[Lords] ( By Order ) Order for consideration, as amended, read.
To be considered on Thursday 27 April.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard): I have received one request in this House to consider introducing a pilot scheme on the lines of American boot camps, and a question about studies on boot camps. In addition, I have received a small number of letters from members of the public recording their views for and against the introduction of boot camps.
Mr. Coombs: Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that what most people want for young offenders in this country is not only rehabilitation but appropriate punishment that acts as a deterrent? Will he look at a scheme operated by the Airport Initiative in West Linton in Scotland, which is handled by former special forces people--former marines and paratroopers--and has a 100 per cent. record in ensuring that those who successfully complete the course do not reoffend?
Mr. Howard: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend the Minister of State is closely examining the scheme to which my hon. Friend referred. I agree that it shows signs of being a promising development in the treatment of young offenders.
Mr. George Howarth: Will the Home Secretary confirm that last year he commissioned a report on the operation of boot camps in the United States at a cost of £16,000? Will he further confirm that the conclusions of that report were, first, that there would be no appreciable cost savings from boot camps, and secondly, that the rate of re-offending in the American experience was not
Column 322appreciably different from that of any other form of punishment? Is that not just another example of the Home Secretary talking tough but acting ineffectively?
Mr. Howard: No, it is certainly not. It is not surprising to anyone on the Government Benches that any mention of discipline for young offenders has those on the Opposition Benches running a mile, as we have just seen.
Sir Ivan Lawrence: Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the boot camps in the United States combine training, discipline, respect for others, anger management and respect for families and are voluntary, and that that kind of treatment might well benefit certain targeted offenders in this country?
Mr. Howard: I am prepared to learn lessons wherever we can to provide the most effective regime for young offenders. If we can borrow from the best in the United States and add it to the best that we have in this country, I am certainly prepared to do that.
Mr. Byers: Is the Home Secretary aware that it costs a heroin addict some £30,000 a year to finance the habit? Does he agree with the Home Affairs Select Committee that there is a clear connection between drug misuse and the committing of crimes to fund such abuse? In the light of those facts, does he accept that the Government were simply wrong to cease the funding of residential treatment for drug addicts and to stop the funding of drug advisers in our schools?
Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman is considerably out of date. He should be aware that we are funding programmes to bring home to our schoolchildren the evils of drug misuse. We are in fact spending about £500 million a year on tackling drugs. The Home Office drugs prevention initiative has been renewed and extended from 1 April 1995 and the Government as a whole will shortly publish a White Paper which will set out our co-ordinated overall strategy for tackling drug misuse at all levels and in all ways.
Mr. John Greenway: Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, given the clear link that there is between drug misuse and property crime, it is right to pursue, as he is doing, the rigorous policy of getting rid of drugs inside our prisons?
Returning to the issue of the boot camp, is it not a fact that the "no- drug" culture in the American boot camp is one of its most endearing features?
Mr. Howard: My hon. Friend is right about the importance of tackling drug misuse in prisons, which is far too prevalent. The mandatory drug- testing regime for which provision was made in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 is now being introduced in our
Column 323prisons. My hon. Friend is also right to emphasise the importance of the drug-free environment in boot camps in the United States.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean): The Government are determined to tackle racial violence wherever it occurs. I am aware of recent deplorable incidents in the hon. and learned Gentleman's constituency. I know that the police give the highest priority to investigating those crimes.
Mr. Janner: I thank the Minister for his statement of intent, but the number of racial attacks has doubled since 1988. The Government have failed to carry out the recommendation of the Home Affairs Select Committee that they should introduce a separate offence with higher penalties, and the Government have done nothing to tackle the attacks in my constituency and elsewhere. If they are not prepared to accept the Select Committee's report, what are they prepared to do?
Mr. Maclean: The hon. and learned Gentleman, who is usually a fair man, knows in his heart of hearts that what he has just said to the House is not the case at all. The Government have taken action. We have introduced a power of arrest for those who distribute racially offensive material and, in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, we introduced a specific offence of intentional harassment. The hon. and learned Gentleman is aware that it would not be sensible to create a separate specific racial attack offence. It would create yet another hurdle for the Crown Prosecution Service to have to prove that there was racial motivation.
We have referred many of the recommendations of the Home Affairs Select Committee to the new racial attacks group which has been reinstituted.
Mr. Stephen: Is my hon. Friend aware that Her Majesty's judges already have the power to regard racial motivation as an aggravating factor, and that they can and do impose greater penalties in cases involving that?
Mr. Maclean: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that valid argument. There have been several recent successful convictions for violence involving racial motivation. In one such case, the Lord Chief Justice himself emphasised that racial motivation was a severely aggravating factor. Therefore, in those cases, the courts can impose very severe sentences indeed.
4. Mr. Shersby: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what consultations he has had with the police service about the possible introduction of (a) the pepper spray and (b) CS gas as defensive equipment. 
Column 324Phillip Walters, the evaluation of that incapacitant spray is timely and necessary? Will he also tell the House whether that is an interim measure pending further evaluation of the health and safety issues surrounding the possible introduction of the pepper spray?
Mr. Howard: I am sure that the House will want to join me in expressing its condemnation of the callous murder of PC Walters, which reminds us yet again of the risks and the dangers that police officers run on our behalf day in, day out. I am sure that the House would wish to join me in extending our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of PC Walters.
As to my hon. Friend's question about sprays, he is right to say that a number of pilot schemes are proposed. We shall evaluate the results and then decide how to proceed.
Mr. Beith: I can assure the Home Secretary that there is outrage in all parts of the House at the death of a courageous police officer. In the Metropolitan police area, is body armour available to officers who believe that their duties will require them to use it? Are arms and armed response units available in all the circumstances where officers judge that they may be required? If those things are not done, the pressure for routine arming of the police so that they may be protected will become irresistible. I think that, like me, the Home Secretary would not wish that to happen if it can be avoided by the effective use of arms in a more controlled way.
Mr. Howard: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks. He will know that the deployment of body armour and armed response vehicles is an operational matter for the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. I can confirm that those two pieces of equipment are available- -body armour is now available in significant quantities. The difficulty is that no entirely satisfactory sort of armour has yet been found that is both effective and light enough to be worn for prolonged periods. That is an on-going problem, and research is continuing to try to find body armour that is both effective and can be worn comfortably for long periods.
Sir Anthony Grant: Is it not absurd that the majority of policemen who require bullet-proof vests, and obviously want the best ones, should have to pay about £300 of their own money for them? In his consultations with the police, will my right hon. and learned Friend discuss the matter and ensure that, in future, all police can get bullet- proof vests if they want them without having to pay for them out of their own money?
Mr. Howard: My hon. Friend will be aware that chief officers are increasingly making body armour available for the officers in their force-- its availability is extending all the time. I gave the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) information about its availability in the Metropolitan force, and body armour is becoming increasingly available elsewhere.
Mr. Straw: May I associate my right hon. and hon. Friends with the remarks of the Secretary of State and the right hon. Member for Berwick- upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). I believe that the House felt intense anger and shock when the news came through yesterday of the killing of Police Constable Phillip Walters by an armed thug. Police Constable Walters was showing the same selfless courage as is shown every day by thousands of unarmed police
Column 325officers across the country. I commend what the Secretary of State said yesterday about the routine arming of police. Does he agree that, in making difficult judgments about the availability of CS gas canisters or pepper sprays, the only issue is the protection of the police and of the public?
Mr. Howard: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. Yes, the only relevant criteria in the measures that I have announced are the protection of the police and of the public. The hon. Gentleman and the House will know that I have taken a number of measures since holding my present post to increase the availability of equipment that helps the police in the performance of their daily duties. They now have more batons and the availability of body army is increasing.
I hope that the CS spray will be a valuable addition to the equipment available to them. We must also recognise that no piece of equipment--not even the routine arming of the police--can ever offer an absolute guarantee of the safety of those on whose bravery and courage we have to rely day and night. We must always keep that in the forefront of our minds. We should always be aware of the deep debt that we owe to the police officers of this country.
Mr. Miller: The Minister will, of course, confirm that his Department has received representations from me regarding the escape of prisoner Roy Higginson and the subsequent shambles. The Minister will be aware that one of my concerns was the bizarre way that Mr. Higginson was able to carry on suing his neighbour, with the use of a legal aid certificate, while on the run. The series of events surrounding the case represent mistakes within the Prison Service, mistakes in the way in which the Crown Prosecution Service operated, mistakes in the guidance given to magistrates about remand and perhaps errors of judgment on the part of the police. In all areas, the responsibility rests fairly and squarely with the Home Secretary. When will he wake up to his responsibilities?
Mrs. Ann Winterton: Bearing in mind the security problems and the amount of drugs that are reported to be circulating in prisons today, does my right hon. Friend believe that the time is right to reintroduce closed family visiting for a percentage of prisoners' sentences? Open visiting should be reintroduced only when a prisoner has shown that he means to go straight and can be relied upon.
Mr. Forsyth: I agree that, in cases where people are clearly involved in drug misuse in prisons, the introduction of closed visits might be appropriate. However, I do not believe that it would be appropriate to introduce closed visits as a general rule. People are sent to prison partly for rehabilitation and partly for
Column 326punishment. It is offenders who should be punished, not their families. I believe that it would be quite wrong to prevent families from being able to visit prisoners.
Mr. Trimble: How long does it take to implement necessary security measures in prisons? I know of a case whereby a serious incident in December revealed the need to install a new fence in a prison, but three months later, in March, the absence of the fence facilitated a serious riot in which prisoners gained control of a substantial part of that prison. I was told afterwards that the prison authorities were still going through the bureaucratic procedures to authorise the necessary expenditure. That incident did not take place in a prison for which the Minister is responsible, but I wonder whether the same sorts of bureaucratic and financial delays that occur in Northern Ireland also happen in the English prison service.
Mr. Forsyth: Without knowing the details of the case, I am unable to comment upon it or to make a comparison. As the hon. Gentleman said, it is not a matter for me or for my right hon. Friend but it falls within the responsibilities of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether speedy and effective action is taken when breaches or weaknesses in prison security are found. I expect the answer to be yes on every occasion. As the hon. Gentleman will know, following the incidents at Whitemoor and Parkhurst, my right hon. Friend asked Sir John Learmont to examine security across the whole Prison Service. We intend to take every conceivable step to ensure that the highest standards of security apply.
Mr. Evennett: May I commend to my right hon. Friend the work of the governor and the staff of Belmarsh prison in Thamesmead and I urge him to pay them a visit soon. When will his proposals about the new regime of prison discipline be published?
Mr. Forsyth: I agree with my hon. Friend's comments about Belmarsh, which my right hon. Friend visited recently. As to the main substance of my hon. Friend's question, we hope to be able to publish the proposals shortly.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Nicholas Baker): A new drugs strategy for England for the period 1995- 98 will be set out in a White Paper to be published shortly. It is the outcome of a review co-ordinated by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, and will start to come into effect immediately.
Mr. Mudie: The three-year strategy begins this year but we are yet to see the White Paper, which may need legislative back-up. Does the Minister agree that any delay in introducing a timetable would be totally unacceptable, particularly where the lives of children are at risk? If he does agree, will he say whether any steps have been taken to put into effect one key element of
Column 327the strategy, the drug action teams, which do not require legislation? If those steps have not been taken, why have they not been taken?
Mr. Baker: I accept that implementation of the strategy is important and urgent and work is proceeding on it. Vigorous law enforcement will continue, but, in reply to the hon. Gentleman's second point, there will be a new emphasis on drug education and prevention. At local level, the Government propose to establish about 100 multi-agency drug action teams to pursue common aims while tailoring action plans to local problems and needs. The intention is to apply £8.5 million to those teams over the next three years, and to get on with that immediately.
Mr. Peter Griffiths: Does my hon. Friend agree that, in the establishment of any new strategy for combating the illegal use of drugs, an example and information can be obtained by studying the programme in Buckland in my constituency, which my right hon. Friend visited last week? It shows just what can be achieved when local people and the police join together to drive out those who produce drug problems.
Mr. Baker: My hon. Friend is quite right. My right hon. and learned Friend saw for himself the excellent work in my hon. Friend's constituency, both in that scheme and as a example of partnership to defeat crime, which is an essential part of my right hon. Friend's crime-defeating programme.
7. Mr. Wray: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what proposals he has to revive the inter-departmental racial attacks group as a standing committee; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Maclean: Since its inception in 1987, the racial attacks group has twice been reconvened to consider progress and chart new developments. On each occasion, time has been left to allow earlier recommendations to take effect. The group is currently examining the needs of local multi- agency racial attacks panels.
Mr. Wray: I thank the Minister for reviving the racial attacks group. Why was it not involved in the first place, given the shocking state of affairs and the escalation of racial incidents? There were 791 incidents in Scotland last year, and the figure for England and Wales in 1992-1993 was 7,951, which rose to nearly 10,000 in 1993-94. Does he agree that the racial attacks group committee is not dealing with the problem and that we need a standing committee that reports back to Parliament?
Mr. Maclean: No, I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The racial attacks group was not mothballed; it came together, made recommendations for the Government to implement and waited to see how those recommendations developed. We have reconvened it and given it a specific brief to deal with certain problems. I see no merit in its sitting continuously as a standing committee unless it has a proper job of work to do. As the hon. Gentleman quoted figures showing that racial incidents have increased, I am surprised that he did not quote the Strathclyde police area, where the number of racial incidents has fallen. In 1991,
Column 328there were 254 racial incidents; in 1994, the figure was down to 225. It is still too high, but at least the number is going down.
Mr. Congdon: There is some evidence that persistent racial harassment can lead to more serious racial attacks. Does my hon. Friend consider that more can be done to help ethnic minorities overcome their reluctance to report persistent harassment?
Mr. Maclean: Yes, there can be. We took action in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to deal with the specific problem of harassment. I hope that that will have encouraged people to come forward. Also, the police are dealing with such issues sensitively and a large number of police forces now have special groups that are capable and qualified to deal with racial incidents. That will encourage greater reporting and give racial minorities confidence to report crime. The courts now have adequate powers to deal with such incidents.
Mr. Hoyle: Does the Minister agree that that is a costly and unsatisfactory method of holding prisoners and does not make the best use of police time? Given that prisons are overcrowded, would it not be better to use more resources on crime prevention and get more police on the beat, which would be more effective, more efficient and what the public desire?
Mr. Forsyth: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. That is why we are doing all the things that he mentioned. I agree with him specifically about the use of police cells and the costs involved. That is why we plan to eliminate the use of police cells during this financial year.
9. Mr. Robathan: To ask the Secretary of Statefor the Home Department what is his estimate of (a) illegal immigrants and (b) bogus asylum seekers currently in the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Howard: There are no official estimates of the number of illegal immigrants into the United Kingdom. By its very nature, illegal immigration is difficult to measure and any estimates would be highly speculative. It is also difficult to estimate the precise extent of the abuse of asylum, but in 1994, around 80 per cent. of asylum decisions, amounting to some 16,000, were outright refusals.
Mr. Robathan: I regret that it is impossible to have clear information on such matters because such information dispels misapprehension whereas disinformation, including wild stories in newspapers, exacerbates mistrust and harms race relations. In the interests of good race relations, will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that both bogus asylum seekers and illegal immigrants are pursued both fairly and firmly?
Column 329of which we can be proud, that we have a firm but fair immigration control. Our procedures are being abused both by illegal immigrants and by bogus asylum seekers. I recently announced two initiatives that will have a significant impact on the problem--greater use of containment powers and a spend-to-save initiative. I hope to announce further proposals shortly.
Ms Short: Is not the problem of bogus asylum seekers largely the Government's fault? They allow delays to grow and grow within the system. There are agents who organise false claims whom the Home Office does not pursue and prosecute. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that, if he were to eliminate delays and attack the false agents, we could be generous to the real asylum seekers?
Mr. Howard: It is important to eliminate delays. That is precisely what the two initiatives that I announced in February are designed to achieve. It is absurd to suggest, however, that the problem of bogus asylum seekers is caused by the Government or by delays. Too many people wish to gain entry into this country and would use any means and any deceit to do so. I am determined to take effective action to prevent that happening.
Mr. Dykes: I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for reiterating the need for a firm, fair and realistic policy. Does he agree that that would fit in well with pursuing our agreement on the Schengen agreement with the other member states? That would be an excellent objective for the future and would enhance the single market.
Mr. Howard: No. I am afraid that I do not agree with my hon. Friend. The Schengen agreement would involve the dismantling of our external frontiers, and we have no intention of doing that. Indeed, we shall take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that those frontiers remain in place.
Dr. Howells: With regard to the measures taken by the Government to control the number of illegal immigrants coming into the country, will the Home Secretary confirm that there are 1.5 million container lorries a year coming through the port of Dover alone, and that the immigration and customs cover is so thin there that there is no possible way that we can know whether criminal gangs operating out of northern France are using the containers to bring in people? What will the right hon. and learned Gentleman do to strengthen the cover at Dover and at other similar ports?
Mr. Howard: We rely on intelligence as the most effective way of identifying the use of container lorries to permit some illegal immigrants to enter the country. It is absurd to suppose that a series of random checks is likely to get to grips with the problem. The effective use of intelligence is the way forward. We are improving the ways in which we use that means to detect, and to deal effectively with, those who use the container lorry method of illegally entering the country.
Mr. Viggers: Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware, as I am aware from my constituency experience of the Haslar detention centre, that it is not unusual for alleged illegal immigrants, when they realise that their application is likely to be rejected, to change their story and claim political asylum, and for the subsequent inquiries to take as long as a year? How can it possibly take that long to inquire into such a case?
Mr. Howard: I agree with my hon. Friend. He is right on all counts. It is because I am determined to do what is necessary to bring down the period that it takes to deal with these matters that I announced a substantial additional expenditure in February--some £37 million over three years--to enable us to deal with those cases more quickly. Much of the delay is caused by the extent to which our appeal procedure is still being abused. That is one of the areas to which I have paid close attention and which I hope to be able to remedy in the proposals that I intend to introduce shortly.
Mr. Alton: When the Government come to look at the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986, will they look again at the seizure of assets and the way that money is diverted to central funds? Does the Minister not have some sympathy with the views of the Merseyside police authority, and other police authorities too, that funds that are sequestrated and seized from drug barons should go back into schemes that counter drug abuse and help those who have become drug addicts?
Mr. Maclean: Although such a scheme has a superficial appeal, it could lead to erratic funding year by year, because it would depend on police forces getting sufficient assets every single year to continue their excellent work. I think that it is better to allocate the large amounts of money that we allocate--about £500 million per annum--on all aspects of drugs prevention and police work, and also the substantial funding that we make available to police forces. That ensures consistency and adequate funding and does not make the police service depend each year on haphazard drug catches.
Mr. Garnier: Does my hon. Friend agree that the installation of closed circuit television in town centres is one of the ways of tackling crime, particularly drug crime? Will he accept the thanks of the people of Market Harborough since, as a result of the £40,000 grant from the Home Office, closed circuit television will shortly be installed to make the streets more secure?
Mr. Maclean: I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for his wise words. If he cares to invite me to Market Harborough, I shall accept the thanks in person. The big boost that we have given to CCTV in the country should make a tremendous difference in helping the police. The 106 schemes that my right hon. and learned Friend was able to announce in England and Wales could mean up to 1,000 extra CCTV cameras, which will give help to the police and protection to the public, and reduce the fear of crime.
Mr. Michael: The Minister says that the exact relationship between drugs and crime is unclear, but do he and the Home Secretary not now accept that there is a frightening link between drug-related crime and the use of weapons? Will the Minister remind the House of the
Column 331truth of events last year, that there was nothing in the Home Secretary's Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill to deal with drug-related crime or weapons offences until the Labour party tabled amendments to increase penalties and make the law more effective?
Mr. Maclean: The hon. Gentleman is attempting to rewrite history. It would be better if he reminded the House of the number of occasions on which the official Opposition voted against parts of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, and of their firm determination to abstain on parts of the Bill. They are now saying that they played an instrumental part in it, but they abstained on its Second Reading. The fact is that the Government have set key objectives for the police service: first, to bear down on violence; secondly, to bear down on burglary; and, thirdly, to bear down on local crime problems, particularly drugs. That is a measure of our commitment to dealing with the problem.
Mr. Howard: Six new prisons are planned, which will be designed, constructed, managed and financed by the private sector. In addition, 2,000 new houseblock places are being provided at existing prisons over the next two years, and Lowdham Grange prison is to be rebuilt.
Mr. Bruce: May I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that excellent answer? Will he confirm that he will ensure that we never return to the situation that was prevalent under the past Labour Government, when courts could not pass custodial sentences, or were dissuaded from doing so, because there were no places in prisons? If my right hon. and learned Friend is looking for additional places, there is room in Portland prisons to build and expand, creating more prison officer jobs on Portland. Will he look at Portland for the expansion of the prison service?
Ms Janet Anderson: The Home Secretary has admitted that the Government now have no choice but to expand the prison-building programme massively. Is he aware that the number of women imprisoned for fine defaulting has almost doubled in the past five years, from 868 in 1989 to 1,440 last year? Can he explain that increase, and will he tell us whether he is satisfied that custodial sentences were both necessary and appropriate in all those cases?
Mr. Howard: If custodial sentences had not been necessary and appropriate, they would not have been passed by the courts. It is the courts that pass such sentences. The hon. Lady will know that fine defaulters are sent to prison only for wilful refusal to pay: they are those who can pay, but won't pay. Those are the circumstances in which the courts decide that such a sentence is both necessary and appropriate.