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Home Department

Volume 977: debated on Thursday 31 January 1980

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Police Custody (Deaths)

1.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will set up an inquiry into deaths in police custody.

As the hon. Member is aware, I have asked chief officers of police for further detailed information. I will make it available to him as soon as possible, and will consider what further action, if any, may be appropriate.

Since the original police version of the death of Jimmy Kelly was that he died of a heart attack, and since the full facts have emerged only because a local action committee happened to be set up, will the right hon. Gentleman accept that public disquiet about whether there are other Jimmy Kelly-type cases concealed beneath the bland statistics will be stilled only by a proper public inquiry into these 245 deaths, especially since, in 10 per cent. of cases, there was no inquest, and, even when there was an inquest, in 15 cases there was an open verdict, including five cases of fractured skulls?

It would be improper for me to make any comment on the Jimmy Kelly case in view of the forthcoming inquest. To that, I must stick. I do not believe that when we have considered the matter carefully—I understand that the Select Committee on Home Affairs is to consider it—it will be found necessary to have a public inquiry. At present, however, I must make no further comment pending the inquest which, I believe, is the first and proper legal proceeding.

Whatever may be the reason for the present question, does not my right hon. Friend agree that recent and well-publicised suggestions made by some Opposition Members that the police may have been responsible for deaths in custody, that the Director of Public Prosecutions has neglected his duties to prosecute and that chief constables may have exceeded theirs, are all signs of a rather nasty and damaging campaign aimed at undermining the authority of those responsible for law and order?

There must, in all these cases, be absolutely no question of a cover-up of any sort. Nor, so long as I am Home Secretary, will there be any question of that. I would also suggest that, if there should be no cover-up, there is the other point that there should be no witch-hunt. It is only fair to police officers that they should be treated like other citizens and that they should not be condemned before anything has been found against them.

In judging the seriousness of these statistics will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the startling contrast with the facts that in Northern Ireland, over the last 10 years, despite everything else, there has been only one death in police custody?

I am grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman says. I had some knowledge of that myself. I appreciate exactly the point that he makes.

Has my right hon. Friend had drawn to his attention the attack on the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall? Does he realise that this is very much resented by most people living in the area who believe that the chief constable has contributed more towards achieving co-operation between the community and the police than probably any other chief constable in the country?

It is not for me to comment upon what hon. Members say in the House. It is for them to substantiate what they say. My impression of the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall, made at first hand when I visited his force, conforms exactly with the view of my hon. Friend. I am sure that he is held in high regard in Devon and Cornwall and that he is carrying out a system of policing that many people strongly favour.

Will the Home Secretary recognise, unlike his hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner), that in my speech last Friday I said just that about the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall? In relation to the wider question, will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that what concerns people are not the details of individual deaths, but whether the system as a whole needs looking at? It is for that reason that hon. Members are calling for a public inquiry. There is genuine public concern. No one is involved in a witch-hunt. No one wants to get at any individual constable. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is concern that can be dealt with only by a public inquiry?

Yes, I noticed that the hon. Member said that in his speech. I did him the courtesy of reading his speech. But the fact remains that he cast aspersions on the way in which the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall was carrying out his duties. I do not accept those aspersions. On the hon. Member's other point, I believe that the process of going through inquests, which we follow at present, is the right approach, and I hope that it will be proved to be so in some of the cases that are coming up.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that if I had to advise my constituents about who was most likely to give them a fair hearing—Mr. Alderson and Mr. Anderton on the one hand, or the hon. Members for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) and York (Mr. Lyon) on the other—I would unhesitatingly choose the former two? Would he wish to disabuse me in respect of that advice?

It would be much safer for me neither to agree nor disagree. Perhaps I might have a personal prejudice, which is probably very well known.

Is the Secretary of State aware that we strongly support his statement about the way in which he sees his role as Home Secretary? Does he realise that we are glad that information will be given to the Select Committee, because the position certainly needs clarification before any further allegations are made? Is he aware that there is still one point of concern? I believe that the names of those involved in these cases should not be bandied about unless the families concerned have given their permission. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there are times when families do not want this knowledge bandied about and it is only courteous to ask their permission first?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making that last point. I specificaly said that I would make this detailed information available to the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), because he had specifically asked me for it. If the hon. Member for Oldham, West makes these names public, that is his responsibility. If the House told me that I should make the names public I should hope that before it did it would consider very carefully the position of the relatives. In certain cases it would be possible to cause distress quite unwittingly.

Latin America

2.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received about Government policy regarding entry to the United Kingdom of people from Latin America.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave to a question by the hon. Member for Wolver Hampton, South-East (Mr. Edwards) on 25 January.

Quite apart from the unjustifiably harsh decision to stop Latin American refugees from coming into this country, will the Minister investigate alleged discrimination by immigration officials against people coming from Latin America to this country, even for a short holiday? In particular, will he ensure a fair hearing for the relatives of a constituent of mine, Mr. Max Flores, who were sent home by,immigration officials after spending more than £1,700 on the fare from Chile to Gatwick?

On the first point about the harshness of our decision, I must point out that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, addressing his executive committee in Geneva last October, indicated that there was no longer a continuing need for a resettlement programme for Latin American refugees and that individual cases should be dealt with as they arose. That is now our policy.

The case of Mr. Flores was considered under the old criteria and it did not meet them. If the hon. Member wants any further information I shall write to him about the matter.

A great deal has been made of this question. Can my hon. Friend tell us how many such people have applied for entry to this country recently?

During the four months before the announcement was made, there were 41 applications. Since the announcement was made at the end of October there has been none.

In view of the United Nations report by the special rapporteur, is it not absolute nonsense to say that there is no longer a need for resettlement? Is the Minister aware that the report indicated that oppression continues in Chile and the situation is worse than it was before? Therefore, will he not agree it is absolutely vital that we should assist those refugees who wish to come to this country?

Of course I do not accept that what I have just said is nonsense. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees originally asked us to initiate a programme in 1973 when there was a considerable need. We met that request. He now tells us that there is no need for a continuing programme and we have accepted his advice.

Will the hon. Member assure the House that, in future, cases will be individually looked at by a Minister and not done officially? Will the Home Office publish quarterly numbers of all applications made to come to this country from Latin America, and the numbers of applications agreed to?

I shall consider the second point. On the first point, it sems reasonable that we should treat Latin American refugees on the same basis—that is on a compassionate basis—as refugees from the rest of the world.

Police (Height)

3.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will amend the regulations on the minimum height of policemen to bring them into line with that for policewomen at approximately 5 ft 4 ins.

No, Sir. I see no reason to change the present minimum height standards.

Does not the Minister accept that these types of regulations are a restriction on police recruitment and that height is irrelevant to the majority of police duties? Will he not agree that if a 5 ft. 4 in. woman is capable of patrolling the streets at night, it is absurd that, in our unisex police force, a man of 5 ft. 7 in. should be ineligible?

That is not the view of the police service as a whole. On the question of recruiting generally, we must take account of the fact that today, of the 43 forces in England and Wales, only six have deficiencies of more than 5 per cent. in their authorised establishment. Most have significantly reduced their deficiencies in the last 18 months. I do not think that any recruitment considerations would lead to a change.

In view of the well-publicised remarks of the chief constable of Manchester, that he is faced with the dilemma of either breaking the equal opportunities law or relentlessly filling up his police force with women police constables, will the Minister of State confirm the view that is obviously taken by other chief constables, that they are not faced with any such dilemma?

I have no doubt that the chief constable of Manchester is in a better position than I am to say whether he is faced with a dilemma of any kind. I am sure that he will observe the law.

Junior Detention Centres

4.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department who has been or is being consulted about the planned new regime of short, sharp shock treatment at several junior detention centres.

Staff organisations concerned have been invited to discuss the planning of the project and a meeting has been held with the Prison Officers Association. The education authorities of Surrey and Wakefield have been offered meetings about the educational aspects of the regime. The services concerned are being consulted about arrangements for after-care supervision.

Is the Minister aware that there is a great deal of concern about this scheme, including among the staff of the prison service? Is he also aware that there is a difference between regimes that are tough and those that are degrading to the individual? Will he make the results of any representations available to hon. Members?

I have no reason to suppose that there have been great pressures against the scheme from the staff, as the hon. Member suggests. I believe that many staff welcome the idea. As for the regimes, I have no intention of making them degrading and I am quite determined that this shall not happen.

Is the Home Secretary aware that many of the staff at penal establishments are bitterly opposed to the introduction of the scheme? Does he not consider it unfair that, as the experiment will be applied only to two geographical areas of the country, individual boys who have committed the same crime will, in effect, get a different sentence depending on whether they are to be sent to Send detention centre or New Hall or another detention centre? Is that not unfair? Also, is it not inappropriate that there will be no screening of those who are physically tough or mentally unable to take the tough, sharp, short shock?

There will be screening—I make that absolutely clear to the hon. Member. Naturally, the intake into these centres will be based upon geographical location—that is inevitable. If, as I confidently believe—and Labour Members seem determined that this will not happen—these regimes are a success, there will be wider opportunities for other centres throughout the country.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the regime at Send detention centre is already extremely strict? In what new way will the regime there be made more harsh and rigorous? Will the staff be specially selected and trained so that they become experts in inflicting a short, sharp shock?

No, that will not be the case. There will be considerably more drill than in the past. I do not accept that the system was particularly harsh. There will be significant changes and they will come to light when the regimes come into operation.

Telephone Tapping

5.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will introduce legislation to provide statutory provision for telephone tapping.

I shall deal with this matter when I report to the House—I hope before very long—the outcome of the study of the issues raised in the case of Malone v. Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis.

Has the Home Secretary had drawn to his attention the report in New Statesman today? If so, does he appreciate that the report of widespread phone tapping will cause a real sense of outrage in that the Government should be mounting such an operation without statutory authority and with no safeguards approved by Parliament? Can the right hon. Gentleman explain to the House why the Post Office requires equipment simultaneously to monitor 1,000 private lines when the Birkett report said that there were only 200 phone taps in any one year? Does he not appreciate that with technical development of this nature, a quarter of a century after Birkett, it is time that we had a further public inquiry into the nature of phone tapping and a report to this House?

I have, as the hon. Gentleman knows, undertaken to make a report to this House very shortly. On the other point, I must say to the House that the interception of postal and telephone communications is a vital weapon in combating serious crime, including drug smuggling and terrorism. It is carried out by the Post Office on behalf of the police, Customs and Excise and the security service, only on the authority of individual warrants signed personally by the Secretary of State.

I would like to make it clear that the Government, contrary to what the hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest, are carrying out exactly the same procedures, in exactly the same way, as their predecessors.

I may add to that that I have seen suggestions that the Secretary of State of the day does not take this duty seriously and is not involved seriously.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) asked if I had had my attention drawn to the article in New Statesman. Of course I have and of course I have read it. I am quoting from some of the things contained in that article which, as Secretary of State, I think that I am entitled to rebut. I know how seriously my predecessor took this matter and I assure the hon. Gentleman that I take it seriously, too. It is a responsibility which no Member of this House would particularly like to bear. It is in the national interest that the Home Secretary should have that responsibility and he must conduct it personally and with very great care.

Does the Home Secretary accept that many people are dreadfully worried about surveillance techniques, be they bugging, telephone tapping or interference with the Royal Mail? Will he also concede that there are many Members in this House who feel that the Birkett Report is now inadequate and needs revision? Will the Home Secretary consider a possible Bill of Rights to protect individuals in this country if more information comes forward within the next three weeks in addition to what has already been revealed?

I take most careful note of what my hon. Friend says. Every Government, over a long period of time must strike a proper balance between two considerations which are sometimes in conflict. The first is the national interest and the protection of our citizens in every way. The second is the need to protect individual rights. That balance must be kept. Over a period of time Governments have given that responsibility, in the national interest, to the Home Secretary of the day. I repeat that it is a major responsibility to carry out, but I shall certainly do my best.

Is the Home Secretary aware that the Post Office Engineering Union would welcome a fullinquiry into the allegations of phone tapping, in the firm belief that such an inquiry would clear Post Office engineers of any charges of acting improperly?

In view of his position of responsibility I must take note of what the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) has said.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the majority of people regard these operations as an essential element in the broad spectrum of law enforcement; that they welcome the fact that they are, evidently, being carried out so efficiently and that they would deplore anything which led to any impairment?

Naturally, successive Governments have believed that in the modern world—in the face of terrorism and many other sophisticated crimes—this action is necessary in the national interest. That is why they have stuck to the principles. I believe that these principles are in the national interest. I can only repeat firmly what I have said. It is the job of the Home Secretary and this House has placed that responsibility on me.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I can confirm the basic point, which is that all telephone tapping is for the personal decision of the Home Secretary? Decisions are not taken nominally, as was suggested in today's report. Since the right hon. Gentleman has said that he was coming to the end of his consideration of the legal implications of the Malone judgment—and in accord with the judgment I gave to the House of Commons last year that the time had come for another Birkett type report—may I ask him to report orally to the House when he has come to a conclusion?

Does the Home Secretary understand that the need for this kind of surveillance is not being challenged? Nor is his diligence. Is he aware that what concerns the House, I believe, is that it appears that there has been a dramatic increase in the need for this kind of surveillance in the last 20 years? If that is so I think that the House is entitled to know the scale of that activity.

In the national interest successive Governments have never given any figures on this matter. We have always stuck within the terms of the Birkett report. However, I shall certainly note what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

Charity Commissioners

6.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when last he met the chief Charity Commissioner.

My right hon. Friend has not yet had occasion to meet the chief Charity Commissioner, but I met him last September.

When will the Home Office respond to the Select Committee, which reported five years ago, in view of the alleged patent abuse of charity law by the Rossminster Group of Companies, the public schools and institutions such as the London clinic? The all-party Select Committee commented on that abuse. When will the Government say what their views are on this matter? When the Home Secretary next meets the commissioner will he tell him to stop harassing Oxfam and Christian Aid, preventing those charities from carrying out their proper duties? Will the Home Secretary—as recommended by the Select Committee—ask the Charity Commission to survey those charities that are abusing the law?

As my right hon. Friend said in reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) on 24 January, the pro- posals made by the Expenditure Committee and the Goodman committee have to be viewed in the light of the Government's current policies. We have considered the existing system against this background and, in the light of the recommendations of these committees, we believe that it works adequately. I should add that the Goodman committee made quite clear its view that deprivation of charitable status should not be used as a way of attacking private education.

Is it not a worrying development that the Charity Commission, and ultimately the courts, have ruled in the case of one sector of the Strict Brethren that it is not a religion? Should not a decision such as that be left to the views of honest believers rather than being taken either by administrative civil servants or the courts?

It is not the job of my right hon. Friend to make decisions about the verdicts of the Charity Commissioners. They are subject to the courts. I believe that that is a much better way of dealing with it.

Police (Corruption Allegations)

7.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is satisfied with present arrangements for investigating allegations of corruption against members of police forces; and if he will make a statement.

The Police Complaints Board is due to report to me by 1 June on its review of the working of the relevant part of the Police Act 1976. I intend to await that report before considering what changes, if any, are necessary in the arrangements for dealing with complaints against the police.

Does the Home Secretary agree that confidence in the present arrangements has hardly been helped by the extraordinary decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions to transfer the investigation of a serious allegation by Miss Vivienne Wilde, against a senior officer of Scotland Yard, away from the Operation Countryman investigation back to Scotland Yard? Does he agree that the day-to-day involvement of the Director of Public Prosecutions in investigations of this kind compromises the Director's position as an independent prosecuting authority? Do not the arrangements for the investigation of serious crime against the police—particularly given its deep and institutionalised nature—in parts of the Metropolitan force need to be reviewed urgently?

The hon. Member knows, in the first case, that the proceedings in Operation Countryman were set up by my predecessor. We must allow those investigations to continue and provide every possible support. I believe that the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and myself are providing that support. On the particular point made by the hon. Gentleman, I do not wish to comment—I do not think it would he proper for me to do so—on the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

In view of press reports that there is interference with the progress of the Operation Countryman investigation, will the right hon. Gentleman state categorically that no interference and no impediment to that investigation will be tolerated in any quarter and that it will be pursued to the end?

I gladly add my voice to that of the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis when he spoke in Glasgow recently and said just that. I support him fully in what he said.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that a form of corruption in the secret agencies would exist if only one warrant, authorised by the Secretary of State, was used for a multiplicity of telephone tapping? Will he assure the House that that is not the position? However, if it is the case, will he pursue the combating of this form of corruption rigorously and ensure that there is proper and full accountability to the Secretary of State and to the House?

The hon. Gentleman has referred back to another question. I shall take refuge—having given some full and candid answers—in saying that it would not be in the national interest for me to make any further comments.

Immigration Rules

8.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what further representations he has received over the new immigration rules.

We continue to receive representations on various aspects of our proposed changes in the immigration rules.

Are the Government now seriously reconsidering the proposed changes in the immigration rules? If so, would it not be best to resist some of the backwoodsmen on the Conservative Benches and their leading voice in the Cabinet—namely, the Prime Minister—on this issue?

What weight has my hon. Friend given to the high-powered legal evidence that was given recently on male fiances? Is there not a real danger that the Government will get themselves into hot water when the issue is brought before the European Convention? Are we not storing up trouble on an international scale?

No. As my right hon. Friend told the House on 4 December, we believe that we have strong arguments to justify our proposals, if they are challenged.

Does the Minister agree that there is now a complete breakdown between the liaison of the Home Office with the aliens division and local police forces? Does he accept that correspondence taking place between Home Office Ministers and Members of Parliament is now completely ignored by policemen, who now demand that they take action irrespective of the Home Office? Is he further aware that, in reply to my questions, Home Office officials have said that they are completely impotent to intervene in arrests enacted by the aliens division for the police? Is not that evidence supported by the case of a 72-year-old lady in my constituency, who had a bag put over her head, was arrested and taken to Holloway Prison, where she will remain until she leaves this country? Is that not an absolute disgrace? How either the Home Secretary—

Order. The hon. Gentleman should be fair. He has taken a long time. I allowed him extra time, but he has asked enough now.

Order. I remind the House that we have only reached question No. 8. That slow rate of progress is due to long supplementary questions.

I accept that, Mr. Speaker, but there are a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House who have asked extremely lengthy questions In this instance, the whole of our society is at risk and—

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman has made his question quite clear.

We do not control the operations of the police. It seems that the hon. Gentleman's allegations are completely wild and unsubstantiated.

Prisoners (Costs)

9.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the current annual cost of keeping a person in prison.

The average annual cost of keeping a person in prison in England and Wales during 1978–79 was £5,894.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the cost of incarceration is rising to a point where there is a pressing need to remove classes of petty offender from imprisonment? What steps is his Department taking to bring that about?

I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend has said. We are considering ways in which that may be done, especially for those who find themselves imprisoned primarily as a result of drunkeness. Another aspect in dealing with the problem is the length of sentence. I stress again, as many have stressed in the past, that except for those who require a lengthy period of imprisonment because of the gravity of their crime, shorter terms of imprisonment are equally effective deterrents and punishments.

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that, despite the figure that he has produced, which seems high per person, conditions are extremely bad in some of our prisons—for example, Armley prison in my constituency, where because of the lack of resources many prisoners are being con- fined to their cells for almost 24 hours a day? That situation creates many tensions. When will resources be increased to get rid of such conditions which exist in many of our prisons?

I agree that conditions of that sort cannot, and should not, be defended. The extent to which it is possible to deal with them must depend on the present building programme, which is being considered in the light of the recommendations of the May committee, and on the success of the efforts that we are making to ensure that those who do not need to be in prison are not in prison.

Does the figure that my hon. and learned Friend has given include social security costs for the maintenance of the wives and families of prisoners? Is he giving attention to the possibilities of extending the work provision availability in prison and to paying prisoners a reasonable sum for the work that they do so that they may repay some of the cost of their incarceration?

The figure does not include social security costs. The more that we pay prisoners the greater the cost, in a way, per prisoner to the system. The improvement of the quality and extent of the work done by prisoners is something with which we are concerned and which we are considering.

Bearing in mind the complex nature of the subject, does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it is essential that the House has an opportunity to debate the May report and the excellent and valuable report of the Expenditure Committee dealing with the reduction of pressure on the prison system? Will his right hon. Friend make strong representations to the Leader of the House to the effect that we should have an early and urgent debate on the prison system?

Immigration

10.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, further to the statement of the Minister of State, Official Report, 4 December 1979, columns 364–5, if he will state how many male fiances were admitted to the United Kingdom as visitors in 1979.

I am not surprised. Is it not a fact that immigration officers at the ports of entry are reluctant to allow anybody to enter as a visitor if there is even a suspicion of a forthcoming marriage? In view of the statements made by the Home Secretary during the recent debate on immigration, will new directions and new advice be issued to the immigration officers at the ports of entry?

No, Sir. The onus, as always, will be on the passenger to satisfy the immigration officer that he will leave at the end of his visit. I see no need to change the instructions.

Is my hon. Friend concerned about the latest recorded figures of those trying to settle in Britain, which are the highest for years? When does he expect to bring some new, tighter rules before the House?

As I have already said, we intend to publish our final version of the immigration rules in the near future.

Would it not be possible for people entering this country on temporary visits to have their passports withheld and for registrars to be instructed not to marry anyone without a passport?

I shall consider that suggestion and write to the hon. Gentleman. I have my doubts about it.

Is my hon. Friend intending to give a considered reply to the evidence of Lord Scarman to the Select Committee in which he advised that, on the proposal concerning male fiances, we would be in breach of our international obligations?

We have given evidence to that Committee. As I have said, we believe that we have a good case that will stand up to any challenge in the European Court.

Fire Precautions Act 1971

11.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is satisfied with the operation of the Fire Precautions Act 1971.

The working of the Act is currently under review by the appro- priate sub-committee of the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Councils for England and Wales and for Scotland. We shall consider the need for change in the light of whatever recommendations may be made.

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for that reply. Can he confirm that in most areas of the country nearly all hotels and boarding houses have been inspected and that the majority have been certified? Will he also consider designating further uses of premises to come under the Fire Precautions Act in some parts of the countrry ahead of others in relation to the progress they have made under existing designation orders?

What my hon. Friend has said about hotels and boarding houses is correct. Tribute should be paid to the considerable efforts made by the fire service and the hoteliers and proprietors of boarding houses. We are still considering further designations in different parts of the country. We had an opportunity to go into that matter at greater length last Monday during my hon. Friend's Adjournment debate but we are not yet in a position to make any announcement.

Has the Under-Secretary of State recently received a letter from the chief fire officer of the Merseyside county fire brigade, criticising the design of St George's shopping precinct in Liverpool, which was recently destroyed by fire? Will he consider giving greater powers to chief fire officers to enable them to enforce fire regulations in large shopping precincts? Will he also consider making it compulsory to install fire sprinkler systems in large shopping precincts?

I shall look into the matter of the shopping precinct and write to the hon. Gentleman.

Unconvicted Prisoners

12.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to cope with the rising number of unconvicted adults held on remand from London and the home counties; and whether he proposes to provide additional secure prison accommodation in London to assist with this problem.

The causes of pressure on remand accommodation in London and the South-East are complex; they include the shortage of suitable accommodation, the number of prisoners remanded in custody by the courts and the time taken for defendants to come to trial. We are reviewing the accommodation available in the light of the recommendations in the May report, and we are discussing the other matters with the Lord Chancellor's Department.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that answer. Is he aware that there are approximately 5,500 remand prisoners in the prison system of whom 1,200 are in Brixton prison? Is there not an urgent need for a new remand prison within the Greater London area?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The pressure in Brixton prison is indeed great and something should be done about it. I have hopes that it will be possible to make room for more remand prisoners in Pentonville. Whether and when that can be done is dependent on several factors, including refurbishing and security work.

In view of the fact that most of our prisons become schools for crime for those who enter them with little criminal experience. would it not be a better way of tackling the problem to hasten the trials of the people in custody and look to the court system as a method of quicker despatch, so that we do not need more prisons?

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that one important way of speeding up important trials is to abolish the presumption of innocence from silence and introduce tape recorded interviews with police officers?

Those matters are being considered by the Royal Commission on criminal procedure, but my hon. Friend will know that the first of those recommendations will meet with substantial objections of principle.

Will the Minister explain how a known psychopath was allocated to the cell of a young offender who had been convicted of a petty offence? Is he inquiring into this, to ensure that such a disgraceful state of affairs does not occur again?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are inquiring into that incident.

Commissioner Of Police Of The Metropolis

13.

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

When my right hon. Friend meets the Commissioner will he remind him of the prompt way in which we fulfilled our election commitment on police pay? In view of the considerable problems with recruitment for the Metropolitan Police in the recent past will he ask the Commissioner what the position is?

I do not think I should need to remind the Commissioner about the first point made by my hon. Friend. On the second point, at the end of December the strength of the Metropolitan Police was 22,528, which was a gain of 567 during 1979. That is very encouraging. It is still short of the establishments, but it has been welcomed throughout the Metropolis.

When the right hon. Gentleman next meets the Commissioner, will he discuss with him the new developments in the Confait case, particularly in the light of the minimal compensation given to the three original defendants who were a quitted in this murder case? Now that new information has come forward which might completely reverse the judgment of the Fisher tribunal, will the right hon. Gentleman review the whole matter, including the compensation awarded?

I think that it would be right for me to consider first what the hon. Gentleman has put to me before putting it to the Commissioner. But, of course, I shall consider it myself.