HC Deb 27 March 1985 vol 76 cc238-42W
Mr. Pawsey

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will list his Department's principal achievements since 1979.

Mr. Brittan

We have introduced and pursued a coherent and balanced strategy covering all the main areas of the Department's work.

We have implemented a series of legislative and administrative measures in pursuit of our framework of policies for dealing with the problem of crime, enhancing the effectiveness of the criminal justice system and strengthening public confidence in it.

We have greatly strengthened the police service. On 31 December 1984, there were 120,573 police officers and 38,898 civilian staff, so that the total manpower available to the police service had increased by 10,400 since December 1979. The Metropolitan police had 26,766 police officers and 13,645 civilian staff on 31 December 1984, an increase of 5,000 in the same period. The recruitment of civilians for administrative work has released more police officers for operational duties.

In November 1983 I invited chief officers of police and police authorities to review their objectives and priorities and to ensure that resources are allocated, and police and civilian manpower are deployed, in ways which will most effectively and efficiently secure those objectives and priorities. I have asked Her Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary to monitor how the guidance in the circular is being implemented, and also to ensure that examples of good practice are widely disseminated. Substantial improvements in efficiency have been made in forces, including the redeployment of several hundred police officers to operational duties, the revision of shift systems to ensure maximum cover when it is most needed, greater involvement of uniformed officers in the investigation of crime, and more imaginative use of special constables, especially for crime prevention duties.

Public support for the police is essential. Section 106 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 came into effect on 1 January 1985; it requires arrangements to be made in each police area for obtaining the views of the public on policing and their co-operation in preventing crime. This reinforces the guidance issued by my predecessor in 1982 to improve consultation between the community and police, designed to encourage full discussion of issues of local concern and to strengthen community action in support of the police, especially in tackling crime.

We have strengthened preventive action against crime in a number of ways. In 1982 the Department convened an interdepartmental group to consider the reduction of crime. Subsequently provision was made within the urban programme for funding preventive initiatives; a major seminar was held to encourage local preventive action and, in January 1984, a joint departmental circular issued with police and local authority support. We have established a standing conference on crime prevention. A crime prevention unit was set up in 1983 and we are reviewing training for crime prevention. The first national conference of crime prevention panel representatives for 12 years was held in Cardiff last October.

In the light of the report by Sir Lawrence Byford, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary, into the Yorkshire Ripper case, my Department has assisted the police in developing new procedures and improved training for the investigation of a series of major crimes. We have developed for the police service a specification for a computerised major inquiry system (HOLMES) which will be used by all forces in the handling of major investigations.

We have continued to assist the police service in tackling serious disorder and in avoiding injuries to police officers by making available new protective equipment and supporting a thorough re-examination of training and tactics; and by the implementation of a comprehensive public order training programme. This programme of work proved its value in the 1984–85 miners' dispute, when the police service faced the most serious, sustained an widespread campaign of violence, intimidation and public disorder which has been witnessed for many years. The Government gave the police their full support in the action they took to maintain order, to protect miners an their families from intimidation, and to ensure that those who wished to exercise their right to go to work were able to do so.

I have recently completed the review of public order law and related legislation which was initiated by my predecessor in 1979. The Government intend to announce the conclusions of the review in a White Paper which will be published shortly.

Legislation has been enacted to enhance both the powers available to deal with terrorism and the safeguards for the citizen under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

We have introduced legislation to provide a clear statutory framework for the authorisation and control of the interception of communications for limited but important purposes in the public interest, and to provide effective safeguards and remedies against abuse.

Revised and strengthened Home Office guidelines on the use of equipment in police surveillance operations have been issued and made public, and new Home Office guidelines on the work of special branches have been issued and, for the first time, made public.

In the light of Lord Scarman's report, my Department has taken forward, in conjunction with the police and local authorities, a thorough review of police training, including new programmes, to equip officers to deal with all section of the public in a sensitive and effective way; to prepare new entrants better for their responsibilities as police officers; and to enhance the training given to other ranks of the service. Two specific achievements in the area are the new and extended programme of police probationer training, which was brought into operation in January 1984 and, in the fields of community and race relations training for the police, the establishment of an independent training support centre at Brunel university.

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act, which received Royal Assent in October 1984, modernises and clarifies the powers available to the police for the investigation of crime and, at the same time, provides new safeguards for the citizen. It rationalises and modernises the law on evidence in criminal proceedings. It establishes new arrangements for dealing with complaints against the police, strengthening the independent element in the investigation of serious complaints and making possible the informal resolution of minor cases.

In the Criminal Justice Act 1982 we strengthened the powers of the courts do deal with offenders, particularly those under the age of 21. To maintain public confidence in the measures taken to deal with crimes of violence, we made it known that people sentenced to life imprisonment for certain particularly heinous kinds of murder will normally be detained for at least 20 years; and we have severely restricted the grant of parole to prisoners sentenced to more than five years' imprisonment for offences of violence or drug trafficking. At the same time we have put in train measures to divert from custody those guilty of less serious offences, and have reduced the minumum qualifying period for parole from 12 to six months.

We have given priority to the provision of adequate resources for the courts and other services dealing with offenders, while taking steps to increase the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of these services.

The number of probation officers in field posts has increased from 4,673 on 30 June 1979 to 5,463 on 31 December 1984; over the same period the number pf probation ancillaries increased from 788 to 1,310. We have issued a statement of national objectives and priorities for the probation service, as a basis on which local services can construct their own plans and ensure that their own resources are deployed to the best effect.

We have opended 48 new attendance centres, including 16 senior centres.

We have introduced legislation to establish a Crown prosecution service, to make further provision for the payment of costs in criminal cases and to provide for the introduction of time limits in criminal proceedings.

We publushed in February a Green Paper on extradition and have opened negotiations with Spain with a view to re-establishing extradition arrangements.

We have established, under Home Office chairmanship, the ministerial group on the misuse of drugs to review and develop the Government's overall strategy for tackling drug misuse. Barbiturates have been brought under the control of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and consultations are taking place on the detailed changes necessary to enable us to ratify the United nations convention of psychotropic substances 1971. We are supporting private Members' Bills to increase to life imprisonment the maximum penalty for trafficking in drugs such as heroin and cocaine and to limit the blatant sales of solvents to young people for misuse. We have also made clear our determination to find more effective ways of depriving drug traffickers of the proceeds of their crimes and have announced our intention to introduce legislation in this Parliament to provide for the confiscation of the proceeds of crime.

We have enabled local authorities to control the spred of sex shops and sex cinemas. We have given assistance with measures designed to restrict indecent displays, extend licensing controls to commercial cinema clubs, and establish a system of classification for video recordings which will deal with the problem of "video naties."

We have strengthened and clarified the powers of the courts to make compensation orders. We have revised and extended the criminal injuries compensation scheme and announced our intention to introduce legislation in this Parliament to place it on a statutory footing. We have participated in the preparation of the Council of Europe convention on the compensation of victims of violent crimes. We have given financial support to the National Association of Victims Support Schemes, and we have provided funds for experimental projects in repatriation by offenders to victims of their crimes.

In the Repatriation of Prisoners Act 1984, we have provided powers for the transfer of prisoners to and from the United Kingdom to enable them to serve their sentences in their homes countries. We have participated in the prepatriation of the Council of Europe convention on the transfer of sentenced persons.

We have continued to improve management and efficiency in the prison department and in particular have taken steps to forge better lines of communications and accountability within the prison service.

Under the expansion programme for prison staffing announced last year, the number of serving prison officers has risen to 18,400.

We have continued the major programme of new prison building and refurbishment of the existing prison estate. An additional two new prisons have been added to the programme during the past year making a total of 16 new establishments currently under construction or design. Over the past four years, the programme has produced some 3,000 new inmate places.

We have restructured the young offender custodial system with the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 1982.

We have applied many of the features of the experiment with tougher regimes in detention centres in a new consistent regime for the whole detention centre system which took effect on 6 March 1985.

We have maintained a firm and fair immigration control. In 1984, fewer people were accepted for settlement than in any year since control of Commonwealth immigration began in 1962. The British Nationality Act 1981 has brought nationality law up to date and created a new British citizenship for those who belong to this country. A White Paper (Cmnd. 9183) announced improvements in the handling of applications for British citizenship and reduced fees for the majority of applicants. We have continued our efforts to promote good community relations and to create a society in which there is equality of opportunity, rights and responsibilities.

In accordance with the provisions of the Broadcasting Act 1981, a fourth television channel has been established and new arrangements made for Welsh broadcasting. Legislation has been enacted to provide for the establishment of the Cable Authority and the development of cable systems providing both entertainment and other (including inter active) services. Legislation has also been enacted to provide for direct broadcasting by satellite. Local radio continues to expand and legislative provision has been made for the basis of an independent national radio service. Proposals for community radio are being developed.

The Data Protection Act has been passed and will enable the United Kingdom to ratify the Council of Europe convention on this matter.

We have reviewed our civil defence preparations, increased the resources available for them, brought into operation in December 1983 new regulations requiring local authorities to play their full part in civil defence planning, and in October 1984 appointed a civil defence adviser to monitor local authorities' progress and advise them.

We have introduced a major Representation of the People Bill which, amongst other things, extends absent voting rights to holidaymakers and to many British citizens abroad.

We issued, in May 1983, a White Paper on scientific procedures on living animals (Cmnd. 8883), which set out proposals for major new legislation in this field. These proposals would modernise and extend the law so as to provide more effective protection for animals used for the purpose of scientific research.

A committee of inquiry was set up to consider proposals to amend the Shops Acts. We are currently considering its report.

We have introduced a system of annual performance reviews which ensures that each part of the Home Office has an agreed programme of work and objectives to enable the Department's strategic aims to be achieved.