§ 3.49 p.m.
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
I beg to move,That this House, believing that traditional rights and liberties are being eroded, calls on Her Majesty's Government for a fundamental change in its administrative attitudes, its approach to legislation and its recent methods of government.On 3rd July, to a distinguished gathering a legal men and women, Lord Justice Salmon delivered an excellent address on the defence of liberty. I wish to quote only one sentence from what was said, namely:If the law gives the Executive unrestricted power it can and will do as it likes.If Lord Justice Salmon had been speaking here or in another place, he would have needed only to change the word "law" to "Parliament". His sentence covers the points embodied in my Motion. For many reasons, the time has come for the House to discuss those facets of liberty. If you would ignore the use of the pronoun, Mr. Speaker, to me it means, "You have been warned".
I understood that the Attorney-General was to reply to the debate and this gave me great pleasure, not only because he is a charming man but because he would be an appropriate Minister, but it has just occurred to me, although the Financial Secretary—who is to reply—may be surprised to hear that I will not mention finance or my pet subject of small fixed incomes, how difficult it is for this Government to distinguish between finance and democracy, so perhaps it is just as well that he is to reply.
On the agenda of the next meeting in Malta in October of the Council of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, which is composed of Members of all parties and to which the House is very attached and devotes time and money, there is a sentence which I am sorry that I did not put in my Motion. The Association, which can hardly be called an instrument of Tory policy, is to discuss… the erosion of Parliamentary Government by the Executive.Therefore, I have support from the law and from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and its members.
1543 I hope that my hon. Friends will take part in the debate, and also my friends opposite, if I may call them that. This is not a political issue but one concerning Parliament, democracy and the people. The erosion of the rights of individuals was debated only a fortnight ago, but it is important to state how much one feels that the individual, who is supposed to be able to look to Parliament for protection, had his rights interfered with in that case by the Prime Minister. I refer, of course, to Colonel Lohan.
In my long time in Parliament I can remember no Minister of either party, particularly not the Prime Minister—it was a pitiable experience to listen to it—having damaged the future and character of an individual to try to get himself out of a Parliamentary difficulty. Some of my colleagues would use stronger words, but I think that it was pitiable that a Prime Minister of this country, which is great, in spite of a Socialist Government, should take a line like this. Therefore, the Motion is right to say that individual rights can be and are being eroded.
Regional government was started by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), and, when this Government took office, they appointed Mr. Dan Smith, a prominent Socialist in the north of England, as Chairman of the Northern Economic Planning Council. The Thomson Press, which is not Tory-minded, drew attention to his difficult position in being known as a leading Socialist in the area. The object of regional Government is to do the best for the region, and if such a post were held by someone independent of politics, as it has to draw in both capital and labour, better progress might be made.
However, Mr. Dan Smith was appointed and did not think himself inhibited in this way—
§ Mr. Ted Leadbitter (The Hartlepools)
The hon. Lady does not seem to realise that many of us came here under the impression that we would have a serious debate on matters of principle. She is going a long way to destroying the purpose of her Motion and to persuade hon. Members on this side to remind the House of 1963 and of 1956. I hope 1544 that she will now change the direction of her speech and get down to the major principles and matters involving Government and Parliament.
§ Dame Irene Ward
The hon. Gentleman will be delighted to know that I always love being interrupted, especially when the interruption is so irrelevant. In my part of the world, I argue my case as I like and I would be happy for hon. Members to argue theirs as they like. I will make my speech on my Motion as I like.
The Northern Economic Planning Council is not an elective, but a selective body, which is one of this Government's administrative actions which I deprecate. It would be better for democracy in matters like this if boards were not selected by the Government. Mr. Dan Smith suddenly made an interesting announcement:The centre of power is Whitehall. This is where all the major decisions are taken. I firmly believe that the job of regional planning could be better done in London.In that case, I wish that he would transfer himself to London, and I know that if he could do anything for the region in London, the region, irrespective of politics, would be very glad. I know that Mr. Dan Smith made this announcement in emphatic terms because in a short time the Minister of Transport is to announce that much more nationalisation, which is a threat to the interests of the people, is to take place. All our bus services are to be nationalised. The port of Newcastle is to be nationalised. Though Mr. Dan Smith is supposed to be the independent chairman of an important board, he has announced in no uncertain terms that he believes that Whitehall is right.
§ Mr. Gordon A. T. Bagier (Sunderland, South)
The Motion callsattention to the threat to the rights of the individual".I know that the hon. Lady is reluctant to have a debate face to face with Mr. Dan Smith on issues in the North-East. It is deplorable that in a debate on the rights of the individual the hon. Lady should attack Mr. Dan Smith in so many words when he does not have the right to reply.
§ Dame Irene Ward
Mr. Dan Smith has had a wonderful chance in the Press, 1545 which supports him in the north of England. He has made his statement. I do not think he would expect—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. This is a very broad debate. I think, however, we might now move from Mr. Dan Smith.
§ Dame Irene Ward
I have been waiting for a long time to say what I want to say about Mr. Dan Smith. I intend to move away from him, but I want to answer the charge. Mr. Dan Smith has taken on a public position. Anybody in public life must stand up to public criticism. Mr. Dan Smith should stand up to public criticism in exactly the same way as I hope all hon. Members can.
The Land Commission Bill takes away the rights of property owners and householders, if the Government desire, through the Commission, to take powers to possess. There will be no opportunity for individuals—I emphasise the word "individuals" to show that I bring myself within the terms of the Motion—to appeal. This is a great threat to the rights of individuals.
The Industrial Reorganisation Corporation Bill may be one of the reasons why the Financial Secretary is to answer the debate. This Bill by-passes Parliament, which is the centre of our democratic system, and gives the Government the right to acquire the controlling interest in any company which they desire to control. This is another threat to, and attack on, the rights of individuals.
I am interested in the emphasis Treasury Ministers lay on private investment. I am proud of private enterprise and the contribution that it has made here and throughout the world. I am delighted when I hear Ministers talk about private investment, but the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation Bill can be a threat to private investment. What is the use of people investing their money in private companies if the Government, without coming to Parliament, can obtain a controlling interest in those companies? At the moment we see evidence of troubles arising from the nationalisation of British Railways. I cannot think that nationalisation has been a great succes financially. It is interesting that Treasury Ministers are laying emphasis on private investment at the same time as they are setting out to erode private interests by means 1546 of the controls they may impose on private companies.
I come to the threat to local government. In my part of the world, though we made some progress at the last local elections, local government is, in the main, in the hands of the Labour Party. [Interruption.] It is all very well for hon. Members to snort. The attitude which has been adopted by the Secretary of State for Education and Science is a threat to local government. I am not arguing about the new arrangement with regard to the development of comprehenhive schools. That arises on other occasions.
Sir William Alexander, Secretary of the Association of Education Committees, writing in Education, the official journal of the Association—he is certainly not a supporter of the Conservative Party; I have known him for many years; he has never supported the Conservative Party—states his views on the Secretary of State's decision as follows:The Secretary of State seems to be departing from the policy of persuasion to a policy of compulsion. The A.E.C. has consistently argued for nearly 20 years now that the problem of organisation of secondary education was properly a matter for each local education authority to determine for its own area. Nobody could reasonably take exception to the Secretary of State's making quite clear that the policy of the Government was to move towards comprehensive schools. This in itself did not deny freedom to local education authorities to decide how best to solve their problems. It is a matter for regret that the area of freedom in this matter would seem to be severely restricted by the present circular.In view of that clear statement by Sir William Alexander, I do not think that hon. Members can contest that we now appear to be moving into an era when the Government of the day will decide to interfere in the decisions taken by properly elected local education committees and local councils. This is a serious matter for the future of local government. I emphasise this, because it is important that the House should be well aware of what is going on. He made many other interesting comments, but time prevents me from quoting them.
It is obvious that those who have for many years played a great part in building up our education system are perturbed about the circulars which the Minister of Education is sending out and 1547 are frightened about the way in which they will prevent local authorities from forming their plans for the future education of the children for whom they are responsible.
The Financial Secretary will probably call in aid in support of the Government the fact that the Government recently introduced the Parliamentary Commissioner Act. Up to a point, I was delighted at the introduction of that legislation, but when one looks at the matter more closely one soon realises that the powers of the Parliamentary Commissioner are extremely limited indeed. It is pleasant to quote in support of one's case such a distinguished man as Lord Justice Salmon. He has paid great tribute to Sir Edmund Compton and I congratulate the Government—[Interruption.]—I congratulate them occasionally. I do not always tread one path; it is fun occasionally to stray along a different path—on having made this appointment. Lord Justice Salmon points out that the Parliamentary Commissioner's powers are so limited that he can deal with only a few pinpricks. For hon. Members who are interested, I will gladly make available the full text of Lord Justice Salmon's remarks about the appointment of the Commissioner.
This all relates to what is known in legal terms as "Crown privilege". One of my hon. and learned Friends—occasionally one takes the advice of one's hon. Friends—said to me the other day, "If I were you, Irene, I would not get mixed up with Crown privilege because you do not know anything about it". That is true, I know nothing about it because I am not a lawyer. However, I have eyes and ears and am entitled to an opinion on the subject.
The other day I asked the Prime Minister a Question about the access of the Parliamentary Commissioner to papers covered by Crown privilege and the right hon. Gentleman replied that there was no need for instructions to be given to Departments about papers held under Crown privilege because the Parliamentary Commissioner Act enabled the Commissioner, in cases in which he had power to adjudicate, to have access to such papers. I was delighted to hear that, but unfortunately the cases in which 1548 the Commissioner may adjudicate are so limited in number that it will be rare for him to need to call for these papers.
Despite this, this is a break-through in Crown privilege. Although I was told not to get involved in the subject, I see no reason why I should not hold an opinion on the topic. That is why I support Lord Justice Salmon and what he said on this matter. This breach in Crown privilege, small though it is, has occurred as a result of the establishment of the Parliamentary Commissioner and I hope that this indicates that further consideration will be given to the responsibilities involved in this issue of Crown privilege.
The Financial Secretary may be interested in the little bonne bouche I have kept to the end of my remarks, because my next subject comes within the responsibility of the Treasury. While I said that I am delighted that Sir Edmund Compton has been appointed Parliamentary Commissioner, I wish to raise a case with which he has no power to deal. This case was originally raised in an Adjournment debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Walters), in which he cited the plight of a man who was his constituent. The man's wife happened to be a constituent of mine.
It is the case of Alfred Newton. He and his brother were working in Special Operations Executive during the war. They were captured by the Germans, were grossly tortured and spent two years in Buchenwald. I am glad to say that both returned to this country, although one was in a very ill state and the other, about whom my hon. Friend spoke, was in not quite such a bad condition.
While Alfred Newton was operating in Europe he had been released, under Defence Regulations, from the War Office. He received a signal stating that he was to be promoted from lieutenant to captain. After spending two years in Buchenwald and upon coming home—at which point everybody showered him with admiration for the way he had stood up to Nazi treatment—he wanted his captaincy registered. Although there were no records available, when my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury raised the matter in the House he was able to quote strong circumstantial evidence 1549 from Colonel Buckmaster, who was in command of the French Section of S.O.E., and his well-known personal assistant, Miss Vera Atkins. They confirmed that it was the intention of S.O.E. to recommend to the War Office that Alfred Newton be promoted to captain.
Anybody who had even the slightest part to play in these matters during the war—and it was only a small part that I had to play—is aware that a great many of the signals which were sent from this country to various parts of Europe are unrecorded because many of them were burnt and there was no certainty about anything. Unfortunately, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who replied to my hon. Friend's Adjournment debate, was not prepared to accept that Alfred Newton, who had returned to Britain covered with glory, was eligible to be raised from lieutenant to captain.
It seems intolerable that there should be no sort of appeal in a case of this type and it emphasises the point I was making earlier, that if one passes legislation on matters of great moment to the individual without allowing a form of appeal, one is destroying something tremendously important in our national life. In his case, not only is there no appeal, but there is no possibility of looking at the papers, even if it would be possible to find them.
If the Parliamentary Commissioner were entitled to inquire into cases of this kind, that would at least mean that an appeal would be possible. My experience of pensions committees, industrial injuries committees and all the machinery that has been established by Parliament over the years to protect the individual prom the Executive, leads me to believe that had the matter gone to a Ministry of Pensions committee the circumstantial evidence was so great that the case would have been accepted. Many of us have experience of those committees, and know that wherever possible they give the benefit of the doubt to the individual. I remember the tremendous speech made during the war by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone when we were arguing about the establishment of machinery in the Ministry of Pensions to protect the interests of the individual. That machinery has been very well established
1550 I have mentioned just this one man who had done so much for his country but had his case disallowed because the only proof was word of mouth and circumstantial evidence. We were told that the signal in that case could not be implemented. I do not believe that the Under-Secretary of State was happy in that debate, and I am perfectly certain that the nigger in the woodpile was the Treasury.
One rarely has the chance, when speaking here in the interests of individuals, of really hitting at the Treasury. I want to hit it often in these human cases. I do not argue now about the Treasury's economic policy, but about the human aspect, because I do not believe that at the very low level at which, up to a point, these cases are decided, the Department would have failed to have accepted the case presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury. It is a most distressing and disturbing situation. It is more than unfortunate that in such a case, where there is no other right of appeal, the power of the Parliamentary Commissioner is so circumscribed that he is not allowed to judge evidence that should in the circumstances have been before him.
We do a very good deal of talking in Parliament. I talk a good deal myself—sometimes I wish that I could talk a great deal more, but I do not think that the House would like that—but there are very many things going on under this Government that show that words alone will not preserve democracy. The only thing that will preserve democracy, and a free Parliament as we understand it and have understood throughout the centuries, is full consideration of the suggestions in the Motion.
Perhaps the Government will pay some little attention to the points I have made, and to the anxieties which the development of their policies has caused in so many walks of life. This does not apply only to one section of the community—it goes right through it from top to bottom. I believe that the very best service the House of Commons could make in defence of democracy would be to see that the Government follow some of the lines set out in my Motion.
I do not consider this to be a political issue but a Parliamentary issue, so I shall not ask for a Division. I simply register 1551 my Motion. I know that many hon. Members opposite share, at any rate, some of the anxieties I have expressed. If some of those anxieties ring a bell with them as they do with some of us on this side, I hope that the Motion will be accepted and placed on the record, and that those who govern our destinies will consider very carefully before thinking that the Executive should have more power to the detriment of the individual.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul B. Rose (Manchester, Blackley)
I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) in her remarks about Dan Smith, except to say that Mr. Smith's achievements in the North-East are legend in many other parts of the country.
The hon. Lady is to be congratulated on initiating a very widely-ranging debate on the supremely important topic of the individual liberty of the citizen. All too often, hon. Members who become rather hot under the collar and work themselves into a great passion about taxation or economic matters give very scant attention to this vitally important subject. To me, individual freedom does not mean the freedom to prevent equality in education or to opt out of one's social responsibilities, particularly to the less well-off members of the community. Nor does it mean freedom to exploit one's neighbours which so often is the sort of freedom that hon. Members opposite are intent on preserving.
Man does not live by bread alone, and that is why, as a Socialist, I have no time for the kind of Socialism that rides roughshod over individual rights and privileges. This debate is important because in the sort of unfair society supported by the other side of the House, the citizen cannot develop his individuality to the full. That is why I think that the philosophy on this side of the House is most compatible with individual freedom.
The Government's record in this connection is far brighter than that of their predecessors—one remembers the cases of Enahoro and Soblen, and many others. Nevertheless, we have to concede that the Government's record in relation to individual freedom has been rather patchy. I welcome the appointment of the Parliamentary Commissioner, and I welcome, too, the Race Relations Act. 1552 The purpose of the one is to protect the individual against abuses by the Administration, and of the other to protect him against abuse and discrimination. Both are important advances in individual freedom. They do not go far enough, but they are valuable because they create a precedent, and the framework on which extended legislation can later be built. It is only when we get that extended legislation that we shall reap the full benefits of those Measures in terms of individual opportunity.
In the lifetime of this Government we have had a great deal of private Members' legislation, often initiating valuable social reforms and relating to human attitudes—following protests, quite often, from less enlightened members of the community. Under the guidance of the Home Secretary, we have also seen a new look at the Home Office. This is apparent in a number of ways, not least in regard to deportation procedures. One sees a readiness in the Home Office under its present head to listen to protests and to correct longstanding abuses in our administrative procedure.
As against those advances there have been retrograde steps, one of which was the decision on majority verdicts taken by the House when there was no free vote. I believe that individual hon. Members should have been able to decide that issue in terms of their individual consciences. Also on the debit side are the wide powers of arrest given under the Criminal Law Bill.
One matter I want to raise which is of personal interest to a constituent is the conservatism of the Ministry of Defence in relation to a topic of vital importance to individual liberty—the problem of the teen-age Serviceman who very often has to spend a large part of his adult life in the Forces. One of my constituents recently, in desperation, after one attempt after another to free himself from this obligation, jumped ship at Mombasa, was absent without leave and is now serving a period of detention.
I asked the Ministry of Defence whether the parents of this boy could see him at Southampton, where he is in detention. I also asked whether I could see the boy in lieu of that. But although the parents had not seen him for 14 1553 months, they were unable to visit him during his period of detention. Such are the regulations that both my requests were refused.
The sort of enlightened standards that we accept in civil life should gradually be permeating the Services as well. It is a scandalous situation in which a boy of 15 can sign away 12 to 15 years of his adult life without the opportunity to change his mind later.
When I have raised this matter on a previous occasion, however, the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth saw nothing wrong in the system. She, the guardian of individual freedom this afternoon, thinks that there is nothing wrong with buys of that age signing away their adult lives. I find her attitude somewhat strange. These boys enter into a binding contract, which in civil life they would not be able to do until they were 21. Long-term Service contracts for teen-agers under the age of 18 should be ended and the contracts signed by those over the age of 18 should include a clause allowing them an option at the age of 21 to change their minds. We might also follow the example of certain Scandinavian countries and have a Parliamentary Commissioner dealing directly with Service matters.
I want also to say something about the extension of the Public Order Act in the Race Relations Act. During the Committee stage of the Race Relations Act, I moved an Amendment, warning the Committee that the extension of the Public Order Act in the Race Relations Act without reference to the question of rice relations would mean that its impact would not be felt by those who were deliberately stimulating racial hatred but would probably be used against those protesting against the purveying of racial hatred.
Only a short time afterwards, "Mandraks" in the Daily Telegraph pointed out that the first prosecution under the new Act was against persons who were protesting at a manifestation of racial discrimination. The same thing occurred again when a number of people including clergymen, were picketing a hairdresser's shop where discrimination was practised. In that case there was an acquittal. The warning we gave in moving that Amendment proved correct.
1554 When we come to the problem of political protest, we find that the laws of obstruction and Sessional Orders are being used to stop demonstrations and to harass demonstrators to an unwarranted degree. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will deal with this. All of us will agree that the law with regard to assembly and processions is in a state of disorder and quite unsatisfactory. Few people realise how limited are the fundamental rights of the citizen with regard to freedom of speech, assembly and the right of free procession. Much of this is purely at the whim of the local chief of police.
There also seems increasingly to be an attitude of mind in the courts that demonstrating is itself a criminal offence. We have had examples of the magistrates at Marlborough Street court continually abusing their powers in order to keep accused persons in custody before their trial. There was an instance recently in which a person demonstrating over the Vietnam was was bound over to keep the peace for three months, although he had not at that stage been tried. This sort of thing flies in the face of the cardinal principle of British justice—that a man is presumed innocent until proved guilty.
Another example of this kind of arbitrary behaviour was the remanding in custody of a number of persons nearly a year ago who shouted in a church prior to the Labour Party conference at Brighton. They also were protesting against the Vietnam war. I regard their action as foolish and as in bad taste in a place of worship, but from their point of view they perhaps regarded it as slightly in more bad taste to pour petrol and polystrene on children and set them alight, which is what napalm means in the Vietnam war. They were thus exerting a certain kind of protest. They were remanded in custody for a week before they were charged.
This again was a case of prejudging the issue. In a case of that kind, where there was no question of intimidating witnesses or of failure to stand bail, it should not be refused. The whole problem of bail must be reviewed. Recently, I represented a man in what was then the Court 1555 of Criminal Appeal. He had been sentenced to nine months' imprisonment and had served five months when his appeal was heard. The court quashed his sentence but, he would only have had another month to go anyway. He had not been granted bail pending his appeal, although he had no previous convictions.
The Criminal Appeal Act, passed by the present Government, should go a long way to remedy this sort of situation. The general reluctance to give bail, particularly in magistrates' courts, should be attacked vigorously by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. About 18,000 people who are subsequently not sentenced to any term of imprisonment are held in custody each year. That situation must be ended and I hope that the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act, although they do not go far enough in dealing with the question of bail, will go at least some way to doing so.
One wants to see a set procedure whereby opposition to bail is accompanied by a sworn statement and genuine reasons why bail should not be given. There is far too much tendency, particularly by magistrates, to prejudge an issue and to decide that a man is guilty and therefore should be kept in custody rather than to look at the correct criteria for withholding bail.
The man whom I represented before the Court of Criminal Appeal spent five months in prison. He had no previous convictions. He had a wife and four children who were left to fend for themselves during that period, but there was no question of compensation. The question of compensation where miscarriages of justice of this nature take place ought to be gone into a great deal further and there should be a far more generous attitude on behalf of the administrators.
Happily, we have not yet reached the situation that occurs in one part of the United Kingdom—Northern Ireland, where under the Special Powers Act, a man can be detained at will without trial. That Act of Parliament goes further in many respects than the similar Act in South Africa.
Only recently, the so-called Republican Clubs in Northern Ireland were banned and certain persons were taken into custody. Nothing was brought forward 1556 to substantiate any charge against these clubs or individuals. No evidence was produced and eventually they were freed. In a case of that kind, one would expect the Home Secretary of Northern Ireland to resign or to produce some evidence to show why these people were taken into custody. But I do not now wish to go into the whole question of civil liberties in Northern Ireland because I have already spoken on the subject in this House and my views are well known. I believe that it calls for a Royal Commission to investigate the lack of civil and religious liberty and the discrimination in that part of the United Kingdom.
One further matter which I should like to raise concerns the procedures when immigrants or visitors come to this country. I understand that recently new instructions have been given to immigration officers at our seaports and airports. I should like to refer to one or two specific cases. There was the very disturbing case of the Swedish student, Barbara Erikson, which is very well known, but I know of the case of a Danish student who landed at Manchester Airport and did not have the documents required to take up a job here. He was offered accommodation for a holiday for a fortnight by a resident in Manchester, but, in spite of this, he was shipped back to Denmark the following day, having spent the night in the airport. That sort of attitude is not conducive to good relations with foreign countries or to stimulating the tourist trade, apart from the human suffering involved. I think that everyone saw the picture of the little Indian boy boarding the aeroplane having come to this country and being shipped away.
I believe that there should be a right, when an administrative procedure is applied at a port, for some sort of appeal to a judicial body. When administrative procedures like this are so arbitrary there must be a right of appeal to protect the rights of the individual. I am told that there are still many cases of immigrants coming to this country, having received authority from British authorities overseas, and yet being turned back when they come. I should like some information about this from my right hon. Friend later.
One final point I should like to raise in this perhaps rag-bag of examples of 1557 cases where individual freedom is at stake concerns the case of a person who loses his job because of some security question. It may be that the man has had some contact with some organisation or person which makes him a security risk. I have no objection, in the interests of national security and the nation's survival, to dealing in a proper way with a man who is a security risk. However, where a person is removed from a job in this way he ought to know the nature of the accusation against him. He ought to be confronted with it and have the right to defend himself. All along we have to be very careful to see that the correct principles of natural justice and of the right of a man to defend himself and know what are the charges against him—the procedures which we expect in an ordinary court of law—are applied when administrative decisions of this nature are made.
All in all, I believe that the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth has cone this House a great service not in the speech she made, but in initiating a debate, the consequences of which perhaps she did not foresee when she put down the Motion, in which hon. Members will have the right—and it is an all too infrequent right—to raise many matters of grave and fundamental concern to the liberty of the individual. To my mind, a society which is concerned only with what is material and not with the freedom of the individual is not a society towards which we ought to be aspiring. I hope that many of my hon. Friends will take this opportunity to raise matters of vital importance to individual freedom which have not so far been raised.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Colonel Sir Tufton Beamish (Lewes)
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose) raised a number of interesting fringe points, if he will not mind my calling them that, during this debate. I agreed with some and disagreed with others. I hope he will excuse me if I do not follow him into Northern Ireland or some of the other paths he trod, interesting as his points were. I want to make a much more fundamental speech, talking much more in principles than about particular things. I will make a speech which will 1558 be found by some hon. Members to be provocative and controversial, but I hope that it will be none the worse for that.
I fully recognise that, in spite of what I am about to say, there is a lot of common ground between both sides of the House—and thank heaven for it—where the protection of individual liberties and rights is concerned. That goes without saying, but it does not alter the fact that many on this side of the House are extremely critical of certain trends that we see at the moment and have seen during the last two and a half years.
Ever since my very good hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) first entered this House, which was several years ago, she has been a doughty and undaunted champion of the rights of those who are unable to speak for themselves and she has never lost an opportunity of raising matters on their behalf. She has made her mark on Parliamentary issues by her fearless battle in support of genuine grievances against injustice and against the erosion of individual rights and liberties wherever she thinks she has seen them. I agree with the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley that by raising this question today my hon. Friend has done the House a great service. I am only sorry that after the gruelling we had last week the House is thin today.
I disagreed with only one thing that my hon. Friend said, and that was when she said that this was a Parliamentary matter and not a political one. With respect to my hon. Friend's great experience, I think that this is an extremely political matter and I shall make a political speech. It seems to me that the Government too often regard themselves as the master and not as the servant of the people. They sometimes treat individual liberty as a privilege and not as a right, and I shall be explaining what I mean by that.
On this side of the House we have the urgent and inescapable duty to condemn any dangerous attitudes in these directions whenever we see them. It goes without saying that individual liberty is the first casualty in war. Nothing has been said about that yet. The Government, like any prudent householder, must insure against enemy aggression, and the 1559 defence of the country's vital interests at home and abroad must be the first charge on the taxpayers' pockets. I see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) sitting opposite. I know that he feels very strongly on this, and I have heard him say before in this House that the defence of the country comes first within what we can afford.
The Government believe—and we shall know tomorrow whether this is an exaggeration or not—that they can safely slash defence costs. By demanding peace on the cheap, if that is what the Government are about to do—and they have already trended in that direction—they are putting the fundamental rights and liberties of the people at serious risk. I greatly fear that when we read the Defence White Paper tomorrow, we shall see that Socialist Party unity will again have been put before the national interest. I hope and pray that I am wrong in saying that. A country that puts soft living, greater affluence, and bigger and better social services before the maintenance of peace will quickly lose, and deserve to lose, its most precious rights and privileges.
I should like to give the House a few examples of some of the ways in which the traditional individual rights and liberties have been eroded since the October, 1964, election. Individual liberty is put at risk, in my opinion, by a Government that assumes the right to interfere at will in the time-honoured process of collective bargaining. This is something about which hon. Members on both sides of the House are largely in agreement. Who was it who said recently in a B.B.C. "Election Forum" broadcast,Once you have the law prescribing wages you're on a very slippery slope"?No prizes are given for the answer, which is, of course, the Prime Minister. It is a slippery slope. It leads and has led during the last 12 months since the July measures to the retrospective breaking of contracts freely made and morally binding. The Government have set an extremely bad example by breaking contracts themselves, for instance, the contract into which they had entered with Service doctors and dentists and to which I myself drew attention in the House.
1560 This means that in many ways the Government have put expediency before the law and this trend leads inevitably and inexorably in the end, although not immediately, to the direction of labour. Anyone who doubts whether interference by the Government in collective bargaining leads to that in the end should ask the Czechs, the Poles, the Hungarians, or the Russians. That is what it has led to in those countries where, I am glad to say, a revolt against it is now going on. Like martial law, Government control of incomes is a crisis measure justified only in times of genuine and severe economic danger.
I do not think that this is in any way a partisan view. Hon. Members will agree with me about that when they cast their minds back to last week—I forget which night it was, for we had so many of them—when the Government majority was down to 20 because a considerable number of hon. Members opposite were profoundly unhappy about the restrictions which the Government were placing on prices and incomes, because those hon. Members genuinely believed in collective bargaining.
I am not making a partisan speech for the sake of making one. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite can laugh. I heard one say "Hear, hear", and agree with me while others giggled. This shows the difference in attitude between the factions of hon. Members opposite.
§ Sir T. Beamish
It is liberty. The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Winnick), who has his foot up, has a perfect right to giggle.
The belief in the time-honoured phrase of the President of the Board of Trade of which many people are heartily sick, that the "gentleman in Whitehall knows best" is dangerous doctrine. The gentleman in Whitehall is no less fallible than the rest of us, and sometimes much more. He finds it convenient to demand conformity and to deprive the citizen of choice and to limit diversity and to crush individualism.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tyne-mouth spoke of individual liberty in the context of nationalisation. Individual liberty is being eroded by the Government who have as their long-term aim 1561 —I quote from this remarkable document "Labour's Aims":an expansion of common ownership substantial enough to give the community power over the commanding heights of the economy
§ Sir T. Beamish
I knew that that would get some cheers, but what the devil it means I have not the faintest idea, and nor has any hon. Member opposite. If any hon. Member who follows me can explain it, I shall be delighted to hear the explanation, and so will the whole of this side of the House. It is a paraphrase of the remarkable sentence in the party's objects adopted in 1918 about securingfor the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof which may be possible, upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution, exchange …I understood that. What it meant was perfectly clear.
§ Sir T. Beamish
Across the board nationalisation was the long-term aim of the party opposite, but I do not understand the remarkably woolly paraphrase o that 1918 paragraph.
§ Sir T. Beamish
It will be very interesting to hear an hon. Member opposite explain which industries are on the list for nationalisation in the short term and the long term, because many people want to know and are entitled to know. It was Bertrand Russell, the great Socialist and great idealist, who wrote:the true ends of democracy are not achieved by state socialism".I could not agree more and I am glad to see some hon. Members opposite in agreement with me.
The Labour Party is a most curious party, consisting of Social Democrats, with whom I have a great deal in common, and a Marxist wing which genuinely believes in the Marxist doctrine. The sooner they sort out their ideas between each other, the better.
To return precisely to the subject of the Motion—I was led astray—State monopoly removes competition and individual 1562 choice. As State monopoly increases, it deprives a man of his right to change his job, of the right to negotiate his terms of employment and, in the end, of the right to strike. There is nobody who has studied State Socialism, if that is the right phrase—it is Bertrand Russell's phrase—who does not know perfectly well in his heart of hearts that across the board nationalisation means that all these things automatically go with it. This is undeniable.
Individual rights are flouted by the Government's attempts, particularly in recent months, to coerce, sometimes to mislead and sometimes to bully the free Press.
It was said by Junius in the 18th century—so far as I am aware, nobody knows who Junius was, but he wrote many wise things; my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) may want to intervene to tell us, but I doubt it—that:The liberty of the Press is that Palladium of all the civil, political and religious rights of an Englishman.We forget that at our peril.
Liberty is restricted by a Government who take too great a share of a man's earnings or savings, so that they can spend that money as they think best. As taxes go up, freedom of choice and independence go down. We have seen taxes going up and up in the last two and a half years while freedom of choice has been eroded.
The Government seem to be blinded by their egalitarianism. They squander public funds on universal benefits regardless of real need and subject helpless people to the imprisonment of poverty—[Laughter.] I am sorry that the hon. Member for Croydon, South finds it so very funny. These people are suffering poverty. There are many people in this country who suffer from poverty, and the situation is getting worse under the present Government, and this is not very funny.
§ Mr. Winnick
I was not laughing at the hon. and gallant Gentleman's example of people in hardship. I would be the last to laugh about such people. I am amused by the hon. and gallant Gentleman's general remarks, for he claimed earlier that he would make a non-political or non-party speech.
§ Sir T. Beamish
I said exactly the opposite. The hon. Gentleman is too busy giggling to listen. I said that I would make a political speech. I knew that the hon. Gentleman would not like it, but he does not have to listen. I said that there was one remark in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne-mouth with which I did not agree and that that was when she said that this was a matter for Parliament only and was not political. I think that it is very political and I am making a political speech. One of the reasons why I represent my constituency is that the electors there like my politics.
§ Sir T. Beamish
A great many of them, yes. My majority has never been below 12,000, which is not bad.
Liberty is imperilled by a Government who ride roughshod over the views and wishes of locally-elected bodies. This was something touched upon by the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth. It is imperilled by a Government who take decisions without consulting local opinion or heeding expert, impartial advice. It is imperilled by a Government who take arbitrary decisions without publishing their reasons. There have been some fairly horrid examples of this recently. I have had one or two in my constituency, but because I do not want to take up too much of the time of the House, I will not go into details. I will simply state the general principle.
Liberty is fettered by a Government who enact hasty and badly-drafted legislation, forcing it through Parliament with insufficient time for discussion and amendment. There have been some very bad examples of that in the last two and a half years. One which springs immediately to my mind is the way in which the Selective Employment Tax debate was subjected to the timetable Motion. Here my rights and liberties as well as my constituents' were being eroded. I put my name to eight Amendments out of heaven knows how many. All of those affected my constituency, basically and importantly. Only one was reached, because of the timetable Motion. This is an example, and I could give others to show what I mean by hasty and badly drafted legislation being forced through 1564 the House and getting on the Statute Book, so that no one knows what the devil it means. Then the individual suffers. The interpretation of legislation that is imprecise or over-complex places an intolerable burden upon the official who exercises power, and places the citizen at the mercy of too wide a discretion.
Individual liberty is threatened when trade unions are allowed to deprive a man of his job, when they are allowed to interfere with the right of a man to work as hard as he wishes and to earn as much as he can. Individual liberty is threatened, too, when trade unions stand above the law and can with impunity oppress the individual.
§ Mr. Winnick rose—
§ Sir T. Beamish
I would rather not give way. The hon. Gentleman may catch Mr. Speaker's eye, in which case I shall be interested in what he has to say.
Individual liberty is threatened when unions can coerce a man into supporting a particular brand of party politics, by insisting that he should contract out of a political levy rather than pay voluntarily. This is a threat to individual liberty, and the sooner that we get back to contracting in, when men are not forced to go to their shop steward and say that they will not pay to the Socialist Party, thus disclosing that they are not Socialists, the fairer it will be for all concerned. It might have quite a profound effect on the Socialist Party's finances.
Individual liberty is threatened too when protection is given under the law, as in the 1965 Trades Disputes Act to anyone, trade union official, Communist agitator, unofficial strike leader, ordinary union member or just someone with a grudge who threatens a strike in breach of contract, in order to procure another man's dismissal. That is another threat to individual liberty and that was a very bad piece of legislation.
I had wanted to say a word about the warning issued by the Transport and General Workers Union to its 26 sponsored Members of Parliament, to the effect that they risk losing the union's financial support if they do not back union policy—
§ Mr. Bagier
On a point of order. Is it in order for the hon. and gallant Member to refer to a case which has already been submitted to Mr. Speaker for consideration as a breach of Parliamentary privilege?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
I was about to rule the hon. and gallant Gentleman out of order in any case. This Motion is about the erosion of traditional rights and liberties and Government action in the matter.
§ Sir T. Beamish
You are right, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I am sorry that I mentioned the subject. It was in my notes, and I had not re-read them. The moment I saw it—I was in mid-sentence—I was about to mention this subject without putting any pros and cons and find my way into the next paragraph by saying that I did not intend to speak about it at all. It is the last thing that I would do since Mr. Speaker is to rule tomorrow.
When trade unions abuse their powers and fail to distinguish between the national interest—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I do not want to prevent the hon. and gallant Gentleman from achieving his intention of being provocative, or other hon. Members from enjoying the speech, but I hope that they will not carry on a conversation.
§ Sir T. Beamish
I very much hope that you are right, Sir, in thinking that hon. Members are enjoying the speech. I am. When trade unions abuse their powers and fail to distinguish between the national interest and their own sectional interest, individual liberty is threatened.
Liberty is in danger when a Government, by gerrymandering, interferes with the statutory rights of the people of London to hold local elections in the London boroughs. It may be that the Financial Secretary, when he replies to the debate will not wish to comment in any detail on some of the points that I have made. Maybe he will be wiser not to do so, but I should like to ask him one specific question on the subject of gerrymandering. Could the attitude of the Government towards the London borough elections be a pointer to the way in which the Government intend to treat the reports 1566 of the Boundary Commissions which will be laid before Parliament in about two years' time and which, constitutionally, should be acted upon without delay?
May I have the assurance from the hon. Gentleman that after these reports have been laid, there will be no avoidable delay whatever in acting upon them? I cannot help saying that I am a little suspicious and feel that what happened in the London Boroughs might be a horrid pointer to something much larger and much more serious.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tyne-mouth spoke of education. It is surely a fundamental right of parents to spend their own money as they think fit, to give their children the best education that they can afford. A Government who disregard parental choice, as this Government are doing, and seek to impose a standardised system of education contrary to the views and wishes of parents, children and educational authorities, fly in the face of this basic right.
§ Mr. John Lee (Reading)
Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman agree that it would be logical, if parents had the right to spend their money as they liked on education, that no tax concessions whatever should be made in respect of private education?
§ Sir T. Beamish
I would certainly not go so far as to say that. There are some circumstances in which tax concessions make a great deal of sense. I am talking about parental choice. I am very much in favour of the direct grant schools, which are very fine, in between the comprehensive system and the State system on the one hand, and the private schools on the other.
§ Sir T. Beamish
Parents who have not got the means have one of the finest State educational systems in the world at their disposal. [Interruption.] This is egalitarianism coming out. What the hon. Gentleman has to realise is the truth of what was said by a famous headmaster recentlyIt would be quite easy to make all schools equally bad, but impossible to make them all equally good.1567 If the attitude of the party opposite—this egalitarian attitude—is "Because everyone cannot have it, then no one can have it", we are in for a great deal of trouble. That is a fair paraphrase of what the hon. Gentleman said.
§ Mr. Ivor Richard (Barons Court) rose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. May I remind the House that many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate, which must close at seven o'clock.
§ Sir T. Beamish
I am sorry not to give way again, as I should much enjoy doing so, but I do not think it fair to take up too much of the time of the House. I know that what I am saying is controversial and I know that it is political. It is deliberately controversial and deliberately political. It may be that some hon. Members opposite would wish to comment on some of the points which I have made and which I believe to be fair.
May I mention one more basic right of the individual—the right to expect that a political party's electoral promises will be honest and realistic. A party which knowingly issues a false prospectus in an attempt to win an election is guilty of political fraud. It is surely a basic right of every man to be certain that a political party will make its promises in good faith and will honour them if it can. That, I think, is non-controversial.
But this is controversial: when a party leader promises. as the Prime Minister did in 1964, that there will be "no general increase in taxation" during the period of the next Parliament—and perhaps the Financial Secretary would like to comment on that. I see that he is yawning, which is a pity, because I should not have thought that the imposition of another £1,000 million in taxation on the backs of the British taxpayers is anything very much to yawn about. I hope that he will be good enough to reply on this point at any rate. He looks very bored.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Niall MacDermot) indicated assent.
§ Sir T. Beamish
I see that he is bored by my speech. It explains quite a lot if 1568 he does not think that this matters very much. I remind him that the Prime Minister said that there will be "no general increase in taxation" during the period of the next Parliament. What happened? Taxation has increased by £1,000 million in the last two-and-a-half years. The Financial Secretary nodded assent when I said that he was bored. Presumably his yawn arises out of the fact that the Government have it very much in mind to reduce taxation to the level at which they found it in October, 1964, and that, therefore, I am making an unfair point. If that is so, it is something well worth hearing.
To take a smaller point but no less important, under the same heading of promises being given in good faith and not honoured, I remind him of the pledge about public service pensions. I corresponded with him about it in November, 1964. He knows that I feel very strongly about it, and I still have the letters on the subject. I dare say he will remember the correspondence on the subject of public service and Armed Forces pensions, a subject in which my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth has taken an immense interest ever since she has been in the House.
Just before the 1964 General Election the Prime Minister gave a pledge that he wouldtake the first opportunity to raise the pensions of retired Service people to what they would have been had a man retired upon the latest scale".That is unequivocal. In a word, it means what is known as "parity". Where is it? Practically nothing has been done. This section of the community, the Armed Forces pensioners—and the same applies in a rather different way to public service pensioners—feel that they have been betrayed. They deserve better. I hope that in his reply to the debate the Financial Secretary will tell us what has happened to that pledge.
I could keep the House up all night by listing the broken promises and broken pledges. The individual has the absolute right, surely, to insist that when a party issues its election manifesto, it means what it says and will do its best to carry out its promises. I feel that by playing fast and loose with the electorate the Government have deprived many 1569 people of the opportunity to make a choice in good faith.
To sum up, the rights and liberties of the individual are, in my view, not safe the hands of a Government who are so cocksure and so lacking in modesty, a Government who think that they know all the answers, a Government who think that they can ride roughshod over the reeds of the individual, always, of course, in the name of the "public interest", of the "good of the community", of "social justice" or of the ideals of what is called the Movement, with a capital "M". A meddlesome, high-handed Government, wedded to old-fashioned dogma and activated by class jealousies can too easily destroy the will of a people to solve their own problems and to learn from their own mistakes. Such a Government can blunt inventiveness and self-reliance, and they can blunt our sturdy sense of adventure.
We would do well to mark and learn the following words of Milton:And what more oft in nations grown corruptAnd by their vices brought to servitude,Than to love bondage more than liberty,Bondage with ease than strenuous liberty.Socialism, as I see it, in the ultimate offers "bondage with ease". It promises fair shares for all, freedom from anxiety, universal affluence, greater reward for less effort, the all-embracing care of a benevolent State and peace on the cheap. It offers life on the never-never. But it leads only to bondage, never to ease. This is a "hippy" Government which offers "pot" for the people. To misquote Karl Marx outrageously, "Socialism is the opium of the people".
Liberty is never the soft option. It is strenuous and tough. After two major wars a country is inclined to turn to what appears to be the easier, softer way. But nearly three years in opposition have given me and many of my hon. Friends on this side of the House the opportunity to watch from the sidelines the beginning of a slide down what many of us think is the slippery Socialist slope. Today's debate serves as a timely warning to the Government that they should and must act as the servants and not the masters of the people. It should remind us all, in and out of Parliament, 1570 that individual rights and liberties have been and are being eroded by this Government.
Let us have "strenuous liberty" with all its responsibilities, all its untidiness, all its anomalies—yes, all its injustices, all its anxieties and all its inevitable risks. It is the only option, unless Britain is to become a nation in decline.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Denis Coe (Middleton and Prestwich)
I think that I can say that my hon. and right hon. Friends have thoroughly enjoyed the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish). For a moment I thought that I was back in the 19th century, because that was about the time at which such a speech might well have been made. If I may say so without disrespect to the hon. and gallant Member, it was the cry of an ancient Tory who did not recognise that this is 1967 and that things have changed.
I am glad that he disagreed with the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) in her interpretation of whether this was a political issue. With respect to her, although she claimed that it was non-political, much of the content and many of her remarks were political. When she first announced the Motion I hoped that we should have a sensible discussion about the rights and liberties of the individual in modern society. Instead, both from the hon. Lady and from the hon. and gallant Gentleman we have had a somewhat turgid and totally erroneous piece about liberty and rights and the way in which they are supposed to have been curbed by this Government.
We also had from the hon. Lady, and I was glad of it, a pat on the back for the Ombudsman and a long, sustained attack on an individual who has neither the right nor the liberty to answer that attack in this Chamber. Not only are these accusations both turgid and erroneous, but they are also hypocritical. The party opposite has no right whatever to claim that rights and liberties are being eroded under this Government when we look, for example, at their record from 1951 to 1964. What right have they to talk about rights and liberties when it was they who deported 1571 Chief Enahoro? The hon. Lady complained about the treatment of Parliament by this Government. I wonder if she still supports her Government's actions over Suez in 1956—
§ Mr. Coe
I am glad to hear that. They obviously misled this House and therefore interfered with the rights and liberties of individual Members of Parliament. If she is happy about that perhaps she can square it with her Motion, but I am afraid I cannot.
We can look at the climate of society under the Conservatives and see how far rights and liberties were sustained. How many rights and how much liberty had the tenant under the 1957 Rent Act. There was a typical example of Tory legislation. It certainly had an element of liberty—liberty for the landlord to exploit his tenant to the full. We may look at the position of old people under the party opposite. We find their rights to a comfortable retirement and their liberty to enjoy it was circumscribed by low pensions and inadequate benefits. We can consider the position of people who were sick. Their rights and liberties were hardly helped by being taxed for being ill through the imposition of prescription charges.
One of the most important aspects of rights and liberties is surely that children should be allowed to develop their talents to the full. The separatism that existed—indeed, it still exists but we are changing it—in secondary education, particularly, meant quite certainly that children were not able to develop their talents to the full. This was, and still is, a hallmark of Conservative educational policy based on a system of privilege. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose) the hon. and gallant Member proved this up to the hilt.
Conservative hon. Members complain loudly about the decline of Parliament and the increasing power of the Executive, but we heard nothing from the benches opposite about this when they were in power. What did they do to try to make certain that the power of the Executive did not become too great? It is not a new phenomenon but, as I 1572 shall try to show, my hon. and right hon. Friends have begun to tackle this problem.
In the Conservative record I can think of only one occasion when they took an action which one could argue helped the rights and liberties of the individual. That was when they passed the Tribunals and Inquiries Act, 1958. Even then it was the result of a bad attack of conscience resulting from the Crichel Down case and the setting up of the Franks Committee. It is an impertinence therefore for the hon. Lady to put forward such a Motion in the light of such a record.
Before turning to examine the three criteria in the Motion, I ask the House to consider the hon. Lady's use of the term:traditional rights and liberties are being eroded".She gave no indication in her speech of what she meant by "traditional rights". I suggest, therefore, that she is in no position to know whether those rights are being eroded or not. The use of the word "traditional" is in itself difficult to sustain. However much philosophers throughout the centuries have disagreed about the true meaning of liberty and rights, they would recognise that any such consideration of values must be related to the society of the day. Even natural law theorists would argue that the law of the State or the country should be part of the law which a citizen has to obey.
In our country I doubt if even the hon. Lady would argue that the rights and liberty of people to draw social benefits from the State would sap their moral fibre, but that is what her party's predecessors talked about 50 years ago when these sort of social benefits were put forward. They were opposed to them on the basis of right and liberty. We must look at these rights and liberties in terms of society today. One cannot simply talk of traditional values, although these of course are very important. In reality the hon. Lady and the hon. and gallant Member rested their case on the distaste they have—I understand it—for the State intervening in the affairs of individuals. It was this which the hon. Lady, wrongly in my view, ascribed to being against the rights and liberties of the individual.
1573 But even her own party is in some difficulty, because she and they must accept that over a large field of action State intervention increases the liberty of the individual. That is why the party opposite find it difficult sometimes to make up their minds about certain measures which the State takes over a period of time. The members of her party are also hampered in not understanding the nature of the problem by a considerable ignorance of how a large number of people in this country live. That explains the antagonism of Conservatives to the introduction of social benefits throughout the last two centuries and their belief that there is a settled order of society.
Here we are hitting at the crux of the differences between the parties, particularly on a Motion such as this. It seems that the traditional Disraelian concept of society still goes through the whole attitude of the party opposite. On the one hand, there are the "natural leaders" to whom the people look for guidance and governance, and on the other hand society is organic and therefore there are ties of mutual obligation between the classes. There is therefore a necessity on those natural leaders not to allow the common people to fall below a certain level. Here is the real difference between us.
It is because this Labour Government, and the Labour Government of 1945 to 1951 have been breaking down this erroneous attitude of society, this totally out-of-date Disraelian concept of society, and in its place recognising the rights and liberties of all the people and not certain privileged sections, that we have this Motion this afternoon.
Now I turn to the three criteria on which the hon. Lady based her criticism of the Government. She complained, first, of the Government's administrative attitude. I am glad that she recognised that one of the most fundamental and far-reaching changes which this Government have introduced, albeit tentatively and in a limited sense, is that of the Parliamentary Commissioner. The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) has talked of it as "a big swizz". I am glad that the hon. Lady differed from her Front Bench about 1574 that. She recognised that this is a fundamental change which, one hopes, will be increased in scope over the years.
For the first time in our constitutional history we have an independent officer of this House who is able to inquire into fields of administrative action and, as the hon. Lady pointed out, questions of Crown privilege. These are things which this individual can inquire into to see whether or not there is an injustice.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (St. Marylebone)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman in his flow of words, but I do so since he has referred to me. He may, perhaps, recollect that the cheerful schoolboy expression he referred to was directed precisely to the refusal of the Government to accept an Amendment which was being pressed from this side and which ultimately they were driven by their own supporters to make in the Bill.
§ Mr. Coe
My memory may be slightly at a loss, but I remember that the right hon. and learned Gentleman in his speech on Second Reading of the Bill talked about it as being totally and completely unnecessary. If now he is suggesting to the House that he slightly amended his attitude to the point which was being considered I am glad to welcome him to our ranks, because I am sure that that will have an effect on some of his hon. Friends.
Going on from the Parliamentary Commissioner, I would suggest that the Government's attitude to planning procedures shows the Government's concern for the individual and their concern to see that the individual gets a reasonable and fair hearing of any injustice which he might have. There was the vital point concerning Members of Parliament in this House, the question of telephone tapping, which went on under the party opposite but was discontinued under this Government.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
While he is on that point, perhaps the hon. Gentleman would kindly explain to the House why it is that Members of Parliament should gratuitously be given this immunity by the Prime Minister acting without reference to anybody else. Members of the public are, presumably, denied it. Why should we not be treated as other men are?
§ Mr. Coe
It is nice to hear that. I am glad to hear the hon. Member talk in those terms. Do I take it that he feels about privilege in this House that nothing is to be changed? For a rather wider answer to his question I would refer him to the very good answers which the Prime Minister gave, and which satisfied at least this side of the House.
In the wider sense I would suggest that the Government in their administrative attitudes have looked at problems such as health and education, thereby, in my view, increasing individual liberty. On the one hand, I would suggest that the abolition of prescription charges has ended an iniquitous tax on the sick. In education, I would argue that Circular 10/65 increases very much the individual rights and liberties of the individual and will ensure that our children will have the opportunity to develop their talents to the full.
To consider the hon. Lady's second criterion of criticism, the Government's approach to legislation, I believe that, again, she is totally mistaken. This Government have increased individual liberty and rights—for example, in the field of race relations through the Race Relations Act, and in housing through the Rent Act, and in other Measures such as the Social Security Acts.
As to her last criterion, that the recent methods of Government by my right hon. Friends have been at fault, I find this the most incredible of all. Here she is objecting to the power of the Executive, and yet this Government have introduced Select Committees which are designed to probe the actions of the Government in a way which Members of the opposite party never introduced, and that she herself should be objecting to that I find even more surprising because she herself was a member of the Select Committee on Procedure which recommended that those Select Committees should be set up.
§ Dame Irene Ward
Perhaps, when he is going back into history, the hon. Gentleman would remember that it was the Conservative Government who introduced the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries and sought to bring the House of Commons in touch with the nationalised industries. We always make progress in this direction, but this Government are pressed by a lot of people to do 1576 things, and sometimes they do and sometimes they do not.
§ Mr. Coe
I am delighted to accept that on occasions the Conservative Government, when pressed hard enough, did make a little progress, and I am only sorry they took so long over it on most occasions.
Therefore, on each of the criteria put forward by the hon. Lady in her Motion, I would say that the record of this Government is one to be proud of, and that this is a hypocritical Motion which should be rejected.
I end on this point, that when we talk about the rights and liberties of the individual I believe that there are two other criteria as well as those advanced by the hon. Lady. First, the Government must not be afraid to govern strongly and to intervene on matters affecting the population as a whole, always accepting that, in doing so, they are sensitive to the needs and to the activities of the population, and set up their administrative machinery in such a way that where injustice occurs they are able quickly and successfully to right it. Secondly, I suggest that the Government must so arrange their legislative programme and their administrative acts that they provide a climate of opportunity in which the individual can realise to the full his rights and freedoms in relation to the society of the day. I believe that by both those criteria, as well as the others advanced by the hon. Lady, this Government have a record of which they can be proud.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Campbell (Moray and Nairn)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) on having raised this subject in the House and drawn attention to the erosion of individual liberty. This can happen as government as a whole becomes more complicated, if a watch—a vigilant watch—is not kept. But it can happen all the more when the Government of the day seek to intervene increasingly in the national life of the country and seek to control, or to take over, an increasingly large part of the nation's everyday business. Hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree, I believe, that most of 1577 the grievances which come to them from their constituents are concerned with administrative action, decisions which have been taken administratively by the Government, or by local government.
I am one of those who welcome the Parliamentary Commissioner, the Ombudsman, in so far as he may be able to help with these problems. My complaint, which is shared, I believe, by many of my hon. Friends, is that the Parliamentary Commissioner has only a very limited scope in which he can work. I wish him well, and I will watch very carefully and with great interest what happenst in the cases which are referred to him, but it must be remembered that he cannot deal with cases affecting the nationalised industries, or local government, or the police, and that there are limitations on the arear of central Government with which he can deal.
This is still not understood largely in the country, I believe. It is an interesting reflection that so far in all the cases which my constituents have raised by correspondence with me and where they have suggested that they were appropriate for the new Parliamentary Commissioner to investigate they have all been about subjects which are not eligible to be put to him. This is because they have involved the nationalised industries or local government. That is my experience, and I see hon. Members nodding, so I guess that they also have had similar experience. With all the best efforts of the Parliamentary Commissioner, with the most searching and assiduous investigations, I believe that he will be able to deal with only a very small part of the whole question.
I am glad that the problems arising from administrative action were exposed by the Franks Committee some time ago and that it was recognised that administrative decisions very often could be taken in good faith in which the rights of individuals were suppressed or affected adversely without their having any remedy. Progress has been made procedurally during the last ten years as a result, and I welcome it. Steps have been taken to ensure that there are proper rights of appeal and that account is taken of the position of individuals.
I want now to turn to a general point concerning taxation, and I am glad that the Financial Secretary is sitting on the 1578 Front Bench. Very high taxation raised to pay for increasing Government expenditure, besides being damaging to effort and incentive, also detracts from the freedom of the individual, because it means that he has less and less choice. More of his life will be decided by the State because it is paid for by the State. According to Press reports, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is beginning to realise the first point, about effort and incentive and the need for investment, but I hope that the Government as a whole will recognise the second point in a society which we hope increasingly, as prosperity and affluence spread, will be ready to take on more individual and family responsibilty.
We on this side of the House regard the family and the individual as the basis of our society. Sometimes the party opposite appears to subscribe to that as well. If individuals work hard and are rewarded for the skills which they contribute to the community, they expect to earn higher incomes. Higher incomes attract progressively higher taxation, and that is accepted, providing that it is not punitively higher taxation. If the individual is not selfish or self-indulgent, usually he is keen to use his money to help his children, and, if we support the concept of the family as the basic social unit, we must expect him to do that. In that connection, I agree with what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish) said about education. If such an individual is prepared to add his contribution to the country's schools in money terms, in addition to the contribution which he has made to the State system through the taxes which he pays, should the Government prevent him from doing so? I put that question in answer to the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe). I believe that he should not be so prevented. Should he be told, instead, to buy another television set or a second motorcar which perhaps he does not want—if he is someone earning more and more money because of the brains, skill and hard work which he contributes to the nation's life?
I think that it was the late Hugh Gaitskell who, when this controversy was being considered some nine or ten years ago, said something to the effect that, if a man was fully paid up in rates and taxes, one could not prohibit him from spending some of the rest of his money on 1579 the commendable subject of education. Hon. Gentleman opposite must bear this in mind, because I believe that we live in a society which progressively will want to take on more responsibility for its own individual and family decisions over the next ten, twenty or thirty years.
I want now to mention a group of individuals spread throughout the country whose position sometimes is precarious. They are the disabled who do not work because they cannot work. Hon. Gentlemen on both sides will have heard from the Disabled Income Group, known as D.I.G., and will be aware in general of the problem. I believe that we have individuals in our society who, because of their disability, find themselves without a great many rights and freedoms. In the first place, there seems to be no register to record them. Because they have not worked, they do not appear on any of the National Insurance rolls. Because identity cards were done away with some years ago after the war, there is no way of identifying them in that way. They appear on the electoral rolls, presumably, but they are not earmarked in any way to show that they are disabled. I suggest to the Government that this is a group for which a great deal more needs to be done, and I am very glad to see the Minister without Portfolio nodding his assent.
In this connection, I do not necessarily want replies today, because I have a Question down about it. I want simply to draw attention to the problem. They must be identified, because there is no register to record them. This would not be overwhelmingly difficult, because I am sure that doctors, district nurses, Queen's Nurses and others could provide most of the information. However, so far, the Government do not appear to have got down to the task.
Once they have been identified, the community could do a great deal to help them by way of social services. I am glad to say that there are a lot of young people who, if they are encouraged, are prepared to undertake social services at home as well as going on voluntary service overseas. This is the kind of job in which they and others who wish to help tactfully could usefully do.
I agree, too, with what my hon. and gallant friend said about the Trade Dis- 1580 putes Act, 1965. It was indefensible for the Government to have brought in legislation to legalise the victimisation which can take place of an individual in his employment and threaten him with the loss of his job.
One further matter which has not been touched on so far in this debate is the problem of eavesdropping with technical devices. Here I do not blame the Government, because it is a new problem. A great deal has been said in the House about telephone tapping. However, someone speaking on the telephone knows that he is talking to another party who may be miles away. Lines can become crossed, with the best will in the world, and the conversation may be overheard unintentionally, quite apart from the risk of a third party listening intentionally. But if that is thought to be reprehensible, it is even more reprehensible to use electronic or other devices to eavesdrop on ordinary conversations or business discussions, unless it is being done for the security of the State under special regulations authorised by the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland. I accept that, of course. I am objecting to the use of eavesdropping devices by firms or individuals as a means of infringing the privacy of others. I hope that the Government will address themselves to the problem, because it could be yet another major incursion into the freedom and rights of the individual.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
I am glad that the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. G. Campbell) ended his speech on the note that he did, because this is the matter to which I wish to address my remarks, this discussion, but before I do so perhaps I ought to make some general observations about the nature of this debate, which I regard as of great importance.
I remember in the formative years of my political judgment reading a Penguin by the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) about the case for Conservatism. I am happy to say that it did not persuade me to any degree, but the opening chapter of that little book was one in which he put his basic political beliefs within the framework of the Christian approach to politics, and I confess that it influenced 1581 me considerably. I am afraid that the right hon. and learned Gentleman fell into error, however, both in estimating the nature of the Christian approach to politics, and in applying it to the rest of his book.
I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the basic approach to politics for anybody who accepts the Christian faith is to understand how one fits in the individual within the rights and obligations which he takes on himself as a member of the community. Where I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman fell into error was in not recognising that even within the Christian religion the emphasis is laid on the true fulfilment of the individual within the community about him, that in saving his life he has first to lose it for others. It is in this connection that we sit on different sides of the House, because it is impossible to talk about the liberty of the individual without recognising that he is a member of a community, that other members of the community also have liberties which have to be safeguarded, and that the real argument a bout liberty in a democratic society is where to draw the line, what is the balance. Total liberty is rightly known as anarchy, simply because if there is unrestricted, unfettered liberty, other people will ultimately suffer.
What we have to argue is where the line should be drawn. It may be that hon. Members on the benches opposite would tend to draw the line towards one extreme, while those on these benches would draw it to the other, but it has always seemed to be nonsense to talk of a fundamental division of principle on this subject between the two major parties when one is really talking about a different gradation of the scale, and what one is arguing about is how to control the irresponsible use of power.
I accept that Governments can be guilty of an irresponsible use of power, but it seems to me that within a democracy like ours there is a check on the irresponsible use by the Government of their power, by reason of the House of Commons itself, because every attempt to interfere with the liberty of the individual can be debated in this Chamber. It is true that there are all kinds of devices for controlling the discussion, but on one can say that when it comes to a question of 1582 the fundamental liberties of the subject this House is not aware of its power and does not use it satisfactorily.
The hon. Lady the Member for Tyne-mouth (Dame Irene Ward) drew attention to a number of Measures passed by this Government which she said were incursions into the liberty of the subject, but every one of them was debated at length on the Floor of the House. Perhaps they were not debated at as great length as she would have wished, but there was, nevertheless, a check, and there is a continuing one. Written into every piece of legislation there is some kind of right of appeal against any withdrawal of any of the rights of the subject, because it is of the nature of Government legislation in this country, whether by the party opposite, or by this party, or by any other, that the liberty of the individual is safeguarded by some kind of approval procedure.
What worries me is the irresponsible use of power by those who have it outside the House and outside the Government.
§ Mr. Jasper More (Ludlow) rose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
Order. I think that if the hon. Member were to pursue that argument he would get outside the realm of Government action in the matter.
§ Mr. Lyon
With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wish, first, to put myself within the ambit of the short title of the Motion, and, secondly, within that part of it which calls for a fundamental change by the Government in its approach to legislation, and it is in relation to this that I propose to make my comments.
It seems to me that there is a need for a fundamental change of attitude by the Government towards the kind of legislation which I am about to suggest. I am referring to legislation to deal with the irresponsible use of power by people outside the House for all kinds of incursions into privacy, and it is for this reason that I begin my speech by welcoming the point made by the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn.
It seems to me that the real threat to liberty in our highly complicated, civilised, modern society, is the invasion 1583 of privacy by all who have the apparatus to do so without in any way trespassing on the property of the person, which is about the only right that the English citizen has to defend. This incursion into privacy is carried out by all kinds of technical devices, by little darts that can be shot into the window frame to overhear what is going on in the room, by long-distance lenses on cameras, by all kinds of wire tapping devices, telephone tapping devices, and so on. There is an increasing range of means by which the private citizen is having his liberty invaded, because it is his privacy which is being invaded, and it is for this reason that I ask the Government to consider legislation to deal with this.
I spent a good deal of my weekend at a seminar in Oxford where this subject was discussed by the Law Commission and by a number of distinguished people from the law, from television and broadcasting, and from the Press. It became clear that there was a real need to safeguard the inner recesses of the human life within this modern society, which apparently was not necessary in the primitive society in which our common law was developed.
It is not difficult to think of all kinds of ways in which a right of privacy would guarantee the liberty of the subject. I propose to give only one example. When I introduced a Bill about this matter some time ago, a lady wrote to me. Her husband, who was a police officer, had had an affair with another woman. A reporter from one of the national dailies went to see her to ask about it. She told him that she had forgiven her husband, that he had come back to live with her, that they wanted to forget it, and that they did not want to make any comment to the Press. The following day this national newspaper carried a story about the love life of a detective. The result was that that couple's child, who was at school, was approached. He was chastised by the other children, and eventually the family had to leave the district. How were they guaranteed their liberty? How were they guaranteed the right to follow their own lives as they wished?
That is an example of the irresponsible use of the enormous power of a national 1584 newspaper merely to increase its circulation, and it seems to me that there is an obvious need for some guarantee of the liberty of the individual in this sense. This liberty must, of course, be limited by the right of national newspapers, and indeed the B.B.C. and the I.T.V. to comment on matters of legitimate public interest. The balance has to be kept, but at the moment the scales are weighted heavily in favour of the bastions of power, of the Press and television, and of other invaders of privacy, and too little is being done to defend the real life of the individual.
If family and personal life is the root of our society, and I accept that it is, it has to be guaranteed, and I therefore ask that, as the result of the discussions in this place and elsewhere about the liberty of the individual, the Government should give further thought to introducing a Bill within the lifetime of this Parliament to deal with this matter.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg (St. Marylebone)
It would have been virtually impossible either for the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply or myself to prepare himself for this debate. It seems to have been quite the widest that we have held on any subject since the debate on the Queen's Speech at the beginning of the Parliamentary Session—wider than the debates on the Consolidated Fund, because here, as the hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) was able to say in his brief and not wholly unsuccessful brush with the Chair—the subject of legislation is delicately alluded to.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I must tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I was hoping that he would relate his remarks to the whole content of the Motion, which is also related to Government action.
§ Mr. Hogg
That is what I was about to do, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am very grateful to the hon. Member for bringing the debate back to a fairly philosophic note upon which it can find its termination.
The Motion is, of course, capable of the strongly partisan interpretation put upon it respectively by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes 1585 (Sir T. Beamish) and the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe). They both interpreted the Motion in a purely partisan sense. This is a mistake, although it is a quite legitimate interpretation to put upon the words of the Motion, which call for a change of attitude on the part of Her Majesty's Government.
Both my hon. and gallant Friend and the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich assumed from that that the only change called for was a change in their peculiar and individual party approach to political problems, but there is nothing in the Motion which limits discussion to that. On the contrary, sometimes it is more helpful to consider what changes are necessary in the common assumptions underlying our policies than to consider what changes are necessary in our individual approaches.
§ Mr. Hogg
That is precisely what I am not agreeing with, although I agreed with much of the criticism of the Government which came from my hon. and gallant Friend. The terms of the Motion do not altogether give colour to that interpretation, because the rights of the subject may be eroded as much by the common assumptions underlying the approach to legislation or administration on the part of both parties as it can by their individual approaches. Sometimes, in its approach to problems, the House makes the mistake of thinking that we have proved something when we have not—for instance, in the case of prison escapes, by totting up the number of prison escapes which took place under a Labour Government and the number which took place under a Conservative Government and saying that one is slightly better or worse than the other, according to which set of figures one chooses.
This is not the correct approach to political problems, because whether we are dealing with our economic situation or this subject, in our more reflective 1586 moments we would probably admit that we are faced with a common set of problems and though we do not offer a common set of solutions, neither set of Governments for many years—perhaps even going back to the Liberal Government of 1911—has wholly succeeded in solving the problems, either in the economic or legislative field, about which our debates often take place.
One of the reasons which make the speeches of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) so exciting and stimulating is that although he arrives at highly controversial solutions he almost always attacks the common assumptions of Government policy over a period of years which transcends any exclusively partisan Administration.
I want to consider the Motion from that point of view, in the light of the speeches which have been made. Despite the partisan approach we are all conscious that a problem exists. I do not suppose that anybody who has represented a democratic constituency for any length of time—my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), who chose this Motion so well, is one of a dwindling number of hon. Members who were elected a good time before I was; I believe it was in 1931—doubts that the individual is constantly aware of the danger of being obliterated by the group.
I use the word "group" deliberately, because, although the most powerful group in the country, and the most ruthless, in some ways, besides being the most numerous is undoubtedly Government, local and central, as is implied by the Motion, as the hon. Member for York and other hon. Members have emphasised it is not only Government, local and central, by which the individual finds himself threatened; it is by all sorts of other groups. It is environment—Stansted Airport, for example; it is neighbourhood, or the processes of publicity—the right of privacy, for example; it is the desire to obliterate the individual's right to educate his own children, which has been mentioned by many hon. Members.
Hon. Members opposite appear to have forgotten the clear and unequivocal statement in the Universal Declaration 1587 of Human Rights, to which this country is a signatory (and here I am quoting textually) that parents have a prior right to choose the education to be given to their children. I wonder whether hon. Members opposite want us to disavow our adherence to the Declaration of Human Rights or its European equivalent. These are all matters of which individuals are acutely and constantly aware.
There are the great monolithic corporations, referred to by hon. Members opposite. There are the trade unions, referred to by several of my hon. Friends. They are all groups in relation to which the individual finds that his individual personality is in danger of being oppressed. It is foolish to pretend that we have not a fundamental problem of modern society to discuss, whichever Government happen to be in power and whatever set of political principles we choose to adopt.
I accept the view put forward by the hon. Member for York to the effect that although, in this House and, even more so, on political platforms, we tend to present political philosophies in terms of dialectic confrontation, the truth is that public opinion is a continuum and that the problem is not which of two alternative sets of principles should be applied, to the exclusion of the other, but exactly where the line is to be drawn or—perhaps better—exactly what proportion of a number of ingredients in a political pudding a political party should choose to put, in any given recipe, in any given situation. It is a question of degree to a greater extent than the political parties are willing to accept.
I pass to a number of general principles which must necessarily be, as all political principles are, highly controversial, but are not necessarily in a partisan sense. The great contribution of the West and particularly of this country to political philosophy has been the realisation that the old-fashioned confrontation between liberty and authority is an unreal dilemma. The key to both lies in the conception of law, which means in practice two things which we are apt to forget—first, something which must be interpreted by 1588 someone other than the Executive, an independent judiciary, and, second, surely, something which has a certain moral content.
Therefore, I differed from the hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich because he seemed to despise the enthusiast for the natural law. This is not the time to entertain political philosophy, but the moment that law ceases to have an intelligible moral content, at any rate one which the general population are prepared to accept, at that moment it begins to encroach on individual liberty—
§ Mr. Hogg
If I did wrong to the hon. Gentleman, I apologise, as I did not intend to antagonise a potential and unexpected ally.
We are apt to talk as though democracy was simply majority rule. Of course it means that the executive Government and the legislature has to correspond to the votes of the electorate, but it does not entitle them to do what they want. The essence of democracy lies much more in the rights which it gives to individuals and minorities than in the authority which it confers on majorities. This is something which legislatures, even our own, are in danger of forgetting.
After all, the nation is composed of individuals and minorities, and we are all minorities of one at some stage in our lives. When I heard the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose) say how wrong it was for the individual to exploit society, I was a little surprised and disturbed that he did not add as a rider that it is equally wrong, and perhaps worse, for society to exploit the individual. It is at this point that some of us on this side feel that the party opposite lay too little emphasis on the right of an individual with unusual gifts, proclivities, qualifications or skills to be rewarded fully in accordance with his ability.
We are not impressed simply by the supposed predominance of public over private interest, or general statements of 1589 philosophy to that effect, into thinking that the present rates of taxation or facilities for education or rewards in terms of recognition and social respect given to particular skills and qualifications are adequate or justly regarded by many of their hon. Friends.
I want now to turn to a consideration of liberty as a diffusion of power. If one starts from the cliché attributed—I believe rightly, though unascertainably—to the historian Lord Acton that:Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely",one must inevitably conclude that the doctrine of the founders of the American Constitution, that liberty is marked by the diffusion of power, is the true doctrine.
When we say that a Government should not have power, we are not necessarily or of ourselves attacking a particular set of men or attributing to them despotic inclinations. The truth is that no set of men is fit to govern any other and that any set of people—as my hon. Friend said in quoting from Lord Salmon's speech to "Justice"—given absolute power will use it wrongly and as they choose. By that criterion of the diffusion of power, how far is this a free society? When one posed this question in the House 20 or 30 years ago, the objection was made, "Political democracy is all right, but we must have economic freedom too—not merely the freedcm to starve."
So be it. If political freedom consists in the diffusion of political power, economic freedom must consist in the diffusion of economic power, that is, property. This is inescapable, and a political system which concentrates all economic power in the hands of the central or Governmental organisations is jut as disruptive of human liberty of the individual and minority groups as a political system which concentrates political power in the hands of a central Government. Part of the answer to this problem lies in the fact that this country, as distinct from many other democracies, is hopelessly over-centralised. We do not have fixed Parliaments. The right of dissolution rests with the Executive and it is worth noting that a reigning Government has been beaten only twice since 1945, that is, since the polls 1590 were introduced and their choice was based on objective knowledge and not an interior hunch—and then only by majorities of less than 10.
We are thus in great danger of concentrating political power. We have no written constitution. This Parliament could easily support an elective dictatorship, and in fact has done so in our time, throughout the war, when it prolonged even its own life—a House of Commons of which I was a Member. It is, therefore, worth asking how far power should be diffused.
Is there any evidence that we are concentrating power too much? I think that there is. Unlike the United States, France, Germany and even Soviet Russia, this country has never had anything between the extremely powerful Executive and legislature in Whitehall and the borough or county borough. We ask, for example, why Welsh Nationalists are elected to this House or Scottish Nationalists acquire an increasing vote. Surely it is not that those two fellow nations of ours have a double dose of original sin—everybody knows that they have—but there may be more reason in what they do than we think. Can it not be that everybody knows that business in this House is so congested and its power so heavily concentrated that local and regional issues are not adequately discussed in it?
I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth referred to regional government. I do not want to get bogged down in a discussion on Mr. Dan Smith, with whom I had friendly relations during my tour of duty in the North-East. However, I believe that throughout the country there is a whole congeries of problems which can be solved only by decentralisation. We have no reasonable alternative to the present system of local taxation known as rates, because local income tax cannot be concentrated on local government units as small as the county borough or the county. If we are asked why this country has never solved its second Chamber problem, it is because there is no other basis of representation but the single Member constituency representing, on the average, 50,000 voters. If we are asked why there is so much disturbance in regions where employment is less full 1591 than in others—the development areas—it is largely because they do not like to go to Whitehall.
When they do go to Whitehall, each separate department of local government goes to a different central Government Department. The education committee goes straight up to Curzon Street to the Department of Education and Science. It never goes across the way to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. If they discussed these matters regionally, as up to a point they do in Scotland at St. Andrew's House, they would find a much better form of regional planning than they have already.
I think that the hon. Member for Blackley was momentarily out of order in what he said about Northern Ireland, due, perhaps, to inattention on the part of the Chair. May I merely make this observation about what he failed to say. No one could deplore more than I do religious discrimination of any kind, but in considering the constitutional status of Northern Ireland we ought to remember once in a while that this country is a federation in which only one federal member has been articulated. The rest of the country—Scotland, England, Wales—has a unitary legislature, with a Government which is omni-competent. In one small province we have begun to make a federation. Putting aside for a moment the subject which causes heat and emotion, it is working extremely well. If we are to consider human liberty in this country, one of the most important things we must consider is whether we are not over-centralised politically.
Are we not also over-centralised economically? Several of my hon. Friends spoke about the nationalised industries, the great corporations. The hon. Member for Middleton and Prestwich asked why we had not denationalised them. There are two possible points to be discussed. There is the question whether a nationalised corporation is per se as efficient economically as a privately-run industry, a question which we debate in other contexts. What we must ask ourselves in this context is whether a national institution—the national corporations—is, in effect, the best way to run publicly-owned industry where we are to have publicly-owned industry. Are we 1592 quite sure, for instance, that the railways are better run as a single corporation than they were broken-up into regional corporations, when privately owned? Let us forget for a moment the ownership of the equity. Are we so sure that after 20 years we are doing such an efficient job as we could do if the system were more decentralised? Is this so of other transport undertakings or of the mining industry?
If we are seeking to establish the rights of minorities to diffuse economic and political power, ought we not to consider afresh whether, every time we are faced with an economic problem of any sort, hon. Members on one side should demand a relatively small private corporation and hon. Members on the other should universally drift towards a national corporation in which all the problems are placed in a single set of laps? I do not think that this is the correct way of doing it.
As I want to leave time for the Financial Secretary to reply, I want to say only this in conclusion. Some hon. Members on both sides tend to think of individual liberty as a kind of luxury which we can afford only when times are good. I believe that this is a profound error, whatever political philosophy one adopts, because the true individual liberty is the distinctive contribution of the West to human philosophy. In the whole history of mankind, it is practically only in the last three centuries that its implications have been accepted.
One can see, starting from the Renaissance, and particularly during the 17th century, gradually dawning in every field of human activity, the belief that people are more efficient if they are allowed to work out their destinies and destinations for themselves. It was true in the development of the physical sciences. It was true in the development of political institutions, in which the House first came to the fore in international affairs. It was true in the development of religious thought. It has been true in the efflorescence of the arts and of the humanities. Once that tradition were abandoned, it would be found that this country would lose the efflorescence, the richness, and the variety of a free society.
Here I am not preaching at the party opposite, because I believe that hon. Members opposite agree with me. I 1593 think that, if they crossed the Iron Curtain, they would see what happens when a belief in individual liberty is abandoned. I am not foolish enough to think that all Communists are the enemies of mankind. But what I know is that, when the frontier into Communist society is crossed, one sees a general impoverishment which is not recompensed by the constant reiteration of the duty to observe a public benefit as distinct from individual advantage.
I believe that freedom is something which works. It is a necessity for human society which cannot be abandoned. And liberty under the law is the banner under which the West must move.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Niall MacDermot)
The subject of this debate raises a great theme. The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), in beginning his remarks, said that this was, perhaps, the widest debate there had been since the debate on the Loyal Address. I have had to reply to at least two such debates previously which have ranged equally widely, on Private Members' Motions on a Friday.
May I explain to the House why it is I and not my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General who is replying? When originally the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) said that she wishedTo call attention to the threat to the rights of the individualit seemed to be a matter for the Attorney-General, but when the hon. Lady tabled her full Motion and raised the question of the Government's fundamentaladministrative attitudes, its approach to legislation and its recent methods of governmentthe matter once again fell into the lap of the Treasury as being that final residuary body which is supposed to be responsible for matters of machinery and government; and it fell to me to reply to the debate.
Before turning to some of the more particular points which have been made, I refer to the closing remarks of the right hon. and learned Gentleman only in order to say how entirely and absolutely I agree with him. It is my belief that, if this country ever loses its pas- 1594 sionate love of liberty, it will cease to occupy the place in the world that we believe that it holds and that we want it to continue to hold.
As the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, there is a real problem, and we know it, because in recent generations and recent decades, we have come to realise that it is not enough to secure political freedom, that we must get greater social and economic justice. We have constructed enormously complicated machines of government at every level—central government and local government. This raises real problems about how we should continue to safeguard, and make a reality of, individual liberty. These are the great things that are raised by the Motion.
In so far as the Motion is intended to be critical of the Government, I must reject it and state the reasons why. I am in some difficulty because I must reply to a debate which is violently partisan, as contributed by some hon. Members, and avowedly non-partisan, as contributed by others.
Reference has been generously made to the fact that the Labour Government introduced the Parliamentary Commissioner legislation. This has been an attempt by the Government—in fulfilling one of our election pledges, I remind the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish]—to introduce a machinery which will afford protection to the individual against what appears to him to be oppressive administrative action; something which the courts are not an apt tribunal to decide and which they do not have the powers to investigate, but powers with which we have clothed the Parliamentary Commissioner.
Certain hon. Gentlemen opposite have poured scorn on the Parliamentary Commissioner legislation and have said that it will prove to be a mouse of a Measure. We will see. We deliberately introduced the Measure in a limited sphere, and modestly so, because it is an experiment and we want to see how it works. However, we took power in this legislation to extend it considerably; and we will see, when we receive the reports of the Parliamentary Commissioner, and when they have been studied by the Select Committee which we have set up. whether we think it right to extend it and, if so, how far.
1595 I thought that the most telling point made by the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth was her reference to the Alfred Newton case, which was debated in an Adjournment debate on 5th June last. I will merely mention in this connection that this matter could not be investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner because it was outside the scope of the Measure which established his post. This is one of the matters which could be brought within his purview by an order if, in time, that is thought to be right.
Another important theme has been the question of how to increase the power of Parliament to scrutinise and control the acts of the Executive—again, a theme which is a favourite with hon. Gentlemen opposite in their speeches, but about which they did virtually nothing when they were in office. We, on the other hand, have initiated considerable changes in our procedure here in the House, particularly in regard to the setting up of specialist committees to give a real and powerful instrument to hon. Members to scrutinise the work of Departments, if they wish to do so, and enable them to get at the facts and information from which they can form an adequate judgment of the policy and administrative decisions that have been made by the Government. Therefore, my first retort to the general charge is that we have shown ourselves, by the actions we have taken, to be alive to the existence of the problems and to their importance.
The hon. Lady the Member for Tyne-mouth began her remarks, rather unfortunately, by a reference to the case of Colonel Lohan. I say "unfortunately" because only a few days ago a public appeal was made on his behalf by the General Secretary of the Institution of Professional Civil Servants, Mr. McCall, who is acting for him before the Helsby Inquiry, saying that he wished that this subject should be taken out of the public and political arena until the inquiry has been completed. He stated that he had confidence in the procedure and he asked for the Committee to be allowed to proceed without the matter receiving continuing public debate. I am sorry that the hon. Lady did not respond to that appeal. I propose to do so.
§ Mr. MacDermot
I accept the hon. Lady's explanation. She says she did not see it. I am sure that, had she seen it, she would have honoured it.
The hon. Lady then raised what she chose to call the question of regional government in relation to the Regional Economic Planning Councils. She complained that they are selected and not elected. Her error in this respect is in calling it "regional government". It is not regional government and it does not pretend or claim to be. We have central government, with regional policies, and the purpose of these councils is to act as advisory bodies to the central Government. They are bodies comprised of people chosen because of their particular abilities to advise the Government on the problems of particular regions.
The right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone made a strong appeal that we should move towards regional government, properly called, as a means of reducing the centralisation which is taking place in our government machine. I remind him that it is to the present Government that he must turn for action in this matter and not to his own party. This is something which hon. Gentlemen opposite have been preaching about for years, but it fell to us to set up the Royal Commissions which are now looking into the whole machinery of local government and are inquiring precisely into these problems of regional government with a view to putting recommendations before the Government.
§ Mr. Hogg
The hon. and learned Gentleman is not quite right. When I was in the North-East I formed what I believed to be, and intended to be, the nucleus there which the present Government have taken over; and if ever regional government comes to that part of the country it will be found that something to take over already existed and that it owes its existence personally to me.
§ Mr. MacDermot
The right hon. and learned Gentleman can take credit for the action which he took in the North-East and which we have continued, but it was not regional government and he knows it. Nor did the Government of 1597 which he was a member take any step at all to try to go towards regional government or to find how practically there could be any alteration in the regional government structure. Why was that so? The answer is because of the well known timidity of hon. Gentlemen opposite in grasping awkward political nettles, of which this is certainly one. It is one which we consider to be of sufficient importance that we must stop talking about it and take action.
The hon. Lady the Member for Tyne-mouth referred to the Land Commission and complained that there was no opportunity for the individual to have any machinery of appeal under the Act which set up the Commission. She made only a general allegation and I can answer it with only a general denial. Similarly, she suggested that the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation was a sort of bogey by which we might try to intimidate people into thinking that this was a means of backdoor nationalisation which would enable the Corporation to acquire a controlling interest in any company. Perhaps one might expect the hon. Lady to try to make that sort of point in her weekend speeches. It is not the sort of point which one would expect her to make in a serious debate in the House.
As she no doubt knows, the Corporation acts by agreement. What has been the first result we have seen? It has been to help bring about an agreement between Elliott Automation and English Electric which will, we believe, help to preserve for this country one of the really key units in our automation and computer industry. To try to suggest that this body is some new bogey which the Government have invented to deprive individuals or companies of their liberty is too fantastic to merit serious argument.
§ Dame Irene Ward
I do not want to tempt the Financial Secretary along other paths, but it would be interesting if he were to examine what has happened as a result of the Government's latest shipbuilding industry legislation, with its power to make payments by equity shares which subsequently find their way into the purview of the Minister of Technology—what I would call nationalisation by the backdoor, if it works that way. I do not accept the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument any more than probably he accepts mine.
§ Mr. MacDermot
I think that we shall have to remain at loggerheads, each unable to persuade the other.
The hon. Lady next spoke of what she called the threat to local government, referring to a quotation from Sir William Alexander in relation to comprehensive schools which suggested that the area of freedom of local authorities was being severely restricted by the present Circular—the Circular, I assume, on comprehensive education. The fact is that the vast majority of local authorities have responded readily to the Circular, including very many local authorities which are Conservative controlled—
§ Mr. MacDermot
Yes, readily. So far, 83 schemes submitted by local education authorities under the Circular have been approved; 40 are under consideration by the Department, and 24 are in preparation but not yet submitted. Eleven schemes only have been rejected as not complying with the principles of the Circular, and four local authorities only have declined to submit a scheme. That shows what enormous progress has been made, on a voluntary basis and by co-operation, without the compulsion suggested by the hon. Lady and the threat to local government implicit in that suggestion.
§ Sir T. Beamish
If a local education authority does not comply voluntarily, what happens? Does it get its money?
§ Mr. MacDermot
We must wait and see what the next stages are. I am pointing out that what has been happening has been the working out of a great number of schemes by agreement between local authorities and the Ministry; and that a great many of those bodies are Conservative-controlled local authorities.
The hon. Lady's final point related to Crown privilege, a matter on which there has been growing interest recently, in particular as a result, I think, of two rather divergent decisions of the Court of Appeal. I understand that the later of those decisions is now going on appeal to the House of Lords which, as a result of new procedure, will be free to review the whole subject afresh and give us an authoritative statement on the existing law of Crown privilege, as to which there is some doubt. The question of Crown 1599 privilege has also been referred to the Law Reform Committee, whose report is expected shortly. Quite clearly, therefore, until we receive the authoritative statement on the present law and until we receive the recommendations of the Law Reform Committee it would be premature for us to take any action.
But, as the hon. Lady rightly points out, when we passed the Parliamentary Commissioner Bill, although the committee of Justice had recommended that the Crown should have the right to claim privilege as against the Commissioner, we rejected that recommendation and gave him full access to all documents. This does not provide a solution for the courts, because a quite different situation arises there. The Commissioner and his staff are subject to the Official Secrets Act, and there is power to prevent further republication by them of sensitive material which they are able to study in their investigations. Nevertheless, that is certainly a problem into which we are looking.
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose) advanced a number of extremely interesting detailed points, and those points to which I do not reply I will refer in particular to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General. He spoke of teen-age recruitment to the Services, and I would here remind him that my hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Administration has told the House that he is studying this whole question, and his review also, to some extent, depends on the outcome of the review by the Lord Chancellor's Committee on the age of majority.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackley referred also to immigration procedures. A departmental committee on immigration appeals was set up by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in February of last year, and I understand that its report is expected about the end of this month.
The hon. and gallant Member for Lewes made an avowedly political speech, although for one moment he forgot himself and suggested that he was being non-partisan. He said that he spoke for his constituents: I think that I am not being 1600 unjust if I say that he gave me the impression that he was also speaking to his constituents. I felt that a lot of what he said was designed for a report in the local Press.
I detected, as I thought, some illogicality in his speech. He began, as a means of attacking the prices and incomes policy, by making a passionate plea for the free right of collective bargaining, but when a few minutes later he attacked the trade unions themselves he stated a principle that I should have thought was an admirable defence of the Government's prices and incomes policy, that principle being that when trade unions fail to distinguish between the national interest and their own sectional interests, individual liberty is threatened.
The hon. and gallant Member trotted out a lot of traditional Conservative slogans designed to frighten the electorate into thinking that the Labour Government have some vast octopus of power which is quite insensitive to the rights or liberties of the individual. He challenged me on the question of increases in taxation since we came into power. I thought that an unusual piece if impertinence, since he must know perfectly well that the reason for those taxation increases was the need to deal with an economic situation which was—[HON. MEMBERS: "Not again!"]—1eft to us as a result of the most cowardly action by his Government.
It was perfectly obvious to the previous Government by the spring of 1964 that we were heading for a serious economic situation which needed drastic action at once. They neither had the courage to go to the country so that there could be elected a Government which would take that action nor the courage to take action before the election. They allowed things to drift on and to drift on until, at the last moment, they went to the country hoping that they would be able to scrape home with a majority again—
§ Sir T. Beamish rose—
§ Mr. MacDermot
No, I shall not give way again to the hon. and gallant Member. He spoke at great length and other hon. Members have raised points that, perhaps, are more worthy of a reply.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to public services and Armed 1601 Forces pensions and suggested that we as a party had given a pledge of parity. We never did anything of the sort—
If the hon. and gallant Member likes to write to me, and send me the quotation and its context, I will be glad to receive it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Coe) made, if I may say so, a most telling speech exposing the hollowness and hypocrisy of the hon. and gallant Member's speech.
It was the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. G. Campbell) who first changed the tone of the debate, and raised more serious issues including, in particular, the point, taken up by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon), of the right of privacy. This is a subject that has given great concern to many people, and I can assure the House that it was receiving the Government's attention. I know that my night hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor takes a particular interest in the subject. He sent an observer to the conference that was held in Stockholm recently under the auspices of the International Commission of Jurists, because interest in this problem is not at all confined to this country.
Perhaps I could end by reminding the House of a few other steps we have taken since being in Government in securing and defending individual rights. Some eighteen months ago, we went a great deal further than our predecessors in relation to the European Convention on Human Rights. We accepted that part of it which gives the individual the right to petition the European Commission alleging a violation by his own Government of any of the rights set forth in the Convention.
Indeed, only last week, my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General was in Strasbourg arguing before the Commission the case of two Commonwealth citizens, residents in this country, who claimed that they had been unlawfully denied the right to bring in members of their families who live with them. Another case, reported in The Times on Thursday, concerned certain debenture holders in a steel company who claimed 1602 that the Iron and Steel Act had deprived them of the peaceful enjoyment of their possessions, contrary to the protocol of the Convention. Before any hon. Member opposite gets too excited, I would add that the Commission declared the application to be manifestly ill-founded.
Apart from the Parliamentary Commissioner Act, some of my hon. Friends have referred to the Tribunals and Inquiries Act, 1966, which extends the inquiries and hearings over which the Council on Tribunals has jurisdiction under the 1958 Act and for which rules of procedure may be made under the 1966 Measure.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackley referred to the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act imposing restrictions on the refusal of bail. This is also a subject on which there has been widespread feeling in many quarters recently.
Reference has also been made to the Protection from Eviction Act, now incorporated in the Rent Act, 1965, which means that no longer can anyone be evicted from his home without a court order. That apart, of course, there is also the much wider security of tenure granted to the tenants under the Rent Act.
Planning appeals have not been referred to in the debate but many people have felt for a long time that the administrative procedures in relation to such appeals are too cumbersome, too centralised and subject to too much delay. In the White Paper published last month, the Government set out the new procedure, which we propose to introduce by legislation, whereby delegation will be made to selected inspectors with the power to issue decisions on planning appeals. We can achieve a considerable improvement not only in speeding up administration but in making people feel that the decision has been taken by someone before whom they have been able to appear themselves and argue their case and who has heard the witnesses they have chosen to call.
The Race Relations Act is another Measure to which reference has been made and is another example of steps we have taken to safeguard individual rights. Finally, as I have said, we have been seeking, under the guidance of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, to feel our way towards adapting our own 1603 Parliamentary procedure in order to strengthen and restore the power of Parliament in relation to the Executive.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)
As my hon. and learned Friend is making a catalogue of these not only achievements but also proposals, would he also be willing to include the setting up of a Select Committee to make a thorough review of the privileges of Members of Parliament?
§ Mr. MacDermot
It is not for me but for the House to decide what Select Committees it sets up. There is, of course, the Select Committee of Privileges.
§ Mr. MacDermot
If that is the meaning, then I have misunderstood my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich.
I conclude that, whether it be in the detailed criticisms which hon. Members opposite have attempted to make or in more general charges, the criticisms have failed to be made out. But the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth said at the outset that she was not intending to press the Motion to a Division. I am glad of that, because I think that we can perhaps end the debate on the note struck by the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone, in agreeing that there is a continuing and real problem here and one which we all owe a great debt to our constituents to keep always in the forefront of our minds in order to ensure, when we develop the administrative procedures necessary to give effect to our policies, that we build into them the safeguards and machinery for protecting the rights and liberties of the individual.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Albert Murray (Gravesend)
By the end of her speech I think that the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) had convinced me that the writers of "South Pacific" were right—"There is nothing like a Dame." Her speech had nothing to do 1604 with personal liberty but was devoted to a very personalised attack on Mr. Dan Smith, and I hope that Mr. Smith takes an opportunity in other quarters to answer that attack.
We also had the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish) showing his unique quality of making a trite speech sound trite. If any hon. Member wanted convincing that the backwoodsmen were still with us, he should have heard that speech or should at least read it in HANSARD.
The question of personal liberty is essentially one of trying to keep a balance, and through much of their legislation the Government have attempted to correct the balance. For example, until the Leasehold Reform Bill, the liberty has been all on one side—the landlord's. Before the Rent Act, liberty again was on one side. We have given people more freedom through the abolition of prescription charges. No one would want anyone to take the liberty, as it were, of being ill but at least we have removed that restriction on treatment.
It seems strange that every time we have impositions or restrictions, as it were, designed to improve the lot of the majority, right hon. and hon. Members opposite hoot and jeer. Last week provided a good example. The 70 m.p.h. speed limit is necessary to cut down the carnage on our roads, but right hon. and hon. Members opposite were content to jeer and to talk about more restrictions. This is an absolutely necessary restriction and is no infringement on the liberty of the individual.
The hon. and gallant Member for Lewes also mentioned poltical levies. That is no responsibility of the Government but I remind him that, on the other side, shareholders are to get more liberty. Companies will have to show where they are paying their political contributions. At least trade unionists know about their political levy and where it is being paid. They know, too, whether they are paying it or not. The Government are now going to increase the liberty of the individual shareholder. In future, he will know whether the company in which he holds his shares is paying a political levy, and where. That is another liberty that we are giving to the individual.
1605 The hon. and gallant Gentleman also spoke about public monopoly. The scandal in this country is private monopoly, which can put men out of business. We have seen examples of that in the tyre industry, in which a monopoly took away the liberty of individuals to sell tyres. We have seen how private monopoly works in the manufacture of detergents.
I also remind the House that the question of the Sachsenshausen victims has been before us for 22 years and now the Government are doing something about it.
§ Dame Irene Ward rose—
§ Mr. Murray
I cannot give way now. The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. G. Campbell) mention the Disabled Income Group. It is an anomaly but it is not eroding the liberty of the individual.
§ It being Seven o'clock, the Proceedings on the Motion lapse, pursuant to Standing Order No. 5 (Precedence of Government business).