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Commons Chamber

Volume 204: debated on Tuesday 25 February 1992

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 25 February 1992

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Mersey Docks And Harbour Bill Lords

Order for Third Reading read.

To be read the Third time on Thursday 27 February.

Aberdeen Harbour Order Confirmation Bill

Order for consideration read.

To be considered tomorrow.

Oral Answers To Questions

Education And Science

Education, Northumberland


To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what recent representations he has received about education in Northumberland.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science
(Mr. Michael Fallon)

We have received a number of representations, and on Tuesday 11 February I met a deputation which included the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith).

Has the Minister accepted the argument which was put strongly to him and to which he listened carefully that day, that it makes no sense for Northumberland to be forced by Government spending restrictions to cut £3·5 million from its education budget when it spends less per pupil than most other authorities? Will the Minister respond urgently to the constructive plea that was put to him for help through which Northumberland could ease those budgetary restrictions this year and, of course, for an eventual change in that system?

I am looking at the specific points that were made by the delegation to me earlier this month. However, Northumberland's education spending allocation has increased by 24 per cent. over the past two years, and I see no need for any of the cuts that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

Does not my hon. Friend find it outrageous that Labour-controlled Northumberland county council has refused to accept economies of nearly £1·5 million, as identified by the Conservative and Liberal groups, and has refused to take enough money out of balances to avoid any education cuts, but at the same time it can find thousands of pounds to issue supplements in the Hexham Courant for party political propaganda to promote the leader of the county council, who happens to be a prospective Labour party candidate? Moreover, Labour councillors do not defend their actions; they put the county treasurer up to do it and then give him a £4,000 salary increase.

Yes. Northumberland's Labour council leader appears to be trying to use parents and governors to further his prospective parliamentary career in Hexham by frightening people into thinking that those cuts are necessary. I repeat that there is no need for any school budget in Northumberland to be cut. The council's overall spending can rise by 5·4 per cent. in April before Northumberland risks charge capping.

Is the Minister aware that due to the cuts that he has imposed on Northumberland county council—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that 200 teachers are about to lose their jobs, with the result that class sizes in Northumberland will increase and under this Government the education service will take a dip?

I think that it is now obvious to the whole House that Northumberland is playing politics with its education budget. I repeat that there is no need for any school budget in Northumberland to be cut at a time when its overall expenditure can increase by 5·4 per cent. before it risks charge capping.

Surplus School Places


To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what plans he has to intervene where local education authorities fail to take action to reduce surplus school places.

The Government continue to press local education authorities to remove surplus places, since only they can make proposals for reorganisation. Our latest survey of school capacity shows that Wolverhampton has nearly 12,000 surplus places. We estimate that it will cost Wolverhampton more than £2 million a year to keep them empty.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Pressing is not enough. Unfortunately, the Labour-controlled council in Wolverhampton continues to ignore our pressing. Does my hon. Friend agree that that money should be intended for pupils? Will he please come to the rescue of Wolverhampton parents and, if need be, intervene to ensure that Wolverhampton council manages education and does not waste money?

I shall consider that point. Wolverhampton has the fifth highest overheads of any education authority in England. Its administration consumes more than 5 per cent. of its schools budget. Its education bureaucracy appears to cost £100 per pupil, compared with £30 next door in Solihull. At present Wolverhampton appears to employ more non-teaching staff than teachers under its education budget.

Does the Under-Secretary understand that if the Government had not embarked on the wholly cynical and two-faced policy of enticing schools with surplus places to opt out, the children at Stratford school would not now face chaos? Given that the Secretary of State's own appointed governor, the former chief inspector, Eric Bolton, said that the situation at the school is "unsatisfactory" and that the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers said that pupils and staff at Stratford school are "disturbed", does the Minister recognise that the Secretary of State's statement last week that Stratford school was "operating satisfactorily" had no basis in fact and could come only from a Secretary of State who sought to evade, rather than take, the responsibility which was plainly his?

Let me give the hon. Gentleman some facts. Of the 143 grant-maintained schools to which he referred and which have been approved so far, only 23 were named in reorganisation or closure proposals. As for the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that the grant-maintained school policy might be paralysing the production of reorganisation proposals, let me tell the hon. Gentleman that in the past 12 months 150 proposals for school reorganisations were received and some 93 have so far been approved. No such proposals have been made by Wolverhampton.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the state of affairs to which he referred in Wolverhampton has continued for about 10 years now? Has not the Labour-controlled local authority frequently made proposals for reorganisations, knowing that they would be rejected because they were highly partisan? Would it not be a good thing if the Government explained to the people of Wolverhampton, perhaps even by taking an advertisement in the Express and Star, that the gross overspending has continued year after year because Wolverhampton council has seen education in terms of employing people in schools, not in terms of providing good education?

I can tell my hon. Friend that 17 of Wolverhampton's 18 secondary schools have surplus places. It is high time that Wolverhampton got round to proposing some reorganisations. As for Wolverhampton's budget, there was a serious overrun last year of some £2 million, including on the operation of something called the Jennie Lee centre. The working party's report said that the overrun on that centre

"generally reflected policy instructions that no additional cost should be involved but in specifics turned out not to be manageable".

Thank you for calling me, Mr. Speaker. All the interventions from the Conservative Front Bench will not save the seat of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Hicks).

Yes, I definitely want to do that. First, I want to draw the attention of the House—[Interruption.] I want to ask the Minister—

I want to ask the Minister why his two Back-Bench colleagues from Wolverhampton did not nominate the schools which they would wish to see closed or from which they would like to have surplus places taken away. In addition, I accept that the Minister is new to his Front-Bench position. Wolverhampton has already submitted two proposals for surplus places and they have been rejected by the Government.

It is clear to the House from that sort of defence that Wolverhampton, even by the standards of Labour councils, is a pretty dreadful education authority, with the fifth highest overheads in England. Parents in Wolverhampton will want to know why the paperwork cost is £100 per pupil there, compared with only £30 per pupil down the road in Solihull.

If the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Hicks) wants to raise the matter, she could raise it on the Adjournment.



To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science how much his Department plans to spend on science in 1992–93.

In 1992–93 the science budget will total £1,050 million.

I direct the right hon. and learned Gentleman's attention to the Government's overall spending on research and development. Will he address himself to the fact that no less than 44 per cent. of all Government-funded research and development has a military purpose and next year that figure is due to rise to 48 per cent? How can that be right?

Obviously, military research is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, but I am sure that he would argue, as I would, that there is considerable civilian spin-off from all the advances made in the development of military equipment, and that includes the consequences for the electronics industry and others. I have just described the level of the science budget in my Department, which is spent for civil research purposes on environmental, medical, scientific, engineering, economic and social research. That amount has just passed £1 billion per annum for the first time, representing a real terms increase of 2·5 per cent. this year, and we have given the research councils a rising profile for expenditure in future years. We are also expanding our efforts in civil science. The defence expenditure to which the hon. Gentleman referred has considerable benefits for the scientific world and for British industry.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that, no matter how large the science budget of his Department may be, it will be a great waste of money in the future if there are no young people interested in science? Does he agree that when Kent County Engineering Society recently held a seminar for primary school heads and local businesses, it turned out that not a single local business had thought of trying to interest primary school children in science and engineering. Surely, it is at that age that interest has to be aroused because later those subjects will fall on the other side of the divide.

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. We have to interest more young people in scientific and engineering education and training. The development of the national curriculum will do a great deal to stimulate more interest in science because more pupils will have to sustain well-judged scientific programmes of study until at least the age of 16. Although we have now developed good links between business and secondary schools where companies try to interest pupils, we do not yet have enough tie-ups between primary schools and local businesses. I agree that more businesses should contemplate approaching younger children and at an early stage arousing their interest in what science or engineering may hold for them.

Will the Secretary of State keep in this country what James Watson, the discoverer of the DNA basis of the genetic code, has described as the jewel in the crown of British science? Will he authorise the Medical Research Council to plan on the basis that the funding needed by Dr. John Sulston of the laboratory of molecular biology of Cambridge will be available to keep in this country work on the nematode project, as that work is the foundation of the human genome project which is the foundation of the future of medical research and biotechnology? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the United States has made a bid for that work? If funding is not available, and it cannot be found within the present budget, the Secretary of State will be guilty of the loss of that work?

With the greatest respect, it would be a pathetic science policy that suggested that the Secretary of State of the day should intervene to give funds to named scientists—whose names, no doubt, the hon. Gentleman picked up from cuttings in the learned journals. Science nowadays is an international community and British science is pre-eminent in the world. We are one of the leading science nations and we attract many more talented people to this country than we lose. It is no good citing one or two cases. The Medical Research Council will no doubt consider particular claims on scientific merits to counter the fact that Britain has achieved great success in science because of the increasing sums that the Government have made available for that purpose.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one of the best universities in the United Kingdom for scientific research is Southampton university? It is second to none and it is grateful that the figures that have been released today show that it will receive 10·2 per cent. of its budget for research. I am sure that that money will be used with the utmost effect to promote more and more scientific developments at Southampton university.

My hon. Friend is right to remind us that the Universities Funding Council has considerable funds which it receives from the Government and distributes partially for research-based purposes. This year, the funds have been allocated very much according to the UFC's grading of the quality of research carried out at each university. I congratulate Southampton university on its success in obtaining funds way ahead of the rate of inflation in order to sustain and increase the work that it carries out.

Further Education Programmes


To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what plans he has to improve access, facilities and learning programmes in the further education service for people with disabilities and/or learning difficulties.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science
(Mr. Alan Howarth)

The Further and Higher Education Bill currently before Parliament will ensure that a wide range of educational provision for students with disabilities and learning difficulties is maintained and developed in the new further education sector.

Does the Minister agree that life-long education is a right, not a privilege, and that it should not be any less of a right just because a person happens to be disabled? Is the Minister aware that many disabled people are concerned that their rights will be reduced if further education colleges are taken out of local authority control? Does the Minister agree with the almost unanimous view of the disability lobby that the best way to protect the rights of disabled people would be to introduce anti-discrimination legislation now?

I can offer the hon. Gentleman the reassurance that he seeks. The Bill places clear duties on the further education funding councils to cater for people with learning difficulties and those councils will be required to allocate resources to discharge those duties. It is for the councils to determine how they distribute funding, but the Bill gives the councils wide powers to be used in support of students with special education needs. The Government will ensure that no less than the existing level of resources will continue to be available in the new further education structure and that funding will be apportioned between local education authorities and the funding councils in line with their responsibilities for securing the provision of further education.

Binary Divide


To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the consequences for research funding of ending the binary divide.

The new framework for higher education will require funding for basic and strategic research in each subject to be allocated selectively to high-quality departments. All institutions will be free to compete for selective research funding.

I am grateful to the Minister, but is there not a danger that there could be an unfair distribution of funding research between the new universities, which will be formed from polytechnics, and the traditional universities? Is there not concern that there could be inequity in the distribution of research funding to Welsh and English institutions? What will the Minister do to ensure that Wales gets a fair deal in research?

The Government's policy remains as set out in the White Paper on higher education. Funding will be based on an assessment of individual departments. Some departments in an institution will do well, while others will do less well, according to the assessment of their research quality. But institutions right across the new unified higher education sector will be free to compete on fair terms, and the same will apply in Wales.

Does my hon. Friend accept that universities with a strong research base need fear nothing from the end of the binary divide? Does he further accept that the Universities Funding Council has acknowledged the excellence of research at Lancaster university by giving it a 10·9 per cent. increase in funding for the coming year?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those remarks. The Universities Funding Council is carrying out the policy, in response to the White Paper, of distributing funding according to assessments of research quality department by department. I share my hon. Friend's pleasure and offer my congratulations to Lancaster university on achieving a 10·9 per cent. increase in research funding for the forthcoming year.

Does the Minister appreciate that, with the phasing out of the student-related element of university research funding, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals is actively canvassing the introduction of top-up fees? I understand that Birmingham university council is due to consider the matter tomorrow. Will the Government take action to stop the charging of top-up fees, or will they allow universities to go down the road of pay-as-you-learn?

I should have hoped that the hon. Gentleman would respect the principle of academic autonomy. He cannot have it both ways. He cannot profess, as he likes to do, his respect for the autonomy of academic institutions and at the same time seek to limit their management discretion. I emphasise that we believe, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has said, that top-up fees should be unnecessary because we have planned, and continue to plan, to provide sufficient public funding to support the expansion of high-quality teaching in our universities. Moreover, we regard such fees as undesirable because we are keen that there should be no avoidable barriers to access on the part of people who have not traditionally had the opportunity to go into higher education.

Technical Education


To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what progress is being made in the promotion of technical education.


To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the building and equipment needs for technical education.

The Government are promoting technical and vocational education through a wide range of measures. They include the introduction of technology as a subject for all pupils from the age of five to 16 and of an improved range of vocational qualifications; the establishment of city technology colleges and of a network of technology schools; and new freedom and flexibility for our further education colleges.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the £25 million technology schools initiative to further technical education in schools. Does he agree that such initiatives help to give young people a better start and help to provide the type of recruits needed by industry? Does he further agree that Labour Members' knee-jerk opposition to city technology colleges shows their obsession with standardisation rather than with improving the quality of education in schools?

I agree with my hon. Friend about the widespread support for the technology schools initiative, with 89 local education authorities having submitted bids. In addition, in a number of LEA areas where it had been decided, mainly for doctrinaire reasons, not to submit bids, we have received individual bids from schools.

Further to my hon. Friend's final remarks, it should come as no surprise to him or to anybody else that Labour Members are opposed to choice. They are committed to abolishing city technology schools, grammar schools and the assisted places scheme, and they have no time for parental choice.

Does my hon. Friend share with me some anger that 19 Labour authorities still have not even bothered to bid for the funds that are available? Does he agree that that contrasts with the breath of fresh air that is now flowing through our universities and polytechnics? The universities have attracted large sums—more than £700 million of additional funding—for the current year, and our polytechnics likewise, now that they are independent of the stifling hand of Labour authorities— [Interruption.]

Will the Minister pledge total support for the Nottingham city technology college for doing just what our young people and the nation need?

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. I visited the Djanogly college and was impressed with the quality of education offered to so many young people. It was interesting to note that so many heads of secondary schools, in Nottinghamshire and elsewhere, are coming to see what has been achieved at Djanogly college and to learn the lessons from it. With regard to bids to become technology schools, my hon. Friend will be heartened by the quality of the bids that we have received from individual schools, including some exceptionally good schools in Labour-controlled areas.

Does the Minister accept that, as there are now 50 different definitions of a professional engineer, it is unrealistic for the Minister's Department to tell Newcastle council, which put in two bids for technology schools, that it should have submitted only one. Does the Minister agree that, to tackle such antique snobbery, two bids from one city should be allowed?

I shall look into the matter because I recognise that Newcastle is a Labour authority that has put aside its doctrinaire opposition to technology schools. So far as I am aware, Newcastle local education authority is as free to submit two bids to the Department as any other local education authority. I assure the hon. Gentleman that those bids, when received, will be evaluated in comparison with other bids. If he is genuinely concerned that Newcastle has been prevented from putting in more than one bid, I shall look into the matter for him.

Does the Minister not think it unfair to spend £7 million on a city technology college in Bradford, when that amount equals the sum spent on the nearly 300 publicly owned schools in Bradford? As the Minister should know, those schools are very much in need of large-scale capital expenditure. Many of them are of a Victorian standard and need considerable investment. Does he agree that the schools in Bradford provide a perfectly good technical education and that they need to be built on and improved, rather than being attacked by diverting public funds into city technology colleges?

I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman has visited the city technology college in Bradford. Indeed, he has refused invitations to do so. That college provides an excellent education to many pupils in Bradford. Parents are extremely keen to have their children admitted to the college because they want them to take advantage of the excellent education that it offers. The hon. Gentleman should take more time to encourage schools in Bradford to learn the lessons from the city technology college to improve the quality of technology education in Bradford. He should also have words with his colleague, Councillor John Ryan, who needs to improve the quality of his submissions to my Department for funding from central Government.

Is my hon. Friend aware that some of the finest technical education in Europe is given to the 7,000 students of the Derbyshire college of higher education? Its bid to become a polytechnic has been supported for many years by Conservative Members from Derbyshire. Is my hon. Friend aware that, as polytechnics are to disappear, we now support its bid to become a university? Will he ensure that everything possible is done so that Derbyshire can have its first opportunity to have a university, in contrast with Nottingham which will have two, Leicester which will have three, and Loughborough which will have one? At present, Derbyshire has none.

I am aware of the strong support from my hon. Friend and other Derbyshire Members for that development. The position has been clearly explained to the college in Derby and I am sure that it will pursue the opportunities.

Primary Education


To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what proposals he has arising out of the report on primary education by Alexander, Rose and Woodhead.

I commissioned the report to stimulate debate within the teaching profession and in primary schools about how best to deliver the national curriculum and to raise standards. The effective introduction of the national curriculum will require changes in practice in many schools and the report will assist the teachers concerned in planning the necessary changes.

I welcome the right and learned Gentleman to the Dispatch Box—I did not think that he was going to answer this question as he looked a bit tired sitting on the Bench there. I am glad that he did answer it, as I wanted to ask him this: has he learnt any lessons from the report, particularly those related to ability streaming? He is known to have favoured that, but it is rejected by the report as a

"a crude device which cannot do justice to the different abilities a pupil may show in different subjects and contexts".

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has read the report. If he were to read it with a less selective eye, he would benefit considerably. He would discover that the report advocates the grouping of pupils according to ability in many circumstances, in order to place the pupil in a specific ability group for a particular purpose as that is a more flexible device for teaching older children in a number of subjects. I hope that he and other members of the Labour party will eventually be talked out of their past commitment to mixed ability teaching at all levels, for, as the three wise men have confirmed, that is not suitable for delivering the broad and balanced curriculum at which the Government are aiming.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that Conservative Members welcome the report of the three wise men? Does he further agree that the report condemns the trendy, discredited methods put forward by Labour and calls for a return to traditional teaching? What plans does my right hon. and learned Friend have to implement the report, and what is the time scale likely to be?

My hon. Friend is right. The report stated that the progress of primary pupils had been hampered by the influence of highly questionable dogmas, which had led to excessively complex classroom practices and devalued the place of subjects in the curriculum.

My hon. Friend is right to say that the Labour party has been closely associated with the development of those dogmas over many years. We are circulating the report to all primary schools so that primary school teachers can benefit from its advice. The National Curriculum Council will take account of the report in monitoring and reviewing the manageability of the national curriculum. The Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education is to advise me on the implications of the report for primary initial teacher training in future. I intend to use the report to review the present arrangements for the induction of newly qualified teachers and in-service training. Considerable changes are required in classroom practice in many of our primary schools if we are to raise standards to the levels demanded by today's society and parents. The Government are determined to raise those standards, and the report will be a valuable instrument to enable us to do so.

Does the Secretary of State accept that there is now evidence that standards in the basics, which the report identified as the key skills on which other learning depends, have fallen? Does he further accept that the report identifies that there has been serious disturbance in primary schools in recent years? Will he abandon his ideological dictation from the centre and work with teachers to bring in the changes in the curriculum for which the report calls?

First, I personally do not accept that there is any evidence such as the hon. Lady describes. I find it odd that the position has so changed compared with 15 months ago when I became Secretary of State, when some Conservative Members were alleging that standards had declined and Opposition Members were denying those allegations. The recent report of the National Foundation for Educational Research did not attribute any decline to the national curriculum; the interpretation placed on it by the hon. Lady and her hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Bidwell) is based on a deliberate misreading of the report.

Will the Secretary of State explain how he was able to commission a review of teaching methods in a matter of a few weeks, although his minimum standards—first laid down in 1981—were not met in the 10 years that the Government allowed themselves, and the current review will not now report until the autumn? Is it fair to assume that, in this general election year, the right hon. and learned Gentleman expects the review to lead to a cut in the Government's minimum standards for education facilities, designed to meet the requirements of the national curriculum?

Most of the minimum standards have been met. As the hon. Gentleman has said, the review will go ahead in the autumn.

The reason why the "three wise men" report was produced so quickly is that the three people whom I invited to deliver it—Mr. Alexander, Mr. Rose and Mr. Woodhead—had behind them a lifetime of experience and close involvement with primary schools, and they were able to distil that lifetime's knowledge very rapidly. As far as I am aware, no one has criticised my choice of those three experts, or challenged their conclusions. It is slightly absurd for people to pretend that the "three wise men" report is anything other than a valuable contribution to the raising of standards in our schools.

City Technology Colleges


To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many pupils attend city technology colleges.

Currently, we estimate that there are some 8,000 pupils benefiting from a CTC education.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that city technology colleges provide a real alternative education for children in the inner city? Is he aware that in south-east London—and serving my Dulwich constituency—is Haberdashers' Aske's city technology college, which has received more than 800 applications for 180 places? Is that not proof positive that CTCs are popular both with parents and with pupils?

I agree. The popularity of all the CTCs is beyond challenge. Despite deep and unremitting opposition from, in particular, the Labour-controlled councils of Lewisham and Southwark, Haberdashers' Aske's CTC has succeeded in attracting an overwhelming amount of interest from parents. My only regret is that the college is not able to take more of my hon. Friend's constituents.

Surely the Minister—and all the other Ministers and other Tory Members—know that the CTCs are really private schools, siphoning off millions of pounds of public money. Is it not true—as my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) pointed out—that as much public money goes to one CTC, to which parents who have not gone through the normal process will have access, as to all the other schools in the area, and that it goes there at the same rate? The other schools have to share little or nothing while the city technology college gets the lot—and it is public money.

I imagine that this may well be the hon. Gentleman's last contribution to Education Question Time. I note that his question was as full of ideological claptrap as all the others that he has asked during his career in the House.

Further Education


To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what progress is being made with plans to give further education and sixth-form colleges more independence.

Excellent progress is being made with our plans, which are the subject of the Further and Higher Education Bill currently before Parliament, to give colleges independence from local authority control.

Following the visit of our hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Eggar) to Basildon last Friday, will my right hon. and learned Friend endorse our hon. Friend's statement that the independence that we are offering colleges of further education and sixth-form colleges such as Basildon's will enable them to be more effective, efficient and flexible than they can be at present? Will my right hon. and learned Friend agree to visit Basildon this year to observe the excellent education standards enjoyed by my constituents?

My hon. Friend the Minister of State was very impressed by his visit to Basildon, and I should certainly be interested in visiting it myself if and when my diary allowed it.

I have visited sixth-form colleges in Thurrock and Boston this year, and I recently addressed the annual meeting of the Association of Colleges for Further and Higher Education. I agree that the colleges are looking forward to their independence and to expanding the opportunities for further education available to our young people. I find that they bitterly regret the Labour party's dogmatic commitment to repeal, contrary to the wishes of the college principals, the Bill going through the House precisely because the Opposition Front Bench are acting at the behest of a few backwoodsmen Labour county councillors throughout the country.

The Secretary of State will be aware that further education colleges charge their students for certain activities related to the curriculum—not tuition fees, but other activities. When the Bill goes through, if it does, sixth-form colleges will have the same freedom. Will the Secretary of State now give a guarantee that no sixth-form college student will be charged for activities in relation to the school curriculum, or is this to be yet another example of pay-as-you-learn under the Conservative Government?

I know of no realistic reason for expecting any sixth-form college to introduce charges of the kind described. Sixth-form colleges will be funded on the basis that they carry on with their present practice. I have not met a college principal who intends to change that practice. The hon. Gentleman is merely trying to raise obscure scares about our proposals when he knows from his own visit to the association that the policy is extremely popular with all the principals and that his statement—that the colleges would be given back to his friends in Labour councils—was greeted with widespread dismay there.

Prime Minister



To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 25 February.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.

The Prime Minister recently told the House that the British economy had grown faster than any other in Europe, when it has not; he said that the Japanese economy was in recession, when it is not; and he said that German unemployment was over 3 million, when it is not. Given that series of gaffes, will he now compound his confusion and tell us that he bears no personal responsibility for the appalling slump that is devastating Britain today?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a recession in a number of countries. I quote from what Sir Allen Sheppard of Grand Met said yesterday:

"One thing which no one could predict a year ago was exactly how long the recession would last … This recession has not been an exclusively British phenomenon—as some people would have us believe. It is a worldwide problem; only last week we heard the news that Europe's strongest economy, Germany, had slowed down."
Those are not my words, but those of Sir Allen Sheppard of Grand Met.

Will my right hon. Friend consult his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster about the attempt being made to steal the emblem of the duchy? Is he aware that on a previous occasion when such an attempt was made, the miscreant —an imposter named Lambert Simnel, who attempted to steal the red rose from King Henry VII wasnot only defeated but sentenced to serve as a scullion in the royal kitchens? What does my right hon. Friend think would be the appropriate sentence now?

It is difficult to find anything entirely appropriate. Perhaps continuous service as Leader of the Opposition would do.

Does the Prime Minister recall saying a short time ago in his personal statement—in this document from the Conservative party—that "if" Government

"borrowing takes the strain, taxes … have to go up"
Does he still take that view?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I was Chief Secretary for two years and Chancellor for one year. Because of the repayments that were made of borrowing during that period, in the midst of a recession we are now in a better position to borrow prudently—[Interruption.] than we have been at any stage in the past: to borrow prudently and to maintain our commitment to a balanced budget in the medium term. Before the right hon. Gentleman reflects further, he may recall that the borrowing requirement was 91 per cent. of GDP under the last Labour Government—the equivalent to borrowing today £55 billion.

The Prime Minister is now borrowing billions to try to finance a pre-election tax cut, so will he tell us exactly which other taxes he would raise to pay for the bribe?

The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that I cannot prejudge my right hon. Friend's Budget, and I have no intention of doing so. He should also realise that tax is levied on people's own money: it does not belong to the Government; it is their money that the Government compulsorily take away from them in taxation. Taxation levels determine how much. We know that the right hon. Gentleman would add to taxation, for he needs to in order to sustain his promises.

The Prime Minister said a very short time ago that "If" Government

"borrowing takes the strain, taxes—not just our taxes"—
[HON. MEMBERS: "We have heard this before."] And you are going to hear it again: "If" Government
"borrowing takes the strain, taxes—not just our taxes but the next generation's too—have to go up."
Does not the Prime Minister think that he owes it to the country to say exactly which other taxes he would put up to pay for his bribe?

The right hon. Gentleman should have done a little more research. If he had done a little more research and had seen the evidence that I gave to the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee in 1987, he would have seen then—when we had a fiscal surplus of many billions—that I indicated that it would be right, in a downturn, to borrow money in a recession. Would the right hon. Gentleman prefer to do what Labour last did —cut the hospital building programme and cut the other programmes? That is what it did before.

I thank my right hon. Friend for coming to Corby last Friday to open the magnificent Brooke city technology college. Does he agree that this type of secondary school has a substantial part to play in the future education of our children in the secondary sector, and will he encourage the development of further city technology colleges in our country?

I certainly enjoyed my visit to the Brooke city technology college last week. It is an excellent establishment and has attracted a good deal of support and resources from the private sector. I think that that is the sort of choice that parents want for their children, and it widens the opportunities in education. It is inexplicable to me that the Labour party would wish to stop this continuing and successful experiment.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tueday 25 February.

As the Prime Minister has now had time to appreciate the significance that Scots attach to the phrase "taking stock", will he elaborate on what that means in the Scottish constitutional set-up? Is it an affirmation of what his junior energy Minister says: that it will be acceptable for the Scottish Office to be staffed by Members from constituencies south of the border, or of what his Foreign Secretary and Secretary of State for Scotland have said in the past 24 hours: that nothing will happen, or is he considering the possibility of affording the Scottish people the right to determine their own future in a democratic fashion'? Will there be a referendum or any other mechanism to establish a Scottish Parliament?

The hon. Lady's party seeks isolation for Scotland. I do not believe that that prescription is in the interests of Scotland or of the rest of the United Kingdom. I said that we would be taking stock, and I meant precisely that—taking stock on the basis of an increased vote in Scotland, on the basis of more Members of Parliament for Scotland and on ways of seeking to increase the strength of the Union. That is what I mean by taking stock.

Is the Prime Minister aware that millions of people are fed up with having to pay extra community charge to cover those who do not pay? Will he encourage all local authorities to ensure that people pay their bills promptly and will he ensure that future charges are reduced when that money comes into council coffers?

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that we need to pursue those who do not pay the community charge and, in particular, we should pursue those Members of the House who do not pay the community charge and set a bad example to everyone else.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 25 February.

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

Does the Prime Minister agree with the proposition that it is entirely sensible for a Government to borrow prudently in order to fund capital investment to build economic recovery but that it is sheer folly for a Government to borrow in order to buy votes for an election'? Would that not be fiscal philandering of the worst kind?

Without in any way prejudging what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will do in the Budget, I seem to recall that the last Labour Government —on the back of a huge borrowing requirement—cut taxes just in advance of the 1979 election. But if the hon. Gentleman wants to know about investment, let me give him some information about investment. We now have the largest investment programme of capital investment in the national health service that we have ever had. Next year hospital spending in capital terms will be 75 per cent. up on the last year of the Labour Government. Those are the fruits of an improved economy over the last 10 years.

Will my right hon. Friend restate his commitment to the assisted places scheme in our schools, which is an extremely cost-effective way of sending children of high ability to good schools? Is it not short-sighted for both Opposition parties to be pledged to the abolition of this scheme?

It is an extremely popular scheme, as my hon. Friend knows. We will sustain that scheme in the next Parliament. The Opposition parties would abolish it, given the chance.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 25 February.

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

Having been Chief Secretary to the Treasury before becoming Chancellor, and Chancellor before becoming Prime Minister, is the Prime Minister really trying to tell us that he bears no responsibility whatever for the recession? Why is the Prime Minister continually trying to blame everyone else when it is his own errors of judgment, mistakes and economic incompetence that have produced the current recession?

I think that the hon. Gentleman builds too much on too little. I made it clear on a number of occasions over recent years that there was, in retrospect, one change that I wish we had not made at the time, but it was one that was urged on us by right hon. Gentlemen opposite. That was the reduction of interest rates immediately on the back of the stock exchange crash, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, we were urged to cut them even more by the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith). What responsibility will they accept for that?

Can my right hon. Friend give a guarantee that he will never propose the introduction of unnecessary and expensive regional assemblies in England and Wales? Does he agree that when Opposition parties advocate such bodies they do so with the entirely cynical objective of maintaining the over-representation of Scotland in this House in the aftermath of the dog's breakfast called devolution?

Such assemblies are neither wanted nor needed, and we will not propose them.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 25 February.

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

Is the Prime Minister aware that since 1979 the crime figures in England and Wales have gone up by 102 per cent., that in the north of England they have gone up by 123 per cent. and that in the Northumbria police force area—my area—robberies have gone up by 240 per cent. and criminal damage by 238 per cent? The Home Office is advising the police to increase the number of officers while at the same time the Department of the Environment is capping local authorities' spending. How does the Prime Minister square that circle?

If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about law and order, perhaps he could explain to me why his party refuses to support the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act, which was introduced initially by a Labour Government and is now opposed by a Labour Opposition. He might also have mentioned in his remarks that spending on law and order is up by 80 per cent. in real terms and that there are 15,500 more police officers, whereas Labour left the police force under establishment by 7,000 when it left office. Labour has opposed our measures which have led to stiffer sentences, it would shackle the police with political controls and its answer to rising crime is to blame everyone except the criminal.

Offending On Bail

3.30 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement.

The number of those who commit an offence while on bail has risen. We estimate that, of the nearly 500,000 people granted court bail last year, about 50,000 were convicted of an offence committed while on bail. Five years ago, the figure was about 35,000. That represents a serious problem, especially for the police.

The offender who commits an offence while on bail is likely to be a male aged between 17 and 20, and charged with property crime, usually car crime and burglary. We must crack down on those bail bandits.

The Government are determined that the courts and the police should have the powers that they need. I am, therefore, announcing a package of six measures today.

We intend to change the law in two ways. First, it is right that a person who commits an offence while on bail should normally receive a more severe penalty. We will introduce legislation to require courts to consider offending on bail as an aggravating factor when passing sentence. Secondly, the police need clear statutory power to arrest people immediately who breach police bail. We will introduce legislation to secure that.

Those measures taken together represent a considerable toughening of the existing law, but we intend to go further to deal with the hard core who persistently reoffend.

Our third measure, therefore, is to ensure that people who are granted bail are left in no doubt of the risks that they run if they break their bail conditions or offend while on bail. We are asking all magistrates courts to ensure that the bail notices issued to all defendants make it crystal clear that if they fail to answer bail, or fail to comply with the conditions imposed, or if they commit an offence while on bail, they risk being remanded in custody. The courts have extensive powers to impose stringent conditions on bail. I am confident that they will make full use of them and that they will tighten up the arrangements for supervision.

Fourthly, we need to ensure that the courts have the fullest information when they decide whether to grant bail so that they can pick out more accurately the bad risks. We therefore intend this year to set up in selected local areas —including the inner cities—bail information projects which will ensure that information from the police, from the Crown prosecution service and from the probation service is collated and available to the courts. That builds on the bail information schemes which we have in 113 courts and 13 prisons, and which in due course will be backed up by a new computerised criminal record system.

Fifthly, magistrates have the difficult task of taking decisions each day of the week in this complex area of risk assessment. The Judicial Studies Board has therefore agreed to review the training of magistrates in the criteria set out in the Bail Act 1976.

Sixthly, experience shows that some defendants will behave on bail if, and only if, they are properly supervised. We will provide £8 million over the next three years for bail accommodation and support.

Well-run bail hostels reduce the risk of offending. There are 29 such hostels with 600 places, and a further 82 approved probation bail hostels providing 1,800 places. An additional 800 places will be provided by April 1995. This programme will also include innovative schemes aimed at keeping defendants out of crime.

I am grateful for the efforts police forces have made to bring information to bear on this subject. We shall work closely with them to provide regular and reliable information about offending on bail.

I am asking my officials as a matter of urgency to consult fully with the police, the Crown prosecution service, the magistrates courts service, the social services departments and the probation service to implement the steps I have announced this afternoon. Together they will make a direct impact on the problem of offending while on bail.

In order to put his statement in perspective, will the Home Secretary confirm that the document prepared by his Department a month ago made clear that 82 per cent. of all offenders remanded on bail do not commit a second offence, and that the essential requirement for reforming the system is better ways of selecting those who should receive bail and those who should not? It would be helpful if the Home Secretary endorsed the view of his Department that errors are made in both directions.

There is much in the Home Secretary's statement which we are glad to welcome. It is right that the courts should be helped to distinguish between good and bad risks, and that defendants granted bail should be left in no doubt of the risk they take if they offend a second time or break their bail conditions. It is equally right that the police be provided with a statutory right to arrest offenders who are in breach of their bail conditions.

We also welcome the announcement of additional bail hostel places. Indeed, we have been advocating that for some time. We note with particular pleasure the introduction of what the Home Secretary called
"innovative schemes aimed at keeping defendants out of crime".
Such schemes have been advocated in Labour party policy documents and have previously been dismissed by Government spokesmen as an indication that we are soft on crime.

Before I ask the Home Secretary specific questions about the legislation, may we be told why the Government have belatedly changed their mind on the issue? Last August, in Sunderland, the Minister of State said that he doubted very much
"that an additional prosecution for having committed an offence while on bail would have any deterrent effect at all."
What has happened to change the Secretary of State's mind?

While the Home Secretary ponders that, I will ask him two specific questions on legislation. First, if a defendant is charged while on bail, has he committed an aggravated offence even if he is found not guilty on the original charge? Secondly, will a defendant who is charged with a second offence have to wait for sentencing on the first offence until the trial for the other offence has been completed? Would it not have been much simpler in every way if the Home Secretary had taken action to ensure that offences committed while on bail simply attracted more severe sentences?

Why have the Government waited so long, and until so late, to introduce these measures? What we see today is another attempt—wholly characteristic of the Home Secretary—to influence headlines rather than to reduce crime. Had he been serious about the task, he would have announced today the implementation of the Morgan report, his own report prepared for him and presented to him, giving ways in which crime could be reduced. He has chosen not to take action on that report because he does not regard it as sufficiently publicity worthy. That is no way for a Home Secretary to behave.

On the last point, the Morgan report is out for consultation, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. I have searched carefully for references in the right hon. Gentleman's recent speeches urging me to take action on reoffending on bail, and I cannot find anything at all.

The right hon. Gentleman began by referring to research. I see that, in his remarks this morning, he intimated that some of the research might have been exaggerated. I can only say to him that, only a fortnight ago, I had a meeting with northern Labour Members led by the Labour Chief Whip, who urged me to take on board the research—the 40 per cent. figure that the right hon. Gentleman condemned utterly this morning—and to introduce measures. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will listen to his Chief Whip and that they will sort out exactly what their combined approach is.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me some specific questions. As regards sentencing for the aggravated offence, the law will have to be changed. The courts will have available to them the possibility of imposing a further and higher sentence as a result of the changes that we are making. I repeat that that will require a change in the law. The extra sentence will be added, as it were, when the second offence has been clarified; if the defendant is found not guilty of the second offence, there clearly cannot be an additional sentence.

The right hon. Gentleman's other question was about sentencing.

We have not changed our minds. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would care to remind himself of what we have said today. What we have done is to bring forward a series of measures to identify those who have the greatest risk of reoffending on bail. It has always been our intention under the Criminal Justice Act 1991 to ensure that society is protected from those who reoffend. As I have said, 50,000 defendants reoffend while on bail. That represents a substantial increase in recent years, and the measures announced today address that problem. I do not believe that, if the right hon. Gentleman had responsibility for my office, he would have introduced such measures at all. As I have said, he has a capacity to talk strongly and act weakly.

Order. I remind the House that we will be subject to a timetable motion later this afternoon. I will allow questions to continue until 4.15 pm, then there will be a ten-minute Bill and then we must move on to the main debate. May I ask for questions that are brief and to the point?

My right hon. Friend is quite right to respond to the genuine concern of the police about reoffending on bail because the true number of people who offend on bail is unknown. My right hon. Freind's commitment to bail hostels and bail information schemes is particularly important because that will enable the magistrates, who have the most difficult administrative duty to perform in making the decision, to be better informed in deciding who should be held in custody and who on remand.

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend who, in his previous responsibilities, had direct experience of the matter. The important impact of the measures that I have announced is that the information available to the courts will be improved considerably, and that includes information from the Crown prosecution service, the police, the probation service and social workers, so that those most likely to reoffend and those who have a record of reoffending can be identified and action can be taken. They can be remanded in custody certainly but they can also be remanded in bail hostels. That is an important alternative because offenders who are likely to reoffend on bail will have some supervision if they are committed to a bail hostel.

The record of bail hostels is very successful. The rate of absconding or reoffending on the part of those committed to bail hostels is very low. I am glad that we are committed to a major programme of expansion—some 800 places over the next three years.

Although the measures announced by the Home Secretary are welcome, does he accept that they are also extremely modest and that their impact upon the 50,000 reoffenders is not likely in a year's time to attract the headline to the effect that the so-called crackdown on bail bandits has produced the result that the Home Secretary will no doubt wish to trumpet? The bail hostels programme that the right hon. Gentleman has described will provide only an additional 800 places, although he seeks to catch some 50,000 offenders. Is he satisfied that the magistrates will accept his views about how they should exercise their discretion? Has he in fact consulted magistrates at all?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that there are 600 bail hostel places, 1,800 probation bail places, and there will be a further 800 bail hostel places—a substantial increase. The measures that I announced this afternoon are not modest: they are a substantial change. It requires a change in the law, introducing the consideration of the court to take in as an aggravating circumstance the fact that someone has reoffended on bail. That is a substantial and significant change, and I have been pressed by the police forces for some time to introduce it.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement will be warmly welcomed by the federated ranks of the police, particularly the power to deal with those who breach police bail and the powers of the courts to award additional sentences? Will the tightening of the custody rules, for example, enable the police to detain a suspect in police cells and then bring that suspect forward at the first available court sitting? That problem has caused great concern within the police for many months. If that procedure could be arranged, it would be very welcome.

Will my right hon. Friend look at the problem of absconding from bail hostels at night? There is some evidence to suggest that those who are confined in bail hostels are able to go out rather too easily after the hours of darkness and commit further offences.

My hon. Friend's second point is a matter for the managers of bail hostels and the local probation committees. Certainly the ones that I have visited—and I have visited several in the country—are very well managed. As I have said, they have very little trouble with absconding or reoffending.

As to police bail, after arrest, if they do not give a defendant bail to appear before a court, the police may give him bail to return to a police station at a given date, after which he may be dealt with by charge, by formal caution, or there may be no further action. That is prior, of course, to the court bail. If he fails to return to the police station, it is an offence, but the police have no power to arrest him for it. We propose to bring in legislation so that the police have such a power, and the police have pressed us to do that.

Are not the bail information provisions which the right hon. Gentleman has just announced a dismal confession of failure? If the probation service, the Crown prosecution service, the police and the courts were adequately resourced, would there be a problem of providing the courts with information?

There has been a substantial increase in the funding of courts and of the Crown prosecution service over the years. Indeed, we have appointed an additional 160 judges and opened more than 180 additional court rooms over the past 12 years. At the same time we have improved bail information schemes. As I have said, we have 113 such schemes, and 13 operating in prisons. I am keen to improve even further the flow of information and the exchange of information between the various agencies involved. That is why we are setting up projects, some in the inner cities, later this year.

Does my right hon. Friend regard the comments of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) as supportive of his proposals, or will the Opposition face both ways again on crime prevention? Will my right hon. Friend cast his mind back to the time when I was practising in the magistrates courts? Magistrates then required sureties and recognisances from other people before a defendant was allowed bail, and if the defendant broke bail they were forfeited. Could my right hon. Friend extend that practice to those who break bail and deal with the problem in that way?

I note what my hon. Friend has said. I have said that the Judicial Studies Board will review the training of magistrates and the Bail Act 1976. Such points will be covered by the review.

Does the Home Secretary accept that it is somewhat unrealistic to talk of remand in custody for people who commit further offences on bail when we have a massive shortage of accommodation and policies such as "Operation Container" and the problems associated with that? Do we not need to do more to ensure that those who are remanded in custody are brought to trial much more quickly than they are at present, because they are innocent until proved guilty in court?

Yes. I have considerable sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman says. I am worried about court delays. A working group was set up by the Attorney-General, the Lord Chancellor and myself to find ways of streamlining pre-trail procedures. The working group, which reported just before Christmas, recommended 200 or so changes in procedure. Some are fairly small, but cumulatively they will have a significant effect on court delays. They are being implemented now. I have in mind target time limits. Targets have been established by the Crown prosecution service for the various processes of a case.

Tomorrow the Lord Chancellor and I will publish a report on a White Paper which reviews the future management of magistrates court services. Pre-trial reviews are taking place on an experimental basis in selected magistrates courts. The introduction of remand for 28 days should reduce unnecessary court hearings and encourage effective case management.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, to the law-abiding public, it flies in the face of all reason that someone who commits an offence while on bail does not receive a severe penalty? Given the facts that he has put to us today on the disturbing number of extra people who commit offences, will my right hon. Friend say roughly what percentage of those people did not incur another penalty?

It is difficult to give my hon. Friend the exact figure that he requires. But I agree entirely about people who are given bail and commit an offence. There is plenty of evidence from the police forces to show that that happens. We have had evidence from Northumbria police force and Avon and Somerset police force. The police become frustrated when they arrest someone, bring him to court—I say "he" because it is usually a young male—and find that he is released on bail.

The proposal that I have announced today will, first, improve the flow of information so that a bad risk can be more precisely identified. Secondly, there will be changes in the law so that people who offend on bail know that they could be subject to a longer sentence than would otherwise be the case. I believe that in many cases that will act as a deterrent to offending on bail. I am glad to say that the package that I have announced today has been widely discussed with the police and has their strongest support.

Does the Home Secretary agree that if someone who is arrested, charged with an offence and granted bail commits an offence while on bail, the magistrates have the power to remand that person in custody? Perhaps they ought to be reminded that they have that power. But the other point, which is more important, is that when an offender comes to be sentenced by the court it will sentence for count 1, the first offence, and then for count 2, which happens to be consecutive and is therefore added on. The thrust behind all this is gently to remind the judiciary that it has the power to make consecutive sentences. We do not need any more legislation because the judges are capable of taking care of the situation anyway.

I noticed that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) was nodding when the hon. Gentleman said that we did not need the measure. I assure him that we do. Again I have been pressed by the chief constables to bring in a change in the law about the aggravating offence. I believe that it will have an effect on the attitude of young men who are likely to reoffend on hail. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman thinks that the present arrangements are satisfactory. He is in a small minority if he does.

May I reassure my right hon. Friend that my constituents in Elworth in Sandbach will be reassured by the proposals that he has announced today? Can he tell us within what time scale they will be implemented? Will he say a little more about bail hostels? One is to be opened in Sandbach later this year. A vital matter to local residents is that the selection of those who are to stay in the hostel should ensure that they are the least likely to reoffend. Another is that the hostels should be run rigorously. That will reassure local people about the safety of themselves, their properties and their cars.

My hon. Friend raises an important point. I receive a fair amount of correspondence from both Conservative and Opposition Members about the location of bail hostels. They must be run properly and, indeed, effectively and strongly. That is what my hon. Friend was saying, and I accept it. She asked about the timing of the measures. The four measures that do not require legislation are already in hand. The two measures that require legislation will be introduced immediately after the election and we shall give them high priority. As I understand it, the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, by nodding in approval of what his hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) said a moment ago, showed that he does not support one of the measures. So presumably the Labour party will not put that measure in its manifesto.

Is the Home Secretary aware that what we needed today was not a statement but a confession as to why, after all the Government's massive spending on the police, courts and prisons, crime has doubled during the lifetime of the Government? People outside this place are not conned into thinking that the talk of toughening laws and filling up the prisons two weeks before an election will deal with the conditions that breed crime. What we need is a majority Labour Government with, at the very least, a programme of full employment.

The hon. Gentleman is trying to find every reason and excuse for crime other than the individual responsibility of the criminal. I do not agree. He says that we are producing tough measures at the end of this Parliament. We have introduced tougher penalties during our years in office and the Labour party has voted against them. When we introduced the Criminal Justice Bill in 1991 the Labour party voted against the proposals. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, we did not."] Yes, the Labour party voted against proposals to take into account the record of convicted prisoners. It is on the record. It also put forward proposals to reduce the length of time served by serious criminals in prison. We shall put all that before the country during the next few weeks.

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to compliment Avon and Somerset police, who were one of the first to identify the problem and the scale of the problem in Bristol and surrounding areas? Does he have any idea of where resources are likely to be allocated? If not, could some of those resources be directed towards Bristol, in Avon and Somerset?

I have heard what my hon. Friend has said about further resources in Bristol and I shall bear his request in mind when it comes to the bail information schemes. I pay tribute to the Avon and Somerset police. I met with them at the end of last week. They have done a great deal of work on reoffending while on bail, and the research which they produced has helped us considerably in formulating the package.

Does the Home Secretary accept that his proposals mean that more people will be sent to prison and that many of Britain's prisons are a disgrace? Will he accept from someone who visited Brixton a few weeks ago that the number of mentally ill people in prison is unacceptable? Does he accept the view that Dr. Andrew Coyle—a distinguished governor, who is served by excellent staff in Brixton—said on the BBC documentary about what is going on there that those people should not be there? In a civilised society, what proposals does the Home Secretary have to deal with those important matters?

I agree that Dr. Coyle is a distinguished prison governor. The programme of refurbishment at Brixton is one of our largest refurbishment programmes and will extend to the hospital wing.

We do not expect a significant increase in the prison population as a result of the proposals. There will be a more accurate identification of those people who present a risk of reoffending while on bail. As a result of the better information services which will he available to the courts it may be possible to release some of the people remanded in custody, where the risk is much less, possibly to a bail hostel, or to tighter supervision within the community.

Will my right hon. Friend elaborate on the answer that he gave to the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) and explain how the Government have improved the flow of court cases, is planning to improve it further and therefore will diminish the number of people who fall into that category?

I refer my hon. Friend to the written answer given by the Attorney-General before Christmas. A working party, involving officials from the Home Department, the Crown prosecution service and the Lord Chancellor's Department, has been established to find ways to speed court processes. As I have said, most of the changes are modest but cumulatively they make a great difference. For example, the Crown prosecution service can now state time limits on the progress of a case through the courts. That great improvement is now being implemented.

I attach great importance to this package of measures. They are not dramatic or headline stuff, but they represent good court administration. If we can speed up the court process and cut court delays, justice and efficiency will be served.

Does the Home Secretary accept that there has been an almighty row between the Lord Chancellor's Department and legal aid lawyers about the cost of representing people in cases of this sort? Will the Lord Chancellor take note of the extra work involved if there is a more thorough examination of people's antecedents before bail is granted? Will the Home Secretary tell us what will happen to a person who has been sentenced and convicted for a first offence after a second offence, which aggravates the first, is committed? How will the courts deal with that?

The person will be sentenced only after the second offence. That question would be more properly directed to my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor because it refers to legal aid and green form aid. I hope that the solicitors representing defendants in such cases—it is important to recognise that they are defendants because they are not guilty until convicted—will benefit enormously from the improved flow of information. The solicitors may not incur extra costs, and they may welcome some of the cost savings that result.

With regard to juvenile offenders, the courts often find that they are not given reports by social services and, therefore, they cannot provide secure accommodation. In such cases, cannot the courts decide, at their own discretion, whether the juvenile offender should be remanded?

Money has been secured for building more accommodation for juveniles. I attach priority to that. That responsibility is shared with the Department of Health. I want those proposals, which are shortly to be announced, to go ahead as quickly as possible.

Is it not simpler and more constructive for the Government to create an economic climate in which jobs are available for the majority of the young men we have been discussing this afternoon?

When it comes to the causes of crime, it serves no purpose to blame anyone but the criminal. Criminals have individual responsibility. That point is important. We have taken initiatives which deal with the problem of young offenders in order to divert them from a life of crime. It is important that we do that and there are positive ideas in the proposals that I have announced this afternoon to achieve that.

My right hon. Friend's package of measures will be warmly welcomed by the victims of crime and the police who find it difficult to recapture them as fast as the courts release them on bail. I urge my right hon. Friend to go further and remove the courts' discretion to allow further bail to those who commit offences when they are already on bail. Will he make it mandatory for such people to be remanded in custody or in bail hostels?

I do not wish to limit the discretion of the courts in that way. Judges and magistrates will be provided with additional powers to consider aggravated consequences. I do not wish to oblige them mandatorily to assign reoffenders on bail to custody automatically. Perhaps the best arrangement would be to send such offenders to bail hostels, or to put them under tighter supervision through curfew orders, or to require them to attend police stations. However, it depends on the offender, and the court should continue to have that discretion.

The Government must accept some responsibility for creating the conditions in which crime can flourish. The right hon. Gentleman gloats about the increased amount of bail hostel accommodation. He must appreciate that the need for such accommodation was mentioned in the Woolf report. How can he claim that his policy has been successful when the number of people in detention continues to increase?

I am well aware of the problems of prisoners in police cells. That is one reason why I have decided to keep active in the prison estate six prisons that were scheduled to be closed, and why we have pressed ahead with our prison building programme. In the next 12 months, six new prisons will be opened, providing 4,500 new prison places. It represents the largest prison building programme this century.

One part of my right hon. Friend's welcome statement will not need legislation, and that is the section dealing with magistrates courts. While not wishing to anticipate tomorrow's report, may I ask my right hon. Friend to persuade magistrates courts committees not to close smaller courts, as is being attempted in my constituency?

My hon. Friend raises what is, for the most part, a contentious local matter. Reviews of the administration of magistrates courts are taking place all the time. My hon. Friend will recall that, as from 1 April, the Lord Chancellor will take responsibility for magistrates courts. I regard it as a sensible transfer that the Lord Chancellor's Department should be responsible for Crown and magistrates courts, and I know that he will address the problem of which my hon. Friend has spoken. Indeed, I shall draw my hon. Friend's comments to his attention.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that nothing in his statement will allay the fears of my constituents? Is he further aware that it is no good tinkering at the edges and that we must look at the underlying causes of the escalation of crime? Considering the various policies that the Government have introduced but which have failed, may I ask him to consider establishing a royal commission to examine the underlying causes and to make recommendations?

No, I do not believe that we need a royal commission. I have set up a royal commission to look into the criminal justice system because I am sure that it needs that type of attention, but I do not believe that a royal commission would contribute to this issue. We need positive action to deal with the problem of reoffending, and I have this afternoon produced a positive package which many of the hon. Gentleman's constituents, on reflection, will welcome.

Given that the incidence of offending while on bail is higher in places where delays and court adjournments are at their highest, would it not be more sensible to examine the distribution of stipendiary magistrates throughout the country? Is my right hon. Friend aware that areas with the longest delays —such as Bristol, Teesside and Northumberland—do not have stipendiary magistrates?

I shall draw that proposal to the attention of the Lord Chancellor. The number of stipendiary magistrates has increased slightly since we came to power. An advantage of such a large prison building programme is that it has been possible in some cases to build courts alongside prisons. That has eased considerably the passage and process of justice. It has happened at Belmarsh, in London, for example. There is a tremendous movement every day from prisons to courts in respect of remand. That is why we have introduced the possibility of a 28-day remand. I believe that the Opposition oppose that, though it would be a sensible change. It would reduce the number of court appearances and would help to reduce court delays.

Will the Home Secretary pay tribute to the Gwent police force, which has been highly efficient and has one of the highest clear-up rates in Britain? Will he show his appreciation by for once allowing that police force to have the number of constables it needs? Year after year the right hon. Gentleman denies the police authority and the chief constable the number of policemen the force requires. Is it not a fact that the Home Secretary stands at the Dispatch Box judged guilty as charged of 13 years of incompetence, of rising crime and of anarchy on the streets, and that his sentence should include political exile for a long time?

If the hon. Gentleman intends to try to persuade the electorate that the Labour party has effective policies on law and order, he will be pushing a stone uphill. In the latest Gallup poll, the Conservatives had a 22 point lead over Labour on the issue of law and order. That is not surprising because when Labour Members were in office they cut the amount of money available to the police, to the courts, and to the prisons.

In welcoming my right hon. Friend's statement, may I remind him that half of all crimes in south Wales are car related and that approximately half those crimes are committed by a small number of young offenders, usually awaiting sentence for a first offence? Most appropriately, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has made proposals for secure accommodation, which would be the best way to contain those offenders and stop them reoffending. Amazingly, however, Labour-controlled South Glamorgan council is trying to thwart that proposal. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that he will brook no such opposition, thereby demonstrating that the Government are on the side of the victim, not of the criminal?

What my hon. Friend says about South Glamorgan council is true and it does not surprise me. Too much attention is paid to the criminal and not enough is paid to the victim, which is why we now have the most generous system of criminal compensation in the western world, why we published the victims' charter some 18 months ago—and it is being implemented—and why we have a network of 7,500 volunteers to help victims. None of that would have happened had the Labour party been in office for the past few years.

Does the Home Secretary agree that the guilty should be punished? Is he aware that in Greater Manchester now, two years after the Strangeways incident, more than 600 prisoners are being held in police cells, either convicted or on remand? On many weekends, because those people are being held in police cells, the police find it difficult to place prisoners anywhere within Greater Manchester, so the pressure on the police to give police bail is extremely high. As the Home Secretary is directly responsible for that appalling situation and is hamstringing the police in Greater Manchester, is not it time that he resigned?

I have given considerable support to the police in Manchester. Indeed, the increase in standard spending assessments for police forces across the country this coming year is between 15 per cent. and 17 per cent., which shows our commitment to police forces. It allows all police forces to recruit up to establishment, which they could not do when the Labour Government were in office because they left the police forces 8,000 under establishment.

I am aware of the problems in the Manchester area. The consequences of Strangeways still exist, but a substantial investment programme is going ahead in prisons in the north-west, and I hope that that problem will be contained in the coming months.

Each of the six measures that my right hon. Friend proposed is to be welcomed. Hopefully, this time the Labour party will support them. May I suggest a seventh measure? My right hon. Friend will remember that during the Committee stage of the Criminal Justice Bill in 1988 I proposed a new clause that provided that, for a serious indictable offence, a court would have to explain why it had given bail against police advice. Although the Home Office decided to accept the principle, it would not go as far as I wanted and implemented the measure only for murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, rape and attempted rape. Is not it about time that, for all serious indictable offences, the courts gave their reasons publicly for granting bail against police advice?

If a court decides to give bail against police advice, it owes it to the police to explain the reasons. It is statutorily required to do so, as my hon. Friend accurately described, in serious cases—in cases of murder, manslaughter, attempted murder, rape or attempted rape. We are continuing our discussions with the police and the other agencies, including the magistracy, in the coming months, and I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's suggestion. If a magistrate decides to give bail after considerable pressure from the police, it is fair to suggest that the reasons should be stated. With the growing co-operation between the agencies—the Crown prosecution service, the magistracy and the polic—that is the sort of spirit that we are trying to generate.

Does the Home Secretary understand my surprise and disappointment that in his presentation he did not give credit to Northumbria police and the research carried out in Newcastle university which has played such an important part in highlighting the problem? Does that mean that he also intends to leave Newcastle and Northumbria out of his proposals on bail information and extra bail hostels? Does he recognise that, throughout the recent difficult period, Newcastle police have been attending to many overflow prisoners in police cells, so they are less able to deal with good order on the streets as they are coping with bad order in prisons? Will he ensure that juvenile secure accommodation is made available to the Newcastle and Northumbria police and that they do not have to travel 20 to 25 miles to find it?

On the issue of juvenile secure accommodation, I refer the hon. Gentleman to what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson).

I pay tribute to the work done by Northumbria police. They prepared their figures on a different statistical basis from that used by other forces and the Home Office, but they identified many incidents of reoffending on bail, particularly in north Tyneside. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would like to be reminded of the fact that, this year, the Northumbrian police have benefited from the urban crime fund—an extra £3·6 million was made available to the Northumbrian police. There was also a substantial increase in standard spending assessment of 16 per cent. for that police force, and a substantial payment was made as a result of the riot damage last September.

Will my hon. Friend continue to give the measures urgent attention, particularly in relation to juvenile offenders? It is simply unacceptable for 16-year-olds to appear in court and plead guilty to as many as 20 offences, most of which were committed on bail after the offender had been arrested. One such offence involved killing a woman in Filey in an accident that involved a stolen vehicle. The young person had been released by Scarborough magistrates court only four days previously as there was no secure accommodation to which to send him. The public expect the Government to do something. The utterly disgraceful response of the Labour party shows that it is incapable of doing anything about the problem.

Of course, we are committed to increasing secure accommodation. The cumulative effect of the measures that I have announced this afternoon will help considerably in identifying the young men who pose a bad risk and are liable to reoffend on bail. Positive action must be taken to ensure that reoffending is curbed.

I have answered various questions during the past few days on that subject. Since the war, the level of crime in Britain has increased regularly by about 5 per cent. a year. The increased spate of crime in the past 18 months is largely due to the rapid increase in car crime, which represents 30 per cent. of all crime. Many of the reoffenders of whom we are talking today are engaged in car crime. I hope that the measures that I have introduced today will have some impact on the level of car crime.

In connection with this welcome statement and the serious level of shocking crime committed by offenders on bail in Norwich, will my right hon. Friend pay tribute to the work of the crime prevention panel in Norwich? Together with the police, that organisation has been calling for such measures for some considerable time. Will my right hon. Friend address the issue of secure accommodation for young offenders in Norfolk and Suffolk, which also poses a serious problem?

I re-emphasise what I have said about secure accommodation. I met the crime prevention panel in Norwich when I visited the constabulary there, and know that it does valuable work. It does particularly important work in relation to protecting vulnerable women as they go around the city centre—an effective example of a crime prevention panel co-operating with the police.

Is the Home Secretary aware that the men and women of this country desperately want the ability to live in peace and security in their own homes without fear of burglary, having their car stolen or smashed open and having the radio taken? Would those same men and women share with me, and police men and women up and down the country, a sense of cynicism that, today, the Home Secretary, like a latter-day Rip Van Winkle, has suddenly been woken up by the news that the Conservatives are likely to lose the next election, and so is now about to introduce a measure to do something about the crime wave in our country?

Opposition Members have always supported positive measures to combat crime, and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has said, we support most of the measures announced by the Home Secretary. We ask the Government, however, why they do not go further. Why did they not grasp the nettle and tackle the causes of crime years ago? There have been 13 wasted years. Why did the Government not act?

I am delighted to accept converts. Over the past year, the hon. Gentleman has not supported measures —tough measures—that we have introduced. He voted against the joyriding Bill—

Order. I am sorry, but we cannot have that. The hon. Gentleman must withdraw it.

What does an hon. Member do, Mr. Speaker, when he has been slandered in the House? I did not not vote against that Bill, as the Home Secretary has alleged quite falsely. No Opposition Member voted against it. The Home Secretary has lied to the House. What am I supposed to do?

Order. The hon. Gentleman is compounding the problem. He must not ascribe—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."]

I will withdraw what I said, but, as someone who has been slandered by the Home Secretary, I ask for your protection, Mr. Speaker.

Order. I think that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) has made his position clear. Now let us hear the Home Secretary.

I wanted to say—[Interruption.] May I just say exactly what happened with the joyriding Bill? In crucial votes during the Committee stage, Opposition Members voted against the principle of the Bill—

They were weasel words. In Committee, the Opposition voted against the principle of a Bill that extended culpability to all the passengers in a car. They voted against that, and they voted against the burden of proof. That is what they voted against. They have also voted against other measures. If the House wants an example of how soft they are on crime, let me point out that they voted against renewal of the prevention of terrorism Act last night.

Order. I am genuinely sorry that I have not been able to call all the hon. Members who wished to speak, but I shall certainly bear them in mind if and when we return to this subject.

Points Of Order

4.22 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you received a request from any Minister to make a statement about the arrest of two British nationals in Switzerland for alleged Iranian-related crime? Apparently, it is the subject of a D-notice.

I have not heard of that, and I have received no request for a statement.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Has the Secretary of State for Wales said that he will come to the House to make a statement about the virtual collapse of the public transport system in my constituency? One of the major companies has gone into receivership. As a result, ordinary people in my constituency cannot go about their business, because they cannot catch a bus.

I have had no request for a statement. I think that it would be appropriate for the matter to be raised in an Adjournment debate.

Bill Presented

Young Persons' Rights

Mr. Terry Fields, supported by Mr. Dave Nellist, Mr. Tony Benn, Mr. Eddie Loyden, Mr. Robert Parry, Mr. Dennis Skinner, Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, Mr. Max Madden, Mr. Jimmy Wray and Mr. Ronnie Campbell, presented a Bill to amend the law relating to the conditions regulating Government training schemes; to make further provision from the National Insurance Fund wth respect to social security benefits for young persons; to make further provision with respect to income support and housing benefit; and for purposes connected therewith: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 28 February, and to be printed. [Bill 87.]

Statutory Instruments, &C

With the leave of the House, I will put together the Questions on the three motions relating to statutory instruments.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.).

Representation Of The People

That the draft Representation of the People (Variation of Limits of Candidates' Election Expenses) Order 1992 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

Urban Development

That the Birmingham Heartlands Development Corporation (Area and Constitution) Order 1992 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

Social Security

That the draft Social Security (Contributions) Amendment (No. 4) Regulations 1992 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. David Davis.]

Question agreed to.

Offences Against The Person (Amendment)

4.23 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Offences against the Person Act 1861 to provide for increased penalties for assaults upon members of the emergency services on duty; and for connected purposes.
The police are responsible for protecting us from disruptive and unlawful elements in our society. The Metropolitan police and the Surrey constabulary, which cover my constituency, do a wonderful job; so do the ambulance men and firemen who serve my county.

Every day throughout the country the emergency services display devotion to duty under pressure. The police are coping with five times as many crimes as there were 30 years ago, yet we have to ask whether the members of the emergency services are getting the protection that we, as citizens, expect.

We have all heard of and been appalled by the stories during last autumn's riots of attacks on members of the emergency services who were trying to protect citizens. We know from Police Federation reports and others of policemen and policewomen who have been assaulted while investigating an incident or trying to keep the peace. Let us not ponder on the sick mentality of those who carry out such attacks. Let us start by ensuring that the punishment fits the crime. These attacks are nasty, brutish and despicable, regardless of the extent of the injuries caused.

My Bill does not focus on the tragic murders or the sickening cases of grievous bodily harm which have recently been reported. Here the full force of the law is unleashed. What is often not noticed is that members of the emergency services are increasingly faced with routine violence which can inflict injuries on them while they are carrying out their duties. The courts do not seem to be imposing stiff sentences on offenders. In recognition of that fact, my Bill is specifically concerned with assault and threatening behaviour which impedes an officer from carrying out his or her duty to protect the public.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) has raised these matters many times in the House. I pay tribute to him. Alan Eastwood, the chairman of the Police Federation, disclosed last year that close to 20,000 police officers were attacked, a figure which he claimed represents one in four of the force's operational strength. In Surrey, between January and December 1991, 238 officers were assaulted. In London, 3,725 attacks were recorded against police officers in the 12 months to October 1991.

The Government have reacted to the concern expressed by colleagues. I look forward to the publication of the Home Office's survey of statistical evidence of attacks and consequent sentencing. I hope that it will soon be available. It appears that not only is the number of incidents rising but the attacks are becoming more vicious. In Surrey alone, in the six months to October of last year, 18 officers were placed sick as a result of the assaults made on them, causing in total 211 days lost through attack-related sickness. The police also tell me that attacks on women police officers are increasingly sadistic.

The police rightly expect that the perpetrators of assaults should be severely punished. Unfortunately, that is not happening. In Surrey, between November 1990 and October 1991, 140 incidents, involving 142 offenders, were concluded. Out of that number, only 11 offenders received a custodial sentence. More specifically, the deputy chief constable of Surrey tells me that on one morning last December, magistrates in Chertsey imposed the following penalties: holding a car boot sale in contravention of a planning notice, a fine of £1,400; no car insurance, a fine of £200; fishing in the Thames without a licence, a fine of £60; assault on a police officer, occasioning actual bodily harm, a fine of £50. Last year a Surrey police officer went before the Crown court to give evidence about the attack upon him by two men. The policeman had sustained a quite serious back injury and broken bones in his arm, and he was still having physiotherapy treatment nine months later. The thugs who administered that beating received only community service orders of between 180 and 200 hours respectively.

A sentencing policy of that nature is, frankly, laughable and displays no sense of proportion. What is even more demoralising from the point of view of the police is when a section 47 offence under the Offences against the Person Act 1861, which might carry up to two or three years' imprisonment, is reduced to common assault, with a maximum of six months, or is dropped altogether, or only a warning is given. It is no wonder that the police are furious. That can only encourage the have-a-go mentality of idiots who will take a swing at the police because they know that they will get away with it.

The police are at the sharp end of tackling crime. As citizens, we can assist with communitywide involvement in neighbourhood watches or can become special constables, but, essentially, individual officers have to take the impact of increasing violence with little physical protection. They expect our support. They should take a dim view of how they would be protected by the Labour party's threats to extend political control over police and crime prevention, knowing how some socialists always have a soft spot for criminals and how the Labour party has voted against or tried to weaken every major piece of legislation that the Government have introduced to increase sentences.

I am not surprised that many police officers are buying their own body armour or considering American-style batons. Such batons could be a useful adjunct and should be part of the equipment of every police force in the country. However, they may be better for restraining than for straightforward defence.

We have to increase the penalties available in law and to encourage magistrates to impose them. I hope that magistrates pay attention to the criticism that is targeted on their sentencing policy by many hon. Members.

The criminal must be seen to pay for the assault. The police are not fair game, ready for a punch-up by any gang that feels that they can get away with it. An assault on a police officer should lead to immediate custody, even if the injury is relatively minor. The penalty should range up to a gaol sentence of two years, with or without hard labour —the phrase that appears in the original 1861 Act.

Other members of the emergency services are also vulnerable, as recent events have shown. Only yesterday, youths were reported to have thrown stones at firefighters who were trying to extinguish a blaze on a housing estate. Sadly, that was not an isolated incident. Stone throwers have made emergency calls to lure firemen into ambushes. Do those louts consider what would happen if the emergency services were stopped from attending a genuine fire or the consequences for anyone trapped in the fire? Those are not minor incidents; it is a very worrying state of affairs.

In protecting our emergency services, particularly the police, we are protecting not only the individuals who wear uniforms but society. Police officers, firemen and ambulance men and women come to the aid of individuals. If they are deflected from their duty by mindless violence, we, as citizens, suffer.

Assaults on any citizen are serious. Assaults on the emergency services when they are trying to protect citizens are unforgivable and brutish. They must be stopped by the full imposition of the powers of law and I hope that my Bill will go some way towards toughening those provisions and that magistrates will then apply them.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Ian Taylor. Mrs. Maureen Hicks, Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock, Mr. John Bowis, Mr. Simon Burns, Mr. Dudley Fishburn, Mr. Christopher Gill, Mr. Robert Hayward, Mr. Michael Irvine, Mr. Tim Janman, Mr. Roger King and Mr. Graham Riddick.

Offences Against The Person (Amendment)

Mr. Ian Taylor accordingly presented a Bill to amend the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 to provide for increased penalties for assaults upon members of the emergency services on duty, and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 13 March and to be printed. [Bill 88.].

Orders Of The Day

Local Government Bill Lords

Allotted Day

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

4.35 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for raising this issue, but as a member of the Committee which discussed the Bill I seek your guidance. I notice from the amendments and new clauses to be discussed under the guillotine motion that the first part of the Bill will be given no consideration until we debate new clause 20. What was the procedure which ensured that there will be no debate on the first part of the Bill? It is vitally important that we have a debate on issues that were not properly dealt with in Committee. To judge from the selection of amendments, it seems highly unlikely that there will be any consideration of the major first part of the Bill. It is highly unacceptable to Back Benchers that an important part of the Bill is not to be debated on Report.

The hon. Member knows that new clauses and amendments are dealt with in the order in which they appear on the selection list. It is true that we shall not deal with the first part of the Bill until we debate new clause 20. If the hon. Member is suggesting that I was unable to select new clause 5, I am afraid that that is right because it was outside the scope of the Bill.

New Clause 3

Duties Of Local Government Commission

' —(1) The Local Government Commission established under section 12(1) below shall have regard to the need—

  • (a) to reflect the identities and interests of local communities;
  • (b) to secure effective and convenient unitary local government;
  • (c) to establish a structure which is comprehensible to electors;
  • (d) to promote accountable local government;
  • (e) to secure the most effective, efficient and economic use of local authorities' financial resources;
  • (f) to ensure the cost-effective exercise of local authority functions and delivery of local authority services; and
  • (g) to provide for the consideration of appropriate strategic issues at a regional level.'. —[Mr. Blunkett.]
  • Brought up, and read the First time.

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

    With this we may consider the following:

    New clause 13—Environmental protection—
    '. The Local Government Commission shall, in making recommendations under this Part, have particular regard to the need to secure effective planning for environmental purposes.'.
    New clause 14—Local Government Commission:

    'The Local Government Commission shall be required to frame all its recommendations to the Secretary of State so as to take account of the following objectives:
  • (a) to identify areas within which people expect to obtain most of their everyday services;
  • (b) to establish local government boundaries that facilitate the meeting of people's needs and the respecting of existing social organisation;
  • (c) to enhance the representative role of local government and secure its long-term future; and
  • (d) to ensure that all issues relating to the effective and efficient delivery of services can be addressed independently of defining local government territories.'.
  • New clause 17— Arrangements for direct service delivery for new unitary authorities

    '.—(1) The Secretary of State may by order give power to the Audit Commission to—
  • (a) consider the implications for functions of all changes proposed by the Local Government Commission under section 13(5) and section 14(5) and;
  • (b) make proposals to the Secretary of State on a function by function basis for separate or combined (either jointly or by one or more councils on behalf of other councils) service delivery arrangements for those functions included in subsection (1)(a) above and for the territories in which such services are to be provided.
  • (2) An order under subsection (1) above may give directions as to the exercise by the Audit Commission of any powers under this section and such directions may require that Commission to have regard to any guidance given by the Secretary of State as respects matters to be taken into account.'.

    It is unfortunate that we are debating the Bill in this way. Effectively, we are debating only part II on a guillotine motion on Report and Third Reading, as my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) said. We debated part II on the final day of the Committee proceedings on a guillotine motion, taking from 10.30 pm until midnight to deal with the issue of reorganisation. In one sense, we have reversed that process this afternoon because, despite the fact that the Committee's report to the House states that only one set of changes was made, in Government amendments to clause 8, it seems that we shall not be debating and scrutinising on Report that matter which was amended by the Government in Committee.

    It must therefore be put on record that the way in which the guillotine has been ordered and has fallen is less than helpful in terms of the proper scrutiny and debate of a major piece of legislation. Clearly, there is no point in pursuing the issue of selection at this stage, but it is important to put it on record that we are deeply opposed to the amendments made to clause 8 in Committee and that we shall continue to oppose those impositions.

    I regret that we are not dealing with this major issue —the reorganisation of local government in England—with unanimity and consensus. For agreement, certainty and stability to have been reached would have been a logical conclusion to the shambles consequent on previous reorganisations. For the lessons of 1972 not to be learnt in 1992 shows a deliberate and presumably intentional refusal to learn the lessons of history. If the Government have the opportunity of implementing their proposals, the nation will live to regret it.

    We could have reached a consensus about the nature of the reorganisation, and we could have had a degree of unanimity about its objectives, but we have not done so because the Government have chosen to continue on an ideological path that they commenced some 13 years ago. Local government was seen as an obstacle to the economic and social reconstruction of Britain and was believed to be a block on the reorientation of our democratic structures so that the operation of the market place rather than the ballot box would be supreme. The Government substituted their market square for our family circle. Everything was subjected to the law of Mammon. The intention was to determine whether something was profitable and whether it could be put out to tender. The key values of centralisation and privatisation were placed above those of accountability and democratisation.

    Under new clause 3, we raise today the whole question of what local government is supposed to be about. What is the reorganisation intended to achieve? Is it driven by a desire to ensure that local people have a say over their lives in a pluralistic democracy in which they can choose for themselves the nature of the provision, the extent of the services delivered, and the quality that they wish to see, and in which they have the ability to raise and spend money to achieve those objectives? Alternatively, is the Bill about reorganising local government in the image of its makers in Westminster and Whitehall—namely, the majority party in the House? It is clear to us that the answer to the latter question is yes. The reorganisation is about the Government's ideological determination to ensure that local authorities are no more than a mouthpiece for a handful of people who manage to find civic office. It is not concerned with local government as a means of community expression and a part of government rather than merely local administration.

    It is important to raise a number of key questions today about the nature of local government and what we seek to obtain in reorganising its structure and functions. It is clear to us that local government should be just that—it should be local and it should be government. The Bill and the propositions for the operation of the local government commission will achieve the exact opposite. They take away the ability of local people to act loyally, and they order government only in the sense that it is centralised in the hands of Ministers and civil servants in Westminster and Whitehall. Such government is not local because local people will not be able to determine the way in which local government operates its services. The whole design and structure of the propositions are predicated on the belief that local services will be put out to tender, and will be privatised or centralised.

    The appendix to the guidance for the commission shows clearly how major services, which we expect to be dealt with by local government, are to be taken substantially away from the determination of locally elected representatives. The guidance is explicit, so it is worth repeating—as we did briefly in Committee—the way in which it is phrased.

    Housing is currently a key function for district authorities outside the metropolitan areas. The Government's decision is clear because the guidance talks about the way in which the housing function should continue. It says:
    "Authorities also own and manage some four million units of housing but Government policy is that they should adopt an enabling role, assessing needs in their area but relying on housing associations and the private sector for new provision."
    In other words, the function of a local authority in providing directly for the needs of its electorate will be removed. The ability of a local authority to respond directly to the aspirations and the desperate needs of people will be diminished. Instead, the role of local authorities will be merely to monitor and to appeal to other people to provide for the desperate needs not only of the homeless but of the many people who seek rehousing at different times in their lives. They may need more suitable accommodation, such as sheltered provision in old age. They may need more appropriate dwellings as their families grow up or as their families are extended.

    It is clear, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) will confirm, that the intention behind the Government's housing policy is to ensure that people no longer turn to their elected representatives to have their needs met. They will be expected to turn to the private sector and to housing associations alone. None of us says that a pluralistic approach cannot be applied to those issues.

    4.45 pm

    Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in some instances the sheer size of local authority housing departments militates against good management? Does he acknowledge that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), a previous Front Bench spokesman on housing, said that Birmingham was trying to manage more than 100,000 properties which simply was not practical? Is it not right that we should now talk about local authorities being concerned more with enabling than with simply trying to manage bigger and bigger departments?

    The Bill deals with authorities outside the metropolitan areas. No one could describe the housing authorities in the non-metropolitan districts as gigantic. It is interesting to reflect that a recent report has shown that there is now grave concern about the size of housing associations, and about the way in which their operations can be more centralised and more at arm's length than those of local authorities. Local authorities have sought to decentralise their management and their facilities. Birmingham tried to parish the city, but was blocked in that endeavour. It attempted to ensure that there was devolved and decentralised management, which many good local authorities have sought to achieve.

    Many of us feel that direct involvement by tenants in the running and operation of housing and housing estates is a valuable contribution in ensuring that they have genuine democratic control over what is rightly theirs. Placing tenants outside the local authority sector disables that process and makes it far more difficult. Recent studies have shown that there is far less tenant control in other sectors of housing than there is in the good authorities which have carried out Labour party policy in devolving and decentralising not only housing offices, but the management and control of their housing stock.

    There are fundamental issues about the way in which facilities are taken away from the people for whom they are supposed to be intended. The same applies to education, in which the Government have also made their intentions clear. Much of the Bill is a hidden agenda. It is difficult for the Secretary of State for Education and Science to hide anything under a bushel, so the intentions for education have been made clear. We need to make them even clearer today. The guidance to the commission says:
    "The number of schools operating as grant-maintained … is likely to rise significantly".
    [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] "Hear, hear", comes heavily from Conservative Members.

    My hon. Friend points out that it comes heavily from two Conservative Members.

    The guidance continues:
    "grant-maintained status should become over time the natural organisational model for schools … It is also intended that the local authorities should lose their present responsibility for further education colleges and sixth-form colleges and for schools inspection."
    The Further and Higher Education Bill is in Committee today, under a guillotine, for the dismemberment of the further and adult education service.

    Authorities rightly look eagerly to the notion of unitary status and being able to bring together under one umbrella the provision of a number of key services so that they can integrate their social and economic policies for the locality as a whole. Unitary authorities would mean that people would have just one door to knock on. The authorities grasp in the air for the castles promised them, but find that they disintegrate into sand between their fingers because the functions that they would inherit bear no resemblance to local government as we have known it throughout the last century.

    Instead of authorities having the power to act directly to house their people or to ensure education for children from nursery schooling to post-16 comprehensive education, just as the authorities feel that they have the opportunity to deal in a co-ordinated and integrated fashion with the needs of their people, suddenly they find that those functions are being taken from them. The illusion of new power and new responsibility is therefore turning into disillusionment. The people find that central Government are centralising and neutralising the powers that local authorities believed that they would have. The Government will determine funding arrangements from the centre and will relate directly to local schools or colleges through funding agencies rather than through the local education authority; Ministers will be responsible but not accountable for what happens locally.

    Even in social services, we see the Government's intentions spelt out in the draft guidance to the commission. It says:
    "The Government's policy is that social services authorities should concentrate more on commissioning the procurement and assessment of services and less on direct provision themselves."
    It recognises that child care has to be an exception, given the Children Act 1989, and the fact that the Minister of State at the Department of Health, the hon. Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley), has constantly referred to her commitment and to the need for local authorities to be able to act.

    The logic of everything said, whether on housing, education, social services or the generality of provision, is that a local authority should no longer provide directly for its citizens but should become the enabling authority that the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) used to describe, which would meet only once a year to let private sector contracts. The No Turning Back group, of which the Minister of State remains an active supporter, spelt it out in its pamphlet, "Responsibility and Choice". It said:
    "Only public health, civil defence and local amenities need remain an integral part of local government."
    What a choice—what a level of responsibility that is for local authorities to take on.

    The Association of District Councils, eagerly awaiting the message that the commission is to set out on its travels to award councils new status, new power and new functions, finds in the end that they are to have none of them. Councils will end up with local government which is no more than a telephone box with a civic car outside. A mayor may be able to visit bazaars and give out largesse in the form of annual Christmas parcels or attend spring balls, without being able to meet the needs of the people in his community.

    The legislation would make a farce of local democracy and a mockery of any attempt to devolve power to local government. Clearly, the Government have no intention of decentralising or devolving anything. They are intent on retaining power in their own hands, and on determining directly what local government should be able to raise and spend. The financial and functioning structure of local government will result in disillusionment and in people being increasingly frustrated. There is a danger of democracy being nothing more than a charade.

    That is why we are against the way in which the commission is to operate. We do not agree with the Government's view of local government merely as an appendage to the central state rather than as a partner in a pluralistic democracy. We want to encourage people to partake in the delivery of local services and to stand for elected office so that they may take pride in the civic functions by contributing to the enhancement of the wellbeing of the people around them, and by being able to sustain and protect their environment. Instead, the financial system and the structure and functions proposed for local government would reduce it to a pale shadow of what we have understood it to be over the last 100 years.

    The proposed operation of the commission reflects the Government's contempt for local democracy. The Government intend that local authorities should be dealt with piecemeal, one by one, with Labour-controlled counties being tackled first. The Government intend to carry out the structural changes in a way which leads to the abolition of Humberside, Cleveland, Avon, Derbyshire and Lancashire, simply because they happen to be Labour authorities.

    The Government do not propose to act logically or to take a comprehensive look at England as a whole so as to ensure that the structure can be fitted together as a complete jigsaw. They mean to adopt a "hide and seek" version of making a jigsaw, where bits of the jigsaw emerge one at a time and people are expected to guess what the final picture will look like. That piecemeal approach will lead to blight. As local authorities are picked off one by one, they will lose their senior staff, who will seize the opportunity to move to other authorities. There will be a bonanza for the metropolitan and London areas which, in the key areas of education and social services, will be able to call on the expertise from the counties facing abolition before the district authorities, which are the aspirants to take over those functions, can organise themselves logically to offer posts or provide a guarantee of quality of service.

    I understand that the hon. Gentleman disagrees with the Government about various activities of local government. If by some chance —or mischance, depending on one's point of view—he were to have responsibility for dealing with the legislation under a Labour Government, what would he do about the commission? There is a great deal of interest in that. The people want to know what would happen if Labour won. Would Labour go ahead with the legislation or repeal it? Would Labour change the commission or allow it to proceed so that the reform of local government, which most people accept is long overdue, may take place in a reasonable period of time?