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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 174: debated on Thursday 14 June 1990

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Home Department

Remand Prisoners

1.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if his Department has any further proposals to bring forward regarding the treatment of remand prisoners.

On 3 May, in answer to a previous question from the hon. Lady, I referred to proposed changes in visiting arrangements and to pilot schemes to reduce censorship and to provide card phones for unconvicted prisoners.

We are also seeking, through the prison building and refurbishment programmes, to reduce overcrowding and to improve the accommodation in which many such prisoners are at present held. In addition, guidance is shortly to be issued on the limited mixing of unconvicted and convicted prisoners, subject to close supervision, to allow participation by unconvicted prisoners in a wider range of activities.

Although I am interested to hear some of the measures proposed, is not it the case that many remand prisoners are forced to share cells with three or more others, are forced to share with convicted criminals and are sometimes kept in their cells for up to 23 hours a day? As the principle of British justice is that someone is presumed innocent until proved guilty, is not this a disgrace?

I very much doubt whether many—if any—prisons run such impoverished regimes as the hon. Lady suggests. But it is clear that there is a problem which we steadily sought to address in the past decade and which we are within sight of resolving. Two thousand prison places have become available over the past two years, a further 1,600 will become available this year and there are 7,000 in the pipeline. Fourteen new prisons are being constructed, nine of which are local prisons or will take remand prisoners. Provided that there is no sudden surge in unconvicted prisoners, that puts us on course to resolve many of the problems. I am sure that the hon. Lady will agree that it was about time that a Government came to power who were willing to put resources into the prisons, and this Government are doing that.

My hon. and learned Friend's answers are most welcome. However, does he agree that, whatever the conditions under which remand prisoners are kept, the worst part of their existence is the length of time before their trial? Do he and his colleagues have any initiatives to reduce the time before trial for remand prisoners?

Yes, Sir. In various parts of the country, courts are now subjecting themselves to the discipline of fairly strict guidance about the time in which certain stages of a trial should proceed. I wholly agree with my hon. Friend that there are twin problems. First, there is the number of people whom the courts—perfectly properly in most instances—decide to remand in custody and, secondly, there is the period for which those people are on remand. We want to ensure that there are no unavoidable delays in the administration of the justice system, and we are doing that.

The Minister is notorious for being able to slide off the point. He is aware that after the events at Risley in 1989 and after the prison disturbances in 1986 and 1988, strong recommendations were made for different treatment of remand prisoners. Why did not the Government react to those recommendations? Why did they do so little? Is the Minister conscious that Vivienne Stern, the director of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, said that if only the Government had acted, Strangeways might not have happened?

That is a superficial and unfair analysis. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that the 14 prisons being constructed, nine of which will take remand prisoners, will make a massive contribution to solving the problem. If the hon. Gentleman wants to initiate a debate on these matters, we shall be only too happy to discuss them with him. If he promises me that he will spend the first 10 minutes explaining the dismal policies of the previous Labour Government, who cut prison building to the bone, I will listen to his second 10 minutes, when he will no doubt tell us how we should run the system now.

Prisoners (Drugs)

2.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will institute a policy of screening all prisoners on a regular basis for the use of dangerous drugs.

All new receptions are seen and interviewed by a member of the health care staff and are asked whether they have ever taken drugs. Indications of the use of drugs by injection are looked for at that time. We are considering whether some form of subsequent screening, whether for clinical or control purposes, should be introduced.

Has my hon. and learned Friend seen the study in the British Medical Journal of 26 May this year which showed that 66 per cent. of convicted drug addicts had found needles in prison and injected with them? Might not that contribute to riotous behaviour in prisons?

We certainly want to reduce the amount of drug taking in prisons, and I shall happily write to my hon. Friend explaining the large number of measures that we are taking to deal with the problem. I have not seen the survey to which he referred; I shall look at it. Of course, much depends upon accounts given by prisoners, whose reliability may be in question, and the thorough searches that we conduct in a number of establishments do not reveal anything like that picture. But we are by no means complacent.

I should point out to my hon. Friend that we are under pressure to improve regimes and to have more civilised visiting arrangements. The consequence of allowing visitors and prisoners easier access can be an increase in the risk of drugs being passed on. So we are damned if we do and damned if we do not. Nevertheless, we want to solve the drugs problem and we are taking steps to deal with it.

My hon. and learned Friend will be as aware as I am that it is common knowledge that drugs are freely available in most of our large prisons. There is a leakage. Whether it is through staff or visitors, or whether the prisoners bring drugs in, there is clearly a great security problem. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that a thorough survey of the security of prisons in this respect would he advantageous?

I entirely accept what my hon. Friend says, although I think that it is easy to overstate the problem. More than 90 per cent. of the finds involve cannabis and only 3 per cent. heroin and cocaine. I assure my hon. Friend that I hold meetings to try to ensure that we upgrade our activity and that questions such as the extent to which visitors should be searched are under active consideration. We must be careful not to exaggerate the problem, although I am aware that running a disciplined prison is made all the more difficult if there is ready access to drugs. We must do something to ensure that that does not happen.

Birmingham Pub Bombings

3.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to have the results of the Devon and Cornwall police investigations into aspects of the Birmingham pub bombings case.

It is not possible at this stage to say when the Devon and Cornwall constabulary will be able to report on the results of its inquiries. I am sure that the whole House would want the inquiries to be as thorough as possible.

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for his reply, but, with the best will in the world, many of us are worried that we shall never see the report. The best that the right hon. and learned Gentleman can do, on the basis of a report that we shall not see, is to refer the case back to the Court of Appeal, whose record in this case we know: it dismissed serious new evidence when the case was last referred to it.

In contrast, we have the inquiry into the Maguire case, which appears to be collapsing in front of our eyes. Do not we need a full open inquiry in public into the case of the Birmingham Six, so that all the evidence can be properly reviewed?

The hon. Lady will know that I am always prepared to consider any new material that is offered to me which may relate to the safety of a conviction. That is why, when representations were made to me, I thought it right to put certain matters to the chief constable of the West Midlands, who in turn thought it right to call for the assistance of the Devon and Cornwall police. I do not think that the hon. Lady can say that I have been lax in any way in ensuring that there have been proper inquiries into these matters.

With regard to the Birmingham case, does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that most Conservative Members—and, I suspect, a number of Opposition Members—are heartily fed up with unsubstantiated claims of innocence and guilt? Does he further agree that if certain Opposition Members, notably the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), have evidence about those who carried out the Birmingham bombings, they should make that evidence known to the appropriate authorities?

My hon. Friend will recognise that it is up to all of us to exercise responsibility in those matters. I have said what my responsibilities are and I believe that I am carrying them out.

On a matter which I know the Home Secretary accepts is related both to the initial question and to his answer, will he tell us, in the light of this morning's statement by the Director of Public Prosecutions to the May committee that he regards the convictions of the Maguires unsafe, what steps he now proposes to take on that and related matters?

I should tell the House that this morning counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions told the May inquiry that, in his view, the convictions of the Maguires and the others convicted of possessing explosives are unsafe and unsatisfactory. In view of that, I should say straight away that I do not believe that the convictions can be allowed to stand. The correct course will probably be for me to refer the case to the Court of Appeal, but I do not think that it is right to do that until all the submissions on that issue have been presented to the inquiry and Sir John May has had an opportunity to respond to them. Once I have referred the case to the Court of Appeal it will become sub judice and it would then be very difficult for the May inquiry to go into those matters any further.

Sunday Trading

4.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received following the decision of Croydon magistrates to dismiss Sunday trading summonses; and if he will make a statement.

One representation has been received. The Government recognise that the interpretation of the judgment of the European Court is causing some difficulty, but this is a matter for the courts in the first instance. Since the defeat of the Shops Bill, the Government have made it clear that, while maintaining our previous views on the matter, we are prepared to consider reform short of total deregulation if a solution can be found which is widely accepted, enforceable, practicable and likely to command a parliamentary majority. No such solution has yet emerged.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that reply. Does he agree that the law on Sunday trading is absolute nonsense? Is he aware that 13 national opinion polls on Sunday trading have been carried out over the past two years and that 63 per cent. of the people want Sunday trading? When will we listen to the people? When will we get rid of this ridiculous and rotten law?

One or two of us, including my right hon. and learned Friend and I, sought to do that very thing back in 1985. I cannot help feeling that we would have avoided quite a lot of the difficulties that have since emerged had that Bill been permitted to become law. However, it was not and we are therefore in a situation not of our choosing. I have always said from the Dispatch Box that the criminal law has no place in the enforcement of who can buy what on a Sunday. We must accept that that is the law and live with the consequences. I hope that one of the consequences of the muddle that has emerged is that hon. Members will recognise that Parliament has repeatedly abdicated its responsibility to put the law into a sensible shape and I hope that an opportunity will be found to do that without too much further delay.

Does the Minister accept that there is no muddle over this matter in south Wales? In my constituency this week the magistrate in Cwmbran successfully prosecuted B and Q for illegal Sunday trading. Does he accept now that there is no excuse whatsoever for do-it-yourself stores like B and Q openly to flout the law of the land? Will he urge the Attorney-General to take up this case on behalf of Torfaen borough council, as I understand that B and Q is going to appeal?

Happily, I am not the interpreter of the law of the land. But the hon. Gentleman's self-righteousness might extend to asking himself this question: why does he suppose that so many of his constituents thought it perfectly proper to shop on a Sunday? Does he really think that, whatever the law and its enforcement may be, which is not a matter for me, it is a sustainable basis on which to take British law into the last decade of the 20th century that we should have criminal penalties for people who simply want to sell legitimate household items to other members of the public?

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that the determination to keep Sunday special is deeply rooted among the majority of people and that the Government's failure to appreciate that fact led to their difficulties with the Shops Bill? Will he now advise those who are seeking to subvert the law to wait until the Torfaen case, which was referred to the European Court of Justice and then referred back, reaches the stage of being subject to a judgment by a court of record?

The sadness of the present position is that, in all the debates on this issue during my time in the House —I have attended all of them—not one hon. Member has ever said that he or she accepts the Shops Acts as they presently are. Everyone has said that they want a change, but no one has been able to agree what that change should be. I inform my hon. Friend, who is an experienced lawyer, that of course the law of the land is the law of the land, but he knows that court judgments simply reveal the inconsistency in the law. That means that, sooner or later, Parliament will need to address the issue.

Notwithstanding that very flimsy answer, is the Minister aware that there is deep concern in the country about the Government's failure since 1986 to introduce modern Sunday trading legislation? Is the Minister further aware that the Government are now perceived by informed and responsible opinion, through their procrastination, to be encouraging an organised campaign of law-breaking? When will the Government face up to their responsibilities and urgently introduce new legislation? The country wants to know now.

We brought forward a solution that was not acceptable to the House—[Interruption.] Will the hon. Gentleman listen to my answer as I listened to his question? He knows that we made it clear that we would be prepared to consider solutions that fall short of total deregulation if those solutions were coherent and workable. Before the hon. Gentleman again speaks in the terms that he did, he might send to me, on however many sides of a piece of paper he chooses, what he thinks the answer is. The Labour party, which is in the pocket of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers Union, has always known what it is against, but it has never known what it is in favour of.

My hon. and learned Friend will be aware that Conservative Members—[Interruption.]

Order. We often have to listen to things with which we are unhappy. We must listen to each other.

My hon. and learned Friend will need no reassurance from me that Conservative Members will not defend people who break the law. Given the comments of the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) about the events in his constituency, does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the current law is not only totally outdated but is losing the respect of many retailers who wish to open on Sunday and millions of people who shop on Sundays and expect to have the right to do so in a free and civilised country? Will my hon. and learned Friend assure the House——

The sad fact is that the schedule to the Act contains a list of prohibited items that do not reflect the stock held by any shop. Therefore, it is almost impossible to think of any shop that is open on a Sunday and is trading lawfully. That is why I repeat that it is difficult not to sympathise with those who are trying to struggle with the question whether to enforce the law and what the law is when the law has not been modernised for 50 years.

Order. If the hon. Gentleman will look at the Order Paper, he will realise that there is another question on this matter. He must not seek to be selfish and try to get in every time.

British Summer Time

5.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what further representations he has received in respect of proposed changes to British summer time.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
(Mr. Peter Lloyd)

Representations covering all shades of opinion continue to be received in response to the Green Paper on summer time. The results of the consultation exercise—[Interruption.]

Order. Let us settle down. This question is about British summer time, and it is Mr. Martyn Jones's question. Did the hon. Gentleman hear the answer?

I thank the Minister for repeating his answer. When the results of the consultation exercise are made known, I hope that the Government will continue to resist any changes to British summer time. Does he accept that such changes would badly affect rural workers in my constituency and in many other constituencies further north?

The Government are well aware of opinion in Scotland and the north because of the responses to the Green Paper and our regular contacts with the relevant Department at the Scottish Office. We shall, of course, bear all shades of opinion in mind. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will be publishing the results of the consultation exercise and the Government's decision will depend on the general debate that follows.

Is my hon. Friend aware that if that change were to take place and we had summer time in the months of December, January and February, it would be absolutely disastrous for the construction industry? Is he further aware that I wrote the building industry's brief on this matter before the debate in 1971? I have not changed my views. The proposal should be strongly resisted.

We are very much aware of the views of the construction industry. What it urges is quite different from what other respondents have urged. The benefits and disadvantages of each aspect must be weighed carefully and then a judgment made.

Will the Minister explain the Government's difficulty over this matter? The Home Office has been considering this for more than two years now and the consultation period ended several months ago. Is the Minister aware that the dubious benefits of double summer time are outweighed by the undoubted inconvenience and possible danger to many people who live in different parts of the country?

The hon. Gentleman gives one view, but, as the results of the discussion paper will show, there are many different views depending on which element the respondent thinks is important. Difficult and detailed issues are involved, which is why my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has given them careful thought over a considerable period. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we intend to publish those results before the longest day in the year.

Will the Minister take into account the fact that people involved in business and agriculture in Northern Ireland believe that he should resist any pressure to change the present practice? Will he also take on board the fact that not only is that belief shared by people in Scotland, the north of England and Northern Ireland, but that the original question was tabled by an hon. Member from Wales?

We shall take all those points into account. The right hon. Gentleman has underlined yet again the fact that there is a great variety of views on this issue, each of which has some validity.

Is my hon. Friend aware that a significant number of people believe that if we are to take the single European market seriously and compete in Europe, we should have the same time frame as Europe?

Yes, I am aware of that view, which some people hold strongly while others believe that it is less important.

Terrorism

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent discussions he has had on international co-operation to combat terrorism.

In the past three months my right hon. and learned Friend has discussed international cooperation against terrorism with ministerial colleagues from Germany, France, Czechoslovakia, Portugal and Bahrain, and will be discussing it with colleagues in the Trevi group at meetings in Dublin later today and tomorrow.

Why has no one been prosecuted for the Lockerbie outrage, bearing in mind that the Minister's Scottish colleague, the Lord Advocate, promised some time ago that a prosecution would take place? What has gone wrong? People around the world want to know. What is happening? It seems as though the Government are turning a blind eye to an issue which is clearly important to us all.

What the hon. Gentleman says is a load of nonsense. Investigations are proceeding with great urgency. We are receiving a great deal of co-operation around the world and I have no doubt that in due time arrests will be made.

Does my hon. Friend consider that the fight against international terrorism is compatible with the removal of all border controls between nation states? Is he receiving support from his Common Market partners in resisting the dismantling of all border controls for that purpose?

We have made it clear that we intend to keep our border checks and we find that there is increasing sympathy and understanding for our view among our EC partners.

Are not open borders in 1992 and the continued assertion that the Government intend to dismantle all border controls incompatible with adequate controls against terrorism and the illegal movement of arms and drugs? So far, the Government have not told us of even one measure that they intend to take against the removal of barriers in 1992. All that they have done is to make platitudinous assertions.

We have made it clear that we intend to keep border controls and checks. We can do that in a way that is consistent with easy movement of EC nationals, who merely need to indicate who they are at the border checks.

Active Citizens

7.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent steps he has taken to help promote the concept of the active citizen.

My right hon. and learned Friend and I take every opportunity to encourage responsible and active citizens and businesses to make a positive contribution to their communities and to charitable causes, particularly through volunteering and charitable giving.

Will my right hon. Friend note the enthusiasm among Conservative Members for the concept of the active citizen, in particular the role that the active citizen can play in exercising his own responsibilities within the family and the community? The community neighbourhood watch scheme and the family can help the Government to reduce the appalling crime figures for juveniles of 15. Does he find that other Government Departments are playing their part in ensuring that the active citizen forms a central part of the Conservative party's next manifesto?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Never before in British history have so many of our fellow citizens been involved in voluntary activity. The figure is now about one in four of all our citizens aged over 16. My hon. Friend referred to the neighbourhood watch scheme. Those who run such schemes in this country are the largest group of volunteers anywhere in the western world and they should be commended. Certainly, my right hon. Friends in other Government Departments are keen to promote the concept of the active citizen. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science is doing exactly that with local management of schools. I pay tribute to all parent governors who are helping with the local management of schools.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the greater accountability brought about by the community charge will give a significant boost to the concept of the active citizen? In cases such as the recent arson attack on a school in my constituency the cost of repairs will fall on community charge payers throughout the borough. We therefore all have a major incentive to do what we can to prevent crimes of that nature.

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I hope that he agrees that we must also diffuse to ordinary people in their communities as much power and control as possible over their lives. We are doing that through local management of schools and by giving tenants more rights to control their own lives, and we intend to continue the process in future years.

Birmingham Pub Bombings

8.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps have been taken to recover the 2,000 or so non-material statements which were not made available to solicitors acting for the six men convicted of the Birmingham pub bombings.

It has not been established that any relevant evidence concerning the case of the Birmingham Six is missing. Representations about this possibility are among the issues which have been raised by the solicitor acting for the convicted men. I have passed these to the chief constable of the west midlands police, and they will be investigated by the Devon and Cornwall constabulary.

May I put it to the Home Secretary that although we all lose things from time to time—the Labour party just lost three elections, but our losing streak is now finished—losing 2,000 statements really seems a bit much? A pack of playing cards on which Dr. Scuse carried out his tests and pages clearly torn out of a notebook have also been lost. It seems either that the police are terminally careless or that a cover up is going on. The Secretary of State recently had to eat some words in relation to the Maguire case, and he will have to eat some words in the case of the Birmingham Six before long.

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman did not listen to what I said, which was that it had not been established that any relevant evidence in the case of the Birmingham Six was missing. In fact, the alleged failure of the prosecution to tell the defence about the existence of none-material statements was considered by the Court of Appeal in 1987. The allegations are now being considered by the Devon and Cornwall police.

In respect of the Maguire case, which was raised by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), can my right hon. and learned Friend tell us on what basis the conviction is thought to be unsound? Can he confirm that there is no question of any improper activity by the police?

That is my understanding, but I only learnt about the matter this morning. I must read with care the submission made by counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions. My understanding is that he submitted that the convictions were unsafe and unsatisfactory on the basis of the possibility of the accused having become innocently contaminated with traces of explosives.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the collapse of the Maguire case this morning makes it two out of three in the cases that I and many others have, for the past seven years, attempted to draw to his attention as examples of miscarriages of justice? Would not it be best to learn some lessons and hold a public inquiry into the Birmingham Six case, and one which commands public confidence? Should not that scandal be brought to an end once and for all? Does the Home Secretary accept my fear that some of the Birmingham Six may die in gaol, as did Paul Giuseppe Conlan, one of those arrested in the Maguire case? We want to avoid that happening.

The hon. Gentleman should be pleased that when submissions were made to me that there was new evidence which should be investigated because it might cast doubt on the safety of the convictions, I asked the chief constable of the west midlands whether he would help, and he called in the Devon and Cornwall police. I cannot imagine what the hon. Gentleman is complaining about. Indeed, we might have progressed more quickly with the inquiries if he had revealed many months ago the names of those whom he said were responsible for the bombing.

If public inquiries are to be held, can there be one into every atrocity committed as a result of the IRA's shoot-to-kill policy?

I am bound to say that, like the hon. Gentleman, I have often thought that it would be nice to see on television every now and again a documentary highlighting the appalling atrocities committed by the IRA and the terrible damage that has been done to life in Ulster, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and mainland Britain.

May I bring the Home Secretary back to the crucial question, which is the status and reputation of justice in this country? Does he not understand that the submission by the Director of Public Prosecutions to the May committee inquiry this morning, and his own wholly proper reaction to it, further increase pressure for a new, thorough and objective inquiry into the convictions of the Birmingham Six? Sooner or later, that new inquiry will have to be held and it would do the Home Secretary's reputation a great deal of good if he set it up here and now.

If the right hon. Gentleman thinks about the matter for a moment or two, I think that he will agree that I am right to say that I shall consider carefully what the May inquiry says about the forensic science evidence in the Maguire case and I shall take fully into account any implications that it might have for the safety of other convictions. The reliability of the forensic science evidence in the Birmingham Six case was fully examined in 1987.

Remand Prisoners

9.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the current number of remand prisoners held in police cells; and what the figure was one year ago.

On Wednesday 13 June there were 887 prisoners held in police cells in England and Wales, compared with 218 people on 13 June 1989; 825 of them are being held in the north-west of England and are in police cells as a result of industrial action by the Prison Officers Association at some establishments in the north. I am most grateful to the police for their assistance in this matter.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that answer. I am sure that we are all grateful to the police, although hon. Members who have fewer policing hours available for policing their constituencies must be concerned about the situation. Will the Minister get together with the POA as soon as possible to find a solution to the problem?

A meeting took place between Home Office officials and representatives of the POA in the north-west today. I have yet to receive a full report of the outcome. Obviously, at a time when the prison service is striving to cope with the aftermath of Strangeways and when we have announced a major refurbishment of that prison, as well as seeking to honour our commitments to upgrade other prisons, it is dreadful that as a result of industrial action we are having to pay the police service £180 per night to accommodate prisoners when there is plenty of room in the prisons in the north to accommodate prisoners there, where they should be.

I thank the Minister for his contratulations to the police and I join him in congratulating the Greater Manchester police on the tremendous job that they have been doing in looking after remand prisoners since Strangeways. Is he aware that it is totally unacceptable for the police at police stations such as those in Stockport to have to go on looking after remand prisoners? It is also totally unacceptable to the prisoners and to their families. Will the Minister make it clear that this state of affairs cannot continue and that we must achieve a situation in which those remand prisoners can go back to prison and the police stations can get back to their normal functions?

I am in the happy position of agreeing with absolutely every word that the hon. Gentleman said. That is why we have sought to persuade the POA to accept a common-sense solution. For example, Preston prison—one of the major prisons in the north—has a certified normal accommodation of 428, but there are barely more than 300 prisoners there at present. Industrial action is preventing the spaces being filled. The public and the House will not understand if it takes much longer to resolve these problems.

Sunday Trading

11.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will introduce legislation in the light of inconsistent judgments on Sunday trading cases now coming from the courts; and if he will make a statement.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago to my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans).

In the search for a compromise, will my hon. and learned Friend pay particular attention to the needs of garden centres, the purpose of which is widely recognised as being recreational? Will he bear in mind that some garden centres do as much as 70 per cent. of their business on Sundays and that without Sunday opening they would be forced to close? Does he appreciate that there is great concern in that industry about the continuing uncertainty?

I well appreciate all the points that my hon. Friend makes, and she is absolutely right.

Will the Minister accept that many shop workers are saying loud and clear, "You already take our Saturdays for work—you are not going to get our Sundays"? Will he further accept that shop workers will not believe any offers of protection which may be held out to them by the Government, who have a shocking record of stripping protection from shop workers in relation to wages, hours of work and other matters?

The hon. Lady should, in all conscience, recognise that the world has moved on since the clays of Mr. Polly and that in reality several million of our fellow citizens—including, I suspect, a good many of us—regularly have to work Sundays but that we manage to do so while having perfectly normal, decent and sensible family lives and being able to follow our religions. All retailers who advocate a change in the law say that it has never been difficult to find people willing to work on Sundays, particularly when supplements are paid.

Crime Statistics

12.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the level of crime in (a) England and Wales, (b) each member country of the European Community and (c) the United States of America.

According to the recently published 1989 international survey of crime, the overall risk in England and Wales of being a victim of crime is a little below the average for western Europe and much lower for violent crime than in the rest of Europe. The risk is lower than in the United States, Canada and Australia. What matters to our citizens is, quite rightly, crime here.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that those figures show that high crime levels are a worldwide problem, and that we in Britain are tackling them more effectively than other countries? Does he acknowledge, however, that there is no cause for complacency here, particularly in the light of the disturbing and countrywide crime rate figures for the first three months of this year?

Those figures will probably not be published for another two weeks. No other part of Government expenditure has had more money devoted to it than the police, where there has been almost a 60 per cent. rise in expenditure in real terms in the past 10 years. There are 15,000 more men and women working in the police service, and with better equipment than ever before. Happily, the recent international survey to which I referred shows that confidence in the police is higher in this country than in any other western European country.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Q1.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 14 June.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I shall be hosting a dinner in honour of Sir Sonny Ramphal, secretary-general of the Commonwealth.

Will my right hon. Friend consider the possibility of the Government establishing a Select Committee charged with the responsibility of examining the cost to the nation of the pledges and commitments made by Ministers and other hon. Members?

As my hon. Friend knows, Ministers have to lay their estimates before the House and overall Government expenditure is given in the Autumn Statement, as is the detailed public expenditure survey ahead. It would be a good idea if other people making proposals for extra expenditure also had to lay their costings before the House—including Opposition Members, who recently made 80 new spending pledges in their new document.

Is the Prime Minister aware that this morning's decision by the Cabinet on the rail link to the channel tunnel means all the misery of prolonged planning blight for the people of Kent, and is a betrayal of the economic and environmental interests of the whole country? When the Prime Minister looks at the problem, as she will have to do again, will she recognise that mixing public and private investment works well for the other countries of Europe, so why does she wish to prevent it from working for our country?

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that clause 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987 precludes subsidy for international travel, and the Labour party agreed to that clause at the time. Subsidy is therefore precluded. The joint venture was seeking nearly £2 billion of additional finance for Eurorail—£500 million in Government grant, extra British Rail investment of nearly £400 million, mainly in commuter services, and a £1 billion soft loan, on which repayment of interest or capital would not even start until the year 2010. As I have said, such subsidy was precluded by clause 42.

Is the Prime Minister so inflexible and myopic as not to understand what every community and every industrialist in Britain understands—that when circumstances change, a realistic Government should change their policy? When the French are already building their fast rail link, why is the Prime Minister not even planning ours?

That is another quick £2 billion, just like that. Yet the right hon. Gentleman claims to be responsible. It is absolute nonsense. In fact, nearly £2 billion of public investment has already been committed to tunnel-related transport services in our estimates and in expenditure. I will give the House the breakdown. We plan to spend £600 million on road schemes to allow access to the tunnel, and British Rail will invest more than £1·3 billion on passenger and freight services to and from the tunnel. That is legitimate expenditure and it is being made.

The Prime Minister is seeking to mislead everyone again. Will she not admit that of the sum that she says is committed to railways, £1 billion will be paid for entirely by higher fares being charged to users of Network SouthEast, who already suffer grossly inadequate services at very high cost? Will she not also admit that none of that maintenance work—for that is what it is—begins to provide an alternative to the fast rail link that is necessary? I ask the right hon. Lady again: when other countries mix public and private investment to provide a proper modern international rail link, why is she preventing our people from having the same advantage?

The Government are making a greater investment in railways than there has been for 25 years. We have committed and are spending £2 billion of public investment on roads and railways to the channel tunnel. It is not maintenance—it is much more than that, if the right hon. Gentleman will care to look. Out of the blue and in the right hon. Gentleman's usual casual way, he has committed another £2 billion without costings—justifying the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed).

Q2.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 14 June.

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

Will my right hon. Friend give some thought this afternoon to the plight of British hostages in the Lebanon? Would it not be helpful to their cause and to the peace process in the middle east if Britain and Syria were to patch up their quarrel and agree to resume diplomatic relations? Is it right that we should continue without proper representation in that very important country?

My hon. and learned Friend will recall the very serious circumstances in which we broke off diplomatic relations with Syria, when we could have lost a whole aircraft full of people over London had the bomb that it was meant to carry gone off. There was complicity with the Syrian embassy in the attempted placing of a bomb on that aircraft, and we cannot ignore that. Any country that can exercise influence in achieving the release of hostages should exercise it. The taking and holding of hostages is totally uncivilised. We have publicly thanked Iran and Syria for the part that they played in achieving the release of American hostages. The central issue is the release of hostages that should not be held by any nation.

While the Prime Minister is on the subject of expenditure, does she realise that there cannot be any greater indictment of her Government's priorities than that they are prepared to contemplate spending £3,000 million saving their skins over the poll tax but cannot find one tenth of that sum to invest in a decent high-speed rail link for Britain's future?

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman listens to any previous reply. We are precluded by legislation from spending on an international rail link. As to expenditure, we have already committed £2 billion to roads and railways to and from the channel tunnel. A statement will be made on the community charge, but I assume from the right hon. Gentleman's comment that he feels no sense of guilt about very high-spending local councils who put up their community charges to an enormous amount—most of them Labour or Liberal.

Q3.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 14 June.

Will my right hon. Friend welcome the easing of tension between the Soviet Union, Lithuania and the other Baltic states? Does she agree that that welcome development has much to do with the steady pressure applied by the British Government—and other western Governments—to both sides? Will she continue to work hard to bring both sides together for a peaceful settlement in the Soviet Union and the Baltic states?

I discussed that problem with President Gorbachev and the Lithuanian Prime Minister, Mrs. Prunskiene, and we have frequently had questions about it in the House. Britain, the United States and other European countries have steadily made known our view that those states are entitled to independence and self-determination, and President Gorbachev has agreed to that.

It looked as though a real blockage was developing in relation to some of the semantics. That was a great tragedy, as obviously it is important to get practical talks and negotiations started. I believe that that is about to happen, and it is a welcome development. Both sides are to be congratulated on removing the blockages, and I hope that the process comes to fruition.

Will the Prime Minister tell us what replies she has given to those who petitioned her yesterday on behalf of people living in the Ravenscraig area?

As the hon. Lady knows, the position on Ravenscraig was governed by a statement made by British Steel. It undertook to keep the strip mill open until 1989, and that date has now been extended to 1991. As for the main mill, British Steel said in its prospectus that if it no longer had any use for the mill it would be offered to a private buyer; I do not think that the position has changed.

Q4.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 14 June.

Does my right hon. Friend agree with United States Secretary of State James Baker that the tension in the middle east is as high today as it was in 1967? Does she share his view that the conditions for talks with the Palestinians laid down by the new and extreme Israeli Government need to be changed? Can she assure the House that the British Government will do all that they can to support the American Government's efforts to start some form of talks without delay?

Yes, I believe that my hon. Friend is correct. We are doing all that we can to persuade the new Israeli Government to start talks with representative Palestinian people. We are also joining others in pointing out that Soviet Jews who leave the Soviet Union—and we have urged for years that they should be allowed to leave—should not be settled in the occupied territories or in east Jerusalem. It undermines our position when those people are settled in land that really belongs to others.

What is the average rate of inflation in the European Community, excluding Britain? When does the Prime Minister expect British inflation to achieve the European average? Will she tell the House that it will not happen in October, and that Britain will therefore not join the exchange rate mechanism then, as it will not have met the conditions that she has laid down?

The average rate of inflation in the European Community is about 5 per cent. If Britain's figure were calculated on the same basis, it would be 6.5 per cent. The conditions for Britain's joining the ERM were laid down at Madrid, and they are precisely the same now.

Q5.

To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 14 June.

Is it not clear that the socialist policies being foisted on Britain by Commissioner Papandreou, under the terms of the social charter, which requires employers to give a part-time employee all the perks and benefits available to full-time workers, will have a devastating effect on employment and on Britain's 6 million part-time workers? Will my right hon. Friend continue to resist those job-destroying proposals?

Order. Questions are to be answered by the Prime Minister and not by hon. Members on Benches below the Gangway.

I agree with my hon. Friend—the Commission talks in one breath about subsidiarity, and by its actions puts on a whole new load of bureaucratic rules and regulations which are not needed, which would be highly damaging to those who work part-time and would put increasing costs on employers. What the Commission is proposing would be a barrier to jobs, a barrier to business, would cost a lot of women who want to work part-time their jobs, would mean increased national insurance contributions for those who work only a few hours a week, and generally would be damaging to business and people alike.