Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 264: debated on Thursday 19 October 1995

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

House Of Commons

Thursday 19 October 1995

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MADAM SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Accommodation Level Crossings Bill Lords (By Order)

Order for Third Reading read.

To be read the Third time on Thursday 26 October at Seven o'clock.

City Of Westminster Bill Lords (By Order)

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [26 June].

Debate to be resumed on Thursday 26 October.

Oral Answers To Questions

Home Department

Alcohol-Related Crime


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on alcohol-related crime. [36504]

I am considering the report by the all-party group on alcohol misuse. Although the majority of alcohol consumption is trouble free, for some individuals there is clearly an association between offending, especially violence, and heavy alcohol abuse.

Is the Minister aware that, according to the British Medical Association, two in three homicides and three in four stabbings are associated with alcohol misuse? Will he take this opportunity to endorse the message from the all-party group that, while people should be able to enjoy a drink without causing trouble for others, greater governmental action is needed to tackle the scale of alcohol-related crime? Will he ensure that, in future, equal priority is given to tackling alcohol-related crime as is currently given to the battle against drugs and crime?

Action is being taken. I am considering the hon. Gentleman's report but I am loth to try to single out one category of alcohol-related crime. We must tackle alcohol abuse—various Departments are doing so—and crime. Action is being taken on those two fronts and the police are reducing crime, including violence, for the first time in 50 years. The message on sensible drinking is getting through, and these days young people drink less than their parents and older generations. Spending on beer and spirits has fallen considerably in the past 15 years. We shall keep up the action on all those fronts, including the education front. I commend to the hon. Gentleman a leaflet that I published when I was Minister responsible for food three years ago.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that police officers in Lichfield hold the view that much crime is caused by people leaving pubs all at the same time—at 11 o'clock on a Friday or Saturday night? Will his Department consider changing the licensing laws to allow staggered closing times so that some pubs could close after 11 pm and some before 11 pm?

Those who stagger are less of a problem than those who do not. I commend to my hon. Friend or any police force concerned about that problem some of the research that has been carried out by the police research group in my Department, and some of the excellent experiments in the country. In Rhyl, the police, together with the licensing magistrate and the local authority, took on the problem and, by using their existing powers to stagger closing hours and deal with fast-food outlets on the highway, drastically reduced the level of incidents outside pubs and nightclubs. The evidence exists and it can be copied throughout the country without the need for primary legislation.

Teenage Prisoners


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what was the average length of time teenagers were kept in adult prisons whilst awaiting court cases in the last year for which figures are available. [36505]

The average time spent in custody on remand in Prison Service establishments by defendants aged 15 to 19 who were awaiting trial was 44 days in 1994.

Is not seven weeks in an adult prison likely to have a detrimental effect on youngsters and teenagers who have not been tried? Is it not a scandal that we are proceeding so slowly on getting additional facilities? Is the Minister aware that in 1991 when I was chair of social services in Leeds, we agreed additional facilities—an extra nine places—which were to go ahead at some time, but that five years later that still has not happened and we are still waiting? Why has there been so little progress?

If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned that young people should not be held in adult prisons, why did he vote against the Criminal Justice Act 1991 and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which provided more local authority—[HON. MEMBERS: "He was not here in 1991."] Let me rephrase my question. Why did the hon. Gentleman vote against the 1994 Act and his party vote against the 1991 Act? If he does not want young people to be held in adult prisons, why did he vote against the provision of more secure places in local authority accommodation?

Was not the real scandal the level of offending on bail? Although we want to provide as many alternative secure places as possible, the Government were absolutely right to tighten bail conditions because that will ensure that, in future, youngsters on bail will commit fewer offences.

Absolutely. It is also true of course that the Opposition voted against all our improvements to bail arrangements as well. I do not think that they have any grounds for castigating us on that subject.

May I remind the Minister that we would not have had the Bail (Amendment) Act 1993 were it not for the efforts of members of the Opposition Front Bench and the votes of the Opposition? Have Ministers forgotten that it is five years since the Government promised to end the scandal of young people of 15 and 16 years of age being held either in inappropriate adult prison accommodation or in secure local government accommodation? Will the Home Secretary now explain the Government's failure to keep that promise, or will he blame someone else?

We can justly blame the Opposition for all the difficulties that they gave us. We can justly say that we have plans for a new-build programme not far from the hon. Gentleman's constituency. We have introduced measures to try to reduce the number of young people being held in adult prisons. As usual, the Opposition will not welcome any of that because they always want to hear bad news and they will never give credit where it is due. They simply will not accept what we have done.

Intergovernmental Conference


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if Her Majesty's Government will seek at the 1996 intergovernmental conference to have the declaration on border controls in the Single Act changed to be a treaty clause; and if he will make a statement. [36506]

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have repeatedly made clear that we will take whatever steps are necessary to maintain our frontier controls. We see no need to decide now to take action at the intergovernmental conference, but if at any stage we think that a desirable course to take, we shall not hesitate to do so.

As a senior Commission official has stated that the declaration was added simply because the British needed something to take home with them, and as I cannot find anyone outside the Government who thinks that it has any legal standing, will the Home Secretary state clearly what the position of Her Majesty's Government would be if the European Court determined that our remaining border controls within the European Union were contrary to article 7A?

I repeat to my hon. Friend what I said a moment ago: the Government will take whatever steps necessary to maintain our frontier controls. That applies as much in the hypothetical circumstance referred to by my hon. Friend as to any other circumstances that might arise.

Despite the Secretary of State's reply to the question by his hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor)—I am not sure what on earth it meant—is it not a fact that when he and the rest of the Tory Government signed up to what is now article 7A of the treaty of Rome of 1986, they opted hook, line and sinker for a regime that means that we will be forced to give up our ability to control our frontiers? We will have to give up the means to combat drug runners, international criminals and the gangsters who control illegal immigration. Other than continue to display governmental indolence, what will the right hon. and learned Gentleman do to ensure that we continue to maintain our frontier controls as we should?

The short answer is, no that is not true. I am not aware that, at the time, the Labour party was opposed to that particular article. I do not recall that the Opposition expressed any concern about it. The hon. Gentleman's hypothesis is quite untrue. We will take whatever steps are necessary to maintain our frontier controls.

Is it not the case that, in stating that the Government would do whatever is necessary, the Government committed themselves to ensuring that those border controls remain? Is it not also the case that the words from Opposition Members are totally out of standing, especially when they would commit to virtually every European policy that is thrust upon us?

My hon. Friend is, of course, absolutely right. It may well be necessary, if we are to maintain our frontier controls, for us to be isolated in Europe, but that is the thing that the Labour party has said that it never would be. Labour Members never would be isolated in Europe. They never will exercise the veto. They will never stand up to defend our frontier controls. Only Conservative Members would be prepared to take the action that may be necessary to achieve that.

Probation Service, West Yorkshire


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to visit the West Yorkshire probation service to discuss probation services; and if he will make a statement. [36507]

My noble Friend the Minister of State visited West Yorkshire probation service on 19 May. I have no immediate plans to visit the West Yorkshire service myself.

Has the Home Secretary seen the performance report of the West Yorkshire probation service for the past year? That report reveals a 16 per cent. increase in demand from courts—a 16 per cent. increase in the work of the probation service. The reward from the Home Secretary for that this year is a 4.5 per cent. cut in its cash limits. Will he give me an assurance and a guarantee that, so that the West Yorkshire community may receive the service to which it is entitled from the probation service, there will be no cuts in the coming year, so that the services can be guaranteed?

If the hon. Gentleman takes a slightly broader look at funding for the probation service in recent years, he will find that the picture is quite different. Specifically, if he considers the period between 1990 and 1994, he will notice a substantial increase in resources. It is no use the shadow Chancellor popping up on every radio station and saying that the Labour party will be rigorous on public spending if Labour Back Benchers repeatedly pop up in the House and ask for more money to be spent in every category in the public expenditure survey.

Raghbir Singh Johal


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the case of Mr. Raghbir Singh Johal. [36508]

I am satisfied that Raghbir Singh Johal's deportation would be conducive to the public good for reasons of national security and would contribute to the fight against international terrorism. No action will be taken to remove him from the United Kingdom until the representations that he has made have been considered.

Is the Home Secretary aware that my constituent, a lawful resident in Britain for many years, strenuously denies any involvement with terrorism? If there is any evidence relating to terrorism, why is my constituent not being charged, but has instead been held in prison since March on no charge whatsoever? Is his to be another case like that of the Sikh who has been held in prison for five years and who is bringing his case before the European Court? No charges have been made against that person either.

Because the exercise of the powers that I have referred to require me to take into account material that includes material which would not be admissible in a court of law. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the law should be changed so that that material could not be taken into account in such circumstances, perhaps he would say so.



To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received about the 48-hour rule for casinos. [36511]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
(Mr. Timothy Kirkhope)

We have received representations from the casino industry and a number of hon. Members. We are currently reviewing the present controls on casinos as part of the Government's deregulation initiative.

May I be the first to welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box and to wish him every success in his new post? He will be well aware of the fact that the British casino industry is a substantial earner of foreign income for the country, but is subject to regulation that is outdated and outmoded. It would be very much in the country's interests if he were able to announce very soon the end of the Government's consultation period on the basis of the consultations that they have already had, and make proposals for the deregulation of that important industry.

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. I commend him for the work that he does on behalf of the tourism industry in the United Kingdom and in his constituency. We are very close to reaching conclusions, having received representations. We are looking not only at the 48-hour rule for casinos, but at the issue of the permitted areas where they may operate. I hope that when we come to our conclusions we will balance the needs of deregulation with the needs for continued protection for the public, about which I know many hon. Members are also concerned.

I also welcome the Minister to his new responsibilities.

There is considerable concern among groups such as the bingo industry, the pools industry and betting shops about the unfair competition that they have experienced as a result of the introduction of the national lottery. We are prepared to hold talks with the Minister and any of his ministerial colleagues to look at ways in which those anomalies can be put right so that the industries and, more importantly, the jobs that depend on them, exist on a level playing field and face fair, not unfair, competition.

We are well aware of that and have already made some progress in deregulation. If it helps the hon. Gentleman I can say that I am certainly willing, as always, to meet any delegations on that basis. Our considerations at present include not only casinos, but bingo and bingo halls.

I also welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box and much appreciate what he has just said. Does he agree that towns, particularly conference towns such as Harrogate in my constituency, which he knows well, should be able to qualify for casino licences to save business visitors the necessity of travelling to Leeds for their entertainment?

As the Member for Leeds, North-East, I have a slightly mixed view. My hon. Friend is right; our considerations, as I said before, include permitted areas. We shall certainly look at representations from towns such as Harrogate and, of course, Swindon.

Police Advisory Committee For London


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department on which dates the police advisory committee for London has met since 1 January; and if he will place a copy of its minutes of proceedings in the Library. [36512]

The Metropolitan Police Committee met on 27 February, 21 March, 25 April, 25 May, 22 June, 19 July, 21 September and 6 October. Its sub-committees, on remuneration matters and performance indicators, have met separately on several occasions.

The duty of the Metropolitan Police Committee is to advise Ministers on policy and the minutes of its meetings are therefore confidential. I expect the chairman to produce an annual report and I shall place a copy of that in the Library in due course.

Does not the Home Secretary think that non-publication of minutes is a hierarchical and undemocratic practice? Will he confirm that the principal duties that he has asked the Committee to perform relating to budgets and finance reflect the wrong attitude to public service, both in terms of the Government as a whole and his own particular style? Is not that specific quango, which probably spends between £300,000 and £400,000 a year, an affront to the citizens of London, whatever their political view?

The answers to the three questions posed by the hon. Gentleman are no, no and no.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend believe that the police advisory committee for London will have as much chance of success as the borough police consultative committees currently have, including wide representations in boroughs? Does my right hon. and learned Friend remember that the Labour party bitterly opposed the establishment of the borough consultative committees, particularly in Ealing and Hackney, and refused to serve on them for many years?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. That is a part of the Labour party's record that it would prefer to forget, but many of us remember it. I am confident that the Metropolitan Police Committee will play an important part in improving the way in which policing in London can involve the community.

Private Security Industry


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will introduce statutory regulation of the private security industry. [36513]


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will introduce statutory regulation of the private security industry. [36514]

The case for regulation is currently being considered. The Home Affairs Select Committee report on that issue made a number of very helpful recommendations and we shall respond to it as soon as possible.

Given that the respectable part of the industry is keen to have proper regulation and given that it is now more than four months since the Home Affairs Select Committee gave its report and the Government are supposed to reply after two months, is it not high time that there were some proposals for proper regulation or is the Deputy Prime Minister vetoing that?

The private security industry has grown up in the past 20 or 25 years and the bulk of the industry works perfectly well without any need for regulation. The Home Affairs Select Committee identified one sector with potential problems. In view of the time span of the growth of the industry, I think that it is quite legitimate for the Government to take the time that they have since the Home Affairs Select Committee reported to consider the matters carefully before rushing into implementing any proposals. Of course, we shall want to respond to the Select Committee as soon as we can and we shall want to give a detailed and considered reply to the main points in its recommendations.

We all know that the Government have no standards whatsoever as to their normal conduct, but what about people's concerns about low wages, no regulation and no guarantee of public safety in the private security industry? Does the Minister rule out entirely any form of regulation in that industry?

If the hon. Gentleman were to read my evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee, he would know the answer to that question. We are considering carefully all options for that sector.

As to the hon. Gentleman's jibe about standards, if he wants to root out criminals and fraudsters, perhaps he should go to Hackney council and sort out the corruption in its housing department. Perhaps he could then pop into Labour-controlled Islington, with its crazy policy of employing paedophiles, pimps and perverts to work with children.

There is concern about the issue on Conservative Benches as well as on Opposition Benches. I know of many examples of people having to work ridiculously long hours for exceedingly low pay, which raises many questions about how secure the security companies really are. When the Minister replies to the Select Committee's report, I hope that he will put forward some concrete proposals to strengthen the position and to drive the cowboys out of that very important industry.

As someone who used to undertake such work 15 or 20 years ago, I am of course aware that part of the security industry is low paid. However, I think that my hon. Friend would be the first to acknowledge that self-regulation works perfectly well in the bulk of the security industry—particularly on the technological and electronic alarm sides. The Home Affairs Select Committee identified only one sector where there was a potential problem. Nevertheless, that sector deserves careful consideration and we are considering it at the moment.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the difficulties that security companies face in trying to employ people without criminal records? Will he ensure that that issue is examined so that the security companies may be certain that their employees do not have criminal records?

My hon. Friend is right to draw my attention to that aspect of the policy. In considering the Home Affairs Select Committee report, we must examine whether changes to the present rules for vetting potential employees are necessary. That requires careful consideration of the impact of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, and we are looking at whether it will be possible to gather more information about prospective employees in order to prevent the employment of people with criminal records, without undermining the principles of the Act.

Until we have a proper system of regulation that will stop criminals moving into the industry—as some have done already—will the Minister give an assurance that neither the Home Office nor any of its agencies employ any security firms that do not belong to the industry's self-regulating organisation? But perhaps that is an operational detail of the kind that the Minister does not like to be involved in.

No. It would be contrary to European regulations to exclude companies automatically on the basis that they do not belong to a trade organisation. Government Departments operate a quality threshold policy and if any company meets the quality standards of a contract, that company can be given the business, irrespective of whether it belongs to a trade union or a trade association.

Is the Minister aware, not least from the concerns expressed by the hon. Members for Wellingborough (Sir P. Fry) and for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin), of the mounting concern that, in many parts of the country, the private security industry does indeed employ criminals, who are organised into companies to continue their criminal activities under the guise of providing private security? Is he aware that the Home Affairs Select Committee concluded that there was a growing problem of totally unregistered private locally patrolling operations, often preying on the fears of vulnerable people? Given the intense concern on both sides of the House, does the Minister accept that he really should show much more than the complacency that he has demonstrated to the House today and move swiftly ahead with the proper regulation of that sector of the industry?

We all know that when the Opposition study an opinion poll and find that people dislike noisy neighbours, they rush into promises of draconian legislation to deal with that week's problem. The private security industry is very important. It is also a large industry which is important to Britain's export needs. The first point to acknowledge is that the bulk of the industry has been given a clean bill of health. The fact that the Home Office and the Home Affairs Select Committee have been reviewing it means that we take the potential problem very seriously. When we have reached our conclusions, we shall announce them in due course.

Fire Service, Wales


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what further discussions he has had with local authorities concerning proposals for the reorganisation of the fire service in Wales. [36516]

My right hon. and noble Friend met a deputation from the Assembly of Welsh Counties on 22 August. In the light of the recently completed consultation process on the proposed combined fire authorities, the Government have decided, after careful consideration, to introduce a three-brigade structure for the fire service in Wales from next April.

Does the Minister appreciate that the local authorities now consider that the original consultation process was flawed because of inaccurate information? They are now calling for further meetings with Lady B latch to consider a proposal for a voluntary combination of the five new unitary authorities in Gwent to run the Gwent fire brigade which, incidentally, has the best response rate in the whole of the United Kingdom. Could we please now have some help and co-operation from the Government?

An extremely thorough consultation took place. Indeed, the proposals to move to three brigades were first put forward as long ago as March 1993, since when there have been many more contributions to consultation. I do not think that anything substantive has occurred since we concluded the consultation process. Certainly I am always willing to talk to the hon. Gentleman about any matter, including this, but the announcement has been made with good evidence that it will improve the efficiency and good running of the service in Wales for the benefit of the Welsh people.

Carl Bridgewater Murder Case


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to make an announcement about a referral of the case of the men convicted of the murder of Carl Bridgewater back to the Court of Appeal. [36517]

That is good news as far as it goes. Three men have been in prison for 18 years for a crime that they did not commit and one man has died in gaol. Even the foreman of the jury says that they are innocent. It has been two and a half years since new evidence has been presented to the Home Office and I am glad that, at long last, a decision may be taken soon. Two and a half years is a long time. I know that the Home Secretary has had a lot on his mind, but if he had paid more attention to miscarriages of justice instead of interfering in the day-to-day running of prisons, perhaps he would not be in the mess he is in today.

I am afraid that the hon. Lady seems to misunderstand the process of justice in Britain. We have had the matter examined extremely thoroughly. Although it has taken a long time, that is very important because of the matters that have been raised by many people. They have been considered most carefully. We want to see that justice is properly done and, as I said to the hon. Lady, we expect to complete the consideration and make an announcement very soon.

Asylum Seekers


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement about the number of asylum seekers. [36518]

The number of asylum applications in the United Kingdom rose from 22,400 in 1993 to 32,800 in 1994—an increase of 45 per cent. The figures are continuing to rise sharply and are expected to exceed 40,000 in 1995. Few applicants are genuine refugees. It is clear that further action is needed to strengthen our defences against exploitation of our asylum system. A statement about that will be made shortly.

Does my hon. Friend agree that many so-called asylum seekers regard this country as a soft touch? Is it not the case that 80 per cent. of people who apply for asylum in this country eventually have to return home? Is not it the case also that some people who apply for asylum are illegal immigrants facing deportation from this country? Does not the whole country—with the exception of Opposition Front Benchers—welcome the Government's determination to clamp down on bogus asylum seekers, so that genuine cases can be dealt with much more quickly?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Only 5 per cent. of appeals against our refusals are upheld. Asylum is often used as a last resort by people who have exhausted every other possible method, including illegal entry. We are tired of being taken for a ride, and it is undeniably true that, genuine applicants suffer from the activities of applicants who are not genuine. It is our firm intention to curtail their activities.

Race Relations


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement about race relations in the United Kingdom. [36519]

I believe that the United Kingdom can be proud of its record on race relations, which is significantly better than that in most comparable countries. Of course there is always room for improvement, and the Government will continue their policy of promoting good race relations combined with firm but fair immigration control.

Does the Home Secretary agree that it was most damaging to race relations when the chairman of the Conservative party used the televised platform of the Conservative party conference to pour scorn on the work of the Hopscotch Asian women's project in Camden? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman urge the right hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) to apologise to the Princess Royal, who has just visited that project because it is funded by the Save the Children Fund? Will he also apologise to his own Department, which last year gave the Hopscotch project a grant?

No, I will not do any of those things. I am happy to say that I am in frequent communication with my right hon. Friend and I know that he takes the cause of promoting good race relations as seriously as any Member of the House.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that good race relations depends to a great extent on firm immigration control? He is to be congratulated on his attitude to border controls. It is believed that, since 1984, a quarter of a million Sikhs have sought asylum in Germany. If there were not good border controls, there would be a strong chance that those Sikhs would join their many relatives in places such as Wolverhampton.

I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of firm but fair immigration control, particularly in the context of the need to maintain our present system of frontier controls.

Violent Crime


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to revise Government policy on punishment for criminals who kill in the course of committing a crime. [36520]

Will my right hon. Friend accept the congratulations of my constituents on the pledge given by the Home Secretary last week at the Conservative party conference that second offenders in violent crime will in future probably receive a life sentence? Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that persons who commit violent acts or murder while committing a crime should receive the death penalty?

My hon. Friend knows my personal views on capital punishment. We probably differ only at the drawing and quartering stage. She knows also, however, that it is not a matter for Government determination; capital punishment is one for the will of the House. The House has made its intentions clear over the years and the Government have no intention of attempting to change that policy.

Fire Authorities


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received on the reduction in services that fire authorities have to make as a result of expenditure shortfalls. [36521]

Representations about the level of financial provision available to fire authorities have been received from a number of hon. Members and others. My right hon. and learned Friend's approval is required under section 19 of the Fire Services Act 1947 before any reduction in the number of fire stations, fire appliances or firefighting posts in a brigade can be made, and is given only when he is satisfied that the normally recommended minimum levels of fire cover will be maintained. I understand that the West Midlands fire and civil defence authority is meeting all its statutory obligations.

Is the Minister aware that the West Midlands fire brigade pension fund is about £7 million in deficit? Does he realise that that could result in further cuts in the service? What does he propose to do?

Those matters are mostly the concern of the fire authorities. The hon. Gentleman, however, and the people of his area have a safeguard because we shall not allow the standards of fire protection to fall. The service provided by the fire authorities will be protected for ordinary people. I invite the hon. Gentleman to join me in asking firemen on Merseyside to settle their dispute and return to work. Firemen who are on strike in that manner harm fire protection, as opposed to what the Government are doing.

Will my hon. Friend reconsider the ways in which fire services are budgeted? Is it not illogical that the expenditure side is determined on risk analysis whereas the revenue side is determined on the previous three years' call-out rate?

There are illogicalities, and I shall be happy to consider the matter that my hon. Friend has raised. I am satisfied, however, that the financing of fire authorities is satisfactory and adequate for the majority of them to meet the needs that they have above and beyond the need of fire protection.

Criminal Neighbours


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement about procedures to deal with criminal neighbours. [36522]

The investigation of criminal offences is an operational matter for chief officers of police. The Government encourage the police to work in partnership with local authorities and other organisations to tackle crime and prevent nuisance.

The Minister will be aware of the great inconvenience that is caused to people who have anti-social neighbours. Is it good enough for the Minister to offer the same old excuse about operational matters? When can we expect him to deliver some policies to help these individuals who are experiencing such trouble with anti-social neighbours?

Serious anti-social behaviour such as racial harassment, witness intimidation, threatening behaviour and assault are already the subject of criminal offences. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 introduced new provisions to deal with witness intimidation and intentional harassment. Those were provisions that the Labour party thought about carefully before deciding to abstain. We have introduced policies and the Opposition have abstained.

Violent Crime


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action he intends to take to tackle violent crime. [36523]


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what further action he intends to take to tackle violent crime. [36524]

My right hon. and learned Friend announced last week our proposals for ensuring that the sentence served in prison should be the sentence passed by the court and that there should be a new mandatory life sentence for repetition of serious offences of sex or violence.

If the Home Secretary truly believes in the need to abolish automatic remission, why did he and all his colleagues vote for the introduction of that system during consideration of what became the Criminal Justice Act 1991? Is he unable to make up his mind or is this another example of the Conservative party lurching to the right to appease reactionary representatives at the Tory party conference?

If the hon. Gentleman had bothered to study the 1991 Act and what had gone before, he would have found that that legislation led to a tightening of the rules. It is clear that he and his party have not thought through the sentencing policies that the people want. Perhaps that is why we are seeing a sideshow this afternoon.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is an affront to the public when violent criminals then profit from their crime by selling their story to film makers and publishers? Will he look again at my proposed amendment to criminal justice legislation to make it illegal for anyone to pay a criminal for his story?

Of course it is reprehensible for people to profit from those activities, but, as I have said to my hon. Friend, rather than create a new offence or invoke criminal law, I would much prefer to see responsibility by those who are exercising the cheque book, in whatever media outlets they may be in, so that they do not pay criminals for the details of their sordid crimes.

Prime Minister

Lichfield (Anniversaries)


To ask the Prime Minister when he plans to visit the celebrations of the 800th anniversary of the completion of the present cathedral and the 500th anniversary of the King Edward VI school being held this year in the city of Lichfield. [36532]

I warmly congratulate the citizens of Lichfield on these anniversaries. Unfortunately, I shall not on this occasion be able to visit during them.

If my right hon. Friend is able to visit next year, not only could he join in the celebrations of the 801st anniversary of the cathedral but he could see our brand new anti-crime closed circuit television system in the centre of Lichfield and use the opportunity to speak to the people of the city of Lichfield, who will tell him that what we need is not do-gooders but more people like our Home Secretary, who are tough on crime and robust on punishment.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary richly deserves and gets my full support in his fight against crime. It is a fight in which he has engaged with great success without a great deal of support from Opposition Members.

Closed circuit television has had a dramatic effect in catching criminals and deterring crime, and over the next three years we anticipate installing a further 10,000 new cameras up and down the country.



To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 19 October. [36533]

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

Despite the Government's obsession with privatisation over the past 16 years, will the Prime Minister share the view of Dame Vera Lynn, the people of Dover and the Labour party and ensure that Dover and its white cliffs remain British for ever?

The hon. Gentleman makes a compelling case and, as we look at plans ahead, I shall certainly bear it in mind.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the official solicitor is reported to have done a deal whereby the so-called memoirs of my late constituent, Mr. Fred West, are to be sold for £1 million? Does my right hon. Friend not find such a deal extremely distasteful? But, if it is to go ahead, does he agree that that sum should go not to members of the West family but to the families of the alleged victims?

When I saw some of the earlier reports on this matter in the media, there was an implication that the Government were involved in the sale of the rights to Mr. West's papers. That is, of course, emphatically not the case. The official solicitor who has made the sale is a lawyer independent of Government and he has made that decision on his judgment of what is right for the estate. Personally, I share my hon. Friend's feelings about this matter.

Can we have clear answers now to the two points of fact at the heart of the dispute between the Home Secretary and Mr. Lewis? At the meeting of 10 January, first, did the Home Secretary say that the governor of Parkhurst prison should be suspended—a disciplinary matter—rather than merely transferred to other duties, and, secondly, was it the Home Secretary, not Mr. Lewis, who demanded that any action taken be taken that day immediately so that he could announce it to the House of Commons?

My right hon. and learned Friend will deal with these matters in detail this afternoon. But let me say further to the right hon. Gentleman that the leading questions that he put to me on Tuesday in an attempt to discredit my right hon. and learned Friend were wrong. I have now had the documentary evidence examined which shows conclusively that the decision to move the governor of Parkhurst prison was the director general's. My right hon. and learned Friend will be releasing that evidence later today. I hope, therefore, that before the Leader of the Opposition repeats unjust allegations, before he states new unjust allegations, he will withdraw the old unjust allegations and apologise for them. [Interruption.]

We certainly do not withdraw those allegations and we shall make them good during the debate. What is more, I note that the Prime Minister did not answer either of the two points that I put to him. Let me make this clear to Conservative Members. This is not just Mr. Lewis's word against that of the Home Secretary, although let me point out that he was the senior civil servant. The Government appointed Mr. Lewis and renewed his contract. May I tell the Prime Minister—[Interruption.]

Order. This is Question Time and we are to have a debate on the matter in a short time.

May I remind the Prime Minister that those now lined up against the Home Secretary on this issue are the chairman of the board of visitors of Parkhurst, the chairman of the Association of Members of Boards of Visitors, the chief inspector of prisons—[Interruption.]

Order. This is Question Time and I insist that questions are put to the Prime Minister for reply.

Will the Prime Minister now release Philippa Drew, John Marriott and other civil servants connected with this matter from their obligations of confidentiality on this limited issue so that they can give their version of events and we can see who is telling the truth?

The right hon. Gentleman is very reckless with his facts and very fancy-free with his allegations. He was wrong on Tuesday and the House will notice that he did not apologise for his error. My right hon. and learned Friend will deal with all these matters this afternoon and I have every confidence that he will reveal Labour's smears for what they are. I have one further point for the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman is keen to lecture people on moral responsibility. Perhaps he should reflect that a high moral tone is inconsistent with peddling allegations that he knows are untrue.

If the Prime Minister says that they are untrue, will he allow those civil servants who know the truth directly to give evidence as to their version of events? Now, yes or no to that question?

I made the point in my first answer that my right hon. and learned Friend will be releasing the evidence this afternoon about the decision on Parkhurst prison. As to the other matters, my right hon. and learned Friend will make the matter crystal clear this afternoon. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to retain any credibility in the country, he should acknowledge that he is wrong and apologise for unjust allegations.

Has my right hon. Friend had an opportunity during his busy week to consider the findings of the European Court, which has said that positive discrimination in employment is unlawful? Will he confirm that the full facilities of the Equal Opportunities Commission will be made available for the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham)?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely intriguing point, and also touches on elections elsewhere that have been of interest to the House in the past day or so. I have no doubt that the departure of the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) and the arrival of the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) constitute a case of constructive dismissal and destructive appointment.

With the Home Secretary now facing his eighth appearance before the courts, how does the Prime Minister justify a policy of "two strikes and you're out" for a criminal? The Home Secretary has had seven strikes against him, and he is still in.

I think that the right hon. Gentleman ought to understand that there is strong support in the country for the law and order policies of my right hon. and learned Friend. Time after time, my right hon. and learned Friend and his predecessors have set out strong anti-criminal measures; time after time, the right hon. Gentleman and the Leader of the Opposition have voted for the soft option. They voted against raising the maximum sentences for serious crimes: they are against that. They were against giving the Attorney-General the right of appeal against lenient sentences: they want lenient sentences. They were against strengthening police powers to stop and search criminals, against giving the police more powers to deal with disorder on the streets and against making parents more responsible for their children. They do not like it, but that is their record on crime. The only message that the Liberal and Labour parties send to criminals is that they would be soft on them.

Turning to Northern Ireland, may I ask my right hon. Friend to confirm that it remains the Government's policy to exclude from all-party talks all those who retain guns and explosives?

I can confirm that there has been absolutely no change in the Government's position. That will be clear to anyone who studies the full text of the remarks made the other day by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 19 October. [36534]

Does the Prime Minister recall the occasion on which a man was found in the Queen's bedroom? Does he also recall—[Interruption.]

Does the Prime Minister also recall that the then Home Secretary, Lord Whitelaw—who I think we can all agree was a gentleman of the old school—immediately offered his resignation? Was Lord Whitelaw wrong? Should he have said that it was an operational matter, and none of his business?

If the hon. Gentleman were familiar with the framework document under which Mr. Lewis was working, he would see the clear distinction between policy and operational matters.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 19 October. [36535]

Is my right hon. Friend aware that grant-maintained schools are proving more and more popular with parents—so much so that a school in the constituency of the Leader of the Opposition is now balloting for grant-maintained status?

I did not know that, but I congratulate the parents of Sedgefield on considering it, and I very much hope that they will vote in favour. I hope that, if they do, the Labour leader will have the chance to tell his constituents about the benefits of grant-maintained schools, which he so obviously values. When he does so, perhaps he can explain why Labour's education policy is to enjoy those advantages—quite rightly—for its own children, but to deprive other people's children of the same opportunity.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Thursday 19 October. [36536]

Does the Prime Minister share my concern at the failure of training and enterprise councils across the country to meet their targets for special needs? Does he realise that, in the meantime, projects such as Roots and Shoots in Kennington in my constituency are facing closure from underfunding, despite having a wonderful success rate in terms of employment? What action will he take on that?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me notice of the detailed question that she proposed to ask. I understand that she had a useful meeting this morning with the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice). I understand that Roots and Shoots has signed a contract with the Central London TEC. My hon. Friend has made it clear that the TEC is willing to discuss the terms of the contract and the costs involved by Roots and Shoots in an effort to ensure that provision is continued. As I am sure the hon. Lady is also aware, my hon. Friend has written to every TEC to urge it to pass on the substantial premium that the Government pay to special needs training. My hon. Friend will of course pursue that vigorously.

Business Of The House

3.30 pm

May I ask the Leader of the House for details of future business?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Tony Newton)

The business for next week will be as follows: MONDAY 23 OCTOBER—Debate on a motion to take note of the outstanding reports of the Public Accounts Committee to which the Government have replied. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Motion to take note of EC documents Nos. 7596/95, 7465/95 and 8817/95 relating to the common fisheries policy control system. Details will be given in the Official Report.

TUESDAY 24 OCTOBER—Opposition Day (19th allotted day). Until about 7 o'clock there will be a debate entitled "Current Environmental Concerns in Scotland" on a motion in the name of the Scottish National party. Followed by a debate entitled "The Plight of Pensioners in Wales" on a motion in the name of Plaid Cymru.

WEDNESDAY 25 OCTOBER—Until 2.30 pm, there will be debates on the motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Opposition Day (20th allotted day). There will be a debate on the national lottery on an Opposition motion.

THURSDAY 26 OCTOBER—Remaining stages of the Mental Health (Patients in the Community) Bill [Lords].

Motion on an order relating to the salaries of Ministers, the Leader of the Opposition and Opposition Whips in each House, and the Officers of both Houses.

The Chairman of Ways and Means is expected to name opposed private business for consideration at 7 o'clock.

FRIDAY 27 OCTOBER—Debate on sport on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

MONDAY 30 OCTOBER—Consideration of Lords amendments which may be received to the Disability Discrimination Bill.

Remaining stages of the Law Reform (Succession) Bill [Lords], the Private International Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill [Lords], the Family Homes and Domestic Violence Bill [Lords] and the Civil Evidence Bill [Lords].

The House will also wish to know that European Standing Committee B will meet as follows:

Tuesday 24 October at 10.30 am: EC document No. 6591/94 relating to comparative advertising.

Wednesday 25 October at 10.30 am: EC document No. 6871/95 and the supplementary explanatory memorandum submitted by the Department of National Heritage on 5 July 1995 relating to tourism.

I am sorry that at present I am not able to be as forthcoming as I would normally wish about business after Monday 30 October, but I think hon. Members will understand some of the difficulties at this time of year. I should tell them—it would certainly be for the convenience of the House—that Government business will be taken in the week beginning 30 October and will also be taken in the week beginning 6 November for some time in that week, subject to the progress of business in another place.

[Monday 23 October—European Community documents: (a) 7465/95, Fisheries enforcement: financial provision; (b) 7596/95, Common fisheries policy control system; (c) 8817/95, Fisheries: log book records. Relevant European Legislation Committee reports: (a) HC 70-xxi ( 1994–95); (b) HC 70-xxi (1994–95); (c) HC 70-xxv ( 1994–95).

Tuesday 24 October—European Standing Committee B. European Community document: 6591/94, Comparative advertising. Relevant European Legislation Committee reports: HC 48-xxi ( 1993–94), HC 70-xii (1994–95).

Wednesday 25 October—European Standing Committee B. European Community document: 6871/95, Tourism. Relevant European Legislation Committee reports: HC 70-xix ( 1994–95) and HC 70-xxiii ( 1994–95).]

Monday 23 October

Reports Session 1993–94


Report title

HC No.

Date of publication

40Property Services in the English Occupied Royal Palaces3167 September
42The Renewable Energy Research, Development and Demonstration Programme3878 September
43The Industrial Injuries Scheme36821 September
44British Army in Germany— Drawdown of Equipment and Stores40817 November
45Export Credits Guarantee Department Appropriation Accounts 1992–93: Irregular Payments to Exporters4063 November
46Registers of Scotland: Service to the Public3943 November
47The British Film Institute49123 November
48Management and Sale of Houses in Borders Region30324 November
49National Health Service: Hospital Catering in England4271 December
50National Insurance Fund Account 1992–934197 December
51Auditing Clinical Care in Scotland3758 December

Reports Session 1994–95


Report title

HC No.

Date of publication

1Ministry of Defence: The Major Projects Report (1993)4214 December
2The Sports Council: Initiatives to Improve Financial Management and Control and Value for Money9311 January
3Merseyside Development Corporation: Grand Regatta Columbus and Fanfare for a New World Concert9412 January

Reports Session 1994–95


Report title

HC No.

Date of publication

4Inland Revenue: Getting Tax Right First Time and Dealing with More Complex Postal Queries10519 January
5Council Tax Valuations in England and Wales1378 February
6Wolds Remand Prison1389 February
7Excess Votes28014 March
8NI Excess Votes28114 March
9Improving Social Security Services in London: The Provision of Services to Customers1453 May
10Appropriation Matters 1993–942154 May
11English Nature: Protecting SSIs37510 May
12Property Holdings Leaseholds10611 May
13Management in NHS Trusts in England15517 May
14MOD: Management of Telephones18818 May
15Resource Accounting and Budgeting40724 May
16The Privatisation of NI Electricity2425 May
17Department of Agriculture NI Science Service—Research and Development2525 May
18NHS Day Hospitals for Elderly People in England957 June
19Fraud on the Business Sponsorship Incentive Scheme2008 June
20Appropriation Account Matters 1993–9420714 June
21Financial Health of Higher Education in England13915 June
22Management of Intellectual Property23721 June
23Value for Money at Grant Maintained Schools: A Review of Performance22522 June
24Dtp: Land and Property for Road Building4328 June
25Administration of the Crown Courts17329 June
26Management of the Trident Works Programme4865 July

Reports Session 1994–95


Report title

HC No.

Date of publication

27General Practitioner— Fundholding in England2646 July
28Severance Package for the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Huddersfield24212 July
29Welsh Development Agency37613 July
30Home Office: Entry in the United Kingdom35519 July
31Scottish Courts: Administration of Scottish Courts30120 July
32ODA: Management of Programme Aid33726 July
33FCO Irregularities33027 July
34Green Form Legal Aid Frauds2823 August
35Administration of Retirement Pensions4153 August
36VEM at Colleges in the Further Education Sector3099 August
37NAO Estimate 1995–965310 August
38NAO Estimate 1995–965210 August
39Sale of Forward Civil Service—Catering34416 August
40Suspension of Dr. O'Connell32217 August

I thank the Leader of the House for that information, and accept his point that, at this time of the parliamentary year, there must be some uncertainty in future planning. Will the Leader of the House ensure that, during the debate on Wednesday 25 October on the national lottery, the Secretary of State for National Heritage is able to resolve the inconsistency between her junior Minister's answer to a parliamentary question on 27 June this year, and the statement earlier this week by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury? Perhaps the Leader of the House will tell us whether the Government regard lottery funds as public money, as seems to be the case from what the Chief Secretary was saying.

As for the business after next week, will the Leader of the House assure us that time will be found before the end of the Session to debate the Procedure Committee's report on our trial of the Jopling proposals on the management of parliamentary time? Will he ensure that there will be time for a debate and decisions on the report which is expected from the Select Committee on Standards in Public Life? I know that he is anxious that that Committee should report as soon as possible. Will he guarantee that time will be found for such a debate?

On related matters, will the Leader of the House tell us when he will be tabling the appropriate resolution to establish the new Select Committee on Standards and Privileges to which the House has agreed in principle? Will he also give an assurance that the Select Committee on Employment will continue?

Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify the position on Question Time involving the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine)? Will he confirm that hon. Members tabling questions to that Minister before the recess were told that such questions should be addressed not to the Deputy Prime Minister but to the First Secretary of State, but that, when he himself found out that that was the case, and despite the fact that questions appeared on the Order Paper addressed to the First Secretary of State, the Order Paper was changed, so that the questions were addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister? As the Deputy Prime Minister then declined to answer the first question to the Deputy Prime Minister, is that not a case of his making a mockery of the House's proceedings, and should not the Leader of the House be stopping that?

My gratitude to the hon. Lady for the generosity of her acknowledgement of the difficulties, expressed in the early part of her comments, was rather dissipated by her later remarks. My right hon. Friend is Deputy Prime Minister and First Secretary of State.

The National Lottery etc. Act 1993 makes it clear that lottery funds are ultimately under the control and management of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage. I am advised that, because it is ultimately under ministerial control, lottery money must be classified as public money under internationally recognised standards for national accounts, but I shall of course bring the hon. Lady's apparent confusion to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage.

As for Jopling, the hon. Lady has good cause to know that I am undertaking the usual consultations, with her among others, with a view to bringing appropriate resolutions before the House during what we call the spillover.

As for Nolan—again, the hon. Lady has good cause to know this because we are spending a great deal of time in Committee on the subject at the moment—the aim is to bring forward proposals and give the House the opportunity to debate them before Prorogation. All of us on the Committee are working hard to that end. I also hope to make progress with the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges. I am more than willing to listen to representations, but I should have thought that the convenient time to deal with it would be when we debate the matters to which I have just referred. I have not, however, made a definite decision about that.

As for the Select Committee on Employment, the hon. Lady knows that I am currently consulting, as is appropriate on new arrangements. However, I find it difficult to see a reason for departing from the long-established practice of matching Select Committees to Government Departments, and changing them when there are changes in the structure of Government Departments.

My right hon. Friend may be aware of the mounting criticism in certain organs of the press about the amount of legislation going through the House under statutory instrument powers. I wonder whether he shares my concern that too much legislation is going through under such powers and is not receiving sufficient scrutiny by the House, and that the matter should be debated. Or does he have news for the House that the Government are already considering the problem?

I cannot quite answer my hon. Friend in the terms which he would no doubt like because, if we are to have the debate on procedural matters that I am hoping for, he may be able to advert to that matter. On his general point, he will know that the Government are working very hard to reduce the amount of regulation.

Will the Leader of the House make time for an urgent debate on the rise in teenage smoking which has just been announced? It is particularly important in the light of the new survey that links tobacco advertising and teenage smoking.

I cannot arrange for an urgent debate—certainly not during the spillover period—but I shall of course draw the hon. Lady's question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

Will my right hon. Friend consider whether the House should debate VE and VJ day, not only because it would be right in itself in this particular year, but because there is a risk that many thousands of people will feel that the House has not adequately honoured them?

The case of a constituent of mine in Finchley illustrates the point that I would urge on the Leader of the House. A lady who lives there was bombed in her house in 1944. She was blinded at the time, and has lived and is still living in the same house. Many thousands of people lived blameless and supportive lives way behind the soldiers' ranks, and feel that they too played an important part, which we could recognise in the House.

I am sure that the whole House would want to join in paying tribute to, and indeed expressing respect for, my hon. Friend's constituent and many others who no doubt have similar experiences. On the question of recognition of these events, I thought that the rather splendid ceremony in Westminster Hall at the time of VE day—but very much recognising VJ day as well—was a proper and fitting tribute from the House.

The Leader of the House will recall that I wrote to him many weeks ago as chairman of the managing trustees of the parliamentary contributory pension fund about the independent review body's recommendations in relation to the fund. Word has reached me—it is a welcome word—that the Leader of the House is proceeding with all speed to give effect to the decision of this House of 17 July. In anticipation of an early statement from him, can I thank him for the work that he is doing?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. If he has not had a reply, I apologise for that. The work that has been required in relation to translating the thoughts of the House and the Senior Salaries Review Body into regulation form has proved extremely complex.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that there are approach and departure flight paths from Manchester airport over my constituency. He will therefore be aware that aircraft noise is a constant problem for many of my constituents. Currently, airports do not have the statutory power to fine aircraft which stray from designated corridors without the permission of traffic control. Manchester airport, and indeed my constituents, would like that to be made a statutory right, so that the fines may provide some meaningful control over such aircraft movements. My talks with the Department of Transport suggest that it accepts that such action is necessary, and would require primary legislation. Will there be any opportunity at an early date for such legislation to be implemented?

My hon. Friend will appreciate that, by tradition, I cannot anticipate the Queen's Speech. Nor, at a time when there are many demands, would I want to excite his hopes too much, even having said that. I shall bring his question to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

The Leader of the House has always been careful about the duties and support of the House of Commons. He will be aware that, when he is thinking about the Jopling report and the reforms that he will bring forward, a number of hon. Members will want to say that they are not overly impressed with some of the changes that have taken place, which have enabled the Government to escape proper scrutiny. I hope that he will not rush forward just on the basis of a fashionable change in hours, without thinking of the implications for legislation.

The hon. Lady was kind enough to use the words that she did at the beginning of her question, and I hope that I have shown that I do not seek to ride roughshod over people's reservations. However, there appears to be wide, and probably overwhelming, support in the House for changes along the lines of those with which the House has experimented this year.

Notwithstanding the narrow debate scheduled for later today, may we have a debate next week on the prison building programme? That would give me an opportunity to recognise the decision by all parties on Salford city council to reject the Prison Service's proposal to build a prison next door to my constituency, and to ask the Prison Service to think again about that disastrous proposal.

I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will note that question but, for my part, I cannot promise another debate on prisons in the near future.

Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement to the House on Lord Donaldson's assessment of the sinking of the Derbyshire? The House and the families of the Derbyshire bereaved should hear from the Secretary of State what Lord Donaldson had to say.

As ever, I shall remind my right hon. Friend of the hon. Gentleman's long-standing concern about that matter. I suppose that I could claim that I have arranged for the Secretary of State to be here to answer questions on Monday, but I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman would regard that as an adequate opportunity.

Is the Leader of the House willing to postpone the three fishing orders next Monday for a week? As he knows, the Fisheries Council will meet next week to see whether it is possible to change those ridiculous control measures, which would oblige our fishermen to make 170,000 individual reports, costing them £1.2 million, which would cost the average fishing vessel up to £5,000. How can we debate the orders next Monday without knowing the outcome of the review until about Thursday? Could we not simply delay the debate for a week? What is the problem?

I am mildly puzzled by that question, because the suggestion usually made to me is that the House should have opportunities for debate before a Fisheries Council. That is the purpose of that debate.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement and debate on the repair and replacement of system-built schools? My constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie) have a number of Derwent schools, which have been given a limited life, but we have never been able to get out of the Government a programme to fund their replacement. Birley Spa school in my constituency has been given only a two-year life, but the Government will still not commit themselves to funding a replacement for it, thereby blighting the lives of hundreds of children in my constituency. May we have a statement on precise Government policy in that regard?

I cannot promise a statement, but it is classically a question that I should want to draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment.

May we have a debate on local government finance, so that we can consider the decision of Ealing's Labour council to cut £6 million off Ealing's budget, sack 100 people and virtually eliminate adult education, which it has a statutory duty to provide? It has done so in a totally careless way, blaming next year's gram settlement, which has not even been made.

I am always keen to satisfy my hon. Friend's appetite for revealing the iniquities of his local authority. I cannot assuage it at the moment, but in five or six weeks' time, there will be a statement on local authority expenditure.

The Leader of the House will be aware that, for the past six months, the Government have said that only one person, Nick Leeson, was responsible for the collapse of Barings. This week we have received an authoritative report from Singapore detailing collusion and a cover-up at the London end. We also now know that Barings gave £900,000 to Tory party funds in recent years. May we have a debate soon on the collusion and cover-up in London, above all to restore some confidence that the regulation and supervision of overseas trading banks in the City of London is now in safe hands?

We will obviously study the report of the Singapore Ministry of Finance carefully. It appears to me to confirm the main conclusions of the report published in London in July by the Board of Banking Supervision.

Will my right hon. Friend arrange for an early opportunity to debate the governance of Scotland? He will be aware that the Labour party, the Liberals and others have come forward with their crackpot proposals for Edinburgh. With four Scottish-based Scots in the Cabinet and the possibility of many more Scots in any future Labour Cabinet, including a Chief Whip, is it not about time in this Parliament that we got down to the serious business of finding out how well Scotland is governed?

We will be short of time in the next week or two even to debate such important subjects. I do not know whether there is any chance that my hon. Friend might manage to weave that subject into the debate next Tuesday on environmental concerns in Scotland, but he might have a try.

In view of what happened yesterday, when several hundred carers came to lobby their Members of Parliament, will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made about what use can be made of Westminster Hall?

Those people were unable to go into the Grand Committee Room, because a private Bill was being considered. They assembled in Westminster Hall, but were then told that they could not use the microphones because of reasons that the establishment had made clear on other occasions. Given that the VE day celebrations took place in Westminster Hall—in fact, it was a meeting which made use of microphone facilities and everything else—why is it that disabled people, many of them in wheelchairs, were not allowed to use microphones there to have a meeting with their Members of Parliament? Can we sort this out?

A number of my constituents were also here yesterday, so I am aware of some of the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised. I am not responsible for the arrangements in Westminster Hall, although many people sometimes think I am, but I will bring the hon. Gentleman's comments to the attention of those very elevated people who are responsible for them.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with the operation of the European Standing Committees? As I understand it, it was originally intended that there should be far more of those Committees, and that far more people with specialised interests should be involved in considering the various directives that are passed by the House under delegated legislation. I served on one of those Committees for four years and I enjoyed it greatly, but the difficulty now is that those Committee sittings clash with the sittings of Select Committees and other meetings. Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with the way in which those Committees are arranged, or would he reconsider the way in which they are constituted and operate?

I am always willing to consider constructive suggestions, but my hon. Friend has put his finger on one of the problems: quite apart from the great demands on Members of Parliament created by those Committees, it is a fact that the more Committees one sets up, the more likely they are to clash with other Committees. It is a question of trying to find the right balance.

I should like to add my voice to the concerns expressed already by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). I urge that something be done to resolve the long and continuing vexed issue of access by and the treatment of people with disabilities in this place. What happened yesterday was even worse than my hon. Friend made out, because efforts were made to send many of those people in wheelchairs to a Committee Room upstairs, access to which is virtually non-existent.

Why on earth is there unwillingness to allow meetings to be addressed in Westminster Hall, when Heads of State from all over the world have addressed both Houses in it? In fact, Parliament sat in that hall for a long time. It appears that petty tinpot bureaucracy is standing in the way, and means that, yesterday, many people went home feeling extremely disappointed at being unable to lobby their Member of Parliament whom they had come to meet. Why on earth can something not be done to ensure that in future when people with disabilities come to lobby their Members they are offered the use of Westminster Hall, microphones and other facilities to enable them to do so?

The hon. Gentleman has raised two separate points. On the main point, in support of Bolsover, if I may put it like that, I shall not attempt to add to what I said. On the earlier point, which is about facilities for disabled people in the Palace generally, the hon. Gentleman knows that a substantial programme of work is under way to bring about modifications to help solve that problem.

Is my right hon. Friend willing to arrange in the near future a debate on the middle east peace process, so that I might mention yet again in the House the plight of Ron Arad, who was captured many years ago in the Lebanon and whose family have been denied access to him or letters from him for at least eight years?

I assure my hon. Friend that we want the release of Ron Arad, and indeed all those people in that part of the world who are held outside the due process of law. We continue to mention the matter to everyone who might be able to help, whenever we have the chance to do so.

Further to the question asked by the shadow Leader of the House about the tabling of questions to the Deputy Prime Minister, will the Leader of the House investigate why a question that I tabled before the recess, which was accepted by the Table Office, was removed on Monday from the Order Paper? In my opinion, it was a legitimate question to the Deputy Prime Minister. It asked him what proposals he had to promote equal treatment for men and women. I should have thought that, as one of his responsibilities is the working of government, that is a question that he should have answered.

I will look into that, but, as it happens, I am Chairman of the Cabinet Committee on Women's Issues. The question may have been transferred to me but, if so, it has not yet reached me.

Will my right hon. Friend consider an opportunity for an early debate on the assisted places scheme, so that we may explore the Government's plans to extend that scheme, and so that we may give the Opposition an opportunity to explain to my constituents—especially parents and pupils of the King's school and indeed the Queen's school, which the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) attended—why they should be denied the opportunity of an outstanding education at two outstanding schools in the city of Chester?

As we shall be treading parliamentary water for a little while, would it be possible to hold a debate on the future of the BBC world service? There is enormous support on both sides of the House for the world service yet somehow, apparently, it continues to be confronted with cuts all the time.

The BBC world television service may be one of the few national institutions that has an international reputation, but it is a belt and braces show. Surely we should give further financial support to both those services. Perhaps, if the Government listen to the overwhelming opinion of both sides of the House, they might be persuaded of the case.

We all hold the work of the BBC world service in high regard, but not even that enables me to promise an early debate.

The Leader of the House will be aware that the Scottish Grand Committee will meet in Aberdeen on Monday. Does he accept that meetings of that Committee in different parts of Scotland are little more than an expensive charade, as the Secretary of State for Scotland is not accountable to Members elected in Scotland? Does he accept that what people in Scotland require, and what they will have, is an elected parliament to control their Government within the United Kingdom?

The very fact that the Scottish Grand Committee is to meet in what I believe have been widely welcomed arrangements in Aberdeen in Scotland is a measure of the importance that we attach to those matters. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman will be there, but perhaps he can make his speech there.

I welcome what the Leader of the House said about holding an early debate on the national lottery. However, will he ensure that, by the time that the debate is held, the confusion between the Welsh Office, the Department of National Heritage and the Treasury about double funding is cleared up?

I say that in the light of the conflict between the current guidance note from the Welsh Office, which has led to the Wales tourist board withdrawing a grant already offered to the Brecon jazz festival because it has now been successful in obtaining money from the national lottery, and the answer that was given by the junior Minister at the Department of National Heritage to my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth), which said:
"Applicants are required to provide an element of partnership funding which can come from a variety of sources, including public funding."—[Official Report, 27 June 1995; Vol. 262, c. 598.]
Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that, once and for all, the three Departments get their act together and do not issue totally contradictory instructions to innocent applicants for Government funding and national lottery funding?

Taking together the original points of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) and those made by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan), I repeat my assurance that I shall bring to the attention of those participating in the debate the fact that there is confusion in the minds of Opposition Members.

Prescription Charges (Exemptions)

4 pm

With the permission of the House, I wish to make a statement on prescription rate exemption arrangements in the light of the European Court of Justice judgment on the Richardson case which we received earlier today.

Mr. Cyril Richardson is a married man who, in 1993, when aged 64, was required to pay a prescription charge of £4.75. His wife aged 62 had been exempt from charges on age grounds from age 60—whereas men are not exempt until they are age 65. Mr. Richardson contended that, as a result, he suffered discrimination contrary to directive 79/7/EEC, which provides for equal treatment of men and women in matters of social security. In December 1993, he sought leave to apply for judicial review, and in May 1994 the High Court referred the case to the European Court of Justice for a ruling.

Our position has always been that the directive, which is based on article 235 of the treaty of Rome and was therefore approved unanimously by member states in 1978, did not apply to the United Kingdom's prescription charge exemption arrangements; or, if it did, those arrangements were covered by the derogation for state pension age. We have argued that the directive applies to statutory schemes against risks such as sickness or old age and to social assistance in so far as it is intended to supplement those schemes. Our case was that exemption from prescription charges is a health not a social security statutory scheme; nor is it social assistance.

Alternatively, if those arguments were not to be accepted by the court, we argued that the clear link between our exemption arrangements for prescription charges and state pension age should mean that the derogation from the directive for state pension age would enable us to operate different age exemptions for men and women, as we now operate different state pension ages.

However, as many Members of the House will be aware, the court has found in Mr. Richardson's favour. The ECJ has ruled today that our arrangements fall within the scope of the directive, and that the derogation does not apply. That means that the existing clause in the National Health Service (Charges for Drugs and Appliances) Regulations, which provides for men aged 65 and over and women aged 60 and over to receive free prescriptions, is not consistent with European Community law.

It is open to us, within the terms of the judgment, to equalise the age exemption arrangements in a number of different ways—for example, at age 65 for both men and women. But equalising at 60 is, I believe, the right approach, because it protects the rights of those women aged 60 and over who currently receive free prescriptions. The Government accept the court's findings, and will comply fully.

The purpose of my statement today is to make clear to the House and to the public the arrangements that we are making, which will come into effect from tomorrow, for men aged 60 to 64 to obtain prescriptions without charge and, where appropriate, for them to obtain reimbursement of charges.

I have accordingly today made amending regulations to equalise from tomorrow, 20 October, the age exemption arrangements for men and women at the retirement age for women. That means that more than 1 million men in England and Wales aged 60 to 64 will from tomorrow be entitled to free prescriptions on age grounds. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland have today made similar amending regulations.

I shall clarify the position on retrospection, about which there has been ill reporting in the media. Although the judgment was not limited in retrospective effect, it recognised that national procedural rules, such as time limits, will apply. Our regulations specify a maximum period of three months for retrospective claims, and that is the period for which claims will normally be allowed.

The existing regulations also make provision for reimbursement of charges paid by people who were exempt at the time of supply. We shall operate a simple procedure allowing men aged 60 to 64 at the time of supply initially to register a claim for a refund. Details of how those who may have a claim for a refund can register their interest will be published in national newspapers tomorrow, Friday 20 October 1995, and during next week.

We will also be distributing posters and coupons to national health service contractors in the next week or so. Claims for reimbursement should be registered within three months of the date on which the drug or appliance was supplied. The judgment explicitly recognises that national procedural rules, such as time limits, will still apply, although the judgement itself was not limited in retrospective effect.

I shall make a further announcement when the arrangements for inviting claims for refunds are finalised. I am sure that hon. Members will understand why I am not in a position to bring the arrangements to the House today at such short notice. We will at that time take steps to ensure that information is widely available about how to complete the detailed claim form—including what supporting information will be required.

Letters are being sent today to all hon. Members giving information about the case, the Government's response to it, the arrangements for informing the public and the national health service about revised exemption arrangements, and the procedure for registering an interest in claiming a refund. The letter includes details of the freepost address to which eligible claimants may wish to write and which will be in newspapers tomorrow.

In addition to the announcements in the national press, officials have written today to all health authorities, community pharmacists and other interests advising them of the change. A simple black and white notice is included for local display. The information explains that, until a revised print of the prescription form is available, patients should make manuscript alterations to the declaration of exemption on the reverse of existing forms.

As I have already said, I shall make a further announcement when the detailed arrangements for claiming refunds are finalised.

The Minister's message today to Cyril Richardson is surely: "Who dares, wins."

I thank the Minister for his statement. Will he confirm that the Government were first aware that their prescription exemptions were not consistent with European law regarding equal treatment for men and women as long ago as 1985, and that the Government relied on a derogation dealing with pensions and social security benefits? Will the Minister confirm that, although the judgment is retrospective to 1979, today's announcement effectively confines retrospective reimbursement to prescriptions supplied in the last three months?

The Minister told us that the judgment explicitly recognises that national rules, such as time limits, will still apply. What existing national procedural rules is he relying on in order to restrict retrospection to a three-month period? Given that he is accepting the principle of retrospection, albeit in a very circumscribed form, will he inform the House what implications that acceptance will have for other cases that are currently before the court?

What is the cost of equalising the exemption at the age of 60 in a full financial year? Will the Minister estimate the cost of the retrospective element in his announcement today, and will he tell the House whether the money that is to pay for it is new money, or will it be diverted from resources at present allocated to other areas of patient care in the national health service?

Finally, will the Minister confirm that, when the directive was introduced, prescription charges were 20p, and that, if they had been indexed in line with inflation, today they would stand at 53p? Surely that tenfold increase in real terms exacerbates the unfairness of the situation with which the Minister has dealt today.

I will not be tempted to respond to the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman that are slightly wider than my statement today. I can confirm that the Government understood that this course of action was a possibility under regulations and a directive that were agreed to by a Labour Government in 1978 and under a policy of paying at differential ages of 60 and 65, which was also introduced by a Labour Government.

As to retrospection, the answer is very simple: yes, it is for a three-month period only. I am not in a position today to inform the House about other cases. I am sure that hon. Members will understand that, on a busy day, I wish to deal with only this matter.

The cost will be £40 million in a full year, and we estimate that the retrospective element will be about £10 million for the three-month period. I am delighted to confirm for the hon. Gentleman that those costs will not affect money that has already been allocated to direct patient care.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the European Union is a half-formed federal structure which has no means of enforcing its judgments against Britain? Does he agree that the time is rapidly approaching when the only honourable and sensible thing to say in response to the gross interference in our domestic affairs is that we will not obey the orders of the European Court?

No, I cannot say that. My hon. Friend knows full well that it is Government policy to comply with decisions of all courts when they cannot be appealed further—if the Government were to wish to appeal. That has always been the position, and it is well understood by my hon. Friend.

Will the Minister undertake not to recoup the charges by extra charges on the rest of the prescriptions?

I have already told the House that the funds allocated to patient care will not be affected. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, the allocation of health service funds through the year involves decisions being taken at the proper time.

Is not the ruling another argument for a wholesale review of prescription charges? Is it not absurd that, four weeks ago, Mr. Allan Sharpe, a pharmacist, should be fined for dispensing a prescription privately when it was cheaper for him to do so? Has the time not come to restrict exemption categories to those who genuinely cannot afford to pay, and to use the money saved to bring down the overall level of the prescription charge?

My hon. Friend will be well aware that we reviewed prescription charges in 1993. There is no intention of carrying out a further fundamental review.

I welcome the Government's announcement. Having regard to the other options available to them in terms of age of equalisation, it was wholly right that they should act quickly to end any uncertainty. However, I was puzzled as to why the Minister selected three months for the retrospective element. As I understand the judgment, there was no time limit. He suggested that he was founding on some regulations to establish that time limit. I would be interested to hear exactly why he chose to implement those particular regulations.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support for the way in which the Government have dealt with the matter. Our main purpose was to deal with it quickly, to end uncertainty and to put in hand arrangements so that people affected can take action as quickly as possible. The rules for applying for a refund of prescription charges have a time limit of a three-month period.

I compliment my hon. Friend on the brisk efficiency with which he has made his statement, but it is a humiliating and demeaning experience to see one of Her Majesty's Ministers changing a settled policy simply because the Government have been told to do so by the European Court. If it was not possible on this occasion to pause and reflect a moment about whether that is a suitable position for the Government, at the very least will steps now be taken within the Government to consider how much longer we can be kicked around by the European Court?

I am sure that my hon. Friend will understand that I am here today to deal with the effects of this judgment. I am sure that others will have heard what he said on the wider matter.

Leaving aside the xenophobia that we have just heard from the Tory Benches, is the Minister aware that many people— although not himself, apparently—will warmly congratulate Mr. Cyril Richardson, who lives in my borough? Is this not a demonstration of a single British citizen fighting for justice, he it in the British courts or the European courts? It is a fine British tradition. Many people will warmly congratulate Mr. Richardson and many will benefit from what he has achieved.

It is certainly a case of a private individual taking determined action against a policy which had been settled in terms of equality of payment by the Government and the Opposition for quite some time. I do not for one second accept that what has happened is good. We have to comply with the finding of the court, but I believe that the settled policy was right, and the Government were right to oppose the action by Mr. Richardson until today's conclusion.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, even before the judgment, the rebate system in Britain was the most generous in Europe, with 80 per cent. prescription charges being remitted compared with only 60 per cent. when Labour was in office?

I agree with that. Of course, the funds from prescription charges—some £310 million—are devoted towards patient care. That is also to be welcomed.

Will the Minister assure the House that those who have prepayment certificates for prescriptions will be dealt with adequately in any refund arrangements that are made?

That will be the case. If they fall partially across the three-month period, there will be a proportional rebate.

I would welcome my hon. Friend's assurance that the decision will not affect patient care. Can he confirm that prescription charges represent only two thirds of the average value of medicine dispensed?

Although I welcome the statement in general, I shall press the Minister further on the way in which the change will be funded. Already, 74 out of the top 100 prescribed items cost less than £5.25. There is already dual taxation on the privilege of being ill if one is working. Will the Minister ensure that that gap will not widen as a result of his statement?

I have told the House of the general principles on which the change will be funded, which will be from general budgets. It will not directly affect patient care.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that European Council directive 79/7/EEC, which is being applied in this case, was passed unanimously during the time of the last Labour Government, and therefore with their support? Despite that, neither the Labour party nor the Government ever thought that that directive would have such an effect, until today's astonishing decision.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There was a consensus until the challenge. I find the European Court's judgment somewhat surprising, but that does not mean that we can do anything other than comply.

Will the Minister clarify his answer to the hon. Member for Colchester, South and Maldon (Mr. Whittingdale), when he said that prescription charges were last reviewed in 1993? The previous Secretary of State, in her response to the Health Select Committee's report on the NHS drug budget, promised to review a series of anomalies. I will put one of them to the Minister.

Chronic diabetics are exempt from prescription charges but a new drug, Navopen, has been introduced in such a way that the Government are insisting that chronic diabetics must buy their own needles, which should surely be included in prescriptions. It is inconsistent to provide the drug free of charge, but not the means of administering it. Today, I wrote to the Secretary of State on behalf of a constituent who is a student, who finds it extremely difficult to buy needles to enable her to administer that drug.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on reinforcing the point of his letter to my right hon. Friend by raising it in the context of my statement. I was referring to the wholesale review of prescription charges in 1993. No such review is in prospect.

Why did the Government choose to implement this humiliating decision today, Father than put a proposition to the House to decide whether to implement it in this age or in some other age? What is the European requirement to implement the judgment immediately? Was it the Government's choice to do so, without seeking the advice of the House and approval for the expenditure?

As the European Court is becoming a superior, non-elected Government, should not the British Government think terribly carefully before agreeing to further concessions of our freedom and liberty—as they have before, despite clear warnings by hon. Members on both sides of the House?

I have no doubt that colleagues responsible for wider matters will have heard my hon. Friend's remarks, not for the first time. The Government came to the House quickly, simply because of fairness, not compulsion. If the public must claim within a three-month period, it is important to make the arrangements as clear as possible, so that proper claims can be registered.

Is not the truth that the Government—faced with the judgment, and having calculated that it will cost £40 million in a full year and £10 million for retrospection—have already begun to devise ideas for clawing that money back in further prescription charges, with the result that the people will not benefit at all? That money will not come from the Exchequer. If prescription charges rise above the official cost of living index next time, millions of people will know that they have been conned again by this lousy, rotten Tory Government.

Can my hon. Friend make it clear that the regulations concerning three months' retrospection for claims have been in place a long time? They were implemented not because anybody anticipated the decision in the Richardson case, and the European Court was well aware of the existence of those regulations when it gave its decision.

My hon. Friend is right. The fact of the existence of the regulations was before the court and was known to it when it came to its conclusions.

The Minister has confirmed that decisions taken by the supreme European Court cannot be challenged. How confident is he that retrospection of three months cannot be challenged in courts in England or Scotland? Is it not the case that about two years ago the European Court of Justice, in relation to the equality directive, made a decision in a Dutch case involving the Dutch Government that retrospective payments in social security cases could be made up to 1 April 1992? How confident is the Minister that his decision on three months is unchallengeable?

I have, as I am sure the House has, a great deal of sympathy for my hon. Friend in the predicament in which he finds himself. Will he tell the House when Britain decided that decisions as to who should and should not pay for their prescriptions should be made by a bunch of foreign judges, who do not have to find the money, rather than a democratically accountable Government, who do? Were the British people aware that such a decision was taken? If they were not, is it not a constitutional necessity that our powers should be regained?

My hon. Friend knows that I do not intend to wander down the tempting path that he and other of my hon. Friends have offered me. I am restricting myself to the statement. I have no doubt that he will make his views known in his persistent and regular way to others within the Government.

Orders Of The Day

Home Secretary (Prison Service)

4.21 pm

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. During Prime Minister's Question Time the Prime Minister said that in the debate that is about to take place the Home Secretary would be producing comprehensive evidence to dispel the allegations that have been made against him in relation to the Prison Service. If the Home Secretary is to refer extensively to documents, are you aware of any preparations having been made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman to enable all Members to obtain copies at the Vote Office at the earliest opportunity? If not, hon. Members will be at a severe disadvantage if we do not have access to the full documentation.

The House must wait to see how the debate proceeds. I am sure that the Home Secretary will be as helpful as possible to the entire House.

I have selected the amendment that stands in the name of the Prime Minister. I understand that there is some uncertainty about the application of the sub judice rule in today's debate following the taking out of a writ against the Home Secretary. That is a civil case which has not yet been set down for trial. If hon. Members refer to page 378 of "Erskine May", they will find that in these circumstances the sub judice rule does not come into force. That said, I do not believe that it would be right for the debate to concentrate on whether the recent dismissal of the chief executive of the Prison Service was fair or unfair. I am glad to note that the issue is not mentioned in either the Opposition's motion or the Government's amendment.

As so many Members wish to contribute to the debate, I have had to introduce a 10-minute limit. Members will be lucky to be called today, given the short time that is available for the debate.

4.22 pm

I beg to move,

That this House deplores the unwillingness of the Secretary of State for the Home Department to accept responsibility for serious operational failures of the Prison Service.
The Home Secretary has vested in him by section 1 of the Prisons Act 1952 all powers and jurisdictions in relation to prisons and prisoners in England and Wales. He is responsible to the House for the exercise of those powers and jurisdictions. The Act makes no distinction between his responsibility for the policy of the Prison Service and the operation of that policy. We say that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is following a constitutional fiction in seeking wholly to separate the two. He says that he is responsible only for his policy towards prisons but not for operational matters, for which he is accountable but not responsible. Responsibility for the operation of the Prison Service, says the Secretary of State, is in the hands of the Director General of the Prison Service. In return for that operational responsibility, the director general has vested in him, by the agency framework document and other documents, power over operational matters, in which the Secretary of State says emphatically that he does not interfere.

We say, however, that in practice the Secretary of State has on numerous occasions taken decisions and otherwise interfered with the operation of the Prison Service, but because of the fiction that he is not involved in it or that he is not responsible for operational matters, he has at all times had to avoid any admission that he has been so involved. That has produced two results. First, in the damning words of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, Judge Stephen Tumim,
"it means that the Home Secretary is not responsible for anything at all."
That means that the Home Secretary takes the credit but is free of any responsibility. In other words, he has exercised power without responsibility.

Secondly, we say that the Secretary of State has had to be so evasive as to his real involvement in operational matters that in respect of the fate of Mr. John Marriott, the former governor of Parkhurst prison, he gave explanations to the House and to the Home Affairs Select Committee which are uncorroborated and wholly at variance with other evidence that is now available.

On the subject of veracity, I assume that the hon. Gentleman accepts that Mr. Derek Lewis is a man of impeccable veracity. Will he therefore support the evidence that Mr. Derek Lewis gave to the Home Affairs Select Committee, "The Frost Programme", the Daily Mail and the "Today" programme in mid-January 1995, when he said that it was he who made the decision on operational grounds to move Mr. Marriott, the governor?

Mr. Straw