HL Deb 06 November 1991 vol 532 cc217-30

Debate resumed on the Motion moved on 31st October last by the Earl of Selborne—namely, That a humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:

"Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."

2.57 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, having dealt in the last two days with foreign affairs, defence, local government, the environment and agriculture, your Lordships today turn your attention to home affairs, social affairs and education, which are always testing subjects with which any government have to wrangle. It is a fairly wide canvas upon which your Lordships will be able to draw.

In the moving of the Address in reply to Her Majesty's gracious Speech, we had the pleasure of listening to my noble friends Lord Selborne and Lady Seccombe who set the tone of the debate—my noble friend Lord Selborne with his immense experience of public service, in particular in relation to agriculture, and my noble friend Lady Seccombe with her fresh and invigorating views which are such attractive features in a relative newcomer to your Lordships' House. I can reassure my noble friend that it was not just the brevity of her maiden speech which secured for her the invitation to second the Motion. Were that the criterion for such preferment I fancy that there would be a shallow pool from which my noble friend the Leader of the House could draw.

The subjects of today's debate are important because to a certain extent they determine or reflect the society in which we live. Law and order are important. Without them society crumbles. Crime must be fought constantly. It is always there. It always has been and it always will be. Governments cannot undertake to win on crime. Life does not work like that. What they can do is to be determined to tackle it, as the present Government have done with considerable fervour and will continue so to do.

The menace of drugs, the misery that they cause to those who become encompassed by them and the lawlessness that they create by people turning to crime in order to provide the money to satisfy their crippling habit will be a continued high priority for the Government. Drugs debilitate society. They debilitate people. The only winners are those who, for financial gain, feed off the vulnerabilities of others. Drugs will be a prime target for effort both at national and international level. Indeed, following the drugs summit that was held in London last year, the United Kingdom is now actively engaged in helping other countries in an international effort to reduce, and to prevent as far as they can, the use of drugs.

So also will the fight against terrorism continue unabated. There are no easy solutions to that scourge of international life either. The struggle will inevitably be long; and it has to be hard and determined. Anyone who witnessed the devastation that was caused last weekend by the blowing up of a hospital in Northern Ireland must wonder how human nature or what human beings can sink to such levels of inhumanity; yet they do. Whether those who carry out such acts obtain pleasure or satisfaction from such achievements, only they can know. One thing is clear: no one person's opinion, or group of persons' opinions, can be so pre-eminently important or right as to justify such distress and wickedness. The Government will continue to defend the rights of individuals to live their lives peaceably and to confront terrorism wherever it is seen, within these shores or beyond them, with all the determination and the authority at their disposal.

However, as life becomes more sophisticated, so crimes change and the nature of crime and of the criminal changes. Like a virus, when you think that you have found a way of dealing with it the wretched thing mutates and new methods of attack have to be found.

We therefore see a remarkable change in crime—a change into areas which were previously unthought of. The theft of antiques is now big business. Ram raiding is no longer a novelty. That is the scenario in which lorries are driven into the windows of shops and the contents loaded onto the lorry before the police arrive. It is now relatively commonplace to hear of the dangerous and perverse practice of young people taking cars and then driving them at high speeds through the streets hoping to earn the admiration of onlookers, yet endangering not only their own lives but those of innocent people in the streets. We witnessed only last week two more young people being killed by such behaviour.

There is no "joy" in that kind of behaviour. It is criminal behaviour, sometimes on the part of the very young. It is not brave, clever, or smart. It is dangerous and sometimes involves manslaughter. It is always detestable and unacceptable and the Government will ensure that legislation is introduced to deal with it.

A worrying feature is that so much of our crime is now committed by young people. The peak age of offending is now 15 to 18. One need only look at a tiny baby to realise how helpless it is and how dependent and reliant he or she is upon others for everything. I sometimes wonder what happens to that innocent child to make it turn to criminality by the age of 15.

There is never a simple answer to deep and philosophical questions. Perhaps there is a danger in trying to find one, but I suggest to your Lordships that home and school are great moulders of opinion and attitude. What happens to a child in the home and in the school bears a great relationship to what that child eventually turns out to be. It is very much like a potter. He starts with a piece of clay. What he does with it—how he twists and moulds it —determines whether the result is a thing of beauty or a disaster. The attitude prevalent in homes and schools can play an important. part, but by no means the whole part, in the prevention of crime and in the prevention of the inadvertent drift into crime.

Broken homes and single-parent families, whatever their cause—sometimes the cause is tragic and sometimes, curiously enough, it can be the result of conscious choice —start off at a disadvantage as they cannot always provide the child with the security, love and inner contentment that should be a natural concomitant of a whole family background; an ingredient that a child absorbs not by being taught about it but more by a process of osmosis.

So, although we all seek solutions or try to provide intellectual answers for the cause of crime, it is the responsibility of all of us, even possibly a result of our actions. What we do—what each individual does—affects other people. Sometimes it determines their future. Much of the responsibility for the cure, as well as the cause, may be found to lie in the atmosphere and attitude of the home. That is why, as a society, we could, and should, do more to nurture and foster the values of the home and family life.

We cannot expect the police to do everything. They are there essentially to catch the criminal. Increasingly, they are involved in crime prevention, but crime prevention requires the involvement of each person. It starts in the mind—"Is what I am doing preventing crime, or is it allowing or even encouraging it?" The Government will continue to give prominence to the tackling of crime and to the support of the police. One of the features of the Citizen's Charter is that the police, like all other public bodies, should be more accountable to and more caring of the public and more "personal" to them.

I never fail to be encouraged by the enthusiasm, stature and quality of our police. Many of the new, young entrants are of high calibre, but, if we expect the police to respect the public—and we do—it is not unreasonable to expect the public to respect the police. After all, the police are only drawn from the public whom they serve.

When things go wrong in the police service—as they have, and as they do in every large organisation from time to time —they must be rooted out. However, the overwhelming majority of the police are public-spirited people who take a pride in their uniforms and have a desire to ensure that law and order prevails for the benefit of the public. They are there to serve the public, but they often have to put up with a less than sympathetic public. They sometimes have to endure missiles, abuse and even the indignity of being spat on. One police officer told me that during the poll tax riots—the Government prefer to call them the community charge disturbances—he was hit by a brick and was taken to an ambulance. The bystanders cheered.

I recently saw two women police constables who had been stabbed in the street. I was told that, when they were lying on the pavement in their distressed state, a bystander —not the one who had perpetrated the act—said, "I hope she dies". One just wonders at that attitude. It is difficult for the police, faced with that kind of provocation, and even antagonism, always to be all sweetness and light. But they must be and they will be because that is their job and their training.

Recently, we have seen much of riots, especially riots in prisons. While your Lordships may have divergent views over the efficacy of prison and prison life, I think that most will subscribe to three propositions. First, some people have to go to prison. Secondly, if they are there, they must be looked after with humanity and be encouraged to lead more useful lives after their release. Thirdly, if they are in prison they must be kept there and required to behave responsibly. The Government will therefore introduce the Prison Security Bill which will create a new offence of prison mutiny.

The disgraceful scenes that were witnessed during the disturbances which took place at Strangeways prison in Manchester and at other prisons in April of last year were condemned on all sides. The new offence will carry a maximum penalty of 10 years' imprisonment and it will clearly mark, for prisoners and for the general public alike, society's disapproval and condemnation of that kind of behaviour. The Bill will also increase to 10 years' imprisonment the maximum penalties which can be applied for the offences of assisting a prisoner to escape and of harbouring an escaped prisoner.

Another part of our national life which is being subjected to enormous and inappropriate pressure at the present time is asylum. The United Kingdom has always had a very generous, even a liberal, attitude to the plight of those who are suffering persecution, or who fear that they will suffer persecution, in another country. In no way will this attitude be diminished. But the fact is that the number of applicants for asylum has risen from 5,000 a year in 1988 to an estimated 46,000 this year. It is a huge increase by any standards and one with which we simply cannot cope.

While we intend to extend every sympathy to those who are genuine refugees, we cannot as a country be expected to react in the same way to those who think that the way of life in the United Kingdom happens to be better or more comfortable than that which pertains in their own country and who are prepared to use the vehicle of asylum as a means of entering this country. The fact is that the system is being misused. Many asylum applicants deliberately destroy their passports. Some make applications in several names. Apart from anything else, these people, who are called "economic migrants"—a fairly graphic description—clog up the whole asylum system for those who are genuine asylum seekers.

The Government will therefore introduce a Bill and other measures to enable asylum applications to be dealt with more quickly and more effectively. The Bill will strengthen the safeguards for genuine refugees but for others will reduce the scope to misuse the asylum process. It will provide power to take fingerprints in order to ensure that people can be properly identified. Every person who is refused asylum will be given the right to appeal to an independent adjudicator, not from abroad but from within this country before he or she is removed from the United Kingdom.

New immigration rules and appeals procedure rules will clarify the circumstances in which asylum will be granted and when it may be refused and will set firm time limits for the resolution of cases. Due to the vast increase in the numbers who have been applying for asylum, the delay in dealing with them has increased substantially. The asylum division of the immigration and nationality department of the Home Office will therefore be strengthened. The result of all this should be a quicker resolution of all applications for asylum. That is our intention.

An important Bill, which will have the benefit of your Lordships' immediate scrutiny, is the Charities Bill. It has always been our intention to reform the law on charities during the lifetime of this Parliament, and now we are putting our proposals to Parliament in the Bill which was introduced in your Lordships' House on Monday of this week. The Bill will implement the proposals set out in the White Paper, Charities: A Framework for the Future, which was published in May 1989. It will complement the important steps which the Charity Commissioners have themselves taken in the past four years to improve the efficiency and the effectiveness of their operations.

The proposals in the White Paper met with the broad approval of the charity world, and indeed of your Lordships, and the Bill therefore follows quite closely the proposals contained in the White Paper. The charity world—if one can so call it—is now big business, if one can so call it that as well. There are 170,000 charities. They have a turnover of £17,000 million a year. When one thinks that the output of British agriculture is some £14,000 to £15,000 million and that agriculture is the largest industry in the United Kingdom, one realises that charity, in all its glory, is very big business indeed. Charities cover subjects which range from a few hundred pounds left to the poor of a village in the 17th century to huge national and international schemes which are aimed at a variety of different projects.

The method of giving has dramatically changed with the advent of credit cards and television. It has always surprised me to see the contrast between the difficulty which a local worthy encounters when trying to raise some money for the village church or village hall and the cascade of wealth, if one might borrow such a phrase, which seems to accompany a telethon project where the donor, in this case the viewer, is invited to give, and does give, to something of which he has no intimate knowledge at all.

Clearly, charitable giving must be adequately regulated and protected. It is vital that the public should have confidence in the way in which charities are run. Confidence is a basic ingredient of both the voluntary and the charitable sector. I am glad to say that the Government have no evidence to suggest that abuse in the charitable sector is widespread or that it is increasing. But any level of abuse in the charity world is unacceptable and proper regulation is therefore essential. The Bill, therefore, gives the Charity Commissioners more effective powers to identify and remedy abuse. It is proposed that the commissioners should have powers to obtain information about the administration of individual charities. That will put them in a far better position to identify cases of risk at an early stage and so to stop abuse.

The responsibilities and the duties of trustees are clarified. We have no wish whatever to put unreasonable burdens on trustees; indeed, we applaud the tremendous amount of voluntary effort which is put nationally into the running of charities by trustees. But the office is not symbolic and there are certain responsibilities which inevitably follow from being a trustee. Charitable funds are very much in the public sphere and in the public spotlight, and trustees have to be publicly accountable for their use. The Bill introduces new accounting and audit requirements for charities. Trustees will be required to submit annual accounts and an annual report to the commissioners, and the Bill will ensure that any member of the public can obtain a copy of a charity's accounts. It is proposed also that there should be a degree of regulation over the activities of professional fund raisers in order to ensure that donors have adequate information about where their money will go.

What we have tried to do is achieve the right balance between freedom and accountability. I look forward to hearing your Lordships' views in due course as to whether we have achieved that. I might add that it would be helpful if your Lordships were to think that we had.

There are other matters on social affairs to which Her Majesty's Government have addressed their mind.

The gracious Speech confirmed the Government's intention to improve the overall standard of health of the population. We intend to make further improvements in the quality and choice of care and to maintain a health service which is universally available and which, as has so often been said, will be free at the point of delivery regardless of means other than for where legislation explicitly permits charging. The Government remain committed to a health service which is funded mainly from taxation.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health announced last Wednesday the Patient's Charter. That will give top priority to the needs of patients and their preferences. It is another example of the way in which the Citizen's Charter initiative, which was launched in the summer by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, will work.

In the education field, the Further and High Education Bill will propose reforms of further and higher education. These were set out in White Papers launched by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on 20th May. It is our intention to ensure that high quality further education or training becomes the norm for all 16 and 17 year-olds who can benefit from it; and that universities and polytechnics can compete for students and funds on an equal basis. Colleges of further education and sixth form colleges will be transferred on 1st April 1993 from local authority control to a new further education sector. They will be funded by new further education funding councils for England and for Wales. Colleges will have greater independence and autonomy and their funding will, in part, be determined by the actual number of students recruited in the year in question. That means that they will have a powerful incentive to expand participation.

Another example of the operation of the Citizen's Charter is in the Parent's Charter. In this, the two principal aims of the Government in relation to school education are spelt out. The first is to improve the management and academic standards of schools. The second, which is closely related to the first, is to widen the choice and to improve the partnership between parents and schools.

In Scotland, similar reforms will be achieved by the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Bill. This will establish boards of management for colleges of further education, which will be funded by the Secretary of State for Scotland.

In Wales the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill will enable the Cardiff Bay Development Corporation to construct a barrage across the estuaries of the rivers Taff and Ely. It is hoped that the erection of the barrage will provide the key to unlocking the potential of the former docklands area of Cardiff.

I have touched upon one or two of what one might describe as the vast panorama of subjects which can be covered by today's debate. My noble friend Lord Henley, I have no doubt, will refer to other matters when he winds up and he will also, no doubt, be able to reply to some—although I doubt whether he will be able to reply to all —of the points which your Lordships may raise.

3.20 p.m.

Lord Richard

My Lords, first, I echo what the noble Earl said about those in your Lordships' House who moved the Motion for the humble Address. Both speeches were thoroughly enjoyable; I certainly enjoyed them greatly.

Secondly, my noble friend Lord Carter, who will wind up the debate from this side of the House, will deal with issues concerning health and social security. I hope that noble Lords will therefore forgive me if I do not comment on the reforms of the National Health Service in the course of my speech.

I welcomed some of the noble Earl's remarks. Of course home and school are extraordinarily important influences. I do not believe that anyone can conceivably deny that. However, a person's life does not stop when he leaves school. Just as important, surely, are the opportunities for a young person to obtain gainful employment and access to industrial training. I shall say a few words at the end of my speech on that. However, I would not wish the House to believe that we share what appears to be the Government's view: that if only the home is right, and if only the school is right, then that will have an enormous impact on the crime figures.

It is inevitable in discussing the gracious Speech that the debate will be somewhat diffuse. There are difficult and differing issues which are dealt with in diverse ways. Therefore discerning a clear theme in the Government's approach is sometimes somewhat difficult. However, when one considers the Home Office aspects of a gracious Speech usually some strands of coherent thinking appear. In most parts of the gracious Speech relating to Home Office affairs one can discern some logical and coherent framework into which the various legislative proposals fit. I am bound to say that in this gracious Speech and in the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, I found none of that coherence and none of the framework that I believe the House and the country are entitled to expect.

With respect to Home Office affairs the Government have almost elevated "ad hoc-ery" to a principle of government. Dealing with some of the causes of crime, and indeed with specific crimes, is no excuse for fitting that into some coherent social framework. I looked for coherence. Was this to be the year for additional protection of citizens' rights? I do not find that in the gracious Speech. I certainly do not find it in the Asylum Bill to which I shall refer. Is this the Session in which law and order is to be rigorously enforced? There is little reference here except for the new offence of prison mutiny to which again I shall revert. It is certainly not the year in which social cohesion appears to be the impetus behind government thinking. On the contrary, put against the background of the Government's other measures—notably their policies towards local authority expenditure—cohesion seems to be the last issue with which they are concerned. Yet it should surely be at the forefront of government thinking when one considers the difficult problem of how to prevent crime.

I firmly believe that there is a social element to offending which the Government seem to ignore. Deprivation and crime are surely linked. I do not believe that anyone really doubts that basic proposition. As our society grows less cohesive, as it has done over the past 12 years, we should not be too surprised if the crime figures continue to rise. It was in vain that I looked for some appreciation of that relationship in the gracious Speech and the speech of the Government Minister. It is all rather like Churchill's pudding; there seems to be no theme. The centre seems somewhat unimaginative and although the icing may be superficially attractive, perhaps even lurid in parts, I fear that the whole pudding may in the end prove to be pretty indigestible.

We are told that we are to expect a number of specific proposals for legislation on Home Office affairs. I refer to the Asylum Bill, the Charities Bill, the prison mutiny Bill and a Bill, promised but as yet unrevealed, on what I consider is appallingly called joyriding.

I wish to say a word on the Asylum Bill. The Government announced their intention to change the law on asylum seekers in a Statement on 2nd July. The gracious Speech refers to a Bill, to enable applications for asylum in the United Kingdom to be dealt with quickly and effectively". The reasons for the change, according to the Home Secretary, and echoed today by the noble Earl, are that the number of people seeking asylum in this country has risen sharply from 5,000 a year in 1988 to more than 30,000 a year in 1990. The current rate of application is nearly 1,000 per week.

It is right to say that the Asylum Rights Campaign disputes the argument that those figures demonstrate an abuse of the system. Its argument—and I believe it is an argument that is entitled to be considered with respct—is that the Government's own figures show that nearly 90 per cent. of all those who claim asylum are allowed to remain in the United Kingdom. It is also worth pointing out that the number seeking asylum in Britain is less than in most other western European countries.

The main points of the Government's proposals as I understand them—I am not sure whether I understand them aright, and I shall be grateful for clarification when the Minister winds up the debate —are, first, that the Home Secretary wants to make absolutely clear that the United Kingdom is not normally prepared to entertain claims from in-dividuals who have failed to claim asylum in the first safe country that they reach. I understand that that is to be achieved by the Dublin convention on asylum, which was signed last year, and by strengthening procedures at sea ports and airports.

Secondly, there is the measure passed recently by your Lordships' House increasing the immigration carriers' liability from £1,000 to £2,000. Thirdly, the Government say that they will improve document checks at certain overseas airports. Document specialists are to advise airline carriers of the authenticity of documents. Fourthly, there is to be a clampdown on multiple applications with the introduction of fingerprinting tests. Fifthly, there is to be simplification and acceleration of the procedure for handling refugee applications, which is the main target of the Bill.

The Home Secretary referred to 50,000 undecided cases—that may well be true—and a backlog of more than 3,000 cases a month. As I understand it, the average decision time at present is no less than 16 months. If one wished to speed up the procedure one would have thought that the length of time which it takes to make a decision should be receiving more urgent treatment. I understand that extra staff at the immigration department are to be recruited and that the Home Secretary hopes to reduces the average decision time to three months. There is nothing wrong in that.

However, certain aspects of the matter cause us concern. If new procedural rules imposing time limits for submission of material in support of claims are to be introduced, speed should not be at the expense of fairness. If the time limits are over-rigidly imposed, it could lead to inadequate preparation of cases and to poor decisions.

When the Statement was made on these matters earlier this year it was suggested that legal aid should be withdrawn from immigration and asylum cases. The Home Secretary proposed that the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service should replace the green form legal aid scheme for providing advice and assistance to applicants. An increase in the grant to the UKIAS was also promised. Is that still government policy? The proposal does not appear in the Bill and the Home Secretary did not refer to the matter in another place. Certainly, the noble Earl did not refer to it today.

I must tell the noble Earl that we on these Benches believe that individuals should have the right to choose which advice to take. That should include the right to consult properly trained solicitors and barristers. In our view it is wrong that the UKIAS should be the sole provider of legal advice. Not only is that wrong in principle and in practice, but there is no network of offices and its staff are not qualified solicitors or barristers.

I also understand that in July the UKIAS refused to comply with the Government's proposals because it had not been consulted. Your Lordships may think it a strange affair that, without bothering to consult the organisation upon which the burden was to be placed, the Home Secretary announced the abolition of legal aid in such cases and said that in future the UKIAS would look after the people involved. Perhaps the Minister will tell the House tonight whether negotiations with the UKIAS are continuing. Is it still the Government's proposal that the organisation should be responsible as the sole provider of legal aid in such cases? We would not be in favour of such a situation.

The noble Earl spoke about speeding up cases. At one stage we were told that there would be a weeding out of the obviously hopeless cases and that they would no longer enter the appeals procedure. I have looked at the Bill, although this is not the opportunity to consider it in detail. However, I understand that the decision upon whether an applicant enters the appeals procedure pipeline will now be taken by the Home Secretary. Surely it is not right that the basic decision on whether anybody has a case after an application for asylum has been made should be taken by the Home Secretary. If one is to have an accelerated procedure of that kind I suggest that such a decision should be taken by someone independent of the Government.

Criticism of the proposals appears to be widespread and increasing. It has come from the Law Society, the Bar Council and the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service. Indeed, noble Lords may have seen a recent article in the Observer written by Mr. Anthony Scrivener, chairman of the Bar Council. When the Bill comes before the House there will be much to occupy us and we shall look at the proposals most carefully. Statements mouthing sentiments about this country remaining jealous of its tradition of receiving asylum seekers are beginning to look somewhat thin.

I have little to say about the Charities Bill at this stage. In broad terms we welcome and shall support the thrust of the Bill. There are some 76 clauses which no doubt your Lordships will wish to examine in detail. Save for the press there is no subject other than charities upon which there are so many experts in the country. We shall support the Bill in broad terms when it comes to this House. It has been a long time in gestation and we shall scrutinise it with care.

I turn now to the offence of prison mutiny which is likely to carry a maximum of 10 years' imprisonment. That follows an announcement made by the Home Secretary on 6th September and a White Paper dealing with prison reform published on 16th September. The response to the proposal for an offence of prison mutiny has been interesting and varied. NACRO stated that the offence would do nothing to reduce the likelihood of prison riots. It pointed out that prisoners involved in violence, damage and disorder can already be charged with a wide range of serious criminal offences. If existing penalties do not work, why should the new offence? NACRO was also worried about the suggestion that resources to repair riot damage must come from existing prison budgets. It fears that that could mean finding money for repairs by reducing regime activities. If that is the case it is a risky strategy because restricted regimes can increase resentment and the chance of further disturbances.

I look forward to seeing the Bill dealing with prison mutiny. As those of us who claim to be lawyers know, the statute book is already pretty full of criminal offences. It appears to me that the new offence is needed only in the case of a mutineer who is non-violent and does not threaten to be violent. There are plenty of crimes for which he can already be charged if he is violent or if he threatens violence. Furthermore, he must not occasion criminal damage in the course of his mutiny and must act alone, otherwise he can be charged with his co-mutineers with an offence of conspiracy.

It is difficult to think of an example of a mutiny for which the offence is needed. The only case that occurs to me is that of a solitary, sit-in protest by one prisoner acting alone, non-violently, in his cell and who breaks no furniture and offers no resistance when removed. That example may just qualify as a situation that the present law does not cover but I do not believe it is precisely the evil that the Government have in mind. We shall consider the Bill carefully and scrutinise its provisions intently lest it be an irrelevance introduced for political purposes by a Home Secretary anxious to pacify his party conference.

I turn to the difficult issues of crime prevention hinted at by the Minister in his speech. I echo the general proposition that it is extremely difficult to prevent the commission of crime. However, one must point out that the most recent crime figures published in September of this year show that recorded crime has more than doubled during the 12 years of this Government. It has risen from 2.2 million in 1979 to a projected 5 million in 1991. That is the steepest rate of increase in history. One must ask why.

Noble Lords will know that the Labour Party has been critical of government thinking on the subject for many years. However, recently it has received powerful backing by a report published quietly—one could say almost clandestinely—by the Home Office in August. It is entitled Safer Communities; The Local Delivery of Crime Prevention Through The Partnership Approach. It was produced by a working group of the Home Office Standing Conference on Crime Prevention under the chairmanship of Mr. James Morgan. The report was released so quietly that few people are aware of its content. The reason is clear: it highlights all the key weaknesses of government thinking to which we have been drawing public attention for some time. The report is independent and perhaps I may quote two or three paragraphs.

If one is to consider objectively the reasons why crimes are committed in this country the report deserves proper consideration. It states: It is the view of the Working Group that the social aspects of crime prevention, which seek to reduce those influences which lead to offending behaviour and the fear of crime, need to receive attention at least equal to that given to the situational aspects of crime prevention in which efforts are made to reduce opportunities for crime and 'harden' potential targets for crime". As regards youth, it states: Youth crime prevention is critically important since half of all recorded crime and three-quarters of all recorded burglaries are committed by those who are under 21". It goes on to state: Considering the significant contribution that young people make to the crime problem, both as victims and offenders, the Working Group was surprised by the lack of references to specific strategies for preventing crime by and against young people". It went on to recommend that local crime prevention work should give particular attention to the issue of young people and crime.

Over the past 12 years government policy has worsened substantially the position of young people in our society. They have had their benefits reduced and as a result there has been a substantial rise in homelessness and deprivation among the very sections of society most prone to criminal activity. Not only that; they have seen their training and employment chances dwindle. It is significant that on the Meadow Wall Estate youth unemployment is no less than 86 per cent.

Youth work has been cut across the country. A forthcoming report by youth workers will show that two-thirds of local education authorities surveyed have cut back youth provision in the past year. Why is that? It is because of the financial squeeze on local authorities and poll tax capping which has taken millions of pounds out of inner city areas causing further impoverishment and decay.

Not only was the Morgan Report concerned with those issues —which we welcome—but it was desperately concerned by what it called a lack of leadership at local level for crime prevention. It stated: There is confusion at local level about the various centrally funded schemes as well as concern about potential overlap and duplication of effort. What is clearly perceived at local level"— I invite the House to note these words— is a tendency for government departments to promote ad hoc initiatives, often implemented without proper consultation either with other government departments or with the local authorities". The report's solution, which we echo, is to give the lead role to local authorities. However, if that is to be done they will require resources.

As I understand it, in Circular 44/90 local authorities were asked what they felt about resources. Not surprisingly the answer was: Durable schemes require resources. It is clear from responses … that lack of long term resources was given as the single biggest threat to both the establishment and the survival of partnership". It went on to recommend that there should be central funding of key activities in a larger number of local authorities.

Government projects in that area are grossly and, indeed, shamefully under resourced. The Safer City programme, which we have heard something about from the Government over the years, provides £250,000 per year for cities the size of Birmingham and Liverpool. That is derisory and is compounded by policies which have actually taken money away from local authorities. As we know, crime is disproportionately concentrated on housing estates. Spending on council housing has declined dramatically during the 1980s. For every one pound spent in 1980, only 33p was spent in 1988. Those are not only Labour Party criticisms but the criticisms of many people who are thoughtful and active in that field. Indeed, they are the criticisms of a Home Office working party.

Those criticisms and putting matters right form a theme which we are disappointed does not appear in the Government's programme, nor does it appear in the gracious Speech. Those criticisms underline the point I made earlier. Merely to deal with the results of crime is no substitute for preventing the crime from taking place. That is the theme which the gracious Speech should have pursued but does not.

Lord Fraser of Kilmorack

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I should like to ask him a question about asylum and the question of immigration. This country, probably above all countries, has the great merit of not having had to build walls to keep its people in. I am sure the noble Lord will agree with me about that. However, when one looks at the potentialities in the present world and the present exponential increase in world population, mostly of people who cannot look after themselves, does the noble Lord believe that the present Government are unwise in the steps which they are now taking to limit immigration and the movement into this country of those who do not seek asylum but who naturally seek a better standard of life?

Lord Richard

My Lords, of course not. However, the asylum Bill does not deal with immigration; it deals with those people who are in the country or coming to it seeking asylum. Of course we do not favour non-genuine asylum seekers coming to this country. The levels of immigration have been dealt with on a number of occasions. I believe it is right to say that the Labour Party has broadly gone along with the Government's approach on immigration.

However, as regards asylum seekers, we are talking about people who come to this country seeking political asylum because they need refuge from an oppressive regime. We are merely saying that there must be a system which excludes those who are insincere and bogus but which virtually guarantees the inclusion of those who are not bogus but are genuine. The present provisions proposed by the Government make more likely the risk of exclusion of genuine asylum seekers.

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