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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 115: debated on Thursday 7 May 1987

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

Home Department

Sentencing Policy


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps his Department has taken to monitor the effect on the pattern of sentencing of the operation of the Lord Chief Justice's guidelines; and if he will make a statement.

Sentencing trends are constantly monitored and we have carefully examined the effects of recent Court of Appeal guideline judgments. As I would expect, they have a real impact on sentencing.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the long sentences available are being used for serious crimes? Does he believe that there is sufficient differentiation in sentencing between those found guilty of medium-ranking crimes against property and those found guilty of serious crimes against people, especially children?

That differentiation is something that everybody would like to see. The guidelines have an effect in the direction that my hon. Friend advocates. For example, the rape guideline in the Bilham case in 1985 has been followed by an increase in the proportion of those received into prison with sentences of more than five years from 20 to 45 per cent. There has been a similar increase following the Boswell guideline on causing death by reckless driving.

In view of my right hon. Friend's apparent satisfaction with the operation of the important guidelines, would he consider dropping clause 29 from the new edition of the Criminal Justice Bill, which, by general consent of Bar and Bench, is manifestly and palpably absurd?

I have observed that clause 29 has been criticised in another place, as here, with equal force both by those who say that it goes too far and by those who say that it does not go far enough. We should wait and see how we get on next week.

Crime Prevention


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what new initiatives he will take to promote crime prevention.

We are planning to launch a new national crime prevention campaign, with an enhanced publicity budget, later this year. We have made provision to sustain this campaign over the next two years. The emphasis will be on showing how all those who are concerned about rising crime can make their own contribution to preventing it.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that response. As 96 per cent. of crime involves property and 25 per cent. of that proportion involves cars, is it not absolutely essential that the public be involved in the protection of their own property? In his crime prevention programme, what attention will be given to specific schemes such as neighbourhood watch, which has a very good track record of success? Will he promote that scheme, among others?

We shall certainly do that. It is amazing and encouraging that there are 29,500 neighbourhood watch schemes in England and Wales, whereas three years ago there were only about 1,000. This is a real outburst of energy by the citizen in co-operation with the police, and we warmly welcome it.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's excellent news. Referring specifically to the Metropolitan police district, does he welcome also the 7,000 neighbourhood watch schemes that exist in the district and recognise the excellent contribution that they are making to community-based crime prevention? Will he hazard a comment on the quite extraordinary behaviour of the nine Labour London borough councils which persistently attack the police and refuse to co-operate with crime prevention measures both in their districts and in the inner London schools? How does this sit with the extraordinary claim by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) that he is in favour of crime prevention based in the community?

I do not know where the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) is, but my hon. Friend has certainly put his finger on the reason why the Labour party's campaign on law and order has completely failed to get off the ground. Part of its document asks me to do things that I have been doing for some time already, and the rest asks me to do things that no one in his right senses would think of doing, such as handing over responsibility of policing policies, priorities and methods to elected Labour authorities, particularly in London.

Leaving aside the party political propaganda that we have just heard, let us concentrate on the facts. In view of the Secretary of State's answer, which suggests a welcome shift in opinion in the Conservative party and the Government, and bearing in mind the answer that the Under-Secretary of State gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) on 23 April, which again suggested a shift in Government thinking, can he tell us whether the Government are to fund crime prevention in the way in which we are recommending in our document? if so, do they intend to announce that prior to the general election, in the same way as for nurses pay and school education?

There is ample funding of crime prevention from a wide variety of sources—publicity by the Home Office and a mass of schemes financed partly by the urban programme and partly by local authorities. The hon. Gentleman is unfair. When I came to the Home Office for the first time in 1983 I found that the then Home Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan), had already begun to put massive emphasis on crime prevention, and that has been intensified and developed ever since. I am delighted that the Labour party is clambering on board and hope that it will manage to bring with it all those boroughs which are still obstructing the scheme.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the increasing number of crimes involving knives, particularly in south-east London, and of the concern in the community about them? Is he aware of the extent of frustration among police officers caused by the rules imposed upon them under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which limits the extent to which they can stop and search people suspected of carrying knives? Will my right hon. Friend consider reviewing the way in which this part of the Act is working and, meanwhile, perhaps introduce legislation to prevent the sale of some of the horrifying weapons that are at present freely available in the shops?

My hon. Friend is right about knives, but not right in what he said about the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which does not limit the power of the police in that respect. It simply requires them to make, when they can, a record of what occurred and why. I do not think that that is unreasonable. We are looking at my hon. Friend's final point about sale and possession. Of course, there are many wholly innocent reasons why people should carry knives from time to time, and that creates a problem about legislation. However, if we can find ways of strengthening the law to deal with offensive weapons, such as my hon. Friend suggests, we will take it.

Exeter Prison


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many prisoners Exeter prison is designed to accommodate; how many were there on the last day of January, February and March; how many cells have more than the intended number of occupants; and if he will make a statement.

Since Exeter comprises three separate units, a local prison, a remand centre and a long-term youth custody centre, each with its own certified normal accommodation and population, I will, with permission circulate in the Official Report the information requested.

I cannot anticipate the information that my hon. and learned Friend will provide, but may I ask whether he knows, for example, how many hours per day the average prisoner is locked up in Exeter prison? How many of the cells have even the most fundamental forms of running water and sanitation? Is he satisfied that, when so much money is being spent by the Government on improving and rebuilding prisons, Exeter, which serves the few criminals in north Devon, is not being left behind in the race?

Work is going on at Exeter. One wing is out of commission for work at the moment. As my hon. Friend has rightly said, we have embarked on the biggest programme of any Government this century to improve the condition in the old prisons. I shall certainly bear in mind what my hon. Friend said about Exeter. We are aware that it is currently overcrowded. We are aware also that on some days prisoners are locked up for 23 hours, but sometimes it is as little as nine hours. Plainly, the situation is not satisfactory, and it is entirely in accordance with my hon. Friend's concern for his area that he should raise the matter with me.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware of the stresses and strains suffered by prison officers as a result of overcrowding at Exeter prison, which, as he said, is a remand prison? When does he envisage a proper complement of prison officers being reached at that prison?

Perhaps I could write to my hon. Friend about the details. As he knows, we have recruited a large number of additional prison officers over the years. Indeed, the ratio of prison officers to inmates is running well ahead of any increase in the prison population. I shall certainly ensure that the needs of Exeter are not overlooked.

To my knowledge — which goes back to 1964—the question of overcrowding in our old prisons and the appalling conditions in which we keep prisoners has been raised again and again, and we have received exactly the same replies. That is scandalous. Is the Minister aware that the conditions in which we keep men in prison, three to a cell and with no sanitary provision except for a chamber pot, is not conducive to good remedial prison practice? When will the Minister change that?

No, it is not excuses. It is a sign of the impotence of the hon. Lady and others who, like her, felt that they were utterly incapable of persuading the Government that they supported slavishly over the years to spend any money on prisons. Since 1979 we have embarked on the largest prison building and improvements programme, but we cannot overturn the neglect of decades in just a few years. Matters are a great deal better now than they were when the hon. Lady was on the Government Benches.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the real and main cause of prison overcrowding is that the Labour party, when it came to power in 1974, cancelled, as a deliberate policy decision, the prison building programme that it had inherited from the previous Conservative Government?

Yes. I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. If anyone could be bothered to consult the record, I dare say that it would be found that the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) voted in favour of that decision.

The implication of the Minister's remarks is completely unacceptable. We all know that the crime rate, the number in prison and the number of young people

The Certified Normal Accommodation (CNA) and population figures are as follows:



31 January 1987

28 February 1987

31 March 1987

Remand Centre53567068
Local Prison209336363343
Youth Custody Centre41393939

The number of prisoners sharing cells is only recorded centrally once a month. Recent figures are:

Remand Centre

Local Prison

YC Centre

8 February 1987

Number of inmates held two to a cell26162No sharing
Number of inmates held three to a cell9129No sharing
Number of cells overcrowded13124No sharing

8 March 1987

Number of inmates held two to a cell36176No sharing
Number of inmates held three to a cell3105No sharing
Number of cells overcrowded19123No sharing

12 April 1987

Number of inmates held two to a cell30186No sharing
Number of inmates held three to a cell15102No sharing
Number of cells overcrowded20127No sharing



asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has any plans to seek to change the length of time taken by coroners in dealing with inquests.

We are satisfied that coroners accept the need to avoid unnecessary delay. We do not consider that there is a general problem which calls for any special action on the part of my right hon. Friend.

Is the Minister aware that that is a very unsatisfactory and complacent reply? He really must consider urgently the appointment of more coroners. Is he aware that some of the implications are not immediately noticeable — for example, the delay in receiving

incarcerated have rocketed under this Government. Is it not disgraceful, and an insult to the electorate, to make excuses citing the past? The Government must accept that their law and order and prison policies have failed. They included in the Criminal Justice Act 1982 a provision to enable the Home Secretary to release the prisoners that they wanted to release, and they are not doing so only because they are scared of the electoral consequences.

The hon. Gentleman's celebrated impression of a 78 rpm record stuck in the groove is no more impressive this week than it has been for the many weeks during which we have had to put up with it.

Following is the information:

insurance and possible compensation, to say nothing of the distress caused to the bereaved who in some cases, have to wait months? Will he apply his mind rather more urgently to the problem beyond what he said in his original reply?

I appreciate the importance of the matter. Coroners are aware of the additional distress that can be caused to relatives if there is delay in completing an inquest. However, sometimes investigations take a long time.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has written to the hon. Gentleman about a particular case that he raised. It is not right for me to comment further, except to say that there has always been a part-time coroner in the district concerned and that, during the whole of the coroner's nine years in office, he has been supported by two coroner's officers. There is no question of the case being affected by a cut in resources, as has been suggested. Indeed, the number of inquests has actually fallen recently.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has a general responsibility for the law, but has no power over the way in which coroners carry out their duties in a particular case. They are independent judicial officers It is wrong to imply that in this case the coroner behaved improperly or was starved of the normal resources given to coroners.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that most coroners' inquests have wide public support and are carried out with little difficulty? Nevertheless, a very small number each year cause great difficulties of fact and law, and it often takes a substantial period for the inquest to be carried out. Is my right hon. and learned Friend prepared o consider again whether it is possible or practicable to appoint special coroners from among senior members of the judiciary to carry out the inquests in that very small number of cases that cause public anxiety and difficulty?

Obviously, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will bear in mind my hon. Friend's point. I repeat that my right hon. Friend has a general responsibility for the law, but he has no power over the way in which coroners carry out their duties in a particular case. I do not think that the public take the view that in the vast majority of cases coroners do other than carry out their duties responsibly and properly.



asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will call for a report from the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis on the progress of his investigations into the Zircon affair; and if he will make a statement.

Is it not 13 weeks and four days since executives and staff of the BBC were unceremoniously hauled out of their beds at 3 am on a February Sabbath? Is it not also a fact that, of course, the police got hold of no leakers, for the simple reason that there were no leaks? Did not Duncan Campbell put this programme together out of published information then have it confirmed by those from the stratosphere of Whitehall, such as Sir Ronald Mason and Sir Frank Cooper? Is it not time that this police wasting of time came to an end and the Government admitted their folly?

I am not calling for a report on this matter from the commissioner because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the commissioner reports direct to the Director of Public Prosecutions. I understand that the commissioner's report on this matter has now been received by the director.



asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what proposals he has to reduce prison overcrowding.

We are proceeding with measures to make the best possible use of existing accommodation. The building programme, including refurbishment of existing prisons and new prisons, will produce 17,200 places by the mid-1990s. This includes five new prisons opening in the next 12 months. We continue to encourage the courts to use non-custodial sentences in suitable cases.

I welcome those new places, but will the Home Secretary confirm that our prison population is the second highest in Europe, second only to Turkey? How many people are in our prisons for offences that are of no danger to the public? For instance, how many debt defaulters are in prison? What steps will the right hon. Gentleman take to resolve that problem?

The hon. Gentleman welcomes the provision of new places, but the Labour party's official policy is to halt the prison building programme. Among many zany undertakings, that is perhaps the most irresponsible. I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's general point. We have a high prison population in comparison with the total population. I think that Austria has a higher proportion than us. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but the answer is not for politicians to step in and tell the courts who they are and who they are not to send to prison, but to ensure that the courts in the kind of lesser cases to which the hon. Gentleman referred have before them persuasively argued, tough and practical alternatives to custody. We are pursuing that course through our investment in the probation service, the training of the service and the encouragement of such measures as community service orders, the application of which has almost trebled in recent years.

Yesterday the report of the Home Affairs Select Committee on prisons recommended that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary should consider whether the American practice of using private contractors to build, refurbish and manage prisons could be used here to overcome the problem of chronic overcrowding. Will he confirm that he intends to send a Minister to America to look at such prisons? Will he further confirm that the Prisons Officers Association has nothing to fear from the report's recommendation?

I am glad that my hon. and learned Friend has raised that last point. Privatisation is not an accurate description of what he or I have in mind. We are not talking about selling-off existing prisons and putting them under private management. We are talking about whether, by using the private sector and its techniques more intensively, and perhaps at an earlier stage, we can accelerate the provision of prison places and thus ease as rapidly as possible the overcrowding with which we are concerned. I am asking my noble Friend Lord Caithness to go to the United States to follow up the research that was undertaken by the Select Committee.

Is the Minister aware that I entirely agree with him that under his Government the major growth industry in Britain has been the prison building programme?

The hon. Gentleman is falling below his level. The fact of the matter — this has already been mentioned during these exchanges — is that under the Government whom he supported crime and the prison population grew sharply and nothing was done about it. They continue to grow, which I regret, but the difference is that we are, and have been over the past six or seven years, doing a great deal about it.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is wrong that alcoholics and rate defaulters should be sent to prison? Does he agree that the Government could reduce the overcrowding of our prisons by stopping the closure of psychiatric hospitals? Is he aware that during our inquiries into the prison medical service the Select Committee for Social Services found several hundred people in our prisons who more correctly should have been in a psychiatric hospital or asylum undergoing treatment rather than being in prison?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, and one of the matters on which we have worked hard and successfully is the reduction of the number of inadequates who are sent to prison because no one can think of anywhere else to send them. The pressures that my hon. Friend and others have brought to bear have been effective.

With regard to fine defaulters, my hon. Friend has raised a difficult point, because, in the last resort, when all other measures have failed, it is hard to imagine how one can proceed except with the use of prison. I was interested to note that in the Standing Committee the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) endorsed that point of view.

Will the Home Secretary accept and recognise that many people will feel repelled by the proposal that our prisons should be privatised or run by private companies, because people who are in prison are supposed to be there because they have committed crimes against society, so it should be society's—that means the Government's — responsibility to administer those prisons? I suspect that this will be the last time that the Home Secretary will be at the Dispatch Box, because undoubtedly my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) will be Home Secretary at the next Home Office questions. However, does today's Home Secretary agree that we need a long period of consultation before we move over to the privatisation of our prisons?

It is because I thought that there might be that kind of mischievous supplementary that I said that privatisation is not what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fylde (Sir E. Gardner) and his Select Committee or I have in mind. We are not thinking of handing over existing prisons to private management. If, by using the private sector and private sector techniques, we can accelerate and improve the provision of prison places, it would be stupid not to try to do so. The hon. Member said that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) will take my place in the next Parliament. He has not bothered to come here today. It is notable that, on this matter, on which the Labour party is purporting to campaign, there are now 10 Labour Members on the Opposition Benches.

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to clarify the point that nobody is in prison for debt, but, rather, for contempt of court?

The Home Secretary said that politicians should not interfere. Has he forgotten that his Government's Criminal Justice Act 1982 contained a provision for the executive release of prisoners? Why does he not read his own legislation?

I have read the debate on the legislation often enough. We have discussed it in the House. The provision, which the hon. Member correctly said is in the 1982 Act, is clearly designed for use in an emergency. We are not in an emergency.

Electoral Law


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has any plans to introduce legislation further to amend electoral law; and if he will make a statement.

During the next Parliament we intend, after the usual consultations, to bring forward legislation to extend the period during which British citizens may live overseas and continue to register as overseas electors.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider issuing advice about the legality of direct mail letters that are targeted to particular constituencies during election campaigns? Is he aware that, according to The Guardian, the Conservative and alliance parties have received legal advice that such practice is illegal, and that they do not propose to use it during an election campaign, but that the Labour party proposes to do so? Would it not be a good idea to clarify the matter beyond any doubt?

We should be grateful to my hon. Friend for raising what is obviously an important point. I am sure that the public would expect fair play and a reasonable understanding between the parties as to what is allowed by law. The public would not look kindly on a party that they thought had cheated.

The Minister's views on electoral reform have been publicised. We know that he is in favour of it. Is it too much to hope for that, in the next few days, he can put through a Bill to conduct an election on a system of proportional representation? Given that the Government are often critical of extreme militants on local authority councils, does he accept that one way of controlling them is to have lair representation on local authority councils to ensure that extremism does not have its head in a minority of votes.

There will certainly be no extremism when the Government are returned at the next general election. The Government believe that the simple majority system is the best system. It is well established, it is easily understood and it is most likely to produce Governments for whose policies the electorate has voted.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware of the dissatisfaction that has been expressed over the forms available for absent voters to be able to record their votes? Will he urgently consider the form and determine whether it could be simplified and made clearer in time for any possible early election?

I am told that the form was designed on advice from electoral registration officers. Obviously, I shall discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend.

Violence (London)


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to deal with the rise in acts of violence against the person in the Metropolitan police area.

The number of recorded crimes of violence against the person in the Metropolitan police area in 1986 was about the same as in 1985. Operational decisions about the investigation of specific offences are a matter for the commissioner; but I strongly support his decision, recorded in his strategy statement for 1987, to place particular emphasis upon the safety of the citizen.

Have not crimes of violence against the person in the Metropolitan area risen by 43 per cent. since the Government came to office, and is there not one such crime every 26 minutes in our capital city? Is not the best way of preventing crimes of violence against the person to make sure that our streets are better lit and that there are no dark corners offering ample scope for lurking muggers? Why, then, have the Government reduced rate support grant, imposed penalties on local authorities, rate-capped London boroughs, and taken away from them, by so doing, the means with which to light our streets better?

Crimes of violence generally have risen more slowly under this Government than under the Labour Government, although I do not make a great point of that. The hon. Gentleman is perfectly right about street lighting, but wrong in supposing that the way to improvement is merely to shell out more money to local authorities.I visited the constituency of my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, and the Labour wards in the Roehampton part of that constituency the other day. A great deal is being done there by the Wandsworth borough council to improve the street lighting, precisely with a view to crime prevention, and it has managed to keep the rates at a steady, reasonable level as compared to its neighbours.

Will my right hon. friend join me in welcoming the Government's present initiative in putting a large amount of money into improving street lighting in London boroughs, and advise boroughs such as Islington, which do not know about that, to find out about it? Does my right hon. Friend agree that Labour boroughs such as Ealing, which are financing expensive campaigns to ask people to complain against the police, would be better advised to put the money used for that into extra policing to overcome the violence of which they complain?

It is certainly true — even in London, where the boroughs have no police responsibility whatever — as the example of Wandsworth bears out, that a borough that is well disposed to working with the police to improve the security of its citizens can give a lead and manage to contrive ample ingenious schemes of crime prevention without new expenditure.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that dealing with crimes of violence against the person is regarded as the highest possible priority of the Government's law and order policy, and of the commissioner and his senior officers in the Metropolitan police? In that context, will he give his support to further measures of encouraging more police on to the beat and more crime prevention techniques?

Yes, indeed. As far as London is concerned, last month I further increased the establishment limits of the Metropolitan police. It is now for them to recruit up to those limits, and the commissioner's reorganisation, as my hon. Friend knows, has, by itself, put over 218 more officers on the beat.

Why does the Home Secretary say that no London boroughs have responsibility for policing? Does he not know that the City of London, which is one of London's boroughs, is a police authority? Is that not an anachronism that should be ended? When will the Home Secretary come forward with proposals for elected police authorities in London such as those that exist elsewhere in the country?

I am not going to come forward with proposals that would put the priorities for the policing of London under the control of people such as Mr. Bernie Grant.

Does my right hon. Friend think that efforts to reduce violent crime would be helped or hindered, by Opposition policies to extend political control over police tactics and operational strategy?

That would be lunatic. I do not know what candidates the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) is supporting today, but if he is supporting candidates of the Manchester city council Labour party, they are precisely the same type of leaders as those in the half dozen or more boroughs in London in which Labour leaders such as Bernie Grant—unlike Miss Atkin, who was got rid of overnight—continue in full favour with the Labour leadership—despite the fact that the things that Mr. Grant said were much more offensive to the British people than what Miss Atkin said.



asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received about the steps he is taking to reduce the level of crimes which involve cars.


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what proportion of overall crime involves cars; and what plans he has to seek to reduce this level.

We regularly receive correspondence from right hon. and hon. Members as well as from members of the public about various aspects of autocrime. Theft of or from cars accounts for about 25 per cent. of all recorded crime. Most such offences are committed by opportunist criminals preying on cars which are intrinsically insecure, and car owners who fail to make the best use of security devices. Accordingly, efforts to reduce autocrime concentrate on preventive measures. Crime prevention publicity seeks to make motorists more security-conscious; car security advice leaflets are being distributed with licence reminders; and the new highway code also contains suitable advice. Manufacturers are being encouraged to improve the security aspects of new cars and the advice on car security which they give to car owners.

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for that most helpful reply. Does he agree that a crucial consideration in the level of crime involving cars is police manpower? Is he aware that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) recently visited my constituency to talk about law and order without, apparently, knowing that the major problem is that the Labour group of the Strathclyde regional council, uniquely in Scotland, keeps its police numbers below authorised establishment as a matter of policy? The resultant swing to the Conservatives in Eastwood and the fact that the right hon. Member for Gorton made an ass of himself are not matters of regret, but is it not important that the public throughout Great Britain know of the importance of proper levels of police manpower to deal with crimes involving cars as well as other crimes?

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the high level of autocrime distorts to some extent overall criminal statistics? Secondly, does not the answer lie in far more electronic gadgetry being installed by motor car manufacturers? It is absurd how easy cars are made for the criminal to break into.

My hon. Friend has touched on two crucial issues. Autocrime is one of the great growth crimes, and has been for the past 20 years. The reason is that it is easily carried out. Too many car owners are slack in the manner in which they leave their cars, and one in five is still left unlocked. Secondly, perhaps too little attention has been focused in the past on the need for good car security as a selling point for a car, and I am glad to say that a new British standard of vehicle security has been launched. We are getting co-operation from motor manufacturers. I hope that car security will improve, that the public will be aware of the improvement and that they will make use of improved security measures.

What has happened to our education system if it leads Ministers to come out with expressions such as autocrime, which, if it means anything, means crime against the self? Does the Minister realise that many crimes involving cars involve drink as well? Instead of being sympathetic to the progress of the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), will he recognise that we should tackle the problem of drink and driving if we are to make changes to our licensing laws?

It took about half an hour for an alliance representative to appear in the Chamber for questions. I am glad that when one did he was able to ask such a bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailed supplementary question. Of course drink-driving offences are important. The Department of Transport has a committee under the chairmanship of Dr. North that is considering whether the present laws and penalties are adequate, and it will be reporting shortly.

Crimes Of Violence


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received seeking steps to increase sentences for crimes of violence; and whether he will make a statement.

We receive many letters suggesting that sentence levels for crimes of violence are too low. In fact, they are increasing. Individual sentences are a matter for the courts, but the Government understand the strength of public concern about alleged over-leniency and have responded to it with clause 29 of the Criminal Justice Bill.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the judges appear to take no notice of the guidelines that are set out? Are they not losing the public's confidence, and what more can be done?

When a well-publicised sentence appears to be over lenient, there should he a mechanism to deal with it. That is why we introduced clause 29. It is right to recognise that there has been a considerable response by the judiciary to the need to pass appropriate penalties for those convicted of violent crime. My hon. Friend may be interested to know that during the six months after the Billam judgment the proportion of rapists sentenced to over five years has almost doubled. Similarly, since 1980 the number of offenders sent to prison for robbery for more than five years has almost doubled. I am sure that my hon. Friend will welcome that as a step in the right direction.

Crime (Public Assistance)


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what further plans he has to involve the general public in the fight against crime; and whether he will make a statement.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply I gave to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) earlier.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. The House is only too well aware of the good work done by the Government in improving our laws and strengthening the police force. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is the responsibility of the individual to obey the law and, if the individual breaks the law, it is not the Government's fault, it is the individual's fault? What would my right hon. Friend suggest should be done to bring home to the parents of individuals who break the law their responsibility for teaching their children the difference between right and wrong and producing a better citizen?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. A heavy responsibility falls on parents and teachers in a society where one third of crime is committed by juveniles. The courts are enabled to fine parents for the misdemeanours of their children. My hon. Friend will have followed the steps put forward by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science about the nature of the curriculum.

Prime Minister



asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 7 May.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. En addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to read the new Department of Health and Social Security study published in the May issue of the Employment Gazette, which confirms that under her premiership pensioners' incomes have risen at twice the rate they did in the 1970s and that pensioners are not only spending more but saving more than they have ever done? Is this not yet another real vindication of the Government's economic policies?

The article referred to received quite wide publicity in the press this morning. The Government have honoured their pledge to pensioners about the basic pension for 1 million more pensioners than there were in 1979. As the article shows, the net income, taking the total income of pensioners as a group — [Interruption.]—Yes, as a group—has gone up far more than the income of the population as a whole. That means that more people are retiring with occupational pensions and other income, so that prosperity is extending to all pensioners, which is exactly what we wish. I commend the article not only to Government Members but especially to Opposition Members.

Does the Prime Minister not find it fascinating that those figures for pensioners' incomes include SERPS, which she is intent on abolishing? Has the Prime Minister seen today's reports that 4 million children live in deep poverty and are more subject to serious illness, early death and low achievement than children of comparable age who are not in poor families? As these numbers are nearly double what they were in 1979 when she came to office, does not that record of increased poverty and deprivation among the most vulnerable group in our society fill her with shame?

First, the right hon. Gentleman is wrong in saying that we will abolish SERPS. He knows full well that we will not and that it was announced that we will not. As usual, he is utterly wrong. I thought he would have been pleased that more people are retiring with an occupational pension. It has been part of our policy that all people who retire should have two pensions—their basic pension plus either an occupational pension or a fall back on SERPS. That is good. I cannot think why he thinks it is bad.

Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman implied that the higher figure of people on supplementary benefit means that more people are in poverty. Those figures refer not only to supplementary benefit but to incomes which are 140 per cent. of supplementary benefit, which would be an income of about £167 a week. With all due respect, that is not poverty and it is absolutely absurd to say that it is.

Does the Prime Minister, in a very selective view of statistics, want to go on avoiding the truth about the immense spread of child poverty in our country? Does she really think that the £10-odd a week that is provided under DHSS regulations for young children is anything like enough to bring them up on when all evidence shows that £35 a week would be a bare minimum? Does she not agree that, with such an immense spread of poverty, her record over eight years is one of unmitigated shame?

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the report to which he refers defines poverty as incomes that are 140 per cent. of supplementary benefit. When the report first came out, or a similar report was first published, even The Guardian described such a definition as running counter to common sense— I am sorry, it was the New Society that called it running counter to common sense. The Guardian, which I have here, merely described it as perverse. I could not have chosen a better word myself. The right hon. Gentleman is aware that the Government's record on social security is excellent in every way.

If the Prime Minister takes her own Government's figures of numbers of children on the supplementary benefit bare rate, there are a million more children in this country now on that bare rate than there were when she came into office. In addition, the Government have cut child benefit. Is that what she is proud of?

What the right hon. Gentleman is saying is that if we had not put up the supplementary benefit rate as much as we have there would be fewer people in poverty because the definition would be different. That is absolutely ridiculous. I remind him that supplementary benefit rates for children under five and aged 11 to 12 have increased by about 29 per cent. after inflation has been taken into account.

Will my right hon. Friend have the opportunity today to study the latest unemployment statistics from the parliamentary constituency of Corby, in which she will notice that the year-on-year decline from 1986 to 1987 of those out of work and claiming benifit is no less than 22 per cent., and in the wards where unemployment has been highest it is up to 30 per cent.? Will my right hon. Friend recognise that the single most important reason why that has been possible is the combination of Government policies applied to an area of high unemployment?

Yes, Mr. Speaker. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving the House such an excellent record.

As the Secretary of State for the Environment has withdrawn the threat to dump nuclear waste on sites in England, will the Prime Minister give her guarantee that there will be no dumping of such waste in Scotland?

As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, there was a report that it would be no more expensive to store low-level nuclear waste with medium-level nuclear waste and we shall consider, along with NIREX, the best place to do so.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 7 May.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Government's Green Paper proposing further reforms of the trade unions and giving additional rights to their members has been widely welcomed by rank and file trade unionists? Is she further aware that, according to the Labour party's general secretary, Mr. Larry Whitty, basing himself on Labour party research, a majority of rank and file trade unionists no longer vote Labour? Is that any wonder, given the determination of the Labour party to scrap my right hon. Friend's popular policies in that area?

I agree with my hon. Friend. I hope that an increasing number of trade unionists will continue to vote Conservative, and that more and more will do so. We have done more than any other Government, for rank and file trade unionists, not only in giving more powers back to them, but because real take-home pay for the man on average earnings has risen by more than 21 per cent. during the lifetime of Conservative Governments. In addition, an increasing number of employees share in the success of their companies, either through profit-sharing or share-ownership schemes, which, again, are part of our policy for extending property ever more widely among our people.

Was it by design, or by error, that the Prime Minister yesterday failed to read that part of the text that she had given to the press about MI5 and using information in a way that it ought not to he used?

The part of the text, which some members of the press must have given to the hon. Gentleman, was excluded because it added nothing whatever to the statement. As he has seen it, he should know.

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to study the proposals of the London strategic policy unit for transferring the powers and responsibities for policing the Metropolis to an assembly of London councillors? Does she agree that it would be most undesirable to change the present arrangements for policing the Metropolis, and that the proposal is just one more example of the loony Left undermining the police?

I agree with my hon. Friend. It would be absolutely disastrous for impartial policing to hand over the policing of the Metropolis in the way that my hon. Friend has said that the Opposition intend to do.

In view of the Irangate inquiry now proceeding in Congress, will the Prime Minister give an assurance about whether representations were made to representatives of the British Government by those of the United States Government to provide Iran or the Contras with weapons or support? Will she give a categorical assurance that no such weapons or support were supplied either to Iran or to the Contras?

As a former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Gentleman knows full well that we never reveal communications between Governments. He operated that policy while he was Foreign Secretary.

I have made our position on Iran clear. It is exactly the same as my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary indicated in October 1984. I have also made it clear that the British Government have not authorised the supply of Blowpipe to the Contras. Our actions have been entirely consistent with our support for a political rather than a military settlement of the problems of Central America.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 7 May.

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

Does the Prime Minister recall that she has twice done me the courtesy of meeting me when there have been major closures in my constituency, at Gartcosh and Martin and Black? Will she bear in mind that this week MacKinnons Knitwear in Scotland issued close on 1,000 redundancy notices, yet the Secretary of State for Scotland refuses to meet me, referring me instead to a junior Minister, whom I have already met? Given that unemployment in Scotland has risen by 2,300 each month since the Prime Minister took office, will she use the opportunity in her speech in Perth next week to apologise to the Scottish people, not least for the intransigence and insensitivity of the present Secretary of State for Scotland?

The present Secretary of State for Scotland does an excellent job, as did his predecessor.

With regard to Dawson International's proposed closure of its subsidiary MacKinnons, that is a commercial decision for the company to make. Officials of the Industry Department for Scotland are in contact with the company and will help in any way possible to try to find a buyer for the business.

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention — especially as this is the day of the local elections — to the fact that the Labour-controlled Norwich city council has kept empty a house that it owns worth £100,000 for the past five and a half years? Does she agree that that is disgraceful, and that the sole solution to the problem of homelessness lies in ensuring that properties are occupied, not in keeping them empty for five and a half years?

I agree with my hon. Friend that keeping property or land empty or unused for a very long time is a very bad use of assets. I agree with him, too, that I should be delighted if the natural consequences of voting against any council that did that were to follow.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 7 May.

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

Will the Prime Minister assure me that adequate funding will be made available by the Secretary of State for Wales to keep open the Lucas Industries factory at Ystradgynlais and save 700 jobs there? The Prime Minister knows that Lucas has lost orders because Honda has given instrumentation contracts to Nippon Seiki and that this is an insidious penetration of the British car market. Austin Rover has also given a contract to it. Will the Prime Minister assure me that adequate funding will be made available so that those workers can continue to work at that factory for the forseeable future?

No, and the hon. Gentleman is quite aware that the answer must be no. If funding were given automatically to every company that had the misfortune to close, money would be piled into companies that were unable to compete and far less money would then be available for building new businesses, of which Wales has many, to create the work of the future. Of course I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman about the redundancies at Lucas and I understand his concern for his constituents, but the sourcing of individual components, whether by Austin Rover or by Honda, must be their decision. If Japanese component companies are set up in this country, we set limits on the number of components that must be purchased from this country, but they must be of excellent quality and price competitive. I understand that a Lucas subsidiary hopes to establish an expansion project at Ystradgynlais. That would safeguard employment at the site, and all concerned are doing everything possible to ensure that the development proceeds.

Order. The hon. Gentleman was called at Prime Minister's Question Time. I shall take all genuine points of order immediately after business questions, in their usual place.