House Of Commons
Thursday 26 November 1981
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Humberside Bill Lords (By Order)
Order for consideration, as amended, read.
To be considered upon Thursday 3 December at Seven o'clock.
Oral Answers To Questions
Police (Foot Patrols)
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether there has been an increase in the number of foot patrols now operated by the police.
I know that chief officers share my view that it is desirable to put more officers on foot patrol, both to improve contact between the police and the community, and to provide more effective policing.
In view of the acknowledged importance of this matter, will my right hon. Friend pay special attention to that part of the Scarman report that is concerned with the status of the beat officer? Is he satisfied that police establishments are sufficient to enable enough people to carry out this duty?
On the first point, "Most certainly, yes". On the second point, the strength of the police service in England and Wales has increased by about 7,500 since the Government came to power. That should provide the opportunity for more foot patrols. That is the purpose of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and chief officers.
Is the Secretary of State aware that his statement that he appreciates the importance of having more police on foot on the beat will be widely welcomed, because there is a wide demand for it all over the country? Now that the Metropolitan Police are, I understand, up to strength, has he made any progress on this matter? Has he been able to relieve the police of any of their other duties? Is there any increase in foot patrolling?
Yes, indeed. The Metropolitan Police are not fully up to strength, although they number about 25,000 for the first time in their 150 years of history. Following a recent review the Commissioner has been able to release over 900 officers from mainly internal or civilian duties for operational street duties, so I think that he has done a great deal, as the right hon. Gentleman would want him to do.
Has my right hon. Friend been made aware of reports that since the number of police foot patrols in Brixton has been reduced, the level of street crime has increased? What deductions does he draw from that?
Police foot patrols in Brixton are extremely important, as indeed—and we must be perfectly clear about this—is the need to deal with crime in Brixton. Nothing that Lord Scarman or anyone else has said leaves any doubt that it is essential to deal with crime without differing standards throughout our community.
Has the Home Secretary any fresh proposals to encourage members of the ethnic minorities to join the police force? In the United States, in Washington and New York, we have seen that, despite accusations of "Uncle Tom", blacks join the police. It is worrying that we do not have enough young blacks coming into the police force.
Yes, that is true. It would be very helpful if we had more. I hope that the House will reject the idea, which has been tried in America and, I believe, failed, of having quotas within the police service. That was a mistake. I trust that we shall not go down that road. Lord Scarman did not suggest that we should do so.We need more such recruits, but, first, those in their own communities have to encourage them to join, to treat them well when they do join, and not say that they are scabs, or whatever the term may be, for doing so. That is important. At the same time, they have to reach the right standards so that when we have a chance to increase the quality of our police constables they will qualify for the police service.
Police Forces (Establishment)
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department to what extent police forces are up to establishment; and if he will make a statement.
All forces outside London are up to or near their authorised establishments. At the end of October the strength of the Metropolitan Police was about 25,000, the highest ever, but the force still has about 1,600 vacancies.
In view of the fact that in the area covered by the West Mercia police force there has been a 20 per cent. increase in crime in the last 12 months and a 30 per cent. reduction in the rate of detection, and that there is one constable to over 500 head of population—way below the national average—when will my right hon. Friend approve the recruitment to the final 90 posts of the 350 originally recommended in 1976?
As my hon. Friend will appreciate, I approved an establishment increase of 87 posts for West Mercia in February 1980. Since May 1979 the strength of the force has increased by 174, and it is now at its full establishment of 1,921. In all these cases we have to consider the total number of police officers and the fact that police officers are today an expensive commodity and that we must get the full value for money for their work. Bearing in mind all those matters, I shall consider what my hon. Friend has said.
Is the Home Secretary fully aware of the depletion of the effective resources deployed in individual districts of the Metropolitan Police area because of the removal of large numbers of police for joint London and national occasions? Will he bear that fact very much in mind when next the establishment of the Metropolitan Police comes up for review?
Yes. It should be remembered that all of us are perhaps responsible for promoting strains upon the Metropolitan Police in their national duties. It should never be forgotten that marches and demonstrations of all kinds increase the pressures on the Metropolitan Police. That must be accepted. I shall, of course, consider what the hon. Gentleman has said. I wish, however, to make it clear that the figure of 25,000 for the Metropolitan Police is a very considerable increase on any previous figure.I do not believe that it is right to increase the size of the force too quickly. We need to make sure that officers who go on the beat receive proper training to enable them to do the job effectively. I should be worried if I thought that we were rushing to a new establishment before making sure that the officers concerned were fully trained and mature enough to appear on the streets.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will increase the resources available for civil defence.
My right hon. Friend has no present plans to do so. We are satisfied that the additional resources for civil defence which my right hon. Friend announced to the House on 7 August last year are sufficient for further progress to be achieved.
Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that the vast majority of people in this country support the nuclear deterrent, but that they require the Government to provide adequate civil defence to go with the nuclear deterrent? Is he therefore aware that more money is required for civil defence, and that if local authorities under Socialist control are not prepared to provide it the Government should step in? Is he further aware that more nuclear shelters are required to guarantee protection in the event of some sad occurrence and to ensure that a large number of people in this country survive?
My right hon. Friend announced in August 1980 that national civil defence expenditure was to be increased by about 60 per cent. annually, to £45 million annually by 1983–84. I agree with what my hon. Friend says about the importance of a nuclear deterrent. The Government are equally concerned to make the point that the case for civil defence is a humanitarian one and that one can be wholly committed to unilateral disarmament and at the same time be very firm for proper civil defence.
Is the Minister aware that the huge upsurge of interest in the peace movement, not only in this country, but throughout Europe, and the tremendous demonstrations that have taken place are due not to the underground activities of the Communist Party in the CND, or even of the KGB, but arise from a real fear of nuclear war and the realisation that there is no adequate civil defence against nuclear attack?
Many of the people supporting those demonstrations are extremely sincere and extremely misguided. It is a grave disservice to them and to the whole country to suppose that, in the unspeakable event of an attack upon this country with nuclear weapons, millions of lives could not be saved by the provision of a sensible degree of civil defence.
How is my hon. and learned Friend getting on with persuading that wayward organisation, the GLC, to play its part in civil defence? Does he appreciate that my constituents and many other people in greater London believe the GLC's attitude to be wholly irresponsible?
My hon. Friend will recall that a fortnight ago the Government published a simple pamphlet "Civil Defence: why we need it" giving the answers to a number of questions that are commonly asked. I am glad to say that the GLC has undertaken to distribute the pamphlet. It has also undertaken to carry out a survey of buildings, as the Government have requested, that might be suitable to provide protection against radiation. I believe that persuasion is the way to approach these local authorities.
What estimates has the Minister made of the cost of effective protection against nuclear weapons?
That is an impossible question to answer. The concept is not capable of being defined. The Government have always made it clear that it is beyond what this country can afford to provide shelters for everyone on the scale carried out in the last war. However, the risk of war breaking out so long as we maintain our independent deterrent is so slight as not to warrant that precaution.
British Broadcasting Corporation
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has any plans to meet the director-general of the BBC to discuss the financing of the corporation; and if he will make a statement.
My right hon. Friend met the chairman and the director general of the BBC last month to discuss the BBC's application for an increase in the television licence fees. No date has been fixed for any further meeting with them.
Will the Minister confirm that the BBC is after an increase to £50 in the licence fee? Will he acknowledge that there are nearly 10 million pensioners in this country who, together with those who are unemployed as a result of the Government's policy, would find extreme difficulty in paying a £50 fee? Is he aware that the Government have recently refused to increase pensions in line with inflation, which has meant a loss of about £50 a year to pensioners? Will he ensure that when the £50 licence fee is brought forward, pensioners will be excluded from paying the whole of it?
I think that what the BBC is seeking in terms of an increased licence fee is public knowledge. Our view is that it is better to continue to assist pensioners and the disabled by benefits in cash, which they can spend in their own way, rather than by benefits in kind. The television licence fee is included in the RPI basket.
Will my hon. Friend accept that many pensioners and others dread the prospect of yet another increase in the BBC licence fee? Will the Government now respond to the growing view that if the BBC needs more money it should be obtained from advertising, which is what happens with the rest of the media?
Our view is that to introduce a system for the BBC based on advertising finance would seriously change the character of the corporation. It could have the effect of diminishing variety of choice in the programmes that it can offer.
Will the Minister reconsider his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) about old-age pensioners? Will he undertake a survey of what old-age pensioners think? Does he not think that their answers would indicate the need for a concessionary television licence? Does he agree that there is too big a difference between a "5p licence" and the proposed £50 licence?
No, Sir. Concessions would inevitably mean either higher licence costs for everyone else or an increase in public expenditure. We believe that the present system is right. The pension takes account of increases in the RPI, which includes the cost of a television licence.
Does my hon. Friend agree that many people do not necessarily believe that the BBC puts to the best use the public money that is available to it? Does he think that before any question of an advance in the fees is considered officially there should be an independent survey of the way in which the BBC spends its money?
There are detailed discussions when the size of the TV licence is fixed. We have to be satisfied that the application is appropriate.
The Minister says that he prefers to assist pensioners by benefits in cash. Does he not agree that the Government have totally failed to keep pensioners' benefits in line with inflation? Is he not aware that pensioners are finding it harder than ever to manage day by day? What consideration have the Government given to assisting pensioners in the event of an increase in the licence fee?
I do not agree that the Government have failed totally to keep pensioners' pensions in line with inflation.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will give consideration to a reappraisal of the prison regime with a view to achieving a better balance between punishment and reform.
It is not the function of prison regimes to add to the punishment of the sentence of the court. The prison department is constantly seeking to develop new and positive elements within the prison regimes, despite the pressures on resources.
Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that if we are to counteract the concept of prisons as penal dustbins we should give thought not only to improving the fabric of the prisons but to the purposes of imprisonment? What is the Home Office research unit doing in looking at this aspect of the penal system?
We do not want our prisons to be dustbins or any kind, penal or otherwise. It is important that the regimes, notwithstanding the shortage of resources from which we are suffering, should be as positive as possible. The regimes committee is involved in a continuous reappraisal of regimes and a review of the prison service's philosophy of management and arrangement of prisoners' home leaves. About four different groups of one kind or another are undertaking the examination of different aspects of the matter. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is very important.
Does the Minister agree that an appropriate balance between punishment and reform cannot be achieved while overcrowding in local prisons makes it impossible to sustain even basic minimum standards of human decency? Will the situation not be exacerbated by the introduction of a partially suspended sentence? Will the Minister reconsider this decision and introduce instead a scheme of supervised release, which would have the effect of reducing the prison population immediately by 7,000?
The answer to the question "Is it impossible for a proper balance to be maintained at present?" is, generally and unhappily, "Yes", but the hon. Gentleman is wrong in what he presses upon me in the second part of the question. The reason why we are now satisfied that supervised release would not be satisfactory is that there is a real prospect that it might add to the numbers of people in prison, rather than reduce them.
Is it not a fact that if more of our prisons provided constructive work for prisoners that would not only contribute towards the reform of offenders, but would help to punish those who are in prison because they are work-shy?
It is the continuous effort of the prison service to provide opportunities for worthwhile work for inmates. That is the case, notwithstanding the shortage of resources. The purpose of imprisonment is partly to help to prepare inmates for a useful and self-supporting life outside prison.
As there can be no improvement in the prison regime until we cut the number of people in prison, has not the Home Secretary denied himself the possibility of that improvement by capitulating to the judges and the magistrates in their refusal to reduce the amount of time spent in prison? If that is now the case, does it not mean that we have urgently to move towards legislation, as suggested by the Select Committee?
The hon. Gentleman was uncharacteristically inattentive to my last reply. There is no capitulation. The reason why the Home Secretary has changed his mind, as he has made clear, is that he has consulted people and heeded what he has been told. It is absurd to talk of capitulation when referring to a consultation that has been properly carried out, and the results of which have been listened to.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many copies of the publication "Civil Defence: why we need it" have been published; and how extensively it will be distributed.
Five hundred thousand so far. The pamphlet has been distributed to county and district councils, police forces and certain voluntary organisations. Members of the public may obtain copies from these bodies or direct from the Home Office emergency services division.
Does the Minister agree that this is a miserable and pathetic document compared with the earlier document "Protect and Survive"? In view of the fact that in the recent civil defence exercise, "Operation Square Leg" it was estimated that 200 megatons of TNT could be used against Britain—which is equivalent to 16,000 Hiroshimas—what does the document say about dealing with that, on the very day that the Cabinet is meeting to discuss further public expenditure cuts in local authority services? Will the Minister at least respect those local authorities that want to make their areas nuclear-free zones?
The theme of the pamphlet—which is very far from pathetic—is that civil defence is common sense. Even if the hon. Gentleman's constituents were to live in a nuclear-free zone, they would not be protected from the effects of fallout from nuclear attacks on the Continent of Europe. The pamphlet seeks to dispel the confusion that has been sown in people's minds by a great many people such as the hon. Gentleman, who seek to say that no measure of protection can be given to millions of lives.
Is my hon. and learned Friend happy that after a disaster the chief civil power should be in the hands of the chief executives of county councils and similar unelected and unknown nonentities? Would it not be much wiser if each county had at the head of its civil defence some well-known local figure, such as Mr. Ian Botham in Somerset, or Mr. Kevin Keegan in Southampton?
The Government believe that all their efforts have to be devoted to ensuring that no war ever breaks out. We believe that if we maintain our deterrent policy that will be the case. But if there has to be a system for the post-attack government of this country, we believe that it is right to work through local authorities and those who serve them, because they have the best means of knowing the needs of their areas. I think, therefore, that the Government's policy is broadly correct.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what proportion of police constables have more than 10 years' service; and how this proportion compares with the position in 1961.
This information is not held centrally and is not readily obtainable. The results of a survey of forces in England and Wales at the end of 1979 showed that over a third of police constables, and just over half of officers of all ranks, had more than 10 years' service.
So that young police constables can benefit more from the practical experience of the older ones, will my right hon. Friend consider whether a larger proportion of the older ones can be made available for work with the younger ones on the streets? Will he also see whether the salary structure can be examined in order to encourage the retention of the services of experienced police constables?
The answer to my hon. Friend's first question is that that is exactly the purpose of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, and, indeed, of training schemes that he has just instituted at Hendon, the benefit of which will be seen on the streets thereafter. We are suffering from the fact that at an earlier time police pay was allowed to go too low, as a result of which many experienced officers left the force. That has been put right through the Edmund-Davies report, which the Government supported. We must ensure that no similar loss of experienced police officers happens again.
With regard to the efforts being made by chief constables and by the Commissioner in London to recruit black and brown people into the police force, does the Home Secretary agree that if there is some shyness on the part of such young people to join and serve in their own localities, there should be a system to move them to other localities in order to follow this laudable objeective?
I am sure that the Commissioner has that in mind.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will set up an inquiry to study methods of independent investigation of complaints against the police.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has given further consideration to the establishment of an independent body looking into complaints made against police officers; and if he will make a statement.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if the Police Federation has yet approached him in regard to its wish for an independent body other than the police to inquire into complaints made against the police.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received from the Police Federation concerning the establishment of an independent complaints procedure.
As I said in my statement to the House yesterday, I accept that the procedure for handling complaints against the police must be altered if it is to command public confidence, and I shall bring forward proposals as soon as I can. I met representatives of the Police Federation last week and I shall take into account their views.
I welcome the fact that the Home Secretary is aware that there is a widespread and dangerous lack of public confidence in the system which Roy Jenkins invented, and which was serverely criticised at the time by Back Benchers on each side of the House. Is the Home Secretary aware that the only sensible remedy is to have an ombudsman, appointed by and responsible to the House, to look into complaints that arise against the police?
We have to be careful about leaping into instant solutions, because there are many problems. Any system has to marry the responsibility of a chief constable for the discipline of his force with the complaints that may be made against individuals in that force. The chief constable is accountable for his force. He cannot, therefore, have the discipline of his force—[Interruption.] He is accountable for the discipline of his force.
He is accountable—[Interruption.]
Order. An occasional intervention is one thing, but to shout from a sedentary position is ill-mannered, apart from being unparliamentary.
He is responsible for the work of his force and for the money that is provided to the police authority in his area. All the Labour Members who were shouting at me are advocating more accountability for chief constables. That being so, they must not deprive chief constables of the right to be responsible for the discipline of the members of their forces. That responsibility has to be married to complaints and the procedure for dealing with them. I am prepared to listen to anyone who has views on how we should effect that marriage. It is a problem that the House was not able to solve in 1976. It did not solve it, because it produced an Act that nobody now likes.
Order. I propose to call first those hon. Members whose questions are being answered.
Having apparently accepted the principle of the need for an independent body to investigate complaints against the police, will the right hon. Gentleman say when he will be in a position to report to the House? Is it likely that he will report before we go into the Christmas Recess?
I shall not report to the House before we go into the Christmas Recess. I am ready to discuss with right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House how we should devise—this is something that the House should do together—a sensible system that will meet the requirements of both discipline and the handling of complaints. The need to deal with discipline is important. Discipline and complaints cannot be separated, because they frequently lie in the same area. That is why the House should work together to find the right answer. If Labour Members are so sure about their answer, I shall be grateful if they will talk to me and tell me exactly what they want to do.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that when he uses the words "accountable" or "accountability" the majority of the electorate understands him to be referring to an elected body and not to be talking in vacuo? The Police Federation, in asking for what in effect would be a civilian body of the right hon. Gentleman's choosing, or the result of an election, thinks that that will defend it against many of the accusations that are brought against its members. Will he note that the Association of Chief Police Officers profoundly disagrees with the federation because it feels that it is accountable only to itself? What will he do to resolve the problem of the Association of Chief Police Officers differing from the Police Federation?
I think that the hon. Gentleman's comments are somewhat unfair to chief police officers. The federation offered to accept a totally independent system. However, I ask the House to consider some of the caveats and some of the proposals that the federation submitted at the same time, which would go with an independent system and which would be unacceptable to hon. Members. We must not imagine that the Police Federation's ideas would be easily acceptable in the House, because they would not.
Given the depth of public feeling on this issue, as recognised in the Scarman report, and the likelihood that any new system of independent complaint investigation will cost money, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that a balance must be struck between the money that is to be spent and the confidence that is to be gained? Does he also accept that only radical measures can instil the degree of confidence that is required among the public even if there is a fairly substantial increase in expenditure?
The hon. Gentleman touched on an important issue when he referred to expenditure. I have managed over a period to get money for the police, but there are many throughout the country who want the money that is spent on the police to be used in seeking to prevent crime and on helping them to be safe in their own homes. We must remember that hard fact. I accept that the need for a complaints procedure is important. However, if the procedure proved to be wildly expensive, and consequently had an effect on other police operations, I do not think that the House would approve of it.
I think that we all accept that there should be reasonable machinery in operation to deal with complaints against the police. Nevertheless, does my right hon. Friend agree that there are those inside and outside the House who seize every opportunity to make unreasonable complaints and to fan any incident into real harassment of a most important public service?
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. In any system that we devise we should seek to deal with serious complaints by means of the independent element, while at the same time getting rid of a great deal of bureaucratic nonsense involving small, invalid and totally useless complaints.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that a Minister should be answerable in Parliament and to questioning in respect of any system that we introduce?
Yes, I think that that is fair. However, the present system has not prevented questions being put to me in the House. I seem to be questioned all the time about it. There are many hon. Members, like the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race), who think that they can remove themselves from responsibility for what we all did in 1976. I do not seek to remove myself from it, even though I voted against that measure. I am bound to say that I could not think of a better system. We are all in this together. We all decided to accept the proposal that was contained in the 1976 measure. We all know now that we were wrong, and we are trying to find the best way to put things right.
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is aware of the general welcome that has been given to his clear indication that he proposes to move on this matter. Allowing for the complications involved in a new scheme and the cost of implementing it, will he confirm now that when he is ready to produce a new scheme he will avoid the principle of policemen against whom complaints are made being investigated and judged by other policemen and nobody else?
Without committing myself in too much detail, I am prepared to say in advance of producing a new scheme that I shall be pleased to have discussions with the right hon. Gentleman, with the Select Committee and with any number of hon. Members to determine how we can meet all the difficult problems that are involved.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he intends to publish the Scarman report on urban disturbances.
I published the report yesterday.
I did not know that when I tabled the question. Will the right hon. Gentleman be rather more forthcoming about what he means by "welcoming" and "accepting" the Scarman report? Does he agree that it is no good welcoming and accepting it if he does not provide the resources and the legislative time to introduce the recommendations that are set out in Lord Scarman's report? Will he confirm that he broadly accepts the recommendations on random checks of police stations and the banning of racist marches?
I made clear yesterday, though some did not think that I did, the matters involving the police that I accepted. I said that the problem of banning racist marches—I have banned them on a considerable scale during recent months—should be considered within the review of public order. I accept also the need to consider carefully how best to achieve arrangements to enable lay people to visit police stations. I think that it is reasonable to reserve some of the comments that I shall make until the debate that is shortly to take place on these issues and until we reply to the report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs on racial disadvantage. I hope to prove that my words yesterday were not empty ones.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the prime duty of the police is to protect the public and deter criminals? Is he further aware that, since the riots in Brixton, there has been an increase in street crime of about 25 per cent., mainly involving the mugging of white people by blacks?
It is the job of the police to deter criminals and protect the public. I support what my hon. Friend says. The job of the police is to deal with crime from wherever it comes, without any different standards. That is not my opinion alone. Lord Scarman made that clear when he said that it was right to retain the special patrol group for that purpose. He said that it was right to retain the powers of stop and search. He said that it was important to face up to the need for the police to deal with crime at all times. I fully support what Lord Scarman said. I appreciate the problem involved in policing some of our inner city areas. Equally, I accept that we cannot tolerate crime such as exists in Brixton. That is also something with which the police must deal.
Union Flag (Abuse)
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received about the abuse of the Union flag by political extremist groups at Remembrance Day services; and whether he proposes to take any action.
My right hon. Friend has received a specific complaint about the use of the Union flag by such a group at the Cenotaph this year and both written and oral representations about its use by such groups on other occasions. My right hon. Friend is considering the suggestion that this should be prohibited by law in the course of his review of the Public Order Act 1936, and related legislation.
Does my hon. Friend agree that for the National Front to use the Union flag in demonstrations at Remembrance Day services is extremely insulting to the memory of the Service men who died for the country in the fight against Fascism? Does he further agree that the use of the flag by the National Front is extremely distressing for the families of the people who died? Has not the time come to legislate to stop the abuse of the Union flag in public marches?
I share my hon. and learned Friend's repugnance. He will appreciate the practical problems involved in working out how to prevent the use of the flag by a particular group. However, we are thinking about that in the context of our review of public order.
Does the Minister accept that, the use of the flag apart, the appearance of Fascist organisations at the Cenotaph at Remembrance Day services causes grave offence to everyone? In the course of his review of the Public Order Act and the Scarman report, will the Minister consider the possibility of selective bans on Fascist marches and on other demonstrations, not least on that occasion?
I share the repugnance for what has happened. The whole question of marches and racial incitement is part of the examination being undertaken by my right hon. Friend of the Public Order Act.
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will review the terms on which licences for shotguns are issued.
No, Sir. We are satisfied that the existing controls are generally adequate.
Does the Minister agree that the number of crimes in which firearms are used has increased and that it should be any Government's duty to make it more difficult for criminals to get hold of guns? Is it not reasonable that provisions for the issue of shotguns should be tightened? Should not law-abiding gun owners be prepared to accept that for the common good?
We are talking about the control of shotguns. We are not persuaded that a more stringent control of shotguns would reduce significantly the level of crime, or that the extra work for the police would be justified. The hon. Member will be pleased to know that the number of serious offences recorded by the police in which shotguns were reported to have been used fell from 760 in 1978 to 552 in 1980 and that that figure was the lowest since 1974.
As there was such a startling decline in the use of shotguns in crime last year, is my hon. and learned Friend looking into the possibility of extending the life of a firearm and shotgun certificate from three to five years?
My right hon. Friend is not examining that possibility at present. Welcome though the reduction is, the figure of 552 is still far too high.
Persons On Remand
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will now take urgent steps to reduce the number of persons held on remand in prison.
We share the hon. Member's desire to see a reduction in the number of such prisoners, but action to that end must be consistent with the interests of justice and the protection of the public. My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will continue to pursue ways of reducing the remand population by expediting criminal trials.
Given that as many as 7,500 prisoners can be on remand in custody on a single day—many of whom will he found not guilty or given non-custodial sentences, but who are nevertheless housed in appalling conditions—will the Minister make a speedy response to the recommendations of the Select Committee on Home Affairs to reduce the length of trials and to introduce the 110-day rule, which operates so effectively in Scotland?
The figure is too high. On 31 October the figure was 7,151. Shortly, the Government will be publishing a reply to the Select Committee report. It will comment on individual recommendations. I can say now that I do not see any suggestion in the report of an immediate answer to the problem of reducing the remand population. The Scottish 110-day rule would not provide the solution in present circumstances, because there is a let-out clause when there is a delay that is not the fault of the prosecution.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 26 November.
I have been asked to reply.This morning my right hon. Friend presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. This afternoon she is chairing the meeting of the European Council at Lancaster House.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that some of my constituents have nothing in their larders to feed their children on the day before they receive their unemployment benefit? After this morning's Cabinet meeting, are the Government seriously considering reducing the value of that already miserable benefit?
My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make a statement next week. I ask the House to await that statement.
May we have an assurance that, in spite of Lord Scarman's recommendations in relation to positive racial discrimination, the House will never grant legal immunity to any group of people and that we shall not follow the example of the Director of Public Prosecutions, who recently withdrew charges against offenders in the Bristol riots, in the interests of racial harmony?
There is no question of legal immunity for any section of our population.
What about the Bingham report?
I understood Lord Scarman to mean—although it has been distorted—that we have a tradition of seeking to give everyone equal opportunities in life. That is the purpose of many policies and it is far beyond racial discrimination. I should have thought that everybody in the House was committed to that.
May I press the right hon. Gentleman further on his answer about the projected cut in unemployment benefit? There is to be a statement next week, but can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the statement yesterday by the Secretary of State for Wales in the City, in which he clearly forecast such a cut, represents Government policy? Can the right hon. Gentleman and the Cabinet understand what a disgrace it would be if unemployment benefit were to be cut when the Government have helped to create the worst mass unemployment that we have experienced since the war?
Sometimes, patience is a virtue. I am entitled to ask the House to await a full and comprehensive statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer next week. That is what I am doing.
Will the right hon. Gentleman pass on that message to the Secretary of State for Wales? Will he tell us now whether that statement represents Government policy?
I have made it clear that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make a statement next week. I have nothing further to add.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that The Observer in 1976 reported the Labour Party's finance and economic affairs sub-committee as stating that by 1980 unemployment would rise to 2½ million? Is he further aware that one of the members of that Committee was the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) and that another member of that Committee that forecast 2½ million unemployed in 1980 was a Mrs. S. Williams?
No doubt both the right hon. Gentleman and the lady will be able to answer for the statement that they made on that occasion.
Will the Home Secretary, with his vast experience of these matters, dissociate himself entirely from the intemperate attack on the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) today? Will he assure the House that neither bombs not bombast will stop the Government from seeking a peaceful settlement in Northern Ireland?
I am always hesitant about saying anything about attacks that I have not heard. I did not hear that attack. Having been subject to many such attacks in my time as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I do not like any of them, because I believe that the interests of this country rely very much on making sure that we seek to make progress in Northern Ireland, while always accepting that it is a part of the United Kingdom. That is the position that successive Governments have stood for. That is the position that we stand for. We are entitled to seek to make progress in reconciliation against that background.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 26 November.
I have been asked to reply.I refer the hon. and learned Gentleman to the reply that I have just given.
While welcoming the Scarman report and its recommendations, and their acceptance by the right hon. Gentleman, may I ask whether he accepts that social disadvantage is the root cause of crime and that while the Government continue to fail to bring help to the disadvantaged in all parts of our society, society will continue to be at risk?
I do not accept that. I accept that there are many factors behind crime. Anyone who has had the privilege of being Home Secretary realises only too well that there are many factors. Of course social conditions and unemployment are among them, but there are many others, and none can be an excuse for crime or violence at any time.
Will my right hon. Friend make it clear to the House that Britain will not give in to Israeli pressure to amend the terms for British participation in the Sinai peacekeeping force, terms that are clearly linked to the Venice declaration and in particular to self-determination for the Palestinians?
I understand that the Israeli Foreign Minister is going to Washington today to discuss those matters with the Secretary of State. It would be wrong for me to comment further in advance of that meeting.
Will the Home Secretary review the events in Northern Ireland last weekend, bearing in mind that one Northern Ireland Member of Parliament has already been murdered? What level of personal protection is afforded to Northern Ireland hon. Members? What protection, if any, was afforded to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) while he was parading with his armed followers? What was the cost to the long-suffering British taxpayer?
Naturally, those are matters for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I shall draw his attention to what the hon. Gentleman has said.
Will my right hon. Friend draw the attention of the Prime Minister to the fact that over the last six months unemployment in this country has risen at under half the rate of Germany, Sweden and Austria, and is lower than the rate in the Netherlands and Canada? Therefore, is not that a cause for cautious optimism?
What my hon. Friend says is true. [Interruption.] I am disappointed that even a phrase such as "cautious optimism" seems to be so disagreeable to the Labour Party.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her public engagements for 26 November.
I have been asked to reply.I refer the hon. Lady to the reply that I gave earlier.
Is the Home Secretary not aware that there is no feeling of cautious optimism among the women of this country, among whom unemployment has more than doubled under this Government? Is he aware that there is an increasing number of one-parent families mainly dependent on women? Is he further aware that unless something is done about child care and nursery facilities, women will be less able to compete for jobs in a diminishing market? Does not he think that that calls for an inquiry into the employment of women in this economic climate?
Those are wide matters that can be most carefully considered. They have to be considered against a background of high unemployment. If the Labour Party's policies for spending ever-increasing amounts of Government money and imposing ever-increasing rates were to be followed, there would be worse unemployment and more trouble for women in that unemployment.
Will my right hon. Friend tell the House how far the Government have decided to modify public service index-linked pensions in the light of the Scott report?
I have nothing to add to what has been said.
The Home Secretary has told us three times this afternoon to await the statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer next week. However, the Chancellor is reported as saying last week that in future sterling M3 will not be regarded as being so important. Is not that another sign of the failure of the Government's fundamental policies? Will the Home Secretary also confirm that the longer leading index has fallen significantly in recent months? Will he tell the Prime Minister to stop kidding the country that the economy is getting better?
I do not accept many of those points. They all seem to add up to the simple fact that it would be much better to wait until my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer makes his statement next week.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 26 November.
I have been asked to reply.I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave earlier.
Has my right hon. Friend seen the letter in The Times today signed by 17 leading industrialists, in which they urge the Government not to be deflected from their broad strategy against inflation by the rising volume of often partisan opposition? Is my right hon. Friend aware that that is the view of every Conservative Member?
I saw that letter. I should have thought that all Conservative Members would greatly welcome its tone. I know that it will not be acceptable to the Labour Party, which just wants to spend a great deal more money.
Does the deputy Prime Minister really think that after increasing Civil Service pay in their first year by 26 per cent. and increasing VAT to 15 per cent., the Government are absolutely on course with the economic arguments that they put before the electorate at the last election?
Given the problems that the Government have faced with the world recession, the answer is "Yes".
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, looking forward in the economy, it would be sensible for all o us to settle our pay increases in line with the increases in productivity rather than having increases that may continue above 5 per cent?
It is true that low pay settlements would greatly contribute to our productive and competitive capacity, which are vital to our success.
Is it not disgraceful that the Cabinet is talking about £3·5 billion worth of cuts, which will affect those most in need, particularly those on unemployment benefit, while at the same time it proposes to spend a further £2 billion on increasing expenditue on Trident? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that if the Government spend more on the larger Trident missile they will discard £100 million worth of design expenditure, cause an imbalance in the nuclear position in Europe and invite the Russians to instal more SS20s, because the larger Trident missile——
Order. I know that this is a very long question, but it will run us out of Prime Minister's Question Time.
is 30 times more powerful than Polaris?
One thing that I can say in advance of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement next Wednesday is that, as he and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister have made clear, it is not a question of cuts, as the hon. Gentleman said. It is a question of a reduction in planned increases in expenditure, which is a very different thing.
Government Information (Disclosure)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Again I raise the question of the regular official leaks we are having from the Government. Today we have heard my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition quoting official ministerial statements. The deputy Prime Minister, or the acting Prime Minister—
He is acting all right.
—has said that there will be a statement next Wednesday. What authority he has I do not know, because I believed that it was Mr. Speaker who decided the business of the House. Then we find that the Home Secretary refuses to answer questions that must be in order. When will something be done to protect the rights of hon. Members, who seem to come second to the media, the press and everyone else?
It is time something was done.
It is a revolution that we want.
Or at least a change. Get the tumbrils out.
Order. I have two points to make. First, it is unfair to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. Secondly, I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would come to a conclusion.
This is the only way in which I get to be called.
Order. In that case, that is the hon. Member's conclusion.
Order. The hon. Gentleman is following an old cartoon. He is about to finish his point of order.
You have told me, Mr. Speaker, that I seem to have lost a lot of weight recently; perhaps that is why you could not see me.I am interested, as the House should be, in trying to ensure that the House reverts to the position that we had for many years. If a Minister made a statement, he was responsible for it and he would be asked questions upon it. The Leader of the Opposition has tried to do that on several occasions. He has a little more privilege than we Back Benchers, but if day in and day out the Government are leaking like a colander and no one protects Back Benchers——
Order. Will the hon. Gentleman resume his seat?
No, I will not.
Order. I have no desire to pick a quarrel with the hon. Gentleman, but he must remember that, like everyone else—he above all, because he has been a Member for so long—he must observe the rule of the House that he must resume his seat when I stand up to address the House. I am very surprised at him. I believe that we should leave the matter there. We shall now move on to business questions.
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker——
Order. The hon. Gentleman's point of order has already wasted four minutes of the House's time. I do not propose to allow him to continue any further. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am telling the hon. Gentleman that. I in no way seek to pick a quarrel with him, but, like everyone else, he must obey the rules. The hon. Gentleman has made his point at considerable length. If he persists I shall ask him to leave the Chamber. I have no desire to ask him to do that, but he must therefore acknowledge——
I wish to raise another point of order.
Order. I shall not take another point of order from the hon. Gentleman. We shall now move on to the Business Statement for next week.
Order. I have given the hon. Gentleman one more opportunity to recognise that the House has been very tolerant with him. He has been allowed to take up five minutes of the House's time when there is great pressure on the two short debates that are to take place today. No one can say that I have not shown patience with the hon. Gentleman. Therefore, it would be good manners on his part now to accept the ruling of the Chair and to leave the matter there.
What is the ruling?
The ruling is that the hon. Gentleman has wasted our time for five minutes and that he has not made a substantial point of order on which I can rule.
I have another point of order.
I am not taking another point of order from the hon. Gentleman.
But I have another point of order——
Order. I gave the hon. Gentleman warning after warning. He took no notice and he will leave the precincts of the House for the rest of this day's sitting.
All right, Mr. Speaker. So I cannot raise another point of order?The hon. Member, having conducted himself in a grossly disorderly manner, was ordered by Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Disorderly conduct), to withdraw immediately from the House during the remainder of this day's sitting, and he withdrew accordingly.
Business Of The House
May I ask the Leader of the House to state the business for next week?
The business for next week will be as follows:
- MONDAY 30 NOVEMBER—Debate on the First Special Report from the Committee of Public Accounts, Session 1980–81, on the role of the Comptroller and Auditor General, and on the Government's White Paper Cmnd. 8323.
- TUESDAY I DECEMBER—Motion on the Appropriation (No. 3) (Northern Ireland) Order.
- WEDNESDAY 2 DECEMBER—Supply (5th Allotted Day): there will be a debate on an Opposition motion on the present emergency in Her Majesty's prisons and ways in which it can be overcome.
- THURSDAY 3 DECEMBER—Remaining stages of the Shipbuilding Bill and of the Nuclear Industry (Finance) Bill.
- FRIDAY 4 DECEMBER—Private Members' Motions.
- MONDAY 7 DECEMBER—Second Reading of the Local Government and Planning (Scotland) Bill.
May I put four matters to the right hon. Gentleman? On the question of mass leakages, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) referred in the early part of his point of order, we have some sympathy, because the flood seems to be greater than ever. I shall put some points on those matters to the right hon. Gentleman.First, there are leakages about what has happened or is supposed to have happened to the local government finance Bill. We understand that a major part of that Bill—the so-called referendum part—has been dropped. We greatly welcome that if it is correct, because we have exposed the unconstitutional character of that proposition since it was announced. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what has happened to that Bill and whether any part of it will be introduced? The second matter, which has already been referred to, relates to a statement of Government expenditure which the Government are compelled by legislation to make. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us on which day that will be made and how many leaks there will be before? The Government had better arrange for the statement to be made on Monday if they are to avoid a further flood, including speeches such as that made by the Secretary of State for Wales. My third question concerns the Scarman report, on which questions were put to the Home Secretary yesterday. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) described the right hon. Gentleman's statement as opaque. I should not use quite such foul language across the Floor of the House, but no one could determine what the right hon. Gentleman proposed to do in response to many important matters. May we have a clear commitment that we can debate this important report in Government time while it is still fully in the public mind, at least during the week after next? Finally, may I again remind the right hon. Gentleman that probably the whole House feels that we should debate the subject when judgment has been passed on the GLC's appeal against the Court of Appeal decision? That again is a matter involving constitutional principles.
The Government are still considering certain aspects of the local government finance Bill. I imagine that certain matters are being considered on both sides of the House. There is nothing private about it, and it is right and proper that the Government should continue their consideration. When we come to a conclusion, the House will be informed.As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, there will be a full statement next week on Government expenditure. I regret that I cannot tell the right hon. Gentleman on which day, but, as far as I am concerned, the earlier the better. The right hon. Gentleman was unreasonable in his criticism of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who in his full statement yesterday gave an infinitely clearer picture of the Government's response on a number of important and profound matters than is normally given immediately a report is published. I accept that the House wishes to debate the Scarman report in the near future, but people should have time to study it. I shall see whether I can arrange for a debate to take place the week after next or at any rate in the near future. As for the right hon. Gentleman's final question, the right course to take at this stage is to let the judgment be heard on the GLC's appeal, and then to consider what the next step, if any, should be.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the statement on Government expenditure is of great importance and is causing concern, particularly as it is suggested that the Government may be contemplating cuts in unemployment pay at a time when more people than we have ever known are unemployed? Cannot the right hon. Gentleman say when an announcement will be made? If the Government cannot tell us officially, perhaps we can have a leak, which appears to be the way that they hit the headlines best at present.
It is normal to have a few days delay between the reaching of conclusions—which happened only this morning—and the preparation of the Chancellor's statement. That has happened under Governments of both parties and there is nothing new about it. I am sorry that I cannot say absolutely on which day a statement will be made, but as soon as we establish which day will be best I shall inform the right hon. Gentleman.
In view of my right hon. Friend's assurance last week that he would consider a debate on the Scott report, may we know whether we shall have one before the Christmas Recess?
I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend. I do not believe that we shall have a debate before Christmas. As he will agree, these are complex matters and the Government are still considering them. It would be misleading if I were to say that there would be a debate before Christmas.
Order. In view of the following two debates, I propose to allow questions to run until four o'clock.
Will the Leader of the House reconsider his answer to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about the local government finance Bill? We understand why the Government are reconsidering the matter, but is he aware of the total chaos into which they are throwing local government finances? Local authorities should now seriously be considering their estimates for the coming year, and, if we are not to have the Bill, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that we should at least have a statement on precisely what the Government's intentions are?
I do not accept that our continuing consideration of the Bill is having that effect. The sooner that a conclusion can be reached the better. I have nothing further to say at the moment.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the publication of the Scarman report makes it all the more important to debate the matters referred to in early-day motion No. 1, in the names of my hon. Friends and myself, on new life for old cities?[That this House believes that the pressing problems facing our cities can best be tackled by implementing some of the proposals contained in a recently published study 'New Life For Old Cities' endorsed by 62 Conservative honourable Members and Members of the European Parliament representing urban constituencies which offers new hope for the regeneration of our cities, by turning to people rather than Government and relying more on private enterprise than public bureaucracy; and notes that included amongst the recommendations are: (a) the rapid release by auction on the open market of hoarded public land surplus to requirement, (b) promoting city renewal through self-financing private enterprise agencies which would contract out to existing local businesses and professional firms the job of marketing the city's assets, (c) making urban renewal attractive to private investment by offering cheaper loans through issuing tax-exempt revenue bonds, (d) offering rate holidays not just in enterprise zones but to single-plant family firms elsewhere and inner city retailers who ultimately will pay full commercial rates but only if their businesses prosper, (e) encouraging private business to build new factories, offices and homes in the inner city thus reducing the 60,000 acres of agricultural land and green field sites lost each year to urban sprawl, (f) halting demolition and instead encouraging local authorities to sell off decaying property for £1·00 for those (home-steaders) willing to repair and live in them, and making similar arrangements for shop-steaders to enable run-down shops scheduled for demolition to be saved, (g) encouraging building societies to lend on older houses and discontinue 'red-lining' (that is refusing loans for house ownership in run-down areas), (h) enabling sitting tenants of flats and maisonettes in outer council housing estates to purchase their freeholds for a nominal sum in return for a share in the block's management and upkeep thus saving local authority expenditure and (i) contracting out to private enterprise those local authority services which can be done better and cheaper by private enterprise; and calls on Her Majesty's Government to assume a catalytic role so as to enable public and private enterprise in partnership to realise theirfull potential, to reduce those checks and controls which militate against new development and to involve more fully those people living and working in cities in the total revitalisation process.] Will a debate on the Scarman report be drawn sufficiently widely to cover those issues? Will my right hon. Friend also bear in mind that outer city Members as well as inner city Members are concerned?
Being such a substantive document, the Scarman report sets the parameters of what you, Mr. Speaker, are likely to find acceptable in the debate, although that is, of course, a matter for you. Although inner city problems are highly relevant to the report, I suspect that my hon. Friend is looking for a debate directed more specifically to the inner cities. I hope that in due course the House will have the opportunity to address itself to the subject. At present I cannot give Government time for such a debate, but it would be helpful to have a separate debate on the subject.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the report which will be before us on Monday raises matters of great importance, matters of principle, matters relevant to the procedures of the House and matters on which there will be sharp and interesting differences, not between the parties but between hon. Members? Therefore, may the debate be on a motion that can be amended so that, if it wishes, the House can attempt to reach at least tentative conclusions?
I arranged the debate at the request of the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee before the question about considering the local government finance Bill arose. I understand that there have been discussions through the usual channels about the basis on which the debate should arise. The Government feel that it is correct to have a debate on an Adjournment motion, but that matter can be reviewed and referred again through the usual channels.
Does my right hon. Friend recollect that during most of 1981 I have pressed him to hold an early debate not only on those pensions matters relative to the Scott committee on index linking but on the recommendation of the Occupational Pensions Board about the effect of changing jobs on pension rights? If he cannot give us an undertaking that there will be a debate on the Scott report alone before the end of the year, will he consider carefully initiating a debate on all aspects of pensions early in 1982?
I am prepared to consider a debate. If it is not possible for me to find time during that period, my hon. Friend may find other means to initiate a debate.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Government are in a right old mess as they can give no assurances about arranging a debate on unemployment benefit cuts and are unable to put the local government finance Bill before the House next week? As the Government are the nurses' paymaster, may we have a statement to assure those involved in the negotiations that the pay increase will not be less than the 15·2 per cent. at which their tax and price index is currently running?
No, Sir. I cannot give that assurance. As the hon. Gentleman knows, negotiations on nurses' pay are proceeding. I can say nothing further.
In view of the anxieties expressed during Home Office questions earlier, will my right hon. Friend accept that there is a need for an early debate on BBC finances, particularly in view of the likelihood of an approach by the corporation for an increase in the licence fee, which would be a serious matter for pensioners?
I will keep my hon. Friend's request in mind.
Will the Second Reading of the proposed criminal justice Bill take place before Christmas?
It is possible that it will.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment said during the debate on the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill last night:
Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is an important matter of interest to all parties? Will he pencil in a full-day debate on the working paper?"the Home Secretary's Criminal Law Revision Committee will shortly issue for public comment a working paper on the subject of prostitution."?—[Official Report, 25 November 1981; Vol. 13, c. 970.]
I doubt whether there will be time for such a debate, but I think that there will be opportunities for the matter to be raised during the Bill's passage through the House.
Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement be followed by the publication of the public expenditure White Paper at an early date, or do the Government propose to delay publication until the Budget, as they did last year? Will the House have an opportunity to debate the Chancellor's statement before Christmas?
The possibility of a debate can be considered. I shall have to check with my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I think that the intention is to do what has been done in previous years, namely, to publish the White Paper at the time of the Budget.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the serious concern felt in some inshore fishing areas, including Southend, that the Government may not insist on a 12-mile exclusive fishing limit? Can he assure us that if there is any fundamental change in the Government's negotiating position on fishing there will be a report to the House before any major concessions are made on this fundamental issue?
My right hon. Friends the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and his Minister of State have kept the House fully informed of developments in the negotiations, our negotiating position and the progress made. I am sure that they will continue to do so.
With reference to the right hon. Gentleman's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Dr. Bray), if the Government make a statement that includes anything approaching cuts in unemployment pay there will have to be a debate in the House. The right hon. Gentleman should not suggest anything to the contrary.
That is a matter which we can consider when we have heard the statement.
Will my right hon. Friend bring forward a Bill to prevent the publication of public opinion polls during by-elections so that people are able to listen to the serious issues that are being debated instead of being swept along by the manipulators in the media?
I doubt whether a measure with that objective would easily get through the House.
Will the House have the opportunity to debate soon the plight of Professor Andrei Sakharov and his wife who are on hunger strike, one in Gorky and one in Moscow? If we are not to have the opportunity of drawing attention to that hideous contravention by the Soviets of the Helsinki agreement, may we have an assurance that the Leader of the House will at least draw the matter to the attention of the Foreign Secretary and do what he can to stop the persecution of those people?
Much public attention has already been given to those unhappy events. The hon. and learned Gentleman must find his own way of raising the matter in the House.
As details of today's Cabinet meeting will certainly appear in the press tomorrow and on Sunday, probably in considerable depth, does that not mean that the House is again being treated with comtempt? Could not a statement have been made today? If, as seems apparent, the unemployed are to be victimised, there will be a storm of angry protests right outside the House and throughout the country.
If it had been possible for a statement to have been made today it would have been made. That was not possible. But a statement will be made as soon as possible next week.
As the proposed local government finance Bill would not have been given a Second Reading because there is opposition to it on both sides of the House and universal opposition outside, will the Leader of the House persuade the Secretary of State for the Environment to drop the Bill and introduce a new measure that would have the support of the House? Secondly, as the 3 million unemployed face a weekend of anxiety expecting that their unemployment benefit will be cut, will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make an early statement—perhaps at the weekend, if he cannot make it to the House?
On the hon. Gentleman's first point, I will convey his views to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. On the second point, the hon. Gentleman ought to be patient. If it had been possible for a statement to be made today it would have been made. It is wrong for the hon. Gentleman or anyone else to seek to speculate on, or invent details of, what may have been decided. I know that many people will be busy doing that. It is a free country at the moment, and long may that continue. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not attempt to give credence to what he thinks may have happened and will contain himself until he hears what was decided.
Will the Leader of the House ask the Minister of State, Civil Service Department to make a statement to the House on the proposed closure of the Central Office of Information film unit, which has contributed massively to this country's export promotion campaign but is to be disbanded and discarded because of redundancies imposed by the Government?Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a group of Labour Members wish to visit the unit to find out what sort of work it is doing, but the Minister of State has so far denied hon. Members their right to visit the unit? Will the Leader of the House make it clear to his hon. Friend that he is disgracefully abusing his position as a Minister and that hon. Members have a right to investigate and obtain information before taking delegations to Ministers? Will the right hon. Gentleman also bring home to the Minister of State the requirement that he should come to the House to make a statement about the whole miserable business?
I am not very impressed by the language that the hon. Gentleman uses about my hon. Friend. I am prepared to convey the hon. Gentleman's views to my hon. Friend, but no doubt the hon. Gentleman has been in touch with him direct.
Questions To Ministers
The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) gave me notice yesterday that he wished to raise a point of order.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.Although our budget deficit with the Community was a relatively small £92 million over the first six months of this year, it increased by a massive £405 million over the subsequent three months. Suspecting that to be the case, I put down a priority written question for answer on Monday 16 November. The question was so simple that my 10-year-old daughter could have answered it without any trouble. I merely asked what had been the monthly cash figures between ourselves and the Community. I was told that the question was too difficult to answer in the time available and that there would be some delay—the usual delaying tactics. Last Thursday we had Treasury Questions and No. 3 concerned our contribution to the Community budget. Also last Thursday there was a debate in the Community about our contribution. The substantive answer to my absurdly simple question was not produced until both those events were over. Hon. Members require available information so that they can participate in Question Time and debates that are fundamentally important to the interests of the country and our constituents. Is there any way in which you, Mr. Speaker, can prevail upon people to bring forward such information in time?
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for the way in which he has made his point. He and the House will realise that it is a matter for someone other than me, but his complaint has been heard by those who can do something about it and make inquiries into it.
Ballot For Notices Of Motions For Monday 14 December
Members successful in the ballot were:
- Mr. Ray Powell
- Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith
- Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk
Local Government And Planning (Scotland)
Mr. Secretary Younger, supported by Mr. Malcolm Rifkind, Mr. Alexander Fletcher and Mr. Nicholas Ridley, presented a Bill to make further provision as regards local government and planning in Scotland; to abolish as regards Scotland certain powers of entry and advisory committees; to amend the Tenants' Rights Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed [Bill 11].
That the matter of alcohol, drug and solvent abuse in Scotland, being a matter relating exclusively to Scotland, be referred to the Scottish Grand Committee for their consideration.—[Mr. Pym.]
Orders Of The Day
4TH ALLOTTED DAY—considered
Law And Order
I beg to move,
Any right hon. or hon. Member introducing a debate under the general heading of law and order could clearly cover a very wide canvass. Those who have read the motion will note that it does not seek to go into the necessary background to such debates—for example, the influence of the planning of our cities and towns, the decisions taken by successive Governments and local authorities on housing programmes, and so on. There is an increasing awareness that rehabilitation of older property may lead to a more satisfactory community than the use of the bulldozer and the development of new and remoter housing estates without social facilities. Nor does the motion attempt to cover the role of education in this important area. In drafting what I hope is a fairly non-contentious motion we have tried to focus on some of the issues concerning the combatting of crime, which has been the subject of increasing concern in recent years, and particularly on the methods of policing. In the interest of brevity I do not propose to say very much about the crisis in the prisons, partly because I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) will succeed in catching your eye later in the debate, Mr. Speaker, and talk about that. Furthermore, I learned last night that the Opposition had chosen the topic for an extended debate next week, and therefore it would be idle to go too deeply into the issue now. It is appreciated by the House that this debate is taking place on the day following the publication of the Scarman report. Again, I should not like to trespass on the debate that the Government have promised on the details of the report, but it is useful to have an immediate opportunity to make comments on some of the important findings of the report. It would be as well to refresh our minds at the start of the debate about some of the current crime statistics. Last year—I give the figures for England and Wales only because the statistics are collected slightly differently in Scotland—there were 97,000 crimes of violence 'against the person, 622,000 burglaries, about 15,000 robberies, and approximately 300 muggings a day were reported. The total number of offenders who were found guilty or cautioned in England and Wales increased from just over 2 million to 2,350,000—an increase of about 16 per cent. in one year between 1979 and 1980. Therefore, it is right that we should pause to express concern about the continuing and almost relentless rise in crime in our society. I refer for a moment to the Scarman report. It is interesting that although it has been published for barely 24 hours it has already established itself in the public mind as a major social document, and it has received widespread support from chief constables, community leaders and politicians alike. That is why it is imperative that the Government should arrange a debate soon and act swiftly and imaginatively by implementing all the detailed recommendations in the Scarman report. It would be a mistake—I hope that I misunderstood the Home Secretary's approach yesterday—if the Government were simply to single out one or two reforms, however worthy, undertake to implement them and then brand the remaining detailed recommendations as merely a statement of Lord Scarman's philosophy. Lord Scarman referred in his report to the need for "urgent action" throughout. What is required is not Government acceptance of a statement of philosophy, but a Government programme for specific action. The riots that took place earlier this year now seem to have occurred a remarkably long time ago. The House welcomed the Scarman report yesterday in a calm atmosphere. However, it is worth refreshing our minds about the real horror of the atmosphere of the period in April when the riots first took place. Lord Scarman summed it up very well in an early paragraph of his report. He said:That this House believes that the maintenance of law and order and preservation of liberty depend upon a relationship of confidence and co-operation between the police and local communities, and therefore draws particular attention to the need for community policing methods and an independent procedure by which complaints against the police can be examined; considers that inadequate help is given to the victims of violent crime; and further considers that urgent action is needed to deal with the crisis in the prisons.
I should like to pause on the three words "in this century". It is easy to exaggerate both the scale of rioting and the general levels of crime in our big cities, and to forget that there have been periods in our life, particularly in the last century, when to walk around the streets was infinitely more dangerous than it is today. Throughout these debates we must keep a sense of proportion when we listen to some of the more alarmist reports. Even before the riots in Brixton there was general public concern about the methods of policing and the general principles that the Government were following in the development of a modern police force. Yesterday I selected one quotation from the Scarman report about the effects of racial disadvantage, but the report puts even that disadvantage in a wider setting. Lord Scarman spoke of the mood of despair in our inner cities. It is undeniable that successive Governments have devoted substantial resources to an attempt to cure the problem, but, as I hinted earlier, I am not sure that the money has always been put to the best possible and most imaginative use. Greater forward thinking on how we develop and redevelop the life in our inner cities, rather than simply looking at the amount of money that is available for it, might be more fruitful. There is then the current problem, which we cannot balk, of the enforced idleness caused by unemployment. There is an old saying that idle hands find mischief. That is certainly true among younger people who feel deprived of any opportunity to make full use of their daily lives. Under the heading of racial disadvantage—this is not in Lord Scarman's report—I have been constantly critical of not only Government statements but statements by various politicians that add to the feelings of insecurity among the ethnic minorities. Talk of being swamped and about parts of the Government's British Nationality Act have helped to create an adverse climate. The Scarman report makes generalised statements that are not limited to the Brixton experience, and it embodies points that many people have been talking about for some time. In my experience of speaking about police matters—I devoted part of my speech at our annual conference this year to criticism of police methods—I have found that if one attempts to criticise them, one is accused of being anti-police. As I am about to make some comments about police methods, I should like to say straight away that I have a brother who is a serving officer in the police force and that I have personal cause to be grateful to the police for their vigilance and protection during the present troubles in our land. In my view, a bad policeman, like a bad clergyman, a bad teacher or a bad Member of Parliament, is a menace to society. As a society we are entitled to demand the very highest standards of our police, and any lapses should be rooted out. That is why it is extremely important, irrespective of the Brixton experience and the particular recommendations of the Scarman report, to take up the question of liaison with the communities, as Lord Scarman recommended, and to evolve an independent complaints procedure. I listened carefully to the Home Secretary's answers at Question Time today, and I accept entirely that this is a most complicated matter that cannot be dealt with simplistically, but I understood him to give a commitment to it in principle. I hope that that is so and that he will not be long in bringing forward detailed proposals for general consideration in the House on this very important matter. I was looking the other day at an opinion poll published some months ago about public attitudes to the police. The good news is that overall there is great confidence in our police force—and so there should be, as it compares favourably with those of many other countries—but there is also a disturbing increase in the number of people who distrust the police. Therefore, despite all the caveats mentioned by the Home Secretary, it is very welcome news that the Police Federation has switched its basic view about the moral proposition of an independent complaints system. Last year, in England, there were 7,460 complaints against the police, but only 176 charges were brought. The Government must be prepared to devote at least some resources to setting up a system of independent investigation of complaints, which will remove the element of public anxiety about the police investigating and judging their own cases. We should not listen to clichés about throwing money at problems. The Scarman report contains a number of specific and sensible reforms which, given limited funding, could be implemented almost immediately. Certainly the "radical option", as he described it, of a wholly independent procedure to deal with complaints is a candidate for fairly prompt action. Another is the proposal about police training, and the Home Secretary is to be congratulated on taking this up for immediate discussion with the chief officers. I turn briefly to the difficult issue of positive discrimination, which was also mentioned at Question Time. I am sure that Lord Scarman was correct not to urge a quota system for the police force. In the United States, however, there is an obligation on companies to "use their best endeavours" to employ fairly from among the ethnic minorities. I believe that a similar provision for our police forces would be useful. As specific instances of racial discrimination by the police are constantly brought to the attention of Members of Parliament, and were found to exist by Lord Scarman, it is astonishing that, so far as one knows, not one police officer has been dismissed for racial prejudice. A most important recommendation by Lord Scarman was that it should be made clear to the police that that would be the normal penalty for acts of racial prejudice. A further suggestion to improve relations between the community and the police is to consider the Scottish experience of the prosecution system. It is interesting that in Scotland we have nothing like the same amount of antipolice feeling or criticism. I believe that that is partly because the process of prosecution is removed from the police and transferred to an independent prosecution system. Our most important plea in introducing the motion is for a return to genuine community policing. That means a reversal of the policies that have been followed almost automatically in most constabularies for a long period. I remember a few years ago joining a community residents' association in a part of Liverpool protesting about the closure of a local police station. Over the years we have all seen the modernisation of police facilities involving the closure of local community police stations and their replacement by rather grander but inevitably more centralised offices. The result has been the withdrawal of police from local communities to centralised operating units and the increased use of motorised police. In a discussion some years ago, a senior officer in my constituency made the obvious point that in the old days when a policeman operated on foot or on a bicycle in a particular community and had a specific territorial base, it was not so much that his presence on the streets or in the houses prevented crime more effectively than a Panda patrol, but that he was more aware of the problems in the community, such as problem families, people returning from prison or people suffering from stress due to marital or other problems. The Scarman report also draws attention to the role that the policeman could play in a far more social sense, but he cannot do so unless he is given a territorial responsibility and real involvement and recognition in a local community. Perhaps the Minister will also say something about the role that might be given to the special constabulary. We often forget the value that we could obtain from that force. A few weeks ago I raised the subject of the resignation of Chief Superintendent David Webb in Birmingham on the ground that he felt obliged to abandon his community work because he was not getting sufficient support for it from senior officers. It is interesting to note that, among other things, he had been recruiting more and more people, particularly from the ethnic minorities, to the special constabulary. Time and again, the approach that has come to be known as community policing has proved to be correct. Again, therefore, we look to the Home Secretary for a lead and the assurance that that approach will be given higher priority and will be accepted as Government policy for the future, Community policing should not become merely a minor cosmetic for any police force that wishes to be considered progressive. It will be no more than a token if it is suffocated beneath general policing methods which amount to a direct contradiction of it. It is worth looking back to the comments of the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall long before the events in Brixton occurred. If anyone is tempted to sneer at his views because he is chief constable of Devon and Cornwall and not of the Metropolis, it should be remembered that he was assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police before taking up his current appointment. In a remarkable lecture about a year ago he said:"During the weekend of 10–12 April the British people watched with horror and incredulity an instant audio-visual presentation on their television sets of scenes of violence and disorder in their capital city, the like of which had not previously been seen in this century in Britain."
"People who are poor and have a chip on their shoulders against society are inclined to say: 'I am getting nothing out of life so I am going to be angry'.
He concluded:If society then says: 'Okay, you can get as angry as you like, but I have a well-paid fat-cat police force and if you get angry I shall just clobber you,' then we are making a big mistake."
If community policing works in Devon and Cornwall, including the city of Plymouth, it can work elsewhere, but it would be a mistake for the public or the House to assume that community policing is something exclusive to that constabulary. It is already practised successfully elsewhere. I have seen it in my own constituency as well as in part, though sadly not the whole, of Liverpool. I noticed this morning in a press profile of Sir David McNee a reminder that when he was chief constable of Glasgow he was responsible for the introduction of community policing there. So it is not a madcap scheme dreamed up by some rural policeman. It is a tried and successful method of policing which should become the general policy of the land. It is important that the police are put back into the community, not just as law enforcement officers, but as social leaders working with local people. I welcome what the Home Secretary said to me yesterday about his intention—whatever the legal difficulties—to look at the question of banning racial marches in our cities. About two years ago, when I first suggested that in a speech, I came under a lot of criticism from, among others, those in my party who thought that that was a highly illiberal suggestion. Since then, either the Home Secretary or the chief constables have had to make general bans on marches—which are much more illiberal—in order to stop one particularly unpleasant march. We must now accept that if we can legislate—as we legislated some years ago against offensive notices to let rooms, which used such phrases as "No coloureds here"—we are entitled to say that it is madness to expect chief constables to make basically political decisions about the type of marches that are calculated to stir up racial hatred in certain parts of our towns and cities. Therefore the Home Secretary should look at the Public Order Act and make whatever changes may be necessary. Given the terms of our motion, I should like to say a word about the victims of violent crime. However successful new policing methods might be, there will always, sadly, be victims of crime. They are the neglected party in current criminal justice procedure. They are viewed only in terms of the evidence that they are able to offer. Civilised society has a duty to care for the victims of crime. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Board makes provision only for financial recompense for physical hurt. In the first six months of this year there were 368,000 burglaries and 9,900 robberies. That was a considerable increase over the numbers for the same period last year. Compensation orders are made only if specifically requested and if the criminal is caught. Otherwise, no provision is made by our society for the victims, who are sometimes old and infirm and who are left frightened—sometimes even penniless—and helpless to recover or replace their property or their self-confidence. In the last few weeks my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. Alton) has asked the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Security whether we could devise a system to ensure that at least the weaker members of our society are visited by social security officials in the wake of reported crime, to ensure that they have simple basic things such as enough money for food—perhaps paid for, if necessary, from an emergency fund—and to ensure that damaged entry points are made good and, if possible, to offer alternative sheltered accommodation. The giving of such attention and high priority to the victims of crime is long overdue. Perhaps the Home Secretary might wish to look at the recent Scottish experience, where sheriffs are increasingly using their new-found powers to demand on behalf of the victim, restitution from the sentenced criminal. The practice is new and is working quite well. Sheriffs are being encouraged to use that power in Scotland, but I do not believe that the power exists in England and Wales."One thing is certain—it is no answer to resort to brute force to try to control people."
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am rather surprised by his comments about the victims of crime. We may hide our light under a bushel, but has the right hon. Gentleman never heard of the national victim support scheme, which I founded, and which is supported by hundreds of volunteers throughout the nation?There are now 140 victim support schemes, all managing on a shoestring. They were immediately supported by the Home Secretary when we requested aid to establish a national office. It is a growing voluntary force, and I am surprised that the Leader of the Liberal Party, of all people, should not be aware of such a powerful force in the land. It is the only body of its type in the whole of Europe that is run under the voluntary umbrella. I should like to feel that the Leader of the Liberal Party would not only pay tribute to it——
Order. The hon. Gentleman has made a long intervention, and I think that he has made his point.
I was not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was making his speech in the middle of mine, but I hope that he will catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so that he can develop his theme. I had the great pleasure of visiting his constituency recently, but that was in a political capacity. I was not dishing out compliments then, but as the hon. Gentleman seems to be fishing for them now I should say that I readily accept that the work done by the voluntary organisation is splendid. However, I think that the hon. Gentleman will admit that the organisation is not nation-wide and that it is not a national scheme. I accept that it is a voluntary scheme.I am sure that the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) will be the first to admit that the scheme is not universal. If he wishes to place so much weight on the scheme, I invite him to talk to those victims of crime who feel, even now, that their needs are being ignored, while society, quite naturally, pays attention to the criminal. I promised that I would be brief, and I have already spoken for too long. An apt final quotation from Lord Scarman's report is his quotation from President Johnson's Address to the Nation, which appeared at the beginning of the American Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 1968. Lord Scarman was right to quote that, because President Johnson said:
Lord Scarman said that those words should apply to Britain. In endorsing them, I am not suggesting for a moment that there are not evil and wicked people in our society rather than those who have been sinned against. However, we must pay more attention to the methods of policing that we use. We can be more effective in getting better value from our well-tried police forces in combating the rise in crime."The only genuine, long-range solution for what has happened lies in an attack—mounted at every level—upon the condition that breeds despair and violence. All of us know that those conditions are: ignorance, discrimination, slums, poverty, disease and not enough jobs. We should attack these conditions—not because we are frightened by conflict, but because we are fired by conscience. We should attack them because there is simply no other way to achieve a decent and orderly society in America".
The right hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) began his speech by saying that anyone who chose the topic of law and order as the broad subject for a debate had a wide canvas on which to paint. That is perfectly true. He also said that it was not his intention to trespass on the ground that Lord Scarman's report covered. However, the first part of his speech dwelt almost exclusively on that ground. I hope that he will forgive me if I do not take up every aspect of his speech. It is always welcome to this Government that the House should debate questions relating to the maintenance of law and order, and the preservation of liberty. There is no subject to which this Government attach more importance. It ranks equally with the defence of the realm. That is why we had, in Government time, a full day's debate last Friday, on the report of the Royal Commission on criminal procedure.That very important report discussed many matters crucial to the establishment of—as the motion states—
I refer to such things as the power of the police to stop and search people in the street; the power of arrest; the circumstances in which the police shall be able to detain people after arrest; the judges' rules that govern how the police may interrogate suspects; and the right of silence. All of these matters affect how the police are trusted in the community. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will allow me gently to point out that, unhappily, throughout that important debate he exercised his right of silence—and, indeed, his right of absence—as did all his hon. Friends in the Liberal Party and allies in the SDP. On Friday, we had an alliance of silence on this subject. I must therefore begin by welcoming not only the wording of the motion, which we believe is plainly right, but also the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. We shall, of course, be discussing Lord Scarman's report at an early date. Therefore, it is enough to say that yesterday my right hon. Friend stated in the clearest terms his acceptance of what he described as Lord Scarman's philosophy of policing, as well as his resolve that it should be carried into practice. An essential component and objective of that philosophy is, in Lord Scarman's words, the establishment of a relationship of mutual trust and respect between local communities and the police. I was glad that the right hon. Gentleman pointed out the good news—that there is a great deal of confidence in the police. That is right. We all agree that we must seek to establish a relationship of mutual trust and respect. That is what a relationship of confidence amounts to, and without it we can look in vain for the co-operation of the local community with the police that the motion calls for. I believe that we are all agreed on that. It follows, therefore, and it is almost a truism, that policing must take account of, and respond to, the special needs and characteristics of the local community. That is the essence of what are generally known as community policing methods. That is not a new concept. The right hon. Gentleman did not need to say that this was not a madcap concept dreamed up by a chief constable in a remote part of Western England. No one would dream of suggesting that it was. It has a long and honourable pedigree both in the Metropolitan Police and other forces. As Mr. Barry Pain, the chief constable of Kent and the chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers said recently, it goes back to 1829. There is no one model for universal application. There can be as many variants as there are communities, and probably there should be. In recent years, chief officers have made sustained efforts to experiment and to develop them, and certain features that are worth identifying are common to the most successful schemes. These schemes demonstrate a move away from what is sometimes called "reactive" or "fire brigade" policing towards a preventive approach. Everyone welcomes that. They lay emphasis on the need for the police to enlist the help of other agencies—both voluntary and statutory, to co-operate with the police in dealing not merely with crime and its effects, but also in the long term with the conditions associated with criminal activity. Behind them all lies a recognition of the part that the police can play in promoting a sense of community. I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman, who spoke of the advantages that can flow from a police officer just being around. One example he used was that such an officer would be able to notice someone who had come back into the community from prison. The advantages of what we describe loosely and without definition as "community policing" are self-evident. Among them is the advantage that a police officer so employed can promote a sense of community, of belonging to a community. First and foremost, by a distance, there is in these successful schemes of community policing an emphasis on returning officers to the beat. I am sure that that is what the public want. They are right in wanting to see it. It is on the streets of our towns and cities, and in the lanes and the villages of our rural areas, that the police make their most effective contribution. It is here that they preserve the peace, offer to villains the risk of getting caught and most effectively reassure the public. An important achievement of the Government is that since my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary took office, the police service in England and Wales has been increased by 7,500 officers. Without doubt, that is the result of our decision to implement in full and at once the recommendations of the Edmund-Davies committee on police pay. My right hon. Friend has also urged chief police officers to do their best to ensure that the police are not used on work that does not require their particular skills, and they have willingly complied with that suggestion and advice. In London, where the Metropolitan Police numbers 25,000 for the first time in its history, the commissioner's policy of using civilians has enabled 233 sergeants and 673 constables to be released from their desks for operational duties in the community—on the streets. The motion is silent about this, but we should not forget that, in addition to confidence, the maintenance of law and order depends on the police catching those who commit crimes and deterring others who would like to. If they do not catch them or deter them, no amount of good works in the community will win the police the community's confidence. I now turn to that part of the motion that calls for"a relationship of confidence and co-operation between the police and local communities,"
I have already mentioned it, and in the circumstances I can pass briefly over it. It is perfectly true that public confidence requires this, but it is also true—we do not hear so much about this—that any procedure should deserve and attract the confidence of police officers. On that the motion is silent. I want to say three things about it: first, we already have an independent examination procedure, introduced by Parliament during the lifetime of the last Government; secondly, it is not working well enough to command public confidence in full; and, thirdly, to quote what my right hon. Friend said yesterday, it must be "substantially reformed". He will bring forward proposals to the House as soon as he can. Again I gently point out that this was discussed by the Royal Commission and was valuably debated last Friday when the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends were "playing away". Sadly, as the motion says, it is also often true that inadequate help is given to victims of violent crime. In one sense, no compensation can remedy that injury. Perhaps the best help can come from within the community itself, in the form of prompt, sensitive, neighbourly support. My first duty on joining the Home Office in January was to go to the annual meeting of the National Association of Victim Support Schemes. I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) intervened in the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He was too modest to say that he was the founder, or at least he was too modest to say it with the conviction that would have registered with me. It is a great achievement that these 140 branches should now be established throughout the country under the wing of the national association. This is an important body. It co-ordinates the activities of all the local schemes, whose appearance we warmly welcome and whose volunteers we greatly admire. I am glad to say that this year we have been able to increase the grant to the national association to just over £23,000. Financial compensation, as distinct from support within the community, is important to the victims of violent crime. The State's contribution is made mainly through the criminal injuries compensation scheme, whose chairman of the board is Mr. Michael Ogden, QC. Last year, more than 20,000 awards were made, to the value of more than £21½ million. We have improved that scheme by extending it to victims of violence in the home—a long neglected category. But criminals can also be made to pay—and a good thing too. We intend to improve the existing ability of the courts to order criminals to compensate themselves those whom they have violently attacked, or otherwise harmed. The right hon. Gentleman was wrong when he said that a court could not make a compensation order if it was not asked for one; courts can and do make such orders. In 1980 nearly 128,000 compensation orders were made in England and Wales. It is right that we should strengthen the law here, so that where a criminal's means are not sufficient to allow him to pay both a reasonable compensation order and a reasonable fine imposed by the court, the duty to compensate his victim shall have priority. We shall make early proposals to achieve that end. We intend also that parents can be ordered themselves to compensate the victim of an offence committed by their child, unless the court is satisfied that it would be unreasonable to do so in the circumstances. We are well aware that to the victim of crime it often seems that his interests count less than the interests of the criminal. These measures will help to correct that impression. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has been able to sweep up, as it were, into this omnibus motion, a reference to what it rightly describes as the crisis in the prisons, even though the "urgent action" which it calls for to deal with this is left unspecified. I know that he said that he proposed not to deal himself with that part of the motion, but he will forgive me if I do, because the Government regard it as a matter of extreme importance, as has my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary from the first day he assumed office. No Home Secretary has done more than my right hon. Friend to draw attention to the dangerously and scandalously overcrowded state of the prisons in England and Wales. A measure of overcrowding exists when there are more than 37,000 prisoners locked up. Certified normal accommodation is 39,000. The current figure is just under 44,000, and the local prisons are the worst. This is a problem of great gravity which my right hon. Friend inherited. He has consulted very widely on means to lessen the pressure on the prisons. He of all people, needs no reminding of the need for urgent action. During the prison officers' dispute last year, he asked for and was granted emergency powers by Parliament. The Government recognise the duty to provide the prison accommodation that our criminal justice system really needs. It would have been better if that had been more widely recognised in the past. For 40 years after 1918 no purpose-built closed prison or borstal institution was constructed. We have therefore, allocated extra resources to the prisons. Six new prisons are to be started, or have already been started, between this year and 1984. Design work on two others is in progress, and feasibility studies are being carried out for a third and fourth. Major reconstruction work at over 60 establishments during the 1980s is planned, at a cost of about £360 million. Simply maintaining the structure of the existing prisons is costing £20 million a year. That is the answer to those who appear to light upon so simple a solution to this problem as bricks and mortar. However, this cannot provide immediate relief to the problems of overcrowding, and indeed it has to be seen against the background of further decay in the existing prison estate. That is one reason—but not the only reason—why the Government have seen so much significance in the lead set by the Lord Chief Justice in the Court of Appeal to bring about a reduction in the length of prison sentences, in cases where that would be proper. This action has already begun to have a perceptible effect on the size of the sentenced prison population, as may be seen in the latest statistics, but an effect which unfortunately has been at least in part offset by the increasing number of cases which have had to be dealt with by the courts. Accordingly, it is clear, and again I believe generally accepted, that some new measure is needed to deal with the problem. The question is, what new measure? Earlier this year, in the document embodying the results of our review of the parole system, we put forward the idea that for shorter sentence prisoners—including those now ineligible for parole—there might be provision for early release on licence to supervision in the community. This idea was put forward for discussion and comment, because my right hon. Friend and I thought that it deserved serious consideration. It received the approval of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, and it was welcomed in other influential quarters, too. But in our system of criminal justice, it is the courts that have, subject always to the maxima fixed by Parliament, the duty of passing sentences that they consider, in the exercise of their judicial discretion, will meet the justice of each particular case. That is their responsibi"an independent procedure by which complaints against the police can be examined".