Orders of the Day — Home Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:28 pm on 7th November 1985.

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Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike , Burnley 7:28 pm, 7th November 1985

Before turning to the main subject of the debate, I wish to refer to some other matters in the Queen's Speech.

Labour Members will oppose with all their power the gas privatisation Bill. It is unnecessary. We should keep this important energy supply industry under public ownership.

In the not too distant future we shall have to introduce a substitute for natural gas as we prepare for the running out of North sea and Irish sea reserves, and only public enterprise can guarantee a supply in the years ahead by properly planning an all-purpose energy policy.

I also view with great worry the proposal to review the social security system. That subject will be debated vigorously in the coming year. The proposed measure will affect many of the poorer sections of the community and will hit the most deprived people. That must be wrong.

I support any measures that will make it easier for people to claim. The present system is complex, but we must ensure that the public are not misled by the Government being allowed to get away with pretending to make the system easier when their purpose is to save public expenditure. Many people will lose benefits and be made worse off by the review.

The Queen's Speech states that the Government will require larger local authority airports to be formed into companies, and to regulate certain airport activities. I am worried about the long-term implications of that policy. Coming from the north-west, I have a very high regard for Manchester airport, which was set up through the foresight of the Manchester city council and has been developed by the city council and the Greater Manchester council. The airport has been a tremendous success without Government assistance, but I have fears for its future in view of the long-term implications of the policy.

The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) referred to Sunday trading and made many of the points that I would have made. I share his anxiety about the proposals outlined in the Queen's Speech. The present law contains many anomalies and there needs to be changes, but that does not mean that we should scrap all regulations governing shop trading hours. We must be extremely careful if we tread that path.

At present it is possible to find one local authority turning a blind eye to the law and not applying it, while other authorities try to apply it as sensibly as possible. While the present law exists the Government should attempt to make all local authorities apply it equally.

There will be inflationary implications once the proposed measure goes through because no extra spending capacity will be created by trading on seven days instead of six. If shop workers are paid extra for working on Sundays, as they should be, costs will increase. I fear the implications of increased costs for small traders. I always worry on a Friday evening when I see the news about the week's job losses and gains. When it is reported that a superstore has opened creating, say, 400 jobs, the report never says how many people in smaller shops will go out of business or operation as a result. I accept that there is a need for some superstores, but the proposed policy has serious implications for many people in the industry. While many traders involved with Sunday opening have said that they will man their businesses with volunteers, once the policy is under way workers will soon be told that if they do not want to work on Sunday they cannot work at all. There must be adequate safeguards for them.

I sympathise with the difficulties of people who work on Sundays because I worked in an industry which had to work on Sundays. We manufactured glass and it is impossible to turn a furnace off at weekends. I very much value Sundays as I only got six Sundays off per year in the 10 years prior to becoming an hon. Member. I believe that many people in this country will regret losing their Sundays off.

In the long run it will not simply be the people who work in shops who will suffer. As other traders gradually open on Sundays there will be a need to open car parks. If that happens, car parks will not be provided free of charge on Sunday when payment is requested on other days. As public demand for these car parks increases so the councils and other operators will start to charge and more people will have to work. More public transport will be needed—if there is any public transport left after the Government's Transport Act takes effect. I have serious worries about the implications of the Government's proposals and I shall examine the legislation carefully.

I have always said, on all platforms and at all times, that the Labour party believes in law and order. The contrary view is a fallacy built up by the media and by the Conservatives and is entirely untrue and unrealistic. Any sensible political party must want people to be able to live their lives in peace and quiet without fear of robbery, violence or other crime. The Labour party is and always will be in favour of law and order.

That does not mean, however, that we cannot criticise the police from time to time. No one in this country is above criticism. Members of Parliament and the press can be criticised and I see no reason why we should accept that the police must always be right in all their decisions. I believe that there should be more political input and I hope that the next Labour Government will move towards regional government with responsibility for police, water, hospitals and other matters. I am not convinced that the old style watch committees were the perfect solution, particularly in small boroughs. I certainly had strong reservations about the watch committee that used to operate in Burnley. That does not mean, however, that we do not need some body to which the police are ultimately responsible for overall guidelines on policy and direction. The police, of course, would continue to have power to determine day-to-day running. No Labour Member has ever suggested that they should be told exactly how to carry out every aspect of their job.

Under the present Government, since 1979, in England robbery has increased by 99 per cent., violence against the person by 20 per cent., criminal damage by 55 per cent., and burglary in a dwelling by 89 per cent. Those figures have been given before but they bear repeating to emphasise exactly what is happening. I do not accept the Prime Minister's inference yesterday that people are born to sin and that certain people are bound to go that way. We must look beyond that attitude to discover why the crime rate is rising. We also need to give the police better training and better facilities. We need more community policemen. More policemen need to be released from paperwork at police stations to go out into the streets on foot so that they can talk to the people whom they are there to protect.

Whether people like it or not, it is not a political comment to say that people in this country have less confidence in the police now than at any time this century. That is a regrettable trend. There are a number of reasons for that decline in public confidence in the police, but one welcome movement has been getting the police back on community beats. That is the right way to build a better relationship and it should be encouraged.

I am also worried by the use of the expression, "inner city problem". I accept that there are problems in the inner cities, but there are also problems in other areas. The borough that I represent cannot possibly be called an inner city area. It is designated under the urban aid programme because of the deprivation in the area, but the constituency includes large rural areas. We have problems and, in proportion to the area of the town, they are just as important as those of the inner-city areas and they cause similar results. We have to accept, irrespective of whether the Government agree, that housing and unemployment contribute to present circumstances. The Government must do something to get people back to work. They must recognise the problems, especially for the long-term unemployed who have no hope of a job and who know that, as long as this Government remain in office, they will have no opportunity of one.

It is an appalling fact that, in 1985, a man of 40 who is made redundant can be told that he might as well consider himself retired. I certainly would not have wished to consider myself retired at 40. Young people leaving school have no prospect of a real job. We must do something to give people that prospect.

The Government must deal with the housing problem. It is no good their pretending that there is no problem and putting a little more money in, because housing needs a lot more money. The Government will be building up a major slum problem for the next decade if they do not act now—indeed, take long-term action—to deal with the housing crisis in the public and private sectors.

I see the problems of old terraced housing in my constituency. People cannot apply for a repair or an improvement grant because the council does not have sufficient money even to meet mandatory grants, such as intermediate grants. One house becomes derelict and, before long, the whole terrace will have to be pulled down. There are council estates where the council cannot improve, modernise and repair the houses because of an insufficient HIP allocation. Nevertheless, the Government force up rents and fail to recognise the relative cost of living in different areas. In my constituency incomes are lower than those in London. The Government fail to recognise that council houses in my constituency may be sold for only £6,000 to the sitting tenant if the full discount applies. People can buy a modernised terraced house for £10,000 or £11,000 in the Burnley area. Earlier, the hon. and learned Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Ground) spoke of houses being sold for between £100,000 and £150,000. One could buy a whole terrace of houses in my constituency for that.

More money is needed for recreational facilities. People are working shorter hours and they need something to do in their leisure time. A greater variety of recreational facilities must be provided to suit people's needs. It is important that the Government enable local authorities to meet those requirements.

I welcome the steps that the Government are taking to try to stop drug trafficking, but it is important that even more is done. Although additional Customs officers have been appointed, a great many more will be needed if we are to stop drugs coming in. I accept that there should be heavy penalties for drug trafficking—we need such a deterrent because the people who push drugs are guilty ultimately of murder because drug taking can lead to death.

We must also recognise that more facilities are needed to deal with addicts who are trying to get off drugs. There is no point spending a lot of money to get a person drug-free and then to put him back in exactly the same block of flats or back on the dole because, after a few months, without the proper back-up, he will go back to drug-taking. From talking to Dr. John Strang, who is head of the regional drug dependancy unit in the north-west, I know that the available resources are inadequate to deal with the medical side of the problem, and there are others. We need people who can ensure that people with drug problems are helped with other difficulties. People on drugs have major problems that can cause family friction. We must ensure that families get all the necessary assistance. The drug problem affects the whole of the country. It is not confined to inner-city areas. Indeed, it is quite prevalent in towns such as Burnley and in the whole of the Lancashire area. We must ensure that we put aside sufficient resources to deal with the problem.

Everybody has a right to live in peace in their own homes and to walk out safely on the streets, in parks and in town centres. We must ensure a return to such circumstances. The police must be trained and given adequate resources, and they must not come down with a heavy hand. The Government must face up to a host of issues which go much wider than policing.