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Home Department

Volume 955: debated on Thursday 3 August 1978

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Bromley (Model Aircraft Flying)


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he now expects to be able to confirm the byelaws submitted by the London borough of Bromley in respect of model aircraft flying in parks.

As soon as certain technical problems are resolved, and the local authority has completed the statutory procedures.

Is it not incredible that, four years after Bromley council first applied for a ban on model aircraft flying and 19 months after the local public inquiry, letters are still being exchanged between the council and the Home Office about the precise technical wording of the byelaws? As the hon. Lady's last act in office, will she cut the red tape, confirm the byelaws, bring relief to my long-suffering constituents and make a place for herself in the history books of Bromley?

As I have shown the hon. Gentleman in a letter just sent to him, which was the Department's reply to the Bromley council, the council has made the matter more difficult by deciding to remake all its parks byelaws. The byelaws are extremely complex. They involve much drafting, and different statutes apply to the council's various parks and open spaces. We are proceeding as quickly as we can with a complex matter.

Crimes Of Violence (Young Persons)


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is satisfied with current trends in crimes of violence and vandalism among young people and, in particular, those involving elderly victims.

No one can be satisfied with the present level of offences committed by young people. I am glad to say, however, that the figures for both violence against the person and criminal damage by offenders under 21 have increased at a much slower rate during the past four years than in the preceding four years. The information which is collected centrally does not distinguish details of the victims of offences and I cannot, therefore, say how elderly victims have been affected by this trend.

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, but is he aware that it is not simply a cliche but a cruel fact of life today that many elderly people are reluctant to leave their homes, not only during the night but during the day, for fear of being mugged? When will he take steps, such as putting more police on the beat, tougher sentences and tougher detention centres, to make our streets safe for all our citizens at all times?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will one day get away from the coin-operated solutions which in half a sentence seem to incorporate the whole cure for crime. He will find when he studies these matters rather more closely that harsher sentences of themselves have never worked as a prevention of crime. It is a much more complex matter than that.

As for elderly people being afraid to walk the streets, certainly there are some but I do not devalue the police and do not have such a low opinion of the police as Opposition Members as to say that that is a universal trait in Britain

Does my hon. Friend agree that this is an extremely complex matter? Is he aware that I have asked my chief constable and the local police to put on more patrols? They have done so. They have stepped up the campaign against vandalism. However, I have had petitions and complaints from residents in the areas concerned claiming that their children are being harassed by the police. Therefore, the problem is much more complicated and much more difficult than Opposition Members think. Sometimes we think that we are doing the best for our local constituents, only to discover that we have antagonised some who think that in no circumstances would their children be involved in any such thing as vandalism.

The real key—if there is a single important factor—is to involve the public with the police in combating vandalism at a local level. Every district experiences local variations in vandalism. The local community must co-operate with the police to tackle the problem.

Does the Minister agree, in the light of all the evidence, that the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 has failed to stem the alarming growth in this kind of persistent juvenile crime? Does he agree that that is the view of most magistrates who sit in juvenile courts? Will he consider, as a matter of urgency, giving magistrates in juvenile courts the powers that they so desperately need to deal effectively with juvenile crime?

The hon. and learned Gentleman does not appear to have kept abreast of the developments in the working party of local authorities and the Magistrates' Association which my right hon. Friend mentioned during the television debate last Saturday. A copy of the working party's report was placed in the Library yesterday. The local authorities and the Magistrates' Association agree that for the vast majority of juveniles the Children and Young Persons Act is a suitable provision.

We are talking about a tiny minority of persistent offenders. Certainly there is a difference of opinion between the local authorities and the magistrates about that. But they have agreed on a code of practice which I hope will help in future.

Is the Minister aware that some of us do not accept that the elderly ladies of Bournemouth, East are frightened to step outside their doors because they will be mugged and that there is no correlation between the advent of a free enterprise Government and an increase in violent crime? Does he agree that the issues that the Opposition seek to ferment as being party political are completely irrelevant to the problem? Does he agree that under the Children and Young Persons Act the number of people who are occupying places of residence in what are now community homes is more than the number who were in the former remand homes or attendance centres?

My hon. Friend's last point is correct. Opposition Members do not seem to realise that the measure which preceded the Children and Young Persons Act failed miserably. Ever more custodial sentences did not point a way forward. I accept that the present Act is by no means perfect. But we are increasing the number of secure places. The magistrates and the local authorities have agreed that the Children and Young Persons Act is the best method of dealing with the majority of young offenders.

The last question, with its casual and uncomprehending attitude, will send fear through many people about this important issue. I return to the question of the report from the Magistrates' Association and the local authorities. Is the Minister right to say that the question of restoring power to magistrates to make residential care orders has been put aside? If he reads the report, he will see that it has not been. Does he agree that the magistrates have asked yet again for powers to make residential care orders and to direct local authorities to keep youngsters in secure care until the time of trial?

Are these not important recommendations? Is the Minister aware that they come after many magistrates have pleaded for these changes? When will the Home Office act in response to these urgent pressures?

That shows that distance does not provide intelligent appreciation. If the hon. Member had listened, he would have mastered a simple issue. I said that there was disagreement on that matters between the magistrates and the local authorities. I did not say that the issue had been put aside.

If the official Opposition say that restoring to magistrates a power to commit a handful of juveniles to secure accommodation will solve the juvenile crime problem, they grossly mislead the people for party political ends.

Anti-Nazi League


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has consulted the police concerning the plans of the Anti-Nazi League to establish vigilante groups in areas with a high proportion of immigrants; and if he will make a statement.

The investigation of crime and the maintenance of public order are the responsibility of the police. It is therefore for the police and not vigilante groups to uphold law and order in this country.

I welcome what the Minister has just said. Does she agree that we would be better off to follow the advice of the electorate and to ridicule or ignore the National Front, instead of doing what Peter Hain suggests and escalating the situation by creating vigilante groups? Will she confirm that the police do not think that they are incapable of dealing with the situation in the East End or elsewhere or that the Anti-Nazi League will in any way help calm down the atmosphere in certain places?

To the knowledge of the police, no such vigilante groups have been formed. The Anti-Nazi League has not directly advocated their formation. The police and the Government believe that the best thing is for people not to take the law into their own hands. When trouble is suspected or when there is evidence of trouble, people should report it to the police.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it was principally because of the Conservative leader's attack on immigrants earlier this year that the Anti-Nazi League had to be formed? Does she agree that it is significant that in elections that have taken place recently the National Front vote has decreased? Does she accept that when the General Election takes place the Anti-Nazi League will perform against the National Front on all possible occasions?

The views held by the National Front and any racist organisation are extremely objectionable. The Anti-Nazi League, provided that it carries out its activities peacefully and without violence, will not fall out of favour with the police. The police are concerned only about maintaining law and order.

The Minister referred to citizens taking the law into their own hands. Is it not the common law duty of every citizen to do the best in his power on the spot to prevent a breach of the peace?

The citizen performs that duty by reporting promptly to the police any crime or suspect activity.

Does my hon. Friend agree that immigrants generally are much too intelligent to want to take the law into their own hands? Does she agree that they fully appreciate that they must be alert in order to present evidence to the police? Does she agree that, as long as they feel that in some respects they cannot trust the police, they are bound to look in other directions?

There is no reason for them to feel that they cannot trust the police. In the East End, where there has been some trouble recently, leaflets and posters in English, Bengali and Urdu have been distributed to the residents advising them how to seek police help and advice.

Is not the advice which the Minister has properly given to the House the same advice as has been given by leading members of the immigrant communities? Is she aware that they agree that the police are to be trusted to keep law and order and to protect all citizens in the realm?

My right hon. Friend has met the High Commissioner of Bangladesh and representatives of the standing conference of Pakistani organisations and conveyed those sentiments to them.

Juvenile And Young Adult Offenders


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what new proposals he has for dealing with juvenile and young adult offenders; and if he will make a statement.

We hope to publish later this year a consultation document on a new custodial sentence to replace imprisonment, borstal training and detention centres for young offenders between the ages of 17 and 21 years. This will have implications for the treatment of juvenile offenders, which will be the subject of separate consultation.

Is the Minister aware that that information will be welcomed by those who are interested in this matter? We look forward to reading the proposals, particularly since the 1977 criminal statistics indicate that half the burglaries, one-third of offences of criminal damage and one-third of offences involving theft are committed by children under the age of 17—and a higher proportion by those under the age of 21.

Does the Minister agree that a number of these youngsters are not socially deprived but anti-social hooligans who need punishment rather than treatment? Will he look again at the proposal for shorter detention involving rigorous treatment and conditions and strong discipline? Will he bear in mind that that line is supported not only by magistrates but by others who are not noted for their reactionary views, such as the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk)?

Of course, there are examples of people from what we would call satisfactory homes who commit crimes. There is no question about that. However, what I have been trying to tell Opposition Members—all morning, it seems to me—is that one cannot have a neat stereotype into which juvenile delinquents fall. It is a vastly complex subject.

What we have to do in framing a criminal policy is to give to the courts as wide an array of powers to deal with offenders as is possible. I hope that the addition of a generic sentence to that array—that is what we are talking about when we are dealing with the consultation document—will add greatly to it. It will be the subject of consultation, and, therefore, I hope that it will be the subject of widespread discussion. I hope that it does not meet with the instant illiteracy that some recent enlightened reports have received from sonic sensational newspapers.

Does not my hon. Friend agree, however, that prevention would be much better than cure? What steps are being taken by the Home Office, or by anyone else in Government, to identify the adolescents at risk in any community and to provide them with the sort of risk and adventure opportunity that might be an alternative? Are not these steps much better than some more controversial steps of which we have heard recently?

The chief aim of any police force is to prevent crime rather than merely to pick up criminals after crime has been committed. But I return to the point I made earlier. There are infinite numbers of variations on vandalism, according to the area. Therefore, it is for the chief officer of police in each area, in common with the local authorities and all other authorities in the area, to identify the causes and to take steps to remedy them. My right hon. Friend has called all these interested bodies together in a national conference to discuss this point. I believe that that is the way forward.

As someone who has something to do with the implementation of the Children and Young Persons Act, may I ask the Minister of State whether he agrees that the failure of the present Government to bring forward any proposal for the amendment of those parts of the Act which in working have been proved to be unsatisfactory, as shown by the Select Committee, is a very grave dereliction of duty at a time of rising crime?

As the Select Committee reported, in a section of the report which the hon. and learned Member has ignored, the Children and Young Persons Act cannot be held responsible for the rise in juvenile crime. To take the case of vandalism, for example, the average rise over the last four years in criminal damage committed by juveniles is only 1 per cent. a year, as compared with 16 per cent. for the four years before.

I shall call one more hon. Member from each side of the House on this Question, and then we shall have to move faster with the other Questions.

While I accept that there are many cases in which a custodial sentence is quite unavoidable, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he agrees that, wherever it is avoidable, it is more sensible to require the offender to do something useful? What steps are being taken, therefore, to extend and intensify the community service scheme, particularly with a view to extending its scope at the juvenile end of the age limits?

One has to be careful in the sense that community service orders are available only for offenders of the ages of 17 and 18.

We are certainly extending the number of attendance centres. There are now 67 as opposed to 60. We are thinking of introducing early next year experimental attendance centres for girls.

I think that the constructive use of leisure is one of the points that we must look at to see that people do not persistently reoffend. I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend that sometimes detention is a regrettable necessity, but unless it is coupled with a determination not to reoffend it will be useless.

Is it not important, however, to differentiate between the rate of recidivism and the number of young people who commit crimes for the first time? Is it not a fact, borne out by the statistics, that measures such as community service orders—which I very much welcome—have been very successful in reducing the rate of recidivism but that with regard to the number of crimes committed by young people for the first time it is the likelihood of detection rather than the severity and toughness of further penal measures which is more likely to have an impact?

The likelihood of detection is obviously an important point. Toughness of sentence by itself does not, in my view and in the view of history, have a great part in the deterrence of crimes. We are very conscious of the importance of community service orders, and wherever possible we would like to use constructive ways of treating people in order to prevent recidivism.

Official Information


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many representations he has received on the subject of the supply of official information to the public since the publication of the White Paper on official secrets on 19th July.

Assuming that my hon. Friend is referring to written representations, the answer is six as of:31st July.

Is my right hon Friend aware that the form of the White Paper has caused very great problems in regard to the difference between what we promised at the last General Election about open government and what the Government now seem willing to do? May I ask him a little more about paragraph 49 of the White Paper, in which a detailed study about official information is mentioned? When will the study start, and when does he expect it to be completed?

With regard to manifesto commitments, if my hon. Friend examines that matter he will find that the vast majority have been carried out.

This is a most complicated matter. Even if one had moved more quickly, the chances of getting it on to the statute book would not have been very high.

We said in paragraph 49 of the White Paper what we proposed to do. We are now moving on that. I cannot give a date as to when it will appear. However, I put it to my hon. Friend that, although the experience abroad is valuable to us, whatever we do we must relate to the experience of this country and we must not simply paste into the statute book something which has been done in different circumstances abroad.

Law And Order


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is satisfied with the success of the police forces in upholding law and order.

The police services are to be commended for the way in which they have responded to the challenge of increasing crime. The increase in strength which will, we hope, result from the implementation of the Edmund-Davies report, and the increases in financial resources which the Government have made available, will strengthen them in their difficult task.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is she aware that we have read newspaper reports this morning about the Metropolitan Police Commissioner asking for quite remarkable new powers and that this matter will need very careful study? Is my hon. Friend prepared to accept the proposition that what is really required is much closer liaison between all police forces, education authorities, the Magistrates' Association, chambers of commerce, trades councils and that sort of thing? In other words, will my hon. Friend consider establishing a partnership between the police and the people?

I entirely support what my hon. Friend has said. In many areas, including my constituency, there is such a partnership. The police are making every effort to make links with the local authorities, voluntary organisations and members of the public so that everyone works together.

Does not the Minister agree that it would be much more helpful if, first, courts used their powers of sentencing rather more severely than they do now, within the existing sentences, and, secondly, some of her hon. Friends could give a little more support to the police than customarily they do?

The courts have powers given to them by Parliament, and it is for the courts to use them in each individual case as they see fit. It would be quite wrong for Parliament to tell the courts how to use their powers.

Commissioner Of Police Of The Metropolis


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when next he expects to meet the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis.


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to meet the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis in August.

I met the Commissioner last Friday and have no immediate plans for another meeting.

Can the Commissioner, however, count on the Home Secretary's support for his call for greater powers for the police to combat the rapid increase in crime? As last year more crimes were committed in London than in New York, is it not time that greater emphasis was given to the prime duty of protecting the safety and freedom of the ordinary citizen rather than compromising with wishy-washy progressive opinion, particularly on the right hon. Gentleman's own Back Benches?

The Commissioner can count on my support for what he does in the city. If, in the way he framed his question, the hon. Gentleman was attempting to say otherwise, I resent it.

As for the report, of which I have a copy here, most people who have commented upon it today have not read it. I suggest to the hon. Member that he reads the evidence, which is freely available from Scotland Yard and is evidence to a Royal Commission. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's great experience means that he could knock off something and send it to the Royal Commission so that when the report comes to the House we can consider what he proposes.

As the Commissioner has specifically complained that the Act protecting badgers gives a right of search greater than the right of search where people are suspected of committing murder, will the Home Secretary discuss the matter urgently with the Commissioner? Since nearly 1,000 Metropolitan policemen have been injured in political disturbances on the streets of London in the last year, will he discuss with the Commissioner Lord Scarman's proposal for amendment of the Public Order Act 1936?

I have been discussing the amendment of the 1936 Act. There is one aspect of it with regard to incitement which should be looked at. I have consulted all the chiefs of police in the country, and the general consensus is to leave the Act as it is. The hon. Member referred to the question of badgers. His point shows partly why the Royal Commission was set up. The evidence should be put to the Commission and considered. There is a balance of judgment as between the rights of the individual and of society, but it was because the argument had been continuing for some years that the Commission was set up. The Commissioner has now put his views to the Royal Commission.

I have not had the opportunity of reading the evidence, but I have heard the news today. Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us are somewhat disturbed—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] In spite of the vigilantes on the Tory Benches, many of us feel that the law as it stands is reasonably sufficient, if correctly applied, to deal with crime. We are worried that the Commissioner wants further rights which, we feel, would be an infringement of civil liberties

It wa,s this sort of concern that caused the setting up of the Royal Commission on the whole prosecuting process. Of course, these matters are handled differently in Scotland. We had a discussion on this matter during the passage of the legislation in 1977. The Commissioner has put his views forward. This is a pretty thick report—[Laughter.] It is a large report. I think that the adjective "thick" applies to other things rather than the report. I suggest that my hon. Friend reads the report. There is interesting material in it. That is why the Commissioner gave evidence.

Since the Edmund-Davies Committee made it so unmistakably clear that it believed that, if the police were to be enabled to do their job properly, the full awards it recommended should be paid on 1st September, though it acknowledged that the Government, for their reasons, might wish to phase them. why did the Home Secretary mislead the House on 17th July in denying that in an answer which fastidiously confined itself to personal abuse of me? Why has the Home Secretary persisted in this in correspondence with me?

Immigration Act 1971


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is satisfied with the working of the Immigration Act 1971.

The Government believe that a new nationality law, on which they have published a Green Paper, would provide a more rational basis for immigration control. In the meantime, I and my colleagues give close and personal attention to the operation of the existing law.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's recent statement on the extent to which Ministers will look at individual cases. May I draw his attention to the Kassamali case, with which he will be familiar? My constituency Labour Party and I regard his current decision to deport some members of the family, thus dismembering this good family, as heartless, cruel and excessively bureaucratic. Will my right hon. Friend meet a deputation from my constituency party and myself soon in order thoroughly to discuss the matter, which is upsetting race relations in my constituency?

This particular case has been considered for over a year. Both the Ministers in my Department and I have considered it. It is my job as Secretary of State to take the final decision. I believe that I am acting in accordance with the law and that I am doing the right thing. I would not have done it otherwise. All that is happening now is that this issue goes on from week to week and week to week and it is being suggested that we are holding up the case. I see no reason to discuss the matter further.

Will the Home Secretary confirm that the hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) was kicked sideways in the Home Office in response to representations from, among others, the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) that she was operating the Immigration Act too restrictively? Will he further confirm that the Government have no intention whatever of further restricting the flow of immigrants into this country?

We made abundantly clear in April what we were doing about immigration. At that time speeches were being made which gave the idea that the Opposition were going to do a great deal. In the event, we were shown that precious little was going to be done. The Government's view is quite clear on that. There was no question of moving Ministers because of the question that the hon. Gentleman has raised. It certainly was nothing to do with anything that was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell).

Civil Servants (Closed Shop)


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received about the imposition of a closed shop in the Civil Service from civil servants employed in his Department.

Will the Home Secretary take this opportunity of explaining in the clearest terms that he is personally strongly opposed to the imposition of a closed shop throughout the Civil Service in general and in his Department in particular? Has the right hon. Gentleman noticed the case of the 43 railway-men, many of whom had served a lifetime of faithful service, who were dismissed by British Rail without compensation because of the presumed offence of being unwilling to join a union?

The answer to the first part of the question is "No". The second part does not fall within my responsibility and I do not know enough about it. The closed shop is a complicated matter. As the previous Government showed in their legislation, there is a case for it.

Since there seem to be nearly as many people waiting for passports as there are unemployed, and since there is no closed shop in the Civil Service, will the Home Secretary make contingency plans to see that in future holiday seasons the delay which is currently occasioned in passport offices is not repeated?

I shall see that the hon. Gentleman's view is passed to the Foreign Office. Passports are not a matter for the Home Office.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply I give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest moment.

Television Licensing Records Office


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is satisfied with the procedures of the National Television Licensing Records Office.

Is the Minister aware that a constituent of mine was last year visited after dark by two officials demanding to know whether she had a television set, even though she had had no set for 18 years and had several times filled in a form to say so? In spite of assurances that this would not happen again, she is being harassed with further demands to explain whether she has a television set. Is it not possible to stop this kind of harassment?

It is regrettable that Mrs. King, the lady in question, was subject to two inquiries because of two different methods of enforcing the television licensing law—[Laughter.] I do not believe that this is a laughing matter, since the BBC is financed entirely—£300 million a year—by television licences. It is therefore essential that evasion, which is widespread, should be avoided. It should not be necessary for Mrs. King to receive a further inquiry for another year, but it is essential, considering that the majority of households have television, that an efficient system of licence revenue collection should be operated.

Does my hon. Friend agree that many of these problems would be avoided if all pensioners living alone were allowed not to pay the television licence fee? Does she understand that many retired people regard the recent application by the BBC for a substantial increase in the fee as totally unjustified and unacceptable?

Although everyone, I think, would like pensioners to have free television, it would cost the taxpayer £90 million a year. As I have said, the BBC costs £300 million a year, and that revenue at present is raised through licences.

Crime Victims (Compensation)


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to improve the compensation to victims of crime.

In addition to having increased in the Criminal Law Act 1977 the maximum compensation that may be ordered by magistrates' courts, the Government have under consideration some improvements in the criminal injuries compensation scheme, as recommended by a working party which has been reviewing the scheme, and the implications for the scheme of the Pearson Commission report.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Although about £9½ million was paid out last year to 14,000 claimants by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, is it not a fact that a large number of victims of crime do not claim or are unaware that they can claim for criminal injury, and that in any case it is only victims of violence who can claim under the scheme? Will he, therefore, in giving sympathetic consideration to these proposals, particularly consider improving the scale and coverage of the publicity which is given to the criminal injuries compensation scheme?

There is a danger with all schemes that people are unaware of their rights under them, but the hon. Gentleman makes a mistake in thinking that the criminal injuries compensation scheme is the only such scheme. Magistrates' courts and other courts made 90,000 orders last year for compensation for the victims of crime. Most of those were in respect of property. As for personal injury, I understand that the Magistrates' Association is preparing guidelines to assist magistrates in assessing compensation for cases of minor personal injury.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the vast majority of victims of crimes against property would far prefer compensation for the property that is lost than see the criminal sent to prison for long custodial sentences, which often result only in making him a more efficient criminal? Does he not agree that that kind of argument should be put across to the public and that we should be more concerned with compensating people in that way than with lengthy prison sentences?

I cannot know the mass psychology of people who have been subject to crimes. I believe, however, that people feel pretty sore towards the offender as well as towards the offence. We should have a fair system which enables courts to award compensation wherever that seems appropriate, but where there is no alternative to custodial sentences in the discretion of the courts they must award such sentences.

To what extent do the measures mentioned by the Minister cover vandalism and compensation for the victims of vandalism? Has he any further proposals to make in that respect?

I thought that I had made it tolerably clear, but I will repeat it for the hon. Gentleman's sake. We have extended the amount of compensation which can be awarded by the courts. In the magistrates' courts it is up to a maximum of £1,000. In other courts it is unlimited. A total of 90,000 such orders were made, primarily for offences to property, which includes the crime which the hon. Gentleman describes as vandalism but which in fact comprises a number of separate offences.

Will the right hon. Gentleman find time during the recess to read the report of the working party on victims produced by his noble Friend Lord Longford and others, some recommendations of which certainly deserve consideration? Will he confirm that, although magistrates and other courts have power to make compensation orders, in only about 9 per cent. of cases of personal injury are such orders made? Should not the courts be encouraged as far as possible to use the powers they already have?

That is why the Magistrates' Association is issuing the guidelines that I mentioned earlier. I shall certainly try to find time to read that report, although I hope that some lighter reading will come across my desk. However, one of the central recommendations of the working party—that there should be a Minister for the victims of violent crime—strikes me as arrant nonsense.

Government Policy (Formulation)


asked the Prime Minister if he will reissue his instructions to Ministers and civil servants to release as many background papers as possible concerning the formulation of Her Majesty's Government policy.

A growing number of background papers are now being issued concerning the formulation of Government policy, and I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that as all Ministers are actively concerned to make this matter a success, there is no need for me to issue any fresh guidance.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman feel that he should have the honesty to issue more information, so that the public can see why his policies on prices, unemployment and defence have been so disastrous and why he is systematically destroying the aspirations of the British people?

I had assumed that the hon. Member was seriously concerned about this matter, so I gave him a serious reply. On the general issues that he raises, background papers are issued on all matters of Government policy where that is appropriate and where useful information can be conveyed.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, although all parties make obeisance to the idea of open government at all times, it has been very disappointing for some of us on the Back Benches that the Government have not been able to go further on this matter? Will he assure us that the present instructions to Ministers are not his last word on the subject and that when we all return with renewed vigour he will be able to look at this matter again and go a little further towards fulfilling the wording of our 1974 election manifesto?

I know that my hon. Friend and others are disappointed about this, and I should obviously like to satisfy them if I could, but if he looks at the list of papers that I published in Hansard on 18th May in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), which covered several columns, he will see the kind of material that has been published. I asked again about this matter this morning. I find. for example, that a large number of foreign policy papers has been published, as well as background briefs on Euro-Communism, on the Anglo-American proposals, on MBFR from the Soviet viewpoint, by the Ministry of Defence on the location of the tankers at Fairford and by the DHSS on the repayment of supplementary benefits, with 40 published background notes. I think that the Government have lived up to their undertakings to publish more information. Although we have not gone as far as the manifesto commitment, which would mean a whole change in the area and ambit of Government responsibilities, I think that we should be given credit for what we have done.

Yes, but the Prime Minister is responsible for a number of confidential documents, some of which might well be released before he goes off to his well-earned rest on his country estate in Sussex. Will he consider releasing some of the documents which he has no doubt handled concerning the decision that he has to make over whether to give his full-hearted endorsement to the Labour candidate at Dundee, East, who was three times a Communist Party candidate and who, what is more, left the party only eight months ago but has not left his convictions behind him?

Order. The Prime Minister may be questioned only on matters for which he is responsible, and I understand from an answer which he gave on Tuesday that he is not responsible for the choice of candidates.

Prime Minister (Engagements)


asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 3rd August.

In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding meetings with ministerial colleagues and others.

I recognise the integrity of the Prime Minister's endeavours, but, with reference to his official activities, since this may be his last appearance at the Dispatch Box, will he find time now to tell us which of his political achievements in his official capacity he thinks has been of most benefit to the nation? Was it when he was Home Secretary and gerrymandered the parliamentary boundaries or destroyed "In Place of Strife"? Was it when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1968 and helped to create the economic collapse and devalued the pound? Or is it now when, as Prime Minister, he has created record unemployment?

I think that the time has not yet come for me to write my autobiography. There will be plenty of time left for that in due course. However, at this interim stage in my early career—remembering, as I do, that Mr. Gladstone formed his last Administration at the age of 83, and I hope to emulate him in being the only other Prime Minister, apart from Lloyd George, to address the Welsh Eisteddfod in Cardiff on Sunday, so we have more than one thing in common—if I were asked such a question, I should like to think that perhaps the best service that I have rendered to the country has been in trying to rescue it from the ungovernable position in which it seemed to be left by the Conservative Party, in trying to create a sense of common endeavour and consensus between both sides of industry, and in overcoming the rate of inflation which was wished upon us by the Conservative Party.

As part of my official engagements on Tuesday, I was listening to my right hon. Friend answering Questions, and I heard a lot of comment from the Opposition Benches about the need to get rid of quangos. As part of his duties in the next Session, will my right hon. Friend take due account of that matter and get rid of the biggest quango of all—possibly without the support of the Tory Opposition—namely, the undemocratic House of Lords?

I am sure that my hon. Friend will not misunderstand me when I say that I am glad to see him restored to his usual rude state of health —and long may he continue in that way. As for the abolition of the House of Lords, this has been an aspiration of many of us for very many years. I am glad to say that it has been the policy of my party for many years. Because of the constitutional difficulties which I have seen in getting certain Bills through, it has not been possible yet to achieve it, but we must always strive onwards and upwards.

Did I understand from the Prime Minister that it is his aspiration also to get rid of the House of Lords. Does he likewise share the aspiration of his party to do without a second Chamber altogether?

I am glad that the right hon. Lady raises that question. I have never found any legitimate authority whatever for an undemocratic, unelected Chamber in this country, and I am astonished that the right hon. Lady should seek to defend it. That is not the basis of democracy about which she prates so much. As to a second Chamber, that is a different question. There are many examples in democratic societies of second Chambers which are elected, but I know of no one, save the reactionary Conservative Party, who would defend an unelected House of Lords.

Will my right hon. Friend find a moment today to look carefully at the business of bringing in some control by the House of Commons over EEC legislation so that, when we return in the autumn, the Government will be prepared to propose some mechanism which will enable us to look far more closely at EEC documents before they are passed?

There was a long discussion on this matter during the debate on the Adjournment motion on Tuesday, when the Lord President gave, I thought, a very satisfactory reply. He said that the Government wished to consider what further measures could be brought in, in conjunction with the Scrutiny Committee and discussion with the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir. J. Eden). We shall continue to consider whether a resolution can be brought forward in the autumn which will not unduly fetter Ministers, enabling them to carry out their negotiating responsibilities, but will give the House of Commons adequate control, too.

Could the Prime Minister find a moment or two today to put down on a scrap of paper, placing it in the Library, those successes, however trivial, which his Government have had for which he has not claimed the credit and those disasters, however abominable, which they have created but which he has not blamed on forces outside his control?

I shall consider that proposal. If the House would wish it, I can take a minute or so now to state some of them. For example, the minimum lending rate is 2½ per cent. below the level when the hon. and learned Gentleman's Government were in office. Mortgage interest rates at 9¾ per cent. are 1¼ per cent. below what they were when the Tory Government left office. There is now a balance of payments surplus, and when they left office there was a deficit. I am glad to say that the rate of inflation has halved from the time when they were in office and is now 7·4 per cent. against about 13 per cent. when the Tories left office.

If the hon. and learned Gentleman would wish it, I could go on with a whole list of matters, but I shall spare his embarrassment by pointing out in conclusion that living standards are rising at a substantial rate.

Tuc And Cbi


asked the Prime Minister when next he will meet the Trades Union Congress and the Confederation of British Industry.

I met representatives of the TUC general council on 18th July and of the CBI on 19th July. Further meetings will be arranged as necessary.

Since we are coming towards the end of the Session, could my right hon. Friend give the House a brief resume of the Government's achievements, notably in dealing with inflation? It need be only a resume because of the limitations of Question Time. Could he give us also some idea of how he believes that we shall continue to make that progress and achieve much more when he makes a similar report 12 months hence?

I can report that over the past 12 months, as over the past four years, there has been progress in controlling inflation. As I said in reply to supplementary questions on the previous Question, it is lower now than it was when the Conservative Government were in office. As for a comparison with last year, it is down from last year's level of 17 per cent. and is now 7·4 per cent. So that shows progress. Undoubtedly a lot of it is due to the great restraint shown by the trade union movement and by all workers and others in this country during the last 12 months. This has resulted in greater stability for the pound; sterling today is higher than it was 12 months ago in terms both of its value against the dollar and against the effective rates of other countries. All these things have been achieved by the united efforts of the British people. I intend that they shall continue.

No doubt when the Prime Minister meets the CBI and the TUC he will talk about the vexed problem of unemployment. Will he point out to those bodies that under Labour almost 190 firms have gone either bankrupt or into liquidation for every working day of this Administration? Is not that a terrible indictment, and is it not enough to shake even the Prime Minister's complacency?

I find myself a little astonished. I thought that one of the consequences of a free market was that firms should be free to go bankrupt if they did not succeed. That is the whole ethos of Conservative policy. If we are now to be reproached for allowing firms to go bankrupt, presumably we shall need more Government subsidies and grants to keep them afloat. I have seen some strange twists in Conservative Party policy, but that is one of the strangest.

When my right hon. Friend meets the TUC and the CBI, will he raise with them the vital importance of reaching an understanding on the basis of a form of industrial democracy upon which the next government can legislate?

Yes, Sir. The White Paper issued by the Government is one of the important issues that will form the basis of legislation in the next Session. We intend to bring it forward, and work is proceeding on it now. The TUC is not wholly united behind it, and no more is the CBI, I am sorry to say. This is where the Government must choose. I believe that the path forward that we have chosen will not only introduce greater industrial democracy but will bring greater industrial peace to this country and ensure that the efforts of both sides are bent on getting the maximum amount of productivity, which is what the country needs.

Does the Prime Minister recognise that the TUC and the CBI are among many outside bodies which have a legitimate interest in ensuring that this House can scrutinise legislation and the work of government more effectively? Will he discuss with them and many others the proposals of the Committee of this House which has already reported —the report is being published now—to make the House a more effective democratic body?

I understand that the report of the Select Committee on Procedure came out one minute ago. I have not had the opportunity of reading it, but I am sure that it will make light holiday reading for all of us. Having considered it, we can consider what steps should be taken next Session to see what proposals should be put into effect.

I propose to call one more hon. Member from each side of the House. I hope that the Prime Minister will be patient, because we are going over time.

Is the Prime Minister aware that many trade unionists in Scotland will be surprised that he has not taken the opportunity today to announce the date of the referendum on the Scotland Bill and that he is dragging his feet on the issue? Is he further aware that if he believes that by spinning it out he can rely upon the support of my hon. Friends and myself to sustain him in office he is gravely mistaken?

I do not think that anyone, trade unionist or not, will be surprised, because I answered the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) on Tuesday in the hon. Gentleman's absence on this matter. I said that we would bring forward proposals, I hoped, when we returned for the new Session in November. So there is no occasion for surprise. If I had to rely on the SNP for support, I would run tomorrow.

May I ask my right hon. Friend a practical question? Has he received the letter from Councillor Arnold Tweedale, of the North-West Industrial Development Association, about the future of the microelectronics processing plant? Are the Government sympathetic to having it in the north-west, in particular on Merseyside, which would give us at least 4,500 badly needed jobs?

My hon. Friend has been most assiduous in pursuing the prospects for greater prosperity in Merseyside. Everyone should be aware of this.

As regards the microprocessing and microcircuitry industry, I am told by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry that many cities and towns have written asking for this new and exciting venture to be put into their areas. All these requests will have to be considered, so I cannot give a definite undertaking today.