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Oral Answers To Questions
02 May 1985
Volume 78

Home Department

Immigration Clearance

1.

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has any proposals to reduce the waiting times before first interview for application for entry clearance in the Indian subcontinent, particularly in Dhaka.

11.

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent representations he has received about the length of time an applicant for an entry permit to the United Kingdom has to wait for an interview in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.

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Since the beginning of the year, I have received delegations from two organisations, and received one letter, specifically about delays in dealing with entry clearance applications in the Indian subcontinent, but the matter has been mentioned by a number of other organisations and individuals in discussions and correspondence about immigration control generally.

We have increased the number of entry clearance officers at Dhaka and our immigration section there is already the largest of any of our posts overseas. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary is taking steps to ensure that the most effective use is made of these resources.

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Is the Minister aware that the annual number of applications processed has declined considerably? Is he aware that the productivity of entry clearance officers in the subcontinent has decreased by 36 per cent. per officer? What will the hon. and learned Gentleman do about that? Is the decrease due to the complexity of the rules that have been made by this Government? Will the hon. and learned Gentleman make a statement?

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The present rules governing the admission of wives and children are exactly the same as the rules that obtained under the Labour Government. The point that I was seeking to make was that there are now more entry clearance officers in Dhaka than there were at the time of the Labour Government. We realise that this is a serious situation, and we are doing our best to relieve it. Two years ago we increased the number of entry clearance officers. As a result, there have been two extra entry clearance officers at Dhaka for the past two winters. Steps are being taken to keep staffing levels at full effective strength, with five additional postings for six months each being made to cover staff leave and so on. In addition, first-time applicants are to be given a measure of priority over those who have previously applies and been refused permission.

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I am sure the Minister will agree that it is to no one's advantage to have such lengthy waiting times before interviews are conducted. In some cases, 22 months pass before the first interview is conducted to decide whether a man's wife and children can join him in this country. Cannot extra efforts be made, especially in Dhaka where the waiting time seems to be longest, to make a big clearance of the queue once and for all so that applicants may be dealt with more humanely?

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It is important to give priority to first-time applicants. One of the difficulties in Dhaka is that many people, having had their applications refused and appeals turned down, apply repeatedly. That is very much to the disadvantage of people who, having been here for two or three years, decide to call for their wives and children. We must put this matter into perspective. A comparison of present waiting times with waiting times under the Labour Government shows that we certainly have nothing of which to be ashamed. The waiting time in Bombay was 12½ months in 1979; it is now only six months. The waiting time in Islamabad was 19½ months in 1979; it is now 10¾ months. The waiting time in Delhi is now precisely the same as in 1979. The waiting time in Dhaka was 22 months in 1979; it is now 23 months. Those are not grounds for indicting the Government.

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I listened with interest to what my hon. and learned Friend said. Is he aware that any reduction in the waiting list abroad would only mean an increase in the number of unemployed people in Britain, in particular in Leicester and Bradford? Will he reconsider his policy, which is negative and undesirable?

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We must apply the rules. Our entry clearance officers have to ensure that there is no evasion, but equally that people receive their entitlement. I cannot go along with my hon. Friend if he is saying that we should now alter the approach which has been adopted by successive Governments over the years and deny to a man who has settled here the right to bring in his wife and children. But my hon. Friend is correct to draw to the attention of the House the difficult social problems involved. I assure the House that if those queues were to be removed tomorrow, we should face enormous problems with regard to schools, social services and hospitals, for example, in Tower Hamlets. A high percentage of the people in those queues would go to our inner city areas. However, that does not mean that we shall alter the policy which gives to the people settled here the right to bring in their wives and children.

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Is not one of the significant causes of the delay the Government's excessive zeal in finding reasons not to admit people—in particular, the primary purposes regulations which prevent from entering people who otherwise would legitimately be able to join their families?

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I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman mentioned that point. We are often told that we are now applying more oppressive control than was the case under Labour. That is a load of old nonsense. The highest refusal rate of families in Dhaka occured in 1977 under the Labour Government, when it was over 60 per cent. The refusal rate in Dhaka last year was only 50 per cent. I remind the hon. Gentleman that since the introduction of the 1983 rules, the failure rate for husbands and fiancés has decreased.

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Do not confidential papers, recently leaked, show that the Home Office is using administrative means deliberately to stop people with a clear legal right to enter this country from doing so? Will he take the opportunity of next Thursday's debate on the Commission for Racial Equality to apologise to the commission for his premature criticism of its immigration control policy, and announce that there will be a substantial increase in entry clearance officers on the Indian subcontinent so that the queues of people, predominantly families, can exercise their legal right to enter this country to join their husbands?

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I was content that there should be a debate on immigration next Thursday, but I understand that the Opposition chose otherwise.

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On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

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Order. I shall take points of order after Question Time.

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If I am wrong, I withdraw the remark. I am entitled to make the point that on three separate days I and the Home Office have been happy to have a debate on immigration, but for some reason that has not been satisfactory to the Front Benches of the two—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—I am not having it said that we are ducking a debate.

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rose——

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Order. This question has gone on for a long time. I know that it is of great interest to the House, but we should have the answer without an argument about a debate.

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My trouble, Mr. Speaker, is that I have forgotten what the question was.

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In that case, we might move on.

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Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that the figures that he has just quoted show that in no way are those entitled to come to this country being unjustly inhibited? Does he also accept that the enterprise of the Asian community in Leicester contributes to employment, not unemployment?

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I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for what he has said. No impartial and reasonable person looking at the figures that I have mentioned today could for a moment say that the Government are failing in their duty. The very important matter raised by the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) has a bearing on my hon. and learned Friend's point. The briefing paper that appeared in The Guardian was used by the journalist to suggest that queues were being used deliberately to limit immigration. Queues exist—and they existed under the Labour Government—because the number of people applying to come here exceeds the capacity of the resources available to deal with them. That was the case under the Labour Government and it remains the case today.

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We want the debate on the Commission for Racial Equality report. It was certainly not at the request of the Opposition Front Bench that there should be a further delay in having that debate.

The Minister's answers to the question at issue, today and on previous occasions, suggest a deficiency on his part as regards both statistics and humanity. There is serious doubt about the figures that he has quoted today. Last year, 1984, was the first year when the number of applications processed for entry were fewer than the numbers received. Is that not a sign that the Minister is using bureaucratic methods to increase the delays?

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If the hon. Gentleman were right, we would not be sending an extra entry clearance officer to Dhaka and we would not have sent two extra officers for the past two winters, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary would not be making sure that extra staff go to Dhaka this year to see that there is no shortage of entry clearance officers as a result of leave or sickness. If the hon. Gentleman doubts my statistics, perhaps he will challenge me and say where I am wrong.

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On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

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Later. We are well behind time.

Drug Trafficking (Seizure Of Assets)

2.

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will introduce legislation to provide for the seizure and confiscation of assets acquired through drug trafficking.

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I intend to seek an opportunity for legislation of this kind during the life of this Parliament.

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I welcome that brief reply. Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the current law is unsatisfactory and that urgent action is needed? Is he aware that those who traffick in drugs are prepared to destroy the careers and lives of their fellow human beings in order to make vast fortunes? Is there not a case for doing something radical—for giving the police immediate powers of seizure before conviction, and for shifting the burden of proof so that, in order to avoid forfeiture, drug dealers have to prove that they obtained their assets by legitimate means?

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There is a case for doing all those things. We are considering the matter urgently. It is necessary to take action in this area, and we shall do so. The existing powers are inadequate, but it is important that the courts should not feel that they should not be used so far as they go. Although they need to be supplemented, they are quite considerable.

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I welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman's statement about the powers. Will he assure the House that any Bill will extend the powers to Northern Ireland?

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I will certainly consider that point.

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Are not the major drug traffickers perhaps the most evil and potentially dangerous of all criminals? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that this legislation is perhaps the most important single action that his Department can take to combat them and that the sooner it is on the statute book the better?

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I would agree with that. However, other action can be and is being taken. I congratuate my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) on successfully piloting through the House his Bill to enact the Government's pledge to increase the maximum penalty for trafficking in serious drugs to life imprisonment. The support given to that Bill shows how seriously we treat the matter.

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The Home Secretary might be aware that the Conservative candidate who opposed me at the 1979 general election was later locked up as a drug trafficker and was well known to have a great fortune in Switzerland, which then could not be touched. Is he aware that this is important legislation, but that it is scraping at the symptoms rather than the cause of the growth of drug use by young people, which is lack of opportunity and work?

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The seriousness of the hon. Gentleman's interest in this matter is rendered suspect by his wholly unnecessary opening remarks.

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Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that drug traffickers should be subject to criminal bankruptcy? Does he also agree that the figures of those who are not subject to criminal bankruptcy are far too high at the moment? Is he aware that many people who should properly be subject to criminal bankruptcy are escaping, and that their numbers should be halved?

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The arrangements for criminal bankruptcy are not a satisfactory solution to the problem. We must act, and the suggestions in the Hodgson report must be considered. We are considering the matter urgently. I accept my hon. Friend's support for the urgency with which we are approaching legislation on this subject.

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As drug addiction, especially heroin addiction, has risen by more than 400 per cent. since the right hon. and learned Gentleman came to office, when will he stop the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department gallivanting all over the country and the world making gestures and tell him to start doing something effective? What will be the Government's response to the demand by the chief constable of Preston yesterday that he can deal with the problem only if he has more men, resources, and equipment?

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If the hon. Gentleman is so insular as to think that a study of what is going on in other countries, such as the United States, which has had the problem longer and is experiencing it more seriously. will contribute nothing to our handling of the problem, his consideration of the subject is unworthy of him. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State has engaged in a constructive visit to the United States, where he has seen the problems and the solutions to them. The problem must be tackled comprehensively. It is being tackled more comprehensively through legislation such as I mentioned earlier, by tackling the entry of drugs to Britain, by providing treatment and by publicity. Those approaches are more than anything that has been done by any previous Government, and my hon. Friend has spearheaded that comprehensive approach.

Elections (Proportional Representation)

4.

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will seek to introduce proportional representation for local government elections.

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No, Sir.

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Why, on this day of county council elections, are the Government afraid of facing local government elections by fair and democratic means? Does the Minister agree that the likely result of the elections is that yet more issues will be decided by caucus rather than by democratic debate?

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As a non sequitur, the hon. and learned Gentleman's latter assertion takes a great deal of beating. The epitome of caucus politics is a hung council—politicians having to get together to sort out what policy will be, rather than electors doing so.

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Does my hon. and personal Friend agree none the less accept that there are already more than 30 local authorities with no overall control and a possibility that that number might increase in the next 24 hours? Does he further agree that it makes slightly more sense to have local authorities which are broadly proportionate to the votes cast rather than made up according to arithmetical accident?

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The trouble with the approach that my hon. and personal Friend advances is that the Bill, which has been introduced in another place and which would do what he required, would provide electoral districts for local authorities of between four and nine members—hardly an additional ornament to local democracy—and give councils power to adjust their boundaries. That is an invitation to the sort of malpractice that might go on in other jurisdictions, but which has never been allowed to go on here.

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Does the hon. Gentleman accept that we in Northern Ireland have experience of proportional representation and that we do not commend it? Will he accept our advice that the Government should persist in their view not to introduce it into Great Britain and that they should definitely reconsider its application to Northern Ireland?

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I shall not be tempted into folly and comment on the last question, not even today. However, I obviously welcome advice from the hon. Gentleman, and I shall consider it.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that the introduction of proportional representation will in no way prevent ugly and loutish scenes such as those organised by the hard Left in Southwark town hall last night?

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I thoroughly agree.

Soccer Grounds (Policing)

7.

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what discussions he has had with the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis about policing methods inside London Football League club grounds.

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I have had no recent discussion personally with the Commissioner on this subject, but my Department keeps in close contact with the Metropolitan police about football violence, and ways of tackling it.

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Will the Home Secretary consider the proposal that I made in an Adjournment debate on 19 April about setting up football community policing teams, because clearly somewhat more specialised attention is required by the Metropolitan police to the problems of crowd violence inside London league clubs?

Secondly, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman take the opportunity to discuss with the Commissioner the possibility of transferring the cost of policing from football clubs to the public purse? Chelsea, for example, has paid about £127,000 this year in policing charges. That money could have been more usefully spent on ground improvements for the benefit of the supporters, and, I hope, reducing football hooliganism.

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It is best that football grounds are policed by local officers with reinforcements, if necessary, rather than by specialist squads.

Regarding the hon. Gentleman's second point, if a football club organises a match and requires policing inside the ground, as opposed to outside, because of the risk of trouble, it is reasonable that it should pay for the cost of that policing.

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Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that in the north of England video surveillance and recordings of visiting supporters have led to custodial sentences for those who have committed misdemeanours at football matches? Does he agree that people, such as Ken Bates of the Chelsea football club, should be supported, not discouraged by stupid planning regulations, in their desire to control hooliganism?

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We all share the desire to control football hooliganism. My hon. Friend makes a good point about video pictures. The Home Office is experimenting with a van which can take good quality still and video pictures outside and inside grounds. That van is intended to assist in crowd control and to gather evidence for use in court proceedings. The use of such a facility is an important contribution to the problem.

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Is it not a fact that since the Prime Minister's headline hunting caused her to stick her meddling fingers into this issue, there has been nothing but ill feeling and confusion? Now that she has suddenly taken an interest in football hooliganism and football, will she abandon her boycott of the Cup Final, attend it again, and take the opportunity to watch Manchester United win the cup?

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There are not many matters about which I would take lessons from the right hon. Gentleman, but the pursuit of headline hunting may be one. His remarks about my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister are singularly inapposite. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will note with interest the right hon. Gentleman's invitation to her to attend the Cup Final.

Animal Welfare

8.

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received recently from animal welfare groups in Glasgow; and if he will make a statement.

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I have received two letters from the Scottish Anti-Vivisection Society concerning the University of Glasgow's connection with brain-damage research performed at the University of Pennsylvania.

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Is my hon. Friend aware that there is considerable anxiety in the west of Scotland about the unbelievably cruel experiments on live monkeys which are carried out at the University of Pennsylvania, following which further research on their scrambled brains is undertaken at the University of Glasgow? Is he further aware that one of the professors engaged in that research has said that in eight years of research no use has been made of the experimental results for the benefits of humans? Does my hon. Friend share my anxiety about those experiments, and does he believe that it is an adequate response to say that those experiments would not be allowed in the United Kingdom?

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A distinction must be drawn between what is happening at the University of Pennsylvania and at the University of Glasgow. I saw the deeply distressing video of what has gone on at the University of Pennsylvania, and it appears that animals that may not have been anaesthetised at the time were subjected to brain damage. The conduct of those experiments by some of the researchers left a very great deal to be desired. That conduct would not be permitted in the United Kingdom, and nor would the imposition of those injuries, without an anaesthetic, be permitted in the United Kingdom. The work of the University of Glasgow is confined to research on tissues that have been removed from the dead monkeys. That work is not subject to control under the 1876 Act, because that Act deals with vivisection and experiments on live animals, and does not deal with the use of dead tissues.

Metropolitan Police

9.

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is satisfied with manpower levels within the Metropolitan police.

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On 31 March the strength of the Metropolitan police was 26,751, and the strength of the civil staff was 12,939. These are increases of over 4,500 and 1,300 respectively since May 1979. It is the Commissioner's objective, which I fully support, to ensure that the very considerable manpower at his disposal is used as effectively, efficiently and economically as possible.

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Although I greatly welcome those figures for increased manpower since 1979, does not my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the increased duties of the Metropolitan police and the continuing level of crime combine to require a substantially greater establishment? Will he devote some of his considerable energy to pressing for such an increase in due course?

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There has been an increase in the Metropolitan police establishment from 1 April 1985. We shall need to keep the position under review as the reorganisation of the force proceeds. That reorganisation, of course, is of considerable importance, as I believe that it will lead to a more effective use of manpower.

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Is the Home Secretary aware that crime levels in London's inner city areas are running at more than twice the national average and that the deployment of police in London is not directly related to them? Will he ask the Commissioner to concentrate resources permanently—not temporarily, as with the special patrol group—on areas that have very high rates of crime, which could do with good permanent police officers on the streets?

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I am sure the hon. Gentleman will accept that the Commissioner will have that priority very much at the forefront of his mind.

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Can my right hon. and learned Friend say what effect there would be on the manpower requirements of the Metropolitan police if a fifth terminal were built at Heathrow, with the ensuing appalling traffic jams in west London?

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Not without notice.

Coalfield Communities (Policing)

10.

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what discussions he has had with chief officers of police about policing problems since the ending of the coal miners' strike.

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I continue to keep in touch with chief officers about the policing of areas which were affected by disorder during the miners' strike.

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Does the Home Secretary intend to consider the lessons that can be drawn from the policing of the miners' strike and the great variety of operational practices found among the different police forces? Does he plan to give the House the benefit of his views on that subject before he publishes his paper on public order?

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That will not be possible, because I hope to publish my paper on public order very soon. The examination of the operational lessons to be learnt from the strike is being continued by the Association of Chief Police Officers, and it will not be completed within that time scale.

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When the Home Secretary discusses the miners' strike with chief constables, will he make it his business to hold in-depth talks on the mountainous cost of policing that strike? That cost is a terrific burden for ratepayers, and rate-capped authorities consequently find themselves in great financial difficulty. What does the Home Secretary intend to do about that?

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The Home Secretary is not going to do anything about it, because he has done something about it. He has announced enormous assistance to police authorities which have had to incur costs on an unprecedented scale. During the strike I announces a series of measures which have cumulatively led to enormous help being given to those authorities which have had to incur that burden.

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Why is it taking so long to investigate complaints against the police? I made a complaint in December 1984 and that investigation has still not been completed.

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The length of time depends on the complexity of the issues that have to be looked into. However, if the hon. Lady feels that there has been an undue delay, I should be happy to look into her case.

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Can the Home Secretary be more explicit about the date of publication of the White Paper? The Prime Minister said in November 1984 that it would be published before the end of the year. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has just said, I think, that it is to be published in the next few weeks. Does he mean that?

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It will be published before the end of this month.

Sunday Trading

12.

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a further statement on Sunday trading.

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The House will have the opportunity to debate the Auld report in the very near future and my right hon. and learned Friend will take that opportunity to make a statement on the Government's intentions.

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Is my hon. Friend aware that a strong case can be made for eliminating the anomalies of the present Sunday trading laws, but that a general relaxation would be disastrous for the cherished way of life of this country? A previous attempt to abolish restrictions was decisively rejected by the House on a free vote. The Government have no mandate for acting in the way that is apparently proposed. Should not Sunday be allowed to remain a day for rest, recreation and religion?

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That depends upon one's definition of rest and recreation. For some people it might involve a little quiet shopping. My hon. Friend will have the opportunity to develop his views, as will other hon. Members, during the debate that is soon to take place.

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Before the Minister makes his statement, will he consider the fact that to abolish completely the Shops Act would cause very considerable hardship to shop workers? Is he aware that they would have no defence whatever against the unscrupulous employer, because of the abolition by the Government of the wages council? Will he also take into account the tremendous offence that abolition would cause to many hundreds of thousands of religious people throughout the country?

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To hear the hon. Gentleman ask his question one would think that nothing had changed since the days of Mr. Polly. In putting forward the views of the Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers, the hon. Gentleman has revealed only too clearly why that union commands the support of only 15 per cent. of those who work in the retail sector.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that if Sunday trading were to be allowed, it would add to the employment prospects of very many people?

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I have every reason to believe that that would be the case.

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Will my hon. Friend accept that there is a sense of steamrollering about this issue and that opinions throughout the country vary from total apathy among chambers of commerce to downright opposition among the silent majority?

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It is two and a half years since the matter was last debated on the Floor of the House. Every speaker, whether for or against Sunday trading, said that the Shops Acts were in need of amendment. The Government then set up a committee which took almost a year to reach its conclusions. The committee's report was published over six months ago and we are now moving towards a debate on the report. It is interesting that "steamrollering" should be thought to embrace all of that.

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Does the Minister not recognise that when his Tory friends brush aside the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) about the conditions for shop workers being made worse should full Sunday trading be authorised, he ought also to recognise that for many shop workers Sunday is the only family day that they have together, since six-day trading already takes place in many of our major cities? If full Sunday trading were to be authorised, conditions for hundreds of thousands of shop workers, not least their wages, would be destroyed.

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Again there is an air of unreality about the hon. Gentleman's question, but no doubt we shall have the pleasure of hearing from him at even greater length when the matter is fully debated.

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Will my hon. Friend accept that this matter must be decided on a free vote and that very strong views are held about it by many Conservative Members? They believe that all the advantages do not lie in the abolition of the Shops Acts and all their provisions, that Sunday is a day for the family and for corporate worship and that to abolish the Shops Acts would play into the hands of the large retailer, the supermarket and hypermarket, while small businesses—the butcher and the other traders who are a traditional part of this country—would suffer gravely.

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I hear what my hon. Friend says. The terms on which any proposal might be put before the House is not a matter for me but for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who is in his place.

Violent Crime

13.

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make a statement on offences of violence against the elderly.

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Crimes of violence are particularly abhorrent when they are perpetrated against the most vulnerable members of society. Though recent research has shown that elderly people are the least likely to be the victims of violent crime, attacks on the elderly quite rightly attract special concern and the courts have power to impose appropriately severe sentences in the most serious cases.

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May I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that there have been a number of sickening attacks on the elderly in Stockport recently, often in furtherance of theft? Does he agree that such attacks cannot be tolerated and that, in order to deter others, courts should be encouraged to give long sentences of imprisonment to anybody engaging in that kind of crime, whether or not he is a first offender?

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The courts have the power to do just that and there is a strong and compelling case for doing so.

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Does my hon. Friend accept that a narrow statement on crimes of violence against the elderly is insufficient for the House and that he should be pressing for a full debate on the whole spectrum of law and order, sentencing policy and everything else that goes with it?

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My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and I would be only too pleased to participate in such a debate. We have a good story to tell on those matters.

Juveniles (Reconviction Rates)

14.

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what are the latest reconviction rates for juveniles attending detention centres.

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About 70 per cent. of juveniles discharged from detention centres in England and Wales in 1980 were reconvicted within two years.

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Does that not show that the philosophy behind the Government's thinking in relation to juveniles who do wrong is not working? Would it not be a lot better if the Government concentrated on giving juveniles real jobs in society so that they felt that they were playing a more valid role, instead of leaving them to roam the streets and end up in detention centres?

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Those cheap and tendentious observations are somewhat undermined by the fact that in each of the years of the Labour Government the reconviction rates were higher than those I have just given.

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Given the lack of success of the detention centres, does the Minister agree that it is time that statutory funding was provided for intermediate treatment for juveniles throughout Britain, bearing in mind the evidence of success of such schemes?

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The hon. and learned Gentleman will know that we are attracted to intermediate schemes and that the Department of Health and Social Security has recently put some £15 million into developing intermediate treatment facilities throughout Britain.

Car Milometers

15.

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what information is available to the Metropolitan police as to the incidence of zeroing of car milometers; and if he will make a statement.

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It is Metropolitan police practice to refer members of the public who complain about misleading odometer readings on secondhand cars to the local trading standards officer and no central records on zeroing are therefore maintained by the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis.

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Will my hon. Friend accept that the zeroing of car milometers is massive, widespread and the biggest rip-off in London and beyond, and is in need of Government attention? Will his Department initiate immediate research with a view to establishing tamperproof milometers that cannot be abused in that way?

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My hon. Friend will understand that that is a matter not for my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary or myself but for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. He will be aware that that matter was dealt with in reply to a question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King), who was told that there were no plans at present to introduce such legislation.

Government Purchasing

16.

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what measures he proposes following the conclusions of the recent report by the Management and Personnel Office on Government purchasing.

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My Department has prepared a programme of action in response to the report with the aim of improving value for money in Home Office purchasing.

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Will my right hon. and learned Friend do all in his power to encourage small firms to play their part in achieving the hoped-for savings of £400 million per annum?

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I appreciate the need to do that. The report itself made no specific recommendation about small firms, but it mentioned the need to improve information and to simplify procedures for small firms. We shall have that in mind as we carry forward our response to the report.

Long-Term Prison System

22.

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to reach a conclusion on the managing of the long-term prison system.

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My right hon. and learned Friend intends to make a statement within the next few months on our progress in implementing the report of the control review committee on the long-term prison system.

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Can my hon. Friend assure me that, when the Home Secretary makes that response, he will bear in mind the fact that the analysis which was drawn up by the working party was largely based on the American prison experience and that much of the report's conclusion is unsound because it is based on that system, which has armed warders?

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I am afraid that I cannot accept my hon. Friend's assertion that the report is based, to anything like the degree that he suggested, on American experience. I shall ensure that my right hon. and learned Friend, who has heard my hon. Friend's question, will bear in mind that point before announcing his conclusions.

Immigration Officers (Unofficial Guidance)

23.

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what measures he has taken to ensure that unofficial guidance circulars to immigration officers are withdrawn.

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Guidance circulars issued locally in respect to types of passenger likely to arrive at particular ports are being reviewed. Where such guidance is necessary in future it will be issued from immigration service headquarters.

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I thank the Minister for that reply. Will he give an assurance that when the guidelines are issued they will be made public so that everyone is aware of what guidelines exist and so that there is no doubt, ambiguity or false accusations?

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My right hon. and learned Friend said in a speech recently that the question of publication of the instructions to immigration officers is under consideration.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Q1.

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asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 2 May.

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I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend this morning presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. My right hon. Friend is now in Bonn for the economic summit.

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Has my right hon. Friend seen the reports of the disgraceful scenes at Southwark council last night, when Labour councillors not only disrupted the meeting but attacked television cameramen and damaged their equipment? Will he join me in inviting his Opposition counterpart to condemn that behaviour? Does he not think that it is a salutatory example today of the dangers of voting for Labour councillors?

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I assure my hon. Friend that I have seen the report in the evening newspapers of the scenes at Southwark council to which he referred. Such scenes are to be deprecated. They are as much a challenge to democratic Socialism as they are to other elements in political society. I am certain that Opposition Members will join me in condemning such behaviour.

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In view of the depressing and demoralisingly high levels of unemployment announced today, will the Leader of the House tell us when he confidently expects the rise in unemployment to be reversed, as he indicated in his letter to his constituency party chairman? Has he yet consulted the taproom wisdom in Llanyblodwel?

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I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman, who has such a good Welsh name, has such indifferent Welsh pronounciation. I assure him that I at once join him in expressing disappointment with the unemployment figures released today. I said in the letter to my constituency chairman that the rise in the number of people at work

"is still offset by the increase in the potential national work force as those leaving education substantially exceed those ageing into retirement."
I then said:
"I believe, however, that the underlying strength of the economy will, in time, reverse this situation. That will be the most decisive moment during this Parliament."
[HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] Being tolerably shrewd as well as good-natured, I decline to give a specific date. But I stand by that remark, and all the more so in the light of the encouraging evidence supplied by the recent CBI survey.

Q2.

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asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 2 May.

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I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

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Does the Leader of the House not agree that it is the height of hypocrisy for this Government, egged on by their shadows in the alliance, to remove the political levy from the Labour party when it was revealed yesterday that the Liberal party had received £190,000 from the British School of Motoring and it is well known that the Tories receive millions of pounds from private industry? Is it not true that in both those cases the donors are elite groups and cliques—not the mass of the ordinary people in the country, but the rich stockholders and shareholders?

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The hon. Gentleman will know that contributions to party funds have been debated vigorously in the recent past. Of course, we can all make observations about the size of the contribution made by the British School of Motoring—[Interruption.] I am glad to have the assent of the leader of the Liberal party, because it would be improper for me to stand here and defend that contribution. The Tory party is sustained on voluntary contributions, and therein lies its strength.

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As my right hon. Friend is standing in for the Prime Minister, may I put a question to him on behalf of the Leader of the House? Will he continue to set his face against any curtailment of the powers of Select Committees to obtain the documents that they need to exercise thir parliamentary powers of supervision on behalf of the House?

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My right hon. Friend makes a somewhat good-natured but misleading observation on partial information. I suggest that he tries to ask his question at the appropriate time, which will come after 3.30 pm.

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After today's Cabinet meeting, can the Leader of the House inform us whether the Government have decided to betray or to honour their general election pledge to maintain the earnings-related pension scheme? If it is the former and their pledge is betrayed, will that not injure not only the 11 million people in the state earnings-related scheme, but the 10 million people who are contracted out? Would not that, as Sir Terence Beckett informed a meeting in the House only a few days ago, impose additional costs of about £3 billion a year on employers or lead to the winding-up of contracted-out pension schemes?

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The right hon. Gentleman will know that there have recently been four major reviews of aspects of the social security system. They are currently being considered by the Cabinet. When that consideration ends, the Cabinet's views will be reported to the House and they will form part of a wider political debate. If the right hon. Gentleman starts by using words such as "betrayal", when one of the central requirements, given our enormous commitment to social welfare, is to ensure that we have an updated arrangement that relates resources to those in need, he will undermine the way in which the debate should proceed.

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The House and the country will have noted the right hon. Gentleman's failure to answer the question about earnings-related pensions. Can he at least say whether, on the question of child benefit, the Government will also jettison the pledge given in a letter from the Prime Minister on 20 May 1983 to my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John), in which she categorically stated:

"there are no plans to make any changes to the basis on which the benefit is paid or calculated."

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The answer is simple. I will not betray, to use the right hon. Gentleman's language, any matters that are still before Cabinet. The proper course, when that discussion is concluded, will be for the appropriate Minister to come to this Dispatch Box and present the Government's proposals to the House.

Q3.

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asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 2 May.

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I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave some moments ago.

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Is my hon. Friend aware that an increasing number of retail shops on petrol station forecourts are applying for off-licences, which means that they can sell alcoholic refreshments when pubs and licensed restaurants may not? Does this not make a mockery of our drink-drive laws and our licensing laws?

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I know that the position described by my hon. Friend is common in many parts of the country and that it gives rise to some anxiety. That is why it is being considered by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

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Since the Prime Minister is in Bonn to observe the diplomatic skills of President Reagan at first hand, will she protest in the strongest possible way at the bully-boy tactics employed by the President of the United States towards Nicaragua in imposing a trade embargo? Will she remind him that when that was done in relation to Cuba, it gift-wrapped that island for Russia? Will she also tell him that, in the case of Nicaragua, he is subverting and sabotaging a country which is extremely poor, which is making the transition from dictatorship to democracy, and which should have the support of the land of the free, not its opposition?

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If my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in her quest to seek to influence allies, were to use the rhetoric that has just been employed in this Chamber it would be totally counter-productive. What I do say is that it will be widely felt in the Chamber—I hope on both sides—and in many parts of the world that trade sanctions are not particularly effective.

Q4.

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asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 2 May.

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I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

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Is my right hon. Friend aware of the BBC television poll conducted in Scotland last night on alternatives to the rating system in which 30,000 viewers participated? Is he aware that 51 per cent. of viewers opted for a poll tax, 41 per cent. for local income tax and only 8 per cent. for the present system of property tax? Is that not a clear sign that a poll tax is not only feasible and desirable, but an acceptable alternative for the majority of domestic ratepayers?

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I congratulate my hon. Friend on the additional evidence which he now possesses to sustain his own well-argued pamphlet on the subject. Whilst I take account of the figures that he quoted, as the debate proceeds it will be seen that the matters involved are a little more complex than was realised by those who took part in the poll.

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Today the highest unemployment levels in Britain this century were announced, despite attempts to sanitise the figures by the Tory Government. About 1,000 people a day have joined the dole queues in the last month. Is the Leader of the House surprised that because of that, and in view of leaks about the possible abolition of supplementary benefit for 16 and 17-year-olds, nearly 250,000 15 and 16-year olds took half a day's industrial action last Thursday against the Tory Government?

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I do not think that that episode was favourable to those who were politically identified with it.

North Yorkshire

Q5.

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asked the Prime Minister if she has any plans to make an official visit to North Yorkshire.

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I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend has at present no plans to do so.

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I understand that my right hon. Friend has no plans to visit North Yorkshire, but I hope that my right hon. Friend who is standing in for her will visit the area soon to praise the county for its singular skill in keeping rates down to £60 per head less than they are in neighbouring Socialist Humberside. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this will result later today in a more substantial Conservative vote, as well as the creation of 4,000 jobs more per year?

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Although my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has no immediate plans to visit North Yorkshire I am sure that all Tories will look back with nostalgia to the days when Tory Ministers went there in the early days of August, year after year. The requirement today is to take account of the extraordinarily fine local government record of North Yorkshire, to contrast it with what has happened in Labour-held areas close by and to hope that virtue will be rewarded.

Engagements

Q6.

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asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 2 May.

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I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

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In view of the 799 votes cast by one man in the Transport and General Workers Union elections last year, is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the current proposals are sufficient to deal with the malpractices that are so obvious to everyone?

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I am sure that there will be widespread satisfaction over the fact that the Transport and General Workers Union is holding a new ballot. The indications are that even present legislation is encouraging postal ballots in the trade unions. We shall have to see what happens before coming to any further judgments about whether additional legislation is required.

Q8.

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asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 2 May.

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I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

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I know that the right hon. Gentleman is aware of the proposal by British Rail to single-track the railway line between Wrexham and Chester, but is he also aware that British Rail is apparently proposing, without consultation, to single-track the line from Wrexham to Shrewsbury, which runs through the right hon. Gentleman's constituency? Does he agree that there must be full consultation with local authorities and the local community before any such action is taken?

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I am glad that Question Time is settling around matters of more tangible consequence. I have been happy to be identified with the hon. Gentleman in representations on that matter in the past and I shall be equally happy to be alongside him in the future.

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On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

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Order. Does it arise out of Question Time?

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Yes, it arises out of questions to the Prime Minister, which have been answered by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. Had you noticed, Mr. Speaker, that two questions were put to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House about his views on something that he had said or thought in the past? While deputising for the Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend replies for the Prime Minister. The questions put to him by the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) both concerned decisions of the Leader of the House and not of the Prime Minister. It is important that when the Leader of the House deputises for the Prime Minister he should speak for her views and not have to answer for his own.

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I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's help. That very point was made by the Leader of the House himself.

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On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, arising out of questions to the Home Secretary today. Is it appropriate that even hon. Members from the Opposition Front Bench, let alone those on the Opposition Back Benches, should refer to business for next week, while asking questions of the Home Secretary, when the House has not been notified of the business for next week?

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I think that that is legitimate. None of us knows when there will be a debate on this important matter. I know that it is of great interest to the House and that is why I allowed a fairly long run on it during Question Time. As yet, I have no knowledge of what will happen next week.