§ 3 pm
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd)
Today's debate takes place under a broad, indeed all-embracing, title devised by the Opposition: "Freedom, Fairness and Opportunity" in the United Kingdom—I am not sure how motherhood got left out. I wish to show briefly how the Government are taking action to protect individual freedom under the law and particularly to provide that climate, free from fear of crime, in which individual freedom, fair dealing and opportunity for all can flourish. It may be for the convenience of the House if I say something about the Security Service Bill which has been introduced in the House today. I am obliged to the Opposition for the opportunity to do this and to welcome the new faces in the shadow Home Office team.
The Security Service has loyally and courageously helped to defend this country since the early years of this century. It is, indeed, one of the bulwarks on which our continued freedom depends. Our intention in introducing the legislation is to ensure that the Security Service can continue to serve the country well. We need a Security Service which can help to protect us from those who want to undermine our institutions and threaten our lives, whether for their own purposes or on behalf of others.
Few people argue that this country should have no Security Service and most recognise that no Security Service can function effectively if its activities are subjected to intensive public discussion and debate, but in recent years there has been a degree of concern—and, indeed, some misunderstanding—about the arrangements under which the Security Service operates, and some concern that people who want to complain about Security Service actions against them have no real way to do so. The legislation that we propose will tackle those issues.
We shall be asking Parliament to reaffirm the principles on which the Security Service is established and the basis on which it works. We shall be inviting Parliament to establish the extent of the Security Service's duties and obligations. We want Parliament to consider and confirm 122 the principles of ministerial responsibility and accountability for the Security Service, and we shall ask Parliament to agree to provide for complaints to be investigated without vital secrets being revealed.
The legislation will therefore give statutory authority for the continuation of the Security Service under the Secretary of State. It will establish in law the functions of the Security Service, within which it must operate. It will provide for the appointment of the Director-General of the Security Service and will make him personally responsible in law for ensuring the continued political neutrality of the service. The legislation that we propose will provide the Secretary of State with the power to authorise by a warrant those actions which are needed to obtain information from property only where he is satisfied that the information is likely to be of substantial value in assisting the service to discharge any of its functions and that it cannot reasonably be obtained by other means. A commissioner will be appointed to keep the warrant arrangements under independent review.
There will be a tribunal to receive and consider complaints, and the tribunal will refer warrant matters to the commissioner for adjudication. The tribunal will itself have specific powers of adjudication and redress, and be able to refer wider matters affecting the complainant to the commissioner. I hope that the House will notice the symmetry here. A year ago, by setting up the staff counsellor, we provided a remedy for the aggrieved or anxious member of the Security Service—a means by which he could, if need be, bypass his immediate superiors. Now we are providing a remedy for the aggrieved citizen outside the service who believes that the service may have done him or her some injury.
The commissioner will make an annual report to the Prime Minister on his work. That report, subject to identified security excisions, will be laid before Parliament.
The proposed legislation will, therefore, replace the published 1952 directive to the Director-General of the Security Service from the Home Secretary, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe. It has been the result of thorough consideration, taking full account of the experience of legislation in other countries and following on from the structure approved by Parliament in the Interception of Communications Act 1985.
The Security Service Bill follows the Interception of Communications Act model because it has been shown to work. That model recognised clearly the responsibilities of Ministers and the reasonable concerns of individuals. It found a way—and it has been shown to be a good way—of preserving direct ministerial responsibility while allowing for an independent examination of those concerns. Ministerial responsibility for those matters cannot be devolved or shared with others.
§ Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham. North)
The Secretary of State has referred to "Security Service" and also to "security services" Does the proposal apply only to the Security Service MI5 or does it encompass MI6 and military intelligence? Will there be other proposals for those?
§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
To whom would an application for a warrant be made in relation to activities carried out by the security services?
§ Mr. Hurd
From time to time, right hon. and hon. Members have argued for a different approach. I am thinking especially of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), but others have rallied round him. Under that different approach, Parliament itself would set up some sort of machinery for direct supervision of the Security Service.
For reasons that I have given to the House in the past, I do not think that that makes good sense. Such a piece of parliamentary machinery would either demolish the barrier of secrecy, which is essential to the working of the service, or try to straddle it—with predictably painful results. If the body knew all, it would know that it could say little to the rest of Parliament without damaging results. If it knew little, it could say nothing with any conviction.
I concede that there has been a gap in our arrangements hitherto, but it has not lain in accountability to the House because my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I are accountable. The gap has been the absence of any way in which someone aggrieved by an action of the service could have that grievance independently investigated. Our proposals, which I have outlined, fill that gap.
The Government will be ready and there will be ample opportunity to explain the case for the legislation we are introducing. However, the Government cannot—and I do not think anyone expects it—reveal details of particular Security Service operations or activities, and we will not do so.
The legislation will give Parliament an opportunity to provide a firm and explicit foundation for the continued work of the Security Service and for dealing with complaints. It will give members of the Security Service—as they want and deserve—a clear basis on which to operate, which has been approved by Parliament. It will give the country confidence that the Security Service operates under authority and scrutiny, but with the proper degree of confidentiality that its work requires for the protection of us all.
§ Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)
God forbid that this country should ever find itself at war again. However, is not one of the duties with which the security services are charged that of keeping an up-to-date list of potential saboteurs and subversives? I hope that the proposals that my right hon. Friend is now outlining will not detract from the excellent work of the security forces in the defence of the realm, and that under war measures such people would be interned. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House and the nation that we shall continue to be vigilant in the defence of the realm?
§ Mr. Hurd
The three main duties of the Security Service, as will be laid down for the first time in legislation, are to deal with foreign espionage, to deal with terrorism—that has been an increasing duty—and to deal with subversion, as defined first by Lord Harris of Greenwich, in a definition later reaffirmed by the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees). Those duties will remain.
In his peroration yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition tried to paint a portrait of this Government as increasingly repressive and tyrannical, particularly in this 124 sphere of security. I say "tried" to paint a portrait because what resulted was instead a crude caricature which simply does not fit the facts. I shall list some of those facts.
First, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been far more ready than any of her predecessors to report promptly to the House on security matters. I have counted at least nine oral statements of this sort over these years. No previous Prime Minister has been so forthcoming.
Secondly, if Parliament agrees, we are about to strip away the protection of the criminal law from the great mass of official information. The demolition of section 2 of the Official Secrets Act will mean that the criminal law will no longer be there to protect the bulk of Government information, however embarrassing that disclosure may be. Budget secrets—I do not think that the Opposition have hoisted this in yet—will no longer have that protection. Nor, to pluck stray examples, will a leaked paper from the Department of Social Security or a leaked letter from the Department of Education and Science. All these have been under section 2. For years, we have heard complaints about the burden of section 2, and now the criminal law will be out of those spheres altogether.
§ Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
The Home Secretary made this claim in a debate on this subject and he challenged me to substantiate my assertion that Budget information was covered by the criminal law through other legislation. I gave him quotations and the laws. To use his own phrase, is he going to hoist this in or will he go on repeating what is not true?
§ Mr. Hurd
The disclosure by an official of information out of the Treasury that does not fall within the scope of the White Paper and the Bill that we are about to publish will be outside the scope of the criminal law.
Thirdly, where the protection of the criminal law is to be retained, the possibilities of prosecution will be circumscribed. In the majority of cases there will be a test of harm and in all cases it will be a jury that decides. Compare that with the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman's Government in 1978. Of course they proposed no defence based on public interest. Of course they proposed no defence based on prior publication. Of course they did not go nearly as far as we do in providing a test of harm. Most striking of all, they provided for the binding use of ministerial certificates so that at the end of the day it was the Minister, and not the jury, who decided.
§ Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)
Does not the substantial criticism of that contention arise where there are absolute offences? In other words, where a loyal public servant reveals crime, fraud or iniquity, he has no defence and could possibly be sent to prison for two years. Is there not something deeply offensive about that?
§ Mr. Hurd
There is nothing new about that proposition, because it is covered by section 2 of the Official Secrets Act.
We shall soon be publishing our Official Secrets Bill. We have been turning the language of the White Paper into statute—
§ Mr. Hurd
I shall continue, as I should like to get on.
We have been turning the White Paper into the language of statute, taking into account points that have been made in the House and elsewhere. The House will 125 then be able to judge our proposals and compare them with other proposals that have been before the House, particularly the proposals that we inherited 10 years ago. I relish the thought of those detailed discussions that will follow, because I have no fears about those comparisons.
§ Mr. Maclennan
The right hon. Gentleman told the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) that there is no change because the section 2 procedure and the provisions of law are simply repeated. Does he not recognise that there are common law rebuttals, which were cited by Lord Goff in particular in the "Spycatcher" case, which enable public servants to pray in aid the general defence of public interest?
§ Mr. Hurd
The hon. Gentleman is confusing the civil and the criminal law. Under the criminal law—the civil law is an entirely different matter—the kind of offence that my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) cites is covered by section 2, although I agree that the term "offence" is begging the question. Such offences will continue to be covered for the reasons that I have explained and will certainly explain again when we publish our Bill. The occasion cited by my hon. Friend would be covered because we believe in the absolute extent of confidentiality. There is nothing new about that.
§ Mr. Hurd
I am anxious to get on. I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman later, but I wish to make some progress.
I am listing the facts that have not yet been fully hoisted in by our critics on the extent to which we are moving the law and practice in these matters in an open direction.
Fourthly, we have provided the staff counsellor for the Security Service that I have mentioned.
Fifthly, we are doing something that not even the most imaginative commentator predicted; we are putting the Security Service on a statutory basis on the lines that I have described.
Of course, there is plenty of scope for detailed discussion of all those proposals. I do not believe that the sun and moon revolve around such particulars or that they are passionately discussed night by night in pubs and clubs.
§ Mr. Hurd
I have been generous in giving way. I want to conclude this point.
The discussion about particulars on which we shall pursue three major Home Office Bills will get off to a good start if it is recognised that we are talking about the particulars of an essay in openness that has no parallel in the history of our Government since the war. If, against the facts, the Opposition persist in harping on the caricature that they have created, they will make themselves ridiculous in the eyes of the electorate—
§ Mr. Hurd
—particularly ridiculous as some right hon. Gentlemen had to strike in their time in high office the balance between individual freedom and public safety that I have mentioned. What was the record on this issue when one right hon. Gentleman was Foreign Secretary, one was Home Secretary and the other was Minister of State? The record in each case was negative, negative, negative. I am sure that that comparison should temper their comments today, although not those of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker).
§ Mr. Rooker
The Secretary of State said that we would have ample opportunity for discussion of these issues. Will he make it clear that the two Bills to which he is referring, in respect of the Security Service and the Official Secrets Act, will be dealt with as the Official Secrets Act was originally dealt with—on the Floor of the House, without any threat of a guillotine—and that the Government will not seek advantage in that respect? The Government have an overwhelming majority and can do what they wish, but if there is to be free and open discussion, we need to know the ground rules before we start.
§ Mr. Hurd
There will be a great deal of free and open discussion. I got into serious trouble once for saying that there would be no guillotine on a piece of legislation, and I shall not repeat that mistake today. The arrangements for the discussion and the procedures are not a matter for me. The Opposition have a wholly negative record on these matters.
It is natural that commentators in the press and on radio and television should be jealous of their freedoms and quick to spot even imagined threats to those freedoms. No one should have any complaint about such vigilance. We are not making the changes that I have listed out of any desire to please the commentators and I do not ask for any compliments from them, but we can ask for a professional and fair-minded assessment. Whatever the argument about particulars, such an assessment would have to start from the acknowledgement that we are making a substantial and unprecedented thrust in the direction of greater openness throughout the areas covered by the points that I have described today.
As the hon. Member for Perry Barr said, we shall be spending many hours discussing these matters in the next few months.
§ Mr. Hurd
It applies to members and former members of the security and intelligence services and to those notified or designated—we are drafting—because of the nature of the work most closely connected with the services. I am paraphrasing the White Paper. When we publish the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman will see exactly how we propose to define the category.
§ Mr. Hurd
No, I shall not give way. I am proceeding.
As I have said, we shall be spending many hours discussing these matters. I relish that prospect because I think that, taken together, our proposals constitute a 127 major thrust towards openness, the scope of which is still genuinely not absorbed by many of those who comment on these matters.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It is not a point of order to raise through the Chair a question that a Member wishes to be answered by a Minister.
§ Mr. Hurd
The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) is confusing two Bills. Surprisingly, the Security Service Bill is about the Security Service. He will see that the White Paper on official secrets contains a different definition.
I am anxious that our necessary concentrations of effort should not divert the Home Office from what I regard to be the heart of its activities, which is action against crime. Increasing freedom from crime and from the fear of it is a good which we would all wish for the British people.
During the summer recess we published the latest statistics for the 12 months to the end of June. Recorded crime across the nation was shown to have declined slightly. It is far too soon to draw anything but fleeting comfort from this interruption in the 30-year upward trend. We know that such variations can be treacherous until it has been shown clearly that they are more than temporary. We can claim realistically, however, that crime prevention is beginning to affect the figures for good. It is fair to credit my successor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan)—
§ Mr. Hurd
Yes, my predecessor. Among my right hon. and learned Friend's many movements I do not think that to succeed me is the most likely.
It is fair to credit my predecessor with giving prevention of crime its proper standing alongside detection and punishment. I have done my best to develop and reinforce what he emphasised. The crime being prevented is overwhelmingly crime against property, which makes up 95 per cent. of the whole. There were 60,000 fewer burglaries in England and Wales in the 12 months ending June this year than in the parallel period a year before. This is a 6 per cent. drop. The figures in some of the cities where crime against property is traditionally worst have been particularly encouraging and better than average. The mass of crime against property is easier to prevent than to detect. The improvements which we are beginning to see owe much to the extraordinary growth of neighbourhood watch schemes. There are now almost 60,000 schemes in England and Wales, with nearly 9,500 in London alone. That is 16,000 more schemes than a year ago. Some schemes are bound to be more active than others, but I am clear that the best are now making a substantial contribution to preventing crime.
128 The longer I study the problem the more convinced I am that the best crime prevention is local and specific. That is the basis of our safer cities programme. Each of our safer city projects needs sustained and concentrated attention and co-ordinated effort by local people.
Over the next three years the safer city projects will be established in 20 areas, selected from among the 57 urban programme areas. This is the Home Office's contribution to the inner-city policy. We have announced nine areas so far: Wolverhampton, Bradford, Nottingham, Coventry, Birmingham, Hartlepool, Rochdale, Lewisham and Tower Hamlets. I am glad that local authorities, regardless of party, are keen to take part and staff are being recruited in several of those places. We are aiming at a measurable reduction in targeted crime in each project area.
One in 20 crimes is violent, and it is the continuing rise in recorded violent crime which rightly causes the most alarm. Some of this rise is certainly the result of a higher proportion of crime getting onto the books. For example, as the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) would acknowledge, many more women are reporting incidents of domestic violence, and the police are dealing with them more sympathetically. Similarly, the police are recording more rapes where the offender was not a stranger but someone who knew the victim quite well—a friend, a former husband or lover. I think that the House will welcome this greater willingness of women to report such crimes and the arrangements that the police have made to encourage this.
There is that point about increased reporting, but I would not wish to sound in any way complacent about the undoubted actual rise in violent crime. I should like 1989 to be the year in which the police, the courts, the public and the Government concentrate more effectively on violent crime, while sustaining the improvement as regards crimes against property, which we can already see.
More police than ever before, swifter justice, the new law against carrying a knife without good reason, the tighter control of the private ownership of firearms, the stiffer laws against illegal and disorderly drinking, the heavier sentences being imposed by the courts on serious and violent crime and the remedy which Parliament has now provided in the Criminal Justice Act against the wayward lenient sentence—I regard all these as essential elements in this concentration against violent crime.
Prisons, which have often been neglected in the past—in the House, too—represent the denial of freedom to certain individuals for the punishment of crime and the protection of society. But, if it is to be fair, that denial of freedom must take place in decent, although austere, circumstances. No one can be satisfied with the present state of our prisons, where just over 50,000 inmates have been committed to prison, and we have accommodation designed for under 46,000.
We have made and are making strenuous efforts to remedy the years of neglect. Since 1979 spending on the prison service has risen in real terms by 43 per cent. In the Autumn Statement, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced further substantial increases amounting to an additional £922 million over the next three years. That will allow for an expansion of the prison building and modernisation programme to provide a further 3,000 or so prison places by 1992.
§ Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)
My hon. Friend has announced some interesting figures. In view of the 129 evidence given to the Select Committee about the work of the Property Services Agency, is he satisfied that those extra sums will meet the current programme, let alone any expansion, because of the gross miscalculations in budgeting?
§ Mr. Hurd
My hon. Friend is right to put his finger on a problem, but I am increasingly confident that we are dealing with it. Even though there have been changes made in our arrangements with the PSA, he will know that we have set up a prisons building board half the members of which are from the private sector. He will know what we are doing about a contract design, and I am increasingly confident that we can deliver the prison building programme, as I have described it, within the resources that have been made available. It is an enormous commitment. It will greatly help the prison service in carrying out its tasks within a humane environment, to the benefit of both staff and inmates.
The prison population is still growing, though slightly less fast than had been expected. If the latest projections of the prison population are borne out, we should before long be able to make significant progress towards our aim of eliminating overcrowding. We expect that next year there will still be a gap of about 5,000 between the number of people in prison and the recognised number of prison places. We hope to reduce that gap to just over 3,000 by 1991–92, with a further fall in the following years.
Over the past year, we have made painful but important strides in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the prison service through the fresh start reform. Containment—keeping people locked up and secure—is of course the prison service's first task. Recently, under the sheer pressure of numbers, containment has tended to be the be-all and end-all, and the prison service has concentrated just on keeping the system going while other objectives have fallen behind.
No one in the prison service to whom I have spoken would welcome a return to the days of illusion, when it was supposed that, with enough money and skill, every prisoner could be reformed. Equally, no prison officer worth his salt is content with a system in which prisoners sometimes have to be locked in their cells for all except one or two hours out of 24, with no proper opportunities for education or work. That is no way to create or foster a sense of responsibility or to prepare a man for returning to life outside prison.
For the less serious and non-violent offender, we favour disposals outside prison altogether, and that is the purpose of our Green Paper on punishment in the community, to which my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Home Department has devoted so much work. The serious and violent should continue to end up in prison. The prison service has now received a clear restatement of purpose from the Prisons Board that I wholeheartedly endorse. I do not believe that the House has yet been informed of the statement, which says:Her Majesty's Prison Service serves the public by keeping in custody those committed by the courts. Our duty is to look after them with humanity and to help them lead law abiding and useful lives in custody and after release.We should all use our energies and all available resources to turn that statement of purpose increasingly into reality.
In a thoughtful passage in the Leader of the Opposition's speech yesterday, he told the House that 130 freedom is not an absolute, but a question of balance between desirable objectives. I entirely agree. In the Home Office, we have to strike that balance week by week, subject by subject—whether on security or penal policy; whether in the struggle against terrorism, where we are putting together the new prevention of terrorism Bill described in the Queen's Speech; whether we are dealing with drug traffickers and their assets, or with even more prosaic matters such as Sunday trading.
I do not suppose that there is any other Department of State where those issues and the balance of which the right hon. Gentleman rightly spoke come to the fore quite so often or quite so vividly. I could give many other examples than those I have chosen today. With the help of the House, I hope that we can continue, subject by subject, to strike that necessary balance, firmly and with common sense.
§ Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
Yesterday afternoon, the Prime Minister entertained the House with more examples of her belief that words mean whatever she wishes them to mean. Water is to be privatised, sold abroad and increased in price to protect the environment. Electricity is to be handed over to a private duopoly to increase competition. As to the Queen's visit to Moscow, it is not being addressed in any way. The Prime Minister's actual words wereWe do not discuss this matter."—[Official Report, 22 November 1988; Vol. 142. c. 28.]Lest there be any doubts about the implications of that sentence, I make it clear that the Prime Minister was speaking of herself in the royal plural—a form of language that other Prime Ministers felt was best left to the Queen herself.
Of course we believe the Prime Minister. We believe her in the same way that we believed the Chancellor of the Exchequer two weeks ago. But the fascination of Fridays remains. Two Fridays ago, the Chancellor said nothing about means-testing pensions. Last Friday, Mr. Bernard Ingham said nothing about the Queen visiting Moscow. We look forward to reading what was not said this Friday.
The one occasion when the Prime Minister's speech almost came to life was when she proclaimed the Government's commitment to the free society. I can only judge from that impromptu passage that the Prime Minister is temperamentally incapable of understanding how Governments in genuinely free societes behave. In a free society, the Government do not bully and browbeat broadcasters. In a free society, the Government do not buy off newspapers with knighthoods and peerages. In a free society, the Government do not suppress local government's right to exercise local options on behalf of the people that it represents. In a free society, the Government do not ignore and dismiss the interests of minorities; nor, in a truly free society, do the Government emasculate and sometimes positively destroy the institutions that protect the weak from exploitation by the powerful.
It is not, for instance, acceptable in a truly free society for the police to raid television studios, confiscate material and give no explanation or apology for actions that they could not justify in court.
Above all, it is the commitment to govern on behalf of all the people that makes Governments genuinely representative and truly democratic. It is because of this Government's determination to stifle their critics and to 131 crush dissent that their legitimacy is in doubt. It is because of their passion to retain power by any means that they choose to govern not on behalf of all the people but in the interests of those groups of voters whom they hope will improve their prospects of re-election. A Government who cynically represent only some of the people cannot claim to be truly democratic or the true champions of freedom.
There is no area in which the Government confuse the real nature of freedom more blatantly than in their fraudulent promise to introduce what they wrongly describe as top-up loans for students. According to the Prime Minister, substituting loans for half the grant will increase freedom on one of the criteria that she offered yesterday—reducing taxation. According to more honest judges, the substitution of loans for grants will reduce freedom by preventing thousands of students from low-income families from taking their proper places in universities and polytechnics—
§ Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us about Socialist Sweden's policy on student grants; the loan rate there is 9 per cent.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I shall talk about Tory Britain. [Interruption.] I remind the hon. Gentleman who, I suspect, like me, was one of the students who went to university on a 100 per cent. grant because he came from a low-income family of which the parents could not make a contribution of any size, that 26.5 per cent. of students now come from families who cannot afford, according to the state's criteria, to make a parental contribution. In future, those students will enter higher education only in the knowledge that they will start their working lives in debt.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I shall not.
Many students will not have the confidence to take this risk, and as a result, young working-class people will not take up the higher education places for which they are qualified and to which they are entitled. That is an extraordinary definition of the word freedom.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I concede at once that one of the subjects that will occupy the Government this year—the broadcasting White Paper—will certainly extend freedom.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I keep telling the hon. Gentleman that I will not.
The broadcasting White Paper will extend the freedom of multinational communications conglomerates to monopolise independent broadcasting in this country and to reduce the standards of television broadcasting. That extension of freedom is certainly the Government's intention. It is a subject to which we shall return, as we must, when the House is given the opportunity to debate the White Paper. I hope we shall be told that that opportunity will be provided during what is loosely called the consultation period, rather than when the Government have finally set their views in concrete.
Nevertheless, we say now that there is a great and growing groundswell of opposition to the tawdry commercialism that the Home Secretary calls extended choice. The great test of the courage, as well as the 132 integrity, of the broadcasters will be the way in which they fight against what they now openly say is wrong. Today, I merely use the broadcasting White Paper to illustrate the Government's misuse of the idea of choice.
§ Mr. Hattersley
To make a genuine choice, the consumer must be given a number of real alternatives from which to make choices which are within his power to make in practice, not in theory. Extra buttons on the television set that provide no more than the same tired old films, quiz shows and American soap operas give no extra choice at all.
There is one aspect of the Gracious Speech to which we give wholehearted support—the passage that deals with the protection of children. Naturally, we need to examine the proposals in detail. We shall support any measure that provides proper protection for children in need or danger and which establishes the rights of the family and the child's proper place within it. Measures to achieve those ends will be welcomed by the Opposition, although we should be more confident about the Government's genuine concern had they not frozen child benefit in two successive years, so lowering the real value of the greatest help that lower-income families with children receive from the community.
In nine years of office, the Prime Minister has talked in the language of positive freedom in only one area of policy—the area of crime. The Prime Minister talked glibly about the Government's duty to provide the citizen with the freedom to walk the streets without fear of assault and attack. The Government have failed abysmally to provide that protection. Since 1979 the number of notifiable offences has increased by 53.4 per cent.—that is half as many again as when this law and order Government came to power.
The Home Secretary said feebly today that one of the causes of the increase in violent crime is that more is being reported. He then boasted about the stabilisation of crime in general. He did not remember to tell the House that one reason why the figure has not expanded is that fewer burglaries and break-ins are reported because, since the Government have been in office, burglaries and break-ins are taken for granted in vast areas of the country.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I see that the Home Secretary is shaking his head. I shall ask him a question in his capacity as police authority for London. He supports the police idea that some crimes, including burglaries and break-ins, are so unimportant that they are bottom of the priority list and are not attended to that day or week, so why does he expect people to report such crimes? He knows that in large areas of the country, particularly in big cities, such crimes are regarded as normal, so people do not report them.
The Home Secretary showed pathetic pleasure in the fact that the overall crime figures have stabilised—although he did not concede the indisputable fact that I have just described—at an intolerably high rate. There are half as many crimes again as when the Government came to power. Violent crime continues to increase remorselessly. Violent crime in 1987 was 17 per cent. above the 1986 level and 15 per cent. up in the first quarter of 1988. The 133 responsibility for that terrifying increase lies in part with the society that the Government have helped to create. At one extreme there is poverty, unemployment and deprivation and at the other there is easy money and the encouragement of greed and selfishness.
The chairman of the Tory party and the Minister of State—who is probably flattered to be included in such exalted company—continually ask us to choose. Do we blame crime on the philosophy of "devil take the hindmost", in which the Prime Minister glories, or inner-city poverty, which the Prime Minister has caused? After all that expensive education, they should be able to carry two parallel ideas in their heads at the same time. Violence in home county market towns has one cause and violence in inner cities has another. In both cases, the Government have wholly failed to deal with those causes and adequately to attack the symptoms.
I concede that the Home Secretary is handicapped in his work by a liability that has weighted down all his Tory predecessors—bone-headed Back Benchers who believe that crime can be overcome only by increasingly severe penalties. Different Home Secretaries have reacted to that liability in different ways. Lord Whitelaw abandoned a plan for supervised early release from prison when his party conference told him to do so. If that plan had been operated, the prison population would be smaller than it is today by between 6,000 and 8,000.
The present Home Secretary is to be presented with exactly the same dilemma, although he could not bring himself to mention it. I understand that the Carlisle committee is about to recommend virtually the same early release scheme. We can only hope that the Home Secretary will behave with greater independence than his predecessor because in their present state our prisons breed crime rather than deter it. The Home Secretary knows that, and from time to time he stands up bravely to his backwoodsmen and tells them so. More often, however, he seeks to deflect their attacks by creating the illusion of activity.
The Home Secretary must hold the all-time record for conducting experiments and pilot schemes. His scheme to impose a time limit on the length of remand—stipulating a date by which the trial must begin—could easily have been put into operation all over England and Wales. Instead of reducing the number of remand prisoners, however, the Government have actually increased it, by extending the initial remand period from seven to 28 days. The Home Secretary has chosen to increase the number rather than reduce it.
The current illusion of activity, and the most blatant gimmick of all, is electronic tagging. I again compliment the Home Secretary on his fastidiousness; he can never bring himself to utter that phrase, in the House or outside it. The theoretical intention of tagging is to reduce the prison population. That will come about only if offenders who would otherwise have received custodial sentences are tagged instead. I do not believe that that will happen, not least because, on the evidence of the United States, the tag is risibly unreliable. Offenders who would not in any event be sent to prison will have tagging added to their community service and their probation order. The result will be their humiliation, and resentment will replace 134 reform and rehabilitation, resulting in more crime rather than less. The only achievement will be the illusion of activity, and that only briefly.
In response to the increase in crime, which the Home Secretary does not deny, he claims that he and his party have made vast strides in increasing police manpower. The claims are made so often and so stridently that we must all ask why, with so many extra police officers, there is so much more crime. It is becoming increasingly easy to answer that question. The increase in effective police manpower is nothing like as large as the Home Secretary hopes that we will believe it to be. The Government find it convenient to claim that the Labour party is the enemy of the police. That is nonsense. What is now beyond doubt is that, because of the Government's double-talk, the police are becoming bitter critics of the Tory party.
This morning, I talked to Alan Eastwood, the new chairman of the Police Federation, who made strong complaints about the way in which the Government, in his words, have misled the public with the passages on police manpower in the public expenditure White Paper. He bases that charge on the figure of 1,150—the number of additional officers promised in the document and represented as a new initiative. Eight hundred and fifty of those additional officers were promised two years ago, so the new increase is 300 rather than 1,150, and the net increase is even smaller. Thanks to the pressure on police budgets, overtime has been eliminated in almost every police area. As a result, the true increase in police man hours—the number of officers on the beat deterring and fighting crime—is even less than that suggested by the honest figure, the real increase, of 300 officers.
My information is that every police authority in the country is now supporting every chief constable in the country in applications for more officers. The Police Federation estimates the shortfall to be 10,000. West Yorkshire needed 800 additional officers but was given 20. North Yorkshire needed 250 officers, modestly asked for 50 and got none. The Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland is so concerned about the state of policing that it is calling for a Royal Commission to examine the chronic shortage and its consequences.
The president of ACPO is terrifyingly explicit about law and order under this Government. He says:Regrettably, the presence of the police is dwindling. We are losing control of the streets.
§ Mr. Rooker
My right hon. Friend's point about police manpower is crucial. The police in the west midlands have asked for 300 additional policemen. That request has been refused, but no Home Office Minister has taken any steps to remove from this country American citizens who have come here to encourage British citizens to adopt their private vigilante schemes. That will be the consequence of cutting the real need for additional police manpower. I warn the Home Secretary that that is happening in the Northumbrian police authority and that there have been direct attempts to encourage it in both London and Birmingham.
§ Mr. Hattersley
There are many ways in which the Home Secretary, who must take responsibility for these matters, is making the work of the police more difficult, against the background of fewer policemen. The idea that we should send squads of British policemen to Spain seems 135 to me to be one of those gimmicks that is counterproductive, and the Home Secretary ought to be embarrassed just to hear that idea reiterated. It is another example of the difficulties that the Home Secretary will cause for force after force.
I now wish to turn to a further example—to wit, the Government's unworkable proposals to impose compulsory identity cards on the English Football League. Everybody who understands that issue agrees that the proposal will increase the prospect of riot and disorder outside football grounds. It is a scheme that could only have been introduced by Ministers who have never walked through a turnstile or stood on the terraces.
I repeat that it will cause chaos outside the grounds. Arsenal says that on a day when 50,000 spectators turn up at its ground, either they will have to start taking their places before 1 o'clock or the kick-off will have to be delayed by 90 minutes. The consequences of either of those alternatives can only be imagined; so can the results of the central computer breaking down. If the Department of Defence's computer in America can break down, the Home Office's Football League computer can certainly do the same. As a result of tens of thousands of genuine, honest, law-abiding football supporters hanging about outside football grounds, the criminals—who are not football supporters but use football as the occasion for their violence—will rampage through the waiting crowds, terrorising local residents and attacking local shops.
During the last two years, football violence has been substantially reduced, thanks to improved surveillance and additional money having been spent on hiring police for inside the grounds. The sensible course would have been to allow that process to continue. It would have been the sensible course, but it would not have been spectacular, so progress is sacrificed to create the illusion of activity. The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the so-called Minister for Sport—who would not have been worth mentioning had he not become a caricature of all that is wrong with this Government—was on television last Monday—I repeat that he would not have been worth mentioning had he not become a caricature of all that is wrong with this Government—after the announcement of the appointment of the new chairman of the Football League. He voiced the Government's disapproval of the choice that that free and independent body had made.
The idea that an Under-Secretary should have the effrontery to announce that an independent institution had made a choice of chairman of which the Government disapproved is something that even the Home Secretary ought to find surprising. It is for that reason that I described him—and I describe him so gladly for a third time—as a caricature of this Government's typical wish to interfere in everything and to insinuate all their own placemen into positions of authority.
We now know that the Prime Minister is attempting to insinuate Sir David English into the editorship of Independent Television News. Lord Rees-Mogg—with no visible qualification, except an enthusiasm for "'Allo, 'Allo" is the chairman of the Broadcasting Standards Council. Nobody doubts that the head of the Independent Television Commission will be a card-carrying Conservative—probably a property dealer with the standards and values of Lord Young.
The identity card scheme illustrates two characteristics of the Government in general and of the Prime Minister in particular—arrogant and mindless authoritarianism. 136 Those qualities are demonstrated in the prohibition now placed on the broadcasting of interviews with Sinn Fein and the Ulster Defence Association and in the continuation of existing provisions in the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984.
I can tell the Home Secretary that we welcome and support the Government's intention to take powers that will enable them to seize funds intended to finance terrorist organisations. It is extraordinary that such powers have not been taken before. We shall facilitate their passage through the House as best we can. We shall do that because that specific provision is practical and calculated to incapacitate the terrorists.
The general powers in the Prevention of Terrorism Act, however, are more likely to help terrorists than to harm them. The right to detain Irish men and women without charge is rightly regarded as offensive by law-abiding Irish citizens. It inevitably encourages sympathy for the argument that, democracy and civil rights being denied, violence is the only path left open to republicans.
For guerrillas to succeed, they need a hinterland into which to escape after killing a policeman or bombing a bank. Sometimes that hinterland is a forest or a mountain; sometimes it is a sympathetic population. The Government have foolishly increased sympathy towards terrorists and, by doing so, dangerously extended the hinterland into which the murderers and bombers can disappear. They have done so with a cavalier disregard for civil liberties.
I have emphasised, as I always do, the pragmatic objections to the prohibitions on broadcasting and to the prevention of terrorism provisions, because that is the argument which the Government are most likely to accept. The argument in principle—the argument of a free society—is just as overwhelming, but unfortunately it is not an argument which the Government even consider, and that is demonstrated by their recent record.
§ Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford)
The right hon. Gentleman speaks of freedom in society, but does he not concede that football hooligans and terrorists are those whom we have to prevent from acting if we are to have freedom in society? Are they not the people who are preventing freedom? Are they not the people to whom the right hon. Gentleman should turn his attention?
§ Mr. Hattersley
Of course. My complaint is that, instead of beating them, the Government want to get headlines about beating them. The Government want to appear to be active rather than genuinely to be active and to obtain the results which I understand the hon. Gentleman and I both want.
I should like for a moment to consider the Government's record on the great issue of civil liberty before I consider their proposals for the Security Service and the Official Secrets Act 1911. The pursuit of the wretched Peter Wright through court after court, even though the Government must have known that they would lose in the end, was a scandalous misuse of public money and came very near to an abuse of our legal system.
That abuse was performed for two wholly unworthy reasons—first, to postpone the day when the Prime Minister was proved wrong; secondly, to prevent the British people from knowing what was certainly known in the Kremlin and freely available in every country in the world with bookshops. The Government's attitude 137 towards the Official Secrets Act 1911 and towards security has to be measured against that record and their willingness—indeed, their enthusiasm—to suppress information for reasons which were not national necessities but political convenience.
The Home Secretary has today announced his intention to put the Security Service on a statutory basis. Being an old-fashioned sort of Conservative, the Home Secretary always meets pressure with small concessions rather than with obstinate refusal. This is a small concession in response to the massive concern which is increasingly felt about the uncontrolled—indeed, sometimes unlawful—operations of the Security Service. We welcome it and hope—hope subject to examination of the Bill—to support what the Home Secretary proposes. But it is important to keep the concession in perspective.
The Security Service will remain totally outside the scrutiny of the House. From time to time we shall receive a report on its work which has been sanitised by the Prime Minister. As for questioning its conduct—not its operation but its general conduct, its policy and its financing—the House will have no powers at all. The Prime Minister was explicit about that yesterday when she said that she will be accountable, as she had always been accountable. We know exactly what that means.
The security services—like the security services of other democracies—ought to be subject to the authority of the House because that would increase efficiency and provide a safeguard against abuse. It is the fantasy quality of their existence that so often has made our security services ridiculous, tapping the telephones of innocent trade unionists while Soviet agents are promoted within their own ranks. Parliamentary control would help to bring the security services into the real world, where they would operate with more despatch and efficiency and with more respect for civil liberties.
I hope that we can support the Home Secretary in the little concession that he has made. In preparation for that, I ask him two questions. The Secretary of State has told us that he will have to issue a warrant to authorise action to "obtain information from property". Does that mean that another raid on the BBC in Scotland would have to be authorised explicitly by him, and would he have to accept responsibility for it? He told us that a tribunal will examine complaints against the service from the general public. When a complainant has had his cause examined, will he be able to pursue the result of that complaint through the courts, particularly if he is not satisfied that the tribunal, an essentially internal organisation, has treated him justly?
I hope that the Home Secretary will answer those questions when he replies to the debate, but in the meantime will he remember that—whatever he may have hoped—providing a limited amount of statutory form for the security services does not make an unacceptable secrets Bill any more acceptable than it was before his announcement?
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that to put the security services under the control of the Home Secretary might seem a great advance, and to some extent it might be an advance, but does it not smell of the "Minister of the Interior" in certain eastern European countries? Who would trust that lot? I do not trust them at all. Quite honestly, I am more worried 138 about that than about anything else. If it were placed under the House of Commons, and we had the decision and we controlled it, it would be different. I do not want to put the security services under any particular Government. That already exists privately. Is my right hon. Friend not worried about that?
§ Mr. Hattersley
Risking the wrath of my hon. Friend, I must say that I find the Home Secretary an unlikely commissar—a rural dean perhaps, but not a commissar. However, I agree that the real place for the authority to reside is in the House of Commons, as it does in the legislatures of the United States, Australia, Canada and other countries where there is more liberty and accountability on these matters and more efficient security services. The idea that our Security Service—which, putting it at its gentlest, has not always been regarded with universal respect during the past 10 years—could be made less efficient by making it accountable is clearly nonsense.
Finally, I turn to the proposed new Official Secrets Act, which I understand from what the Home Secretary has said today will come before us virtually in the form described in the White Paper. That means that, far from liberalising our legislation, the new Bill will provide the Government with greater powers to withhold and conceal information which might be politically embarrassing to them. In many particulars, the new Act will be more authoritarian than the old. The veneer has been replaced, but underneath the wood is still rotten. There is no substitute for an Act which safeguards only genuine secrets, allows, ultimately, an authority outside the Government to decide what are genuine secrets, and is augmented by freedom of information legislation.
Paragraphs 41 and 42 of the White Paper make the position absolutely clear. Everything that the Government define as "relating to security" must be kept secret at all times. What does or does not "relate to security" is for the Government to decide. Whoever is involved or associated with security must remain silent about all they do. The definition of "involved" and "associated" is for the Government to decide. In no area which the Government define as concerning security will it be possible for a court of law to decide whether or not the publication of an item of information would damage the national interest. Anyone responsible for such a publication would automatically be guilty of a criminal offence.
The proposals legitimise all the Government's recent excesses, with one exception. "Spycatcher" would still be suppressed; Anthony Cavendish would still be prevented from privately printing his reminiscences; Sarah Tisdale would still go to prison, and so would Cathy Massiter. There is only one notable change. Clive Ponting, who was acquitted under the old law, would have been convicted under the new law because it does not allow a public interest defence.
The great difference, which I hope the Home Secretary will struggle to understand, is that, while in the past the public interest defence has been there by implication, it is now to be ruled out specifically and explicitly by statute. In a free society, it ought to be possible for a civil servant to say, "What the Government are doing is wrong and what the Minister is saying is not true, and it is my moral duty to expose the Government's corruption by telling the truth."
We all take a strange vicarious pride in the story of the marine colonel who said to President Nixon, "I took my 139 oath of allegiance not to the President of the United States but to the constitution of this country." The defence, "I did it because it was right," is wholly removed from the law if the Bill proposed by the Home Secretary passes into our legislation. When the new Act has been passed, invoking a public interest defence, saying, "I did it because it was true and I said it because it was right," will be a confession of guilt.
Nor will it be possible to argue under the new law that, since the information being revealed had already been revealed, to repeat it can in no way prejudice the national interest. The book may have been published in Australia, the story may have been told in Moscow and the film rights may have been sold in America, but if the Home Secretary classifies the information as involving security, anyone who repeats it will be committing a criminal offence.
All we need to know about the new powers is that criminalising the disclosure of information sent in confidence from one Government to another has been inserted in the Bill to ingratiate the Government with the American Administration, when it is a proposal which the Senate of the United States would not contemplate passing into law. Indeed, the proposals would be unlawful under the American constitution, yet the Government continue glibly to talk about freedom.
No Government this century have been more contemptuous of true democracy. No Government this century have been more determined to suppress criticism and more unscrupulous in manipulating the news. The Government are motivated above all else by the Prime Minister's authoritarian impulse, and that instinct is wholly alien to our system and to our country.
§ 4.8 pm
§ Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)
I have to confess that I did not attend the Loyal Address yesterday because I was returning from the north-east of England where on Monday night I attended the awards of Business Enterprise, an organisation run by Tyne-Tees Television, The Journal newspaper and the Northern Development Corporation showing how well things are today in the north-east of England, how they are improving, how industry is flourishing and how job prospects have not been better for many years because at long last people have stopped trying to cling to the past and are looking to the future.
The future of the north-east in Conservative hands has now been recognised as the way forward, as is the case in the south-east of England, the south of England, London and East Anglia, and prosperity is moving into the north-east of England. That was identified at the meeting on Monday evening when the awards were presented for the first time. This is the first time that such an opportunity has been presented in the north-east. We have been assured that the scheme will continue and that every year these five awards will be made to the five categories of companies that won them on Monday. The awards are for innovation and training and are given to large and small enterprises. Those north-eastern based firms have used the skills of the generations there. They are cultivating those skills and looking forward to the opportunities that will arise.
The north-east has turned the corner, but the Government should recognise that we now need a straight road. On Monday night there was some heavy snow when 140 I was in the area and that made driving conditions difficult. However, they are difficult with or without snow, because of the lack of a major motorway from the south to the north-east. It is time that the Government woke up to that.
As a result of the shortage of equipment at King's Cross, 31 people died and the Government suddenly found £266 million to do something about it. Many more people have been killed on the A1 and M1 motorway. In the last eight years, 150 people have been killed on that road and the number of serious and slight accidents far outweighs anything that happened at King's Cross. Of course all those deaths and accidents did not happen in one dramatic night and receive great media attention. It is a constant drip, week in and week out, and people are killed and maimed because of the lack of a motorway.
Government statistics clearly show that a motorway is statistically five times safer than a dual carriageway. In the last eight years, 33 people have been killed on the motorway and 117 have been killed on the main road which is not of motorway standard. How many people have to be killed before the money is found to improve the safety on the road to the north-east of England? If the roads are improved, the north-east will be opened up and the industries and companies that I mentioned will have the opportunity to use the Channel tunnel when it is opened.
The north-east does not feature specifically in the Queen's Speech in terms of the economy, but it features in connection with child sex abuse. I and the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) have been asking for a debate on that subject for some time, and the Second Reading of the Bill on the care and protection of children will give us the opportunity for such a debate. In the meantime, it is worth putting on record the fact that there was never a child sex abuse crisis in Cleveland: there was an abuse of privilege by doctors. The statistics in Cleveland show that the number of reportable cases of child sex abuse up to the time when the two doctors had their brainstorm and the number of cases since the hon. Member for Middlesbrough and I raised the matter in the House, which led to the Butler-Sloss inquiry, are exactly the same.
There was an interregnum during which doctors misdiagnosed children and had them taken from their parents. That created an atmosphere of fear in Cleveland which remains to this day—primarily because of the spinelessness of Cleveland county council which refused to take action against the director of social services and his principal consultant on child abuse. It is also due to the seemingly endless reluctance of the area and regional health authorities to take positive action to ensure that those two hideous doctors are never again allowed to examine children or to have then removed—stolen, kidnapped—from their parents and taken to places about which the parents did not know. What is more, the parents could not find out where their children were.
Many innocent families have been ruined as a result of the actions of the four guilty people that I mentioned. They were backed by Cleveland county council, which was afraid of the shop steward of the National and Local Government Officers Association, who told the Council not to take disciplinary action. That was after the council's all-party committee had issued a report saying that the council must take disciplinary action. The chairman of the committee sat mute, saying nothing when the opportunity arose for Cleveland county council to take such action.
141 We still have to live that down in the north-east. It will take some time and there will be no improvement until we have removed those people in Cleveland county council who were responsible for the perpetuation of the situation. If the Labour party will not do that between now and next May, we shall do it after May when we come to power in Cleveland.
I should like to turn to another matter that does not relate specifically to the north-east, except that, as everyone knows, the north-east is the best place in the world for soccer. I should like to draw attention to the Government's likely proposals on identity cards. Today I tried to find out about those proposals. I sought a White Paper or any information so that Members who wanted to speak could do so with a little knowledge on the subject. However, we do not have that information, and I want to put one or two questions to my hon. Friend. I have an open mind on the subject and will need to be persuaded before I support the Government.
Who will have the identity cards? How will we determine at what age a person becomes a hooligan? Will women have identity cards? Are they also potential hooligans, brick throwers and muggers of old ladies? Are we to say that only a narrow group of people, the head bangers, need to be issued with identity cards? How do we identify head bangers? That might seem easy, but there are always borderline cases and I wonder what practical methods the Government have in mind. I freely admit that on Saturday, for the first time for a couple of years, I went to a soccer match because Guisborough Town, in my constituency, was playing in the first round proper of the FA cup. The team was cheated by biased refereeing. The referee should have been hounded out of the ground and should not be given an identity card.
§ Mr. Holt
I do not wish to do that.
I talked with the men who run Guisborough Town football club after the game when they were having a drink and expressed my commiserations. They do not know what would have happened if they had beaten Bury and gone on to the next round. What would have happened with membership cards?
§ Mr. Foulkes
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman at any opportunity. He has highlighted a number of examples showing how unworkable the Government's proposed scheme is. Has he contemplated the difficulty that will arise when Scots football fans want to go to England—
§ Mr. Foulkes
Yes, or fans from Berwick, which is in the Scottish league but is in England. What will happen to Scots fans or English football fans from Berwick who want to go to the international match at Wembley, where we understand fans will be obliged to register as supporters of English football clubs before being entitled to get membership cards? Is that not yet another example of how unworkable and ridiculous the scheme is? I speak as a supporter of the Heart of Midlothian football team, which is the only British team still in any European competition. I know that the whole House would wish the team every success in the game against Velez Mostar at Tynecastle this evening.
§ Mr. Holt
I wish the Heart of Midlothian team every success. I follow the results in the newspapers, but I do not want the hon. Gentleman to lead me into the minefield of Scottish and English legislation on this subject. It will be bad enough trying to impose this scheme on the English soccer leagues without trying to impose it on the Scottish leagues.
I am worried about the wording that has been used. We talk about "soccer hooligans". Hooliganism is not confined to soccer. I have recently been to cricket matches where all has not been too kosher. I have been to rugby league and rugby union matches at which one or two people have been slightly offensive. I have even been to race courses and seen the odd person drunk at a race meeting—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] I must, of course, declare my interest. The Jockey Club has recognised the problem. Last week it introduced regulations so that what has been happening at football matches will not happen at race meetings.
How long will it be before a Government—not necessarily the present Government, because time will move on—say, "We shall introduce identity cards, not merely for soccer but for cricket, rugby union, rugby league, hockey, ice hockey, speedway meetings, or tiddlywinks."? How far will we go? Will there be one large piece of plastic endorsed with all the sports, or will we have to produce 47 in a concertina?
§ Mr. John Patten
I have listened to my hon. Friend with great fascination and I hesitated to interrupt. Does he agree that we might not be in this position if the football authorities a good many years ago, when they saw the onset of violence on the terraces, had taken the same speedy action that the Jockey Club is taking to ensure that race course violence does not spread?
§ Mr. Holt
My hon. Friend has a point, but it is not necessarily the overriding point. The Government have at their disposal other weapons that they could have used against football clubs that refused to accept a code of practice. Luton football club—of which my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) is a supporter—introduced the scheme voluntarily and it works well. Why could not the Government have used persuasion? What failure of communication by the Government or persuasion would have reduced the need to bring in identity cards? As I said, I need to be persuaded. Will I need to carry a large piece of plastic endorsed with all the sports?
§ Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of identity cards, will he confirm that, given that Guisborough was playing Bury at 143 Ayresome Park and the venue had been fixed a week before, under the Government's system of identity cards the hon. Gentleman and 6,000 others could not have gone to the match?
§ Mr. Holt
That worries me.
I am equally worried about another matter. I have a friend who works in New York and has been there for about 18 months. He is coming home for Christmas. I was talking with his wife and suggested that we see a soccer match. I freely confess that I do not often go to soccer matches, but my friend is a fan and when he returns to this country he will want to watch a soccer match. He may not necessarily want to go on his own. Perhaps he would like to take me with him, and we would go together. We would sit and chew the cud. Instead of doing that, we shall be prevented from going to the match and perhaps will have to spend all day in a pub instead of in the fresh air. That is where we will be driven by the Government's proposed scheme.
What happens to the so-called fan who loses his identity card? What is the Government's provision? Do they say, "You have been a naughty boy at Arsenal, so we are taking your Arsenal fan's card away, but there is nothing to prevent you from going to Millwall next week and signing up there."? With the 92 clubs in the League, it would not be unreasonable to presume that, during the period when hooligans want to go around throwing bricks through windows, they could get into every club.
What sounds good in practice—like prohibition in America—will not necessarily work out, unless someone has thought through all the details and problems. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, when recently asked on television how he would fund radio in the future, said, "We have not thought of that yet." The authorities did not know how to fund radio when the proliferation of stations began a few years ago.
Talking of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary reminds me that I wanted to intervene when the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) was speaking about education. I wanted to give him the opportunity to say whether he agreed or disagreed with the remarks on Monday this week on BBC Radio Cleveland by the Front-Bench spokesman on education, the hon. Member for Durham North-West (Ms. Armstrong), who said that it was now part of the Labour party's thinking to introduce a tax on graduates. After graduating, people will have a different tax system from that applying to anyone else. In that way, graduates will pay back more.
If a Front-Bench spokesman says that publicly on BBC radio, clearly there has been some thinking along those lines and that statement must have some credibility. I shall give way to the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook if he wishes.
§ Ms. Mowlam
I thought that the hon. Gentleman was suggesting that a woman from Durham, North-West and one from Redcar were in some way interchangeable when he looked across for someone to whom to give way. If the hon. Gentleman had listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong), he would have heard her say that the Labour party was 144 thinking, as it is in its policy review, of many different ideas. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would use his verbs and adjectives a little more carefully.
§ Mr. Holt
I am grateful to the hon. Lady because she has confirmed that the Labour party is thinking of this approach. Is not the example of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was thinking of things when he spoke to the press, similar to that of an official Front-Bench spokesman of the Labour party speaking publicly on BBC radio? That point is worthy of a reply at some time, and I shall willingly give way to the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook to give it.
§ Mr. Hattersley
The hon. Gentleman has been at great pains to tell us all that he knows about betting and racing. If he wants to have a little gamble with me on whether, when the thought is over, it is included in our policy, I shall gladly take him for a quid or two.
§ Mr. Holt
I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has been listening. I never mentioned betting. I mentioned horse racing, but I will willingly take a bet from him at the appropriate time.
I am pleased to have had this opportunity to speak in this debate. Before you, Mr. Speaker, do as the silly referee did on Saturday by giving a red card to the captain of Guisborough halfway through the first half so that 10 amateurs then had to play against 11 professionals and did not concede another goal, I will resume my seat—but I suggest that the Government should watch out, as I have given them an orange card in relation to my vote.
§ Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)
The Queen's speech contains one measure that virtually the whole House will support—the intention to bring in a Bill to rationalise the law governing the care and protection of children. As one who introduced the Children Act 1975, I believe that it is time to bring important areas of children's legislation up to date and to learn from experience. I hope that the legislation will also provide an opportunity to introduce family courts. In my view, it would be a tragic omission if that opportunity were not taken.
Another advantage of the debate on the Queen's Speech is that it gives the country and the House an opportunity to clarify attitudes to privatisation—an issue on which there has been far too much dogma and ideology. The two privatisation issues in the Queen's Speech reflect both the advantages of privatisation in creating real competition, as I believe will be the case in electricity generation, and the grave disadvantages of privatisation when a public monopoly simply becomes a private monopoly, as will be the case with water privatisation.
With regard to electricity generation costs, if we can at long last break through the wall of silence and duplicity that has been characteristic of the Central Electricity Generating Board—one of the worst public monopolies with which I have had to deal—we may then discover the true cost of nuclear power generation, including the storage of waste and the decommissioning of power stations, and be able to make far more sensible decisions about future generating stations. It might also encourage people to put up projects for water barrages and other forms of electricity generation, which many of us believe to have far greater potential than has been recognised so far.
145 I believe that water privatisation, far from giving any encouragement to the environment, is likely to be a sorry story, with the principle that the "polluter pays" being put into reverse and the principle that the "consumer pays" being endorsed. Even more worrying is the prospect of vast tracts of this country, areas of outstanding natural beauty and national parks currently under the control of the water authorities, being opened up to speculative building and edging away in a fashion which I believe will cause considerable anxiety on both sides of the House.
When the land implications become apparent—let alone the implications of French water companies purchasing our water authorities—with vast parts of the Peak District, the Lake district, Dartmoor and Exmoor being opened up to private profit and speculation, I believe that many Conservative Members will have to rethink their position on water privatisation. It is wrong in principle, it will be damaging in effect, and it is a form of privatisation that we shall oppose.
We shall, however, support electricity privatisation, just as we supported steel privatisation, in the belief that it will introduce competition in the domestic electricity market just as steel privatisation introduced competition in the international market.
The main subject of today's debate is freedom and I shall focus the main part of my speech on that. We have had a great deal of rhetoric and a great many speeches and articles about the grave threat to our freedom and democracy posed by the Government. Certainly they have been extremely careless on a number of important issues involving freedoms. Their handling of GCHQ gave offence to millions of people because underlying it was the unstated belief that the mere fact of being a member of a trade union meant that one could not be trusted with the nation's secrets.
That first abuse of freedom by the Government has been followed by many others in other areas. For instance, the decision to sink the Belgrano was a perfectly justified military decision but the refusal to give the full facts allowed people to believe that there was something far more sinister behind that purely naval decision. We began to see a paranoid attitude to the revelation of information necessary to clarify the public position. The same was true of the Westland affair. That was far more a case of the Prime Minister trying to save face, but there were alarming aspects such as the way in which confidential advice from the Attorney-General was able to be used in a manipulative fashion.
Other features have included the police raid on BBC Scotland. The way in which that broadcasting issue was handled cannot be a matter of pride to any Member of the House. The Government's record is not a great one and they made us the laughing stock of the world by pursuing the "Spycatcher" case through every twist and turn. As people began to realise that the purpose was largely to cover up lapses and incompetence in the original pursuit of Mr. Wright, many of us began to be deeply worried about the Government's overall intentions.
In my view, one of the dangers is that the suspicions and anxieties aroused by those specific instances have led to a generalised attack on measures undertaken by the Government in relation to terrorism. Personally, I find that rather distressing. Hitherto, it has been a tradition of 146 the House that in matters which really affect the security of the state, especially in dealing with terrorism, wherever possible party politics is set aside, we try to achieve a consensus and if there is any doubt the benefit of that doubt is given to the Government. That tradition, which I regard as a good tradition, seems to have been thrown away in recent months. I wish to show that the House is in danger of losing something rather important in this respect.
In all these matters, we must take account of what we are doing in Northern Ireland. It is no use thinking that Northern Ireland is somehow separate. In my judgment, the situation in Northern Ireland is gravely deteriorating. There are signs of a loss of confidence in the system of justice, a considerable deterioration in the security situation and some quite horrendous acts of violence.
When we discuss freedom, we must remember that, with the exception of a few countries, and certainly in terms of the democratic industrialised nations, Britain is dealing with the worst internal terrorist situation of any country—far worse than the one that the Spanish are dealing with in the Basque country. To grapple effectively with terrorism means restraining civil liberties and restricting freedom. Only a fool could believe otherwise. That being so, we must examine with extreme care every step that we take, and every step that the Government ask us to endorse, they too should examine with extreme care.
We owe a loyalty to the state, but what is the state? It is certainly not the Government. We do not owe a loyalty to the Government, but we owe a loyalty to the monarch, to Parliament, to the armed services, to the judiciary and even to Ministries. That is the loyalty that we owe, both as individual citizens and as Members of Parliament.
However, it goes wider than that. The BBC also owes a loyalty to the state. It should bear that in mind when considering its role and that of its reporters in dealing with the issue of terrorism. At one point during the Falklands war, an internal memorandum was sent out by the then head of BBC radio news—to my great anxiety, he is now the controller of editorial policy—stating:When we say our troops, our ships, we sound to people as if we were the mouthpiece of government. We are not Britain. We are the BBC.The BBC is Britain, and it had better start representing the views and feelings of the British people. It does not always have to follow the majority view, but when it is considerably out of kilter with public opinion it should hesitate.
Of course, the BBC is not the managing director or the paid officials; its ultimate safeguard is the board of governors. It must have been with great regret that the Government felt it necessary to issue a notice telling the BBC what they wished it to do on actuality reporting. I certainly regret that, and the BBC's governors should regret it. They should ask themselves why it was necessary for the Government to introduce new measures. Why could they not listen not just to the voice of the Government but to the voice of common sense throughout the country?
When the BBC described the so-called gag on broadcasting, it took a long time for many to realise that it was in fact describing a gag that has been operating since 1976 in the Republic. When has the BBC exposed that as a monstrous abuse of civil liberty? Why did it not realise 147 the difficulty inherent in allowing people who could not make such statements in the Republic to do so through ITN, the BBC and other broadcasting media?
The commentators were right to say that we should not consider the reduction in the freedom of the airways or television screens purely and simply in a Northern Ireland context. It restricts our freedom on the mainland to learn of the horrendous statements made by Sinn Fein. Indeed, there have been occasions when it has been salutary to hear them in all their horror. However, we must consider the balance between freedom and security.
If it appears to work in the Republic, is it not at least worth a try in the deteriorating state of Northern Ireland? As it was introduced by the Fine Gael-Labour coalition and by a Minister with the liberal credentials of Connor Cruise O'Brien, we should not immediately leap to describe it as some great Fascist clampdown and use such language as must have given great succour to the governments in Chile and South Africa. To have our Government's actions likened to the great abuses of human and civil rights in those countries is to cheapen debate and to damage this country.
I hope that we can stop the argument about the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The country needs such an Act and it should be supported by all parties. It is sad that the Labour party and the Social and Liberal Democrats will not support such an Act being permanently placed on the statute book. They should remember that the Act was introduced only after a bomb was placed in a Birmingham pub. Many people in Northern Ireland do not believe that we would ever have acted had it not been for that act of monstrous violence on the mainland. It is important that we ask ourselves whether we are prepared to argue the case only in the context of what is happening in Northern Ireland. We should remember that what is happening over there could well return to the mainland on a major scale.
Of course, the Act does not deal only with Northern Ireland. The level of international terrorism has increased substantially since Roy Jenkins, the then Home Secretary, introduced it. It was intended as a temporary measure, but "temporary" has gone on and on. We all look forward to the day when the Act can be permanently repealed, but anyone who thinks that it can be done immediately is living in a world remote from reality. International terrorism will be on our doorstep for a long time to come and, sadly, few can envisage an immediate solution to the Northern Ireland problem.
I read with shock and amazement that the Labour party does not even want to support any change in the remission of sentences—yet 20 to 25 per cent. of those convicted of serious terrorist-related crimes in Northern Ireland in 1984 committed another terrorist offence within two years. All that is proposed is to bring the remission practice for serious crime in Northern Ireland into line with that on the mainland. How can anyone seriously suggest that we should not do that? Most people think it outrageous that Northern Ireland terrorists have had preferential treatment.
I urge the BBC to have some sense of proportion when dealing with the question of terrorism. I also urge a sense of proportion in the way in which we discuss these matters in the House. There should be a return to the principle that, wherever possible, the House supports the Government of the day on such measures—and that, if there is doubt, the Government should be given the benefit of the doubt.
148 As to other measures which are to be introduced, I do not have a great belief in the declaration of democracy, but I realise how deeply offensive it is for people in local government to hear someone in a local council chamber justifying a terrorist attack that may have involved a council employee. The Government have made a mistake in not allowing the Director of Public Prosecutions to bring the prosecution, but instead to leave it to the poor individual or group of individuals to club together to take action. However, all the measures are worth a try because of the deteriorating position in Northern Ireland.
As I have said before, we are not doing anything near enough about the problem on the border. Three years on from the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Republic's army cannot even speak to the British Army—they have to go through the Garda and then the RUC. Can that really be serious cross-border collaboration? Can that be a really serious advance of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in dealing with security? Two armed services who are meant to be patrolling the border cannot even speak to each other.
If the Republic cannot deliver more on cross-border security, the British Government should be prepared to reconsider other measures. It is said that the border cannot be sealed—tell that to Israel or any other country that has had to deal with terrorism. It is not simply just preventing sophisticated weaponry coming across the border; there is the problem of people simply slipping away, across the border, to take a holiday. They should be put under constant psychological pressure and strain, week by week, month by month and year by year.
I do not wish to speak only about terrorism. We cannot make advances in Northern Ireland's security by security measures alone. There are political problems. There should be a greater devolution of government to Northern Ireland. We cannot continue with our procedures for dealing with Northern Ireland legislation in this House, and I beg the parties in Northern Ireland to discuss devolution. It is a difficult position for the Unionists, given their opposition to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. They were right, and many of us were wrong, when they predicted that the majority of decent, sensible people in Northern Ireland would not live with the agreement. I had grave doubts at the time. Many people who are not in the slightest degree political believe that the Anglo-Irish Agreement is a step towards accepting a gradual erosion of the presence of the Northern Irish within the United Kingdom, and they do not like that. Therefore, it is hard to ask political parties to come together in any way that is related to that Agreement to discuss a political solution.
A good solution has been suggested, and I recommend it to the House. It is that an independent chairman should be appointed to chair a meeting of all the political parties so that they can discuss devolution. I say that with no disrespect to the Secretary of State, who I believe does a good job and has a great deal of respect and admiration in the House, but he is a party to the Anglo-Irish Agreement and is a part of the British Government. His chairmanship and his role will not bring together the parties who will have to come up with the devolution package that is desperately needed.
I have talked about duty to the state. It is not a duty to agree with everything that the Government do but a duty to try to look at the overall security of the state. So we come to the new Bill on the Security Service. I have compared this Bill to the Maxwell Fyfe directive under 149 which successive Governments have lived, and the language of the Bill has none of the rigour and the safeguards in the governance of the Security Service that
I should like to see. This may be a problem of parliamentary drafting, but one has only to compare the language. For example, the Maxwell Fyfe directive says:It is essential that the Security Service should be kept absolutely free from any political bias or influence and nothing should be done that might lend colour to any suggestion that it is concerned with the interests of any particular section of the community, or with any other matter than the Defence of the Realm as a whole.The Bill says that it is necessarythat the Service does not take any action to further the interests of any political party.What a massive difference.
Let us take another example. The Maxwell Fyfe directive says:No enquiry is to be carried out on behalf of any Government Department unless you are satisfied that an important public interest bearing on the Defence of the Realm, as defined in paragraph 2, is at stake.That is clear, decisive, fine language. The Bill says that it is necessary
that there are arrangements for securing that no information is obtained by the Service except so far as necessary for the proper discharge of its functions or disclosed by it except so far as necessary for that purpose".I should like the Maxwell Fyfe directive to be taken word for word and put in the Bill. It is fine language that successive Governments and Home Secretaries—
§ Dr. Owen
The right hon. Gentleman should bear in mind the fact that the Security Service has also done a lot that is praiseworthy. It has been an honourable service and many people have been safeguarded by it. It has had some bad elements within it and that rightly causes the right hon. Gentleman concern, as it causes concern to many hon. Members on both sides of the House.
That leads naturally to the next question. This legislation is to be welcomed, but where is parliamentary scrutiny? Every other Bill that becomes an Act has a form of parliamentary scrutiny. Where is it in this Bill? In the past, the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister relied on not having to answer questions about the Security Service.
There is also the intelligence that we gather from overseas. Some would argue that that should have the same treatment. I do not believe that to be the case. I did not believe it when I was in government, and I do not intend to start believing it now. However, I believe now, as I believed then, that there is a strong case for the activities of those Ministers involved in the security and intelligence services within this country and outside the country being subjected to some measure of scrutiny.
The Security Commission already exists, but it is outside the parliamentary sphere. One could almost marry the Security Commission and Parliament. It would not be hard if the commitment were there. This comes to a question of the Prime Minister's attitude. When the 150 Falklands war started, many of us argued that the best way to put behind us what had happened in the past was to agree to set up a committee of inquiry after the war was over. The Prime Minister did not like it. It was like dragging teeth out of her to get her to agree to the Franks inquiry. She eventually agreed, and it had the effect of unifying the House.
There were no arguments, throughout the Falklands war, about "what might have been" and no attempt to go over what might have been done. The matter was left on one side until the Franks committee report. I did not agree with its recommendations, but it carried an authority, it had representatives from the House on it and it was a fundamental and important, although after-the-event, examination of what had happened.
That report established a precedent that we should follow now, but the Prime Minister still does not agree with us. However, why can she not occasionally do something with which she does not agree, because she can see that it has a wider merit? By doing that, she would make it much easier for many hon. Members who have good will towards the security and intelligence services, who wish them well and believe them to be necessary, and who know that they must be kept secret. Many are horrified over the last eight or nine years of the Prime Minister's tenure to see that more important secrets have gone out into the public domain than at any other time.
I have watched this happen from GCHQ onwards. I have seen that, every time we have had a controversy about the security and intelligence services, in the last nine years, more important and damaging information about the security of the realm has leaked or been divulged—matters that we had thought were so serious that we would have gone to court about, and did go to court about, are now commonplace and known by millions. The present system has not worked, and it would be better to vest responsibility out of the House.
The Home Secretary talked about the barrier of secrecy and said that if a parliamentary committee came within the barrier of secrecy, it would not be able to report on these matters to the rest of Parliament. Everybody accepts that. The whole purpose of setting up a parliamentary Select Committee to deal with this matter is that its members would be within the barrier of secrecy and would not be able to tell us about it. We understand that. We vest responsibility in them. The difference is that it is not part of the Government, but part of parliamentary scrutiny. There is an inability to understand the distinction in this case.
Such a committee would concentrate the mind of the Home Secretary. He would have to go to discuss such matters with his fellow parliamentarians. There is nothing wrong with that system. It works extremely well in the United States, both in the Senate and in the House of Representatives. I urge the Prime Minister to think that it might be possible that she gets it wrong from time to time. Even if she is always right, she should allow us lesser mortals, who are wrong, occasionally to have some morsels from the table—some relief so that we can then have a little more trust in the Government. She should realise that we wish her well, but we are fed up with the feeling that only she has a monopoly of wisdom. She is not the only person to have held these secrets. She is not the only person to have had this difficulty of striking a balance between freedom and security. For goodness' sake, she should occasionally listen to some others.
§ Sir Barney Hayhoe (Brentford and Isleworth)
Is there not a middle way, which would be to strengthen the Security Commission by the addition of some senior Privy Councillors from all parts of the House, so that that body might then carry through, substantially, the function that the right hon. Gentleman has in mind?
§ Dr. Owen
I have already implied that I would accept such a solution. It is not such a good solution, but already a number of those who make up the Security Commission are in the other place. Many of them could be members of it, but if the right hon. Gentleman wanted to make it extra-parliamentary, that would be one way. It would go at least some way to restoring the confidence of the House about the way in which it deals with such problems. It would also seem necessary to widen the remit of the Security Commission, because its remit means that it is brought in when the Government refer something to it. It does not have a continuing monitoring role, nor is it given overall charge of scrutiny.
The other aspects of the Bill all appear fairly sensible, but they are fairly small potatoes. It will be an advantage for people to be able to appeal against warrants if they believe, for example, that they have had their house burgled. The Bill will focus the Secretary of State's mind on the issue, so it is a modest step forward.
I end as I began. When we discuss this question of freedom, we must ask: what is our duty to the state? What is our duty to those people who, in one part of the United Kingdom, suffer daily from the fear of assassination? I thought it was appalling when a man who had simply provided electricity supplies to a police station was singled out to be killed. The IRA then told people that it was a warning for everyone else who was in any way associated with the police, such as builders.
§ Dr. Owen
I thought that the man supplied electricity services, but the hon. Gentleman may be right.
However, it is outrageous that it is possible to say and do such things. The reason why the rule of silence has had to be slightly modified—although most people in the country believe it has been abandoned—is that it has become a terrorist technique never to give any form of statement. It has become incredibly difficult to bring people to justice. There is now a common belief among the Army and the police in Northern Ireland that there is hardly any point in apprehending people, as they will get away with it again.
If these restrictions are being introduced—and they should be done—is it not possible for the Prime Minister to listen to a few other people? Why not have three judges for the Diplock courts? It would do a great deal of good to strengthen the Anglo-Irish Agreement. It does not simply involve the people of the Republic. Many people in the House understand why trials have to be suspended and why many extra powers have to be taken, but believe it would be much more credible if the judgment were made by more than one judge. If the case goes to appeal, it goes to three judges. That is much more sensible. Perhaps later we could have mixed courts on both sides of the border when dealing with terrorist cases. If we are to encourage people to give us intelligence information freely and to 152 co-operate completely, they must also have confidence in the judicial system on both sides of the border and in both minority and majority communities.
The Government have been careless about some basic freedoms. They have one last opportunity to restore confidence when the reform of the Official Secrets Act comes before the House. They should have listened to all those who have urged that there should be a public interest defence. The White Paper was phrased in such a way that no final decision was taken. It will be the yardstick upon which people will judge not just that Bill, but whether the Government are sensitive to the widely felt anxiety that they are trampling on basic freedoms.
Some of us who have not made historic judgments about the Government's record on freedom will nevertheless feel bruised and angry if that Bill comes before the House with no right to a public interest defence. I suggest that the Prime Minister reads Lord Griffiths' report in The Observer v. Others. It would be hard to find anyone more passionately committed to the Government's case for a complete silence in respect of anyone who has been employed in the security and intelligence services. I agree with most of what he says, in contrast with the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). Even that judge ends by stating that there is a strong case for a public interest defence. Let that be the litmus test by which the Government's respect for freedom will be judged.
§ 5.3 pm
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)
The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) made a thoughtful speech and I shall try to follow some of his interesting arguments about where the vital line should be drawn between freedom and security in our country today. I infinitely prefer his approach to some of the sloganising of megaphone opposition that we hear, when everything that is going on is denounced as a wild abuse of freedom.
Before I come to that part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, I begin by welcoming the Gracious Speech. It is clear that we shall have an exceptionally busy Session. Sixteen major Bills have already been announced and, if previous Sessions are anything to go by, there will be several more to come. There is much for Conservative Members to welcome. The whole House can welcome measures such as the proposed legislation to protect children, and Conservative Members can warmly welcome some of the major economic measures, such as the massive privatisation of the electricity industry. Although there are some snags with the water legislation, and some environmental protection needs to be written into it, I support that measure, too.
In short, there is still plenty of momentum within the Government, but sometimes momentum has adverse consequences. On a day when we are debating Home Office affairs, I was a little surprised that the Home Secretary used the phrase "an essay in freedom" to describe his package of measures. He may come to regret that phrase, just as he will regret the phrase that he used when he introduced his White Paper on official secrets, referring to it as "an earthquake in Whitehall".
I admire my right hon. Friend's formidable energy. In some ways, he must be laying claim to being the most productive Home Secretary since Asquith, with three major Bills in this Session alone. However, when, with all that momentum, the Home Secretary makes his judgment 153 on where the delicate balance should be struck between freedom and security, I am not convinced that he is quite right. There is considerable scope in some of the Bills for radical amendments.
When I wonder why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has sometimes drawn the line in what I would regard as the wrong place, I believe that much of that is due to the somewhat malevolent influence of that Tasmanian figure that Her Majesty's Government would much rather forget, Mr. Peter Wright. When the day comes for my right hon. Friend's statue to be erected in the courtyard of the Home Office at Queen Anne's Gate, I rather hope that the sculptor concerned will have the sense of humour to erect in some small corner of the statue's purlieus a cheeky plastic gnome effigy of Mr. Wright complete with ocker hat and corks dangling from it.
The essay of freedom about which we have heard deserves a few black marks and almost all are directly attributable to Mr. Wright. For example, the reform of the Official Secrets Act is clearly, in one sense, a step in the right direction. It could hardly be anything else, given the discredited 1911 Act. However, why would a Government resist the prior publication defence if "Spycatcher" had not made a fool of the Law Officers' litigation for months and created a situation where one could buy "Spycatcher" in bookshops all over the world but could not buy it in this country?
Whoever heard of the doctrine of absolute, lifelong, eternal confidentiality until the Wright case came along? Whoever heard of the notion that a responsible BBC radio programme, such as "My Country, Right or Wrong", which contained measured contributions from former members of the security services about oversight bodies, parliamentary accountability and methods of communicating with Ministers, would by yanked off the air in a hail of writs and bans for months, before being reinstated without a single comma being taken out? Whoever would have heard of such steps if it had not been for the over-reaction to the Peter Wright case? There was a time when Ministers, even officials of the security services, could do as they can in the United States, and write policy articles and books which do not refer to operational matters, without all this hysterical reaction, provided that they cleared it and had it properly vetted. We should return to that position.
I deeply regret that the Government apparently propose to sweep away the vital section of the 1911 Act which made it an defence to leak or divulge a secret if one could prove that one had acted in the interests of the state. Those key words were the defence of many who were not prosecuted, such as civil servants who briefed Sir Winston Churchill shortly before the 1939 war about the lack of preparedness of Britain's aircraft defences. Those words were instrumental in ensuring that Mr. Duncan Sandys, who took similar patriotic action, was not prosecuted. They have provided a safeguard.
Whatever we call the defence—the public interest defence, the iniquity defence or the interests of the state defence—it is, as the right hon. Member for Devonport said, something of a litmus test of the Government's bad intentions to see it being chucked out of the window in such a cavalier manner.
154 Over-reaction to Peter Wright has damaged the Security Service Bill, which was brought before the House today. In one sense, the Bill is a good step forward. I am glad that the security services are being put on a proper statutory basis, and to that extent I welcome the Bill. Like the right hon. Member for Devonport, I spent part of the morning reading the majestic words and language of the Maxwell Fyfe directive and comparing it with the somewhat weasel words of the Bill. I was reminded of the contrast between Cranmer's English and some of the words of the alternative service book in the Anglican rite, but I must not get drawn into a theological discourse.
Leaving aside the Bill's wording, which needs much tidying up, the main flaw is the missing of a great opportunity. It will leave Britain as the only major democracy in the English-speaking world with no independent system of oversight of the security and intelligence services. The message of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was, in effect, "Trust me and the Prime Minister. Go on trusting me and the Prime Minister." I mean no disrespect to my right hon. Friends when I say that to trust busy Ministers to give the sort of thorough supervision and oversight of the security services that is needed is the triumph of hope over experience. We have heard before that ministerial supervision has been tightened and improved and will in future ensure that everything in the security services' garden is as efficient, effective and well-cultivated as possible.
I took the trouble today to remind myself of the last ministerial statement on the accountability to Ministers of the security services. It was delivered by the then Home Office Minister, Dr. Shirley Summerskill, on 28 July 1977. She made her statement against a background of unease, which was being expressed, about the efficiency and adequacy of the security services and the control of them. Dr. Summerskill said that it isthe tradition in this country … that the service is accountable to Ministers. Parliament accepts that the accountability must be to Ministers rather than to Parliament, and trusts Ministers to discharge that responsibility faithfully. There are arrangements—reviewed and further improved only last year—for giving effect to this accountability to Ministers. I am authorised to assure the House that on the basis of those arrangements my right hon. Friends are confident that the service concerned is carrying out its duties within the limits laid down in the directive to the Director-General issued by the then Home Secretary in September 1952 and which remains in force.My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary will continue to undertake a close oversight of the work of the Security Service".—[Official Report, 28 July 1977; Vol. 936, c. 1224.]I heard that statement and I could not help feeling that something new was happening and that supervision and oversight of the security services were to be in firm and safe hands.
What happened? Dr. Summerskill's assurances were followed by a series of near-disasters. The Security Commission's report on the Bettaney case revealed a lamentable state of affairs in the management of the security services along with their procedures and accountability. When we consider the handling of the Blunt affair and the comic opera involving Peter Wright and supporting singers such as Chapman Pincher, we must surely come to the view that we need something better than the degree of supervision that can possibly be provided by 155 any ministerial arrangements that involve those who bear the work load and carry the burdens of the modern Cabinet Minister.
Independent oversight is not merely a process for ensuring that security services do not get out of control. In some ways, that is the lesser of two problems because I believe that on the whole the Security Service does honourable, patriotic and effective work for the country. My worries are more concerned with its efficiency and judgment. Is it doing a good job in fighting terrorism? Is it allocating its substantial financial resources correctly between anti-terrorist activities and counter-intelligence? Does it have a good reputation within the country? On all these issues, independent oversight would be a tremendous force for good.
The United States Government have repeatedly shown that that is so. We should examine closely the record of the Senate and House committees and the work carried out by people such as Senator Malcolm Wallop and Senator Goldwater. Time and again, the United States security services were strengthened by independent oversight. Accordingly, I think that we are missing an opportunity. I am not convinced that our secret world is as effective as it could be. I think that outside constructive and patriotic voices would help.
The motto of the great Tory democrat Lord Randolph Churchill was "Trust the people". I am resentful that the Security Service Bill reflects no trust in the people's representatives in Parliament. It will not allow them any share in the future oversight of the security services. The suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that there would be enormous problems if Members, including Privy Councillors, were to go behind the barrier of secrecy does not stand up to serious practical examination. The Falklands committee, which considered all the intelligence details of that time, went behind the barrier. Among its members were distinguished Members of Parliament. There were no damaging leaks, troubles or sinister results. That is as good an example as any to show that parliamentarians—independent men of judgment—could play a much more serious role than that which they are invited to take on by the Bill, which, in effect, slams the door rather rudely on any sort of independent oversight of or involvement by Parliament with the security services.
In one important area I link Europe with the activities of the security services. Under the plans for the single market, which received only a glancing reference in the Gracious Speech, we are subject, among other things, to majority voting on the crucial issue of frontier control. As Britain has to deal more than any other member state with terrorism, the safeguarding of our frontiers is a crucial gut issue of national sovereignty that should be decided by Parliament in accordance with the wishes of a nation state that has daily to deal with the problems of terrorism.
It is an issue which was nobly highlighted by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in her Bruges speech, and I have been worried by the European reaction to the speech. It seems that almost every European leader, including Chancellor Khol and Mr. Rocard of France, has said, in effect, "We do not think much of this. We are on a completely different tack. We are on the tack of European federalism, of a united states of Europe." It seems that the attitude of European leaders is that the little deviations of my right hon. Friend will not matter very much in the great march of European new history towards the future.
§ Mr. Robert G. Hughes
Various interpretations have been placed by some of our European partners on the speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at Bruges. I agree that my right hon. Friend did not speak against the concept of Europe as Conservative Members see it. Perhaps it did not help when, during the Conservative party conference, some delegates interpreted the Bruges speech as aggressive and antagonistic. Does my hon. Friend think that those comments caused others to think in that way?
§ Mr. Aitken
I am not sure to what extent the leaders of Europe read closely the small print of the report of the Conservative party conference, admirable though it is and exciting though the European debate was. My hon. Friend is right in one instance, however. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that there has been a negative reaction throughout the chancelleries of Europe as they used to be called, towards what many of us would regard as an admirable definition of the European ideal, which is a Europe of independent co-operating nation states.
§ Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)
Does my hon. Friend agree that confirmation of the excellence of the Prime Minister's Bruges speech has been given in the deep hostility with which our right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) greeted it?
§ Mr. Aitken
I believe that I have said enough about our right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) recently, but I have sympathy with the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow).
As I sit here, as an ordinary Back Bencher, watching European legislation over which we have no real scrutiny or control cascade into the House, I see parliamentary sovereignty eroding almost weekly. The newly elected hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) is in his place of Parliament. I can understand, at least, why some people in Scotland may now be asking themselves what point there is in United Kingdom nationhood, when we are seeing the powers of the mother of Parliaments—the United Kingdom Parliament—being eroded. No notice is being taken of the Bruges speech, and there is a steady shift in legislative authority to non-elected people in Brussels.
That is a real worry for the security of the union in the future, and I hope that there will still be time to check that drift. After all, we have an unwritten constitution and a system of government which have been in place for almost 900 years, whereas some of the European countries have constitutions which have changed half a dozen times or more this century. I believe that Germany has had five constitutions and the fifth republic of France is only 48 years old, and has had many a hasty predecessor.
I hope that when we look at the Gracious Speech carefully, we shall see in it also a warning by its light touch on Europe that something needs to be done to halt the drift of our parliamentary sovereignty away from the House to Brussels.
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)
The debate is beginning to get to the central question, which is not the details of how we handle the security services or the official secrecy, but the constitutional relationships that are changed by the legislation that is to come before us. I believe that I am expressing an anxiety that goes far beyond the party of 157 which I am a member about the evidence that has come to light regarding the threats to freedom by those who were supposed to defend it. Therefore, I consider that the proposals made by the Government in the Prime Minister's speech from the Throne are far from being evidence of liberation, and offer evidence of tightening up. We should look at that first.
There is no question whatsoever—I am not seeking to blame everybody in the security services—that there have been people working in high positions in MI5 and MI6, who have used the power vested in them under the so-called well-tried mechanisms of the Maxwell Fyfe directive to undermine political democracy in Britain.
Secondly, those people have done so outside any form of ministerial control. My right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) has been Home Secretary, and others in Governments of whom I have been a part have occupied that position, and I cannot believe that they knew what was going on. If they did not know what was going on, the Maxwell Fyfe directive was wholly ineffective in its operation—and I understand it is to be weakened in the new legislation.
Thirdly, when evidence of this behaviour came to light, far from the Government pursuing the law breakers for their law breaking, they pursued the man who described the law breaking for his description of it. A Government who purport to pursue a policy of law and order made no issue of the fact that in Mr. Peter Wright's book—after all, he was a serious and respected member of the intelligence services—he described crimes that were committed, and made no attempt to investigate those crimes or bring him to justice. His only offence was that he wrote about them.
Then, of course, we come up against the justification for their action, and that is where the constitutional areas become most important. Anyone who has read any of the histories on these matters will know that the security services do not feel in any way responsible to the Government of the day. They believe they are responsible to the Crown. They represent the Crown in order to deal with subversion. I shall try to define the Crown and subversion in a moment.
Two new elements have rightly been brought into the debate by the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), which must be put upon the record. First of all, the British security services are supervised completely by the American security services. I know that because I had responsibilities for many years for those areas that were a part of what was called the "special relationship". The Americans control our security services, supervise them, lay down the rules under which they operate, and warn them against people whom they regard as unreliable in Britain, because that is the condition upon which the United States makes nuclear weapons available to us.
The second threat—rather more shadowy but none the less real—is that, within a federal Europe, it is the intention of the Commission that security would be seen as a federal function, in part because the internal frontiers will cease to matter, and the Community will have to tackle what it defines as subversion on a federal basis.
The methods used by the security services must be set out. There is widespread vetting not only of civil servants, but, of course, of those in defence industries. The Clerk of the House and all the officials of the House are vetted by 158 the security services. This was revealed in evidence submitted to the Committee of Privileges of which I am a member. That says a lot for the division between the legislature and the Executive, because the Executive vets the officials of the legislature. The BBC is vetted down to the level of anyone is involved in the preparation of current affairs or news. The research assistants of Members of Parliament are vetted. We know that from my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), who brought the matter to the House.
The security services penetrate other services and actions of our national life. I shall give three examples. Cecil King, who purported to be a newspaper proprietor or a manager, was an agent of MI5, as was Tom Driberg, a former chairman of the Labour party. Lord Rothschild, who, when I worked closely with him, I took to be an industrialist brought in to help our think tank, was actually working for MI5 throughout that period.
Massive telephone interception and the opening of letters occur. Charles II nationalised the Post Office in 1660 because he wanted to see what people were writing to one another. Therefore, the Home Secretary is carrying on a good tradition in trying to intercept postal and telephone services and to legalise it. The Home Secretary is the most appropriate person to be moving the Bill, because when I tried to make a speech in 1976 in a church in his constituency at Burford to celebrate the Levellers, he wrote to the Secretary of State for Education and Science to get the grant for the Workers' Educational Association withdrawn. He is therefore consistent in his opposition to dissent in any century by anybody.
§ Mr. Benn
The right hon. Gentleman, with the sort of naivety that adds to his charm, confesses to the charge that I laid against him, that when he heard I was to speak at a church in Burford about the Levellers, he wrote to the Secretary of State for Education and Science to try to bring pressure to bear so as to withdraw a grant from the WEA that had invited me. He has confirmed my argument, and he is consistent. He does not believe in dissent in any century, including the present one.
The other area in which the security services have operated is in redefining subversion. There is no doubt that the phrase that became popular during the miners' strike of "the enemy within" had been defined much earlier by the security services. The enemy within includes the trade union movement and many members of the Labour party and peace movement. That definition was undoubtedly one of the factors that led to the attempt to destroy Harold Wilson. In my opinion, it was also used, but for different reasons, to remove the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), because the security services thought that he was too weak.
The methods used by the security services include the collection of damaging information and fabricating misinformation—as with the forging of Ted Short's bank account, which was leaked to Chapman Pincher. So much for lifelong confidentiality, when the security services regularly use certain journalists to feed out damaging 159 information to destroy people they do not like. One cannot overlook the fact that Peter Wright confirmed Anthony Nutting's claim that Sir Anthony Eden ordered the assassination of another head of state, President Nasser. Anthony Nutting confirmed on television what Wright had written.
The question one must now ask is, what safeguards will there be under the new Act? Supposing Ted Short, as Lord President, had appealed to discover whether his bank account had been forged, to whom would his appeal have gone? Would it have gone to the Cabinet? No. Would it have gone to the Prime Minister? No. It would have gone to a commissioner appointed for the purpose by a previous Government.
When Bruce Kent's telephone was tapped, what safeguards would have existed then? If he had written to whoever it may have been and asked, "Is my phone being tapped?", the only answer he would have received was not whether his phone was being tapped but whether the security services were abusing their rights—and those rights are covered by warrant and by a commission. The victims do not know what is being done to them, and the perpetrators do not wish to make complaints that might reveal the crimes they are perpetrating. The exceptions are one or two people such as Clive Ponting and Cathy Massiter, who were moved by their consciences, to act.
I turn to the matter of lifelong confidentiality to the Crown, which presumably should have bound Peter Wright. Who is the Crown? Did the Queen tell Peter Wright to try to destroy the Prime Minister? Obviously not. Did the Prime Minister tell Peter Wright to destroy himself? Obviously not. Did the Home Secretary tell Peter Wright to try to destroy the Government? Obviously not. The Crown is the code name we use for those central areas of Government in defence, intelligence and international relations—a state within the state—that the Government, and, I regret to say, previous Governments, did not wish to be subject to parliamentary scrutiny or discussion. The Crown is a term used to cover a concrete emplacement surrounded by barbed wire that the Home Secretary thinks needs fresh protection. It is not that he intends it to be subject to public scrutiny.
I asked the Home Secretary whether Ministers, who, after all, are Crown servants, will be covered by the new rules. It will be difficult to bind the Prime Minister to lifelong confidentiality as Bernard Ingham, on her instruction, breaches it at 11 o'clock every morning for the benefit of selected lobby correspondents who never make clear what has gone on. Are we really saying that anyone who is elected to Parliament, who becomes a Minister and discovers things he believes that it is in the public interest should be made known, will be bound to confidentiality for life? Or will anybody else? I have cited Ministers as they are uniquely accountable to those who elect them.
The reality is that there is nothing different about security. In its proper sense, security is part of the country's defence forces, and no one denies that the country needs defence forces. But contrast the way security is treated with the other parts of the defence forces. Every year Parliament debates defence policy, but it never debates security policy—I am not talking about security operations. Parliament never discusses the definition of a subversive person—which is currently based on a phrase written years ago by a civil servant for Lord Harris in the House of Lords. We have never discussed whether as a 160 Parliament we believe that being a member of CND makes a person subversive. That was decided by the Ministry of Defence, which told Cathy Massiter to bug Bruce Kent.
Parliament debates defence policy and votes a budget for the country's defence establishment. It does not know the budget of the security establishment. Parliament knows the Chiefs of the Defence Staff and can ask parliamentary questions about defence matters. The issue is only confused by those who say that we cannot be told about individual security operations. Of course nobody wants to know a rumour that a bomber is coming to London. We do not want a parliamentary question that leads to the Minister responsible replying, "We think that a bomber is staying at a Bayswater hotel." That is not the point at issue. The question is whether a state within the state, employing people with no feeling of responsibility to the Government elected by the people of this country, can continue as it is.
The Government wish to conceal information because that suits their book. I dare say that all Governments will want to conceal information—[Interruption.] It is not my purpose to make a party point. I hope that hon. Members will give me some credit. I am trying to raise a matter that is of equal concern in all parts of the House and to every elector. It would not alter matters very much if my right hon. and hon. Friends were occupying the Government Benches and those of hon. Gentlemen were seated on the Opposition Benches. I am clear about that. If hon. Gentlemen will look at the record, they will find that, as a Cabinet Minister, I raised the same questions on the Labour party's national executive and submitted a memorandum that warned of the dangers. That was 10 years ago.
When one considers that the Government sent in the police to remove the Zircon film, and the prosecutions of Tisdall and Ponting, one realises that the real conflict concerns both sides of the House and those who elect us. We have heard much about the oxygen of publicity for Sinn Fein. Democracy lives by the oxygen of information. If one cuts off the oxygen of information and releases instead the poisonous gas of secrecy, misinformation and news management, one destroys the basis on which this House safeguards our people. The House of Commons is the real guarantor of the liberties of the people, not those individuals in little offices who have their own ideas about who is subversive and who engage in bugging, blackmailing and in destroying the reputations of those whom they do not like.
Democracy's second safeguard is conscience. There is no substitute in law, administrative action or court ruling for the person, be they man or woman, who says, "What is being done is wrong and I shall speak my mind and take the consequences." If one removes the safeguard of conscience from people who, in the course of their work, may come across something they feel it would be in the public interest to divulge—whether one gaols them, punishes them, or makes them into public villains—they would only be doing what we told the Germans at the Nuremberg trials they should have done, which was to disregard unjust orders—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Of course that is what the Nuremberg trials were all about.
Parliament must protect these principles. In many ways I share the view of the hon. Member for Thanet, South. Next week I shall have been here 38 years. I have never known a House of Commons that has been so craven in surrendering one of its rights after another—surrendering 161 powers to the EEC, accepting 120 foreign bases, and now, in the name of security, handing over even greater powers to the Executive. If we do not stand up here and now it will be too late—
§ Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
These six days when we consider the Government's programme are a proper time in which to consider the direction in which we are headed. I do not wish to take up matters that are far above me and have to do with what is right, whether Wright was right or wrong, and so on. I want to bring the debate on home affairs down to a much more genuinely homely level.
Although the issues that have been mentioned by many of my peers are of great importance, most important of all are the policies that affect the great majority of people in the country, and especially those that affect low achievers and the unfortunate. It is not that the Government do not want to help people who need help most, but individual private hells can frequently be built out of the Government's best intentions. Many of the policies advanced as being for the good of the people confront enormous stumbling blocks.
In 1901, there were only 50,000 people over the age of 80 in this country; now, there are more than 680,000. By the year 2000 there will be almost 1 million people over 80. At present, 2.4 people have to earn the retirement benefits that we pay to each retired person. Within the life of two Parliaments that figure will drop to 1.8 people per retired person. If I am spared, by the time I reach 70 only about 1.4 people will have to earn each retired person's benefits.
Whether or not the Chancellor of the Exchequer was quoted correctly recently, we must consider the future of the benefits that we give people. If targeting is to be useful we must recognise that it is better to give one genuinely needy person a square meal than to give many others a biscuit. Some people do not need help. I hope that my mother and mother-in-law will forgive me for saying that they do not need help, yet they can get almost as much help as people in genuine need.
If the Government's intentions are good, as I believe they are—if I did not, I would not be a member of this party, and proud to be so—we must ask how and whether targeting is going to work. It is obvious that it is not working now.
I want to tell the House about two cases that came to my notice in last Friday's advice bureau. The first concerns a man in a Cheshire home who is dying of multiple sclerosis. His wife has five children and was told that under the new system she will receive £58 a week with which to look after them, instead of £89. That is £31 a week less. The DSS advised her that it could give her a lot more money if only she would obtain a legal separation from her husband. That was not the Government's intention, I am sure, but it shows that the system is not targeted aright.
162 The second case was that of a low achiever—I hope that he will forgive me for calling him that—who looks after his mother, who suffers from epilepsy and arthritis. Under the new system he gets £21 a week instead of £57. It will take six months for an appeal to be heard. I do not believe that that was the Government's intention, either, but whatever caused it cannot be right.
I was one of those who praised the old DHSS for saving about £500 million by catching twisters. Twisters are leeches on society, whether they come from the City or twist benefits which should belong to others. I agree that there need to be changes if we are to target money properly; and I shall suggest three things that need to be done.
We should not do the least that we can and shovel these matters under the carpet. Luckily for some of us, society is composed of people who achieve and are fortunate, but it also consists of low achievers and of those who live in the grey, depressing valley of misfortune. We must make up our minds whether we want to help such people because we must or because we think that we should.
What the Government have done best has been to make this a more successful and high achieving society; the question now is what to do with the achievements. All hon. Members who represent city constituencies know of many people who could obtain benefits if they could afford to take solicitors or accountants with them to the DSS. But if they could afford them, they would not need the DSS.
As I have said, the Government need to do three important things. With the £500 million that we have rightly saved from the twisters, we should increase the staff of the DSS who deal with attendance allowances, community care, housing benefits and family credit. The problem is that in Birmingham, for example, only 8 per cent. of the community care budget has been taken up. That is not what the Government intended. As I have said already, good intentions are not enough. It is what we do that matters.
Secondly, as a caring people, we should give more funding to the citizens advice bureaux. Anybody who knows them, as I do in my city, realises that they do a tremendous amount of voluntary work in helping people to claim benefits that are their right and in helping them with their problems.
Thirdly, if we have advertising campaigns about AIDS or to recruit people to various organisations, would it not be right to have a genuine, forthright and helpful advertising campaign so that people know not what they can abuse, but what they can rightly claim to help them with their problems? We should not be pleased that benefits are costing us a few hundred million pounds less, if that has come about not because we have stopped people twisting the system—which we are right to do—but because people do not receive the benefits that are their right.
In the main, we are a prosperous and successful society and it is true that the majority of pensioners are well off. However, if it were true that 90 or 95 per cent. of our people were well off, the army of people who were not well off would be bigger than the army that fought the second world war. As a prosperous and caring society, it is our duty to ensure that the Government and the people want to help those who are unfortunate and who are in need, but who are not getting benefits. If we do not do that, we shall not have the right to call ourselves a civilised society.
163 That is why I want the Government to adopt my three proposals: more staff in benefit offices to ensure that people receive what they should, more funding for citizens advice bureaux, which do so much on a voluntary basis, and an advertising campaign to ensure that people know what they should receive, not as charity but as a right. It is our duty to ensure that they receive those rights and benefits.
§ Mr. James Sillars (Glasgow, Govan)
My first duty in making my first speech in this Parliament is to express my deep appreciation to the people of Glasgow, Govan, not so much for sending me here—that is a mixed blessing—but for putting Scotland back on the political agenda. That is germane to some of the points made this afternoon. I have no doubt that the Special Branch is now reactivating its files on the Scottish question and that section F of MI5 will have to dust down one or two files as well. I look forward to the Committee stage of the Bill concerning official secrets and to seeing how the Home Secretary defines political neutrality and how he defines people who are a danger to the institutions of the British state. I suspect that he will place us in both categories.
My second duty—and a welcome one—is to pay a genuine tribute to my predecessor, Bruce Millan. When I was in the Labour party with him, he was on the Right wing and I was on the Left wing and there were a number of occasions when we did not agree on policy and other matters. However, I have always had enormous respect for his abilities. When he was Minister of State under Willie Ross, he was probably the best Minister of State at the Scottish Office that we have ever had. He was greatly respected by civil servants, not because he was a Minister who was easily manipulated, but because he was a Minister in total charge of his Department. He was perfectly capable of conceiving and executing policy.
When he was Secretary of State for Scotland—I do not want to do him any disfavour—he was not the greatest Secretary of State that Scotland has had. That was probably Tom Johnston. However, Bruce Millan was an excellent innovator and executor of policy. It was pure accident that on the day on which I heard he had been appointed a Commissioner in Brussels I wrote him a personal letter to say how delighted I was, without any indication that I would be a candidate in Govan. Bruce Millan's talent and ability will be brought to bear on the Commission for the benefit not only of the people of Scotland, but of the people of Europe. I am glad to have the opportunity to pay him a personal tribute.
I shall now talk about my constituency. If one reads some of the English newspapers, one may have a total misconception about the make-up of the constituency. It is a diverse constituency and contains a good cross-section of the west of Scotland community. However, despite its diversity, it has common anxieties, the major one of which is about youth unemployment. The next anxiety is about the association of drug abuse with youth unemployment.
I must tell the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland that some of my constituents find it almost impossible to understand the obsession with tapping the telephones of trade unionists who are going about their ordinary business, whereas the drug barons 164 can get away with a great deal. They wonder why the drug barons' telephones are not being tapped to the same extent as trade unionists' telephones.
There is also continuing anxiety among all my constituents about the Southern General hospital and particularly about the nurses there. I shall not devote the whole of my speech to that, but I can assure the Secretary of State for Scotland that all Opposition Members are disturbed by newspaper reports this morning that a macho attitude is being adopted by the board and management of the Greater Glasgow health board to those nurses who are correctly protesting about grading. I have never found morale in a caring service as low as that at the Southern General hospital since the firemen went on strike in the late 1970s. The Secretary of State should tell the Greater Glasgow health board that the management needs a great deal of sensitivity to understand the pain and humiliation felt by the nurses over the grading exercise.
I have said that my constituency has common anxieties and that, although it is diverse, it has a common characteristic. Each area of my constituency has a great sense of community and has produced very capable leadership at community level. That characteristic of community concern and care was one of the signal factors in the total rejection and humiliation of Thatcherite policies, which the Tory candidate put forward clearly during the by-election campaign.
When I listened to the Prime Minister yesterday, it became clear that she was totally divorced from reality. One of my constituents described her as being drunk with power. The Prime Minister commands the Cabinet, the Tory party and, unfortunately, the Leader of the Opposition, on frequent occasions. She is not superhuman, but the opposition to her has been so poor that she appears to be a great deal more capable than she is. I shall quote from her speech yesterday—[Interruption.] I have found the quotation without goading or help from hon. Members. The Prime Minister said:The Gracious Speech makes clear the Government's determination to hold to firm and successful economic policies. We shall continue to bear down on inflation, to keep firm control of public spending and to promote enterprise. Those are the policies that have brought a period of unparalleled prosperity to the British people—prosperity that has been shared by all income groups."—[Official Report, 22 November 1988; Vol. 142, c. 21.]That is the Prime Minister's view of various parts of the United Kingdom. The reality is different in Scotland, and I am sure that it is different in other parts of the United Kingdom as well.
I am indebted to the Labour party for having produced, during the by-election campaign, a document entitled "The State of the Nation" which measures exactly what has happened to our country since the Prime Minister came to power in 1979. According to that document, homelessness has doubled. Annual house building has decreased from 9,000 new starts to 4,000. National Health Service beds have been cut by 3,000. Unemployment is up by 85 per cent., and one third of manufacturing jobs have been lost. In addition, 18,000 teenagers have lost income support because of social security cuts, and the number of Scots whose supply has been cut off by British Gas because they were unable to pay their bill has increased by 20 per cent. That is Scotland under the rule of the Thatcher Government—a long way from the right hon. Lady's claim that all people have enjoyed additional prosperity under her Government.
165 About a third of the Scottish population is living in poverty. The cost of Thatcherism in human terms has been deep pain to thousands—indeed millions—of families in Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom. Lives have been blighted by the operation of Thatcherism. Young people have been denied hope. One of the sad features of the weeks leading up to the by-election was the withdrawal by the Leader of the Opposition of the accusation that the Government had cheated on YTS. He should have continued to argue that case against the Prime Minister, and I shall tell the House why.
Four thousand young people in Glasgow have been cheated. They were promised that they would get job opportunities, but instead they have been made penniless. In the middle of the by-election campaign, we heard statements from the social work department. [Interruption.] I hope that the Tories are proud of the effect of their policies. The social work department, which is not given to extreme statements, explained that girls would be driven on to the streets and into prostitution, and young men into theft—the only way in which to put money in their pockets. Those young people have been cheated. Those are the fruits of Thatcherism in my country, and that is why the Tories were so completely humiliated in the election.
To Scotland, Thatcherism is an alien set of concepts and values. It is a philosophy driven by greed and self-interest, and it is a great tragedy for the people of England that it seems to have taken such root in the south-east, where so much of the political power now lies. I hope—it is a genuine hope—that the Labour party in England will reassess the attitudes that it has adopted in the past four or five years and understand that it has no hope of gaining Tory votes in the south-east of England by advocating a watered down form of Toryism. If Socialism is to advance, in the south-east of England and elsewhere, it must be by the moral conversion of people to its principles. That is the only hope for the Labour party.
Scotland rejects the values of Thatcherism because our country has a philosophy of egalitarianism. Unlike the Prime Minister, we also believe in the community. We believe that people have a responsibility to the community but also that the community has a responsibility to people. That is perhaps best summed up in the words of Robert Burns:
- "Then gently scan your brother man,
- Still gentler sister woman;
- Tho' they may gang a Kennin wrang,
- To step aside is human."
§ Mr. Sillars
It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman should say that. There is the implied arrogant assumption in his remark that only in his language can ideas be expressed eloquently. I have heard such quasi-racist statements from the Conservative Benches during broadcasts of Scottish Question Time.
§ Mr. Sillars
My hon. Friend says that that is stupid, but I think that it goes deeper than that, when hon. Members tell us to speak English rather than speak in the tongue of 166 a man known internationally—a man who wrote "Auld Lang Syne," a hymn that is sung everywhere. Every Scot will feel the implied insult in the hon. Gentleman's remark.
We Scots are in this place only temporarily. Given that we have an entirely different set of values from those of the Prime Minister and her acolytes—a superior set of values—[Interruption.] It is quite easily proven. There is no way that the Scottish community would ever sit back and let young people be treated as they are at present in YTS and outside it. The Scottish people would never allow their education system to be attacked and broken up as the Government intend. Our values are better than the values of the Prime Minister, and the proof is that we have a much better society than the society that she has managed to create down here.
How should we combat Thatcherism in the immediate future? We cannot sit back and wait to see what happens in the next four years. Since the day and hour of the Govan by-election result, there has been no crowing by members of the Scottish National party. We have sought to rub no salt in any wounds because we believe that there should be a united opposition to specific parts of the Government's programme during this Session and this Parliament. I would highlight the opting-out legislation in that respect. Nothing divides us on that subject. The 62 Scottish Opposition Members unanimously defend the Scottish education system and oppose that legislation. The people of Scotland are perfectly entitled to expect us to co-operate and to use the rules of this institution to prevent it.
Let me deal with the longer term. First, I place on record my party's position on Scottish independence in the European Community. The self-styled governor-general of Scotland—Governor-General Rifkind—told us in a frenetic speech at a Tory party seminar the other day that Scotland is much more influential and politically powerful with the United Kingdom representing its interests in the Community. I do not think that he can tell that to the folk of the highlands and islands who are trying to extricate themselves from a situation that he should never have allowed to arise.
There is a fundamental difference between what Scotland is and what Scotland would be if it were independent within the Community. The Secretary of State for Scotland is a placeman. He has no power base in the Tory party in Scotland and he does not command his position from his own power base. Unlike the Home Secretary and one or two other folk in the Cabinet, the Secretary of State for Scotland does not represent a power base inside the Tory party that even the Prime Minister cannot overlook. He is a placeman and he has no power of veto. He can resign only if he does not like certain policies, only to be replaced by the Under-Secretary of State—the chap sitting next to him—who would be much more congenial company for the Prime Minister.
Just before the by-election, the Secretary of State was boasting that Scotland was well represented in the Community. There have been 26 summit meetings in the European Community since Thatcher came to power and the Secretary of State for Scotland has never even managed to get on the aeroplane, let alone got into the door.
If Scotland were an independent member of the European Community, its power and influence would be entirely different. It would take its turn, as do all member states, as president of the European Community. It would set the agenda. That is not an uninfluential role. It would 167 represent the Community in its dealings with the international community. There will be many developments after 1992 and the creation of the single market. Further amendments will be required to the treaty and they will have to be ratified unanimously.
The Single European Act does not remove the veto over national interests. Instead of the Secretary of State for Scotland lobbying inside the Cabinet, with no power base and no sanction, Scotland would have a Government with the sanction of the veto. Parliamentary representation would be doubled. Instead of Bruce Millan having a term of only four years—it is a happy accident that a Scot is now a Commissioner—there would be a permanent Scottish Commissioner whose influence on many policies would be permanent.
It should interest the right hon. and learned Gentleman, because he is a Scottish lawyer, that there is great concern about the future of Scottish law; we have struggled hard to prevent it from being anglicised and taken over piece by piece. Scottish law would benefit enormously if Scotland had a permament place in the European Court of Justice. Independence would also benefit Scotland at home, as well as in Europe.
§ Mr. Maclennan
I hope that the hon. Gentleman has not overlooked the pivotal role of Lord Stuart—a Scottish judge who has presided over the European Court of Justice for some time.
§ Mr. Sillars
Yes, I know that, but the hon. Gentleman has strengthened my case, because Lord Stuart is no longer a Member of the European Court of Justice. If Scotland were an independent state within the European Community, there would be a permanent Scottish legal representative sitting as a judge in the European Court of Justice. It would not happen—as with Bruce Millan—once every three or four times.
We should have as much power over our domestic affairs as this Government have over us now. A Scottish Government within the European Community would exercise full control at home. There would be no return to private landlords. No old folks would go cold. No young folk would be cheated on YTS. There would be no privatisation of electricity and the other utilities. There would be no privatisation of the National Health Service. There would be no student loans, and there would be no attack on Scottish education institutions and Scottish universities. In a Scotland that was independent within Europe we should shape our own lives and our social and economic policies at home. We should also safeguard our interests in the wider European forum,
§ Mr. Sillars
After Govan, the debate has started for real in Scotland. After what happened in 1979, many people thought that Scottish nationalism had reached its peak. It took a long time for the Scottish people to recover from the effects of 1979, but Govan has put that issue clearly back on the agenda. We believe that there is an unassailable case for Scottish independence in Europe
§ Mr. Home Robertson
I accept everything that the hon. Gentleman has said about the constitutional crisis that is being provoked by the Secretary of State for Scotland, but does he seriously believe that the majority of the people of Scotland or even of Govan really want independence and to break away from our partners south of the border?
§ Mr. Sillars
The hon. Gentleman will have to update his vocabulary. This is not 1977 or 1978; this is 1988. We are referring to Scotland within the European dimension. All the emotive old phrases about a break-up and a rupture do not arise. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) is the last person to refer to what happened in the past. He was converted to devolution when it suited him.
The European dimension does away with the old arguments about break-up and separation. We are referring to a redefinition of partnership, and that is entirely different. Under the Single European Act, there will be no borders in 1992. Trading relations will continue and the process of integration will accelerate. Within the European Community, Scotland would be elevated from a province of Thatcher's England to a full member state of the European Community.
§ Mr. Sillars
Yes, of course I give way to Scottish Members.
There is a fundamental difference between the Scottish National party—and the other non-Unionist parties, I was going to say, but that is not correct because the Labour party is still a Unionist party. The big difference between the Labour party, the Democrats and our party is that they keep telling the Scottish people what they cannot do. We keep telling the Scottish people what they can do.
I end by quoting from Professor Smout's book, "A Century of the Scottish People." He says:by the exercise of political will, the people hold their own future in their own hands, and in the last analysis, no one can be blamed for our predicament but ourselves.We can be blamed for our predicament immediately after 1979. We did not do it last time. The Scottish people will do it next time.
§ Mr. Barry Porter
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) to say that he will give way only to Scottish Members, or is it right and proper that he should at least consider giving way to hon. Members from the United Kingdom in general? It seems to me that it is quite wrong for the hon. Gentleman to make distinctions of that nature.
§ Mr. Speaker
It is a matter for the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars). The hon. Member for 169 Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) has been a Member of this House for a long time. He knows that the hon. Member who is on his feet gives way to whomsoever he wishes.
§ Dr. Ian Twinn (Edmonton)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) on his political re-entry into the House of Commons. It was not perhaps the softest of political re-entries, but no doubt the impact of his landing will be felt on the Benches on both sides of the House, as will the impact of his future speeches. He returned here with a reputation and he has not disappointed the House. All of us, whatever he has to offer us in the future, will listen with interest to him and to the style in which he says it.
I intend to refer to the part of the Gracious Speech that deals with the Government's intention vigorously topursue their policies for reducing crime".All of us are concerned about crime. No matter who we are, our families, friends, homes and property are all at risk from crime. The blip in the 30-year rise in the crime statistics is welcome. I am sure that every hon. Member wants in his heart to be generous and to say that that is good news, but there is no room for complacency.
The Government are to be congratulated on their attack on crime and on their campaigns to bring home the need for us to tackle crime individually as well as a society. That is welcome. They have introduced tougher sentences for crimes that demand tough sentences and implemented a realistic sentencing policy which enables criminals to be punished in the community, allowing them to repay their debt to society and to those whom they have attacked or offended. Such schemes have struggled forward in my constituency and elsewhere and they are to be welcomed.
As many publications issued by the Home Office state, much crime is committed because there are easy opportunities to commit it. It is neither professional nor carefully planned. There are many ways in which individuals can reduce crime. At the simplest level, advice in the pamphlet "Practical ways to crack crime" reminds us that we should lock doors and windows and avoid obviously dangerous places. Sound advice is given through neighbourhood watch schemes, of which there are several successful examples in my constituency. I live in such an area. The people involved are grateful for the support that the Government have given to help them protect themselves rather than always look to others to do it for them.
I am pleased that you are in the Chair, Mr. Speaker. We noted the encouragement that you gave recently to younger citizens to take citizenship responsibly. Neighbourhood watch schemes and others such as those with which you have been associated will play a fundamental part in reawakening people to what they can do to help themselves.
In their campaigns, the Government have rightly said that much can be done to reduce crime. I should like to concentrate on improved lighting, which helps to reduce crime. It also reduces fear of crime significantly. The Home Office pamphlet, "Cracking down on Crime" depicts a built-up area with no street lights. I hope that that is just a drafting error. There is much that we can do to improve lighting at relatively little cost. I am not asking for a major 170 public spending programme; I am sure that I would be criticised if I did. Small amounts of money well targeted can make all environments safer places.
I am joint chairman of the all-party parliamentary lighting group—a role I share happily with the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), who I am pleased to see in his place. The group takes an interest in the British lighting industry, although not only because we happen to represent areas where lighting manufacturers are to be found. Nevertheless, we have strong constituency interests in that respect and I am pleased to say that the light-manufacturing industry is a healthy part of the British economy.
The group is also interested in what can be done with the industry's products. We have conducted campaigns which are intended to improve the standards of living. We noted poor motorway lighting. Our campaign was well received and is partly responsible for the improved quality and quantity of motorway lighting. We also have views about the poor response of some Government Departments to our campaign urging an improvement in lighting efficiency. Perhaps I can trespass into the Home Department in that respect.
Perhaps it is not surprising that, as joint chairman of the all-party lighting group, I managed to get members of the lighting industry and my local authority of Enfield together to fund an experiment to discover whether better lighting reduces crime. Thorn-EMI was happy to co-operate with an experiment conducted by the Middlesex polytechnic centre for criminology and police studies in my constituency. It seemed to us that better lighting would reduce crime, but one cannot rely on a bright idea—it has to be tested. The results were encouraging. We found an 80 per cent. reduction in the incidence and fear of violent street crime.
In a survey conducted during the six weeks before we improved lighting conditions, we found a high level of physical attacks on my constituents and a high level of fear of attack. The figures were much higher than those recorded by the local police. Fear is not often reported. The same is true of verbal abuse and of threatening behaviour, and some personal attacks are not reported.
We found that one in 10 of my constituents had been victims of robbery or attack in the 12 months before the survey and that one in five had been verbally abused or threatened. It will not surprise the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) that nine out of 10 women feared assault at night and that 50 per cent. of them were frightened of—and avoided—going out in the dark because of the poor conditions.
After we had improved the brightness of lighting by a minimum of 500 per cent., four out of five respondents said that their fear had been reduced. In the six weeks following the change, there were no attacks and only two auto crimes, compared with 12 in the previously surveyed period. Moreover, there was only one robbery whereas there had been five previously.
It was gratifying to get the response that we hoped for. Some 83 per cent. of the women interviewed volunteered the information that they had noticed an improvement in lighting. It is interesting that 62 per cent. of men noticed an improvement. Not many men admit to being afraid, but I suspect that many of us are apprehensive when we go down dark alleyways. Some 62 per cent. of respondents reported feeling safer and more than 80 per cent. of them said that that was the result of better lighting. Those were 171 the findings of a fairly good scientific survey, although the sample was small. I have reasonable confidence in the results.
Anecdotal evidence is not enough, but I went to a shop in Lambeth the day after I appeared on the BBC "Today" programme talking about the experiment.
§ Dr. Twinn
It cheered up the owner of the shop as well. His street had been free of crime, but the night before the programme the street lights failed. One woman was physically attacked and a shop window was smashed by vandals. Even improved lighting might fail sometimes—although I hope not if it is produced by Thorn-EMI in my constituency or perhaps by Philips in Hamilton—but that shows what can happen when lighting fails.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) and to Steve Norris, our former hon. Friend, who has been heading Crime Concern, on the good work that he has been doing. They have listened very carefully and, I hope sympathetically, to the results of our survey which are good news for fighting crime. The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier) has also been kind enough to endorse the advice of our all-party parliamentary group to local authorities encouraging them to install better lighting.
I have no doubts about the validity of the results. In statistical terms there is only a 2 per cent. chance that they could have occurred by random chance had we not improved the lighting. Therefore, it is right for us to ask the Government to adopt the results and promote better lighting to tackle crime. However, if the Government feel that wider surveys are necessary, I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will find on his desk soon—if he has not already—a fairly weighty document, which sets out a detailed survey which could be conducted to test our findings further in wider areas of the country.
Hon. Members might like to know that the expense of the Edmonton experiment was borne by the local council. Although the council never ceases to tell me almost weekly in its letters to me how hard pressed it is for cash, and that despite being a Conservative authority it has been frightened of being rate-capped, it found the money because the amount was not particularly high. It had to find £1,617 from its budget to provide that security in an undoubted blackspot in my constituency. I suspect that it will be able to recoup some of that money in revenue costs from the greater efficiency of the new lighting.
§ Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)
I give my partisan support to the hon. Member for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn) who is making a formidable case in the presence of the Minister, which I hope will have a sizeable effect on his next well-publicised campaign. Will he also emphasise to the Minister the cost-effective benefits that are involved? Value for money is one of the Government's catchphrases. If local authorities invest in new, better, high technology lighting, it will not cost them more, but, as the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, will save them money even in the short term. One would expect that that would appeal 172 to someone as wet around the edges as the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) who is never slow to pick up a good issue when he sees it. This is one of the best issues around.
§ Dr. Twinn
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his prompting, although I wonder whether he has not gone slightly over the top.
The results of the survey demonstrate cost-effectiveness, not simply in the recouping of electricity costs. With better lighting, vandalism and damage to council property is reduced and police time is saved. I am not sure that one can put a cost on the reduction of fear in society, particularly among women who are afraid of going out. If we improve the lighting, more people will go out in the evenings and that in itself will act as a deterrent against physical attacks because there will be more people around. People will feel safer and happier and if attacks do take place there will be more witnesses so that those who are guilty, who are often known in the community, can be reprehended and taken to court.
I recommend the results of our survey to all hon. Members, whether their constituencies are in rural areas, county towns or inner cities. The problems exist everywhere and our findings bear that out. I hope that the Government will endorse our findings, vigorously pursue policies to reduce crime and improve lighting which is one of the most vigorous and cost-effective ways in which that can be done.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
The two previous speeches have reversed the normal order of things. The speech of the hon. Member for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn) was perhaps one of the most uncontroversial in this debate and that of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars), which in some respects can be regarded as a maiden speech, was one of the more controversial speeches. The hon. Member for Edmonton was giving voice to the dictum fiat lux. That would be a suitable motto for the House of Commons. The hon. Member for Govan almost overlooked the fact that he was making a kind of maiden speech, because his speech was more a call to arms or a return to the scene of battle. I dare say that we all look forward to hearing from him again on many occasions, doubtless repeating the same themes.
At the beginning of this 10th year of consecutive Conservative Administrations, the Gracious Speech provides the House with the opportunity to take stock and review what in the United States of America might be called the state of the Union. There are times when the metropolitan preoccupations of Ministers seem astonishingly out of touch with the pressures of resentment and hostility that are building up in the nations and regions of the United Kingdom.
It is an appropriate debate to say clearly to the Government that the state of the Union is most unhealthy. The people of Northern Ireland are being governed virtually by edict. There is deterioration in the security situation in Northern Ireland. The rules of law that we have cherished in Parliament are giving place to abnormal measures. The Gracious Speech contains provisions dealing with the prevention of terrorism, putting on hold provisions which we would have wished to regard as highly abnormal in a civilised democracy which is attached to the rule of law. 173 The people of Scotland are greatly discontented. The Secretary of State for Scotland behaves rather like a satrap in the later stages of the Turkish empire, more anxious to please the sultan than to recognise and remedy the discontents around him.
The Gracious Speech and the manner in which it was introduced by the Prime Minister give little hint of those discontents. Many, if not most, of the commentators on the legislative programme have observed the assertive ascendency of the Government in proposing further privatisation of the public utilities, water and electricity. They rightly see those measures as a statement of the Government's continuing ideological commitment and having little to do with the environment or consumer choice. We Democrats view the expansion of choice as a social and economic imperative, but we view with complete scepticism and incredulity the assertion that choice will flow from the privatisation measures.
However, as well as the economic triumphalism of the Government, there is discernible in the legislative programme another theme on which the Opposition have chosen to focus. It is the strengthening of central Government power at the expense of individual and community freedoms. That is not new under this Government nor is it dramatic, but the continuing drip of legislation is corroding democracy.
The new programme, like others before it, further curtails local government discretion over expenditure. In this case it affects especially the revenues from rates and rents. The programme moves towards the permanent establishment of abnormal Executive powers to deal with terrorism. It proposes placing a restriction on public admission to football matches and proposes to gag those connected with the intelligence and security services. The programme seeks to insulate the Security Service from parliamentary supervision. In Scotland, the Government propose legislation to transfer the financing of schools from local authorities to central Government and propose a system of education aping that which has already been introduced in England and for which there is plainly no demand in Scotland.
In addition to those legislative measures, the Home Secretary has announced that he intends to press ahead with proposals for England and Wales that will shift the burden of proof in criminal prosecutions from the prosecution to the accused. That will be done by allowing adverse comments on the exercise of the right to silence. That measure, coupled with the introduction of television censorship and a strategy of dismantling public service broadcasting, suggests that the Home Secretary is a willing accomplice in this erosion of democracy and is at heart a patrician autocrat.
As the Government proffer their explanations for these several measures, it becomes clear that in carrying out their utilitarian balancing act of arguments to justify them, Ministers have lost sight of the fragility of freedom. The jurist Ronald Dworkin well expressed what was happening in this country. In an article in The Independent on 8 September, he said:
the value of liberty cannot be measured piece-meal in iotas of information sacrificed or imagination stifled or creativity impaired. When liberty is judged that way, measuring the costs of its compromise case-by-case against some gain in administrative or military or diplomatic efficiency or popular 174 approval, it must always lose. For liberty, measured in that way against the immediate aims of ordinary politics, will always seem speculative and marginal; it will always seem academic, abstract and dispensable.Not only the fractured parliamentary Opposition is concerned about the trend illustrated by this catalogue of Government legislation proposed in the Gracious Speech. The Daily Telegraph, normally a powerful supporter of the Government, said in a leader of 27 October that there was real concern about the ban on the broadcast of interviews with Sinn Fein. The same leader also criticised the Government'slack of respect for the very concept of local democracy".It suggested that a Government entering their 10th year of power have a substantial duty to display a proper humility and to remember that the use and abuse to which future Governments might put these measures are not within the present Government's control.
The Home Office measures that have been the focus of the debate are the one that seeks to establish a statutory basis for the Security Service and that which provides for the long overdue removal of section 2 of the Official Secrets Act. They will require to be scrutinised in much more detail than is appropriate in the debate on the Loyal Address. I regret that the Home Secretary chose to treat the debate almost as though it were a Second Reading and devoted most of his speech to an exposition of the modest little measure on the Security Service. It is a modest measure and to make as much of it as he did was to illustrate the insensitivity to the issues of freedom that is all too characteristic of the Government.
The benefits that may be thought to flow from placing the Security Service after all these years on a statutory basis seem to be exiguous. The move may be welcome, but it does not seem likely to open security policy to scrutiny. That is because the proposed arrangements are for the establishment of a commissioner and a procedure for ministerial oversight. The commissioner will be answerable to the Home Secretary alone and, as far as one can make out from the Prime Minister's response to a question yesterday from the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) the intention is that accountability to Parliament will be exercised in future as it has been exercised in the past, without any disclosure of official Government thinking on security matters.
Of greater significance than that measure are the provisions proposed for the replacement of section 2 of the Official Secrets Act. Those provisions will certainly merit the most careful scrutiny, I hope on the Floor of the House. Clearly, the proposed legislation is a backward step for the security services and for the people who work or have worked in them. It is an extraordinary response to the "Spycatcher" episode that the Government have thought it right to introduce such a Bill. It is welcome in so far as it is designed to increase the flow of information or at least to remove the criminal penalty for revealing information. However, it is extraordinary that a measure that seeks to remove the traditional whistle-blowing right of the public fails to take into account the experience of other countries.
The provisions will not stop the Peter Wrights from publishing abroad. That can be achieved only by entering negotiations with other countries along the lines suggested by the House of Lords in the "Spycatcher" appeal. I hope that the Government can reassure us that such discussions 175 are taking place, because, clearly, the publication of revelatory stories is very much against the national interest.
The Government and the Home Secretary would be more likely to achieve their purposes if they looked with favour on the United States example. In the United States, people in the security services are required to enter contractual arrangements with the Government. They are in a contractual relationship of trust that protects both the Government and the agents from unwarranted risks. How this works was demonstrated by the United States Supreme Court in 1980, in the case of Snepp v. United States. In seeking to return the profits of the publication of a book by a former CIA director to the nation, the Supreme Court held that a constructive trust would protect the Government and the agent. The Supreme Court said:If the agent secures prepublication clearance, he can publish with no fear of liability. If the agent publishes unreviewed material in violation of his fiduciary and contractual obligation, the trust remedy simply requires him to disgorge the benefits of his faithlessness. Since the remedy is swift and sure, it is tailored to deter those who would place sensitive information at risk. And since the remedy reaches only funds attributable to the breach, it cannot saddle the former agent with exemplary damages out of all proportion to his gain.The essence of that remedy is not just that there is a breach of trust and of contract but that there is a provision for Congressional supervision of the security services which is an integral part of the process of protecting the nation's secrets.
The Government's unwillingness to allow the establishment of a Select Committee, a committee of senior Privy Councillors or any form of parliamentary oversight of the security services is a mistake which will not assist the effective protection of the secrets that must be preserved. It flows from the Government's mistaken conception that their job is principally to protect information rather than to ensure that information is made freely available, save in closely defined circumstances. A democracy thrives on information being made available to enable the elected representatives to participate in debate in a truly informed way. It is regrettable that the Government are not promoting a freedom of information Act but seeking instead merely to do away with the plainly outdated section 2 of the Official Secrets Act.
I hope that during this Parliament the Government will be persuaded to review their attitude and will again consider the possibility of widening the right to information. There has been an erosion of freedoms in the Government's lifetime, and I have some sympathy with the Leader of the Opposition, who yesterday looked around the House at the conclusion of his speech and appealed to the good men and women who will resist this trend. He did not speak with any optimism about the prospects.
Our system of parliamentary democracy contributes to this erosion of freedoms. It is a system of Cabinet supremacy which does not work effectively when there is no sensitivity to the views of others, no protection for minority rights and no recognition that our constitution works not by its written provisions but by the conventions that one listens to the Opposition's point of view and concedes that one can get things wrong from time to time.
I do not believe that our constitution is working in a way that protects those essential freedoms. For that reason, I put it to the House, especially to the Leader of the 176 Opposition who has addressed the issue but not come up with the answers, that there should be all-party support for the dispersal of constitutional power, particularly for the embodiment in our constitution of a Bill of Rights—a protection which virtually all other democratic and parliamentary Governments have enjoyed, including Canada, Australia, the United States and almost all the continental European countries to which we are gradually being drawn within the European Community.
The Labour Opposition missed a great opportunity to redress the imbalance in favour of Executive power when they stood apart from the attempt made by a Conservative Member of Parliament in 1987 to secure the incorporation of the European convention on human rights into our domestic law. It was a great pity that only a handful of Labour Members stayed behind on that Friday, thus denying the House the opportunity of expressing its view and taking that measure, which had all-party support, into Committee. The measure has twice been given backing by the House of Lords. It enjoys the support of many senior members of the judiciary. It would help to safeguard the constitution from the depredations of an overmighty Executive. I hope that Parliament will bring that measure forward again this Session.
§ Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate on the Gracious Speech. I join in the congratulations extended by hon. Members on both sides of the House to the honourable and recently elected, and now vanished, Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars). I am sure that the energy that he put into his speech will be reflected in the energy that he puts into serving his constituents and that that task will be made somewhat easier because he represents a part of the United Kingdom that receives a large slice of the cake of public expenditure.
In turning to the Gracious Speech, I take my principal comfort from the penultimate paragraph:Other measures will be laid before you.There is one measure which is not included in the Gracious Speech but which many of us would have wished to see included and which has been promised to us for a considerable time. Before the last general election, the Government gave a clear undertaking that at an early opportunity they would introduce legislation to govern embryo research. That undertaking was honoured to the extent that we had a White Paper which we were able to discuss in January this year. Although the door is clearly ajar, it is not yet open. It is a great disappointment to me and to other hon. Members that, as yet, there is no firm proposal to give Parliament the opportunity to decide whether to legislate.
I do not speak to pre-empt any conclusion to which the House may come. The undertaking said that we would have an opportunity either to ban embryo research altogether, or to allow it with certain limitations and provisions, which would be enshrined in law. Presumably, if we decided to pursue the second course, it would be open to us also to amend those proposals that have been put forward and to introduce others that may seem fit. However, that opportunity does not appear to be available to us in the coming Session. If that opportunity is not provided, there is a grave risk that scientific enthusiasm—or, even worse, commercial exploitation—may run away with the situation and make it difficult for 177 Parliament to introduce the kind of controls which should be introduced at the beginning of a process and not halfway through.
I am sure that for many people—certainly for me—the early results of in vitro fertilisation and fertility research were greeted with enthusiasm and joy. I do not think that any of us could have objected to the birth of little Louise Brown or to the fact that her parents were able to have a child through the assistance of the medical profession rather than by an entirely natural process. But we then moved on and the process was no longer limited to the involvement of husband and wife. We moved on to surrogate motherhood and then to genetic research. Then, a few months ago, we were told that foetal hearts had been used in surgery.
Whether we approve of any or all those things, or whether we approve of them subject to limitations, it is clear that this is a major moral and political issue which should be brought before the House and on which the House should have the opportunity to pronounce.
When we discussed the White Paper in January, we discussed the situation which, in our innocence, we believed to prevail—that research was limited to embryos up to 14 days and, indeed, that that was well above what actually occurred in practice. Only half an hour later in the same debate, hon. Members were beginning to suggest that it would be reasonable for such research to take place on embryos up to 21 days. If we can do that here in a fairly detached way, removed from the medical realities and the enthusiasm of scientists who are rightly trying to push back the frontiers of knowledge, what of those actually engaged in the experiments and driven by the desire and enthusiasm for discovery?
The subject raises serious questions on which we should have the opportunity to express our views. It seemed rather feeble that we had been discussing research on embryos up to 14 days only to discover a few months later that parts of fairly advanced foetuses had been used in surgery. Leaving aside the aim of the surgery and the moral questions that must emanate from that discovery, it is clear that Parliament did not know what was going on. Professor Hitchcock did not simply get up one morning and decide to carry out the surgery. Assuredly, he had already researched it to some extent. Yet at the very time when he was researching it, we were discussing work on what were described as pre-embryos.
I believe that we need some kind of control. Certainly, we should be able to decide whether such control is needed. We are talking about beginning to create in a laboratory test tube rather than in a human body something which, in natural circumstances, would develop, as we have developed, into a full human being with emotions, intelligence, feelings, laughter and tears. We are talking about starting that process in a test tube and then deciding at some point to arrest the development of that human being and either to store it for future use or to destroy it as though it were just an ordinary piece of rubbish. That is an awesome thought. What worries me about the medical profession is not so much what it wishes to do—its thoroughly laudable attempts to prevent people being born with handicaps and to halt the erosion caused by disease—as the total absence of awe or humility in the statements made by those engaged in what must be the 178 most important research of all time. I submit that if they cannot show awe and humility, perhaps it is for Parliament to instil it in them, at least in terms of legislation.
The developments that the White Paper suggests should be prevented make fairly horrifying reading. It suggests that we should prevent the creation of an entire human being in laboratory conditions outside the human body. We are told comfortingly that that is a long way off, and I am sure that it is. In vitro fertilisation was a long way off just a few years ago, but it came with awful suddenness. Do we not already have legislation to prevent such an enormity?
§ Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)
My hon. Friend says that in vitro fertilisation arrived with awful suddenness. Does she feel that it should not have arrived and therefore regret the research that made it possible?
§ Miss Widdecombe
If my hon. Friend had listened to the first part of my comments, he would have heard me say that whatever one's moral views—he and I may have different views—it is essential that Parliament should decide whether such research should take place and to what limitations, if any, it should be subject. My hon. Friend has misinterpreted what I said. When I said that in vitro fertilisation came suddenly, I said it in an attempt to suggest that other things, at which even my hon. Friend might wince, may come with equal suddenness. For instance, the White Paper suggests that the creation of hybrids should be forbidden. It seems to me an extremely serious matter that we should even consider such a thing, yet apparently it was thought necessary to suggest that we should legislate against such a development. We then fall back from the idea of legislation and leave it merely as a proposal.
Parliament should also have the opportunity to be informed about and to consider the alternatives to this kind of research. The alternatives were clearly set out by Professor Lejeune, Professor Chargatt and Dr. McLean. Parliament may eventually decide that those detailed alternatives are not all that they are said to be, but we should at least have the opportunity to examine them, and that opportunity must be within the framework of proposed legislation.
Why, despite the Government's clear undertaking and the White Paper, is there still no Bill? Is it because there is a hope that if we leave the matter long enough a consensus may develop to the effect that we cannot stop something that has already accelerated to a frightening extent so we had better take the coward's way out and say that as it already happens, and we see the benefits, we cannot now consider the fundamental moral issues that we ought to have considered at the very beginning?
Assuredly, there will be other legislation to occupy the Department of Health in the coming Session, but the legislation that will flow from the Butler-Sloss report will also heavily occupy the Department of Social Security. There is ample room in the programme for the Department of Health to take on a matter that has already been prepared in such detail. It could certainly take on this legislation as well.
Cynics may say that a society which apparently has no objection to dismembering a 22-week-old baby in the womb is unlikely to object to experiments being carried out on very early cells. The issue is deeper than that. Should we arrogate to ourselves the right to create human 179 life? Should we arrogate to ourselves the right to destroy it? Should we really arrogate to ourselves the right to store it for future use? Those questions must be answered, and answered quickly.
As I said earlier, when we discussed embryos at 14 days, we did not know what professor Hitchcock was doing. This House sees what the medical profession is doing through a glass very darkly. If we saw it in its full light, even the most hardened cynic among us might well cry out for mercy at the way that we have arrogated powers to ourselves that could lead to the dehumanising of humanity and to humanity being something that is coldly created, dispatched, disposed of and undervalued. The final social implications of undervaluing human life, to the extent that we treat it in a test tube as we would treat any ordinary cookery recipe in a kitchen, are highly dangerous and something of which this House should be aware.
I welcome the Government's commitment to introduce legislation, but I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to hurry.
§ Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)
It has been some time since I and other hon. Members sought to catch Mr. Speaker's eye. I should not, perhaps suggest that it is invariably you, Madam Deputy Speaker, who gives me the opportunity—
§ Mr. McCartney
With my kind of luck, you are absolutely right, Madam Deputy Speaker.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) attempted to widen the debate about freedom and opportunity. Much of what was said by the Home Secretary and those who spoke in support of him was an attempt to restrict the debate to a number of single issues. Important though they might be, that tended to detract from the debate about the effects of Government policy on fundamental freedoms and opportunities.
I speak from a base of constituency, local government and other interests, and I wish to illustrate why the Gracious Speech is as depressing as other Gracious Speeches during the past decade. It tries to drive a wedge between those with genuine freedoms and opportunities and those who form the mass of the working population, whose freedoms and opportunities have been reduced both directly and by the way in which local government and other agencies have been undermined.
Before I do that, it is only fair to comment on the exceptional speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars), who rewrote the last decade of political history. Like most nationalists, having reached the doors of the Englishman's castle, he beat a hasty retreat. He has returned to Govan rather than stay for the remainder of the debate.
Although I do not wish to make any personal comment about the hon. Gentleman, it is important that events are put into perspective. In the Govan by-election in 1973, I worked with the hon. Gentleman 24 hours a day for three weeks. I dragged around with him in his little Japanese-built caravanette. During that time, I learned a great deal about his philosophy and his political activities. Today, he has attempted to rewrite the reasons why 180 Thatcherism has been visited upon not just the Scottish people but the working people of all regions, including the north-west.
The Scottish National party ratted on the Labour Government and went into the Lobbies with Thatcher and so introduced Thatcherism, in all its guises, to the Scottish people. We need no lessons from the hon. Gentleman on the defence of working people in Scotland or anywhere else. If he is looking for an alliance—a common front, a tartan front—with the 49 Scottish Labour members, I can only say that we have 180 Labour colleagues in England and Wales who consistently support our fight to beat back Thatcherism in Scotland.
§ Mr. McCartney
My hon. Friend should remember that only three weeks ago I supported him when the House discussed Scottish legislation—[Interruption.] I am trying to make a case for my hon. Friend, so he should not upset the apple cart.
I wish to deal with the proposal to reform the law on local government capital housing finance and the conduct of local authority business. It is a Pandora's box of missed opportunities and enables further centralisation of Government control of local government democracy. Local government should be allowed to broaden opportunities both for citizens and for industry. Do the Government intend to make it more difficult for local authorities such as Wigan to promote activities such as derelict land programmes and the development of new industrial and tourist initiatives? Will the Government's proposals affect the activities of developing companies?
Before I became a Member of the House I was a director of Wigan Development Company, which was set up by the local authority using local authority assets We consistently used ratepayers' resources to establish new businesses in the private sector, to promote training opportunities and to encourage the start of new businesses.
We also co-ordinated the introduction of new businesses into the community—for example, a new fibreglass company that created 1,000 skilled jobs. If such companies appreciate the worth of co-operating with an elected Labour local authority, why should the Government withdraw support and undermine the development of the local economy? As we approach 1992, with the need to develop a new, thrusting economy in the private sector, new jobs and new technology, it seems incredible that the Government, through capital activities and the withdrawal of grant, should seek to undermine Labour local authorities that are in the vanguard of new projects.
I represent a coal-mining community and am interested in the linking of the privatisation of the electricity supply industry with the environmental issue raised by the Gracious Speech. The Lancashire coalfields are in the throes of an asset-stripping operation. Last week, I and my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe) met the Minister and asked him to visit the south Lancashire coalfield. He made the excuse that he had other engagements but said that he would consider our representations. Within hours Hobart house in London issued a statement to national newspapers saying that the Golborne colliery in my constituency would be closed, 181 making more than 300 miners redundant. They had not been informed, and nor had the local authority or the area's Members of Parliament.
§ Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)
Has not that been the story throughout the Lancashire coalfield? For example, in or near my constituency there has been the closure of Bow, there is pressure on Parkside and so on. Is that not a disgrace?
§ Mr. McCartney
My hon. Friend is correct; and it is part of an overall plan to soften up the industry, in the run-up to the privatisation of the electricity industry, to allow the importation of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of South African and American coal. To achieve that, they require in the first instance a rundown of the south Lancashire coalfield and the destruction of what it stands for.
As to the environment, the Government rub salt into the wounds of the rundown of the deep mining industry, which leaves large parts of my area derelict and without job opportunities, by their intention to introduce wholesale opencast mining of millions of tonnes of easily obtainable coal—another threat brought about by the proposed privatisation of electricity. Coalfield communities in south Lancashire are losing job opportunities, and another generation will face not one, two or three years of opencast mining, but five, 10 or 15 years. It will produce not 10,000, 20,000 or 30,000 tonnes but 1 million, 2 million or 3 million tonnes. Communities and villages will be surrounded and captured by the private enterprise philosophy of the Government, which will rape those communities in order to take from them as cheaply as possible the black gold of coal in a way that uses as little labour as possible, leaving local authorities and communities to clear up the remaining environmental dereliction.
Those of us who live and work in, and are committed to, the working communities in the coalfields of Britain are not prepared to see the next generation of young people, or our communities, destroyed by the naked opportunism of privatising the electricity industry. Coal miners will be the first victims of the importation of cheap coal.
We must also examine the Government's policy of asset stripping in relation to the privatisation of the water authorities. North-West Water has the largest holding of any water authority in Great Britain, with 150,000 acres of publicly owned land, much of it vested by the ratepayers and the local authorities in the north-west in the last reorganisation, without a penny of compensation. Now the Government intend not only to strip them of this public asset and sell it to the private sector, but once again to do so without compensation. What will the privatisation of water authorities do to sport and recreation and to the development of tourism in the north-west? It is clear from the leaks of the Government's intentions and from the off-the-record comments that this land is up for grabs to the highest bidder—whoever is prepared to pay the most to transfer it from the public to the private sector.
§ Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)
Is not one of the dangers, particularly in the north-west, where the water authorities own land of tremendous value that is part of our heritage, that if the land is disposed of, not only will they get the 182 money for that, but our heritage will be destroyed in places like the Lake District and the Peak District? It is important that such areas should be preserved not only for us but for future generations.
§ Mr. McCartney
My hon. Friend is right. All the signs will be changed. They will not say "The Peak District" or "The Lake District" but "Trusthouse Forte's National Park" and "Pay your £2 or £3 here". That is what awaits us as a result of water privatisation. The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-East (Mr. Lightbown) giggles and laughs. He does it regularly. Indeed, it is the only contribution I have heard him making in the past 18 months. He never makes a positive contribution to the debates. If he has some other ideas, he should outline to us the Government's policies for the Lake District, the Peak District and the thousands of urban parklands controlled by the water authorities on which developers have their greedy little eyes.
If the Government were serious about the environment, why have they not introduced a Bill to deal with toxic waste? One would have thought it would be in their minds after the Karin B incident. Within 24 hours, the junior Minister had said that it could unload here and then, because of opposition from Conservative and Labour Members, changed her mind. The north-west has become the toxic waste bin of Europe. Daily, coming from Humberside and other ports, dangerous toxic waste substances are poured into in-fill sites in the north-west. Despite that, there is no legislation to be introduced in this Session by the Government that takes this seriously.
There should be a total ban on such imports, and toxic substances created here must not be placed in in-fill sites. The technology for the safe burning of dangerous materials is available. In my constituency and others in the north-west, we do not want in-fill sites to be utilised for burying the most dangerous of toxic substances, occasionally next to people's properties, with resulting dangers.
In my constituency there is a strike in a firm called Abram Alloys Ltd. The strike is not over wages and conditions but because 14 men have been sacked as they reported the company to the Health and Safety Executive because of the way it utilises lead, aluminium and zinc. Two men are currently off sick, one because he had a heart attack as a result of the zinc shakes, which are a common occurrence in places where the Health and Safety Executive's guidelines are not followed. Zinc in the blood is highly dangerous, and within 48 hours of the shakes this man had had a serious heart attack. Another has been seriously ill, again because of the damage caused by lead and aluminium poisoning in the plant.
What do the Government propose to do about the protection of workers? The measures in the Gracious Speech will undermine their ability to improve their working environment so as to protect themselves and take away from them basic opportunities to defend themselves against unscrupulous employers who are prepared to gamble with workers' lives. When workers complain, they are sacked—booted out of the factory—and are now standing on the picket line trying to draw public attention to what is going on. Again, in the Queen's Speech, the Government disregard any way to take action to protect workers and to defend of their health and safety at work.
The dangers are more widespread than the effects on the workers. People are living not 100 yards from the 183 plant, and there are 300 or 400 houses in which live young women and young children. We know about the effect of lead poisoning on the brains and on the ability of young children. Despite that, there is no proposal from the Government to deal with the problem of toxic waste and its disposal.
What else have the Government failed to do to further freedom and opportunity and to prevent racism and sexism? There is an old saying that an Englishman's home is his castle—but not a bit of it when it comes to leasehold reform. In England and Wales hundreds and thousands of people who have purchased their houses from firms such as Barratt, Wimpey and McAlpine find that spending between £45,000 and £55,000 for a three bedroomed semi-detached property means only that they have bought the house and not the land underneath it and that the land is being sold on the property markets in London. Sometimes they are sold to companies that are owned outside the United Kingdom, and in one case in my constituency to a company whose chairman is wanted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for extortion.
Such companies are frightening the elderly by sending them letters and demand notices. For example, in an estate in my constituency, a survey was carried out to check how many garden sheds had been built, how many extensions to the property had been made and how many windows had been double glazed. Pensioners received letters saying that if they paid £400 in legal costs to the company, they would be given retrospective permission for such works. Another company wrote to some of my constituents and said that if they did not pay up within 28 days the leasehold would be sold. This happened when some of them were on holiday. The impression was given that selling the leasehold meant selling the property.
When it was introduced, the leasehold reform legislation of 1964 represented an improvement, but it is clear from the sale of leaseholds on the London stock exchange that the protections available are inadequate for working people who have to purchased their property. The Government should introduce legislation to ensure, for example, that every home built in 1989 has the freehold contained in the sale price, that people who have been leaseholders for five years should be allowed to transfer the leasehold without any further cost other than the charge for the land registry fee and that, for those people who have been leaseholders for more than 10 years, the transfer should be free.
There should be legal protection for people who do not wish to purchase the freehold or leasehold to prevent them from being harassed by, for example, insurance companies. Some large nationally owned insurance companies have linked up with sharks involved in this business. They write to my constituents saying, "We understand that you are insured with such-and-such a company. Unless you insure with Norwich Union"—a major and well respected insurance company—"within 28 days, we will take you to the county court because you are not insured according to the leasehold."
Unfortunately, some of my constituents believed those statements. They did not realise that, in going to the county court, the company would have to prove that they had damaged the property and had therefore undervalued and underinsured it. Some of my constituents have paid considerable sums of money. Insurance companies are paying the sharks a commission for harassing ordinary working people.
184 This is not 1888; it is 1988. The Government talk about freedom and opportunity, but there is not a word in the Gracious Speech about introducing legislation to protect leaseholders in England and Wales. It is not only highway robbery, but a sophisticated form of mugging carried out by men in pin-striped suits. We know all about that from Conservative Members.
In view of continuing unemployment, why have the Government not introduced a Bill proposing the right to work along the lines of that introduced by the Socialist Government in Sweden? The Minister often refers to the Labour Governments in New Zealand, Australia and Sweden, but, when it comes to social legislation, the Government simply turn a blind eye. As a result of the changes in employment training and the phasing out of the community programme, many middle-aged men and women are being locked out of the labour market. What about the 300 miners in my constituency made redundant last week? Most of them are over 50 years of age. They cannot be introduced to the employment training scheme. They are specifically excluded from it for two years and, even then, according to the guidance from the Training Agency, a person over 50 has a low priority for going on to such a scheme.
A large proportion of the long-term unemployed are therefore being forgotten by the Government. How can the Government be serious about bringing back into the labour market large numbers of the unemployed when they have not introduced a Bill giving them the right to work, developed a common programme of retraining or provided resources to enable the public and private sectors to develop a national training and a retraining programme? The Government are not interested in developing such a programme. They have been fiddling the unemployment figures and hoping that the rest of Britain in work will forget about the parts of Britain where people are out of work.
Opposition Members will not let the Government or the rest of Britain forget about the unemployed in our constituencies, including those in my region of the north-west. In the last decade, 38 per cent. of our manufacturing workers have lost their jobs and the opportunities and freedoms that are given through full-time employment in industry. The Government have not introduced a Bill to give them the right to work.
What about regional government? I am sorry that the hon. Member for Govan is no longer with us. Obviously, he has gone back to Govan.
§ Mr. McCartney
I am not suggesting that Scotland is a region. The hon. Lady should recognise from my accent that I would never do so. I speak as someone who has had to leave Scotland to seek employment in an English-speaking area. My hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) laughs. As I transferred south, he transferred north. No amount of persuasion from me would make him transfer back again.
The growing divisions in society have singled out for special treatment by the Government not only Scotland and Wales but many regions in the north of England. Unemployment rates, lack of investment, the destruction of manufacturing industries, the lack of resources for our infrastructure, poverty and ill health in Merseyside and 185 greater Manchester are as great, as, if not higher than, in Edinburgh, Glasgow or any other part of the United Kingdom. The crisis of capitalism introduced by the Government has reached all parts of the United Kingdom. That is why it is important to all of us, whatever our accent and wherever we live, that there should be a unified response. We cannot resolve the problems of Manchester without resolving those of Glasgow, Belfast, Edinburgh and inner-city London, where the problems and crises are very much the same.
The Government should have introduced legislation for the strategic planning and development of the infrastructure in the north-west. For example, what will they do about Manchester airport? It has clearly become the premier local airport in Europe, yet the Government are considering the introduction of a Bill to privatise it. Will that mean that American Airlines, Northwest Airlines or Transworld Airlines can purchase terminal 2 to control the airport and thus undermine the activities of British Airways and the 1,200 British Airways workers? The Government should explain their intentions.
The Government have introduced no legislation to deal with the inability of local authorities and regional and district health authorities to plan satisfactorily the return to the community of thousands of mentally handicapped and disabled people. The Government's care-in-the-community programme is in disarray and, as a result, tens of thousands of mentally disabled people who have been offered the opportunity to come back and live in the community as a family have had their hopes dashed by the Government. The Queen's Speech contained no proposals for the development of a national community care programme involving the mentally disabled and local authorities.
The Queen's Speech is a missed opportunity not only for the Government but, tragically, for millions of our fellow citizens who look to the Government at the eleventh hour for a change of heart to give them the opportunity that so many Conservative Members have and take for granted every day of their working lives.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
I welcome the terms of the Gracious Speech. The Government appear to have solved the problems of how to keep ahead of public opinion, to deal successfully with economic difficulties, social discontent and civil disturbances, and to produce peace and relative prosperity. The Government's general approach is sound. That is to dismantle the apparatus of Socialism, to promote freedom in economic affairs, to move to remove the burden of oppressive taxation and to force more individuals to take responsibility for their own lives. All these things have been achieved, or are well on the way to being achieved. The result has been a transformation in the quality of economic and political life in Britain since the Government took power.
The very success of the Government's policies has revealed other problems, some of which are not so susceptible to Government action, especially those which are the consequences of a continual moral decline. These problems include crime, cruelty and indifference to the suffering of others.
186 I am glad that it is proposed to rationalise and modernise the Security Service and to give it at last a legal entity so that we know it exists and we have some comprehension of its form and organisation. We shall even have some power to ensure that it does not act irresponsibly in future. I welcome also the proposal to reform section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911.
There is one section of the Gracious Speech which falls behind the otherwise high standard of the others, and that is the one which sets out proposals for Northern Ireland. The measures that are announced in the Gracious Speech, which no doubt will be brought before us in the coming weeks, are pathetically weak to achieve their purpose. Whe terrorists are convicted of their crimes, they are imprisoned. They are released on to the streets when they have served only 50 per cent. of their sentences. The recidivist percentage is extremely high—I understand that it is about 20 per cent. In Northern Ireland there is no parole system. It is often said that there is 50 per cent. remission because of the absence of one. In the rest of the United Kingdom the parole system applies after one third of a prison sentence has been served. There is one third automatic remission for good behaviour.
It appears to be proposed that for terrorist offences in future there should be only one third automatic remission. That means nothing. It is a pathetic response to a murderous assault on the British people of Northern Ireland, which is being perpetrated by the IRA. The proper approach would be not to release terrorists on to the streets at all and instead to institute a sentence of imprisonment that will continue for as long as the emergency remains. That would mean that those convicted of such offences would be unable to return to a career of terrorism. The House will know that many of them have taken that course in the past.
We could institute a system of parole that would allow for individual cases of genuine remorse. That would provide an inducement for good behaviour. The effect of the proposal that is outlined in the Gracious Speech is to add one sixth of the sentence that is imposed on terrorists who have received fixed terms of imprisonment. It is insulting and stupid.
It is proposed also to introduce a requirement for an oath against violence to be taken as a condition of candidancy in local elections. This is a serious mistake. We should not qualify the franchise by a test of political opinion. If Sinn Fein candidates—people who we know support the violence of the IRA—are not welcomed in our democratic elections, we should be honest about it. We should ban their organisation as we have banned the IRA. It is silly, prissy and unconstitutional to impose a test of political opinion on candidates, whether in Northern Ireland or anywhere else in the United Kingdom. It would be proper that an oath of allegiance be administered if there is to be a political qualification, but that requirement was abandoned years ago by the then Government in a mistaken effort to come to terms with terrorism.
The Government are strangely lacking courage in their current proposals for Northern Ireland and their approach to its problems. The proposed new measures are timid and are likely to be ineffective. They give offence without harming the enemy. They are willing to wound yet afraid to strike.
The only policy that we have never tried in Northern Ireland is the one that stares us in the face. We have tried every other policy, including devolution, direct rule and 187 even government by consultation with the Irish Republic. All these policies have been unsuccessful because they fail to take into account the unyielding determination of most Ulstermen to remain British. The remaining option is to grant them complete integration with the United Kingdom. The greatest mistake that we have made in Ireland in recent times is to include within the borders of Northern Ireland a large population which gives its allegiance to the Irish Republic. Those who are members of that population will never be reconciled to being within the United Kingdom. They produce support for the IRA and are its mainstay, yet they are a small minority of the whole.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
No, I shall not give way. I shall soon be finished.
Those who give allegiance to the Irish Republic should be given the chance to leave the United Kingdom. Let Ulstermen choose whether to remain in the United Kingdom or transfer to the Irish Republic. Let us transfer the opting-out border areas to the Republic. Give those who find themselves on what they regard as the wrong side of the new border generous resettlement grants to enable them to move to the country of their choice, in one direction or the other. The Queen has no need of unwilling subjects. Let those who wish to leave the United Kingdom do so. We can then let the courageous British people of Northern Ireland live in the peace and security which they deserve while fully integrated with the United Kingdom. They will then be represented in British Governments by British political parties.
§ Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) has gone down the road that has brought bloodshed and death to the island of Ireland for the past 600 years. I should say that I rarely speak on Irish matters because I was born and bred in Ireland. I come from a family with long roots in Ireland that suffered at the hands of the stupidity, on occasions, of this place over history. I hope and pray that those responsible in the current Government take not one jot of notice of the insanity that we have heard expressed over the past few minutes. How do we redraw the borders of 1922? How do we overcome matters that cost the deaths in the civil war that followed? How and where do we draw the line? Are we to tear human beings from their roots, their homes and their land? Are we to treat human beings in that disgusting way?
§ Mr. Bermingham
It has all the smell of the final solution and it is horrendous. It is ugly and it falls ill from the lips of anyone in this place.
As I said, I did not intend to speak about Ireland, but one could not let what we have just heard go unanswered. When I looked at the Gracious Speech, I possibly looked at it in my own naive way and thought that I would find something in it that I could, perhaps, try to support. The policy of the last eight or nine years has been slowly to negate the freedoms of the people of this island, and to remove from us much that has been cherished over the years. The Government did not like local government, so 188 they started to take away housing, started to impose their will on education, started to change the rules on social services, cut the resources, and gradually strangled it. Why should not people who live in a particular area decide how they should spend their resources? However, if it did not fit the Government's policy, they took that power away.
I notice that in the Gracious Speech the Government said that they will do all that they can to raise the standards of education. How about giving the children some books as starters, because there are still schools up and down this land which do not have enough books? We have heard the nonsense about student loans. My eldest son is shortly to go to university. What is this stupid and cross-eyed idea that they have about student loans? There was a time when we actually encouraged children to go to university. We believed that it was in the interests of the nation.
I still believe that, and so do the Opposition. The Government, however, who want to raise the standard of education, do not supply the tools that are needed—the buildings, the infrastructure, the books, the teachers and the opportunities. Why on this island do we have such a low rate of persons continuing education post-16? In Scotland or Ireland—we come back to that island again—the percentage is in the upper twenties. I am pleased that in my constituency in St. Helens—it may have something to do with its historic Irish connections—26 per cent. of children over the age of 16 stay in further education, and that is something of which we are proud. The local authority has had to make great sacrifices to maintain education standards as it has been slowly throttled out of existence by the policy of the Government.
I then looked on in the Gracious Speech in the hope of finding a nugget of gold. It is a pity that the Home Secretary is not here, because I had almost a cri de coeur for him. I had hoped that the legislation for the protection of children would lie with his Department and not with the Department of Health. I have good reason for saying that. I declare an interest as a lawyer, and I want family courts. Many of us have hoped and prayed for family courts ever since the Finer report—and there I thought was the nugget of gold. However, I see the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment smiling, and I fear that I have not found my nugget of gold. That legislation will once more lie at the door of the Department of Health, so I fear for the future of our children.
If ever there was an opportunity of reviewing the law after the Butler-Sloss report on the Cleveland affair, taking the adversarial system out of the care order cases, and bringing back what many of us believe should be the primary concern in those cases—being able to act speedily, quickly and efficiently in the interest of the child—it is now. But I suspect that this nugget of gold is not to be found.
I searched on in the Gracious Speech in the fruitless hunt for this nugget of gold. I looked at the proposals for the security services. I even read the Bill published today on the new security system. It is really a load of garbage from top to bottom. It says and does nothing. It is a sop thrown because there has been so much complaint, quite rightly, about such matters. It says that the Home Secretary must sign every warrant for illegal entrance and phone tappers. The poor old Home Secretary will never stop signing warrants, there will be so many of them. I do not know where he will find time to come to the House to explain his actions.
189 It then says that the commission will make an annual report, which will be reported to the Prime Minister. That is interesting, but unfortunately most of us do not have access to the Prime Minister's Office. It says that the report will be published. However, although it will be published, the commission can leave bits out, if it feels that it is not in the interests of the state. I have the awful feeling that the first time we see one of those reports it will be the size of a postcard and written on one side only. It is nothing more than a sop.
I notice that at long last section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911 is sought to be reformed. The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) proposed a sensible measure last year, but the Government voted it down. I dread what we shall have in its place, because the Government are obsessed with secrecy, with power and getting at anything that opposes them—be it a trade union or anybody else. Their obsession is a disease that comes with the arrogance of power. They have had nearly 10 years of always wanting their own way. If anyone gets in their way, they have a go.
The Gracious Speech was delivered by a gracious person, but unfortunately the writers of the speech left the likes of me no nuggests of gold, and for the people of St. Helens not much hope for the future, either.
§ Mr. David Shaw (Dover)
I had not planned on speaking in the debate, but when I listened to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), I was surprised and staggered by some of the points that he made about freedom and fairness. I felt that those points completely ignored the reality of the tremendous opportunities that have been opened up by the Government.
Certainly we should not listen to any fairness lecture from the Opposition. One has only to look at yesterday's Official Report to see the appalling attempts at unfairness when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was interrupted no less than eight times in her speech on the Gracious Speech, as well as receiving seven interventions by Opposition Members. It used to be the hen-pecked husband who claimed that his wife always interrupted him. In this House it seems that the mother hen is interrupted constantly by the Opposition's chickens, who are afraid to debate but prefer to shout and try to shout down our Prime Minister, who is one of the most respected anywhere in the world.
§ Mr. Shaw
Yes, even in Scotland, if one talks to the people who are interested in the future of the nation and those who actually want some of the opportunities offered by the Government developed further.
By comparison, however, Hansard shows that the speech of the Leader of the Opposition was not interrupted. Indeed, it was heard in stony silence. Of course, little interest was shown by any hon. Members in the speech of the Leader of the Opposition. In fact, I counted less than half the Labour Members as present. Clearly, many of the right hon. Gentleman's own 190 Members had not even turned up to listen to his speech. That is because the case against this Government is a weak one.
The nation is more free, more fair and has more opportunity that it ever would have had under a Labour Government. The Opposition have failed to explain whether the last Labour Government were more fair when they refused to pay the pensioners' Christmas bonuses in 1975 and 1976. Were the last Labour Government more fair when they changed the calculation basis for the old-age pension in 1976, thereby removing eight months inflation from the calculation? Of course, many people wonder whether there was more freedom under the Labour Government when they supported the closed shop that forced so many people out of work and onto the dole queues.
I congratulate the Government on the Queen's Speech, on their home affairs policy, and particularly on the broadcasting White Paper, which has been mentioned many times. I am only disappointed that we may have to wait an extra year before the Government's proposals are implemented. The broadcasting White Paper is excellent, and I speak as the director of a radio station and as one experienced in commercial radio, which offers more choice than ever before. It was introduced by a Conservative Government—Labour did not like it. Today, 40 per cent. of the population listens to something that Labour did not like and did not want. Forty per cent. of the population enjoy commercial radio; only Labour do not enjoy it, because commercial radio offers greater choice, freedom and opportunity to ordinary people.
I am pleased by what the White Paper says about television. The public want satellite and cable television, and when watching it they will remember that the Labour party did not want them to have the freedom to view it.
As to official secrets, I and my constituents are not in the front line of those demanding reform. Dover has been at the centre of the nation's defences and has successfully defended the nation for more than 1,000 years because those who sought to invade were denied the secrets of our nation's defences. However, the Government have listened to those who believe that there should be greater openness of a kind that no previous Government felt able to permit. I welcome the proposed Bill concerning official secrets.
I welcome also the proposed Security Service Bill. The Government have tackled a difficult area head on and in a way that no previous Government dared. They will bring out into the open the way that MI5 operates, so that many will feel more confident, knowing that out security services have a formal basis of operation and may not really have under surveillance their front or back doors or be bugging their telephones.
For years, the Opposition have claimed that the security services looked into the lives of ordinary people. That is far from true, and I welcome the opportunity the Bill provides for the security services' basis of operations to be formally laid down for the first time. The security services are necessary for the nation's defence and for the defence of the realm. It is important that their work should be unhindered, but on a basis that has been approved by Parliament, with the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary having the freedom to control and manage their operations.
The improved opportunities identified in the Gracious Speech represent some of the Government's greatest achievements so far, and more will be achieved in the 191 future. Today, people have more opportunity than ever before. There are now 2.5 million more home owners than there were in 1979, when Labour left office. The Conservative Government have provided the opportunity to own the home in which one lives. Today there are 9 million more direct shareholders, but there are also 16.5 million indirect shareholders through pension funds and life assurance. The coal miners often worry about whether their industry should be in the private sector, little realising that they have, through their own pension fund, investments in the private sector of the order of £10 billion, and that their future is greatly dependent on it.
A week before the last general election, I found myself in a coal mining community pointing out that, fearing a Labour victory, the stock market had fallen by the equivalent of half a billion pounds of the coal miners' pension fund. So even the coal miners have an interest in ensuring that a Conservative Government remain in office and that there are more opportunities for share ownership, more shareholders, and more economic success.
There are more people in jobs or in training than ever before. The Government have created a phenomenal number of new jobs. Everyone recognises that that has been achieved at the cost of others, but they were subsidised jobs which had no future and were not helping the nation's productivity. Manufacturing industry is producing more from a smaller labour force than ever before. That is real success and I hope we shall see many more years of it.
The opportunity for people to enjoy a better education has also been expanded by the present Government. That has been achieved not just by the Education Reform Act 1988 but by the opportunities provided by student loans. It is noticeable that people do not have enough opportunities to enjoy further education. I do not mean education of a theoretical nature but business education. We do not have sufficient business graduates. We need more successful business managers who can create jobs and develop our economy towards the year 2000. Student loans and other forms of assistance give people an opportunity to enjoy further business education of a practical nature.
§ Mr. Shaw
The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) asks me how. Once student loans have been established and people have grown used to repaying them, they will then take them up to develop their education later in life. We shall see education continuing after university, at business graduate level. More and more people, some of whom already take out loans for business degrees, will have greater opportunities. I want to see that practice developed, which will be good for the nation and for the people.
The opportunity to develop one's own economic future is also greater than ever before. The development of small businesses and of self-employment has continued. There are 3 million self-employed people, which is nearly 1 million more than when Labour was in office. I confess to being disappointed that the Gracious Speech made no mention of further measures to help small businesses. Needless to say, the Opposition have not raised that point; the Opposition Front Bench never mention further measures to help small businesses. The Government's 192 small business policy has been a success, but that does not mean that enough is being done and that more cannot be done. I hope that it will be done. The fact that the Prime Minister was able to state that more than 1,000 new businesses are being created every week is good news, but it is not necessarily good enough. Why should not 2,000 or 3,000 new small businesses be created every week? More individuals should be encouraged to set up on their own, perhaps by the offer of fiscal incentives.
I recommend that consideration be given to the entrepreneurs scheme, whereby entrepreneurs may enjoy the same tax relief as those who invest in small businesses under the business expansion scheme. It will also he helpful if small companies are given corporation tax relief so that their small profits can be used to build up their reserves and that they may develop more easily than they can at present. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will look into those matters before the next Budget. The fact that the Gracious Speech made no mention of small businesses does not necessarily mean that there will be no legislation or other action during the Session.
I welcome the Gracious Speech. There is much in it for my constituents and for the nation. As a result of the measures it announces, there will be more freedom and fairness, and undoubtedly there will be more opportunity for all.
§ 8.9 pm
§ Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)
I find people like the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) wholly incomprehensible. The sort of speech he has just made and the values that he tried to express in it demonstrate the gigantic chasm between the two ends of the United Kingdom. At one point he had the effrontery to say that the Prime Minister was one of the most respected leaders in the world. He should try coming to my country. He would find that she is about the most hated person in Scotland—
§ Mr. David Shaw
I visited the hon. Gentleman's country recently, as my wife is a Scot with a large family in Scotland, and I can assure him that many people in Scotland respect the Prime Minister immensely.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
There may be many such people, but the hon. Gentleman would struggle to find them in heavy concentrations anywhere in Scotland. The Prime Minister is one of the most universally loathed people there.
This brings me to the points made by the now absent hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars). I cannot help recalling that, 10 years ago to the month, he and I were on the Government Back Benches and he was kind enough to congratulate me on my maiden speech. Shortly after that, his new friends joined the then Conservative Opposition and voted down the Labour Government, ushering in 10 years of grim Government for the people of Scotland, about whom he claims to care.
I have been watching the hon. Gentleman's perambulations in and out of various parties and constituencies since then, and without wanting to be churlish to him in his absence, I must say that I do not welcome his election to the House. The loss of a Labour seat can only bring comfort to the Prime Minister and Cabinet whom he and most Scottish people so earnestly loathe.
193 However, I welcome the debate that has been initiated by the Govan by-election result. This is my first opportunity for five years to speak with the freedom of a Back Bencher. I must express serious fears about the prospects for the unity of the United Kingdom that I care about and support. The hon. Member for Govan is a comparatively trivial manifestation of the danger posed to the unity of the United Kingdom. The real source of the problem is the right hon. and learned Member for Edinbugh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), the Secretary of State for Scotland. The general election of 1987 should, on any analysis, have been a constitutional turning point in Scotland. The result had been widely predicted as the Doomsday scenario and the Secretary of State now imposes alien rule on a nation which has returned only 10 Tory Members of Parliament and in which support for the governing party has slumped to below 20 per cent. in the polls.
The Conservative party professes to be baffled by the ingratitude of the Scots who refuse to embrace the message of the hard Right. That was the message conveyed by the hon. Member for Dover. We have heard various responses to that idea. the Prime Minister came to Edinburgh last year and addressed an astonished General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in her rather bizarre "Sermon on the Mound", and we are now being subjected to even heavier doses of hard-line Thatcherism.
It was the Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. and learned Member for Pentlands, who told the House in 1976:Scotland is the only territory on the face of the earth which has a legal system without a legislature to improve, modernise and amend it. This is a crazy anomaly".—[Official Report, 16 December 1976; Vol. 922, c. 1832.]It may have been a crazy anomaly they: it is downright intolerable today after almost 10 years of Conservative rule.
There are ways and ways of approaching the problems of government by minority. The wise approach should be through conciliation and, when possible, partnership with the people being governed. At the other extreme there is what I choose to describe as the Jaruzelski option.
It is interesting to contrast the styles of the former Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), and the present Secretary of State for Wales, with the Rifkind regime in Scotland today. The substance may not be so very different, but the style has been calculated to embitter and alienate the subjected people of Scotland. It is abundantly clear that the Secretary of State cares far more about his standing in Downing street than about his reputation in Scotland, the nation he is supposed to be serving. He seems positively to relish opportunities to humiliate and provoke the people whom he is supposed to serve.
Let us go through some examples. The poll tax is to be inflicted on the people of Scotland. The paperwork is already coming through our letter boxes and the tax will be levied in four months' time. The disruption of Scotland's excellent education system is to be taken one stage further as a result of the Queen's Speech. The Housing (Scotland) Act 1988 is designed to exploit the homeless for the benefit of private landlords. The Secretary of State is ruthlessly exploiting his power of patronage in Scotland. Examples of that include Sir Alex Fletcher, who was rejected by the 194 people of Edinburgh, Central at the general election, turning up as a paid member of the Scottish Development Agency. There is also the bizarre phenomenon of the Greater Glasgow health board being nominated by the Secretary of State but not representing anyone in Glasgow. It is apparently exclusively composed of clones of the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), and it is now confronting the nurses of Glasgow head on.
The Secretary of State for Scotland has enthusiastically embraced the Jarulzelski option. We in Scotland find it puzzling to hear the Prime Minister calling for freedoms in Poland which she is denying to the subject nations of the United Kingdom. The scenario of Government from the bunker at St. Andrew's house, supported by English Tory Members who seem to find the situation enormously amusing, must raise questions about how the Scottish majority should repond. Obviously, the conventional process of debates, questions and Committees must continue in the House, but the cynical manipulation of the composition of Scottish Committees and the shameless refusal even to set up a Scottish Select Committee have inevitably tarnished the image of Parliament in Scotland.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) and our hon. Friends on the Front Bench, past and present, have approached this task conscientiously and constructively, and sometimes, when we have been lucky, that fact has been reflected in Scottish press reports. But when the Government administer the devolved power of a nation such as Scotland with flagrant disregard for the wishes of its people and go out of their way to humilate the elected representatives of the majority at national and local level, other considerations must be raised. The situation calls for a little more than ritual debates that end at 10 pm and occasional prayers against statutory instruments which extend the process to 11.30 pm.
Many people in Scotland would have liked the Opposition to make a major stand in the House to highlight the obscenity of the Housing (Scotland) Bill in the last Session of Parliament. I, too, should have liked the opposition to that Bill to be taken a little further and to have made a stand to block progress on that oppressive legislation—but that could not be done: we were overruled. I am not advocating a course of general disruption in the House—I have been here long enough to know the Standing Orders and to know that such disruption would not be practical—but properly targeted issues should be exploited to highlight the extreme examples of repression in Scotland. Under these extreme circumstances there is ample justification for the initiatives outside Parliament, as well as those in the House.
This potential for constitutional crisis has been on the Scottish scene for a long time. I think in particular of one of my favourite predecessors in the East Lothian seat in the Scottish Parliament—Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, who wrote in a pamphlet in 1706:It is certainly the Interest of all Good Men to promote a nearer Union with our Neighbours in England … in the most Absolute and Incorporate Union that can be made betwixt these two Nations, there are several Interests (and of the greatest Consequence to which are and must be reserved separate to each Nation … It seems beyond human comprehension, how these separate distinct Interests, and Establishments, can be regulated and supported by one Parliament".He went on:and the Scots deserve no pity, if they voluntarily surrender their united and separate Interests to the Mercy of a united Parliament, where the English shall have so vast a majority".195 He was a man with foresight, but I doubt that he realised that the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) would one day become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and spring that trap on the people of Scotland. As we know, the Scottish Members surrendered Scotland's Parliament and it is only in comparatively recent years that a consensus has grown up in Scotland about the case for our own Parliament and for home rule within the United Kingdom.
Nevertheless, our two nations have lived with that inherent contradiction of one Parliament and two legislative areas for 281 years. We have two distinct nations with separate legal systems, separate administrations, different Churches and separate financial centres, which still share one Parliament, in which one nation's representatives must be massively outnumbered by those of the other nation. It is to the great credit of a long succession of Governments that such an inherently flawed system has survived for so long. It is a great pity that the matter was not resolved by mutual consent in 1979, following debates in the House on the Scotland Act 1978 and the referendum, when the people of Scotland voted by a majority of 77,437 to set up their own assembly within the United Kingdom.
As we know, this Government unceremoniously repealed that Act and they have gone out of their way to confront Scottish public opinion ever since. We need initiatives outside Parliament too, and I suggest that the proposed establishment of the Scottish constitutional convention, following the extremely important and closely argued report of the Grieve committee entitled "A Claim of Right for Scotland", is a matter of profound importance and significance. The Secretary of State for Scotland has rejected an invitation to take part in such a constitutional convention in Scotland on the grounds that the Governmentdo not believe that Scotland would benefit from an additional layer of Government".That conveniently overlooks the fact that the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Scottish Office are already a layer of government that is unaccountable in Scotland. That is what people in Scotland find so intolerable.
We are rightly and properly concerned about the rights of other small nations around the world—perhaps Estonia is a relevant and topical example. It is time to recognise the rights of the nations of the United Kingdom too. Conservative Members would do well to remember that Britain is not a nation—it is a union of nations and there should be respect between the nations in the union if the union is to survive and prosper.
The Secretary of State is provoking a potentially dangerous and destructive situation and he is opening the door for destructive forces, such as those represented by the crude nationalism of the Scottish National party. There is great irony in the fact that the Labour party should be made to suffer for the actions of a Tory Administration, but that is what happened at Govan two weeks ago. Nothing will be achieved by whingeing about that state of affairs. We must take the initiative on the Scottish political scene. That can be done by sharpening up our style of opposition in the House and instead of responding to pressure, we should be seen to be taking a lead in expressing the mandate that we have been given by the people of Scotland. If that means that the focus of Scottish politics has to shift temporarily from the House to the Scottish constitutional convention, so be it.
196 My immediate predecessor as Member for East Lothian, John Mackintosh, had a clear vision of dual nationality—Scottish nationality and British nationality. The overwhelming majority of Scots share that desire for a continuing close partnership with our neighbours south of the border. That is a union that is not incompatible with the election of an assembly in Scotland to control the legislation, the power and the budget—which has already been devolved to the Scottish Office. Scotland wants home rule within the United Kingdom and that is a legitimate demand which must be accommodated by the House and by any responsible Government. If the Government are not prepared to acknowledge that need they will be putting the unity of the United Kingdom in jeopardy. One must remember that they are the party that professes to be the Unionist party, yet the actions of Ministers are putting the union of the United Kingdom in jeopardy.
The Scottish majority—the Labour party and the Social and Liberal Democrats—will, I hope, approach the constitutional convention within the spirit of a union that we want to preserve. It would be a spectacular irony if, by its actions and omissions and by provoking the people of Scotland over the past nine years, the Conservative party was to open the door to the nationalism expressed by the hon. Member for Govan today.
§ Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)
It has been interesting to listen to the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson). It is not clear which part of the Scottish Labour party he representas or exactly what initiatives members of the Scottish Labour party will adopt. Perhaps they should choose to stand on a turntable rather than a platform, so that they can face in all directions at once and members can change direction at any moment. The Labour party is shell-shocked by its total defeat at Govan and it will take a long time to decide in which direction to face. No doubt we shall hear more speeches like the hon. Gentleman's
I praise the Government for the measures that they have introduced in the Gracious Speech. It is excellent to see a 10th year of radical measures being brought forward, which will continue to restore the country's fortunes and which will improve the quality of life in every possible way.
I regret that I did not hear all the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), but I was sorry to hear her criticise the Government for not having chosen to bring forward a Bill on the Warnock committee's proposals. The Government have committed themselves to bringing forward legislation when the time is right and I congratulate them on the way in which they have handled the issue. It is an area in which there have been rapid developments and the Government are aware—even if some hon. Members are not—that this country leads the world in medical biology. It is impossible for one country to lead the world in all aspects of scientific research, but it is accepted by all the people who have studied the matter that this country has a worldwide lead in medical biology. I call on hon. Members not to be frightened by finding this country in the lead, but to call on the great resources of British common sense so that we can build on that lead—not just technically and scientifically, but in the way in which we cope with the moral and ethical dilemmas involved.
197 The Church of England Synod has come out in support of research into in vitro fertilisation. I am sorry that some of the other Churches have been unable to follow that lead. I praise the work done by the Voluntary Licensing Authority, which was set up in 1985. After its first year's work, it was praised by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister who said that she hoped that its first year's report would bewidely studied, because the organisation's work is excellent."—[Official Report, 24 April 1986; Vol. 96, c. 421.]I recommend hon. Members to read not only the first report but the report on the second and third years, which show the continuing work of the Voluntary Licensing Authority.
The World Health Organisation has recently held an international conference on in vitro fertilisation at which speaker after speaker stood up to praise the work done by the Voluntary Licensing Authority. It is the envy of the world—a peculiarly British establishment and solution to the problems and opportunities that have arisen. We have given a lead to other countries on how to manage research in that subject so that the public can have confidence that there are sufficient controls.
Some countries have rushed into early legislation, which they will probably regret. The state of Victoria in Australia has enacted legislation that is restrictive and Germany is in the throes of introducing restrictive legislation. In this country, we can be satisfied that we need not take lessons in human ethics from a country with a record such as Germany's. No doubt Germany's restrictive legislation has been a reaction to the ghastly excesses suffered in the past.
There is no doubt that more research is needed. The latest report from the Voluntary Licensing Authority showed that 4,687 patients were treated in 1986 but that only 605 live births resulted. That is a success rate of less than 13 per cent. and clearly shows the great need for improvement. The 4,000 patients whose treatment was unsuccessful must have suffered great unhappiness.
My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone talked about the awful suddenness of in vitro fertilisation. I do not think that it is at all awful for those who have benefited. Many thousands of children have been born in this country as a result of IVF, and I understand that in France last year 3,000 such babies were born. I am sure that parents and their children will not consider that awful at all. Some parents pray to be able to choose not to pass on to their children inheritable disorders that may result in early death or serious handicap. Those disorders could be avoided if research allowed us to choose which embryos should be implanted and which should be discarded.
In congratulating the Government on not bringing forward knee-jerk legislation, it may help if I retrace the history and development of IVF research. The first IVF baby in the world was born in this country in July 1978. That was possible only because 10 years of research had already been undertaken by the late Patrick Steptoe and Professor Robert Edwards. It was a source of great satisfaction that Patrick Steptoe was honoured in the New Year honours list and fortunately he was able to receive that honour before his death. It is surprising that world leaders should take so long to achieve recognition just because their activities are controversial.
198 In July 1982 the Government set up the committee of inquiry into human fertilisation and embryology chaired by Dame Mary Warnock, and that committee reported two years later, in July 1984. It recommended that a statutory licensing authority should be established to regulate research and IVF infertility services. A small minority of those serving on the committee opposed research in different forms and shortly after the report was published a great campaign was organised. Hon. Members were subjected to a barrage of mail and petitions calling on them to demand a ban on all research. The former right hon. Member for South Down, Mr. Enoch Powell, tabled a Private Member's Bill—the Unborn Children (Protection) Bill in November 1984. It was debated in the House but it did not get further than Report. Although that Bill initially achieved a majority, its majority declined as it went through its various stages. I am pleased that at each stage at which we have considered such legislation the number of those who have supported the view of Mr. Enoch Powell has declined.
The opinion polls that have been published show that a majority of the public support research when it is designed to prevent congenital handicap or bring other such benefits. Marplan and NOP polls were conducted in 1985, and I feel sure that if an opinion poll were carried out today, a greater number of the public would support research, given that so many more children have now been born as a result of IVF.
In its latest report, the Voluntary Licensing Authority shows that 44 centres have been approved. I challenge those who oppose research to say exactly what harm it has done. A great deal of benefit has come from it. It is only because those who oppose research are unable to reconcile conflicting principles in their own minds that they have been unable to accept the benefits that have accrued from research that has been satisfactorily controlled by the Voluntary Licensing Authority.
Many organisations have come out in support of research. Progress—the campaign for research into reproduction—has been supported by 50 different organisations. I shall cite a few to show the wide support that exists. Organisations that are members of Progress include the Association to Combat Huntington's Chorea—a particularly vicious inheritable disorder whose elimination would bring great benefit—as well as the Association of Community Health Councils of England and Wales, the Birmingham Stillbirth and Neo Natal Death Society and the British Humanist Association. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone talked about humanity, but I ask her where is the humanity in forbidding the research.
Member organisations also include the British Medical Association, the Chelsea hospital for women fertility unit, the CHILD organisation, the Family Planning Association, the International Cerebral Palsy Society, the Lichfield and District Mental Welfare Association, the Maternity Alliance, the Medical Women's Federation and MENCAP—the Royal Society for Mentally Handicapped Children and Adults. I was particularly disappointed that the Roman Catholic archbishop chose to resign from MENCAP when it came out in support of research. How on earth can his resignation have helped the interests of hundreds of thousands of sufferers from mental handicap? I call upon the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church to review their position.
199 Progress is also supported by MIND—the National Association for Mental Health—the National Association for the Childless, which covers afflictions from which about one in 10 of the population suffer. Progress is supported by SENSE—the National Deaf Blind and Rubella Association—the Spastics Society, the Tay Sachs and Allied Diseases Association and the Tuberous Sclerosis Association of Great Britain, and many hospitals have also chosen to support the work being done as part of the Progress campaign. I have shown the broad measure of support that exists not only among the public but among the associations that represent people with special interests, and I hope that the minority of people who oppose research and try to pretend that they are more than a minority will recognise the force of that support.
I do not know whether a private Member's Bill on this subject will be tabled this Session. None of those tabled so far has got anywhere and I hope that hon. Members will now wait until the Government feel that the time is right to introduce legislation.
The Voluntary Licensing Authority was set up as a temporary arrangement. When the authority came into being three years ago it was asa temporary measure pending Government legislation.There is a saying that nothing is so permanent as a temporary arrangement. As the temporary arrangement has worked so well and is the envy of so many other countries throughout the world, I ask the Government to continue to examine the work of the organisation and to remember that it has done well and achieved the results that we wished it to achieve. The Government should not rush into legislation on the basis of a knee-jerk reaction to unfounded fears expressed by the opponents of research.
§ Mr. Jim Callaghan (Heywood and Middleton)
The Gracious Speech says:My Government will vigorously pursue their policies for reducing crime.That is a decision that all sensible and law-abiding people will applaud and support. I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) give the Labour party's approval to such a policy.
However, in recent months hon. Members representing constituencies in the north-west, including my hon. Friends the Members for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) and for Burnley (Mr. Pike), have been lobbied by the Greater Manchester police authority about rising crime in the area and fears that manpower resources are inadequate to counter that trend. The result of that lobby was that the north-west group of Labour Members asked for two meetings with Lord Ferrers—one before Prorogation and the other a few days ago. As Lord Ferrers is the Home Office Minister responsible for police affairs, the north-west group of Labour Members pressed on him the claims of the Greater Manchester police authority. However, despite the fact that two weeks ago Lord Ferrers accepted an invitation from the Greater Manchester police authority to visit the Manchester force, and despite our lobbying on behalf of the GMPA and the fact that Lord Ferrers appeared to be sympathetic to the case, we fear that our pleas will go unanswered.
Accordingly, I make a further plea on the Floor of the House to the Home Secretary to listen to the Greater 200 Manchester police authority's request for policies to reduce crime in the GMPA area, a request which I believe is covered by the statement in the Gracious Speech.
The Greater Manchester police authority and every sensible person want more bobbies on the beat to act as deterrents, particularly to those aged between 15 and 25 who commit more or less on-the-spot crimes, and to deter young criminals. The details of the cases speak for themselves. The Greater Manchester police authority was created under section 24 of the Local Government Act 1985. Its functions are laid down in section 4 of the Police Act 1964. Its overall duty is to maintain an adequate and efficient police force for the county. The 1964 Act makes the authority responsible for deciding the force's budget and for providing the chief constable with sufficient resources of manpower and other facilities.
It has become obvious, from the information that I have received, that the resources that are now available to the authority are inadequate, which can affect the efficiency of the police in tackling the rising crime rate in the area. The implications of the GMPA's revenue budget for 1988–89 prove my point. In his original submission to the GMPA, the chief constable had proposed a budget of about £201 million before the Home Office grant—£24 million more than the budget for 1987–88. Of that £24 million, a total of £19 million related to spending to which the authority was committed. The remaining £5.7 million represented the cost of a number of growth items that were calculated to release additional officers for operational duties on the beat. These proposals included the civilianisation of a further 80 posts, a point which we raised with Lord Ferrers—a vehicle replacement programme and a £1 million contingency fund to cover unforeseen eventualities.
It is clear, however, that the available resources are insufficient to allow such developments, no matter how desirable they may be. The continuation of a policy of civilianisation is important, particularly in the light of the GMPA's request for an additional 700 officers over five years. The Home Office has said that no such increase can be expected unless further inroads into civilianisation take place.
When the GMPA was formed in 1974, the establishment was 6,600, against the then chief constable designate's view that it should be 7,685. In response, the Home Secretary said in a letter dated 7 February 1974 that he had noted that an eventual establishment of 7,685 was considered desirable and he assumed that the authority would prepare a phased plan for the expansion of the force towards that figure.
Establishment reviews in 1978 and 1980 recommended realistic establishments of 8,792 and 9,161 respectively. Since the formation of the GMPA, however, a series of small increases has taken the establishment to its current level of 6,943. Leaving aside the 135 posts added in 1976 when the force took over the responsibility for policing Manchester airport, there has been a real increase of only 208 officers in 14 years. That is a 3 per cent. increment, as compared with 10 per cent. in establishments nationally. Meanwhile, there has been a 100 per cent. increase in crime in the Greater Manchester area.
In 1975, the number of rapes was 60. In 1987, that figure had risen to 110, an increase of 83 per cent. In 1975, cases of woundings and assaults totalled 3,692. In 1987, that figure had risen to 7,361, an increase of 99 per cent. In 1975, burglaries in dwellings amounted to 18,208. In 1987, 201 that figure had risen to 54,253, an increase of 198 per cent. In 1975, cases of robberies and assaults with intent to rob totalled 547. In 1987, that figure had risen to 2,132, an increase of 289 per cent. In 1975, thefts from vehicles numbered 13,250. In 1987, that figure had risen to 57,321, an increase of 332 per cent. In 1975, cases of criminal damage amounted to 4,889. In 1987, that figure had risen to 30,525, an increase of 524 per cent. The figures, showing the rising level of crime in the Greater Manchester area, speak for themselves.
A recent analysis of the number of crimes per head of population in English and Welsh forces suggests that the Greater Manchester area suffers more crime per person than all but one other force in the country. In 1987, a total of 9.3 per cent. of all recorded crimes in England, excluding London, were committed in the Greater Manchester area. It is not only that demands on the police, imposed by crime, have increased. Increases in other areas can be compared with the 3 per cent. growth in establishment between 1974 and 1987. There has been an increase in emergency calls to the police of 30 per cent., a 12 per cent. increase in road accidents and a 10 per cent. increase in the number of persons dealt with for crime.
To combat this massive increase in crime, the Greater Manchester police authority sought in May 1987 the approval of the Home Office to increase its establishment by 700 officers over five years, commencing with an increase of 140 constable posts in the financial year 1988–89. The Home Secretary decided, in his wisdom, not to grant the authority's application. The GMPA decided that further representations should be made to all Members of Parliament in the Greater Manchester area, and it sought a meeting with senior Ministers in the Home Office to discuss the authority's request.
The north-west group of Labour Members responded to the GMPA's case by requesting two meetings with Lord Ferrers—the first before he visited the Greater Manchester police force two weeks ago and the second after he had visited the force. We tried to press on him the urgency of the Manchester case and reaffirmed the request for 700 extra policemen on the beat within five years. The authority reminded him of the Home Secretary's statement at the recent Conservative party conference that, in view of the undeniable case in many police forces for more officers on the beat, there would be a further increase in police manpower of 1,000 officers next year.
It was our impression, following our discussion with Lord Ferrers, that a large proportion of the extra officers would be allocated to the Metropolitan police force and that the rest would be thinly spread among forces throughout England and Wales. I therefore urgently request—I am sure that my plea is backed by all Members from the north-west region—that in view of the soaring crime rate in the north-west, the Home Secretary should reconsider the case that has been made by the Greater Manchester police authority for more bobbies on the beat to ensure that all sections of the community are safe on the street and at home, and free from the fear that crime generates. More bobbies on the beat would help to dispel that fear.
I urge the Home Secretary to reconsider his verdict on the Greater Manchester police authority's request.
§ Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South)
I hope that the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Callaghan) will forgive me if I do not follow him too far down the track that he has laid out, but I agree with him about the seriousness of crime and the importance of having an increasing number of policemen on the beat to deal with it. I pay tribute to a great deal of what the Government have done in my part of Hampshire, and no doubt in the hon. Gentleman's area, to beat crime. We must do more, and the importance of doing more is a cross-party issue which must be pressed on the Home Office at all times. I am sure that Ministers recognise that.
Of all the statements of intention in the Queen's Speech, the one that I welcome with special warmth and the one which underpins the success of much else that the Government have been able to do is the pledge tocontinue to pursue firm financial policies designed to bear down on inflation.I believe that zero must be the target. To continue to tolerate anything more is to tolerate the continuing theft of people's savings and earnings equivalent to what happened in those supposedly darker days some centuries ago when the coinage was quite simply clipped rather than the more subtle devaluation which we have had over many decades of inflation.
As memories of the dizzy heights of inflation of the past have receded, there is a danger that its evils will be forgotten or ignored and people say that we can put up with a little—what is 2, 3, 4 or 5 per cent.? We cannot put up with it. We must not flinch from the consequences of a policy designed to reduce inflation. We must reduce it with great determination.
We did not flinch in 1981. I remember thinking then, when the Chancellor presented his Budget, that he was rather like the boy who stood on the burning deck whence all but he had fled. He faced the necessary measures then with the greatest courage, and the Government must summon the same courage to face the challenges that still remain.
The Government understand the importance of sound money. That fact has underpinned much of the confidence that they have enjoyed at home through three successful general elections, and it buttresses our standing in the world. The relationship between a sound economy and influence in foreign affairs is unquestionable. Without the one, the other will drain away, and with it will go the hegemony, unrivalled by any British leader in modern times, which the Prime Minister enjoys in Europe and the rest of the world.
It is a relief to see in the Queen's Speech that the Government have no intention of relaxing the determination of a reforming Administration to tackle some difficult and controversial issues. It is also a relief not to see proposals for some legislation. Along the lines of the prayer, the Government ought to leave undone those things which they ought not to do. We have had a great deal of the things which past Governments ought not to have done, but I see no more in the Queen's Speech, and I welcome that.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary spoke about issues which involve crime and punishment. I am pleased that a Bill for the care and protection of children is to be introduced. It will cover a great deal of ground and implement sensible recommendations arising from the 203 Cleveland inquiry to reform the law on child care and the family. We must protect innocent families from state-led officiousness—we saw much of that during the Cleveland inquiry—but we must not relax in the face of horrifying cruelty to children which sickens and disgusts any sane person.
In the criminal justice reforms, the Government have already amended the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. Since 1 October this year, the maximum sentence for child cruelty has increased from two to 10 years. It was too late to prevent a woefully inadequate maximum sentence of two years being passed this week at Winchester following the conviction for battering to death the three-year-old Sarah Worthington. The law has now changed, and none too soon. It empowers judges to pass sentences which suit the gravity of harrowing cases of violence, irrespective of whether it results in death.
I hope that, when framing child care legislation, and during its passage through Parliament, close attention will be paid to the advice of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. I have recently been made a vice-president of the Portsmouth branch of the NSPCC. Its members, and others throughout the country, work ceaselessly on behalf of children and families and will no doubt have much advice to offer. I hope that it will be listened to by the Government—I am sure that it will.
At the end of the Gracious Speech are the hopeful or ominous words—it depends on one's point of view—Other measures will be laid before you.I do not know what they might refer to, but I wish that they would refer to an amendment to the law in accordance with early-day motion 1237 of the previous Session concerning the treatment of widows of service men, an issue which has exercised the minds of hon. Members on both sides of the House for many years. It has been signed by many Members, and what I might call the ginger group has suggested that the word "immediately" should be inserted. I should like to remind the House of the motion.
That this House recognised the unfair treatment of the war widows and widows of Servicemen who retired before 31st March 1973, and those widows who married their husbands after their retirement from the Armed Forces both prior and subsequent to 6th April 1978; and urges Her Majesty's Government to remove these artificial time bars in order that all war widows and widows of Servicemen may receive the current rate for those pensions irrespective of the date of their husband's retirement or the date of their marriage."Other measures" in this Session or the next could easily put right something which really rankles with many people in my constituency and throughout the country in the constituencies of hon. Members on both sides of the House. The implementation of legislation along those lines is overdue and would be widely welcomed. I hope that it will receive serious consideration.
I understand from today's press that we are promised 16 Bills rather than the 44 that we had in the previous Parliament. However, I suspect that we Back Benchers will not notice very much difference, that the 10 o'clock rule will be suspended with depressing regularity, and that we shall be working as hard as ever. I have moved nearer the House, and while I shall support the Government with no less loyalty, at least I shall be able to support them in greater comfort.
§ Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)
I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the debate. The proposed legislation outlined in the Queen's Speech was received with mixed feelings in the communities which I represent. Perhaps it is significant that in 1988, which is the 20th anniversary of the commencement of the civil rights campaign in Northern Ireland, two of the issues addressed by that campaign are finally addressed by the proposals for legislation in the forthcoming Session.
What might be called the three great demands of the civil rights movement were a house on need and not creed, a job on endeavour and not favour, and universal adult suffrage. There is still an anachronism in terms of voting in Northern Ireland. Those who previously resided in the Republic of Ireland, but who may now have resided in Northern Ireland for 32 years, can vote to elect a Member to this House or to Europe, but cannot vote on how their rates may be spent by local government or who should represent them in a local devolved assembly. I welcome the Government's intention to remove that anomaly.
The second great demand was that a job should be gained on merit and not on whom one knows or who supports a particular application. I hope that the proposed legislation on fair employment will take on board the criticisms that were offered when the White Paper was introduced and debated in the House. After 20 years, 10 of which were under the existing fair employment legislation, the 1985 report revealed that very little had changed in terms of discrimination on religious grounds in employment practice.
I hope that at last the Government will get to grips with that issue and lay it to rest once and for all. I hope that they will shape a future of fair employment and redress and eradicate the injustices of the past. We have waited for a long time and I hope that the proposals will come to fruition in the next Session, although we shall have to wait for the terms of the proposed Bill before passing comment and judgment on it.
My party does not welcome the proposed legislation on the declaration of non-violence. That may sound strange from a member of a party which at all times has rejected violence as a means of achieving a political objective. It may seem strange coming from a party which at all times has avoided the use of verbal violence to incite inter-community strife. We oppose the proposed legislation because of the practical consequences that it will have in the council chambers and the communities in Northern Ireland. Perhaps, having discussed the matter with the Ministers concerned, having made detailed submissions to the Ministers and knowing that the argument for non-implementation was won in the summer of 1988, we would have seen the end of this piece of legislation, which can be only detrimental to the democratic process in Northern Ireland.
The proposed legislation is a gross interference with the normal democratic process. If proof were needed, it is the fact that the Government are not extending it to elections to this House or to the European Parliament, but are confining the declaration of non-violence to elections held within Northern Ireland.
I and my party, coming from a political position at the coalface of opposition to violence, oppose the measure for very solid reasons. We do not want any opinion in Northern Ireland to be disenfranchised. We want to see 205 the spotlight of publicity on all aspects and attitudes within our community. We want to expose those vile and reprehensible attitudes and we want to have the opportunity to highlight and spotlight those within our council chambers—and, if there is a devolved institution, within our assembly—who support violence, actually or verbally. The irony is that the legislation, as I understand it, will require a declaration of non-support for violence. The definition of violence has to be determined, and I do not think that it will ever be satisfactorily determined by legislation. Who will define support for violence? Are we talking about participation in physical violence or participation through membership of an organisation? Are we talking about verbal violence? The House should remember that the verbal violence that we hear in our council chambers is every bit as destructive and divisive as violence on the streets because that division of opinion in local government is translated into the community.
People who speak about the need for a declaration of non-violence always and only speak about the violence of Sinn Fein and the IRA. It is correct that those organisations should be mentioned, but we should remember that there is an equally big problem in the Loyalist community, and that 200 members of the Ulster Defence Association are presently serving life sentences for acts of violence.
I notice that no members of the Democratic Unionist party are present. That party subscribed to the Ulster Resistance Organisation which has been found guilty of storing huge caches of arms. The DUP has distanced itself only in a half-hearted manner, by saying that its intention was to have a well-disciplined army of men. Are we to decide whether that is incitement or support for a violent objective? This is a grey area and will bring the whole democratic process in Northern Ireland into disrepute. That is a great tragedy because, Lord knows, the recent history of local government, especially in Northern Ireland, is scattered with division, acts of verbal intimidation and verbal violence and the Government's proposals will add to that.
The Government have introduced the legislation, but are preparing to run away from its implementation because the offence will be not a criminal but a civil offence. Who will have to take action? Presumably it will be the local councillor, although I have heard a rumour that an amendment has been made to the original proposition that councils as a body may be able to take action. There is nothing more depressing or more likely to create antagonisms than the process of law in which we are about to engage the people of Northern Ireland.
In the years since 1985, ratepayers' money has been spent week after week and month after month in the pursuit of blatant party political objectives. I am speaking about the "No" campaign against the Anglo-Irish Agreement. This legislation gives carte blanche to people to spend more and more ratepayers' money in the pursuit of a party political viewpoint. I am convinced that the Government will regret the day that this piece of legislation is introduced.
The Government are not prepared to take up the cause of the law that they are about to introduce but are leaving it to the individual to incur expense and risk—and there will be risk. The Government have abolished juries in 206 Northern Ireland because of the risk to jurors, yet they are preparing to ask people to risk taking civil action against the person who is purported to have supported the men of violence. It is a very bad law and, like all bad laws, it is worse than no law at all. At this very late stage I ask the Government to reconsider their intentions and to prevent us from creating more and deeper divisions in the communities that we represent.
I ask the Government to take note of the debate on the White Paper on fair employment. Will they ensure that meaningful targets are achieved and given statutory backing? That is the only way in which the imbalance can be redressed.
I have confined my remarks to those aspects of the Gracious Speech dealing with Northern Ireland, but there are two other important subjects. Communities are undergoing a traumatic experience with the regrading of nurses. Irrespective of who is to blame for the mess and irrespective of the rights and wrongs, it is imperative that the Government take firm and positive action to restore harmony in the nursing communities and ancillary nursing communities and to restore confidence in the service to the people who ultimately must suffer—the patients. I ask the Government from the bottom of my heart to intervene, even if there is some loss of face. My constituency includes a high proportion of the nursing fraternity. The Government's actions are creating a division that will do untold damage to the nursing fraternity, to nursing care and eventually to patients.
I draw the attention of the House to a paragraph in the Gracious Speech:My Government will continue to attach very great importance to protecting our environment, both nationally and internationaly.If ever there were a weak statement of intent, that is it. There is no intention to comply with or to support the basic parameters laid down by the European Community on safety controls or to subscribe to minimum dosages, whether of toxic or of nuclear waste. There is no intention to introduce legislation to eradicate acts of grave neglect or to impose limits on the pollution-causing industries. My constituency is opposite Sellafield and I may bore the House by continuing to speak on this subject, but it constantly raises its head in my community.
The Gracious Speech does not refer to any intent by the Government to play a meaningful role in protecting the environment. The last time I heard a comment from a Minister on this subject, I could not believe my ears. He said that, to eradicate acid rain and the greenhouse effect, we should start expanding the nuclear industry. There is nothing more ludicrous or more contradictory than that statement.
It is late at night and, although I should love to develop that subject, I want your eye to look kindly on me in future, Mr. Speaker. I ask the Government not to utter platitudes but to give us positive action in coping with the greenhouse effect, transportation of toxic wastes and treatment of nuclear wastes. The Government should be honest and say whether they have already decided to dump nuclear waste at Sellafield. Everyone considers that that decision has been made already.
§ Ms. Jo Richardson (Barking)
There have been a large number of contributions on a variety of subjects. I am sorry that it has not been possible for every hon. Member who wished to speak to do so and I hope that they will have an opportunity during the rest of the week.
We have heard contributions on the security services, freedom of information, the DSS, family courts, the disasters of privatisation, Northern Ireland and Scotland. I listened with great care to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars), who made, I suppose, his maiden speech. He has made a maiden speech before in this place, and I do not know whether one can make two such speeches. He certainly made a vigorous contribution and I am sure that we shall hear a great deal from him between now and the end of the Parliament, when he will depart.
As shadow Minister for women, I looked forward with curiosity to the Gracious Speech, because last month the Government made the amazing discovery that more than half the population were women. According to the Daily Express, "Crusading Maggie" hadordered a new Government drive to end discrimination against women.To achieve this,the Ministerial Group on Women's Issues has been secretly working on the strategy".I do not know why it needs to be so secretive. The group is composed of eight men and two women—that comes as no surprise—and will apparently root out discrimination against women by "scrutinising" future Government legislation.
The sheer power of the proposals, not to mention the composition of the group, left me breathless with anticipation of the Government's programme for the coming Session and the new era of equal opportunities that it would bring. Sadly, as I heard the reality, as opposed to the rhetoric of the Government, I was forced to recall that the two are usually very different. The Minister of State had told the press that the aim of his group wasto clear the way for career women to achieve their goals and to protect the vulnerable.I see no sign of either of those aims in the Government's programme, nor any sign that the Government have begun to understand that women, men and all disadvantaged groups want rights not patronising Tory protection. We know from bitter experience of the past nine years that we can expect neither rights nor protection from a Government who have done more than any other post-war Government to foster inequality, vulnerability and insecurity.
The Government are led by a woman Prime Minister who rightly took up all the opportunities for women for which Socialist women had fought—the right to enter university with a grant and not a loan, the right to enter the professions and to earn equal pay, the ability to get child care, and the right to enter Parliament. Finally she walked through the door of No. 10 and closed it in the faces of millions of other women.
The principles that guide Labour Members are in stark contrast to those of the Tories. We understand that the commitment to achieve genuine equal opportunities must be central to Government measures—a commitment to dismantle discrimination and break down the barriers of prejudice and bigotry which limit the opportunities of so many women and of black and ethnic minorities, which 208 divide classes and place people with disabilities and those who care for them outside the economic and social community, which deny gay men and lesbians free choice and respect, and which render children and young people powerless.
We shall therefore scrutinise with great care the children's Bill proposed by the Government to ensure that children's rights to protection from abuse and to the highest quality of care both from the community and from those who look after them at home are paramount and that the necessary resources to provide care and support services for all children and parents are made available. We shall also continue to press for Government action to raise standards through education, which must give emphasis to ensuring that boys and young men acquire the skills of caring for themselves and others rather than just making science and technology compulsory for girls and young women.
Indeed, a Minister from the Department of Education and Science—the hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher)—has been sent out to tell young women, "Get ready for divorce, girls," a somewhat stunning and surprising rallying call for the supposed party of the family. The Minister was, in effect, saying that girls had to be educated because one day they might be divorced and would have to go out to work. I must tell him that most of them would like to go out to work at some stage in their lives anyway, so he should not lay emphasis on their being divorced first. He no doubt told them about the brave new opportunities that the Government intend to open up for young people and women at work.
During the past few weeks a series of written answers have trailed the contents of the next employment Bill. It will be very much like the 1986 Act. Then, as now, the Government were forced by Europe to act to remove discrimination against women. They delayed and prevaricated but, eventually, we were forced to take a sugar-coated pill. The sweeteners were European requirements such as equal retirement ages in some areas, but inside the pill was a severe dismantling of health and safety regulations for women, which also played a role in diminishing the standards for men.
Once again the Government are being forced by Europe to introduce a Bill. I welcome any legislation that provides genuine equality of opportunity, especially the repeal of section 51 of the Sex Discrimination Act. However, I shall not stand idly by if attempts are made to weaken the health and safety protection for workers by using the mask of inequality. Where protection is out of date and unnecessary, we shall welcome its repeal, but there are instances when protection should be levelled upwards to include men—for example, working with lead. The Government must act appropriately in such cases. Unfortunately, the wording in the Gracious Speech gave the game away. We are not dealing with "unnecessary obstacles", although the Government persist in considering health and safety as such. Lumped into the Bill will be further attacks on trade union representation and employees' rights. The Bill will be about that, and not about greater equality of opportunity.
Further proof of that fact was contained in this year's Local Government Act which, disgracefully, dispensed with contract compliance. Yet the Gracious Speech contains provisions for equality in Northern Ireland. If we can make provision for religions—and I am not against 209 that—why cannot we do so for women and those with disabilities? The Government have dispensed with their legislative protection.
No measures are outlined in the Gracious Speech to facilitate the 900,000-strong increase in the numbers of women with young children who will be seeking to return to work in the coming years. The Government's response has been to announce further tightening of the availability-for-work test, which they have already applied ruthlessly, to remove thousands of women from the unemployment register by rigidly refusing to recognise child care responsibilities and the care of elderly, sick or disabled relatives.
Britain and Northern Ireland are at the bottom or near bottom on virtually every policy indicator for child care facilities. Successive Ministers have been directly responsible for blocking and wrecking the European directive on parental and carers' leave. They have savaged employment rights for pregnant women in paid employment, especially for part-time workers. They have eroded the right to claim unfair dismissal, the right to return to work and the right to statutory maternity pay and the universal maternity grant.
§ Ms. Richardson
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but I have little time left and cannot give way.
The Government have introduced, through yet another of the Chancellor's so-called brilliant economic ideas, a tax on workplace nurseries as a perk. They have slashed local authority funding, so that we now have fewer publicly funded day nursery places than in 1945, and out of school care is virtually non-existent in most areas. The Government's response to this exercise in child care and parental provision is to announce an advertising campaign to encourage employers—not themselves—to provide child care. They should remove that tax on workplace nurseries before they go any further down that road. The Government should be advocating an integrated programme of child care giving choice to parents.
The needs of carers, who are now greater in number than the women at home caring for children, are similarly ignored in the Gracious Speech. There is not one proposal in it addressed to the recommendations of the Griffiths report on care in the community. The Government's proposal to bring forward, at last, the European directive for equal treatment in occupational pension schemes will not be much use to women who cannot seek employment because care in the community is not provided for their dependants, or who are forced to retire early to care for their dependants. That is now the second most common reason for women's early retirement.
We recognise that economic and social policies cannot be artificially divided, and that we have to tackle the root causes of both economic and social inequality if we are to eliminate the economic and social impoverishment that they generate. We also understand, as my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) said yesterday, that positive legislation and action by central Government to empower women and to improve their economic and social status is crucial and enriches society as a whole.
210 All the reliable evidence available to us shows that continuing unemployment, low pay and inadequate benefits and pensions will leave some 18 million children and adults existing on or below the poverty line by 1991. That is one in three of the population. The Government's dogmatic pursuit of deregulation, privatisation and cuts in public expenditure will do nothing to halt or reverse this trend. Our pensioners, the majority of whom are women, are the coldest in Europe in spite of what the Under-Secretary of State for Health says. Our children and their parents will continue to be deprived of their rightful education and caring needs. Homelessness and mortgage foreclosures, rent arrears and fuel poverty will continue to grow.
Hospital waiting lists and the increased burden on home nursing for women will increase further. Our discriminatory immigration laws will continue to deprive black people of a united family life and exacerbate the racism that pervades our society and underpins the discrimination that black people face at all levels of society. Local government will go on being deprived of the resources to make our streets and estates lighter and safer. The hon. Member for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn) made a most interesting speech about lighting on the streets, and I agree with him. He said that it was easy for local authorities to help.
We need not simply lighter and more welcoming streets where women and old people would not feel frightened, but estates with proper locks on doors. That would improve the situation. However, these things cost money and when local authorities are forced to make choices between one proposal and another, such measures often suffer. Many women and black and elderly people will remain trapped in their homes after dark and cut off from social contact and employment day and night because of the lack of safe, affordable transport, which is particularly important to women who live in rural areas.
Yet again, despite the Government's new window dressing, we find over half the population deprived of rightful opportunities to build their own pathways out of poverty and denied real freedom to contribute their talents, wisdom and expertise. Acknowledging those talents and that wisdom and experience would make a better life, not only for women, but for their children and for men, too. I wonder that the Prime Minister can sleep at night with all that she has on her conscience—
§ Ms. Richardson
I have come to the conclusion that, as my hon. Friend says, she does not have a conscience. The sooner that she and her Government go, the sooner that better life for all people, to which women could make a contribution, will come, and it will come soon.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten)
I thought that the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) rather spoilt her otherwise enjoyable, balanced and moderate speech with that unnecessary personal attack on my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. She is also, alas, rather ill informed about the important Government committee, the ministerial group on women's issues, which was set up by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in 1986. To show how 211 important it is, I should point out that the first ever chairman was my right hon. and learned Friend, the then Minister of State at the Home Office, now the Chief Whip. It is well known and is attended by the chairman of the Women's National Commission and her co-chairman. In the 18 to 20 months that I have been in the Home Office, many women's groups in this country have been well aware of it. I have letters on my desk from national and local women's groups all over the country asking that issues concerning women should be put before that ministerial group. Before the Labour party goes to Rottingdean and decides to cook up women's issues as something to sell to the electorate, it should find out the facts about the matter.
This has been a good and wide debate and there have been some notable contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the House. Some particularly important questions have been asked by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and I must devote part of my speech to replying to his questions, although I shall not be able to keep my remarks entirely to the issues that he raised. I should be wrong if I did not begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) on his pseudo-maiden speech, as someone who has previously been a Member of the House.
§ Mr. Patten
My hon. Friend says it is a retread. Consistent with his new status as a retreaded Member of the House, he was heard in semi-silence with semi-respect and gave way from time to time, which is unusual in a maiden speech. He then left the Chamber, but I am not sure whether he was wise or sensible to do so because he missed hearing a great deal of vitriol poured on his head from all around him on the Labour Benches. I do not know if his ears were burning, but tomorrow's Hansard will certainly show that there are a number of politically motivated men and women on those Benches who wish to verbally sandbag and mug him.
The hon. Gentleman's appearance in the House may well mark an interesting stage in British political history because, after all, the Labour party was born largely in Scotland. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman's victory in Govan will mark the beginning of the long decline of the Labour party in this country.
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook, my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) and others raised important matters on official secrets and the Security Service Bill, which was introduced this afternoon. The White Paper that sets forth the view of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on the reform of the Official Secrets Act 1911 is a liberalising document. It will lead to the removal from the criminal law of a great weight of material that is currently subject to the criminal law under section 2 of the Act. The House will have to make its own judgments when the Bill is published, which will be in the not-too-distant future.
Following the excellent debate which took place in July, I think that the House would expect the Government to have listened. It might also expect some of the views which were then expressed to have been reflected upon by the Government during the summer. At the same time, I do not think that the House would expect us to encompass in the Bill, when it is published, everything which was advocated during the July debate.
212 In a lucid speech, my hon Friend the Member for Thanet, South said—I think that I am representing him more or less exactly—that he thought that the official secrets legislation that is in prospect would be a step in the right direction.
§ Mr. Patten
When the Bill is published, I hope that my hon. Friend will feel that the step forward is one of decent size, even though he may not be able to agree with everything that it contains. I hope that there will be much within it with which he will agree. It would not be fruitful for me to continue to comment on what the Bill might or might not contain. I merely say that it is important that those who are extremely interested in these issues, if not passionate about them, in this place and in the media scrutinise the facts contained within the Bill, rather than any fiction that they might pretend the Bill contains, when it is published. It is important that debate on a reforming measure, when it comes, is based on fact, not on fiction or on fantasies which have been dreamt up by those who have certain views on the issue.
I shall try to answer one question directly before moving on to the Security Service Bill, which was referred to by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook. I can find nothing in the Acts mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman that negates what my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said in his simple statement that the disclosure of Budget secrets will no longer have the protection of the criminal law as set out in section 2 of the 1911 Act. The Acts introduce obligations of non-disclosure, but those are placed on the commissioners and tax inspectors. The Acts do not create any criminal offences for such disclosures. It is right that they create penalties, but they rely on such conduct as fraudulent evasion and incorrect tax forms, which I think we all would judge should be punished by the criminal law.
During the speech of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) I read the Income and Corporation Taxes Act 1970, which contains 540 sections and 16 schedules. I could find nothing within it on which the hon. Gentleman relies for his information. If he will identify the relevant sections and send that information to us, we shall consider them.
I applaud the qualified welcome which the Opposition have given to the Security Service Bill. I think that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said that he hoped that the Opposition would be able to support it, subject to close parliamentary scrutiny. I was pleased with that response. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends welcome the trend towards openness on security matters that has been marked during the period in which the Government have been in office. I shall give some major examples and some minor ones to demonstrate what I mean.
First of all, the Prime Minister has come to the Dispatch Box on nine occasions since 1979 and made statements to Parliament. Secondly, it is this reforming Government who introduced the Interception of Communications Act 1985, which has been widely welcomed, and has not been criticised by the Opposition. Thirdly, it is this reforming Government who in 1987 appointed a staff counsellor for the security services. Fourthly, we are about to publish an Official Secrets Bill. Fifthly, we have this afternoon published the Security 213 Service Bill. Those are substantial changes, which somehow the Labour Government between 1974 and 1979 simply avoided.
§ Mr. Patten
As my hon. Friend says, they forgot.
There are also some minor examples which, all in all, add up to examples of the great importance of the continuing trend to openness in local government. For example, it was this Government—not an earlier one—who allowed visits to Ministry of Defence establishments, such as Aldermaston, Portland Down and Greenham Common. It is this Government who have published the Department of Social Security manuals on the social fund. Secrecy was the motif of the Labour Government on those issues. It is this Government who, in the teeth of strong opposition from the Labour party, have published the reports of Her Majesty's inspectors of schools. It was not something that was wanted by the Labour party, but was something that was wanted by parents. When all those continuing developments are added up, it will be shown that there has been a slow, certain and measured width of information made available.
Secondly, the right hon. Members for Sparkbrook and for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) stressed the need for greater parliamentary oversight. Of course I respect their views, and the right hon. Member for Devonport, especially, has been an extremely lucid exponent of this argument. I do not agree with him any more than I agree with the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook. We shall have the opportunity to debate this Second Reading of the Security Service Bill, and doubtless we shall have the opportunity to debate it long and hard in Committee. However, I say at this stage that I believe that the case for parliamentary oversight, as made by the right hon. Members for Sparkbrook and Devonport, stems from some unclear thinking about the role of Parliament. It either demolishes the barrier of secrecy or it attempts to straddle it, which is the logical fault in the argument. We get predictably painful results either way.
If there was a new body charged with parliamentary oversight that knew it all, it could say nothing without damaging results. It would be within the ring of secrecy, and it could not say anything. However, if instead of speaking it was given powers to act, it would simply usurp the responsibilities of Ministers for the national security. The gap in our system was not parliamentary oversight, but redress for the citizen who felt that his or her freedom had been in some way attacked by the activities of the security services. It is this reforming Government who will, for the first time, give the aggrieved citizen the opportunity to seek redress in the Bill. That is a major step forward.
§ Mr. Patten
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but like his hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson), I have so much to reply to in a short period that it is difficult for me to give way. I shall certainly try to do so before the end.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook asked an important question about warrants, and I hope that my explanation will encourage him to think that we have it right. It is all there in clause 3 of the Bill. He mentioned the 214 specific case of the search made of premises in Scotland. The search was not made by members of the Security Service, but was made by members of the police force with a properly drawn-up warrant from a magistrates court under existing law. The right hon. Gentleman may like to use other examples, but the one he gave concerning Scotland was not relevant because the Security Service was not a party to that search. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman accepts that.
§ Mr. Hattersley
I understand the distinction that the Minister makes, but will he tell the House who did authorise the search made in Scotland?
§ Mr. Hattersley
For the Minister to answer that the search "was made under the authority of a warrant" is not acceptable. If ours is a free and democratic society, an individual must have been responsible. Who authorised the raid on BBC Scotland?
§ Mr. Patten
It was done under the ordinary processes of existing Scottish law—[Interruption.] We shall have to continue debating that point, but I believe that the right hon. Gentleman has simply misunderstood the position of the magistrates' warrant, which has been stated in this House over and over again by my right hon. Friends.
The right hon. Member for Devonport raised another important point. He regretted the fact that the language of the Maxwell Fyfe instruction to the Security Service is lost. It is difficult to imagine putting declaratory language into statute law, which is not easy for parliamentary draftsmen to do. What we now have, if the House decides, is firm legislation in prospect. I rather agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the Maxwell Fyfe directive was expressed in firm and fine language but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that all the principles of the then Home Secretary Maxwell Fyfe are hallowed in the legislation—certainly the spirit of them is. Expressing them in the form in which they appear in the Bill is a necessary consequence of modernising non-statutory injunctions for the clear language of statute.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South, whose words I noted carefully, said that he thought the Bill was, in a sense, a good step forward. Equally, he deplored the language of the Bill. I regret that we cannot use Cranmer's English but must use draftsman's English. However, if anyone is responsible for infelicities it is the Ministers responsible for the Bill and not the parliamentary draftsmen, who do such an excellent job of advising us.
§ Mr. Aitken
My hon. Friend, in a somewhat stately minuet, attempted to lead me into being an all-out supporter of the Security Service Bill and of the new secrets legislation. I ask him to concentrate on one central question that he has not answered. This country, alone of all Western democracies, has rejected the concept of any form of independent oversight of the security services, relying instead on ministerial oversight of a type that has failed over the years. Why is that?
§ Mr. Patten
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister are personally responsible and answerable to this House. I may tell my hon. Friend that I was not trying unfairly to draw him into being a full-blown 215 supporter of our excellent reforming legislation. At an earlier stage, I stated specifically, in respect of the promised Official Secrets Bill, that he may like to step a little in the direction we are going but that he might not necessarily like it all. I beg him not to imagine for one second that parliamentary or any other form of oversight of other European countries is necessarily thought to be wildly successful or treasured. Canada is an extremely good example of a country where there is strong and vigorous debate about the form of parliamentary oversight there.
§ Mr. Patten
This will have to be the last time that I give way, but I promised the hon. Gentleman that I would do so.
§ Mr. Bermingham
In the light of the Minister's comments about ministerial responsibility and the Prime Minister now being responsbile for these matters—and indeed she is—will he give the House an undertaking that when the Bill comes before the House, and questions about security are asked of the Prime Minister, answers will be given?
§ Mr. Patten
For the whole time she has been Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend has been personally responsible for the security services in the same way as has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department.
I listened with close attention to the impassioned speech made by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). When he described Mr. Wright as being probably a much valued member of the security service I thought that he was taking leave of his grip on reality. the very idea is about as likely as the right hon. Gentleman being described as a much valued member of the Labour party by that party's Front Bench team.
Should anyone wish to continue listening to debates on security matters he can stay on after 10 pm to hear the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), who, fortuitously and curiously, has secured an Adjournment debate on the Security Service, to which I look forward to replying.
The right hon. Member for Devonport mentioned the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1984 in an important passage of his speech. Anyone exercised by the restrictions on individual freedoms contained in the prevention of terrorism proposals should consider the freedoms that are threatened by terrorist organisations, notably by the IRA. It is they, not the Government, who murder and maim innocent people in their fruitless attempt to destroy the union which has been so much discussed in today's debate by Members from both sides of the water. The Government would be shirking their duty to protect citizens if they did not take firm action to help prevent acts of terrorism and bring terrorists to justice.
I hope that hon. Members will read carefully some of what the right hon. Member for Devonport said. I even hope that some of his words about the responsibilities of the media will be carried on the BBC programmes "Today in Parliament" and "Yesterday in Parliament". His words were very important and if they are not broadcast I hope they will be read widely in Broadcasting house. His remarks about the role and responsibility of the media were of considerable importance.
216 The hon. Member for Barking, my hon. Friends the Members for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) and for Thanet, South and the right hon. Member for Devonport all mentioned the importance of better protection for children and of the Bill dealing with that, which has not yet been published. It will honour the Government's White Paper commitment of 1987 to reform the law on child care and family services. It also takes account of Lord Justice Butler-Sloss's report on the Cleveland inquiry in the summer.
We have concluded that care orders—I refer particularly to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh—are no longer suitable as a disposal when a child is found guilty in criminal proceedings. I hope that there will be all-party assent to that. We found general support for this view when we consulted widely a few months ago. However, we intend to strengthen the courts' powers to make residence requirements in supervision orders in criminal proceedings. That is being done to put the child's interests first. As care orders will exclusively be civil proceedings in future, they should be handled in a court dedicated to civil business. That will provide the correct arena in which to hammer out these matters.
The Government intend to seek power to transfer care jurisdiction from the juvenile court to the domestic court. Our proposals, which include other changes in care jurisdiction, will lead on to wider reforms of family jurisdiction overall—
§ Mr. Patten
No, if the hon. Lady will forgive me.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, in his long and interesting speech, gave a number of examples of ways in which he thought freedoms were being interfered with, and he ranged beyond Home Office issues. I shall answer the points that he mentioned in the same spirit. He talked first about education and the Government's reforming intentions towards higher education. That was of great interest to me because I represent a university constituency. I must tell him that the system of universities and of further and higher education, supported by the mixed mode of grants and loans that we propose, will make the most generous provision for students in further and higher education anywhere in the Western world.
The tragedy at the moment is that in social classes C2, D and E, which represent about 60 per cent. of all young people in this country, only about 20 per cent. of those of the right age group go to university. That is after 30 years of substantial grant funding. The right hon. Gentleman dismissed international comparisons entirely, but I must point out to him that in social democratic countries all over Europe, which have long had mixed grant and loan schemes, the participation rate in higher education is substantially higher than ours. The right hon. Gentleman also forgot that 180,000 more students are enjoying further and higher education now than in 1979, and that has been an additional freedom that has been conferred on them.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook should have listened more carefully to what the right hon. Member for Devonport said about freedom and broadcasting. That is the last time that I shall praise the right hon. Member for Devonport tonight. I do not wish him any harm. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook also asked a direct question 217 about when there will be a debate on the White Paper on broadcasting. That is not a matter for me, but for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who is on the Front Bench tonight.
I shall now deal with the points made by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook on crime and also with those made by his hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Callaghan). Their comments compare rather unfavourably with the measured and coherent views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn). The right hon. Gentleman seems to dash into the crime issue and the Labour party seems to nibble round the edges of it and to have no coherent philosophy about handling crime. An example of that was the way in which the right hon. Gentleman addressed the crime figures.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said that crime was slowly coming down and that property crime in particular was coming down. Immediately there was some good news, the right hon. Gentleman could not criticise us for changes in the statistical base, so he said that it must mean that people were reporting crime less frequently than before. That is no praise for the 3,250,000 householders in neighbourhood watch schemes, who have contributed so much to the decline in the crime rate. The right hon. Gentleman simply does not care to put forward an intellectually coherent framework for his anti-crime policy.
If the New Statesman fulfils its promise, it will carry an excellent interview this week. Its journalists had their tape recorders on, and I had mine on. However, I must give the New Statesman a terrible warning. A few months ago I was asked to write for New Society and three weeks later it went bankrupt.
When dealing with policy figures, the right hon. Gentleman called only for more police. He did not suggest what should be done with them and did not balance the need for more police with the need for greater community action. Worst of all, he trotted out all those tired and intellectually bankrupt suggestions. We were told by the Labour party in 1979 that unemployment caused crime; in 1988 we are told that affluence causes crime. But what causes crime is people making a deliberate decision to be bad. The basis of any proper criminal policy is to try to understand why people decide to be bad. The Opposition have no answer, no policy and no understanding of the roots of criminality. They simply look for wild economic and social theories to justify—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.