a little.
The Government have opposed a Welsh assembly on the spurious ground that the Secretary of State's position in the Cabinet might be somehow threatened as a result. It will be threatened only if the Government want it to be. In the week of the Conservative party conference, the party chairman, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Patten), said that the Government were now considering a new voice for London—a Londonwide strategic body to address Londonwide issues such as environmental, economic, planning and transport problems. I would agree with such a proposal, but if such a body is needed in London, it is needed just as much in the Principality.
At a fringe meeting at the same party conference, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales said:If there is one core belief which we all share, it is surely a rejection of centralisation and a firm belief that the source of Europe's strength has always been the diversity of its peoples.That is the source of Britain's strength, too. If we reject centralisation in Europe—here I agree with the hon. Member for Dundee, East—we should also reject it here in the United Kingdom.
The supreme irony is that, in the European context, the Government are determined to resist the centralisation of power in Brussels at any cost; yet, in the United Kingdom context, they will defend such centralisation in Whitehall as sacrosanct.
§ Mr. Raffan
It is not just the Labour party that proposes devolution. Many other parties do. Indeed, my party proposed devolution way back in the late 1960s—almost before the hon. Gentleman was even thought of, and certainly before the present policy of his party was thought of. He may wish to refer to the declaration of Perth, and the Scottish devolution policy that the Conservative party then very wisely proposed I am only sorry that it was not accepted.
In Paris in September, the Prime Minister said:We must heed the way the world is moving—towards more decentralised, more accountable structures.My right hon. Friend was, of course, right; but what is applicable to Europe is also applicable here at home.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)
The Gracious Speech refers to the implementation of the citizens charter. I doubt whether all the measures contained in the citizens charter will be implemented. In particular, I doubt whether the railways will be privatised in this Session.
The citizens charter is based, in part, on schoolboy humour, which befits something that is put forward by the Prime Minister. Its name apes the people's charters of 1838, 1842 and 1848. The citizens charter has been linked to some extent with the socialist tradition. It is even printed in red, or perhaps puce. It carries the slogan "Raising the Standard". It must have been lifted from the famous phraseWe will raise the scarlet standard high.This schoolboy humour technique puts all these things together; they are supposed to be part of the Prime Minister's wish to foist upon us a classless society, built upon the principles to which he adheres. Good fun is intended by pinching socialist traditions and turning them on their heads. However, the joke falls flat when we examine the content of the citizens charter rather than its glib presentation.
Before I deal with the charter, I shall refer to the tradition upon which it is intended to be based and which it is trying to subvert—the people's charter of the 19th century, which was very much concerned with rights, freedoms and a responsible society.
The charter contained six points, the first being universal male suffrage—an ideological slip. The suffragettes added to that the notion of female enfranchisement. The notion that the right to vote should be extended to all males and therefore to most families was a fantastic breakthrough.
The charter's second point was that there should be secret ballots to ensure that the franchise was exercised freely. Two attempts were made to ensure that the House of Commons was more representative of the people than hitherto—first, the ending of property qualifications for Members of Parliament and the payment of MPs. During the early days of the Labour party in Parliament, the make-up of Parliament began to alter due to those changes.
Another point in the charter was that constituencies should have equal electoral districts to overcome the remnants of the rotten boroughs. The final point—never fully implemented—was that there should be annual Parliaments, annually elected. In 1911, there was a move in the direction of more regular Parliaments, when the septennial convention was changed. Provision was then 411 made for elections to take place within five-year periods. Recently, the tradition has grown up of elections every four years. However, the Government have found themselves in difficulties over that. They have therefore pushed themselves into a corner. The Parliament Act has therefore had to be brought into operation.
What have today's "pretend Chartists" done to the rights that were fought for by the original Chartists`' They do not seem to be too keen to hold elections on a regular basis. Even more seriously, however, the Government have undermined the basic principles contained in the 19th century charter—the universal male franchise and, with it, the equality of electoral districts. When redistribution takes place it can take place sensibly only if there is a full and universal franchise.
We know, however, that I million people are not on the electoral register. According to an official survey conducted by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, that represents 2.5 per cent. of the electorate. People in Scotland first began to disappear from the electoral register. That pattern was repeated in England and Wales, but it has not been repeated in Northern Ireland. That is due to the introduction of the poll tax. According to the citizens charter, there are to be charters for patients, parents, tenants, job seekers and the social services. However, there is to be no charter to enfranchise people and to ensure that they have the right to vote. That should worry Members of Parliament. The electoral register is in a ghastly state.
What do the Government intend to do between now and the general election to ensure that the missing 1 million return to the electoral register so that there is full enfranchisement at the next election? People died in this country so that the franchise could be extended. People have died in Russia and the Eastern bloc to achieve universal suffrage. They are dying in South Africa to achieve the same objective. We should ensure that there is complete enfranchisement.
What about the citizens charter? What are the six grand points that will stand comparison with the charter of the 19th century? Will people wish to struggle and die for the citizens charter? Does it contain anything that resembles the six points in the 19th century charter? I am afraid that it does not. It is based upon principles that are to be found on page 5 of the citizens charter. It refers to the fact that there will be more privatisation. There is no mention of the national health service, but reference is made to British Rail and London Buses. The buses are to be deregulated. Deregulation in my constituency led to massive petitions about the inadequacy of the bus services in Barrow Hill. Deregulation is to be extended to London. The citizens charter states that there is to be wider competition. The Post Office letters monopoly is to be destroyed. The advantages of the economies of scale within the postal service are to be destroyed due to the competition principle that the Government put forward at every opportunity, whether that principle is relevant or irrelevant.
The citizens charter also states that there is to be additional contracting out, with services bought from the private sector. That is to apply to the NHS, already seriously destabilised by many of the Government's actions. There are to be even more agencies. Fewer questions about public services will be asked in the House because those services will be shunted off to other bodies. 412 No direct answers will be given to those questions. More and more destruction of local government provision will take place.
I do not have time to talk about the remaining points of the charter that will destroy many of the existing provisions in this country. However, I can simply say that the fourth point is that there will be more performance-related pay. The fifth point is that there will be published performance targets, and the sixth is that the standards achieved will be published. I could criticise each of those points in the same way as I criticised the first three. If we are to have charters, they should be based on solid traditions and should not subvert previous charters in the way that this one does.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
Order. The winding-up speeches are expected at 9.20 pm. I hope that the three hon. Members who wish to speak will agree to divide the time between them.
§ 9 pm
§ Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)
In the light of the speech of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes), I welcome the measures in the Gracious Speech to extend competitive tendering. I welcome also the measures to extend privatisation to British Coal. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and my hon. Friends will examine carefully all the arguments put to them about the privatisation of British Rail. We have heard at Question Times and in previous debates about the unsatisfactory situation facing passengers and those wishing to use British Rail for freight. Some Conservative Members and other hon. Members need to be convinced that a measure of privatisation would improve passenger and freight transport.
I welcome various measures in the Gracious Speech, which I regard as an extension of the citizens charter. I welcome particularly the charities legislation. The southern regional office of the Charities Commission, which extends over an area from Cornwall to Sussex—a generous definition of the southern region—has just been established in my constituency. When it was opened by Sir Philip Woodfield, who was responsible for the report on the work of charities, there was concern about whether a measure to implement the report would find its way into this year's legislative programme. I am delighted that it has done so, and I wish my right hon. and hon. Friends success in trying to improve the supervision and financial management of charities, enabling the Charity Commissioners to concentrate on their supervisory role and ensure that only deserving causes receive charitable status.
Following my earlier exchange with the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), I must say that I welcome the Asylum Bill. British citizens need to have their freedoms and rights guaranteed against inflows of people who are not refugees or asylum seekers.
I welcome also the suggestion that joyriding is to be made an offence. As far as I am aware, joyriding has not occurred recently in my constituency, but I know that people there have been killed through reckless driving as a result of alcohol. There is a problem of car theft in my constituency, and I welcome the measures to prevent that.
§ Mr. Nicholson
Time is limited.
I welcome the measures to extend rights in education. The Somerset college of arts and technology in Taunton is looking forward to the freedoms and opportunities it will obtain under the legislation for further and higher education which will transfer further education and sixth-form colleges from local education authority control. I welcome particularly the proposals that were debated yesterday—I tried to intervene during the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science—to extend the parents charter in schools.
It has become clear to me locally that an annual written report on the progress of children is highly desirable. Sometimes parents are not aware that their children are not performing well at school until they receive a written report which exposes the problems. I welcome the fact that schools will be inspected frequently, that a short straightforward summary will be available to parents and that an action plan from the governors will be sent to all parents explaining how they will tackle problems pointed out by the inspectors.
Housing has not been debated extensively today. There is a case for extending the citizens charter to the exchange arrangements for housing to give people the right to know within a certain period whether they are accepted for exchange or, if they are turned down, what the reasons are. People should have the right to receive regular progress reports on where they are in the queue.
My local authority and many other efficiently run Conservative-controlled or until recently Conservative-controlled local authorities in southern England are experiencing considerable problems with waiting lists, because of the shortage of accommodation. I hope that the various nods and winks that we here have recently seen from Ministers—and which building employers' organisations have observed—about changes to allow councils to use more receipts from council house sales will be translated into action because that will be of much importance in the run-up to the general election.
I applaud my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's endorsement of the philosophy and style of Stanley Baldwin. This country needs a period of quiet and caution, which Baldwin typified in the 1920s and 1930s. I am conscious that, in moving the Loyal Address, my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) paid tribute to Leo Amery, who vigorously criticised Baldwin for not using his power effectively enough. No one who has sat through debates in the past four years or has studied the politics of the past 10 years would say that those who have held power have not used it.
I said in the debate on freedoms, rights and responsibilities a year ago that there is a case for rather more caution and care in implementing the power that is wielded here. I am glad to see the assurances in the citizens charter and from the numerous statements of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that that is how he intends to use his power.
§ 9.6 pm
§ Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)
I am delighted to see my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on the Front Bench. I congratulate him on his excellent opening speech, particularly the way in which he stressed 414 that law and order is a top priority of the Government. His speech was in sharp distinction to that of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), who made it clear that more immigration is the top priority of the Labour party. All he said on law and order was that the police should be put under the control of local councils. That has rightly been rejected by the public, who remember what happened to the police when Labour was last in power—their numbers were reduced and their morale sabotaged.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be interested to hear that I recently conducted a survey of opinion in my constituency. Not surprisingly, law and order emerged as the top issue. In the summer recess, I had six meetings with many constituents who were anxious to know what could be done to improve law and order. Meetings were attended by as many as 160 people, who made it clear they are fed up with high and persistent crime and particularly with gangs of juvenile delinquents. There is seen to be a problem with bored youth and I hope that our proposals on the local management of schools will help to deal with it.
I know that a Home Office working party is studying the causes of crime, but I should like to invite my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to visit Bolton to see the police station on a Saturday night and to meet our 14-year-old Houdini who has committed more than 140 crimes while supposedly under the care of the local authority. The police are fed up with arresting juvenile delinquents and returning them to the care of the local authority.
I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that some new initiatives are needed. A reply to a parliamentary question that I tabled says:My right hon. Friend is exploring what more can be done to develop policies for reducing the number of crimes committed by young people." [Official Report,24 July 1991; Vol. 195, c. 580.]The Home Office should open a branch in Bolton so that it can see what is happening and become involved.
What would that branch do? For a start, there are 1,200 neighbourhood watch schemes in Bolton. The police say that they do not have the resources to supervise and organise them, so why does not the Home Office have a branch in Bolton to supervise and direct the efforts and energies of the people involved in those schemes? That would give the Home Office direct involvement in crime prevention. If it opened a crime prevention shop, I am sure that those premises would have many callers with all sorts of suggestions about what should be done to reduce crime.
Such a branch could also advise on setting up local action groups. That was suggested in the Home Office report "Safer Communities", which was published during the summer. It said that local action groups should be encouraged. Let us have someone on the ground who can advise local communities what they can do. Perhaps the Home Office could also encourage the recruitment of special constables. The police force does not seem to give every encouragement to the idea of recruiting more specials.
The police in Bolton have told me that more research should be carried out. They would like the Home Office to fund a study by Manchester university into many of the causes of crime, especially into what happens with bail offenders. I believe that a report on bail offenders will be published tomorrow.
415 The police in Bolton would like the research study also to look into the issue of juveniles having the right to silence. The subject of unruly youngsters needs to be considered. Mr. John Watson, who has responsibility at the town hall for crime prevention, does not think that offenders should be released until they have shown proper remorse. That would certainly be a new line on youth custody. Many offenders who come out of youth custody centres go back in—I believe that recidivism is 80 per cent. If we did not let people out until they showed proper remorse, perhaps the rate would not be as high.
The courts, not social services, should decide what is to be done with unruly youngsters. At the moment, social services say that they can take care of those youngsters, but those people merely commit more crimes. The absconding level is far too high. A police survey in the neighbouring county of Lancashire showed that last year 950 people absconded from care. I do not know the figures for Greater Manchester or Bolton, but I am sure that they would be even higher. That matter was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) in an Adjournment debate on 16 October.
I am in favour of stiffer sentences and unlimited fines being imposed on those who repeatedly commit car offences. With corrective courses, people would be encouraged to do something positive with their time instead of committing more offences. Recently, someone set light to five vehicles in one night—I do not know whether it was our friend Houdini, released from social services. That 14-year-old has already fathered one child, perhaps more.
Conscious of the time, I should like to wind up. I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister to comment on the idea of having a branch of the Home Office in Bolton. I do not have time to speak about other possibilities for that branch, such as involvement in immigration control and in issuing the new driving licences, with photographs attached. I am sure that there would be plenty of work to keep it extremely busy.
§ Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)
I, too, wish to compliment my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on the measures which were announced in the Gracious Speech to improve the prospects for law and order. We know that we will never get far into a debate on those terrible twins, law and order—"Laura and Nora"—before we hear of the single parent, the mother on her own who, according to the mythology, is responsible for many of the problems in our society—not least all the unruly children who are constantly blamed for many of the problems.
I do not believe that there are many men in this place who believe in anything other than immaculate conception. We never hear about the fathers of these children. We never hear talk of ways to control the promiscuity of males in this place or outside it. All we hear about is irresponsible young women who produce children who then run around the streets stealing from cars and stealing from shops. We are given to understand that it is that small group of women who cause all the problems.
It is salutary to remind ourselves that there are more than 10—I think that it is more like 100—males in our prisons for every woman. There are well under 1,000 women in prison, and the number of those who have committed serious crimes can be counted almost on the 416 fingers of one hand. I wish that we could say that for the male population. To suggest that, with the male population largely controlling our society, women are somehow responsible for all the law and order problems is not only insulting, but ridiculous. On behalf of Sharon and Tracey in Essex, and on behalf of all the other women who are frequently insulted and who are held up as loose-living women, I say that the law and order problem is a problem of males.
While talking about that subject and while talking about young women, who often bring up children on their own, we should not accept the criticism that we always get from the Opposition—that all the problems are somehow down to capitalism, the profit motive and market forces. Quite the contrary: it is the welfare state, introduced with the best of motives, which is largely responsible for taking away from individuals their responsibility for their actions and for bringing up their children.
The welfare system rewards unsocial behaviour, if that is what one says about women who bring up children on their own, because it gives them benefits that trap them in that position. In many ways the system does not allow them to get out of that situation because, if they want to work and help themselves, they are penalised for doing so. That is the first aspect of the welfare state that contributes to the problems of women raising children on their own.
We then have the system of destroying the private landlord in our society, which has led to the establishment of low-income estates where people of comparable incomes are herded together. The children in those conditions, often because their mothers—and sometimes fathers—are not very well off, are often left in groups on their own for long periods. That does not happen because the parents want it, because they often have to go out to work to help support the children. What such families need is a helping hand with places for those children to go and things for them to do. My solution would be to enable such people to pay for more help and child care, either before the children go to school or when they come out of school and need more supervision. It is possible for us to construct policies that will enable individual parents to obtain such child care and to pay for it themselves.
We then have the problems of our state education system. Many of our schools are no-hope institutions in which children feed on each other, learning bad behaviour and feeling that while they are in the school, there is not much point in trying to behave and to learn because the curriculum does not cater for their lifestyle or their needs.
The attitude towards women and responsibility needs to be looked at carefully. Most women would like the freedom to be able to take more responsibility on their own shoulders. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, shares my concern that we should do more to assist women who want to go to work, not to pay for tights or lipstick, but to help to contribute to the family income and to be independent. I hope that my party will introduce policies that will enable more women to do that. They could contribute through their own earnings to nurseries or creches, or for child minders before school, after school, or in the school holidays. All those are intimate problems for women in our society which is often not appreciated in the House.
I would like us to have policies that give women the freedom to shop when they need to. The Opposition are very backward-looking on the issue. They do not want shops to open in the evenings and at weekends when 417 women can go shopping. We need such freedom for women. We need support for the opening of shops at times other than between 9 am and 5 pm, when many women are at work and cannot use them.
Women would also like the freedom to go to the doctor's in the evening and to do all sorts of other things such as taking the kids to the dentist. Such activities require a much more flexible society so that women have more freedom to avail themselves of such services. That would make life easier for women. It would not make them more irresponsible, but would enable them to take on more of the responsibility for raising their children. Child rearing is part of women's nature and they do not need any lectures about it from this place.
This debate is about rights, freedom and law and order. As a woman, I get sick and tired of the idea of men handing down rights to women. It is a matter of giving us this and that to keep us quiet. Women represent half of our community and they contribute a good 75 per cent. to the running of our society. They raise the children and they see that all you chaps get your shirts washed and ironed and that there is dinner in the oven. By and large most children in our country are brought up decently and nicely. We should remember that when we go on about the problems of children in the streets.
I want policies—I am sure that my party will introduce them—that increasingly reflect the needs of women so that they have the ability to make choices for themselves. The rights of women should not be handed down to them: they should be an integral part of our society. When women can take on more responsibilities—because we have made that possible—we will hear less of the type of condemnation, which always features in such debates, of women, particularly single ones, who are held responsible for so many of the problems in society.
Let us always remember that, for every child who is brought up by a single woman, there is a man out there who has shuffled off his responsibilities. It is to the great credit of the Conservative party that it has been the first to introduce a Bill to pin such fellows down and make them contribute, as they rightly should. I look forward to the day when we have genetic fingerprinting so there will not be any argument from men as to who is responsible for raising the child.
§ Ms. Jo Richardson (Barking)
Today, a number of my hon. Friends have expressed their regret at some of the omissions from the Queen's Speech. However, I was riveted by the speech of the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson), who welcomed a measure that he thought was in the Queen's Speech. I am sure that it will highlight his constituents' day when they read the record of the debate and learn that their representative cannot read. I hope that he will study the Queen's Speech.
I remind the House that we have had a debate on rights, freedoms and responsibilities for many years. In many respects, we all regret that, because we had all hoped that, one day, the Government would see the light and get the balance right when distributing rights, freedoms and responsibilities. Sadly, we still have to keep on reminding them.
418 It is about time that the Government accepted their responsibility for all sorts of things—for example, the rising unemployment levels, the rundown of the health service, the lack of measures to reduce homelessness and the failure of their economic policy to generate growth and investment to end the recession so that we can build a better Britain.
The fundamental difference between Conservative policy and philosophy and our own is at its sharpest when we talk about freedoms. The Government have eroded our freedoms dramatically. Power has been concentrated in the Cabinet and in the hands of the Prime Minister, with very few checks and balances.
Public confidence in the judiciary is at an all-time low—hardly surprising, considering recent miscarriages of justice such as the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six cases. Now doubts have been cast on the justice meted out to the Tottenham Three, and who knows what other cases will come to light? I have an interest in the case of Sara Thornton, and I hope that at some stage the Home Office will relent and review that case. It is grossly unfair that she should have been sentenced to life having been provoked by her partner over a period into killing him.
The Government have been responsible for much of the secrecy surrounding many of their policies. They attempted, for instance, to suppress the publication and reporting of "Spycatcher". This Government instigated the raid on the BBC to confiscate the Zircon tapes. They badgered and bullied the broadcasting service to stop the showing of "Real Lives" and "Death on the Rock". This Government removed the right to belong to a trade union from the workers at GCHQ, and they abolished the democratically elected Greater London council. That is a sorry record of the erosion of civil liberties and the curtailment of freedoms.
As my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary emphasised, a Freedom of Information Act which we would introduce would go a long way to improving all our freedoms. We should have, and we will have, a right to know. Devolved government in the form of Scottish and Welsh assemblies and regional government will make for much more open government than we have had in the past 12 years.
The only freedom that the Government appear to understand is the freedom of the market even though it has so patently failed to deliver enough housing, child care or training. The Opposition understand—Conservative Members appear not to—that there can be no freedom without equality, and equality is underpinned by rights.
The hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) referred to more genuine equality for women. I hope that the Government will listen to some of what she had to say and enshrine it in law.
Most women are not convinced by the Prime Minister's new role as the champion of women's rights, not least because he was the first Prime Minister in 25 years to fail to appoint a woman to his Cabinet. He claims that there are women "poised in the wings". If so, why not invite them in? Why wait until after a general election? There are women Tory Members on the Back Benches now, so why not appoint them? That would be a good move—but far be it for me to advise the Prime Minister on that point.
The Prime Minister also says that it is a disgrace that there are not more women on public boards. Since he became Prime Minister he has had a chance—his predecessor had a chance, too—to increase women's 419 representation on such boards, but between 1985 and 1990 we know that their representation rose by a dismal 0.3 per cent. What a record! The Prime Minister has suddenly discovered this problem and intends to put it right——
§ Mr. Maclennan
Would the hon. Lady have supported the resignation of the Home Secretary over the escapes from Brixton? That would have enabled space to be cleared.
§ Ms. Richardson
No, I would not.
Women are not convinced by the Prime Minister's conversion. It is all very well to discuss with industry the promotion of women to board rooms and senior managerial positions, but in general women see that, if the Government do not tackle low pay and unequal pay and provide some help with child care, women will not in any sense be equal or have any kind of equal rights. There is no point in merely asking industry to promote equal opportunities policies. Many such policies have to be enshrined in a legal framework to ensure that employers implement them.
As the hon. Member for Billericay said, the lack of child care is an enormous obstacle to women's participation in the work force. The Prime Minister believes, that employers should provide it or that women should be able to afford it. That leaves out of account many millions of women in low-paid and under-valued jobs. Any not ion of the Government playing a role in increasing the provision of child care seems to escape the Prime Minister.
I was at the recent launch of Opportunity 2000, an excellent initiative by Business in the Community. The Prime Minister was quick to claim the credit for abolishing the tax on workplace nurseries. He failed to shoulder the responsibility, which Government should shoulder, for imposing the tax in the first place. He also failed to acknowledge that there are other forms of child care which should form a list of options available to women to enable them to combine their home and work responsibilities.
The Prime Minister said that over half the population "go through life like a hobbled horse in a steeplechase.He again failed to acknowledge the part that he could play in reducing the odds which are stacked against women and shackle them in the way that he described. The Government have pursued policies which have added to and certainly not loosened women's shackles.
Instead of providing a legal framework, the Government have blocked the legislation that is on offer to them. For example, they have argued against almost every EC directive which would have improved women's poor position in the work force, increased their opportunities and given them increased freedom to work. They have blocked directives on parental leave, on part-time workers and on maternity rights. They have removed the right of women who work in small firms to return to work after childbirth and, by changing the law, they have blocked the right of married women on employment training to claim child-care. They have removed the right of women to have child-care costs taken into account when claiming income support, and they have prevented those women from having the freedom to take up part-time work to improve their incomes.
The Queen's Speech mentions the Government's intention to enhance competitive tendering for local authority services. If the Government are serious about promoting equal opportunities, I challenge them to 420 reintroduce contract compliance, which they outlawed and which provides genuine incentives and practical advice to firms that wish to follow equal opportunities policies.
Many hon. Members spoke about crime. I place firmly in the Government's lap the responsibility for failing to tackle crime. The fear and the reality of crime constrict many people's lives. The British crime survey shows that many women are afraid to go out alone at night. A disturbingly high number, particularly of elderly women and women from ethnic minorities, are scared to go out during the day as well. Effectively, that means that women of all classes, sizes, shapes and backgrounds are prisoners in their own homes.
I am sure that hon. Members have talked to constituents, many of them young women with children, who say bitterly that they feel trapped in their environment and dare not go out at night, even to have a cup of tea with a friend. That is a serious situation, for which the Government must take some responsibility, because they have not introduced policies to correct it. They promised a crackdown on crime, but crime has doubled. With the crumbling of housing estates, and hostile city centres and a dirty, rundown transport system that has reduced the numbers of guards, conductors and station staff, the growth of crime has been fostered. We must not lose sight of the fact that such decay contributes to crime, and that is something that the Government acknowledge.
The Government have failed to provide us with a comprehensive crime prevention strategy that includes tackling the causes of crime. When we come to power next year, the Labour party will start to reduce poverty and deprivation and begin the regeneration of our cities. We shall encourage local authorities to introduce safe lighting, improve public transport and promote effective partnerships between the community and the police. That will be a real start on reducing the level of crime.
I could talk about many more rights, but the last one that I shall mention is the right to a decent home. I am surprised that there is nothing in the Queen's Speech about increasing house building or about plans to get the homeless into a home of their own, thereby giving them a right that they do not now enjoy. I believe, as I am sure that other hon. Members do, that one of the basic rights of every individual is that to a place to live. While we live in a society in which many millions of people, for all sorts of reasons but mostly because of the lack of decent housing on offer, are homeless, we are denying them the basic right to live decently and properly.
The Government have been talking about taking measures against squatting. Nobody approves of squatting, whether it is in privately or publicly owned property, but the fact is that the majority of people who squat do so because they have nowhere to live. Therefore, the Government would be creating an offence that is not based on the person's intentions. We must look at these things in the proper perspective.
The Government insist every year that we have a proper balance of rights, freedoms and responsibilities, and they are now littering the country with charters that outline the rights of individuals. Unfortunately, citizens have fewer rights and fewer real freedoms than ever before. At the same time, the Government heap responsibilities upon them with which they cannot cope. These are the responsibilities of finding a home, of finding a job without proper training, of keeping a job and of paying a mortgage, which some people can no longer afford. The 421 Government believe that it is right to heap all these responsibilities upon individuals, and the Labour party believes that there should be some backing and support from the Government rather than leaving responsibility solely with the individual and the family.
We believe that everyone has the right to be treated equally and fairly, with decency and respect. When we have a Labour Government—as I have said, 1992 will bring one—we shall embark upon the road of giving every citizen the dignity that he or she deserves.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mrs. Angela Rumbold)
The title of the debate—"Rights, freedoms and responsibilities"—obviously offers opportunities for participants heavily to focus on their own point of view. It is not surprising that the debate has followed that pattern in true form. On the whole, Opposition Members have tended to concentrate on rights while my right hon. and hon. Friends have concentrated on freedoms and responsibilities as well as on rights. I would say that the acquisition of rights and the exercise of freedoms in any democracy automatically entails the necessity of individuals to shoulder responsibilities. With that in mind, I want to take up the various issues that have been raised in the debate.
The issues fall into five different subjects—citizens' rights, prisons, the crime of joyriding as we have loosely described it, political asylum and women and womens' rights. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have put before the House the various rights that they would like it to consider. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) who I am sad to say is no longer in his place, my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) and the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) are looking for a change in the way in which our democratic processes are exercised. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) set out what a putative Labour Government might give, for example, to hon. Members representing parts of Scotland or Wales, or even Northern Ireland, if such an Administration were ever to be elected.
I have to remind hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies that they have not done too badly under a Conservative Government for the past 12 years. Considerable amounts of public money have gone into Scotland's coffers. The opinion polls have not responded with an admission, as it were, of the Government's generosity. I suspect that England's generosity will be recognised a little late when those who represent Scottish constituencies discover that it is easier to manage with the helpful hand of Government than on one's own. I suspect that the same warning should be given to those colleagues who wish to have the same sort of devolution brought in elsewhere.
My hon. Friends the Members for Waveney (Mr. Porter), for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) and for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) concentrated on different aspects of the citizens charter. It is interesting that the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton on housing were somewhat reflected by the remarks of the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) when she replied to the debate on behalf of the Opposition. Their observations 422 should be noted by my ministerial colleagues in the Departments which have housing responsibilities. I undertake to draw that to their attention.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) made an interesting point. He had looked closely at his constituency, which is a microcosm of what happens across the country, and it was no surprise to me when he said that law and order featured highly in the concerns of his constituents. I suspect that they feature highly in the concerns of everybody's constituents. It is something that any Government or any Member of Parliament would be foolish to ignore.
My hon. Friend cited some good examples of matters that he believes to be worth pursuing. I am glad to note that there are 1,200 neighbourhood watch schemes in his constituency. It is an excellent record, to which many of us should aspire within our constituencies. He spoke of the importance of special constables, so he will be glad to hear that we are encouraging an increase in their numbers. I very much liked his idea of a crime prevention shop, and I shall certainly discuss that with my colleagues, the Minister of State and the Secretary of State at the Home Office.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West made an important point about his local airport.
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) spoke about the Chartists and drew an interesting parallel with the citizens charter. I do not share his gloomy view. He must know only too well that our citizens charter will give back power to the people who use public services. It will put the citizens, not the bureaucrats, first. It will make and measure the public standards that the individual has the right to expect. The rights of users of public services will be set out clearly and concisely.
The hon. Gentleman should not fear the other measures that the citizens charter will bring forth. More competitive tendering will, as it has in the past, improve the quality of public services. It will certainly make a considerable difference to the individuals who receive those services. I know that the hon. Gentleman has considerable interest in franchise and enfranchisement. We do not have any plans to force people to register or, indeed, to vote. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman would find a great deal of resistance to any such measure, were he to introduce one.
I do not want to omit any hon. Member who has contributed to this debate, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) will understand if I do not comment on his speech. It is important to draw it to the attention of hon. Members, but I can go no further than that.
I was a little surprised by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook's attack on the prison mutiny Bill. I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) that deterrents are an important aspect of the criminal justice system. Without them, where would we be in trying to maintain any form of criminal justice? It is an important Bill, which also incorporates further offences relating to people who abscond or who mistreat and maltreat prison property. Again, that is something about which we feel strongly.
I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that the Woolf report, which was published earlier this year—and which we spent a great deal of time studying—has resulted in my right hon. Friend bringing forward a White Paper that accepts virtually every one of the report's recommendations. It is a bit rich of Opposition Members to criticise the 423 Government's track record on what has happened to prisons. We inherited a disgraceful prison estate. It was in a filthy, decrepit and ruined state. The previous Labour Government made no investment in the prison system. We have had to invest billions of pounds in order to improve the prison estate.
Under no circumstances would we want to leave such an inheritance for those who have to go into the prisons and we have no intention of doing so since we nave a programme based on the Woolf recommendations which we shall pursue in order to improve not only the prison estate and the prison buildings but the regimes within the prisons. Those improvements are set out clearly in my right hon. Friend's White Paper and we shall look forward to completing that programme in the next 10 years. It is important that, quite apart from the Criminal Justice Bill in which measures are being taken to ensure that those people who need not be sent to prison can do purposeful community service, we should also look carefully at what happens to those people who have to go to prison.
The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) talked about the number of people in police cells. My right hon. Friend clearly said that he does not welcome the current situation. It is not one that we wish to see continuing. A number of things can be done about that and those steps are being taken quickly and treated seriously.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
The Minister told me all this at Easter when she promised me that the numbers ccontained in police cells in Greater Manchester would go down during the next six months. In fact, the numbers have gone up. What can she do tonight to convince the police officers of Greater Manchester who look after the prisoners in police cells that the situation will not continue for another 18 months?
§ Mrs. Rumbold
I accept and I am not surprised by the hon. Gentleman's criticism. Contrary to all the predictions of the experts and statisticians, we have seen an unprecedented surge in the number of people entering custody. That, I think the hon. Gentleman will accept, is not something that one could easily handle in a short period. A substantial amount of prison estate will be coming into operation in the next two or three months which will alleviate the great difficulties that the police are currently experiencing in Manchester. I should put it on record that we are grateful for the assistance that the police have given us in this matter. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we have every intention of taking note of that.
Joyriding is an important matter to which a number of hon. Members have drawn attention. The hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Mr. Young) and my hon. Friends the Members for Meriden (Mr. Mills), for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill), for Taunton and for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) have touched upon that unpleasant crime. I give the House the categorical assurance that a Government Bill will be introduced to deal with that as a matter of urgency.
It is important that we increase the penalties for taking vehicles without consent when that offence is aggravated by damage or dangerous driving. We are considering a maximum sentence of two years' imprisonment and an obligatory disqualification where appropriate. It is 424 important that that message is clearly understood by all hon. Members. I am grateful to all those hon. Members who have brought the matter to our attention.
The subject of asylum was of great interest to many hon. Members, not least to the hon. Member for Eccles. (Miss Lestor). I emphasise again that there is nothing in the Government's proposal that is detrimental to the interests of genuine refugees in Britain. The new appeal rights and faster recognition of their status represents clear benefits for genuine refugees. At present, as has been acknowledged by Opposition Members, there are those who manipulate the system and evade the normal immigration controls. It has to be said on behalf of all residents in Britain that that is detrimental to all who live here and we cannot allow it to continue out of genuine fairness to those who have settled in Britain within the law.
There can be little doubt that that is an important measure and it is in no way the alarmist measure that Opposition Members were at pains to try to portray it as. That is a scandalous thing to do. The hon. Member for Belfast, South said as much, and the hon. Member for Eccles raised a point about refugee children.
There is a problem with children who arrive in the United Kingdom on their own. If parents are granted refugee status, their children will automatically share it. However, if children arrive by themselves, they must go through some process or another, as would any asylum seeker, regardless of their age. They will be taken into care and looked after by the social services. I hope that that information satisfies the hon. Member for Eccles. We should see fewer such cases, and eventually none at all, at immigration centres.
Some children who arrive in the United Kingdom with adults are abandoned, and are found wandering around the airport. They must be fed and given shelter as a matter of urgency. Children form only a small percentage of those seeking asylum. Over the past two to three years, they numbered about 200 out of a total of 85,000 asylum seekers. We are examining the Refugee Council's recommendations and will consider them with the Department of Health. Equally, we are examining the convention on the rights of the child, as the hon. Member for Eccles wants us to do.
The hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) was encouraging about the Operation 2000 launch that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister attended last week, at which he gave his blessing to a considerable initiative by the private sector, in which 60 blue chip companies committed themselves to examining targets for women and ensuring that women achieve a better place in business, receive the correct training, and are encouraged to climb the ladder and to go through the so-called glass ceiling.
I refute the hon. Member for Barking's claim that Britain's progress with women's rights is not as good as elsewhere in Europe. The Government have been taking seriously their responsibilities in relation to European directives. We have negotiated on each of the points that the hon. Lady mentioned, and are working hard to ensure that directives do not impinge on or impair the hard-fought battles that women have won in respect of their employment.
It is important to note that Britain has the highest number of working women in the European Community. Admittedly, most of them work part-time, but that is because they want to do so, because that happens to fit in 425 well with the domestic responsibilities that a substantial number of British women prefer to have. Opposition Members should recognise that women are working slowly but sensibly towards the benefits that they want to enjoy, and that they do not want to be subjected to the patronising and paternalistic attitudes that are adopted by some socialists, who would tell women, "This is what you must do." That point was sensibly made by my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman).
As to the eternal argument we have about women making their mark in Parliament as elsewhere, I will say to Opposition Members that the way in which they will get more women Members of Parliament is to work hard to ensure that 50 per cent. of Members of Parliament are women, rather than just the one or two who must be positively discriminated for, so that they are selected as candidates. Hon. Members should remember that, for 11 out of the 12 years of Conservative Government, we have had a woman Prime Minister. They should also remember that, out of 14 women on the Conservative Benches, four are now Ministers of State—one of the highest ranks in government. That is a good record.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.