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Commons Chamber

Volume 113: debated on Tuesday 31 March 1987

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 31 March 1987

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Brighton Marine Palace And Pier (Finance, &C) Bill

Read the Third time, and passed.

Exeter City Council Bill Lords

Amendments agreed to.

To he read the Third time.

Oral Answers To Questions

Employment

Enterprise Allowance

1.

asked the Paymaster General if he has any plans to review the control and vetting procedures over applications for enterprise allowance and the subsequent use of funds granted under this scheme; and if he will make a statement.

All aspects of the enterprise allowance scheme are kept under review. I am, however, satisfied that the present eligibility criteria and control and vetting procedures are appropriate. All businesses supported by the scheme are monitored twice during the year in which they receive the allowance to ensure that they continue to meet the eligibility criteria.

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply, which demonstrates the extent to which that popular scheme is being monitored. Does he agree that, although any monitoring must be kept under review, the success of the scheme under the present system is guaranteed?

I certainly would be happy to give that guarantee. It is important to stress that we have changed the procedure as from 1 January this year, whereby the more effective monitoring procedure is put in place. We have also made awareness days compulsory for people who seek to apply for the EAS.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the highest percentage of employment growth has been in the new and smaller business sector? Does that not illustrate well how important it is for schemes such as the enterprise allowance scheme to encourage people to start in business on their own?

My hon. Friend is right. The enterprise allowance scheme has played a significant part in ensuring that the number of self-employed people is the highest for 60 years. The net increase in small businesses on a weekly basis is the highest in recorded history.

Regional Tourism (Television)

2.

asked the Paymaster General what information he has about the effect on regional tourism of television programmes depicting the English countryside, history and way of life.

It is not possible to quantify the actual effect of television programmes on regional tourism, but many successful television productions have clearly resulted in substantial increases in the number of visitors to the areas in which they are located.

Given that the BBC television series "Bergerac" has promoted jobs and tourism in Jersey, does my hon. Friend agree that many more regional companies should promote the areas in which their films are made? I refer to films such as "Connie", "Adrian Mole", and "Little Lord Fauntleroy", all of which were filmed in Leicestershire.

Perhaps it is more appropriate for my hon. Friend to refer to "Little Lord Fauntleroy", than to "Bergerac". He is right. We should do more to encourage regional television companies to do more to increase awareness of the location of their film and television productions.

Does the Minister agree that any television programme showing the conditions on railway lines between Bradford and Leeds will greatly inhibit the efforts that Bradford is making to promote tourism? Therefore, will he make urgent inquiries to find out why British Rail is reluctant to electrify the line to provide clean, fast and comfortable trains, which would help tourism, promote local industry and help us to combat unemployment?

The hon. Gentleman has something of a reputation for pushing the negative rather than the positive. I shall draw the point that he raised to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. The area that he represents—the point has been dealt with in the substantive question on the Order Paper—has benefited considerably from the production, "Last of the Summer Wine", and the hon. Gentleman well knows that.

Will my hon. Friend please have discussions with the television companies to see how the success of "Bergerac" and of "Little Lord Fauntleroy" may be developed and increased so that they can be sold abroad, and will he contemplate the development of a series on the railways so successfully based on Birmingham and the green county in their past development?

Does my hon. Friend agree that with about 1·5 million people working in tourism, it is one of our major areas of employment and future employment, and whereas the making of films is helpful and essential, it is only one part of that. However, there is nothing that I would like better than to see "Rob Roy" on the television screen.

It is a long time since any of us saw "Rob Roy" on television. It had a good run for a time, but I am sure that the vast majority of people in Britain, and possibly abroad, could stand another showing of that excellent film.

Community Programme

3.

asked the Paymaster General if he will make a statement on the number of places available on the community programme.

On 27 February 1987 there were 248,216 people employed on the programme. This is an increase of 56,338 filled places, since February 1986. In 1987–88 the programme will operate at an average level over the year of about 245,000 filled places which will provide opportunities for around 300,000 entrants, about the same number as in the current year.

Is the Paymaster General aware of the apparent capriciousness of the MSC and the place of the community programme, which means that in those areas where the programme has done well it will now be cut in order to favour those areas where it has done less well? Given that the community programme is a cost-effective scheme, would it not be worth while for the Government to increase rather than cut the number of places where the programme is doing well so that the total number of places has to increase if the Government's policy of assisting those areas that have done less well is to continue? Is the Paymaster General aware that Leeds city council has not taken up 500 places because the Government will not supplement them and, therefore, people who are unemployed in Leeds are caught between the MSC and the city council, which will not assist them in the community programme?

We must look at the allocation of places, but we are guided by need. At the moment we are trying to concentrate on those parts of Britain where unemployment remains highest. We are also seeing how the community programme places fit alongside the new job training scheme, which will provide a better option for many of the under-25s.

Half the places in Leeds will still be taken up by the Leeds city council, but we want to see a diversity of suppliers. The overall effect in Yorkshire and Humberside is that the number of places next year will be exactly the same as this year.

I am delighted to hear that the hon. Gentleman is now urging us to support the community programme. I am told that long ago, when he was secretary of the council of voluntary services in Bradford, he was always opposed to it. Now that the Liberal party has come round and is seeking to imitate it, no doubt he has had a change of view.

I assure my right hon. and learned Friend that many of us who represent areas with relatively low unemployment strongly support his policy of taking places from the community programme in the wealthier parts of the country and redistributing them to areas with higher unemployment. However, will he make sure that the baby is not thrown out with the bath water and that specialist schemes, such as that operated by the Elfrida Rathbone Society, catering for those who find it more difficult to obtain work, are not scrapped at the same time as other more widespread schemes?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because it is sometimes difficult for those who provide worthwhile schemes to understand why they may be cut a little to allow more places to be provided in, say, depressed inner city areas. I certainly agree that we should have a look at specialist schemes and protect those, particularly that run by the excellent society to which he referred.

Will the Paymaster General now admit that on the figures that he has just given he has announced a cut of 10,000 places in the community programme and that the local cuts are greater than that because of the build up of some of the big national schemes, such as Branson? Will he admit that the reason is that he has found a better way to get people out of the unemployment figures, and that is called the job training scheme—work experience for benefit? Has he any plans to increase the allowance on the community programme? Will he admit that the net take-home pay on the community programme is £49 a week? If there is to be an increase, where will the money come from? Will it be from further cuts in the community programme?

The Opposition object when we introduce new programmes, and also when we try to alter the balance between existing ones. They take an extremely negative view. The figures that I gave show that the community programme, which has just gone through a period of rapid expansion, is being maintained at about the same level as last year. However, we must look at the impact of the new job training scheme, which we hope will provide 110,000 places by September of this year, chiefly for those under 25. We must see how the community programme sits alongside that scheme, as well as altering the emphasis.

The present allowance is tied to the market rate of pay— particularly the rates paid to local government manual workers— and the figures that the hon. Lady cites are better understood when it is appreciated that they are usually for part-time work, not for a full working week.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that while the community programme is essential to help the long-term unemployed, if it is used with imagination, it can also bring great benefits to local communities? In Lincoln, for example, an excellent scheme to construct a delightful walkway along the River Witham is helping both the unemployed and the community. Does the community programme not also provide encouraging results, in that the number of long-term unemployed is now on the decline?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I am only sorry that his constituent, Mr. Peter Hodginkinson, who had so much to do with that scheme, has not survived to see it being brought into effect. That is one of many examples of how giving valuable work experience to the long-term unemployed can also bring benefits to the local community. That is why we are so pleased with our achievements in crime prevention in the inner cities, the farm and countryside programme and many other worthwhile aims of Government policy.

Labour Statistics

4.

asked the Paymaster General how many people in inner London have been unemployed for over a year.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The amplifier is still not working.

Order. I think that most of them are. Would the hon. Lady like to change her place?

I am well known to be a soft-spoken man, but I shall raise my voice.

On 8 January 1987 the number of claimants in the boroughs that make up inner London who had been unemployed for over one year was 86,300.

I put it to the Minister that every person who is long-term unemployed represents a human tragedy and that there is absolutely no hope for those people unless there is a change in Government policy. The waffle with which the Minister will answer my question is no response; he should be examining the long-term problems of those who have been unemployed for any length of time.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's first point. Each individual who has been out of work for more than 12 months usually represents a considerable personal tragedy. I am therefore glad that the number that I have given is smaller than that of 12 months ago. The unemployment rate has begun to come down, as long-term unemployment has begun to do in the country as a whole. The hon. Gentleman should not be so dismissive of the Government's economic policy and the achievement of their programmes. Last month saw the largest fall in unemployment in the country as a whole since records began.

Is unemployment not falling all over the country? Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that in my constituency it has fallen faster than in almost any other area? Does that not demonstrate the Government's commitment to steel-closure areas and other areas of high unemployment, and the fact that Government policy towards the north in relation to regional policy is highly commendable?

My hon. Friend emphasised to me what was being achieved in his constituency when I last visited him and his constituents. That has lessons for inner London boroughs, because it shows that if a town such as Scunthorpe—which has been badly hit by necessary changes in the steel industry—can attract new industry and generate new types of employment, the same can be achieved in inner London boroughs. Indeed, it is being achieved, where local authorities co-operate with the sensible proposals that Government Departments have put forward to strengthen the economy.

Given the serious unemployment problem in inner London, does the Paymaster General accept that the further loss of long-standing industrial employment in the area is a potential disaster? Is he aware that British Gas plans to move nearly 700 staff out of the research station in Fulham? Will he make urgent representations to the chairman of British Gas that he should reconsider this proposal, which will have a devastating effect on the local economy and on local employment?

Decisions about the location of British Gas staff are for British Gas to determine. If a decision is pending that is likely to have an effect on Fulham, I trust that everybody will respond by creating conditions that will enable new employers to be attracted to Fulham to provide work there. Many major companies are moving work out of Greater London to provide it elsewhere in the regions. That is not altogether bad. London does not have a great manufacturing tradition. It is particularly strong in providing service industries and self-employment, and it is showing very substantial growth in all those areas across the whole of London.

London Visitor And Convention Bureau

5.

asked the Paymaster General what information he has on the amount of income that has been generated by tourism in the London Visitor and Convention Bureau area in each year since 1978.

Tourist spending in the London area increased from £1·8 billion in 1978 to over £3·9 billion in 1985. That is a rise of over 14 per cent. in real terms. A table giving full information has been placed in the Library.

I thank my hon. Friend for his interesting reply. Does it not illustrate that there is considerable scope for getting tourists away from the golden triangle, of which London is the centre, and into areas such as historic Newark-upon-Trent and the east midlands? How would my hon. Friend propose to reverse that trend?

The substantial increase in the section 4 grant expenditure under the Development of Tourism Act 1969 that was announced last year by the Government was principally to encourage the dispersal of tourists, particularly from the London area, into the regions. A very good example of that is the major tourist development that has been supported by the Government in the constituency adjoining that of my hon. Friend, which is known as Center Parcs.

6.

asked the Paymaster General whether he will state the figures for youth unemployment in 1979 and 1986 in the Sheffield travel-to-work area.

In 1986 the average number of unemployed claimants aged under 18 years of age in the Sheffield travel-to-work area was 3,980. Comparable figures for 1979 are not available because of changes in the way figures are collected. However, in 1979 the average number of unemployed registrants aged under 18 years in the Sheffield travel-to-work area, as defined in 1978, was 1,790.

Given the decline in manufacturing employment in Sheffield, the continued inequalities in the regional economies and the fact that the Budget is dependent upon a general upturn in the national economy, is the Minister aware that those figures are unlikely to be eased except by micro measures? Will he therefore look at Sheffield's employment plan, which can create 25,000 new jobs and training places and can therefore take more than 17,000 people off the unemployment register?

I accept that Sheffield has a difficult unemployment problem. There has been a slight but welcome fall in the overall level of unemployment in Sheffield over the last six months. We have a number of measures to tackle unemployment. Two job clubs are being opened today in Sheffield. They will bring the total number of job clubs in the Sheffield and Rotherham travel-to-work area to about 16. As for the Sheffield city council's plans, they are, in our view, very expensive, and their cost would have to be borne by ratepayers and taxpayers.

Will my hon. Friend look at the figures and remind the House of the level of unemployment in the Sheffield area between 1974 and 1979? Will he tell us of any time when a Labour Government have brought about a reduction in unemployment? Is it not a fact that every Labour Government have gone into a general election campaign committing themselves to a reduction of unemployment and that while they have been in office every Labour Government have seen a rise in unemployment?

The Minister says that the plans of Sheffield city council are expensive. Does he not think that it is expensive for 600 more workers, who were laid off in my constituency just recently in one of the main steelworks in Sheffield, to be on the dole and to pay them money for doing nothing when all they want to do is work? What kind of plans do the Government have that are not expensive for working people?

We are proud of the fact that we are spending nationally about £3·5 billion on overall employment and training measures. We are spending a lot of money. All I am saying is that the plans of Sheffield city council would, over and above that, be particularly expensive and would be borne by ratepayers and taxpayers. That would involve further job losses and industrial closures in Sheffield.

Inner Cities

7.

asked the Paymaster General what recent initiatives he has taken to promote employment in the inner cities.

We are now making very good progress in our eight inner city task force areas, with over 90 special projects and schemes already approved to encourage enterprise training and job creation for the residents of these areas. We have also concentrated more effectively the efforts and programmes of the Manpower Services Commission and other Government Departments on the same eight areas and their residents. As the various programmes are implemented, the benefits of the Government's task force approach will become steadily more apparent over the coming months to the people who live in the areas concerned.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend welcome the imaginative way in which employers and others such as the Home Office and the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders are co-operating with his Department? Does that not contrast strongly with the failure of those Labour-controlled local authorities which are not co-operating with the Manpower Services Commission and the inner city task force schemes?

I agree with my hon. Friend about the contrast, and it is unfortunate. We are now doing very good work under the community programme in providing work experience to help people to protect themselves against crime in the inner cities. A number of major firms are interested in engaging in community programme projects in the inner cities, especially McAlpine, which has entered into agreements with us. There are still some Labour-controlled local authorities that are turning away training and work experience proposals from the Manpower Services Commission. In the task force areas we are trying to overcome the objections of people, like the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen, who have tried to reject such proposals, so that residents may have the benefit of schemes which the Government want to finance in those areas.

While it is right to concentrate on the continuing misery of unemployment in the inner cities, does the Minister accept that there is also vast unemployment in outer areas? In my constituency most of the high unemployment is in areas in the outer city, such as Braunstone, New Parks, Mowmacre and Stocking Farm, where unemployment ranges between 30 and 60 per cent. What will the Paymaster General do that he has not done before to help people in those areas?

I agree that it is not only in Leicester, but in cities such as Liverpool and Bristol, that as much deprivation is found on large estates on the edges of the cities as in inner city areas. However, the lessons that we are learning rapidly from places such as Highfields in Leicester can be extended through the urban programme and the Manpower Services Commission to other areas. We will take action as rapidly as Leicester city council and others help us to deliver the goods on the ground in the Highfields area in particular.

Has my right hon. and learned Friend seen the leading article in The Times regarding work, welfare and workfare? Has he noted the favourable replies given to me by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee yesterday? Will he now think again about introducing the comprehensive workfare system and giving it a fair wind?

We have given a guarantee of training to everyone under the age of 18, so that no one under the age of 18 need be unemployed and drawing benefit. From tomorrow we are going national with the job training scheme and will be greatly expanding its availability. There will be 300,000 people going through the community programme. We are making a whole range of worthwhile activities available to people to reduce the need to remain idle. The rules remain that anyone who draws benefit in this country must demonstrate that he is available to work and is actively looking for it. While my hon. Friend knows that I still have considerable reservations about what is known in America as "workfare", we are providing all the opportunities that people require, and we are entitled to expect people to take advantage of them where we provide them.

Is the Minister aware that there is 46 per cent. male unemployment in the centre of Manchester in my constituency and that that figure is still rising? How can the right hon. and learned Gentleman come to the Dispatch Box with deceitful distortions of the real facts? When will we get real jobs, not cosmetics?

I know that conditions are quite serious for many people in the middle of Manchester. That is why Moss Side is one of the places where we have an inner city task force operating. I know from my contacts with the city that quite a lot is happening there. It is a strong commercial and regional centre and the economy there seems to be reviving extremely well. The Government have done a great deal to help by financing such things as the G-Mex centre and, next door, the development at Salford Quays. Now that the national economy is reviving so strongly, I think that Manchester is one of those places where we have the greatest cause to be optimistic about the future.

What would be the effects on improving employment prospects in inner cities of a 1 per cent. tax on company turnover, as proposed by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott)?

I am a little bewildered about where we are on the 1 per cent. levy. Recently, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) appeared to deny that he had guaranteed that a 1 per cent. tax on turnover would be charged. I had to look up the Official Report to confirm that the hon. Gentleman had, indeed, committed himself to such a levy. I am waiting to hear whether he will commit himself to it again. Perhaps urgent consultations are taking place in Dagenham about that matter.

The Paymaster General will recall that last February, when he launched this scheme, he said that the task force was a bold experiment in creating real jobs. As he has not made any claim for real jobs in his statements since, can he now tell the House how many real jobs have been created by this scheme, or how many jobs he expects to create by this scheme? Is not the real truth that this is a propaganda hoax on people in the inner city areas? The right hon. and learned Gentleman is not creating real jobs. It would be much better if he gave the £20 billion that he robbed from local authorities back to them to create real jobs.

Real jobs are being created all the time in the task force areas— in the work and training which Tarmac will provide on the Broughton road contract in Birmingham, in the training which we are providing for new jobs in the Copthorne hotel in Birmingham and in all the work which we are doing in Gloucester Grove. It is artificial to produce exact figures in response to the type of questions posed by the hon. Gentleman. I am horrified to hear that the hon. Gentleman has recommitted himself to putting money into the hands of the Left-wing local authorities. No doubt he is still committed to Southwark council's proposals for employment creation, hut, when he goes to Southwark, he will find that the council's activities do a great deal of harm to employment and training in that borough and that our task force is providing some of the few signs of hope there.

Cumbria And The Northern Region

8.

asked the Paymaster General what effect he expects the Budget measures to have on employment in Cumbria and the northern region.

The Budget will help to sustain the pace of economic growth, enterprise and employment creation throughout the United Kingdom, including Cumbria.

Is the Paymaster General aware that in the northern region, in Cumbria, and in my constituency the general view right across the political spectrum is that, if the Government had the money to give away in the Budget, they should have spent it on supporting schemes, supporting public services and developing real jobs instead of throwing away taxpayers' money on imports? Why does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not understand that the majority of people believe that personal greed should come second to solving the problems of unemployment, especially in areas such as mine where people simply cannot find work?

This year, because of the growth in the economy, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was able to combine reductions in taxation with restraints in public borrowing and increases in public expenditure, particularly on education and health. My Department has had its biggest increase in public expenditure during this Government's period in office and more than £3 billion is now spent on employment and training. I am glad to say that unemployment is falling faster in the northern region than in almost any other region. The major threat to jobs in Cumbria, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, comes from the policies of the Labour and Liberal parties on nuclear power and Trident.

When my right hon. and learned Friend visits Cumbria on Friday, and my constituency, he will see for himself that unemployment in Cumbria is falling faster than in any other part of the United Kingdom— as a result of former Budgets. Will he reflect on the disastrous consequences for jobs in Cumbria if our main industries are closed down— I refer to Sellafield and Trident at Barrow and Furness—and if agriculture is rated for tax as the Labour and Liberal parties propose?

I am looking forward to being in Carlisle on Friday and to visiting Penrith and the Border and seeing what is being achieved there. I can only endorse my hon. Friend's remarks. There would not only be a direct effect on jobs in Cumbria. Many northern engineering firms with contracts under the defence, or the civil nuclear programmes, are threatened by the policies of the Labour and Liberal parties.

Is the Paymaster General aware that the collapse of the engineering industry in the northern region has left many people, who have worked in that industry throughout their lives and are now aged over 50, without any prospect of ever gaining employment again in their lives? What hope will any of those schemes give to those people?

Of course, I appreciate that parts of the north-east have been especially badly hit by the rapid changes that have taken place in steel, shipbuilding, to some extent coal, and heavy engineering in this country. That is why I take encouragement from the way in which new jobs are being created in the region, from the rapid increase in self-employment in that part of the country, and from all the attempts that are being made through enterprise zones and inner city task forces to stimulate new investment. Jobs are being created in retailing. For example, the biggest retailing development in this country is in the north-east.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that about 6,000 new small businesses were set up in the northern region last year? Will he come up to the north-east and explain to my constituents the way in which the Labour party would help the unemployed by taxing them more heavily as soon as they found their first job?

I remain bewildered by those proposals. I agree with my hon. Friend that, having passed through a difficult period, one can now find all the signs of a regeneration in industry and employment in the northern region, for which we have been waiting for some time, since we came out of the recession. I see no hope for employment in the north if we return to policies of higher taxation, borrowing and inflation, and measures such as the expensive training levy which would be imposed on the turnover of every firm in the region.

Job Training Scheme

9.

asked the Paymaster General what response he has had from local authorities to the job training scheme.

In general, there has been a good response from local authorities.

Is the Paymaster General aware that some local authorities, especially Scottish local authorities, are reluctant to participate in that scheme, unless it is seen to involve real training for real jobs with realistic wage levels? Will he try to meet those objections because otherwise the job training scheme will be seen to be yet another Government trick to try to fiddle the unemployment figures by conscripting people from the dole queue into phoney jobs?

I hope to assure local authorities and the hon. Gentleman that the training provided by the new JTS will be good quality training aimed at providing real jobs because it will involve work experience with employers. No local authorities have yet come forward to sign a contract, but many have put forward proposals, and I hope that we reach agreement with those in Scotland. I hope also that no local authorities or trade unions will be tempted into playing politics with the JTS or getting us bogged down in trade union arguments about rates of pay.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the Labour party's attitude to this imaginative scheme to introduce training to a substantial number of young people in particular, is similar to the attitude that it displayed to the youth training scheme in its earlier years? Can we look forward to a similar change in its attitude?

I very much hope so. At present the Labour party does not really know its reaction to the JTS, having condemned it automatically when it was first announced. The only comfort that I take from its latest so-called 1 million jobs package, which is comprised largely of the same old measures, is that a large part of it is a plain imitation of our JTS programme. It proposes to provide 300,000 training places, whereas it claims that the 120,000 training places for which we aim in the JTS are too many, too quickly.

Will the Paymaster General confirm that only about 2,000 places have been achieved on the pilot schemes out of a target of about 5,000, that nearly half the people were over 25 and that there has been a high dropout rate? If that is the case, does it justify the Government's forced expansion of the schemes?

I do not agree with all those criticisms, but I agree that the point of pilot schemes is to see how they go and to learn from any problems we encounter. On the whole the response from trainees, agents and work experience providers was extremely good. Probably too many of those taking part were over 25 and we intend to target the scheme largely on the under-25s. I do not agree that the drop-out rate was bad. Some people leave the scheme because they find a full-time job where they can get further training and we do not object to that.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend warn young people who want proper training and a job that this is apparently yet another scheme which, according to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), a Labour Government would not contemplate?

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) is fond of criticising all our employment and training measures, yet it is clear from his comments that he has not even bothered to read about them or to visit them and that he does not know what he is talking about.

He does a great deal of harm to his constituents in Sparkbrook if he tries to persuade them to do nothing, to be unemployed and on the dole rather than to take advantage of the various training and other work experience measures that we are providing.

May I assure the Paymaster General that a Labour Government will introduce proper training programmes which develop skills in this skill-starved nation and that they will not be anything like the job training scheme? Will he confirm that he recently announced that the job training scheme is not to be designated as approved training, thus admitting that it is work experience? Does he understand that the major objection to it is that the money is too low and the benefits are not sufficient in return for the work? If local authorities propose to top up the allowance to a decent rate, will he permit that under the scheme?

The hon. Lady must understand our scepticism: the Labour party has spent the past three or four years opposing every training measure that we have introduced and now she claims that Labour's training programmes will somehow be different. The only point that seems to concern the Labour party is how much trainees should be paid. If she concentrates merely on increasing pay for trainees, that will not improve training one iota. Nor will it reflect the worth to employers of people who are beginning to acquire skills. Therefore, we do not contemplate topping up the rate under the new scheme; we contemplate good quality training being given.

Job Creation (Training)

10.

asked the Paymaster General what proposals he has to monitor the quality of the training element in the Government's present job creation measures.

The Manpower Services Commission has detailed monitoring arrangements for all its employment programmes to ensure they are meeting their objectives.

Does the Minister accept that it is in everyone's interest to make the quality of training available to under 18-year-olds as high as possible? As the recent MSC report has suggested that up to 25 per cent. of new entrants to JTS are illiterate, instead of introducing consultants only to look at the cost-effectiveness of these schemes, is it not time to introduce consultants to look at the effectiveness of the training?

We are continually looking at the quality of our schemes. The whole emphasis is to improve the quality of our training and to reskill Britain.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the appalling fact that Bolton council has said that it will have nothing to do with the job training schemes, for some absurd political reason? Does he agree that it is denying Bolton a valuable source of Government funds, denying education and training to the unemployed and proving once again that Labour puts politics before people?

I find the approach of Bolton and other local authorities which oppose JTS depressing and sad. It hurts young people, who desperately need to increase the quality of their training.

Will the Minister accept that, instead of monitoring his schemes, his time would be better spent radically improving both the quality and quantity of skill training up to the level of our competitors, who spend up to 10 times as much, often financed by forms of levy, on training their people, as promised in Labour's "Plan for Training"?

The whole idea of a statutory levy for training purposes is totally unsatisfactory, and the additional cost to employers would result in further job losses.

Departmental Aid

11.

asked the Paymaster General whether he will estimate the number of projects that will receive aid from his Department in this financial year; and if he will estimate how much additional private investment this aid is likely to generate.

My Department funds a wide variety of schemes and projects to promote employment, enterprise, tourism and training. No overall estimate of the impact of this aid on future private investment is available.

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply, but may I ask him to be more specific about tourism? How effectively is public money used in promoting tourism projects, bearing in mind how important tourism is in the west country?

It is possible to be more specific about tourism because, under section 4 of the Development of Tourism Act 1969, private sector support is approximately eight times the support that we give, which must be one of the highest ratios in the whole of the British economy.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Ql.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 31 March.

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend is currently on a visit to the Soviet Union.

When Murdoch and company moved to Wapping, does my right hon. Friend recollect the bad jokes that referred to the Wapping big lies. Those lies are now a reality.

Order. The hon. Gentleman must relate his question to Government responsibility.

I shall certainly be doing that. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is now an orchestrated campaign to defame the Labour party to the extent that democracy is now threatened? Will he recall the Royal Commission on the press, which has not met for some 10 years?

It has been the prerogative of politicians through the ages to believe that they are misrepresented by the press, and I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that I believe that the difficulties of the Labour party are mainly self-inflicted.

Has my right hon. Friend been able to ascertain whether the Leader of the Opposition spent 20 or 28 minutes with the President of the Unied States, and how much of that time—[Interruption.]

Order. The same rule applies to both sides. Please relate the question to Government responsibility.

Has the British ambassador informed my right hon. Friend, and has the British ambassador been able to say, how much of that time was spent in apologising to the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) for mistaking him for the British ambassador?

I am in some difficulty, because I cannot believe that anybody could mistake the right hon. Member for Leeds, East—

I did not catch what was intended to be a helpful sedentary interruption. I think that there will be an opportunity for the right hon. Gentleman to make clear the nature of the success that he thought he secured in North America. All I can say is that I am sure it is not my responsibility.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 31 March.

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

I am sure that the Leader of the House is well aware of the importance of the beef sector of the agriculture industry and, in particular, that Scottish beef production is of very high quality. Is he aware of the great concern over the EEC package in September, which is expected to knock £50 a head off the price of beef cattle, and does he appreciate that the farming industry is looking for an immediate and substantial devaluation of the green pound? Does he not think that, as Agriculture Ministers do not seem keen to take initiatives, when the Prime Minister returns there should be some push from the top for much-needed action?

I understand all that the hon. Gentleman has said only too well, representing the district that I do. He knows that the United Kingdom is not sovereign in the prosecution of its agricultural policy within the European Community. He further knows that it is a very easygoing solution to suppose that all these matters can be contained within the question of the devaluation of the green pound without fully taking into account the other factors. I take note of what he said.

Will my right hon. Friend do his best to persuade the Treasury to provide more money for trips abroad—[Interruption.]

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that when the Leader of the Opposition and his side-kick are away the former spends his time abusing his own country and the latter spends his time abusing the host country? Ought we not to see more of this?

I have to be as consensual as possible on this occasion and say to my hon. Friend that on the issue of trips abroad he speaks with great authority as Chairman of one of the major departmental Select Committees. The trips abroad essayed by them bring real value to this nation and to Parliament. Whether that can be said more widely, I leave for others to judge.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 31 March.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Is the Leader of the House aware that tomorrow is the first day for the nurses' pay award, and the Prime Minister will be studying the review body's report? Will he use his influence to make sure that on this occasion, for the first time since the review body was established, the public are not deceived and the nurses cheated as they have been on each previous occasion, when the announcement has been that the Government will implement the report in full, but, by phasing it, they have ensured that they have not done so? For example, last year they gave only 75 per cent. of the review body's recommendation.

I am sure that the review bodies have played and very important part in securing the improved wages of the nursing profession over the years. I understand that in all parts of the House there will be sympathy for the view that any recommendation by the review body should be implemented as speedily and fully as is possible. Doubtless it has been the extent that that has been secured by this Government that accounts for an increase in real terms of nurses' pay of 23 per cent., in contrast with what happened under the Labour Government of 1974–79, when it fell by 21 per cent.

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity, on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, to scotch a rumour that is going round the Palace of Westminster today that President Reagan let the cat out of the bag, and that after our victory in the next election my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be appointing the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) as our ambassador in Washington?

Clearly, if the purpose of the visit was to secure widespread and continuing comment, it clearly was a success in those terms.

Q5.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 31 March.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Has the Leader of the House seen the compelling evidence now coming to light about the damage being done to children's education because of inadequate funding to prepare for the GCSE? Why will the Government not divert funds from education gimmicks such as city technology colleges— described today by Conservatives as being both irrelevant and likely to create ghettos— and put that money into preparing for the GCSE so that 600,000 14-year-olds are not at risk of having their future blighted?

I think that the hon. Gentleman has a far greater role in public affairs than to be the foghorn of the Today newspaper. The Government are spending the £30 million in the current year on preparation for the GCSE, and next year that will rise to £115 million. Unless one is to be completely dismissive of the significance of public spending, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in hoping that the money was well spent.

Did my right hon. Friend have the opportunity last night to watch a television programme based on Labour's rule in Brent, which beyond doubt is based on intimidation and fear? Does he agree that this clearly demonstrates the uncaring face of the Labour party?

Yes, I do, and I believe that this is a development of municipal Socialism which must be abhorrent to those who hitherto have carried the standard for Labour in our great cities, people such as Herbert Morrison. It is that development of radical Socialism that is doing more damage to the Labour party than any other single issue.

While I am not being dismissive of the money used by the Government for the GCSE, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware that every teacher concerned in secondary education, and certainly all the parents who comment, agree with the NAS-UWT that the amount allocated is too little and too late? Is his attitude not typical of a Government who underfund this important examination reform, a Government the members of whom do not send their own children into state education?

I can cheerfully share the experience of state education with the right hon. Gentleman. To answer the wider issue, I accept, of course, that many in the teaching profession, and especially the leaders of teachers' trade unions, argue that the sums are inadequate. I do not think that that would necessarily come as a total surprise. But on any judgment of the prudent handling of public finances what is being made available is a very reasonable sum which I believe, if properly used, can help in the implementation of the examination.

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us, therefore, why it is that when next year double the number of youngsters will be undertaking the GCSE examinations the Government are to reduce the funding for that specific purpose by half?

I have just given the right hon. Gentleman the figure of £115 million for next year.

In considering whether there is anything in the Opposition leader's attitude to foreign affairs that might usefully be recommended to our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, does my right hon. Friend—

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows what I am going to say about the Minister's responsibilities.

Does my right hon. Friend reject the Opposition Leader's reported comment—

Order. The hon. Gentleman must relate his question to matters of the Government's responsibility.

When my right hon. Friend comes to discuss these matters with the Prime Minister, does he think that it would be a useful attitude for her to adopt in her conduct of foreign affairs to respond to a White House press spokesman by saying, "No, I bloody don't"? [Interruption.]

Order. That is unworthy of the hon. Gentleman. He must not use unparliamentary language by attributing it to someone else.

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that that sort of petulant vulgarity—[Interruption.]—should be rejected?

Q6.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 31 March 1987.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Pursuant to the reply given by the Prime Minister to my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) last week on the question of Caspar Weinberger's statement to Congress about the modernisation of NATO's first-use nuclear weapons, why is it, if it was set out clearly at the Montebello meeting in 1983, that there was no reference to it in the 1984 Defence Estimates? Could it be that Caspar Weinberger was lying to Congress, or is it more likely that the Prime Minister and her Ministers have been miserly with the truth to the House of Commons and the British people?

I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says and tell him at once that I am in no position to comment authoritatively on what he says. What he says is a sufficiently grave allegation and I prefer to leave it to those who are able to answer so to do.

When my right hon. Friend meets the Prime Minister, will he bring to her attention a radio programme that took place on Saturday morning last in Scotland in which the discussion was about the Government's policy on nuclear weapons and negotiations, and the Labour party's policy in the same areas, when 90 per cent. of the calls coming in from all over Scotland were supportive of the Government and 10 per cent. were supportive of the Labour party, which seems to be a reasonable picture of what is happening throughout the country?

I was unaware of the programme, but I am not in the least surprised that it should reveal the balance of preference indicated by my hon. Friend. I will, of course, refer it to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who has made it clear to the nation that it is possible to be strongly in favour of balanced nuclear disarmament and still maintain an interest in national security, with the nuclear component that that requires.

Q7.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 31 March.

I have been asked to reply.

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

In view of the undoubted damage done to the British economy, particularly over the past 20 years, in the uncertain period before general elections, does the Leader of the House not think that it would be a good idea to move to fixed-term Parliaments?

I do not think that the uncertainty arid damage derive so much from the presence or absence of fixed-term Parliaments as from the uncertainty about who might win the election.

Will my right hon. Friend draw the Prime Minister's attention to the business section of last week's Sunday Times on her return, which, in a special five-page supplement, proved beyond peradventure that order books are at their best level for 10 years, that business prospects are at their best levels for 20 years, that exports, investments and manufacturing output are all rising and, as the article said, the economy is now going through its best transformation at any time since the industrial revolution?

I think that my hon. Friend alights upon one more piece of anecdotal evidence that reinforces the statistical indications that we now have a substantially expanding economy, which is at last resulting in a fall in unemployment. Nothing can be more discomforting to Opposition Members, not least the shadow Employment spokesman, to realise that we are now seeing a national recovery in output that is affecting unemployment.

Turks And Caicos Islands

3.31 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Tim Eggar)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Last July I informed the House of the decision to amend the constitution, and to suspend ministerial government in the Turks and Caicos. This was an interim measure pending the outcome of a review of the islands' constitution.

A constitutional commission was appointed under the chairmanship of Sir Roy Marshall. It consulted widely both in the territory and in the English-speaking Caribbean. We are grateful for the dedicated and painstaking way in which it carried out its task. We are also grateful to the leaders of Governments in the Caribbean for their wise contributions to our deliberations.

The commission's report has now been printed as a Command Paper. Copies have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and will be available in the Vote Office shortly.

Our objectives have been to ensure: that past failures are rectified and the Turks and Caicos Islands receive a constitution which provides for responsible government; that we discharge our ultimate responsibility for good administration; and that the islands' future political, social and economic development is assured.

We have accepted the commission's central recommendation that there should be a return to ministerial government. This will be underpinned by a series of new constitutional provisions and other safeguards. It reflects our commitment to, and the islanders' desire for, democratic expression and responsible administration.

These safeguards, the implementation of which will he discussed with the legislature, are: larger multi-Member constituencies to prevent patronage; more regular Legislative Council sittings; the introduction of a committee system to provide greater ministerial accountability; administrative checks— including a public service commission, ombudsman and resident auditor to ensure an independent civil service and better financial discipline.

In addition, we propose to strengthen the commission's proposals in a number of ways. We agree with the commission's recommendations for a five-year disqualification period for convicted persons, but think that that may be too complex. We therefore propose a simpler alternative, which would apply to anyone convicted of a criminal offence carrying a sentence of 12 months or more by a court of law in any country.

We also propose that, after full consultation with the Chief Minister, the Governor should in future be able to decide whether certain ministerial responsibilities should be allocated to elected members of the Executive Council. Similarly, after consultation with the Chief Minister, he will be able to withdraw a responsibility from a Minister if he believes that that is necessary.

The commission was also concerned about the limitations of the present jury system. We agree that the right to trial by jury should be retained, while providing defendants with a right to opt for trial by judge alone. We propose that the majority of jurors in any particular case should not be drawn from the island of origin or residence of the accused. The judicial system will also be strengthened by the appointment of a resident chief justice.

It will take time to prepare the necessary constitutional amendments and establish the supporting electoral and administrative measures. New elections will therefore be held in April or May 1988, when they are due under the present constitution. Until that time the territory will continue to be administered by the present interim Government.

We are giving priority to the commission's recommendation for a national development plan, co-ordinated under a central planning unit. We shall ensure that capital aid is used effectively.

The constitutional commission made it clear that patronage and malpractice had existed under recent Governments in the Turks and Caicos Islands. We are now providing the framework for fair and effective administration and the proper use of taxpayers' money. We expect the new measures to receive the support of the islanders, who were extensively consulted. We are confident that they will welcome the return of representative and responsible government.

We are grateful to the Minister for making an oral statement on this matter. I wish to add the congratulations of the Opposition to Sir Roy Marshall and his colleagues on the painstaking work that they have done.

Will the Minister confirm that the report will also be published and made available to the islanders in the Turks and Caicos Islands as quickly as possible? Does he agree that it is necessary to get this matter right, not only to get the Turks and Caicos Islands back on the road to democracy, but because there are implications for all our dependent territories and for other small island states?

The Opposition welcome the bulk of Sir Roy Marshall's recommendations, and the Government's acceptance of them— on the increased role and responsibility for the elected legislature, on the appointment of an ombudsman and resident auditor, on the arrangements for disqualifying people from election if they have committed certain offences and on larger multi-Member constituencies. On jury selection, we recognise the need for some device to help to ensure a fair trial for all who are accused on the islands; given the problems that exist on small islands, the arrangement that has been proposed is certainly worth trying.

That brings me to the Opposition's reservations. Sir Roy Marshall and his commission recommended a return to ministerial government by the end of this year. I know that that is what is desired and what has been expected by the islanders. We recognise that there has been an understandable delay in the Government's consideration of the report since it was received at the end of December, but, on behalf of the Opposition, I strongly urge the Minister and the Government to examine again the practical problems of having elections this year. If that can be achieved, it would certainly be desirable. After all, in this country we receive only a few weeks' notice of an election. Surely elections could be held on the Turks and Caicos Islands by the end of December.

Our second reservation concerns the reserve powers of the Governor in relation to the appointment of Ministers— I understand that they were not among Sir Roy's recommendations. Given the recent history of the islands, we understand why they are considered necessary, but could the Minister say in what circumstances he would envisage such powers being used? Would he accept that we strongly urge that they should not be a permanent feature of the constitution but merely a transitional measure?

If the Minister cannot give a positive response to those two points today, I hope that he will give further thought to them over the next few weeks. I hope that he and all hon. Members will agree that our aim should be to find a scheme to allow the Turks and Caicos to move towards accepting full and total responsibility for their own affairs in a democratic system as quickly as possible.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his very constructive comments and for the support that he has given, not only today but throughout the process of evaluation by the commission. I will certainly pass on his thanks and those of Opposition Members to the commission.

The report will be made extensively available in the islands. I hope that at least one copy will be available for each family. That comes to some 2,500 copies. As regards juries, I should remind the hon. Gentleman that the islanders will have the option of trial by judge alone. We recognise that there are practical difficulties in making up juries of members from different islands, but we think it the best way to proceed.

The hon. Gentleman also asked whether it would be possible to hold the election any earlier. I can assure him that we have looked at this in considerable detail. The administrative problems of getting the necessary back-up in place in time for an election by the end of this year are insuperable. We believe that we will be in tune with the present constitution, which requires an election in April or May next year, if we announce that elections will take place then.

Turning to the hon. Gentleman's comments on the use of the Governor's reserve powers, I am sure that he does not under-estimate the extent of the problem that has existed in the Turks and Caicos Islands, but the House might like to hear a quotation from the report prepared by Mr. Blom-Cooper:
"I cannot simulate deafness to the voices of responsible people in the Islands who complain that there is pervasive corruption in government".
Against that background, we really had to consider very carefully whether it was not appropriate for the Governor to have reserve powers of the kind that I have outlined. We believe, somewhat reluctantly, that it is essential. Of course, those powers will be used only if required, as a last resort and after consultation with the Chief Minister.

Does my hon. Friend agree that this announcement will, generally speaking, be very welcome in the islands? When I visited the islands, the majority opinion among the islanders was for a swift return to ministerial government. Does he accept, however, that in the light of the history of the Turks and Caicos Islands, and of small territories generally, it is necessary to build in checks and balances against the overwhelming executive power which a ministerial system confers on a Government in those islands—and even in this country?

Would my hon. Friend make it clear that he will support the administration of those islands so that a just and equitable system can he set up which will act to some extent as a check against misuse of executive power? Will he also make certain that he provides sufficient resources, not only for administration but for the economic development of the islands, so that we in this House can be proud of the job that we are doing for the Turks and Caicos islanders?

I thank my hon. Friend for his support for our proposals. I am particularly grateful to him because I am aware of his great knowledge of the Caribbean in general and the Turks and Caicos Islands in particular. Of course, we will take steps to strengthen administration in the islands. We will be appointing a resident auditor and a resident chief justice, and will strengthen the administration in other areas as well.

As for sufficient resources, I would remind my hon. Friend that the islands receive over £5 million a year in budgetary assistance from the British taxpayer. Our major priority is to ensure that that aid is well and effectively spent.

May I confirm from these Benches the welcome that was given earlier by the Official Opposition to the work of the constitutional commission? It has done a commendable job and has made a constructive contribution to the discussion. We agree with the proposal with minor qualifications. Certainly we agree with the proportional representation scheme that is being set up for the islands. I hope that it can be used as a pilot for other places.

The key thing, as has been said, is that we strengthen public administration, that we get politicians who will work within the new constitutional framework and that we have a new chief justice who will oversee the legal process. Will the Minister consider carefully the need to have a Caribbean judge—I agree that it has to be a high quality lawyer— but may we have an indigenous chief justice to look after the legal system? Can the Minister say whether the Government have had a chance to consider the second commission report on the North Creek development project? Will he undertake that when they get it, the Government will be prepared to publish it?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome to the statement on the commission's report. On his point about proportional representation, before he goes too far down that road may I suggest that he studies the report rather more carefully because I do not think that the parallel that he is trying to draw is brought out by its contents? The Government will bear in mind his comments on the background of a future chief justice. The most important thing is to get the right man for the job, whatever his background. I shall, of course, take into account the other points that the right hon. Gentleman made.

Does my hon. Friend agree that this report is one of the many contributions which Sir Roy Marshall has made to the welfare of the Commonwealth and the Caribbean? Presumably the ombudsman will have the same powers as he has here—to recommend but not to enforce. Will the Governor's reserve powers cover the latter point? Will he be able to insist that the ombudsman"s recommendations will be accepted?

On the latter point, the precise procedures for the role of the ombudsman still have to be worked out with the local legislature. The point clearly is that the ombudsman will have a major and constructive role in ensuring good and effective administration within the Turks and Caicos islands. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend about the tremendous role that Sir Roy Marshall has played, not only with this commission but with his contribution to the Commonwealth.

Right at the end of his statement, the Minister mentioned that he would like a Government that was representative and responsible. Is not that an excessively patronising statement considering that in this country we are satisfied with a representative Government and do not require them to be responsible, as we have seen over the last seven years?

The hon. Gentleman's parallel was not worthy even of him. Perhaps he should refer to the Blom-Cooper report, from which I shall quote directly:

"The three Ministers"—
and he names them—
"have been found by me to be guilty of unconstitutional behaviour and of ministerial malpractices. Such conduct renders them, in my view, unfit to exercise ministerial responsibilities … My finds of criminality against"—
and he names two people, the Opposition leaders—
"call for more severe consequences. They are, in my view, unfit to hold public office."
That is the extent of the position in the Turks and Caicos islands.

Before going overboard about welcoming these proposals, may I ask my hon. Friend where the Turks and Caicos islands are? Secondly, will he agree that the new voting system which is being imposed on these poor islanders will not find great favour in the House?

The Turks and Caicos islands, I am delighted to tell my hon. Friend, are in the Caribbean. I can recommend to him the Club Mediterranee, a development of one of the islands which, I believe, incorporates a health farm.

I have had the advantage of visiting the islands on a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association visit. Under the proposals, who will control the police, Customs and fire service? The Blom-Cooper report was uncertain about how the services had reacted to fire. Will the Minister accept that it is part of Her Majesty's Government's responsibility, in ensuring a real and clean democratic service, that the services of the Overseas Development Administration are available on such matters as hydrological surveys, the last one of which was in 1894? One of the major problems is the shortage of water, and that matter became politicised. Who will control the airports? They provide the route by which drugs move from southern America to Florida. Unless somebody in the House retains responsibility for preventing the drug trade, the matter will be a nonsense. The moneys involved are too great for local politicians to resist.

I recognise the hon. Gentleman's great knowledge of events in the Turks and Caicos islands. My hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development has listened carefully to the points that he made about the role of the ODA. I said that we would introduce a national development plan, and it will pick up many of the points that the hon. Gentleman made. It is not proposed to change that section of the constitution that deals with the position of the services. We are aiming, under the reserve powers and through other measures, through the public service commissioner and so on, to ensure that they are administered effectively.

Will my hon. Friend explain to the House, with the lack of ambiguity that is characteristic of the Foreign Office, the presumed advantages of the multi-Member constituency over the single-Member constituency, of which most Conservative Members warmly approve? Will the example of close consultation with those who are to be governed differently be followed in future in Northern Ireland?

I should not like to be drawn, even by my hon. Friend, down the latter path. One must remember that the number of electors in the average single-Member constituency in the Turks and Caicos islands varies between 120 and 630. Therefore, the commission felt that there was scope for corruption on behalf of Ministers and other elected representatives which would not be countenanced, and one way of getting around that was to move towards multi-Member constituencies.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the unfortunate experience of the Turks and Caicos islands illustrates the folly of the recent fashion of granting independence to any territory, no matter what its size, which is most certainly not in the interests of most small islands?

I note what my hon. Friend has said. I know that he takes great interest in the matter. As I told him, we are looking at the role of dependent territories and our future policy towards them. I should not like to go any further on that matter this afternoon.

Is my hon. Friend confident that a small island with a population of around 8,000 needs the extravagant Foreign Office solution consisting of a governor, an ombudsman, a chief justice, a full ministerial Government and civil service to go with it, and an auditor-general as well? In view of the Wild West lawlessness that has prevailed on the islands for some time, would they not be better off with a good sheriff?

If the Commission had known that my hon. Friend was volunteering, I am sure that it would have considered that option.

Bill Presented

Licensing (Retail Sales)

Mr. George Gardiner, supported by Mr. Michael Colvin and Mr. John Cartwright presented a Bill to amend the definition of 'sale by retail' in section 201 of the Licensing Act 1964; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 8 May and to be printed [Bill 127.]

Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals

3.54 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to give the police power of entry where a case of cruelty against an animal is suspected; to give the courts the power to ban people convicted of cruelty from keeping any type of animal; and to change the definition in law of captive animals to include wild animals that are unable to escape.

Britain is rightly known throughout the world as a nation of animal lovers. Nothing is more calculated to appear on our television screens or in our press than a picture with a animal and a happy ending. Our postbags groan daily with letters from constituents complaining about medical experimentation on animals and cases of animal cruelty. But beneath those Nets there is something less reassuring. Behind that traditional view of Britain there is an unattractive basis. There lurks beneath the gloss an ominous set of statistics. Cruelty to animals is a growth industry.

The 1986 figures from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, to which I pay tribute for its valiant work in this area, prove beyond doubt that animal cruelty in Britain is worse than ever before. In every region of England and Wales, the RSPCA has had to deal with more complaints this year than in previous years.

In the south-east region, the cautions and convictions for animal cruelty are up by nearly three times the previous year's figures. The north-west of England, which includes my constituency, has the dubious distinction of having the second highest cruelty rating in England and Wales. Cautions and convictions are up by nearly 50 per cent. and complaints are up by nearly 30 per cent. Behind those cold, though shocking, statistics are the real sufferers—starving and neglected dogs, pets who are tortured and beaten to death, animals impaled on spears and shot at with bows and airguns.

You may say, Mr. Speaker, that those actions are surely against the law. In some cases they are, but the extraordinary fact is that sometimes they are not. Equally extraodinary is the fact that sometimes the law is not strong enough to prevent animal cruelty.

The RSPCA and other similar agencies are doing a fine job, but the law on which they have to rely to do that job—the tool of their trade, as it were—is 76 years old. The Protection of Animals Act was passed in 1911 and times have changed since then. When I read of some of the cases that I have been given by the RSPCA, I sometimes wonder whether they have changed for the better.

It is time that Parliament played a further part in trying to prevent animals from suffering. That is what my Bill does. It is not a piece of major reform; it is limited in scope and has some modest objectives. However, it is an important and valuable measure which will help organisations, such as the RSPCA and many others, in their battle. My Bill has all-party support and I make no pretence about its being modelled closely on early-day motion 706, which has been signed by 106 right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House.

The Bill will tackle three glaring anomalies in the law. First, in some cases of suspected animal cruelty agencies such as the RSPCA are powerless to pursue their investigations. Under the existing law, where there is an instance or suspected instance of animal cruelty, the police are completely dependent on the suspected person allowing the police access to the premises where the incidents may be occurring. If that suspected person declines to allow the police to come in, it is difficult for inquiries to be pursued. My Bill would simply allow the police to apply to the courts for a search warrant for such premises and then to go in to see for themselves.

Right hon. and hon. Members are always concerned at any extension of police powers, but let me assure them that in this intance all the formalities, safeguards and procedures which apply to search warrants in other criminal matters would apply equally to cases of suspected animal cruelty. The Bill would simply give the police, and through them the RSPCA and similar bodies, the power to investigate and to do their job that much more effectively.

That anomaly is not the only aspect of the law that I consider weak, and that is therefore failing to stop cases of cruelty to animals. In a recent appalling case, the rotting remains of 31 dead cats were found in a house, and many more cats had to be destroyed because of the extent of their suffering. Incredibly—despite behaviour that can only be described as unspeakable—the owners could riot be banned from keeping any more cats, because the present law provides that a person must be convicted twice before he or she can be disqualified by the courts from keeping an animal.

If those 31 cats had been 31 dogs, however, such a requirement would not have applied. The first conviction for cruelty to a dog can result in a disqualification from keeping any more dogs. Where is the sense and logic in that? Why should one animal be treated differently from another? Surely, a person who has been convicted of cruelty to any animal must be prevented from repeating the offence, if that is a suitable punishment—it is a discretionary power for the courts. My Bill would rectify the present seemingly incomprehensible and inconsistent approach.

The law is also outdated when it comes to dealing with wild animals. Much publicity was given not long ago to the harrowing story of a hedgehog that was beaten to death by a young man, "just for fun". Yet that person's so-called "fun" was found by the court to be within the law, and he was acquitted of the charge.

The reason for his acquittal was quite simple: the hedgehog was not regarded as a captive animal within the meaning given to that phrase by the 1911 Act, and thus was not protected by the law. That is another example of a 76 year-old piece of legislation that is not relevant to our modern times. My Bill would widen the definition of a captive animal, and would thus bring more animals within the protection of the law.

This is the first time since I was elected to the House that I have had the good fortune to secure parliamentary time to promote a Bill. I am very pleased that my luck has coincided with the opportunity to change a law that has proved inadequate to protect animals from—in some instances—unspeakable cruelty. I feel that the day is long overdue for such a reform, and I hope that the House will show by its support for the Bill that the time has come to do something about it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. David Sumberg, Miss Janet Fookes, Mr. Alistair Burt, Mr. Jeremy Hanley, Mr. Geoffrey Lawler, Mr. Tony Favell, Sir Bernard Braine, Mr. Cecil Franks, Mr. Terry Lewis, Mr. Bob Litherland, Mr. Harry Greenway and Mr. Ian Wrigglesworth.

Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals

Mr. David Sumberg accordingly presented a Bill to give the police power of entry where a case of cruelty against an animal is suspected; to give the courts the power to ban people convicted of cruelty from keeping any type of animal; and to change the definition in law of captive animals to include wild animals that are unable to escape: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 1 May 1987 and to be printed. [Bill 128.]

Orders Of The Day

Criminal Justice Bill

As amended, (in the Standing Committee), considered.

4.5 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You were good enough to have put up in the No lobby your provisional selection of amendments to the Bill. Numerous and generous as your selection has been, may I appeal to you to look favourably upon new clause 20? Much has happened since the Bill received its Second Reading, and even since it was in Committee. Those events have generated a groundswell of opinion throughout the country that the Court of Appeal should have power, in cases of gross under-sentencing, to review the sentences upwards on the application of the Crown. You would be doing the House and the country a great service, Mr. Speaker, if you allowed new clause 20— in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind)— to be debated and divided upon, although before those recent events it was debated in Committee.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. If one issue above all others has attracted the attention of lawyers—judges, solicitors, barristers and all those responsible for the administration of the courts and the law—it is clause 29. As it stands, the clause provides for a quite absurd reference to the Court of Appeal to consider a matter about which it has no power to do anything. The feeling among lawyers has been so strong that it would simply not be understood if, when the Bill was on Report, the House was given no opportunity to debate the issue.

The matter arises not only in relation to new clause 20, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) referred, but, more essentially, in relation to amendment No. 60. That amendment calls for the deletion of clause 29, and is in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) and myself.

Amendment No. 61, on which my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) can speak for himself, falls into the same blatant error as new clause 20. Error or no error, it is a matter of such substantial importance to those who will have to administer the law that—in my respectful submission—it is unthinkable that the House should not be given an opportunity to consider the good sense of clause 29 and what, if anything, should be done about it. I support the application made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Let me underline what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) has said, although with a different interpretation. Amendment No. 61 would give the Court of Appeal the opportunity to review sentences that were considered excessively lenient. Clause 29 has caused great concern outside the House, because there appears to have been some misunderstanding. It seems to have been thought that, when a case was reviewed, that might change the sentence given. It will not do that; it will merely establish a precedent.

The amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) and me would give the opportunity to review the actual sentence, and overturn it if it were considered excessively lenient. There is concern outside the House, and I urge you, Mr. Speaker, to give further consideration to the matter and select the amendment.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) is right: there is concern among lawyers. However, there are considerably more non-lawyers than lawyers in the country, and they too are extremely concerned. They feel strongly that we should have a chance to consider whether sentences should be increased. I respectfully ask you, Mr. Speaker, to allow us to debate the matter today.

When I made my selection this morning, I considered this matter very carefully. For the benefit of those outside Parliament, it should be said that this matter was debated exhaustively in Standing Committee. In view of the representations that have been made to me, I shall of course consider the points that have been made and will let the House know my decision.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry to trespass further on your time, but if clause 29 is important, barely of less importance is clause 30. It increases the sentence for firearm offences from the present maximum of 14 years to life imprisonment. It formed the subject of a number of speeches on Second Reading. If life imprisonment is to be the sentence for the mere possession of firearms, there will be no difference between the sentence for possessing the firearm and that for killing somebody. The police made strong representations that there would be an incentive to kill if somebody could face life imprisonment merely for possessing a firearm and not using it.

I wonder whether the hon. and learned Gentleman will help me by drawing my attention to the amendment that I imagine he is saying has not been selected?

I tabled amendment No. 157 to leave out clause 30. I readily admit that it is a starred amendment and that it was easily within your sphere of responsibility not to call it. Nevertheless, this is an important matter, not just to me or to lawyers, but to the police, who have to rely upon the statute. The matter ought to be ventilated in this House before the Bill goes to another place. I urge you, Sir, to consider selecting this amendment when it is no longer starred, so that the House will have an opportunity to consider whether it would do more harm than good to raise the sentence for a substantially less serious offence than murder.

The hon. and learned Gentleman is correct when he says that this is a starred amendment. I remind him that the Bill left the Standing Committee on 17 March and that he has therefore had a number of weeks in which to put down this amendment. I shall certainly consider what he has said, and if the matter is not reached today, it may be unstarred tomorrow.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I refer to new clause 23, which stands in my name and those of my hon. Friends. It has not been selected for debate and it is to he found on page 495. New clause 23 deals with the criminal liability of persons acting under duress, necessity or coercion. The reason for putting down new clause 23 is that about a fortnight ago there was a very important decision in the House of Lords in a murder case, the case of Howe. That case has changed views as to the efficacy of the defence of duress in certain cases. The matter could not have been considered properly in Committee, because at that stage the Howe case had not been decided.

Recommendations were made by the Law Commission in 1977 about the defence of duress and other defences, which have been incorporated in the new clause. There is a good deal of uncertainty now. I respectfully ask you to consider allowing a debate on this issue, as this appears to be the only clear opportunity in the near future for the matter to be considered by the House and the Government.

I have looked carefully at that new clause, but it is outside the scope of the Bill. Therefore, I cannot give the hon. and learned Gentleman any guarantee that I shall allow it to be debated today.

New Clause 16

Power To Petition For Winding Up Etc Oninformation Obtained Under Section 2

The words "or section 2 of the Criminal Justice Act 1987" shall be inserted—

  • (a)—in section 440 of the Companies Act 1985, after the words "that Act";
  • (b)—in section 8(1) of the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986, after the words "the Financial Services Act 1986", in the second place where they occur; and
  • (c)—in Article 433 of the Companies (Northern Ireland) Order 1986, after the words "that Act".'.—[Mr. Douglas Hogg.]
  • Brought up, and read the First time.

    4.15 pm

    The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
    (Mr. Douglas Hogg)

    I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

    New clause 16 amends section 440 of the Companies Act 1985 to allow public interest petitions based on o information obtained under clause 2 of the Bill to be used for the winding up of a company. A little amplification is necessary.

    Section 440 of the Companies Act 1985, as subsequently amended by the Financial Services Act 1986, allows public interest petitions based on Companies Act and Financial Services Act information to be used for winding up a company. The new clause further amends section 440 so as to allow public interest petitions based on information obtained from the serious fraud office to be used in the same way. The serious fraud office will not itself wind up companies. That will remain a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    New Clause 25

    Remands In Custody For More Than Eight Days

    '.—(1) The following section shall be inserted after section 128 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980—

    "Remands in custody for more than eight days.

    128A.—(1) The Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument provide that this section shall have effect—

  • (a) in an area specified in the order; or
  • (b) in proceedings of a description so specified, in relation to any accused person ("the accused") who has attained the age of 17.
  • (2) A magistrates' court may remand the accused in custody for a period exceeding 8 clear days if—

  • (a) it has previously remanded him in custody for the same offence; and
  • (b) he is before the court;
  • but only if, after affording the parties an opportunity to make representations, it has formed a view as to the minimum period likely to elapse before the next stage in the proceedings other than a hearing relating to a further remand in custody or on bail and only for a period not exceeding—

  • (i) that period; or
  • (ii) 28 clear days,
  • whichever is the less.

    (3) Nothing in this section affects the right of the accused to apply for bail during the period of the remand.

    (4) After paragraph 9 of Schedule 1 to the Bail Act 1976 there shall be inserted—

    "Cases under section 128A of Magistrates' Courts Act 1980

    10. Where the court is considering excercising the power conferred by section 128A of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 (power to remand in custody for more than 8 clear days), it shall have regard to the total length of time which the accused would spend in custody if it were to exercise the power".

    (5) A statutory instrument containing an order under this section shall not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before Parliament and been approved by a resolution of each House.".'.— [Mr. Mellor.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    I beg to move, That the clause be oread a Second time.

    With this, it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment No. 107.

    New clause 25 deals with matters that we said in Committee we would bring forward on Report. The new clause deals with remands in custody, a matter that is of considerable significance to the criminal justice system.

    We shall have the opportunity to consider later the present arrangements for the granting or refusal of bail. The new clause deals with a different but important aspect: the basis on which a court should remand a defendant in custody.

    At present, a person may not be on remand and in custody for more than eight days. A consultative document that was issued a few months ago by the Home Office made it clear that a number of magistrates courts hearings are purely formal and that a defendant may have to be brought a very considerable distance from prison to appear in court. Prison officers are required to escort the prisoner, often to the detriment of the prison regime. Court time is taken up by remands, during which nothing of substance can be achieved, thereby causing delay to the hearing of other cases, in which substantial progress might be made.

    Consultations were therefore held on the proposal that courts should be permitted to remand for up to 28 days. We suggested that that would be a legitimate extension of the arrangements that were introduced under the 1982 Act, whereby defendants who are remanded in custody can agree that they do not wish to appear in court. Research shows that between a third and a half of those who are eligible to say that they do not wish to appear have chosen not to do so. A number of the organisations that dissented from this proposition said that the only consequence would be an extension of the period in custody that would be imposed on a number of remand prisoners.

    This decision has to be taken against the background of the remand population having grown substantially in recent years—from about 4,000 in 1979 to about 8,500 today. Therefore, the new clause represents a modest step forward. We believe that it would provide an opportunity to find out, from practical experience, which of the various contending opinions that have been advanced in response to our document is correct.

    The proposal is that the first remand should be for a period of eight days, but thereafter the court should be able to remand for up to 28 days in the event that it was determined that substantive progress with the case would not be possible until the expiry of a period greater than eight days. The new clause is subject to a number of safeguards. For instance, the accused will be allowed to apply for bail during the period of remand if it is suggested that circumstances have changed. No one will be kept in custody for a substantial period who has grounds to mount a bail application.

    There is also a modification in the new clause to the Nottingham justices case which, as the House will recall, deals with the question when a bail application may properly be made and restricts a fresh bail application to occasions when there are fresh circumstances. That allows the court to have regard to how long an individual will spend in custody when deciding whether to consider bail once again. That is provided for in subsection (4) of new clause 25, which states:
    "Where the court is considering exercising the power conferred by section 128A of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 … it shall have regard to the total length of time which the accused would spend in custody if it were to exercise the power."

    Will the Minister ensure that he is not misunderstood? Is he saying that a fresh bail application can be made when the only thing that has changed is the length of time spent by the accused in custody?

    It means that the fresh application can be made if the period spent in custody is longer than was envisaged at the outset. It would mean, I would have thought, for the most part, that a fresh application could be made at each stage of an extended period of remand in custody. To that extent, it loosens the rules. Of course, the question of the proper construction will be a matter for the courts.

    The background against which we have taken the decisions lies in research carried out last year, which showed that, of an average of eight hearings that took place in the magistrates court prior to committal for trial in the cases sampled, five of the hearings were purely formal occasions and nothing of substance occurred. It is scarcely surprising when dealing with a number of major cases that it is not possible to progress speedily to committal.

    The argument that has been put forward in favour of making the change rests on the clear basis that all those who play their part within the system will get on with the job—that the prosecution will always state the earliest time when it can be ready and that the court will look critically at applications for remands and will not allow remands for extended periods to take place without good reason. It would be devastating to the system if the ability of the courts to remand for periods of up to 28 days were to become a general habit to remand for 28 days. That objection has been raised by many organisations.

    In tabling the new clause, the Government are well aware of those objections and accept their force, not as something that is bound to happen, but as something that is sufficiently likely to happen that we should not proceed with an across-the-board reform without taking the opportunity to see whether in practice things work out in the way that we would wish or whether the scepticism that has been expressed about the manner in which the courts would discharge the functions can be justified.

    I hope that the new clause is not controversial. The proposal sets a period within which an experiment will take place. This has happened before with regard to tape recording and time limits and is a well-trodden path. We should be able to designate a number of areas in due course and a number of offences which would be the subject of an experiment to allow remands of this kind to take place. We have in mind a number of different areas of the country drawn to reflect different court conditions and the offences would, of course, be those that were likely to be committed for trial. There would then be an experimental period and, as subsection (5) makes clear, we can only bring the proposal into force if there is an affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament. The matter will be fully considered by Parliament and if matters proceeded in a way that seemed to clear some unnecessary hearings from the court without unduly prolonging remands in custody, I feel sure the House would wish to see the proposal introduced more widely.

    However, if we were to find that unnecessarily long adjournments and remands in custody were being granted without good justification, we would be able to leave the position as it is at present without any damage being done to the system. I hope that the new clause will establish that we have listened to those people whom we consulted and that we have recognised that it is in the interest of justice for the courts to be freed from unnecessary hearings. It is also in the interests of justice that people should not be locked up in prison on remand for longer than absolutely necessary. The experiment gives us a chance to find out which of those contending priorities should in the end be favoured by the full-scale change that could lie at the end of the experimental period.

    I do not want to delay the House for very long because we debated the matter fully in Committee. However, the Minister will be aware that we have some reservations and he already referred to one of our main reservations, the possibility that there may be an extended remand period. For that reason, we welcome the fact that the Government are introducing this provision as an experiment to see how it works.

    We expressed concern in Committee—and I restate our concern now—that some people might not be well enough represented or, in some cases may be unrepresented, and therefore have difficulty in bringing to the attention of the court the fact that their circumstances have changed. Theoretically, there should be no difficulty. Theoretically, all they need do is to inform their solicitor or inform the clerk of the court through the prison authorities. However, in a number of cases, especially those involving less articulate and less well represented defendants, there may be periods when we remand in custody people who, had the changed circumstances been put before the court, could have been released on bail. I urge the Minister, when he carries out the experiment, to ensure that that aspect is checked carefully.

    We need to understand that the reason why the proposal is being introduced is not that we believe that it is right in justice—none of us would argue that—but that we are taking this action because of the pressure on the courts and the prison system. At the end of the day, that is not the best of reasons for legislating in this way.

    We should all be grateful to the Minister for avoiding being too dogmatic about this matter. The pilot experiment, or experiments, will be welcome. Will the Minister assure the House that the monitoring of the experiment will be carried out carefully and independently? I urge him to consider that the magistrates courts that are asked to deal with the hearings should not be the bodies to undertake the research. If they were, I fear that the research would be somewhat subjective. I should be grateful if the Minister would tell the House what arrangements he has in mind for the research that will be necessary to discover whether the experiment works. I ask the Minister to consider whether the pilot projects might not be carried out in the same areas, and at the same time, as pilot projects, to limit the delay between arrest, committal and trial.

    As the Minister knows, in Committee I expressed the view that there were other hearings in the magistrates courts with which we could dispense, particularly the formal committal proceedings which take place in most cases, although not in every case. I ask the Minister to consider not only my view but the strongly expressed private view of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department— the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg)—who, I think, agreed with me in Committee, speaking not as a Minister but as an individual Member. Will the Minister consider, if these experiments are successful, a possible pilot project to deal with committal proceedings in a similar way?

    4.30 pm

    I am grateful to hon. Members for the manner in which they have received the new clause. The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) was right to say that this decision is being taken for severely practical reasons. One cannot run a system as complicated as the criminal justice system without having severely practical considerations always in the forefront of our minds. There is nothing magic about eight days. It just happens to be the figure that was determined by previous legislation. We are anxious to be businesslike and to strike a fair balance. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) for recognising that we have here an opportunity, as they say, to suck it and see. I hope that we can explore the results in a way that will enable all of us to reach the appropriate conclusions.

    That leads me to what the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery said about the manner in which this experiment will be monitored. We have not reached any settled conclusions on that. If the hon. and learned Gentleman would like to write in a little more detail about what he has in mind, we would be delighted to hear from him. Obviously, we want the research process to take proper account of the views of those who will have an influence over the final shape of these matters.

    The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery referred to formal committals, or the section 1 committals, as they were known in my prehistoric days of practising at the Bar. Inevitably, a spotlight is shone on the committal arrangements. We have reached no concluded view on the future of committal proceedings, but the hon. and learned Gentleman well knows that these are matters that fall to be examined. I dare say that, in due course, a Minister will come to the Dispatch Box to talk more about that. It is certainly not an item on our present agenda.

    I should like to clarify a point where I might not have been at my most clear. It concerns the impact of proposed subsection (4), which amends section 128A of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 and what it means. We are saying in that proposed subsection that the decision to remand must take account of the time in custody. It does not of itself make the lapse of time a new factor for bail applications, but, read in conjunction with the Nottingham justices case, it will make a material difference. That case suggests that a lapse of time might in some cases count as one already. Each court's decision on what difference that makes will determine whether it will hear an application. In fairness, it places squarely before the court a major issue that must be in its mind— the length of time that a person will remain in custody as a consequence of a particular decision. I hope that that makes the position clearer.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 27

    Enforcement Of Compensation Orders

    (1) The following subsections shall be substituted for section 36(1) and (2) of the Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973 (suspension of compensation orders pending appeal)—

    "(1) A person shall not be entitled to receive any payment due to him under a compensation order—
  • (a) In any case until the expiry of the period prescribed by law for the giving of notice of appeal against the decision of the court by which the order has been made; and
  • (b) where notice of appeal is given within the period so prescribed, until the determination of the appeal.
  • (2) Where a compensation order has been made against any person in respect of an offence of which he has been convicted, the order shall cease to have effect if he successfully appeals against this conviction of the offence."

    (2) The following subsection shall be inserted after subsection (3) of that section—

    "(4) Rules under section 144 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 may make provision regarding the way in which the magistrates' court for the time being having functions in relation to the enforcement of a compensation order is to deal with money paid in satisfaction of the order in the event that the order subsequently ceases to have effect.".'.—[Mr. Douglas Hogg.]

    Brought up and read the First time.

    With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 110 to 112 and Government amendment No. 114.

    The purpose of new clause 27 and the amendments grouped with it is to change the procedure governing the enforcement of compensation orders. At present, the operation of compensation orders is suspended until the time during which an appeal may be made has elapsed or until any appeal which is made has been resolved. New clause 27 provides that, although payment may not be made to the victim during that period, enforcement against the offender is not specifically prohibited. We envisage that, as is the case with fines now, enforcement would not normally be pursued while the question of an appeal remained, but the unqualified total suspension pending appeal, which is unique to compensation orders, allows the defendant to avoid payment for a long time, and that is undesirable where large sums may be involved. It has been suggested that in some cases the system has been abused.

    The enforcing court would hold any money collected from the offender until an appeal, or the possibility of one, had been resolved, or had elapsed. It will then be paid over to the victim, if the appeal was unsuccessful, or to the offender, if the appeal was successful.

    The amendments which are grouped with the new clause are consequential and perhaps require no further amplification.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 29

    Review Of Postponement Of Warrant Ofcommitment

    "The following section shall be inserted after section 77 of the Magistrates' Court Act 1980—

    Review of postponement of issue of warrant of commitment.
  • 77A— (1) If on an application by a person in respect of whom issue of a warrant has been postponed under section 77(2) above it appears to a justice of the peace acting for the petty sessions area in which the warrant would have been issued that a variation of any condition on which the warrant was postponed or a remission of all or part of the sum outstanding is justified, he shall refer the application to the court.
  • (2) Where such an application is referred to the court, the justices' clerk shall give the applicant notice of the time and place of the hearing.
  • (3) Where such a notice has been given and the applicant does not appear at the time and place specified in the notice, the court may proceed with theconsideration of the application in his absence.
  • (4) At the hearing the court shall have power, if it thinks fit, to vary the terms on which issue of the warrant was postponed or wholly or partly to remit the sum outstanding.
  • (5) If a warrant under section 77(2) above has been issued before the hearing of the application, the court shall have power, subject to subsection (6) below, to order—
  • (a) that the warrant shall cease to have effect; and
  • (b) that the applicant shall be released.
  • (6) The court may not make an order under subsection
  • (5) above unless it is satisfied that the change of circumstances on which the applicant relies was not put before the court issuing the warrant.'.—[Mr. Mellor.]
  • Brought up, and read the First time.

    With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 154 to 156 and Government amendments Nos. 149 to 153.

    The new clause and the consequential amendments respond to Opposition concern expressed in Committee about the provision in clause 40 that notice shall be deemed to be served if sent by registered post or recorded delivery to a defaulter's last-known address. That concern centred on the possibility of deserving cases—for example, hospitalisation— where that provision might lead to the warrant's being issued without the court being aware of the circumstances. The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) suggested then that the solution might be to allow the officer enforcing the warrant a discretion not to do so in such cases. We considered that seriously but did not feel that it was desirable to undermine the authority and finality of the order in that way because it might put the enforcing officer in an invidious position, second-guessing the court.

    We have come up with an alternative, of which I hope the hon. Member for Hammersmith will approve—to follow the present arrangements for the enforcement of maintenance in the courts. This will allow the defendant to apply to the court, at any time, for the case to be reviewed in the light of circumstances arising since the court decided to issue the postponed warrant. In the cases identified by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, enforcing officers could advise defaulters of the possibility of applying for a review and could delay acting on the warrant. That is common practice already, and it could continue under what is proposed.

    It is, of course, important that this new proposal should not be a pretext for deliberate abuse and delay in unmeritorious cases— hence the clear provision in amendment No. 153 that the court's original decision on the terms of postponement and any subsequent decision to activate the warrant may be reviewed only on the basis of information not before that court. It is right also that the onus should be on defaulters to notify the court of any adverse change in their circumstances and, in the context of the "deeming" of notices to be served, of any change of address. This new right for the defendant to apply for a further hearing is additional to, and independent of, the court's power, as specified by clause 40, to hold a further hearing to consider activating a postponed warrant in the event of further default. I hope that that shows that we have done some constructive thinking since Committee stage and that these measures will be acceptable to the House.

    I am grateful to the Minister. This is a difficult area in which we do not wish to undermine the court's authority. However, the Minister recognised in Committee that there had been occasions when a warrant might not have been served effectively because of reasons that were outside the control of the person who was to receive the warrant—for example, if that person was working away from home or in hospital. As this measure has been designed to meet such special cases, I accept the new clause.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 2

    Restrictions On The Imposition Of Custodialsentences On Offenders Under 21

    (1) The following subsection shall be substituted for section 1(4) of the Criminal Justice Act 1982—

    "(4) Where a person under 21 years of age is convicted or found guilty of an offence, the court may not—
  • (a) make a detention centre order in respect of him under section 4 below;
  • (b) pass a youth custody sentence on him under section 6 below; or
  • (c) pass a sentence of custody for life on him under section 8(2) below;
  • unless it is satisfied that the circumstances, including the nature and gravity of the offence, are such that if the offender were aged 21 or over the court would pass a sentence of imprisonment and that no other method of dealing with hirn is appropriate because—

  • (i) he has a history of failure to respond to non-custodial penalties and the court ls satisfied that he is unable or unwilling to respond to non-custodial penalties: or
  • (ii) no other sentence would be adequate to protect the public from serious harm; or
  • (iii) the offence was so serious that a non-custodial sentence cannot be justified".
  • (2) The following subsection shall be substituted for section 2(4) of the Criminal Justice Act 1982—

    "(4) Where a court deals with a person under 21 years of age by a method whose use in the case of such a person is restricted by section 1(4) above, it shall state in open court the reasons why, having taken account of those restrictions, it is satisfied that no other method of dealing with him is appropriate".'.—[Mr. Clive Soley.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

    This new clause is designed to consider the problem of locking up young people. We know that in this country we lock up more young people than any other comparable country in the Western world. We also know that the failure rate—the number of people who are reconvicted within two years of release— is incredibly high, far higher than that for almost any other form of disposal. The failure rate varies between 70 per cent. and 80 per cent., although occasionally it falls a little below 70 per cent. Therefore, by any standard, it is a pretty disastrous form of treatment for young people which does little other than to teach them to live in an institution, and perhaps make it that much easier for them to return.

    It is in all our interests to reduce the number of young people in custody and to use other sentences wherever possible. That is not to avoid the obvious problem that some young people, like some older people, can be a danger to society. If that is the case, they must be locked up. However, from all the evidence from the Home Office and elsewhere, we know that we lock up far too many people. Successive attempts have been made to tighten up this issue. The new clause tightens up the guidelines that a court must apply before imposing a custodial sentence on a young person under 21 years of age.

    I expect that the entire House, including Ministers, will join me in thanking the parliamentary all-party penal affairs group which is behind the thinking on this. I should like to thank also Mr. Paul Cavadino, who has done work of a high standard for that Committee. I understand that that does not always receive the recognition that it deserves.

    The new clause spells out—as has been spelt out on other occasions— that a young person should not be locked up unless
  • "(i) he has a history of failure to respond to non-custodial penalties and the court is satisfied that he is unable or unwilling to respond to non-custodial penalties; or
  • (ii) no other sentence would be adequate to protect the public from serious harm; or
  • (iii) the offence was so serious that a noncustodial sentence cannot be justified."
  • The new clause continues by adding to existing Acts of Parliament. It states:
    "(4) Where a court deals with a person under 21 years of age by a method whose use in the case of such a person is restricted by section 1(4) above, it shall state in open court the reasons why, having taken account of those restrictions, it is satisfied that no other method of dealing with him is appropriate."

    As I have already stated, the new clause clarifies the statutory guidance currently governing the use of custody for young offenders, contained in section 1(4) of the Criminal Justice Act 1982. In practice, the criteria contained in that section of the 1982 Act have been of some use in guiding the courts. However, many courts have applied them loosely and that has considerably reduced their usefulness. Most magistrates and justices' clerks appear to welcome the idea of more detailed statutory reasons for custody. A research study by Elizabeth Burney, conducted in 12 magistrates courts, concluded that the principle of giving statutory reasons in court was
    "on the whole welcomed, especially by the justices' clerks. It was felt that, as guidelines, they set the right tone, encouraged the right approach and (taken together with rules about legal aids and social inquiry reports) provided a series of hoops through which sentencers must pass before they could take the dire step of depriving a young person of his liberty."
    4.45 pm

    As I have already stated, it is not just a question of the dire step of depriving a young person of his or her liberty, but a recognition that that is often one of the least effective ways of dealing with a young person, if our interest is in preventing that person from re-offending— which I assume is the case for us all.

    Elizabeth Burney's study continues:
    "The process 'concentrates the mind and stresses accountability' in the words of one justices' clerk; and a chairman added that it could also be a useful check on 'the odd wayward magistrate' who would otherwise want custody regardless of finer points".
    However, other research has shown that the three criteria that I quoted from section 1(4) of the 1982 Act are interpreted differently by different courts, and often much more widely than was intended. In the first instance—that is to say,
    "because it appears to the court that he is unable or unwilling to respond to non-custodial penalties"—
    it has been suggested that, although there was a good deal of agreement between those interviewed about how that criterion might apply, on detailed interpretation there was considerable scope for individual differences in sentencing.

    A study by Frances Reynolds, of juveniles sentenced in a Northamptonshire juvenile court in 1984, included a case in which the magistrates justified custody on that criterion because
    "other disposals such as cautions or conditional discharges have not been successful".
    We are attempting to deal with such issues in these provisions.

    A study of a juvenile court in the north-east of England stated that some magistrates used the phrase "unable or unwilling"
    "to send a juvenile into custody when his only previous disposal was a conditional discharge … another juvenile had previously had an attendance centre order and the report was recommending either a community service order or supervision as the means of disposal for the current offences".
    No-one who supported the 1982 Act could have conceived that a custodial sentence could be justified on the ground that an offender has re-offended if his only previous disposals had been cautions, a conditional discharge, or an attendance centre order.

    Turning to the second criterion mentioned in the 1982 Act—
    "because a custodial sentence is necessary for the protection of the public"—
    the phrase "protection of the public" is open to wide interpretations. Elizabeth Burney commented:
    "Some defined it narrowly as relating strictly to the dangerousness of the individual offender in terms of physical harm threatened to another, or else to the public at large on account of pathological behaviour … some sentencers preferred to ascribe 'protection' to the supposed deterrent effect on the individual of receiving a custodial sentence."
    That is a different interpretation from what is normally meant, either in this place or in the higher courts when they are considering the protection of the public. Elizabeth Burney continued:
    "In other courts however—and one in particular-there was a very definite view that 'protection of the public' embraced general deterrence."
    In other words, the courts considered the deterrent effect on other people. Therefore, those provisions have proved ambiguous.

    The third criterion in the new clause is:
    "because the offence was so serious that a non-custodial sentence cannot be justified".
    Different definitions of seriousness were used by magistrates. For some offences, for which custodial sentences were justified on "seriousness", the grounds were not nearly as serious as many committed by numerous recidivists in the sample by Frances Reynolds who were given non-custodial sentences. Therefore, the Act as it now stands has been widely interpreted.

    One way of improving matters would be for the Court of Appeal to step in and lay down guidelines on the way in which the courts should interpret section 1(4). Indeed, following the research studies to which I have referred, in a series of judgments the Court of Appeal has begun to lay down guidance on the "seriousness of the offence" criterion—for example, for offences of violence, arson, robbery and burglary which do or do not satisfy the criterion. However, few cases so far have shed any light on the "protection of the public" or the "unable or unwilling" to comply criteria.

    The parliamentary all-party penal affairs group had hoped that the process of judicial guidance would continue. I think that we would all join in that hope, as it would increase the effectiveness of section 1(4). However, some of the other suggestions of this new clause would also help.

    The new clause makes the following principal changes in the three criteria contained in section 1(4) of the 1982 Act. First, on the criterion
    "because it appears to the court that he is unable or unwilling to respond to non-custodial penalties",
    the new clause specifies that the need for circumstances
    "such that if the offender were aged 21 or over the court would pass a sentence of imprisonment"
    should be an additional requirement for that and the other criteria. That is designed to met one of the earlier points that I raised—that, as presently formulated, it has been stated that the criterion
    "can suggest, at least to a bench of magistrates insufficiently advised, that the fact that other non-custodial dispositions have already been tried and 'failed' is a sufficient reason to resort to a custodial sentence regardless of the seriousness of the present offence."
    We believe that that will meet the problem.

    Secondly, a requirement of
    "a history of failure to respond to non-custodial penalties"
    has been added to the above. The word "history" is used in other parts of the 1982 Act and it cannot reasonably be interpreted as a failure to respond to a single conditional discharge, for example, as the present criterion has been interpreted in some cases.

    To the second requirement, that a custodial sentence is necessary for the protection of the public, we have again added the phrase "serious harm" which has been used in mental health legislation and is interpreted as relating to serious offences against the person. It would prevent courts from using this criterion to justify custody for such offences as shoplifting, as has happened on some occasions.

    The third requirement, that
    "the offence was so serious that a non-custodial sentence cannot he justified",
    has been left unaltered, because the Court of Appeal has already begun the process of usefully clarifying this criterion and will no doubt continue the process in future judgments. The all-party group favours this approach as a way of reinforcing and building on the criteria established in 1982 which the Court of Appeal has begun to refine and to which its judgments have increasingly drawn the attention of the lower courts.

    Finally, the new clause requires that courts shall state in open court, having taken into account all those restrictions, the reason why it is satisfied that no other method of dealing with the offender is appropriate. I hope that that will meet many of the problems that courts have found in interpreting the Act. I hope that it will lead not only to a reduced use of custodial sentences for young people when they are inappropriate and counterproductive but to a more consistent form of sentencing for young people.

    As the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) has made clear, the new clause is the work of the parliamentary all-party penal affairs group. It seeks to replace part of the 1982 Act, which was brought about by that same group winning a vote against the Government during consideration of the legislation in the other place. At that time, the Government were doubtful whether statutory restrictions of this type were effective, and we are still somewhat sceptical. However, we see no objection to these proposals being accepted as a refinement of the thinking behind the 1982 Act. I shall recommend to the House that it accepts the new clause.

    The 1982 Act simplified and rationalised the structure of sentencing for juveniles and young offenders, in effect replacing the mish-mash of custodial sentences, many of which were indeterminate, with two sentences, youth custody and detention centre, while creating a framework in which alternatives to custody could continue to be developed. Community service was extended to 16-yearolds and some 2,000 orders were made in 1985, showing it to be a useful extension of the courts' powers; and the courts' power to make supervision orders were strengthened. The Government have lent their support to the growth in the use of caution. The number of young offenders cautioned for indictable offences increased from 98,000 in 1982 to 122,000 in 1985.

    The hon. Gentleman argued that the 1982 Act has led to an increase in the use of custody, but I am not sure whether that is the case. In 1982, the last year of the old arrangements, some 7,100 juveniles went into custody, which represented 7·5 per cent. of all sentences and cautions. In 1985, 5,900 juveniles went into custody, which represented 6·1 per cent. of all sentences and cautions, and therefore a decrease. He is on superficially stronger ground in the case of young adults. In 1982, 22,100 young adults went into custody, which represented 17·9 per cent. of all sentences and cautions. In 1985, 24,400 young adults went into custody which represented 20·1 per cent. of all sentences and cautions.

    It is worth bearing in mind that the 1982 Act abolished suspended sentences and imprisonment, so we must add to the 1982 figure the 5,500 suspended sentences of imprisonment imposed on young adults, many of which undoubtedly would have been imposed as imprisonment as a result of further offending. The picture is by no means as clear-cut as the hon. Gentleman asserted. There is plenty of evidence that the 1982 Act has worked well overall. I have not the slightest objection to changing the criteria. The PAPPAG has had second thoughts and we are happy to endorse them, if the House is.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

    Before we move to the next proposed new clause I have a brief statement to make. Mr. Speaker has asked me to inform the House that he has reconsidered his selection of amendments and has decided to add new clause 20. That new clause will now be called immediately after new clause 19 and grouped for debate with it are amendments Nos. 60, 61 and Government amendment No. 62.

    New Clause 3

    Corporal Punishment

    '(1) Any person who shall—

  • (a) unlawfully assault or beat any other person;
  • (b) make use of provoking language or behaviour tending to a breach of the peace;Or
  • (c) commit an act of criminal damage shall be liable on summary conviction in addition to, or instead of, current penalties, if the offender is a male child or male young person, to be whipped.
  • (2) The expression "child" and "young person" mean respectively an individual of or over the age of 10 and under 14 and an individual of or over the age of 14 and under 18.

    (3) The instrument used shall, in the case of a child, be a cane, and in any other case shall be a birch rod.

    (4) The court in its sentence shall specify the number of strokes to be inflicted, being in the case of a child not more than six strokes, and in the case of any other person not more than 12 stokes.

    (5) The whipping shall be inflicted privately as soon as practicable after sentence.

    (6) The whipping shall be inflicted by a constable in the presence of an inspector or other officer of police of higher rank than a constable or by some other person appointed by the Court, and, in the case of a child or young person also in the presence if he desires to be present of the parent or guardian of the child or young person.

    (7) The instrument to be used shall be—

  • (a) in the case of a male child who is under the age of 14 years a light cane not exceeding four feet in length and not exceeding half an inch in diameter;
  • (b) in the case of a male person who is over the age of 14 a birch rod of the following dimensions:
  • Weight not exceeding9 ounces
    Length from end of handle to tip of spray40 inches
    Length of handle15 inches
    Circumference of spray at centre6 inches
    Circumference of handle at top of binding3½ inches
    Circumference of handle 6 inches from end3¼ inches

    (8) In all cases where a court is empowered to impose a sentence of whipping a medical report as to whether the offender is fit to receive the punishment will be made available to the Magistrates before they consider sentence.

    (9) The whipping shall be inflicted on the posterior over the child's ordinary cloth trousers.

    (10) A medical practitioner shall be present during a birching and may at his discretion order the stopping of the punishment at any time.

    (11) Where a birching has been stopped on medical grounds a report of the facts shall be forwarded immediately to the Home Secretary.'.— [Mr. Hawksley.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

    The new clause provides the House with an opportunity to debate corporal punishment and it is desirable that we should do so. In both the 1979 and 1983 general elections the Government were elected on a policy of law and order and our electors were looking for great things. They have seen an increase in expenditure of 40 per cent. on law and order, and 14,500 extra policemen, many of whom have been taken out of their panda cars and put on the beat, yet the crime figures tell a sad story.

    The latest figures show a tragic national picture. In my constituency they show a 10 per cent. increase in crime last year. I know that the Opposition led the criticism of those figures, and it is right that our constituents should call for action. If we have not seen the due results from the increases in expenditure and extra police, we are entitled to ask what has gone wrong. We should consider deterrent sentences with encouragement and enthusiasm.

    I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman a question so that we can consider his speech in the context of his answer. Is it his view that the United Kingdom should cease to be a signatory to the European convention on human rights?

    The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) should wait and listen, because I shall come to that matter in a moment.

    I shall deal shortly with the judgment of that court.

    Some people may be slightly confused about where I chose the details of new clause 3. Unlike the hon. and learned Gentleman, I am no lawyer and I have no experience in drafting, so I used the wording of legislation that has been applicable in the Isle of Man for many years, namely, the Petty Sessions and Summary Jurisdiction Act 1927, which has stood the test of time and has been of benefit by being on the statute book.

    5 pm

    On my last visit to the Isle of Man to see how they tackled law and order, I heard from the chief of police on the island that many visitors, even after the birch was no longer used, when they arrived at Douglas would ask the first policeman they saw whether use of the birch was still permitted by statute, and when the policeman said yes, the visitors invariably said, "Do not worry, we will not cause any trouble." I think that that indicates the success of a deterrent. This provision would be a deterrent. It worked on the Isle of Man and it would work here.

    If the new clause is accepted by the House in principle, I would be only too happy to see the details amended in another place to bring it into line with other legislation, rather than have what is applicable in the Isle of Man.

    If increased expenditure and more policemen have failed to defeat crime, and if the number of assaults is rising, what will solve the problem? Deterrent sentences work, and corporal punishment should be used as a deterrent.

    When I first raised this issue in Committee on the Criminal Justice Bill in 1982, the debate took place over one day and my speech proposing the amendment took one hour to make with comments from the Opposition. I have no intention of speaking for that length of time now, as this issue can be dealt with quickly.

    When corporal punishment was considered in 1948, crimes of violence against the person were running at 5,183 a year. By 1981 that figure had gone up to 100,000. Since 1981 it has risen to 125,500, an increase of 25 per cent. Those are the latest figures, which were published the other day. Action is needed, and I believe that the public support action. The last public opinion poll that I saw suggested that about 70 per cent. wanted both capital and corporal punishment. Letters that I have received over the last two weeks have shown support for my proposal.

    The clause offers, not a finite sentence, but punishment that would be available in appropriate cases to our courts to be used in addition to the remedies that are already available. I believe that most criminals who commit offences at football matches, or who mug the elderly, often for only a few pounds, are basically cowards and would be worried and frightened by the thought of corporal punishment.

    Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that those who commit horrible offences of violence will be worried if they think that they will be caught and sentenced to custody? The problem is that the people who commit such offences are rarely caught. Does the hon. Gentleman think that his proposal would change that at all?

    I agree that it is important that criminals are apprehended, and I welcome the 14,500 extra policemen that have been provided by the Government.

    When the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) had responsibility for law and order, he succeeded in getting the police into their panda cars. I welcome the Government's action, because it will ensure that more football hooligans and muggers are caught. Since 1948 we have failed to make any inroads into the fight against crime and criminals. I suggest that this deterrent sentence should be placed in the armoury of the courts.

    The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery started to shout foul and said that the European Court of Human Rights has said that this cannot be done. I would lose no sleep if we left the European Court of Human Rights. Some of its decisions are most extraordinary. The Tyrer case rested on article 3 of the convention, which says that no one shall be subject to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The court cleared us—although the charge concerned the Isle of Man—on the question of torture or inhuman treatment, and ruled against us only on the question whether it was degrading.

    The British judge in that case, Sir Gerald Fitzmaurice, not only ruled in our favour, but denied that corporal punishment was degrading. I believe that we should pursue that argument in that court. Is it really degrading to birch a youngster who is prepared to commit horrific crimes at football matches and to mug elderly ladies? I say no. If anything is degrading, it is the treatment that those criminals give to their victims.

    I hope that the House and the Minister will accept the arguments that we put forward on the new clause. If not, I ask that consideration be given to setting up an independent inquiry, such as the 1968 Barry inquiry, into whether the reintroduction of corporal punishment would be a deterrent. It is now time—20 years after that 1968 inquiry—to have another inquiry and to argue the case if necessary before the European Court of Human Rights. I would welcome such a report, and would look forward to it with interest. I believe that the public are asking for action now. By virtue of the new clause, the House has the opportunity of so acting. I hope that the House and the Minister will accept my new clause.

    Mr. Alex Carlile