§ 2.46 p.m.
§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion moved on Tuesday last by Baroness Wootton of Abinger—namely, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty in the following terms:
§ "Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, this afternoon we resume the debate on the Motion,That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty",which was so eloquently and interestingly, although perhaps not entirely uncontroversially, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger. After rather a long week-end of refreshing ourselves, mentally and physically, it will no doubt be expected that that high standard which was maintained during the first two days of our debate, and to which the noble Lord, Lord Champion, referred, will continue this afternoon; and, looking at the list of speakers after myself, I have no doubt that that will be the case. Nevertheless, since noble Lords speaking from the Front Bench of the Government craved a certain indulgence of the House, on the grounds of their inexperience in that position, I think I might point out that my position is not very much better inasmuch as I am by far the most junior ex-Minister to have spoken from this Front Bench so far. In fact, I am only one-half of a Front Bencher, because I have one foot on the Front and one foot on the Back Bench. I realise that the noble Earl the Leader of the House, as he has said more than once before, prefers both my feet to be on the Back Bench; nevertheless, I will do my best.
Before I start on the serious business I should like, on behalf of noble Lords on these Benches—in fact, I think on behalf of everybody in your Lordships' 221 House—to welcome the advent of the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, who is to speak very soon after me and who will, in fact, be making his maiden speech from the Government Front Bench in this House. I know that the noble Lord comes up from another place with a great reputation, and I was particularly interested to hear it whispered that he has very great experience with the technical side, if I may so put it, of Amendments, especially Amendments in opposition. He will have to deal with a great many Amendments for the Government—looking at the gracious Speech, that is no doubt the case—and I hope he will feel very much at home doing that. But, of course, if al any time he likes to help us on this side with our Amendments he will be very welcome.
Another thing I would say is that I am most delighted, in spite of what has been said in the Press and by the Prime Minister on more than one occasion, that the sheer merits of my old school have not been entirely overlooked on the Government Benches, and for that reason, too, I welcome him. May I also take this opportunity of congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, who is to wind up to-day, on his appointment? Our paths have not often crossed in debate, as we tended rather to deal with different subjects, but I wish him good luck and a safe and happy return to this side of the House.
If I may now turn to the gracious Speech, I should like to read out the sentence that referred to the problem of housing. Here it says:My Government will pursue a vigorous housing policy directed to producing more houses of better quality, and will promote the modernisation of the construction industry.It is most gratifying to find that after such a short period of office the Government have come to the obvious and inevitable conclusion that they could not do better than carry out the policy of the previous Government, for that is precisely what those words mean, and I think it is just as well to set the record straight at the beginning before turning to an examination of the methods which the Government intend to pursue.
I need not go back to as early as 1951—it has already been referred to by my noble friend Lord Dundee—when we increased the speed of building after being 222 told that we could not do it. Noble Lords will remember that only at the beginning of this year my right honourable friend the previous Minister of Housing promised that we should put up the rate of house building from 300,000 this year to something getting on for 340,000 or perhaps 350,000, that next year we should get more than that number, and that thereafter, in two years hence, aim at 400,000. It is a well-known fact that we have exceeded that promise already and that this year very nearly 370,000 houses or thereabouts are going to get built—we are to reach that figure a year ahead of time. After that we should have been aiming at 400,000 and should have been confident of fulfilling that aim in the coming year. In fact, as we come out of office there are 432,000 houses under construction. Therefore I think that the figure for housing at the end of 1965 should quite easily top 400,000. Of course, the credit, as I am sure the noble Lord will be the first to acknowledge, will be to the previous Conservative Government. But if, by any chance, that target should not be reached, then, of course, we on this side should require a full explanation of why there has been a failure to reach the figure of 400,000.
The latter part of the sentence I quoted from the gracious Speech referred to better quality. Of course, the noble Lord who is going to follow me will be well aware that that was also the policy of the previous Government, and in fact a Working Party was set up by the National Federation of Registered House Builders and staffed by the Council of House Builders and the Federation of Building Trade Employers, with representatives from the Government as well, to go into this very problem of quality. The previous Minister had given his views very clearly about it before the Working Party was set up. Its report has been published and it made the recommendation that it should, if necessary, be compulsory for all house builders to register with the Council, so that the standard would be uniform throughout the private building industry, with regular inspection and a two-year guarantee. We made it quite clear that we wished to see that happen and were quite prepared to bring in legislation to that effect. Therefore, on the ground of better quality, the pre- 223 vious Government were showing the way, and I hope that the present one will bring in such legislation. If they do we will certainly support it.
When we come to modernisation, relating to industrial systems of building, the previous Government had made giant strides in this direction. We set up a National Building Agency to co-ordinate both the private and the public side of the building industry, to make sure that they were aware of the latest developments and were industrialised. Our aim was to help them, especially the smaller firms, to co-ordinate and in general to be able to make progress in these systems. Not only that, hut we had got together many local authorities with a view to forming groups or consortia. We have spoken about this before in your Lordships' House, but I think it should be made generally known at the beginning of a new Session and a new Government. In fact, there are now already, as I have no doubt noble Lords will have discovered, 68 of the larger local authorities grouped together in ten different consortia, and those 68 represent no less than 25 per cent. of the total of local authority house-building.
In addition, there are another 400 local authorities talking about these ideas, and we hope that a good many of them, perhaps most of them, will eventually get together into these consortia, thereby enabling a great group of orders to be placed well ahead, so that modern factories can be set up on an economic basis for manufacturing standard component parts and economise, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, to speed up the whole process of the construction industry. If those other 400 local authorities came in there would be no less than 75 per cent. of the whole of the building industry, in so far as the public side, the local authority side, is concerned, in these consortia; and that is the greatest advance that could be made for encouraging industrial systems of building.
Again, building regulations are being reviewed very thoroughly. The necessary consultations were being carried out by the previous Minister of Public Building and Works and the regulations and the by-laws would have been put on a national basis. I believe they are quite near the stage when it will be possible to publish 224 them. That, again, will be a great step in the direction of economy and efficiency. So, my Lords, the previous Government took all those steps towards modernisation, and I put that on the record now. I think we can agree with my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn who, when winding up on Thursday and speaking of economic trade expansion and such matters, referred to the fact that a better inheritance could hardly have been passed on from one Government to another. I think this applies very much to the field of housing.
If I may I will now turn to the methods the Government are proposing to employ to back up this policy of ours which they intend to pursue. First, I come to the important matter of the Lands Commission. We are bound to disagree fundamentally with this approach, for two reasons. First of all, we believe that if anything can wreck the previous housing policy, which is being pursued, or the intention of the present housing policy of the Government, it will be the Lands Commission, because we do not see how after a period of time, say two years, land will as readily come forward for sale; and without land housing cannot go up. The second reason is that we disapprove fundamentally of a policy which appears to be first cousin to nationalisation of the land. We need not go into that in any great detail now, but there are three questions that I should like to put to the noble Lord, and I think he should perhaps at this stage be able to answer them.
Before the General Election the impression was, I think, that all land obtaining planning permission would automatically come under the eye of the Lands Commission and be acquired. Then, during the Election it seemed to be made plain that this would refer only to urban land. I should like clarification of whether this means only urban land on which planning permission is required or all land with planning permission. If the former, how will urban land be defined? I dare say that the noble Lord already has some idea as to what that would comprise. The second question is this. If compulsory powers are to be applied in the case of the necessity to acquire land in peri-urban areas—and this is just the sort of case in which land is required for the expansion of existing communities—will these areas be acquired compulsorily if they are still agricultural land? Land 225 which is not actually built on and which is required for building normally is agricultural land. I d) not see how the Government are going to get over that point.
Thirdly, what is the real object of this Lands Commission? Is it, as we were originally told, to cheapen houses or is it simply to acquire betterment value for the State? It seems to us that these two objectives are mutually exclusive. If a reasonable price to tempt people to sell is to be given to the owners of land, so that sales will not be held up, and if the State wishes to make a profit, that means selling to the builder at market value, and obviously he will pass that on to the client, to the person who wishes to buy the long leasehold, to whom it will not be any cheaper. If, on the other hand, the Lands Commission merely covers its overheads, then it will have to control the price at which the builder sells and also the price at which t le prospective owner sells. I do not see how the Commission can attain both these objectives. Perhaps the noble Lord will be able to clarify that point.
That brings me to the question of leasehold enfranchisement. Here we find, on the one hard, that Crown leaseholds are to be up. On the other hand, it is said clearly in the gracious Speech that private leaseholds are to be virtually abolished—or, at any rate, that people owning these leases will have the right to have them enfranchised and to own the property. How can the Government reconcile Crown leaseholds with the abolition of private leaseholds? What is the logic of that? Is the Crown leasehold a moral and righteous thing and the private leasehold an unrighteous thing? I do not quite follow, and I should like to hear the noble Lord's views on that subject.
Further, how is it possible to ignore the protection which has already been given to lessees who have leases which were originally signal for over 21 years? They are protected, except in cases where land is needed for redevelopment or for personal occupation of the owner. I suppose that the more important aspect is redevelopment. But is the redevelopment of these houses, many of them very old ones, to be considered a crime? Surely, in this modern age, we want redevelopment. I gather that this rule 226 does not apply to Crown leases. Therefore there is going to be no choice for the private owner of a long lease. That is made quite clear. The Crown intend to develop. Why should that right be denied to the private owner of land because he leases it?
Then there is a question of rents. Here we believe that reimposing rent control over a very wide area will, in fact, reduce the number of houses available for rent in future, because whenever houses become vacant they will be sold and will not go back to renting. That is what happened before the Rent Act, 1957, was passed. This system will introduce an inflexibility and immobility over the whole country. It is all right for those who have a place to rent, but what about those coming on who want a place? How will they be able to get one? What happens when younger members of a family leave home and the older people are left in the house? How are the young people ever going to be able to get a house? There will be a situation of under-occupation. It seems to us that this is not the right way to solve the problem of providing houses to rent.
Is it the intention of the Government to bring back under control all those houses decontrolled since 1957? That is what it says in the Labour Manifesto. Yet, the other day in another place, the Prime Minister did not say quite that. He said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 701 (No. 4) col. 77]:But we shall not try to put the clock back to where it stood in 1957. We see this as a great opportunity for moving forward to a new, juster and more humane relationship between landlord and tenant.Perhaps the noble Lord could interpret the meaning of those words "put the clock back", because I am afraid that I am not clear about what they mean. Are only some rents to be controlled? I do not know.
That brings me to the special situation which exists in London. The previous Government recognised this, when we set up the Milner Holland Committee to inquire into the special difficulties and cases of hardship in London. We knew that there were these special cases, but it was difficult to prove exactly where. We wanted to have all the facts and we intended to act on these facts when we had them in our possession.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF LAND AND NATURAL RESOURCES (LORD MITCHISON)
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would excuse me for a moment. We welcome help from any quarter. The noble Lord said that he does not think we have the right solution to the shortage of houses to rent. What is the right solution?
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, our first solution was to build more and more houses. But we do not believe that inflexible rent control is the way to make houses available for rent, or to keep available those now existing. That is really the difference.
I was speaking about the Milner Holland Committee. Is it the intention of the Government to bring forward legislation for rent control before they have the results? We said that we would act on recommendations made and, if necessary, bring in legislation for London and for other specially congested cities where similar problems exist. But I do not believe that it is right to extend rent control over the country as a whole. At the same time, we welcome the promised review of landlord and tenant relations, because that is what we intended to do after we had had the Milner Holland Report.
Finally—or nearly finally—there is the question of offices. In moving the humble Address, the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger seemed to imply that offices had been going up at the expense of slum clearance. But the noble Lord knows of course, that only 4 per cent. of all building is attributable to offices. When we were dealing with the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Bill eighteen months ago, the noble Lord, Lord Latham was concerned about what he called "slum offices", which exceeded in number the slum houses. I hope very much that this standstill in office building is not going to prevent the redevelopment of offices which ought to be redeveloped. There is the question of compensation and the smell of retrospective legislation. After all, the Act which in its Third Schedule gave tolerance rights for redevelopment and existing use was laid down by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in 1947. Now, another Labour Government is going 228 back on that Act. I do not know whether the noble Lord would like to comment on this particular attitude.
It is difficult to get a development certificate for an office, when it is not known who is going into the office. This is bound up with the larger problem of the location of population, industry and commerce. There is no doubt that the Government want to tackle this problem, but they are proposing to do so in a way which I think they may find is heading them for a fall. If they are going to try to make people go into various parts of the country, however desirable that may be theoretically, they may come up against that old problem of the individualism and obstinacy of people. I think they need to be careful of making a paper plan and then trying to make people fit into it, especially when they are trying to deal with young married people and young married workers. The young are not noticeably tolerant of interference, and the old are of course especially obstinate. It is perhaps right to say that the only really reasonable people are those of about my age—the middle-aged people! I feel that the Government may have considerable trouble in trying to make people do things they do not want to do.
The gracious Speech refers toreforms in taxation and better arrangements for local government finance.This is tucked away on the third page where one can hardly find it. However, I am wondering whether under this short sentence are hidden all these reforms in the Labour Manifesto, of 100 per cent. loans for house purchase, of low interest rates for local authority housing, and the general borrowing powers of local authorities, which, of course, were revised earlier this year under the Public Works Loans Board. These are major matters which we have no time to discuss now, but they can bring about a vast change in the whole field of local authority administration and of national finance. We shall have to keen a sharp eye open on this question. After all, the 100 per cent. loans have been available since 1959, and 80 per cent. of local authorities use them. Therefore, I do not know why such a shout was set up about this by the Labour Party during the Election, unless they are going to 229 produce the money for the local authorities and put further charges on the taxpayer in this respect. I do not know what the intention may be.
The gracious Speech refers to various measures in the fields of housing, transport and so on, which will he directed towards meetingthe needs and aspirations of the time".After reading the Labour Manifesto and the gracious Speech, and after hearing and reading speeches in another place as well as in this House, I very much wonder whether this should not read, "the needs and aspirations of the Labour Party." What I should like to see is "the needs and aspirations of the people". I think, as time goes on, the Government will find that the needs and aspirations of the people are not those which they have set out in such precise teens in the gracious Speech or in their Manifesto; when the time comes these people will show that the Government have mistaken some of the needs and aspirations, and will vote accordingly.
§ 3.14 p.m.
§ LORD AMULREE
My Lords, before I pass the few comments I propose to make on the gracious Speech I should like to join the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, in giving congratulations to the noble Lord who is to reply. I wish him very good luck in his task, which I am sure he will find no problem at all.
One of the things which I read with interest and excitement in the gracious Speech was that it was the intention of the Governmentto modernise and develop the health and welfare servicesof the country. That, I thought, was some reward for me, because I have been talking about this to your Lordships on a great many occasions over quite a long period of time. I felt that at last some of what I had been saying was going to come back. However, my feelings of joy were rather shaken when I found that under the new Government there was not to be a Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health sitting in this House. I realised that perhaps my feeling of success was not so justified as I thought. What I propose to do now is to repeat, not in quite the same words, some of the things I have been saying in the past, because we do not quite know what is proposed and 230 something that I say may put some idea into the minds of those who are considering this matter.
The really important point is that we should regard the health and welfare services of the country as one service and not as two services. This applies particularly when you are dealing with old people and with the young. Here, again, I should like to emphasise what a great similarity there can be between the problems of the old and of the young. When one comes to look at the way these services function it appears rather strange, because the local authorities have health and welfare functions, and the hospitals and Regional Boards have health functions—they are not quite the same, of course—and it is difficult to come to a real dividing line between these three types of services provided by two different kinds of authority. There are a number of local authorities at the present time which have moved a step forward and combined their health and welfare committees. I believe it has been done with encouragement from the Ministry of Health, and we trust that more of this will occur. Indeed, one would like to see things go so far that medical officers of health for the local authorities become the chief welfare officers, as has occurred in some local authorities.
Another thing one finds is the split which occurs between the hospital beds provided under the Regional Hospital Boards and the beds for the infirm and the frail which have been run by separate authorities. This causes a good deal of delay, difficulty and hardship. It occurs particularly in London, where things are not suite as satisfactory as they are in some other parts of the country. The lack of continuity which one finds in the care of some of these people who move from one institution to a hospital and back again can, I regret to say, lead to quite a lot of waste of effort and time on the part of the hospital authorities, the welfare authorities, the medical staff and nursing staff, and the auxiliary staff employed in treating these people.
I should like to quote one case in point. There was a woman admitted into one of my beds some time ago. She was, from my point of view, a comparatively young woman of about 231 67 or 68. She had suffered quite a bad stroke, and it took us a long time to get her into a mobile state where she could lead a comparatively normal life. Unfortunately, because of certain difficulties with the family, it was not possible for her to go back to her home. She was transferred to one of the local authority homes, and one kept an eye on her for a short time. One then thought that she was going on well, and did no more.
About four months ago—that is, about six months after she had been there—I received a message saying that she had become what they call one of the chronic sick (that unpleasant phrase) and would I please go and take her over as she was too ill for them. I went and saw her, and I found that she had been put to bed immediately she got there and kept in bed for six months. She came back to my hospital. I do not claim any particular credit for myself, but by our working on her again—she was a very willing person—she has now come back to being a normal and mobile individual as she was before she went away ten months ago. That seems to me to be a great waste of time, trouble and effort on the part of the various authorities, and at the same time not to be very good for the patient. I wonder whether, if we are to modernise and improve the welfare services, some of the beds which are at present reserved for the frail and infirm could not be tied up more with the medical services so that that sort of thing need not occur again.
May I quote another example, which is rather more encouraging? There was a man who had been admitted to a local authority home quite a long time ago, and they approached us saying that he was terribly sick, that he was a complete cripple, suffering from bad chronic bronchitis, and could we admit him. He did not seem too bad when I saw him, and when he came into hospital one soon found that he was not a cripple at all. He was perfectly mobile, so much so that one day he put on his clothes and left, saying he was going for a walk. He went down to Sandown Park to the races and came back with £25 in his pocket. Two days later he did the same thing. He went to some other race meeting and came back with £70 in his pocket. I do not call him a person who should be regarded as 232 chronic sick and taken care of at public expense in some hospital. He has now gone back to a welfare home, where I expect he is still making money when he goes out. That is one thing to which I should like to draw Her Majesty's Government's attention.
There is another point I should like to mention briefly. Is it not time that the cumbrous structure of the Ministry of Health, Regional Hospital Boards and hospital management committees was changed into something rather more modern and developed in some better way? A great deal of time is wasted in projects moving up and coming down this great staircase. I think I am right in saying that when the National Health Service Bill was first talked about in Parliament it was said that it was not the intention that the Ministry should keep a real financial stranglehold upon the Service; but that, unfortunately, is going on now. One wonders whether that situation could not be improved. There have been various suggestions made, one by my own Party and one by the Report of the committee under the chairmanship of Sir Arthur Porritt, which suggested area health boards which would comprise the local authority, the general practitioner and the hospital service, making one service for the people in need of medical and welfare care. I admit that it would involve some change in the local authority functions, and might be rather difficult to do, but I think it is something which is well worth thinking about seriously.
There was something else mentioned in the gracious Speech which I was pleased to see. It said that steps were to be taken to increase the number of doctors in the country. We need more doctors in the country, first, because the population of the country is increasing and, secondly, because in some of the town areas there are definitely not enough doctors to go round. They have far too much work to do. Too many patients go to their surgeries, and they cannot give them the proper attention they would like to give. If the Government really persist in their intention to create more doctors, I trust they will not just train more doctors in the same medical schools. Medical schools are full to capacity, and if we are going to push more students into a school which is full it merely means that the standard of teaching will fall. What we want to see is a great many more 233 medical schools started. I cannot make a prophecy about the number we shall need, because it is difficult to find out what the increase in the shortage of doctors is going to be. We certainly want five or six more medical schools.
And we must not forget that it takes a long time for a doctor to be produced. So one cannot wait too long for the medical schools, because the supply of doctors from foreign and Commonwealth countries may not be quite as big as it was. We want to produce our own doctors to replace those excellent people who come from India and other Commonwealth or foreign countries. They come here because they can learn a great deal that they can take back to their own country. Finally, supposing that more medical schools are to be con. structed, I hope there will be some place in them for a certain number of students from Commonwealth countries, and even from foreign countries. There is a great demand for such people to come here and carry out their medical training in this country, and one would like, if possible, to meet it.
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF LAND AND NATURAL RESOURCES (LORD MITCHISON)
My Lords, may I begin by thanking, most warmly and sincerely, both the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, and the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, for the personal remarks they were kind enough to make about me? These things are sometimes said with grace and sometimes apparently without conviction. In this case they were said with so much grace that I feel there must be some conviction. I am exceedingly thankful for that.
May I also confess to your Lordships a difficulty about which I think I must ask for some indulgence? I am not quite sure how virginal I am. I am here to answer for the Government on a variety of matters, and Lord Hastings, while kindly and courteously appreciating my difficulties as a maiden speaker, asked me a number of questions to which he required replies. I am not quite sure that the replies can be given at this stage, and that I will say in a minute. But I have a suspicion that behind the velvet glove there lay an iron hand, and that these questions were 234 designed, not only to elicit information but also to show me how misguided I was. We all know about misguided virgins, but they are a very difficult case to deal with in practice.
I should like to refer first to the points put by the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, because all I can say to him is that I listened to his speech with the greatest interest and attention, but that I think my noble friend Lord Stonham will more conveniently deal with it at the end of the debate, and I hope to the noble Lord's satisfaction.
To the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, may I say this? I much appreciate the difficulty in which your Lordships may be put by any conventional reluctance to interrupt me. I rather like being interrupted. If I had had that more in recollection at the time I feel sure that I should have refrained under some provocation from interrupting the noble Lord, Lord Hastings. But these are surely matters on which legislation will have to be introduced, and which will have to be discussed when they appear in legislative form.
The noble Lord very kindly referred to my own crude attempts at drafting, but these are apparently unnecessary in Conservative circles, since he expected a Junior Minister, at a very early stage in Parliament, to be able to deal with matters many of which would be the concern of skilled draftsmen, upon which expert advice would be needed and, I hope, consultation with public bodies and others who may be affected by them. That, I have always understood, though I have never been a Minister before, was the proper course for legislation, and I feel that to deal with it without those preliminaries would certainly trap me into all kinds of awkward statements and would not really satisfy the noble Lord, Lord Hastings—he would have shot a very small rabbit indeed.
Therefore, I should like to take up one thing he said which, I must say, surprised me. He told us, if I have the words correctly, that in the field of housing a better inheritance could hardly be imagined. I must say that I think that will surprise a great many people. I do not wish to be contentious—I am trying, so far as I can, not to be—but when I think of the people who are looking for houses in and around London, 235 and of the people who have to live under what are really disgraceful conditions, both in London and the larger cities, I can only imagine that the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, has not met many of them lately. Perhaps he would like to tell them what he told us to-day.
My Lords, I want to deal, as briefly as possible, with quite a number of subjects, and to begin with housing. I would say, with respect, that this involves the most intimate human problems, and I had hoped that the Government would have the sympathy and support of your Lordships in the attempts they propose to make to deal with the many difficulties of housing. I still hope so. I feel sure, too, that we shall be able to discuss them without undue prejudice, agreeing that neither landlords nor tenants, neither housing authorities nor developers, are all good or all bad, even if their interests inevitably sometimes conflict. I trust that we shall regard housing as a field where the main impulse will have to come from a partnership of the Government of the day and the housing authorities. But there remains ample room for the constructive help of housing associations and other voluntary bodies.
I do not think your Lordships will expect me at this stage to say much about policy or about the measures required to implement the statements in the gracious Speech. They are, I repeat, matters in this case for my right honourable friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, and they are also matters which require detailed consideration and detailed explanation. But I should like to say a few words about the present position, with little comment on my part on what has happened or has not happened in the recent past. I cannot, however, refrain from pointing out that the target set by Conservative Governments varied from time to time. In May, 1963, it was 350,000 houses, and then, by the autumn of 1963, it was 400,000. These figures are really quite beyond anything that has actually been attained during the thirteen years of Conservative Government. The figures in those thirteen years have varied one side or another of 300,000, the highest figure being reached, oddly enough, at about the time of a previous Election in 1955.
236 One, of course, welcomes the coincidence of policies in many respects. Housing is, after all, a grave public responsibility, and it is good to know that during the last year, at any rate, of the previous Government there was a great deal of coincidence between measures which we had been advocating for some time and those which they had found it right to adopt. Quite sincerely and without any backwash, if I may put it like that, I say that one welcomes that. This is a matter in which conditions change and policies must change from time to time with them.
I should like, therefore, to turn again to what is the present position. The last Report of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government pointed out, quite rightly, that, in spite of what has been done under successive Governments, of both Parties, since the war, there persists a severe shortage of houses, especially in and around the main centres of employment. In Greater London, for instance, there are about 215,000 more households or families, whichever you like to call them, than there are dwellings. This means shared dwellings which are sometimes overcrowded and a good many families in the care of the London County Council as homeless. Most of the larger Provincial cities have substantial waiting lists. I must repeat, I can hardly call this a particularly good inheritance.
But I am afraid that that is only part of the story. For those who want to live in London and, indeed, for those who have to live there because of their occupation, accommodation is hard to find and unduly expensive. In terms of human relationships such a situation offers tempting opportunities to landlords who are more concerned with the financial aspects of what they do than with the personal and social consequences. The effect of the Rent Act, 1957, particularly the decontrol of houses on new tenancies, commonly called "creeping decontrol", has not been to increase the supply of available accommodation. In too many cases it has removed the security of tenure inherent in the original idea of control of housing. To stop unjust evictions has become an urgent necessity.
I now turn to some questions which particularly affect the activities of local authorities. Whatever estimate we may 237 make of the total number of houses required to be built in a year, I hope that we shall all agree that there must be a proper balance between houses built by public authorities and those built by private builders. In 1951 there were about eight houses built by public authorities for every one built privately. By 1963 the proportion of public authority Houses had fallen to a startling extent; there were only about five houses built by public authorities for every seven built privately. Houses built privately are not, as a rule, built to let, and I am driven to the conclusion that no proper balance has been kept between the requirements of those who, for one reason or another, can ill afford to buy, even with the help of a loan, and those who can buy and are prepared to face the uncertainty of mortgage rates. One result has been to oblige many young people to buy houses when they would have preferred to rent them, and the shortage of houses to let interferes with the mobility of labour that may well be required if we are to modernise industry.
The gracious Speech mentionedcentral or regional plans to promote economic development. with special reference to the needs of the under-employed areas of the country.However attractive to developers it may be to provide more accommodation around London, it is clear from the words I have just quoted that there will be at least as great a need for new housing in and around centres of industry existing or to be established in other parts of the country; and much of that need will have to be met by public authority housing in one form or another, no doubt including New Towns. In this connection there will have to be an early review of housing subsidies, which in recent years have failed to encourage a sufficient proportion of public authority housing.
Without, for the time being, going into the complicated questions of improvement grants, general reconditioning and slum clearance, I should like to point out that much remains to be done by way of plans for urban renewal. The connection with transport problems is obvious and was well illustrated by the Buchanan Report. Similarly, if new industry is to be established in parts of the country where it has not hitherto existed there must obviously be co-ordination 238 both with transport and with housing. I feel sure that your Lordships will appreciate that if industry and our economic problems are to be regarded as a national matter, the strategy of housing and transport must also be founded on national requirements. After all, if we want a man to take a job in some particular place, and perhaps to acquire a new skill for the purpose, we must provide him with a home reasonably near his work and, let us hope, with less difficulty in travelling between his home and his work than he meets under present conditions. I would admit at once that these are aspirations, but we can make them targets and do our best to move towards them.
The gracious Speech mentions the control of rents and the establishment "as rapidly as possible of a Crown Lands Commission". Your Lordships will not expect me at this stage to make more than the most general observations on either of these topics, which are of course connected. It is the possibility of getting a high price for urban accommodation, whether on sale or by means of a high rent, which had led in a few cases to the most reprehensible steps to evict sitting tenants and in many more cases to pressure on them one way and another to get out of the house they have occupied for so long. One underlying cause for this is, of course, the shortage of houses to which I have already referred.
Another cause of rising rents, whether paid to the private landlord of to a housing authority, is the high price of land, for of course a private landlord can get higher rents if the alternative is a house to be built on expensive land. As regards local authorities, the high price of land is reflected in higher rents and rates, and it affects not only housing but the buildings required for their other services, such as those in connection with education and health. No one can promise an immediate or startling reduction in the price of land, but some action in this direction is imperative. The object of the Lands Commission, which will be within the province of my right honourable friend the Minister of Land and Natural Resources, is to deal with the problem which has troubled us all since and before the Uthwatt Committee; that is, to ensure that some part of the development value of land will ensure to the community, since it is the community and 239 its actions which have brought the development value into being.
I know the interest that your Lordships take in National Parks, and I should like to add that they, too, will fall within the province of my right honourable friend the Minister of Land and Natural Resources.
There are two other matters I would mention in connection with housing. The price and the rent of houses depend, of course, not only on the cost of land but also on the cost of building, and I hope your Lordships will welcome on general social grounds, as indeed the noble Lord. Lord Hastings, did, both the reference in the gracious Speech to the modernisation of the construction industry and—here perhaps we part company—also the recent statement about offices in and round London. It has been generally realised that if London housing conditions are to be improved some check is needed on the growth of offices in the metropolis, and I can only say how glad I am that firm steps have been taken without delay; it was high time for them. The construction industry is, of course, concerned not only with housing but with other calls on it; and the number of houses built, as well as the extent to which demands for more schools and other public buildings can be met, must depend, whatever figures Governments may give from time to time, on the capacity of the industry and on its full utilisation. There is clearly, I think, a duty to review the position. We shall have to see what improvements can be made.
Lastly I turn to the field of social security. Your Lordships will recollect the passage in the gracious Speech in which we make it clear that we think that our existing schemes of social security need radical changes. We are starting a review of these schemes at once and this will be comprehensive and far-ranging. We have already indicated the broad lines on which, in our view, changes should be made. We shall give high priority to working out our plans for ensuring to people already retired and to widows an adequate minimum income received as of right. Means of improving the retirement pension scheme for those retiring in future and the possibility of introducing short-term wage-related unemployment and sickness benefits will also be considered. But these are 240 inevitably longer-term measures. Meanwhile, social justice demands that something should be done as soon as possible for the old, the sick, the widows and other members of the community suffering misfortune. Their needs cannot be expected to wait while major measures of reform are worked out, and we intend, therefore, to introduce early legislation to provide for a general increase of flat-rate benefits on the present pattern and for the necessary increases in contributions. The amounts and other details will be for my right honourable friends to announce, but I do not expect that your Lordships will have very long to wait.
My Lords, may I say personally that I hope I have not been more contentious than the occasion required. I cannot claim to have been non-contentious. I have done my best to obey that very fine piece of Jacobean English in your Lordships' Standing Orders and not to he offensive. If I have gone too far, it was no doubt through lack of experience, but I think your Lordships would forgive me a little indiscretion in that respect if I went as far as I could to give the information required, although I must repeat that most of the questions I was asked seem to me to be matters which we shall have to consider at a later stage with legislation before us.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, may I just say that I restrained an almost overwhelming impulse to interrupt the noble Lord on at least half a dozen occasions.
§ 3.50 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF CHICHESTER
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just spoken has already been very generously and very sincerely welcomed by Members of the two Benches opposite, and it is my own privilege in following him to speak from the rather more sparsely occupied Bishops' Bench but with no less sincerity. Indeed, I hope that the noble Lord, when he hears the reply of the Bishop, will not accuse me, any more than he did the other two speakers, either of a lack of grace or a lack of conviction. But, in welcoming and congratulating a noble Lord on his maiden speech, however much we are apt to say that we hope he will on many other occasions address us, in 241 this particular instance it is quite clear that the requirements of either his own Party or the Parties opposite will ensure he does speak on many occasions. I need only add that we shall look forward to these occasions with great anticipation in view of his past record, and the able and felicitous way in which he has spoken to us this afternoon assured us that we shall listen to him with great profit.
I should like to take up the point with which he and the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, began, a id say a little on this matter of housing, because, as has been rightly said, this a human problem. One of your Lordships twitted the Government, I think during the earlier stages of the debate on the gracious Speech, on trying to chase too many top priorities at once. But housing is a top priority; it is a bread-and-butter matter of life; and while there are many other matters which concern the lives and the amenities of people which come within the compass of this debate, none of them can take the place of a house, a place where a family can live. We might be in danger of being rather like Marie Antoinette suggesting a diet of cake to a breadless populace if we were to suppose that other things could ever take the place of or be a substitute for adequate housing in a community.
We are aware indeed—though we do not stop often enough to think of it—of what it would be to face a houseless future, of the plight of a young couple trying to make a home when they cannot get a home, or of a family which has to try to preserve family life in decency and privacy, if not in comfort, in overcrowded conditions. And, of course, we are aware of the hopeless prospects, which have been referred to, of many old people who dread the time when they may be taken away from the normal life of the community into some quarters where they feel isolated and cut off. It is fair to add that part of the sting of Smethwick, on which so much has been said, not always wisely, was a housing and not a racial problem: and although housing involves a great deal more than merely building houses, it is first of all simply on the matter of houses that we must be concerned.
The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, referred kindly to the part played by voluntary housing associations. They fluctuate to some extent in the response 242 they obtain from the public, in the same way that public opinion fluctuates on this whole issue. Sometimes we are quiescent. Sometimes when the lid is taken up by somebody and we realise the actual conditions under which some people have to live feeling is then aroused. I believe that the present moment is a time when the public conscience is seriously exercised about the conditions of housing—at a time when there is so much prosperity in other fields. The part played by the voluntary, non-profit-making societies is a long and an honourable record; it is largely local, largely intimate and personal. I am happy to say that only recently, under the initiative of the British Council of Churches, a new housing trust has been started, hacked by the London County Council, backed not merely by individuals but by the Churches themselves, whose purpose is to stimulate the formation of local housing societies and, of course, to stimulate public opinion about it. I am sure your Lordships would all wish them well in this new venture.
However, it is not really on the voluntary side of this matter that I should like to speak, because this is only touching the fringe of the main problem. Surely, what is disquieting at the present time about the housing situation is not merely its size, but the fact that we never seem to keep pace with it. The requirement of new families is going to grow. Young people marry younger, and people live longer. This is one factor. There is a "bulge" coming up from the educational world which has been its headache over the past ten and fifteen years; it will now become a housing headache in its turn as these young people marry. And I suppose that, as conditions and standards of housing are raised elsewhere. so by contrast the quality of some of the older houses diminishes, and what believe is technically called the obsolescence rate rises. Then there will be an increasing demand for new houses by new families, and side by side with this there is the problem of replacement. This, I would say. is the most disquieting feature of all.
It is the plain fact that over the last few years the target of slum clearance which local authorities have set themselves—something like 80,000 to 85,000 houses a year—has never yet been reached in any one year. Slum areas, 243 some of them near to hand but certainly some in the North of England, at the present slum clearance rate will take not two or three years to deal with, but two or three generations. Indeed, at our present rate we shall never catch up with slum clearance. That, of course, means, as has been indicated this afternoon, that we must raise our sights and have a larger target. We are grateful to hear from, and to be reminded by, the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, of the higher target which the Conservative Party has set. I noted a slight doubt in his own description of this target, as to whether this would have been reached, or would in fact be reached, this year, and perhaps a desire to unload some of the responsibility for that if it did not happen. In fixing large targets we may be trying to call "spirits from the vasty deep" and not getting them. I am not sure whether the present Government have yet fixed their target. Perhaps they are not yet fully confident enough to do that. But there is no doubt on all sides that the old target of something like 300,000 new houses per year, will simply not add up to our present need, and it must be increased to something like 400,000 at least.
The question that concerns so many of us who do not understand the technicalities of this is: are we capable of reaching this larger figure? We have never reached it yet. Indeed, we have rarely come up to our target of 300,000. The average lies well below that. Are we capable of advancing it if we want to do so? Do we take seriously enough the necessities which would be laid upon us if we were to achieve that target? We are dealing with limited commodities. We are dealing with land, money and building resources. These are all in their own way limited. But the policy or the choice as to how to deploy these resources is a national choice and not a matter of leaving it to circumstances to work out. The way in which we use—control, if you like—the land and land usage, the amount of money we release for housing, and the way in which we deploy our building resources seem to rest with Government and national policy about which many of us, as I say, do not understand the technicalities. I feel gravely concerned about all this.
I do not want to detain your Lordships long on this matter. An observer 244 looking at our situation as it is at present and as it has been for the last two years, would, I think, note and feel concerned on three particular issues. Knowing the need for houses, and side by side observing, shall we say, the multiplication of prestige office buildings in the middle of London, he would be inclined to say that here was a great distortion of priorities. I cannot conceive what are the feelings of an overcrowded family from the East End of London when it sees so much of the building resources of our country harnessed to erecting monuments to commerce against the skyline. Some action has been taken; and, indeed, I welcome this. I am not certain whether banishing offices from a certain area necessarily solves the problem; it is a beginning of doing so. But it is a national choice as to how much we are prepared to put the human values of housing beyond the claims, not of proper industrial development, but of profit or of status or even of convenience, and to decide which comes first.
The second fact which would strike the observer is that although the total number of houses which are being built, or which have been built, has remained fairly constant in the past few years, the balance has varied and altered very definitely. I am not denying the needs of owner occupiers and the increasing number of those who want to purchase and rent privately their own houses and live peaceably in their own habitations. That is a very laudable objective. But I have seen calculations, based on proportions of income, which suggest that in regard to buying by mortgage, a house of the value of £3,000 (and one cannot get a house for much below that), the number of people who are able to do that out of income, on a reasonable basis of proportion of income to be spent on mortgage, is something like 6 per cent. of the community. Perhaps not much more than twice that percentage would be among those who would be able to rent privately owned, and therefore privately financed, houses of the same sort. This means that something like four-fifths of the country are not in a position to buy or to rent privately built houses of their own. Yet I do not think we can deny the fact that many of them are in the greatest need.
Side by side with that is the plain fact that the proportion of local authority 245 housing in these years has diminished, and the present proportion is variously calculated as something between 20 and 40 per cent. of the whole building operation. Some of this no doubt is due to other reasons and causes outside our control, but some of it, at least, is surely due to official national policy. It is something on which many of us are bound to feel concerned when we think of the need, and when we think that the hands of the public authorities—who alone, I believe, can deal with the problem on a basis of need rather than of profit—are to some extent tied, or at least handicapped, in what they can do at present.
When all is said and done on this issue the plain question remains—this lurks in my mind, and had been mentioned in the gracious Speech: with the best will in the world, whatever one does about land, or whatever money one releases for it, would any Government be able to achieve a target of something like 400,000, unless there are radical alterations in the building industry or in building construction methods? This is something which has been referred to in the gracious Speech, and I welcome it.
Last week a local paper carried a report of a meeting of a housing association at which this very question was raised: whether the local authority might not use different methods and different construction materials in order to build houses more quickly and more cheaply. The reply was given that the use of these new materials was a risky thing in the English climate, and that it would seem better to push on as best they could with traditional methods. The English climate may be in some ways a liability; but so is the Englishmen's innate reluctance to change in this matter. As to what can be done, we have much to learn in this from many of our Continental neighbours. We may not want to "go Red," but we seem to want to remain "red-brick" in this country, ignoring some of the possibilities that are open, in terms of modern construction, if only they can be properly geared into the whole operation.
Some of these houses might not last so long, but I am not certain whether that would matter. We have fixed a certain age which is the right age for a house, something like three score years and ten, or four score years, if I may borrow the human equivalent. But I wonder whether 246 that is necessary, when one thinks of some of the houses that were built in the first half of the last century and are still being occupied, so that one only wishes that they had fallen down earlier. Such is the fluid condition of our day that a different and more experimental approach to this problem seems to be desirable on other grounds quite apart from urgency. At any rate, I welcome what might lie behind the references to this, hinted at on both the Opposition and the Government Benches this afternoon.
§ 4.7 p.m.
My Lords, I trust that your Lordships will extend your usual kind indulgence to one addressing your Lordships' House for the first time I have been greatly tempted, since hearing the speeches of noble Lords and the right reverend Prelate, to follow in a field about which I do know a little—that of housing—but I will not do so, and will carry on with the theme upon which I had intended to speak.
I have been unable to find in the gracious Speech any reference to a problem which is, I believe, of considerable public concern and interest: that of our water supplies. In most of the world's older communities pressure of population increase, advancement in standards of living and increased industrial uses are all imposing a heavy burden on existing water resources. Nor is the problem confined to established communities. In a report published this year by the United Nations it is clear that water shortage is going to be a growth-controlling factor for the developing countries. It is therefore not surprising that increasing attention has been given in recent years to schemes for drawing on that inexhaustible source of water supply, the sea, and converting sea water into potable water.
The process requires a very high degree of efficiency. Sea water contains 33,000 parts per million of dissolved solids, and for healthy human beings this content must be reduced to 500 parts per million. We are therefore aiming at attaining water purity greater than 99.8 per cent. Various methods have been suggested, such as separation by freezing or by electro dialysis, but it was the process of distillation which was the first to be adopted and which, up to now, has been the most successful. Indeed, it 247 is quite fair to say that whereas there have been a number of sizeable distillation plants at work for some years, the other processes have hardly yet emerged from the pilot or demonstration stage.
My Lords, it is not my intention to say more than the minimum on how the distillation process developed. It had its origin on board steamships, where it was obviously convenient to use the sea as the reservoir and to draw on it at will. The process was refined and improved; and it should be noted that by 1955 the best and most efficient plants could produce some 4 lb. of distillate for 1 lb. of steam supplied as the initial source of heat. A number of plants—some quite large—were supplied to arid parts of the world where it was clearly cheaper to produce water locally than to transport it from some less arid territory.
By 1956, however, a very substantial advancement, amounting, indeed, to a technical break-through, was achieved by the development of what is now generally referred to as multi-flash distillation. Curiously enough, this process was developed practically simultaneously by two British engineers, Dr. R. S. Silver and Dr. A. Frankel, although both were working quite independently. I am not going to try your Lordships' patience with technical detail, but will refer only to the striking improvement in performance that this process achieved. Through it 1 lb. of steam can now produce 11 lb. of distillate, and, of equal importance, capital costs have been approximately halved. This materially stimulated demand and led to the increased adoption of distillation plants abroad.
Between 1959 and the present year the two British companies involved—Messrs. G. & J. Weir and Messrs. Richardsons, Westgarth—who pooled their resources in 1962 as Weir Westgarth, were able to secure orders for 40 installations; this being rather more than 70 per cent. of the available market. These plants were for communities widely scattered all over the world; from Peru on the one hand, to the Persian Gulf on the other. This outstanding British achievement is less widely known than it ought to be, and I think we can take some measure of 248 pride that in a new and growing engineering field we are the leaders.
So far I have traced the development of the distillation process, and briefly referred to the significant contribution Britain has made. It is natural that it should have been adopted and found its readiest applications overseas in arid or semi-arid communities. But even on this island, my Lords, abundantly supplied as it is with rainfall, we have our problems. In the past our catchment schemes have served us well, but, as they become more distant from the demand centres they serve, their distribution costs will rise. They will also press increasingly on our limited land resources and threaten the remaining beauties of our countryside. As an alternative, or, as I refer to regard it, as a supplementary source, we have sea water conversion, using the sea as our reservoir and making minimal land demands.
A cost comparison must be made between the two systems. In this connection, it is gratifying to note the announcement earlier this year that the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research has given a grant to the Water Research Association which will inter alia be used to investigate the true incremental costs of additions to conventional water supply. It is to be observed, however, in comparing the two systems, that we already have our extensive network of reservoirs, and so on, for rain water. While these systems are continually being extended, it is difficult to know precisely the true cost of such extensions, since they undoubtedly benefit from the existence of facilities constructed in times of cheaper labour and capital long since written off or paid for. While welcoming, therefore, the approach by the D.S.I.R. to provide and start and set on foot this investigation, I hope that these factors will be very substantially borne in mind. I hope that these inquiries and investigations will be pursued, as only when they are available can we make a proper comparison with the alternative of supply by sea water conversion.
One aspect of this problem has already engaged your Lordships' attention. On July 15 this year, my noble friend Lord Wakefield of Kendal asked a question in this House on the possibilities of distillation of sea water, utilising, as a heat 249 source, nuclear reactors. As a result, my noble friend Lord Bessborough, then Joint Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, made arrangements whereby Weir Westgarth have been able to discuss with both the D.S.I.R. and the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority the feasibility of such a project. This has been very welcome and heartening to the company, who will be glad to collaborate in the investigation. It is also satisfying that the D.S.I.R. has set up an advisory committee and is financing research and studies of desalination economics. This will enable a broader survey of the whole field to be undertaken and will involve consideration of alternative techniques, although my personal view is that distillation currently enjoys a considerable lead and may well increase it.
The subject of sea water conversion has attracted world attention and was, indeed, mentioned specifically by the late President Kennedy and, again, by President Johnson. Your Lordships may be familiar with the work of the Office of Saline Water in Washington. This is a division of the Department of the Interior and has already promoted research on a large scale involving very substantial expenditure. Mr. Khrushchev also indicated Russian interest in the matter and, indeed. I believe there is the possibility of collaboration between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. on this subject.
British leadership in this field will be hard to maintain in the light of the challenge of these two major Powers. The success of the two companies and their associate, Weir Westgarth, has attracted much attention and provoked wide and strenuous international competition. The company has welcomed the evidence I have cited of support and encouragement, and I have drawn attention to the relevance of their work to our domestic water problems. I hope that as a valuable contributor and leader in a growth field, the Government will find the company worthy of their support and encouragement, and will follow on the good start made by their predecessors.
My Lords, I may have omitted to declare an interest at the beginning, but I do so now. I thank your Lordships for your kind and patient hearing.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, this House always welcomes speeches from noble Lords who are able to talk to us with knowledge, authority and experience. We therefore welcome very much the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Weir, who obviously speaks on a subject of which he has had great knowledge and experience. We hope that we shall hear more about the topic on which he has spoken. Water is not a very exciting subject. It is not a thing which one talks about until we are short of it; then, of course, it is a great topic of conversation. Even though this matter is not mentioned in the gracious Speech, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will allow themselves some flexibility in dealing with this vitally important subject.
We have had another maiden speech this afternoon—the speech from my noble friend Lord Mitchison. He was not quite sure how virginal he was. Well, he ought to know; but I could only say with certainty that he is a not inexperienced maiden. Certainly, he has had very considerable experience in making speeches in another place. He showed from his speech here this afternoon that he was not unduly overawed by speaking here, although I can well imagine that the first speech is always somewhat of an ordeal. I hope it was not too much of an ordeal for my noble friend.
Now I should like, in his absence, to congratulate my noble friend Lord Longford on his accession to the leadership of the House; my noble friend Lord Gardiner, the noble and learned Lord Chancellor, on his attaining his very high office; and all my noble friends who sit on the Front Bench, who richly deserve their elevation, and particularly those noble Lords who are here for the first time. Some of my noble friends have worked their passage very hard. I see one of them, my noble friend Lord Stonham. Nobody deserves office more than he does, and I am quite sure that he and they are going to do well at it. I am quite sure also, in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, said, that they are going to be there a long time. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, rather gave me the impression that he was not quite accustomed yet to being in Opposition. At times, I rather felt as if he thought 251 he was speaking for the Government and explaining the Government's achievements, their aspirations and expectations, and so on. I hope he will have a very long time to get over that feeling, and I am sure he will. I am also sure he will render very valuable service in that place in Opposition, and no doubt, when the time comes, he will learn something from my noble friend about drawing up Amendments.
Last Wednesday my noble friend Lord Attlee told the House that it was 43 years since he made his speech from the Back Benches. I cannot claim to emulate that record, but it is 23 years since I spoke from the Back Benches and it is, therefore, to me, somewhat of a novelty after all this time. I take courage from the fact that my immediate predecessor in the seat in which I sit was the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, who made a great many interesting, effective and important speeches from these Benches. I hope I may do the same. I will speak in general support, I hope friendly support, of Her Majesty's Government, but I hope that, sitting this distance away from the Front Bench, I may be allowed at times to speak with a little candour. It will be friendly candour, and always in the hope that any advice I give to Her Majesty's Government may be acceptable to them.
Now I propose to speak particularly on two aspects of the gracious Speech. The first, which will not surprise your Lordships, is on housing; the second is on law reform. I want to say at once that I do not expect a reply to my speeches, especially after the little statement we had from my noble friend Lord Mitchison during the course of this debate. I fully understand that most of the questions and most of the proposals that I want to put forward on both the subjects on which I want to speak are matters which can best be dealt with in legislation, and that the legislation will require a good deal of consideration when we come down to preparing the details of it. All I hope is that Her Majesty's Government may be pleased to take note of what I say, and possibly take it into some consideration when drafting the legislation.
First, my Lords, on housing: in the gracious Speech there is a reference to more housing of better quality. Of 252 course we need more housing, and we need housing of better quality. But we have to remember that houses and other buildings are erected to last 100 years or more. I think it is time we asked ourselves, perhaps, whether we need to build houses to last 100 years. After all, the conception of a house to-day is, I hope, a very different one from what will be the conception in even 25 or 50 years' time. What was regarded 50 years ago, or 40 years ago, as a very fine, modern house is to-day regarded almost as a rabbit warren. The houses are tiny. The living room of 150 to 160 square feet, meant to house a whole family—a husband, wife and perhaps three or four children—is quite ridiculous in these days. When we talk of having raised the standard of living in the past 25 years or more we surely must mean, in that term, an improvement in the quality of our houses. Therefore, I hope that when we come to build to-day we shall look ahead and remember that houses are intended to be occupied not only by the present generation but by generations to follow.
At the same time, I wonder whether it is not possible so to design a house, not necessarily of to-day's materials, that it is not intended to last the full period that we assume to-day of 100 years; that it could last, perhaps, 50 years or thereabouts, and then be demolished—and, of course, it would be a cheaper price, using possibly less expensive material, than an existing. house. My Lords, I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Bossom, sitting in his place, because I am sure this is a subject in which he would be interested. I believe he has given some thought to it, and if at some time we can get the benefit of his ideas and the ideas of others on this particular problem, it would be of great value.
There has been a good deal of competition about the number of houses built or intended to be built. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, proudly boasted that one day the Conservative Government would have built 400,000 houses in a year if they had been given the opportunity, and said that if we do not get 400,000 houses in 1965 he will want to know the reasons why. I think these numbers are quite irrelevant by themselves. They are a measure of something, but they are not a measure of 253 the way in which we are satisfying the needs of the community. I was driving through Chelsea and Westminster this afternoon, and I saw large numbers of luxury flats for sale. They have been up for some time—I think well over a year, and some of them much more than that—and they are still empty. If the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, likes to go to Brighton, Eastbourne and Bournemouth, he will see literally hundreds and hundreds of flats which have been built in the last three or four years and which are still empty, waiting for people to occupy them, to buy them. I should like to ask him, as he is boasting of the number of houses that the Conservative Government built in those years, what contribution those properties are making to our housing needs. What is the value of including them in the number of houses we have to build?
I submit to the House that what is relevant to this issue is not the number of houses you have built but the number of houses you have built to meet the needs of the community—and that is a very different thing. That implies, as I have said before—this is not a new thought; a have said it to the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, on many occasions, but he has never answered me—not only counting the numbers but where these houses are, the types of houses they are and the prices at which they are being made available.
The gracious Speech refers to the retraining of people who may be rendered redundant as the result of improvements in production and of making them available for other types of production. In many cases, that must mean making them available in other parts of the country. But what is the use of retraining people, making them able to take on jobs in other parts of the country, if the housing is not available for them? I was glad to hear my noble friend Lord Mitchison make some reference to the need for mobility. But I want to carry this a stage further: the need for mobility means that houses must be provided in the places where they are needed and at the right rents. I beg the Government to give particular attention to that aspect of the housing question.
And we should recognise that if they do so there must be some element of 254 direction. If it is left entirely to every local authority, and particularly if it is left to every private builder to build wherever he likes and whatever he likes, we shall not get either mobility or the stock of housing we require. While I certainly should not wish the Government to embark on a wholesale policy of direction, I must confess that, without some element of direction, of encouragement (perhaps they could do it by way of subsidising houses that are required and not subsidising those that are not required); or, at any rate, without some influence of that kind—and I use the term "influence" as a generic term—I cannot see that we shall get the right type of house in the place we want it.
I was glad that my noble friend Lord Mitchison referred to housing associations; and I was rather surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, did not. I believe that they have a great part to play. I am not sure that we on this side of the House have always been as encouraging to housing associations as we might have been. Nor, incidentally, have the Party of the noble Lord, Lord Hastings. If he looks at the record of what was achieved during thirteen years of office he has nothing to shout about. The numbers of houses built by housing associations have been very tiny in comparison with the numbers built by the local authorities. But let us agree that it should be a non-partisan, or bi-partisan, policy to encourage housing associations in the future; and I hope that in that we shall have the co-operation of noble Lords opposite.
I hope that the Government will be prepared to encourage the housing associations to the fullest possible extent. One of the last things the last Government did purported to make £300 million available to the housing associations for the building of houses at rents which tenants could afford to pay. I hope that some money at least will be made available by the present Government and that, if need he, more money will be made available for housing associations. The big part they have to play is that they cater for families who are not eligible for local authority housing, who do not need or qualify for subsidised housing, but cannot afford, or to whom it is not convenient, to buy a house. It may be that they want to rent one for a few years. Possibly they have large families who are growing up, and 255 when the time comes they want to leave their present house and go into something smaller. There is a large demand for houses of that kind—houses which can be let at an economic rent but without providing a profit for the developer. This is the function—and it is a very important one—of the housing associations.
I am very glad that there is a reference in the gracious Speech to the repeal of the Rent Act. I have never used strong language in this House—and I am sure noble Lords will bear me—out but I think the Rent Act, 1957, was one the most wicked Acts ever passed. As my noble friend beside me remarks, it was a scandal. At a time of acute shortage of houses, it put in the hands of landlords a power to force out those who were most helpless in connection with their house; that is, those with large families and people of small means who happened to come within the scope of definition of those whose houses became decontrolled.
I never thought the justification for that Act was even plausible. The justification was that it would make more houses available to let. But that could happen only if people were forced out of their existing homes, and the Act could be of advantage if only they were able to get something else. What has in fact happened, is what we said would happen, and what anybody who had given one moment's thought to the problem would have anticipated: namely, that the Act enabled landlords to force tenants out and to sell their houses with vacant possession. It rendered a large number of people homeless and forced overcrowding.
I am very glad indeed that the present Government will reimpose control. They call it "rent control": I suppose that is a term of art. The important thing is not so much rent control—although that is important—as giving the tenants security of tenure, so that the landlord cannot arbitrarily turn them out. There is proposed machinery for ensuring that a landlord gets a fair return. Nobody wants to provide security for the tenant at the expense of the landlord. Like any other owner of property, he is entitled to get a fair return on his property, and the machinery will be created which will enable this fair return to be settled. I hope that this machinery will not be too cumbersome, or too difficult for the tenant to take advantage of it.
256 I hope also that, coupled with the granting of security to the tenant and a fair return to the landlord, there will be provision for ensuring that the house is in good condition. In any case, I should hope that the rent that would be charged would have some relationship to the condition of the house. Although I want to give noble Lords opposite credit for having introduced the Housing Act, 1964, which enabled some improvement to take place in the conditions of houses, I criticise them severely for not going quite far enough and for enabling landlords to get possession of their houses by wholly improper means—by what we described as "Rachmanism". I hope that all that will go, and that we shall now have the opportunity of giving tenants security, at a fair rent, with their houses in reasonable condition.
The "fair rent" condition may cause some difficulty, and I would suggest—and this is only a suggestion—that it might be possible for the Government to give some guiding principle on what is a fair rent. We have recently had all our properties re-rated, and there are new rateable values which, in theory, are supposed to have some relationship to the rental value. A fair rental value might prima facie be so many times the rateable value. That need not be conclusive, but, unless there are exceptional factors, the Government might suggest that so many times the rateable value should be the normal rent to be charged for a house which becomes decontrolled.
I want to say a few words about the proposed Crown Lands Commission. This, I recognise, is something which fundamentally divides the two sections of the House. I do not know why it should. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, asked what was the object of the Commission. The object is that the community should get some part of the value of the improvements which the community itself creates. All this is quite elementary. It is merely repeating what I said in 1947, when the Town and Country Planning Bill was introduced. In that Act, provision was made for the payment of betterment to the community. I was very distressed when, in 1953, the present Government repealed the financial provisions of the 1947 Act, and even more distressed when they put nothing in its place. I could have understood if they had said, "We have tried this and 257 we do not like it", or "It does not work", or something of that sort, and if they had put something in its place which was better. But they did not.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, to prevent misunderstanding, may I point out to my noble friend that he inadvertently said the "present" Government?
§ LORD SILKIN
I seem to have fallen into the same mistake as the noble Lord, Lord Hastings. I am sorry. In a sense, this proposal is going back to 1947, except that it is not intended to give the community 100 per cent. of the increase of a development value.
Let me give the House an extreme case of how this operates. A man owns a piece of agricultural land fronting an arterial road, which is possibly worth £200 an acre—I will be generous and say, £500 an acre. This person has the bright idea that it would be a good thing to have a petrol filling station on this road. He applies for planning permission and gets it. Well, he has had a bright idea; he deserves to be patted on the back and to receive some financial recompense. Immediately on getting planning permission that bit of land becomes worth (I will be modest and say) £10,000 an acre. I have known cases where it was much more. It has increased in value because there is a demand for a petrel filling station from motorists travelling along an arterial road which was built by the community. None of these things has been contributed to by the owner of the land himself. Nevertheless, at present, he is able to put in his pocket £9,500 an acre, merely for the bright idea that it might be a good thing to have a petrol station on his piece of land. The same applies if he has the idea that it would be a good housing site, though he may not get quite so much.
Is it really fair to the community that this man should be able to pocket the whole of that money, when it was the community who made it possible for this development to take place by spending money on services? It seems to me right, and I am glad that it seems to the present Government to be right, that the community should get some part of the increase of value due to the granting of a planning permission. This 258 comes into operation only when planning permission has been granted for development or for redevelopment involving a change of user. That surely answers the question which the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, asked about whether this is to apply to urban or rural land. It applies to any land which is about to be developed, on which planning permission has been given and which involves a change of user.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, I do not think that that answers the question at all. There is a fundamental difference between agricultural land and urban land. As the noble Lord knows very well, a third party, who does not even own the land, can get planning permission. It makes a great deal of difference whether the land is urban or agricultural.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I recognise that these are points, but, as my noble friend has said, they are points which might be put in Committee. Of course, this would not operate, if a stranger who had no interest in the land got planning permission and the owner had no intention of taking advantage of that permission. But I cannot imagine that a complete stranger is going to apply for planning permission, unless he had some expectation of acquiring the land. But this is a point which has to be provided for and will be dealt with.
I would say to Her Majesty's Government that this is certainly controversial. We must face it. This was a big issue in the Election. I am not sure that it is not a very popular thing to deal with land, because, as I have said, it is an attempt to give the community the benefit of the expenditure incurred by the community, and because it is also an attempt to bring down the price of land; and that is something which affects everybody.
I would suggest that when we introduce a scheme we make it simple, easy to understand by everybody, and incapable, so far as possible, of misrepresentation; and, secondly, that we make it as fair as possible—I would even err on the side of generosity to the owner of land, so that at least he cannot complain that this is not a fair scheme. If we do that, I think it would remove the argument, which I regard as somewhat fallacious, that landowners will hold back arid not 259 apply for planning permission, in the hope that there will be an early return of a Conservative Government which will "knock all this nonsense on the head". I do not believe that there will be an early return. I believe that noble Lords on that side are there for a very long time. And any landowner who holds back the development of his land in the hope and expectation of an early return of a Conservative Government is just fooling himself. But I would remove even the temptation on the part of some people to hold back by giving them a fair return for the trouble and expense they have been put to in getting planning permission.
Therefore I would suggest that we give to the owner of land half of the development value, while the community takes the other half. I think that that would be generally regarded as generous and fair, and I believe that most owners of land would be very happy to settle on that basis. I may say, in passing, that in the past few weeks I have discussed this matter with at least a dozen developers. I put the question to each of them: "What would you think of a scheme of that kind?"—and every one of them, without exception, said that he would be very happy to back a scheme of that kind, that he would certainly not hold back. and would be quite satisfied if he could get one half of the development value of his land. I ask the Government to consider this seriously, and I am sure it will save them a great deal of trouble. I also ask the Opposition to consider it and see whether it is not a fair solution to the objections that they have raised.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord, but a person who is going to build a house under that system would never get the freehold. An Englishman likes to have his castle and own his freehold. The danger I see is that the Lands Commission may be asked to give 50 per cent. of the development charge to go towards the general taxation.
§ LORD SILKIN
Is that not another point from the one I have just made? I was coming to the question of freeholds later, and if the noble Lord will have patience he will find that I will 260 deal with it. On the scheme itself, I think it would be fair.
The gracious Speech deals with the question of leasehold enfranchisement. The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, did not have a lot to say on this matter, and frankly I am not surprised, because it is a most difficult subject. I must confess that I have sympathy with some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, on this matter. I see some conflict between a scheme which, on the one hand, creates leaseholds on a large scale, and, on the other, enfranchises leaseholds. It would appear as if existing leaseholds might be enfranchised and every other tenure now created would be a leasehold tenure. I find it a little difficult to reconcile these two aspects. I suggest to the Government that they give a lot of thought to this subject.
There is no urgency about introducing leasehold enfranchisement. It is promised in the gracious Speech, but it is not promised for the present Session, and I think it will need a great deal more consideration than appears to have been given to it so far. If there is any urgency, would make two suggestions. The first is that the Government should introduce a measure to give lessees under a system of leasehold enfranchisement the same protection as is given to-day under the Landlord and Tenant Act to occupiers of business premises. That would enable them to carry on without fear of being evicted when their lease comes to an end. Secondly, there could be a provision for enlarging existing leases for a period of, say, three years, to enable the Government to make up their minds about leasehold enfranchisement. I am sure that a great deal more consideration needs to be given to this subject, pressing though it is. One must realise that it is a burning question in many parts of the country, and particularly in South Wales, where leases are coming to an end and tenants are tremendously worried about losing their homes and the benefit of the leases under which they have lived, or of having to "pay through the nose".
I want to mention, also, the question of payment for enfranchisement. This is a difficulty that will have to be faced. If the payment is to be at the recognised price for the reversion—that is, the shorter the term the bigger the price—and it is to be at the market price, 261 then the tenant may not be in any better position than if he bought the leasehold in the open market. Alternatively, if the reversioner is going to get something less than that, it will be unfair to him. The Government have to reconcile that, too. I do not expect art answer to that either to-day or to-morrow, but it is a matter which requires much more consideration than I think has been given to it.
The gracious Speech promises that the Government will promote modernisation of the construction industry; and I hope they will. The previous Government tried this, but not very successfully. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, made a statement of what has been done in the past few months, but in actual practice we have not seen the results in any modernisation. I am not so sure that house production has materially increased in efficiency in the last half century or even century. I remember when I first became a member of the London County Council, nearly forty years ago, when I was appointed to the Housing Committee I was told: "You can expect one house to be built per annum for every person employed in house building." Applying that test to-day, I find that there are 287,000 men employed in the housing industry in this country, and there were 270,000 houses built last year. That is less than what I was told we might expect forty years ago. There was no sign of any improvement then—I think the noble Lord, Lord Bossom, who I believe was a member of the Housing Committee at that time, will bear me out—and there has been no improvement whatever in those forty years. We have to get bigger production of housing. If that is what modernisation means, then good luck to the Government in trying to bring it about!
If am afraid I have been a long time, but I want to say a few words on the second aspect of my speech—namely, law reform. First of all, I am glad that it is proposed to facilitate the introduction of a Bill for the abolition of capital punishment. I have a personal reason for wishing this, because I wound up the debate that we he d some years ago on the subject, and I am afraid we were badly beaten, possibly on account of the bad speech I then made. I should like to get my own bark and get this House to agree to the abolition of capital punishment. This, I take it, will be on 262 a Private Member's Bill and not official Government business, although the Government will facilitate the passage of such a Bill.
It is proposed to appoint "Law Commissioners to advance the reform of the law". That is a general term, and I am not clear as to what exactly is meant by "reform of the law". Is it reform by simplification of language? Is it reform by means of consolidation, codification and modernisation—that is, by bringing laws up to date to meet modern requirements? If that is so, then it is simply a matter of people devoting themselves to the task, recognising the need for it and so on. We have far too many Acts of Parliament dealing with the same subject, and there is a real need for codification and consolidation. I see that I referred to this matter when we discussed the Housing Act, 1964—that during their term of office the last Government had introduced 23 Bills dealing with houses and rents. I pity the poor lawyer who has to make his way through 23 Acts of Parliament to find out what is the law on a particular subject. So there is plenty of scope for the activities of these Commissioners. But is that what they are going to do, and is that solely what they are going to do?
I feel that there is an equal need for a reform in the language of Acts of Parliament. After all, no self-respecting Act of Parliament is really effective until there has been a decision of the House of Lords on almost every clause that it contains. One cannot make out what an Act says until the House of Lords has decided. I always thought it was Parliament who decided what was intended, but in reading an Act of Parliament what was intended has no relevance whatever. But when an appeal comes before the House of Lords you are not allowed even to quote what was intended, or to read what was said in support of a Bill; or even to quote the memorandum or the sidenotes in an Act of Parliament. All you can do is to take the Act literally and read it as if you were coming fresh to the subject, and make what you can of it. That seems to me preposterous. If the Law Commissioners are to have some function in trying to make laws intelligible, trying to bring in aid what was really intended in the introduction of a Bill, they will be of very great value.
263 I also want to complain—I have complained many a time—about the complexity of the language in Acts of Parliament. I know that it is said to be necessary to provide for every possible contingency, however remote. But is that really so? If, somehow, the intention of a particular section of an Act could be made clear, could it not be left at that? However, I do not propose to go further into that aspect. I am really asking whether, when the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor comes to reply to-morrow, he can give us a little more information as to what he proposes the Law Commissioners should have to do, and how they propose to set about it.
I am very glad to know that we are going to have somebody who will be able to carry out an "impartial investigation of individual grievances". That is a long term for what has become known as the Ombudsman. Some three years ago, I introduced a Motion into this House asking the Government to consider the desirability of appointing an Ombudsman. Naturally, I received no encouragement whatever from the Lord Chancellor of the time. I am not at all sure that he fully appreciated what I was after. But at any rate he certainly gave me no reason to think that the Government had any intention of doing it. But it is the case that there are many grievances from which the individual citizen suffers for which he has no remedy at all. There is no court, there is no tribunal, there is nobody—except his local Member of Parliament—to whom he can go to get a grievance remedied. If his local Member of Parliament happens to be a very busy man, the sufferer will not get much satisfaction there. It is therefore suggested that there should be some individual, or group of individuals, regional or otherwise, to whom a person in that position could go, to put forward the grievance that he has suffered, at the hands of the Administration or otherwise, and have it properly considered. As I say, I am very glad that the Government are contemplating making that provision.
We have all had cases of that kind. We had the Crichel Down case where there was no remedy in the ordinary way. There was no tribunal that one could go to; no appeal. There was the Bognor Regis case, which I brought up some months 264 ago, where a local authority exceeded its functions and obtained compulsory purchase orders and then sought to act on quite other grounds. There are many cases of that kind. This is not an unknown experiment. It has been tried in New Zealand and the Scandinavian countries and in other countries with considerable success.
My Lords, I have referred only to a very small part of the gracious Speech: matters which, if they stood alone, would constitute a busy Session's work. Your Lordships are going to be kept very busy in the coming Session in dealing with the various measures which will be brought forward. I know that your Lordships will act in a responsible spirit in not attempting to frustrate the efforts of Her Majesty's Government, and will be prepared to look at each measure strictly on its merits, and with the sole desire of attempting to improve it. Everything with which I have dealt will have to be the subject of full discussion and debate; and has been, of course, during the recent Election. I would suggest that all these matters are matters which the electorate has approved, and the Government can be considered to have a full mandate to carry through these reforms. As I have said, it will be hard work, but the results will greatly benefit the community, especially those least able to help themselves, and will contribute to the happiness and welfare of countless families in giving them a feeling of security and justice. I promise the Government that I will give them every possible assistance to achieve these ends.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ LORD MANCROFT
My Lords, I have often thought that if I were a Communist agitator or, better still, an anarchist, the best way in which the economy of the country could be brought to a standstill would be to promote strikes in the works of the British Oxygen Company, because their product is used in nearly every major industry of the country. If, on the other hand, I wanted to bring the work of the Government to a standstill, the correct way would be to promote strikes in the office of Parliamentary Counsel, because a mere glance at the Queen's Speech this Session, and listening to your 265 Lordships' debate this afternoon, show that they are going to be most tragically overworked.
Your Lordships, in the topics that have been discussed this afternoon, have mentioned several of the matters which will obviously be the subject of long and complicated legislation. Most of the matters mentioned have affected the citizen in his everyday life and his liberty. Therefore, I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, developing with comfortable fullness the theme of the liberty of the subject. It drew our attention to this particular portion of the Queen's Speech:They "—that is, Her Majesty's Government—will propose the appointment of Law Commissioners to advance reform of the law, and will propose new measures for the impartial investigation of individual grievances.It goes on:In so doing they will be acting in the spirit which has always animated Parliament, whose seven hundredth anniversary will be recorded in this Session.It may have animated Parliament, but it has not always animated Government Departments.
The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, referred both to the Ombudsman and to the Law Commissioners, and I should like, if I may, for a few minutes to take him up on both those points and examine them with a little care from a different point of view. Of course, the Ombudsman is superficially an extremely attractive proposition, and particularly at Election time. There is, on the face of it, much to be said for it. But we shall hear more of this, I expect. The case has, in my opinion, not yet been fully made out; neither the need for the Ombudsman nor the nature of his work, nor its scope. It may well be that there is a solution to the problem. But do not let us be over-persuaded by what has happened in Scandinavian countries which have enjoyed the dubious privilege of a more or less permanent Socialist Government, or in other countries of two or three millions population only. I have studied this with some care, both in Scandinavia and New Zealand, where I was recently, and many people there have expressed doubts whether the system would work as well in a country of over 50 million people. It may, but it wants very careful examination.
266 When I first saw the Socialist Party in their Election Manifesto putting this proposal forward I was fearful lest it meant that they realised that many of their proposals would undoubtedly give rise to such injustice that an Ombudsman would obviously be required. I was therefore comforted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, put forward a plea for a certain amount of generosity in the behaviour of the Crown Lands Commission. We shall obviously hear details about this in due course. May I suggest to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack one or two points which I hope will be borne in mind when the scope of the Ombudsman's duties is being considered? I think it most important that we should not in any way detract from the importance and the standing of the Back-Bencher either in this House or in another place. He is the real Ombudsman. He is an imperfect one, often handicapped by rules and regulations from getting at the truth or from establishing justice, but it is for that reason that a Member of another place sits there and we sit here, for the redress of grievances. We are in Parliament the prime and the first Ombudsman of this country, and I should like our powers reinforced before other Ombudsmen are set up. Far too often, I am afraid, in a democracy the Member of a Parliament becomes merely a welfare officer or a post office between his constituents and a Government Department, and is fobbed off from doing his proper job of Ombudsman.
I hope, too, that we shall do nothing to detract from the power of the Parliamentary Question. That really is a weapon of democracy. A Minister standing at the Dispatch Box defending his policy, in very public gaze, is able to get away with little if he is astutely cross-examined. I was hoping to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, on his graceful appearance at the Dispatch Box for the first time this afternoon. It was originally said that the reason why Sir Alec Douglas-Home (Lord Home as he was then) would not be suitable as Foreign Secretary was that he could not be cross-examined at Question Time. But, of course, that was said by those who do not realise what an effective weapon a Parliamentary Question can also be in your Lordships' House. Admittedly, four Questions only can be put down on the Order Paper for one day, but there 267 being no rules of order in your Lordships' House, we are perfectly entitled to ask twenty-seven supplementary questions—most of them irrelevant—and noble Lords opposite who have not had this experience before will find that after about the twenty-fifth supplementary question the Dispatch Box becomes a very confused and lonely place. Therefore, I hope that when we have our Ombudsman nothing will be done to detract from the work of the Back-Bencher and the power of the Parliamentary Question.
I hope, too, that we shall not do anything to detract from the effect of local government work. The local government representative, the borough or city councillor, is declining in public importance. Less and less work is being put his way. This is why the standard of candidates coming forward for local government service is declining. A "Crichel Down" can start just as easily in the town clerk's office as in a Government Department, and an injustice is no less unjust merely because it is a little one.
I also hope that nothing will be done to upset the delicate constitutional relationship between a Minister and his senior civil servant. This is not understood, generally, I think outside the "corridors of power", but those who have walked those corridors know how essential a feature of our Constitution is that delicate and most important relationship between a Minister and his senior civil servant. I do not think many civil servants are going to like another civil servant breathing down their neck, asking to see their confidential files and wanting to know what went on. I think there is a danger of our piling a big bureaucracy upon a bureaucracy, because our Ombudsman must, of necessity, be a much bigger organisation than those in New Zealand or in Scandinavia.
I think, therefore, it is necessary for us to examine the whole of this proposition with much more care than has hitherto been given to it. I am happy to realise that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack is an expert in this matter, and I know he has given a great deal of personal attention to it. Therefore we at least can know when he puts this matter before us that it will have had expert preparation. Might I ask him in 268 due course—I do not expect an answer either to-day or to-morrow—to let us know what happened to the inquiry which I think was made in all Government Departments two or three years ago to find out whether improvements could not be made in the existing machinery for the redress of grievances? I believe that a comprehensive inquiry was made into this question but I have never yet heard the results of it. I think the noble Lord, not surprisingly, will not find a senior civil servant in Whitehall is in favour of an Ombudsman. But that is his affair, not ours.
Of course, a great deal of the success of this scheme—and if we are going to have it we must try to make it a success—depends on the character of the Ombudsman himself. Obviously, he has got to be a man who commands universal respect and he has got to be a man of respected background and of immense erudition and learning. Come to think of it, I might even like to have a shot at the job myself. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord may be kind enough to make a note of my name when the time comes.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, referred to the Law Commissioners. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack gave an interesting interview to the Economist newspaper on March 28 last. He said:There should be a permanent body of Law Commissioners whose sole job it would be to conduct a systematic review of English law, taking it bit by bit, and see what is working properly and what isn't".These are fine sentiments and we are happy to think it is the noble Lord again who is going to have the chance to put his ambitions into practice. Will he in due course tell us a bit more than the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has asked him for? Can he tell us from where he is going to recruit his law commissioners—whether they will be academic or practising lawyers, or both; whether they will be barristers or solicitors? Will he need to appoint more Judges in order to release other Judges to take part in this work without the judicial system in any way suffering?
And what is all this going to cost? This Government that so preached the question of economy at Election time has been appointing people left, right and centre. I think that the bill is 269 going to become quite considerable in due course. These, again, are details which we shall have to consider when these matters come before us. I understand that they are likely to come before us rather than before another place, and that very soon. This I welcome. Obviously, these are matters which are suitable for us to discuss in this House, and to discuss as best we can.
The present Government have got into considerable trouble over an Act of Queen Anne. This is very careless of them. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, managed to run the country for six years or so without having a row with Queen Anne, and even Ramsay MacDonald managed to do it. Now we are being fobbed off with some ramshackle defence that it is E. Statute which must be done away with in this modern age. This is nonsense. The Government just forgot all about it. That is all that happened. They might have made a clean breast of it. The reason for the Statute of Queen Anne was, of course, not to have too many placemen in the House of Commons. The modern reason is to provide for suitable representation of the Government in this House. Owing to this Government, which is so attracted to planning and has spoken so much about planning, having forgotten to plan for Queen Anne we are now having to have a wholly avoidable amending Bill. This Bill has been no more planned than a hiccough.
Nevertheless, we welcome the new Ministers. We welcome particularly those we know, those we shall get to know, those we did not even know belonged to the Socialist Party. We shall get to love them all in due course. I welcome particularly and sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Hobson, who has been appointed Lord in Waiting. Incidentally, I see that there is, so far, only one Lord in Waiting, the noble Lord, Lord Habson. We used to have three in the old days, but two are missing, at the moment. I sympathise with Lord Hobson. He his to answer for the Post Office, the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Power and if that surprises you, my Lords, I can only say that it will not surprise you half as much as it will surprise the Post Office, the Board of Trade, the Ministry 270 of Transport, the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Power. I wish, however, that the noble Lord were not called a "Lord in Waiting". I think that this name is a misleading anachronism, and the noble Lords opposite might, in their reforming zeal, see fit to do away with it.
The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, referred the other day to the difficulties experienced by Mr. Heath, the previous Lord Privy Seal, in explaining to foreigners that he was neither a Lord, nor a Privy nor a Seal. The noble Lord, Lord Hobson, will have the same trouble trying to explain that although lie is a member of Her Majesty's Household he is also a Party politician, and it often causes trouble when a Lord in Waiting makes a Party political speech in the House or in the country. People do not realise the Minister's dual function, and the Lord in Waiting as often as not receives a large postbag from indignant colonels in Cheltenham saying that he has no right to bring Her Majesty's name into political discussion.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE, HOME OFFICE (LORD STONHAM)
My Lords, is the noble Lord speaking from experience in this matter, or is he referring to the experience of other noble Lords in Waiting in the previous Government who also dealt with departmental matters?
§ LORD MANCROFT
Both. I am certainly speaking from personal experience. I remember having a difference of opinion with Lord Jowitt across the Table. The noble Earl, Lord Jowitt, hit me, Parliamentarily speaking, "on the nose", and I "bopped" him one back—and a good time was had by all! There were quite a lot of rough words, for your Lordships' House, and they were fairly widely reported. The next day I went to Stockholm to open, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, the British Pavilion in St. Eric's Fair, and I was given a "roasting" in the Swedish Press for the speech I had made in your Lordships' House and for having brought Party politics into my duties as a Courtier. But I compared notes with other Members of your Lordships' House who had occupied this post and found that many of them had had the same treatment. I got a fairly heavy postbag 271 which I sent to the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham (as he was then), now Mr. Quintin Hogg, when I last raised this matter in your Lordships' House.
There is no need for me to labour this point. In five or six months' time, when the Government go to the country again, I will ask Lord Hobson what his experience has been, and he will tell me that it has been exactly the same as mine. I suggest that we change the name to some such thing as Assistant Paymaster General or Parliamentary Secretary to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. There should be no difficulty about this. If the Government can do what they have done with Queen Anne, they can certainly solve this difficulty.
I hope also that they will bring, as much work as possible to your Lordships' House. It is clear that there is going to be overcrowding of the Parliamentary timetable. It is clear that if the Government genuinely wish to do this work, and do it properly, and not in a half-baked way, they will have to use your Lordships' House to the full. I welcome noble Lords opposite, congratulate them on their posts, commiserate with them on the work that lies ahead. But if the House is to be faced with all this work, I think it is clear that we shall have to reconsider the rate for the job.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, owing to the comprehensive nature of this debate, I propose to comment very briefly on certain aspects of the welfare services which have been mentioned in the gracious Speech. In the first place, I believe the whole House will welcome the major review which it is intended to make of the social security schemes with a view to effecting radical changes, because it will be recalled that before the Recess we had a most interesting debate, in which Members on both sides of this House took part, and when I think it was agreed that considerations which might have determined the structure of a scheme in the late 1940s are no longer valid. Furthermore, I should remind the House of the anomalies which have proliferated over the years and, of course, these can no longer be dealt with by amending legislation, but can be remedied only by a complete reappraisal of the whole situation. Meanwhile, of 272 course, as we have just heard from the noble Lord, legislation will be introduced to increase the National Insurance rates.
I like to talk about this subject when my noble friend the former Leader of the Opposition is here. The needs of the widows will receive special consideration. I say that because over the years my noble friend often reminded me that his mother was a widow for many years, and many of the qualities which we admire in him he attributes to that very fine woman who was responsible for bringing up her family. However, I hope he will support me now on this. While we remove the earnings rule from the widows we must not fail to recognise that the earnings they are then entitled to keep are still not commensurate with the work which they and other women perform in the field of industry.
While a great deal has been said about productivity keeping in step with wage increases—in fact, every time we open our newspapers we read an addition to this theme—little is heard of the millions of women workers whose productivity outstrips their meagre wages. And while the economists and the statisticians and the technologists argue among themselves, industry in this country is being kept going in a great measure by the exploited labour of the women who are denied the rate for the job. During the Election it gave me considerable satisfaction in the industrial towns of the North, where there are very many women workers, to point out that Labour's Manifesto alone promised equal pay. I would say that, if accumulated unpaid wages of women denied the rate for the job were calculated they would assume a colossal sum, which would represent the amount by which the employers of women's labour in industry have been subsidised over the years. Women workers, I feel, will particularly welcome the promise to establish an incomes policy based on a close relationship between the increase in productivity and the growth of incomes. However—and my noble friend will tell me if I am wrong in this—in this case equal pay must be basic to any arrangement arrived at by the two sides of industry. And of course a first step to this is to ratify Convention No. 100 of the International Labour Organisation.
273 It was very fortunate that this question was examined fairly recently at the last Labour Party Conference in Scarborough. I told the noble Lord I would raise these various points which we expounded in the charter of the Election. I am giving these details because, although he may not be able to give an answer to-night, this will give him an opportunity to read the whole case. I would remind him that a delegate to the conference at Scarborough last year from the Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers called upon the next Labour Government to ratify Convention No. 100 of the International Labour Organisation on equal pay for work of equal value. The motion goes on to say:and by legislative initiative to facilitate the achievement of this objective throughout industry and commerce within a specified period".And the delegate reminded the conference that 35 countries have already ratified this Convention, but the British Tory Government have consistently refused to do so, although they have been approached by the trade unions.
This motion, which is of great importance, was seconded by Mr. Corfield, a delegate from the Transport and General Workers' Union. I should like to put on record that he said:The realities in British industry to-day are that women workers doing work which in terms of skill, responsibility and effort is the equivalent of men's ate taking home at the end of the week, for every £1 a man takes, 10s. This is not only disgraceful, but it is, in comparison with our industrial competitors, one of the worst situations in Europe.I am pleased to say that the Labour Party Conference supported the resolution unanimously, and the spokesman for the national executive committee of the Labour Party gave an undertaking that, in the event of Labour being returned to power, they would seek a means of implementing the resolution in the first term of office. We are indeed fortunate in having the former General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, together with the former President of the Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers, in the Government to help to redeem that pledge. I am sorry that the noble Lord who is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Technology has left the House. He is new to the Labour Party and he may not have been familiar with what happened last 274 year. If he hears what I have to say—in any event, he can read Hansard to-morrow—no doubt he will be in an excellent position to prod his right honourable friend.
The other thing I have to say is about the Ministry of Health. There will be a lot to say, but I want just to make a few comments. The new Minister of Health is now faced with formidable tasks. He has to repair the yawning gaps in the Health Service. He cannot hope to do this within even the lifetime of a five-year Parliament, because we cannot educate a doctor in five years. We were told in the Platt Report three years ago that we relied upon 3,628 foreign-born doctors to help us run our hospital services alone. The position has deteriorated. The Chief Medical Officer of Health states in his report, published last week, that 4,000 of 9,000 junior posts in hospitals under the National Health Service are held by doctors from overseas. This has all happened during the last few years. Furthermore, the conditions of service of the general practitioner are so unsatisfactory that there is widespread discontent, which no doubt is in a great measure responsible for the annual emigration of nearly one-third of the output of British medical schools. I think you will agree that it was not an over-statement when I spoke of "yawning gaps" which the new Minister of Health has somehow to repair.
I want just to say a few words about the abolition of the prescription charge. I know that this may seem a trifle to your Lordships. It is of course a trifle to those who are well off. Nevertheless, the prescription charge of 2s. per item deters many of those who may be in urgent need, from seeking treatment, and in this weather I think particularly of the aged sick and children in poor homes. The newspapers have had many cartoons on this subject, and no doubt the removal of this charge will encourage the compulsive pill-taker. But he or she is always with us: nothing changes his or her attitude to life. The compulsive pill-taker will continue to take pills whatever the prescription charge may be. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, has just arrived. He will be pleased to hear—he knows very well the case I have put forward over the years on this subject—that I am not pursuing the question today because there is so much else to say.
275 The other side of the Health Service is, of course, the Hospital Plan. It does not seem long ago that we had a major debate in this House to discuss the Ten-Year Hospital Plan. Noble Lords who were in the Government of the day came here and made speeches to remind us that their Government proposed to introduce into the country hospitals which would revolutionise the situation. Well, the Ten-Year Hospital Plan, which was introduced with such extravagant promise, has failed already in its initial stages, if we are to judge from the orders to mark time which have been issued to the regional hospital boards. The noble Lord who used to speak on health matters is not here to-day. I will be corrected if I am wrong, but perhaps I could be told of one regional hospital board in the country which has not been warned that they should not proceed because all kinds of difficulties of planning, costing and so on have arisen. I understand, therefore, that the Minister is going to review the whole scheme indeed, he must review the whole scheme. The position is such that these detailed plans, which on paper looked most impressive, have remained only paper schemes.
May I ask my noble friend whether he will ask the Minister of Health to give priority to maternity services? The neglect of the maternity services is such that the condition now reminds me of the position in an underdeveloped country. This was revealed in a report published last week, which states that London is desperately short of maternity beds. Again, am I indulging in an over-statement when I quote the experience of the Emergency Bed Service, which was introduced in order that in this large city of ours there would always be a bed in an emergency? For example, if one of your Lordships had appendix trouble and could not get into a local hospital or a nursing home, there would be an emergency bed service ready and waiting with accommodation for him. But what happened last year? The Emergency Bed Service, which provides for every emergency, had to provide 4,000 beds for women who were unable to find accommodation during their pregnancy. It means that during every stage in their pregnancy, from beginning to end, these women desperately sought 276 accommodation in some hospital and were turned down. Is it any surprise that in London alone the general practitioners are disappointed? They had to say, "Wait until you are in labour; then we will 'phone up for an emergency bed and we can get you in." This report was produced the week before last, and no doubt it can be found in the Printed Paper Office for your Lordships to read. That is why I ask my noble friend to ask his right honourable friend to give the maternity services priority.
What has been the result of this situation? This grave shortage has resulted in women being discharged from hospital 24 hours after their confinement. An underdeveloped country, indeed! We have had to conduct our health services with foreign doctors; we have had to discharge our mothers 24 hours after the baby is born. I must ask my noble friend to read the warning given by Sir Andrew Clay, the eminent obstetrician and gynecologist, in the British Medical Journal of October 17, a copy of which is to be found in the Library of your Lordships' House. Sir Andrew believes that while the confinement may be efficiently conducted, early discharge may result in the failure to protect adequately the mother and child after their return home.
My Lords, this matter of the Welfare Services is one which calls for long debate, and no doubt we shall be afforded ample opportunity to debate various aspects of the services. On this first occasion I do not want to weary your Lordships any more than to remind you that there are these urgent matters which need attention, and my noble friends on the Front Bench will find their time fully occupied. On this first occasion I would add my best wishes for success in their endeavours to those engaged in promoting the services which are so vital to human happiness.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ LORD MOLSON
My Lords, for a long time there has been an increasing feeling among those interested as to the need for a tightening up of the powers of town and country planning. When I speak of town and country planning, I think of all those powers which are directed to preserving the amenities of the countryside, its beauties in the interests of the health and happiness of the people; the 277 control of urban development, so that industry and commerce may be placed in the best localities, and so that the conditions of work and the transport of the workers in those areas may be as agreeable and as pleasant as possible.
I welcome the indications which we have had that the new Government intend to tackle these problems. The first indication is, of course, the creation of new Departments. I do not normally welcome the creation of new Departments of State. I believe that, generally speaking, it is better to give increased powers to the existing Departments and to rearrange and improve the organisation within them. In so far as the creation of these Departments is an indication of the intention to take action, I welcome it; but I want now to ask some questions about how these Departments are going to allocate their different responsibilities between them. I hope that I may have an answer, because I gave warning to the Government that I should be asking these questions, which are matters of general interest.
There is, first, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. I understand that it is to retain what I may call the "Silkin powers"; that is to say, the power of the Minister to hear appeals from local planning authorities and, in suitable cases, to call in applications for his own decision. Then we find that the Ministry of Economic Affairs is going to be responsible, apparently, for regional planning. The idea of regional planning has become increasingly accepted, and, in particular, by the Conservative Party. A publication called Change and Challenge, issued a short time ago by a committee appointed by Mr. Butler, urged that there should be planning at three levels, the national, the regional and the local. I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, how the responsibilities of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in supervising the planning under the Silk in Act are going to be co-ordinated with the regional and national responsibilities of the Ministry of Economic Affairs.
Then we have the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources. That—or, rather, the Lands Commission which is to be set up under its auspices—is to be responsible, apparently, for the acquisition of land for which planning permission has 278 been given. Presumably, that planning permission will be given by the planning authorities or by the Minister of Housing and Local Government; and it is not, at first sight, apparent therefore how the responsibilities are to be divided between that Department and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government.
Here I would express my personal welcome to the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, and would say what a pleasure it is to his old friends and associates in the House of Commons to find him coming to this House, and especially undertaking the responsibilities of this kind, when we remember the care and attention that he gave to housing—even when his care and attention were largely devoted to persistent and pertinacious criticism of the Government which we supported!
We have had a statement on offices. The ban on the building of offices in London and the announcement of the necessary legislation are the first fruits of the Ministry of Economic Affairs. It is a blunt instrument which the Department is wielding, but in view of the need for speedy action it is none the worse for that. When the Bill is introduced, naturally the Government must expect that we shall examine very closely how it is intended to work. In a Motion for Papers in this House two years ago, I drew attention to the problem created by office development in London. The Standing Conference on London Regional Planning also expressed the view that this whole matter would have to be studied urgently with a view to legislation. I feel, therefore, that the Government are entitled to say that in taking drastic action they are supported by that Standing Conference.
Planning permissions have been given in such vast quantities that there is a great pipeline full. Even if the tap were turned off now, and if no further planning permissions were given, there would continue to be a vast number of these planning permissions to be carried out, amounting, apparently, to 250,000 extra jobs in London alone. Therefore I see the need for this new procedure, in order that the turning off of the flow may take place, not at the inlet end of the pipeline but at the point of outlet. Both the Conservative committee and various other bodies have looked at the possibility of 279 office development permits analogous to the industrial development certificate which was introduced under legislation in the '40s. There will, of course, be very great difficulties in applying it. We shall have to go further into this problem when legislation is introduced. But I would say to the Government that Political and Economic Planning, in one of their reports on this matter, make some very interesting suggestions as to how control could be established over the number of persons employed.
My Lords, this is a drastic power, because this new Office Development Permit to be given by the Board of Trade is to apply in the Greater London Council area even in cases where planning permission has already been given. As I have said, I think that this is essential to deal with the number of planning permissions already in the pipeline. I hope that some consideration will be given to extending this procedure to the Green Belt. There should not be many planning permissions given in the Green Belt. If there are some which have been given, we ought to consider whether the Green Belt around London ought not to be included under the additional control which is being applied by this legislation to London.
I recall the case of 1,000 acres of railway land in London which the Railways Board have been trying to dispose of. I think we ought to pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Conesford who originally raised this matter, in 1962 on the Transport Bill and, indeed, persuaded your Lordships, despite the large Conservative majority here, to carry an Amendment against the Government. That was to ensure that a large proportion of those 1,000 acres should be used for housing and other social purposes, and should not be disposed of for offices so that the Railways Board could make the greatest profit.
I think it is clear from the White Paper on Offices that the danger with which my noble friend was dealing has now disappeared under the proposals of the Government. Your Lordships' House can feel some satisfaction that, when you took the line that you did some two or two-and-a-half years ago, you held the position. Under the new section you inserted in the Bill, any dispute between 280 the Railways Board and the London County Council had to be referred to the Minister of Housing and Local Government. The dispute regarding the use of the 1,000 acres has not yet been settled by the Minister. Therefore the land is still available, and under the new legislation will be preserved.
My Lords, I hope, also, that when they introduce legislation the Government will bear in mind the question of the 10 per cent. margin that is allowed when existing offices are rebuilt. I put forward the argument that the 10 per cent. of cubic space, which frequently resulted in some 40 per cent. of additional floor space under new designs, should be dealt with. It was dealt with inadequately under the Act which your Lordships passed last year. When I moved an Amendment that the 10 per cent. margin should be completely done away with, the Government argued that it was not desirable to prevent some slight expansion in cases where expansion was desirable. My Amendment meant only that compensation would not be payable if a local planning authority properly refused to give planning permission for that extra 10 per cent. I hope, therefore, that when the Government are drafting their Bill, they will have another look at the matter. With regard to paragraph 7 of the White Paper, it is extremely important that the change of use be brought under the same control by the Board of Trade.
What will be the effect of all this upon rents? It may well be that it will result in an increase in the rents charged in London. But I hope that the Government will not be unduly concerned about that, because, of course, an increase in rents in London will encourage concerns to disperse their offices. But I know that the idea of increased rents and increased profits is extremely distasteful to the ideology of the Government. So I would urge upon them to follow the good example of the previous Government, and improve upon it, in trying to disperse out of London as much as possible of the Government machine and the Civil Service. The example of the last Government was a good one. The Accountant-General's Branch was removed to Chesterfield, and the Post Office Savings Bank is going to Glasgow. I hope that this Government will 281 do as much as, or even more than, the last Government.
I would say to the Government, that they will have to be very careful of the pressure brought to bear on them by some of their own supporters. I was very sorry that the Minister of Defence for the Army has ordered a re-examination of the proposal that Woolwich Arsenal should be moved elsewhere. This is obviously exactly what ought to be done. To remove Woolwich Arsenal and its great engineering works to parts of the country which are more suitable for engineering undertakings, is an enlightened policy of dispersal. I hope that the Government will not give way to those of their supporters who, whatever they believe is the right principle, consider that an exception should be made when it affects their own constituencies. In paragraph 10 of the White Paper on Offices, it is stated teat no compensation will be paid. I think that we must reserve our position on that point, and he free to raise that matter when the Bill is introduced.
My Lords, I turn from the most urban of land to the wild and lovely areas designated as National Parks. It is eight years since the National Parks Commission, presided over by my noble friend Lord Strang, asked that there should be legislation to increase the powers of that Commission. The defects, which experience of the Silkin Act had shown, needed attention, but nothing has so far been done. I very much hope that we shall have the necessary legislation. I took the late Lord Birkett's place as Chairman of the Standing Committee on the National Parks of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England. We wrote some months ago to the last Prime Minister on the whole subject of the preservation of amenities, both within and, incidentally, without, the National Parks. He invited us to prepare a full memorandum on what we wanted, and undertook that it would be taken into account when that Government were formulating their land policy. I hope that the memorandum will reach its final form the day after to-morrow, and we shall then send it to the new Government. I venture to express the hope that it will receive favourable consideration.
One matter of great concern to us is the ever-increasing demands being made 282 on our countryside to meet the ever-increasing need for water. I am sure your Lordships listened with great interest to the speech by my noble friend Lord Weir this afternoon dealing with the desalination of sea water. We are much troubled by the renewed threat by Manchester to the Lake District. It causes great anxiety to the Friends of the Lake District, and therefore to our Standing Committee. The new Department is concerned with all natural resources, but water is specified as one of the things transferred to it. I hope that the Department will give attention to the need for increased economy in the use of water, and will also give expert consideration to the Morecambe Bay barrage project. My Lords, I am sure that if this new Department of Land and Natural Resources gives enlightened and enthusiastic attention to the preservation of the beauty of our countryside, it will enjoy the good will and the support of your Lordships' House.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, I should like first to echo the congratulations that have been offered from all sides of the House on the occasion of the maiden speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, and the noble Viscount, Lord Weir. I am quite sure that I express the view of all your Lordships when I say that we look forward to hearing their future contributions in debates to come.
My Lords, the gracious Speech from the Throne outlines a very big programme of legislation, and the Prime Minister has promised 100 days of dynamic action. Reviewing matters so far, it begins to look like the start of 100 days of warnings and limitations. We are moving at the moment, I think, towards a Government of "don'ts". Not all the "don'ts" are to be condemned, but a surfeit of "don'ts" becomes a depressing meal for the body politic—don't import too much; don't trade with those whom you politically dislike, like the South Africans or the Spaniards; don't build in London; don't get into the supersonic field; don't close railways that don't pay; don't question the need for more taxes; don't make too many profits; and, above all, don't give any credit to the Tories for the high standards of life which have been 283 achieved during their years of administration.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, they probably think that the Tories have taken so much credit already that they should not borrow any more.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
All this builds up, I believe, to the danger of a public image, here and abroad, of a nation beset by so many problems that these can be solved only by a new team of brilliant and ruthless political rulers. It builds up to the public image of a nation needing and about to receive a severe disciplinary dose to get it straight on the Socialist rails. The truth, in fact, is that we have got a Government elected on a minority of votes; that we have problems that are no worse than others that we have had in the past and which we have overcome in the past; and that we have a set of largely inexperienced new Ministers to whom we wish well personally but who are just ordinary men, subject to failure and success, and who will obtain our support for measures which we feel are in the national interest. If the Government go on in their present condition of warnings and rebukes, I believe they will risk something which is essential for the success of any Government—the willingness of the people to "take it", whatever may come.
I would remind the Government that, to get people to accept change, you need not necessarily adopt the role of a prophet of gloom. I would urge the Government to remember the words of Mr. Winston Churchill—and I was a humble member of his Administration—in 1941, when his Ministers were constantly proposing limitations and controls. One of the war-time proposals of Ministers was that no one should be allowed to keep a pig, otherwise he had an advantage over those who were not allowed to keep pigs. Mr. Churchill looked at all those limitations and regulations, and he questioned each one, saying, "Stop it. Let the people enjoy what they can, even if the executive bureaucracy are shocked by a lack of conformity". I would urge the Government to have some regard for what t would call a spot of gaiety in their outlook and actions, and not keep repeating these sombre warnings of troubles around us, now and in the future, which we have 284 heard daily, and sometimes several times a day, ever since the General Election. Do not try to depress people who will not be units or be pushed around in a controlled State. Let the Government invest in joy, as well as investing in industrial effort and skills. Let them do all they can to encourage leisure and pleasure—and I will make, if I may, a very few suggestions for injecting some more joy into our daily lives.
When the Government train and retrain industrially, as they have said they are going to do, and indeed as is necessary in our new technological age, do let them see that at the training centres, parallel with the provision of the necessary facilities for work, there is also the provision of entertainment facilities. See that there are cinemas, that there are playing fields, that there are diversions there for the men, apart from the need for them to concentrate upon the work, because I believe that leisure and amusement for them will be almost as important as the work in the classroom. Then I am afraid I must be so bold as to say to the Government: Have a go at Aintree. See if you can preserve Aintree as the centre of a great national event, the Grand National, which counts for a great deal in this country and in other parts of the world. Why not have a national sweepstake? It is not really very immoral, because every church does it for its own church funds. Do something dramatic and exciting like that, and I believe you will get an enormous measure of public support.
Next, I would say, do not be too pompous about radio and television as educational media for the improvement of the mind, while regretfully admitting that some decadent people like comics, Westerns and even boxing. If people like television at odd times—and, after all, nowadays many people in industry work at odd times—let them have it and, subject to the rules of decency, let them laugh and have it for a much greater time than at present, even though the princes of gloom, some of whom we have in your Lordships' House (they may not he present to-day), do not approve.
Next, do please check the planners and their extravagances, the control planners, central and local, with their terrific urge for strict conformity: every gate and every fence in the housing estate must 285 be of a standard size and painted a standard colour, the unauthorised tool shed must be torn down. The planners' extreme determination that we shall all be the same I think makes public asses of some of them. I was reading in the Daily Mail last week about a case in Basildon, Essex, where a master builder tore down an old bungalow and almost completely rebuilt it. He is now told he must restore it to its former slum condition. Then he must comply with an enforcement order and demolish it. He had permission to repair the bungalow, and if he had rebuilt it bit by hit there would have been no trouble, but because he demolished it he now needs planning permission to re-erect it. It is really bumbledom gone mad when you get that sort of thing.
Next, why not paint buildings brighter? Let public and private buildings be smartened up and not be this terrible regulation grey. My appeal to the Government is to get Britain brighter. That should be a slogan of the Government. Finally, let the Government encourage and support great national events. Lord Morrison of Lambeth's Festival of Britain was jeered at quite a lot at the time, but in fact it was a very good show and Battersea Fun Fair still survives and is enjoyed by tens of thousands of people each year.
Here, my Lords, I speak with a particular interest which I must declare. I am the Chairman of the Commonwealth Arts Festival project which we have worked up from small beginnings over several years and with the constant support of the London County Council in difficult times. We later got the support of Her Majesty's Government, and in September, 1965, in London and in the national centres of Cardiff, Liverpool and Glasgow there will be the most exciting events that this country has seen for a long time. All the Commonwealth countries, and particularly the new countries, are keen to send dancers. African musicians, Canadian ballet, Australian symphony orchestras—they are all coming, and it is going to be "really something" for this country.
The last Government have given us support and we may well be coming to ask for further support from the present Government. After all, the ties of the Commonwealth are to-day largely 286 language and communication. These are the most important ties of the Commonwealth. Communication can be expressed in music, in poetry, in dancing and in other forms of art, and therefore my special plea (my general plea is to inject some gaiety into Britain and to brighten it) will be for support for the Commonwealth Arts Festival in 1965 in London, Cardiff, Liverpool and Glasgow. I believe we have got something here. Luckily, art knows no Party politics. Its purpose and work is common to all of us. I do not believe that the injecting of joy into our lives is a matter of Party politics; it is a matter of common sense for all of us. Faint hearts we have not got—faint hearts are ne'er rejoicing. We have not got faint hearts in this country, and let us rejoice!
THE LORD BISHOP On CHICHESTER
My Lords, may I just issue one repudiation of the statement just made that all churches indulge in sweepstakes? That is not true.
§ 6.15 p.m.
My Lords, I want to refer to the proposal to set up a Lands Commission, a subject that I do not know will inject the joy in your Lordships' House that was so properly desired by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye. But, before doing that, I should like to say how very glad I am to hear of the enthusiasm and support which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, is going to give to the housing society movement with which I am connected. I do not think he was entirely fair to the late Government. It is true, unfortunately, that the charitable side of this movement has been progressing slowly, but in regard to the type of scheme he was talking about, the schemes now under consideration by the Housing Corporation, after some preliminary hesitation they are, I know, going forward fast and, I hope, will soon make a considerable contribution to the whole housing position.
My Lords, I want to say a word about the Lands Commission, not with any idea of criticising this proposition, because we have been told so little about it that it would be difficult to criticise it even if one wanted to. All I want to point out is that the mere announcement of this proposal is already having some effect on local government operations. Whatever the ultimate effect it may have in facilita- 287 ting this work, at the present moment it has a slowing-down effect on certain operations, particularly those involving the purchase of land.
The argument is a very simple one. If we are going to get land cheaply by waiting, then obviously the thing to do is to wait. That is the attitude which my own county council, a shrewd body, is adopting in regard to the less urgent propositions, and I have no doubt that other local authorities will do the same thing. I am not suggesting there is any harm in waiting and seeing for a period provided always that the period is not too long. But how long shall we be in a state of uncertainty? At the present moment we do not know very much about what the Bill setting up the Lands Commission will contain. All we have been told is that, because of the difficulties of drafting, it will not be introduced before the spring. I can well believe there will be difficulties in drafting this Bill. I can well believe that there would be a number of difficult legal questions. Decisions would have to be taken about the different functions of different Ministries, which was referred to by my noble friend Lord Molson.
In the past there have been complaints of a lack of co-ordination, for example, between the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, who are responsible for land planning, and the Board of Trade, who are responsible for giving industrial certificates. Now, as Lord Molson has pointed out, we have two more Ministries. We have the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources itself, who are entrusted with the preparation of this Bill (although they have been in existence for only three weeks), and we have the Ministry of Economic Affairs. Then we are to have regional planning boards, so we are told. There is going to be a great deal of planning of various descriptions. All one can hope is that all these bodies will be planning in the same direction. I hope that will be the kind of problem that will be faced in this new Bill.
Even supposing all these difficulties were got over, even supposing that drafting and separation of functions and the passage of this Bill through Parliament went very smoothly, the passage of any Bill through Parliament in the present 288 state of affairs is always likely to give rise to interesting speculations. But even if all these things were done, I cannot see that that would be the end of the story. I cannot think that any kind of scheme of the sort sketched out in the Election campaign could really work without a considerable strengthening of the Valuation Department. This department can hardly be described as underemployed at present. In many areas, it is grossly overworked. I think that if a great deal more is to be put on it, it might very well break down altogether. How long would it take to increase the size of that department? Would it be any exaggeration to say that this Land Commission could not become operative for at least a year, probably eighteen months, possibly two years? I think that if uncertainty were to prevail for anything like that time, the consequences would be serious.
Unfortunately, it is not the only uncertainty that is now confronting the local authorities. Last week this edict about the regulation of offices in London went out. I think it is a very good thing that offices in London should be regulated and, like my noble friend Lord Molson, I have said so on various occasions. But the language in which that edict was issued suggested that it was going eventually a long way beyond London. In fact, it has been interpreted by some political commentators in the Sunday Press as meaning that the whole of the South East Study is going to be modified to a very considerable degree and possibly scrapped altogether.
The South East Study was produced after months, if not years, of work in the Ministry. It was presented to Parliament, not as a definite scheme, not even as an ideal solution of our difficulties, but as a compromise between what was desirable and what is politically practicable. It was put forward as a basis for discussion with the local authorities, and consultations have been proceeding and a good deal of work has been done in this direction. I wonder whether the noble Lord who is going to reply can give us any kind of guidance or information on these matters. I wonder whether the South East Study is to be reviewed and, if so, whether the revision is likely to take anything like as long as the original scheme. I wonder whether the noble Lord can tell us, in regard to both 289 the Bill for setting up the Land Corn-mission and the South East Study, whether the associations of local authorities are going to be given opportunities for consultation, and, if so, when.
I ask these questions, not from any Party point of view, but simply from the point of view of straight administration. In my experience of local government, which is now getting perhaps rather long, I have found that most of the difficulty of getting anything done is not the difficulty arising from Party differences but simply the difficulty arising from the forces of inertia, which are not confined to any one Party. There always seem to be good arguments for deferring a decision, particularly a complicated one, and for putting it off for further consultations and further information. So long as uncertainty prevails, I am afraid that the pressure to wait and see will become almost irresistible.
In conclusion, I should like to make one general observation. I have always felt, and have said so before in this House, that some day there ought to be more accommodation between the Parties on this question of long-term land planning. I cannot see that any real political principles are involved. The position is that the local authorities are supposed to plan for twenty years ahead, within the framework of the national plan. If that national plan is going to be changed every few years to suit the whims of perhaps quite a small number of floating voters, it will not he planning at all, but will degenerate into something which the noble and gallant Field Marshal, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, would probably describe as "a dog's dinner". I think that would be a pity.
As has been said before, we are very fortunate in having in this House, looking after our affairs in local government, the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, who has a high reputation, as I know, among local authorities, and has a long experience. If it is not impertinent to do so, I should like to ray tribute to his patriotism in taking on this quite difficult job at a. time when other people might perhaps be looking for a more easy life. I hope that he will use his great influence to give us in local authority life, if it is to go on at all—though clearly The Times does not think it has long to go—a fair deal, and to see that 290 there is some consistency in policy and some sanity in our affairs.
§ LORD MITCHISON
My Lords, I hope that the noble Viscount will allow me to say that I have listened carefully to all he has said. I have a great deal of sympathy with it and I am sure that his remarks will be carefully considered. I do not think that one can go beyond that at this stage, but the noble Viscount may take it that it is said with good intention.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, my first impression, on reading through the Home Affairs section of the gracious Speech, was that we are promised more and more affluence through the Welfare State, but Op reading the gracious Speech again I could not find out where all the extra money was to come from for all these schemes. Perhaps the Prime Minister has a fairy godmother somewhere up his sleeve, but I cannot imagine the Prime Minister as a character in Grimm's' Fairy Tales. Our economic policy since the 1930s has been immoral, because we have had a policy to please the voter rather than to secure the value of his money. I do not want to go into a long economic thesis now, but the gracious Speech implied that we are going to maintain an ever and ever higher standard of life. And how are we going to do this? The Government appear to be shying off investing in technological advance, in what they call "prestige projects" such as the Concorde, the Channel Tunnel and nuclear power stations. Therefore, I think the part of the gracious Speech referring to home affairs is, to a great extent, null and void. I could say a lot about this, but I will not pursue it now.
I should like to say something about the proposed Crown Lands Commission. We have had a number of speeches on this already and other noble Lords have rather taken the words out of my mouth. I am sure that, provided this Commission is completely fair to both sides, nobody will object. But can it be fair? I agree that in regard to urban land the area of land cannot increase geographically, and that in odd cases there may have been speculation and the price of 291 land has been too high. If this is the case, and the Crown Lands Commission can cure it fairly, then I am sure that nobody on these Benches will object.
What I am afraid of is that if we get more and more bureaucrats and more and more people dealing with planning permission and the acquisition of land, this will slow up the process. I have had a fair amount of experience in applying for planning permission, but I have never been successful in getting my applications accepted. This is somewhat disheartening. I am surprised how easily some people appear to get planning permission, and this has caused me to wonder why. I am not sure which noble Lord it was, but one noble Lord drew attention to the unsatisfactory part of planning permission where a planning authority, or even a single man, can, by drawing an arbitrary line on a map, put great wealth into the pockets of one man and deny it to another. I yield to no one in my high regard for the Civil Service of this country, but if the Civil Service continues to increase, some day we may get someone who is tempted by this great power and there may possibly be a scandal.
Therefore, I am frightened that with this Crown Land Commission we are going to increase the Civil Service and the control, and, in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said, slow up the supply of land. I agree with the idea put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that where a man has had a great big road built through his property, and he can apply for planning permission for what was formerly agricultural land, half the price he gets (perhaps not half, but I will say half for the moment) should go to the authorities in payment for Government development of assets. But if he has to pay tax on his half, then that is complete nonsense.
The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, spoke about rents, and he said that the Rent Act we introduced in 1956 was the most disgraceful Act regarding property that has ever been enacted. But that Act had to be brought in because the whole country was really becoming a slum. The lowness of rents was such that they were inadequate to provide for the repair of houses. I know people who had, I will say, thirty houses in a row who 292 were prepared to pay a purchaser to take them off their hands. I have had cottages let at rents under the old Land Control of £2 a year. The repair of those cottages might well cost £30 or £40 a year. The position for some landowners was quite hopeless. I do not want to labour the point, but if the Government are going to control rents, they must do it while being fair to both sides, because otherwise they will only start slums again. They cannot expect the landowner to repair houses out of his own pocket. He just cannot do it; he would go broke.
If I may say a word or two about the prescription charges, we have heard it said that their abolition is going to cost the nation only £20 million a year. I have spoken to quite a few doctors, and they are of the opinion that it is going to cost about £60 million a year. The trouble is that if you give people something free it is not cherished and will probably be abused. In the present economic position of this country, it might be all right if it could be kept at £20 million, but I do not think this is possible, and it is going to add greatly to the national bill.
I was pleased to see in the gracious Speech that the Government propose to build up the strength and efficiency of the police. I have a high regard, as I am sure all your Lordships have, for the police. They have had some adverse publicity in the Press lately, but if one has in mind the size of the Force it refers to only a minute percentage. In the few court cases I have seen, I have sometimes been rather appalled that when a policeman appears in the witness box giving evidence he appears to be more abused than the criminal. The courts and counsel rather appear to be anti police evidence. We have heard in the gracious Speech that there is to be law reform, and I am sure everyone will agree that it is long overdue. I hope that in this reform more encouragement will be given to the police and that they will not be pilloried in court, as I have seen happen.
The other point about the police is this. I have always been very keen—and a great number of other people have always suggested this—on taking traffic control out of their hands. If only we could have a separate force, such as the traffic wardens or some such people, to do point duty and the simpler traffic 293 control, it would, of course, be far easier for the police to attend to the apprehension of criminals. I suppose that over half the police force are wasted—perhaps I ought not to say "wasted", but engaged on traffic control, which I think is rather unnecessary.
I also heartily congratulate the Government on saying in the gracious Speech that they are going to improve the after-care of prisoners and bring about a general reform of prisons. I have always thought that the prisoner ought to be allowed to earn standard wages, and that out of those wages a certain percentage ought to go to redressing the damage, he has done to his victim: and that when he is doing this work he need not be in the confines of the prison. Of course, he has to be under supervision. It depends on the type of criminal. If he is a dangerous criminal, that is quire different. Another important aspect is the training of prisoners for the time when they come out of prison. If we spend our money on industrial training and other training of prisoners, I am quite sure that it will be well spent.
I have mentioned only a few of the many schemes that have been broached in the gracious Speech hut, of course, the most important section in the gracious Speech (and if the Government cannot do something about this the gracious Speech will really go by the board) is the paragraph which says:My Government w 11 call on trade unions and employers' organisations to co-operate in eliminating those restrictive practices, on both sides of industry, which impair our competitive power and the development of the full potential of the economy.I have often spoken before on this subject. As a very small manufacturer, of course I am interested in it. It is the most important subject in the country. Reference to restrictive practices by unions is always coupled with a reference to the restrictive practices on the employers' side. But I think that is only included to be tactful, because in fact there are very few restrictive practices on the employers' side.
Of course, every man must have the right to withhold his labour—he must have the right to strike. But in the Welfare State it must be a qualified right. After all, we can drive our cars 294 anywhere in the country. We have complete freedom to drive our cars, but we are not allowed to drive on the right-hand side of the road. We have, therefore, a qualified right to drive our cars. When a man takes a job, it is implied when he takes that job that he cannot walk out the next day—there is an implied right of contract. It is not laid down, but there is that implied, understood right. If you are driving a car and you knock somebody down through going too fast, you have serious claims against you. But the unions can ride roughshod over the community. They can drive people to suicide through victimisation, and they can ruin men financially. They can hold up extremely urgent serum or drugs to a hospital, and they can cause death in that way. We cannot go on like that. I am sure the whole country looks on this Government, who perhaps have more control of the unions (there are a great many members and past members of the unions in the Government), to define the right to strike.
In the Industrial Revolution, of course, it was perfectly right that the worker had to be protected from the community. But now the community have to be protected from the worker. The whole process is reversed. He gets his power from the fact that he is the last link in the chain. A handful of men in a power station, for example, can just turn a few knobs, and can throw 100,000 people out of work. They can stop the trains. It is anarchy. They have not built the power stations and have not built the trains. As I say, they are the last link in the chain. They can nullify all the efforts of the architects, planners, the civil servants, men who have contributed more to the economy than the last link in the chain. I do not mean this in any Party spirit, because I realise that your Lordships opposite probably to a great extent agree with me. We have to stop anarchy, and if we cannot get a qualified right to strike, then, of course, we have anarchy.
I am afraid that I have been rather long, but before I end I should like to express my point by quoting something from the People of October 25. As noble Lords will know, we have just had the Olympic Games, and although some of our team did extremely well, our swimmers, I am sorry to say, did extremely 295 badly, but through no fault of their own. There are two swimming baths in this country where an Olympic swimming team can train; one is at Cardiff and the other at Blackpool. Owing to the fact that the shop steward in charge of the swimming baths attendants at the Cardiff pool had a slight difference of opinion with one of the team, the baths were closed to overtime. The team, therefore, did not have all the practice they might have had. Bod O'Brien, as the man is called, defied the Lord Mayor of Cardiff, the Chairman of the Corporation Committee and, in fact, defied everybody because of what he thought was a personal slight. He says in the article that the young man Patterson (a member of the team)tried to make out I was a nobody. He seems to forget that the workers are the bosses".He then goes on to say:You see, when you have got a union behind you it is possible to run the world".There, my Lords, you have my point. We have that one man—I presume probably a fairly ignorant man—who can nullify the whole effort put into building this great swimming bath, which cost a million pounds when it was built specially for the Empire Games six years ago. I have pointed that out to show that if this is allowed to go on, we shall end up not as a second, a third or even a fourth rate economy, but will go down and down. It is by far the most important thing in the Queen's Speech, that we have to control unofficial strikes and that we must have the right to strike qualified.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ LORD AUCKLAND
My Lords, the gracious Speech has two features about it: first, it is ambitious, and, secondly, it would appear to be costly. But before I develop my own theme on this subject I should like to join in the congratulations which have been expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, who made a most engaging maiden speech. I often used to read the speeches which he made in another place and I also know the very delightful part of the country which he used to represent there, having driven along the A.6 on a number of occasions. I should also like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Weir on a most informative and interesting speech on a vital topic.
296 I would also say how delighted I am personally to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, to the Government Front Bench, because, while we disagree on certain matters, he always speaks with great sincerity and has worked very hard on Home Office matters. Only the other day he made a most interesting and useful speech at the Annual General Meeting of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. As Joint Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Home Safety Committee, I and my colleagues will no doubt find the noble Lord's advice and work very valuable, and from time to time I may put down various Questions to him.
I should like initially to put one point to him: that is, on the question of accidents caused by fireworks. I have not given him notice of this point and, naturally, I do not expect a reply to-day. Newspapers have carried some disturbing accounts of terrible accidents this year, in spite of all the propaganda that had gone forward in the Press and elsewhere. One child has been blinded for three weeks, owing to a firework explosion, and in another case two thatched cottages were razed owing to fireworks being thrown. I would ask the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack whether it is not time for a review of the penalties for these hooligans who throw fireworks about indiscriminately. I put a question down in this House on this point two years ago. I wonder whether the present penalties for this particularly dangerous type of hooliganism are adequate, and I think it is something which, even in the long term, needs consideration in relation to present-day values.
My Lords, I wish to deal with the question of hospitals and the Health Service. I disagree very much with the complete removal of prescription charges. I consider that old age pensioners should be able to have these prescriptions without recourse to the National Assistance Board; in other words, without having to produce or obtain the usual green form. Whether this is administratively possible I do not know, but it is something which I feel the Government should look into. That applies also for prescriptions for children, say under the age of five or six. I know from my own case—having three small children, all ill at the same time, all wanting different forms of medicine—that in a family where there 297 are three or four children and this happens it undoubtedly imposes a very big burden on the parents, if they have to pay for several different medicines on several different prescriptions.
But I wonder whether the wage earner, who to-day basically is well off, could not well afford to pay prescription charges. The reason why I disagree with the proposal in the gracious Speech to abolish these charges is that physiotherapists, radiographers and others are still, even with the latest review award, very much underpaid. I will not develop that point to-day, because I have a Question down for next Tuesday and also a Motion on the "No Day Named" list, drawing attention to the hospitals and the Health Services generally. But I will not move that yet, because it is only fair that the new Government should have an opportunity of making their own investigations into the details of this matter. The fact is, however, that there is a grave shortage of physiotherapists; in fact the establishment throughout the country is down by about 1,000 on what it should be, and I have here correspondence from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists. I made no bones about criticising my own side when we were in power and when the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, moved the debate on the pay and conditions of these people, and I make no apologies for this. I hope that the new Government will pay serious attention to this matter.
I could not help feeling, when reading the Labour Party Manifesto—I do not want to make a violently Party political speech here—that their references to the hospital plans generally were all rather vague. Party manifestos are always necessarily a little vague, because naturally they cannot run to 300 or 400 pages. But I wonder where some of the money is going to come from, even in advance of what may emanate from to-morrow's Budget, which of course none of us can anticipate. When in Opposition the Party opposite criticised very severely the Ten-Year Hospital Plan—as, of course, they were quite entitled to do—but I would point out that currently £66 million is being spent on new hospital buildings, while 110 major schemes have been completed since the inception of the Plan. Certainly, on paper, the construction of only five new hospitals in thirteen years 298 seems small; but as anybody who has anything to do with hospitals will say, the planning of a new hospital needs a good deal more thought and expense than the mere planning of a new house.
During one Election speech that I made I was confronted with the Labour candidate, who has now been elected for that division, who claimed that 400 new hospitals could be built. She did not give any time limit and she did not say how this was going to be done. I am sure we all hope the Government can build 400 new hospitals, and if they can, all credit to them. But we have been told that there is a shortage of bricks and a shortage of building operatives, among other things, and probably a shortage of equipment. And the 15 per cent. import duty which is one of the Government's measures—and it is not one that I unreservedly criticise, because there may well be good reasons for it—may possibly have some bad effect on importing hospital equipment. I do not know whether that is so, but perhaps that is something we shall learn. I think we ought to know soon what the Government's plans are for what they describe as "remodelling" the Ten-Year Hospital Plan, because this is vital, particularly for the maternity services. I am not claiming that the Ten-Year Plan has gone perfectly so far but in the introductory note to the plan it does stress that this is a plan and not necessarily a fait accompli. A great many things must obviously be borne in mind, such as building costs, availability of equipment and so on.
We all know that there is a shortage of nurses, and this is particularly true in mental nursing. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has himself done a great deal of good work in the mental hospital field. There is one large mental hospital in Epsom, which I know well, that has a grave shortage of nurses, particularly male nurses, because of the accommodation problem. I should hope that, if office building in London and elsewhere is to be curtailed—and again there are good reasons for this curtailment, provided that consideration is given and discrimination is given to the case—materials which would normally have gone on office building will go, at least in part, to building new nurses' homes, because there is a most desperate need for this. I know 299 that in Epsom some of the nurses have had to rent accommodation, often at prices they can ill-afford; and here again is something which the new Government, which has always expressed its great concern for our nursing services, and I am sure sincerely, should look into very carefully.
I should like, in conclusion, to echo some words which my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye said concerning the arts. As your Lordships know, I have moved two Motions in this House on the Arts Council. The Party opposite have always had a great deal of enthusiasm for increased public money for the arts, and I do not quarrel with that. I would only say, since we have been criticised over our meanness towards the arts, that the Arts Council now receive from the Government nearly £3 million a year, as opposed to about £450,000 in 1946. I hope that, so far as they can, the Government will bring pressure to bear on the local authorities to utilise, again so far as they can, their permitted 6d. rate on the arts, because I think that in this country our arts can be a valuable export in the form of culture and in projecting our cultural way of life.
My Lords, I said earlier that this gracious Speech envisages the spending of a great deal of money. I hope that, in the spending of it, our physiotherapists. radiographers and ancillary medical professions will be given a high priority.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ BARONESS SWANBOROUGH
My Lords, I should like to associate myself with other Members of your Lordships' House in congratulations, and I should like to add to them my good wishes in regard to the heavy tasks ahead. I must admit that I am an opportunist, and as such I am both heartened and thrilled in the vision of work to be undertaken and the problems to be tackled which I envisage and foresee in the gracious Speech.
I rise to keep your Lordships for only two or three minutes in order to beg Her Majesty's Government that work in regard to the welfare and the helping of persons sentenced to prison and coming out of prison may be put in the forefront of the active list of undertakings. The time for this work is now here and it can, I fear, no longer be delayed. It is 300 over a year since the ACTO Report was considered, and still to-day probation officers, welfare officers, voluntary organisations, probation committees and all other people interested in these problems are still terribly uncertain of what the policy is to be, what practical steps lie ahead and what preliminary preparations should be put in hand. I believe that the reason for urgency is that the good will of the public and of thoughtful people who are anxious to help is evaporating because they feel that they are being given no lead and no information on the subject; and, whilst this interest is evaporating, the anxiety of professionals as to what is likely to happen to them is mounting.
As a nation, the question of economy is one that we must quite obviously adopt. But I believe that hundreds of thousands of pounds could be saved by the prevention of recidivism, which can and should be tackled now. If we can effect this economy it would be a worthwhile effort. But even such an economy is not worth the mentioning when taken into consideration and compared with the reestablishment of men and women in life, instead of allowing them to drift back into prison. My knowledge of the readiness to co-operate on a voluntary basis throughout the whole of this country is gained from some considerable experience, and I am absolutely convinced that we must act now or we shall have lost an opportunity which will not easily recur.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, may I, too, start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, on two maiden speeches in one day—his maiden speech in your Lordships' House, and the same speech as a Minister in your Lordships' House. I am not going to use to him the conventional words, that I hope we shall hear him often again in this House, because I know that we are going to hear him often again in this House. But I can promise him the one thing he particularly asks your Lordships for in future, although he did not get it to-day—that is, plenty of interruptions. May I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Weir, on his maiden speech. Your Lordships are always glad to hear an expert on his own subject. I think my noble friend has other matters in which 301 he is an expert. I feel that he has been too long in making his maiden speech, and i hope that we shall hear him soon, and often, on his other subjects as well.
During the last twelve months I have spent quite a bit of time arguing with the noble Lord, Lord Stonham. I am glad to think that this exercise is to go on, but I warn him that he will find me much more difficult in Opposition than I ever was in office. I am somewhat entertained by the fact that when I was at the Home Office I spent a short time each week answering letters from Lord Stonham. The noble Lord tells me that since he has been at the Home Office he spends a large part of each day answering letters from himself. I think that perhaps he has not yet had time to get the knack of answering the Stonham correspondence.
I want to deal this evening with what, quite briefly, I might call Home Office affairs, which occupy a certain small part of the gracious Speech. I am in some difficulty, because Home Office matters are dealt with in the most extraordinarily vague terms. There are no details. I got the impression that they must have been drafted by somebody who was not greatly interested in the subject matter—perhaps by a surplus Government economist. For, as a rule, economists seem to find it difficult to believe that there are other things besides money which affect our daily lives. Therefore, I am afraid that my speech is going to be largely a series of questions asking for enlightenment. The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, will no doubt be able to answer some of them to-day. There are probably other matters that he has not yet been long enough in office to answer, but I shall pursue them wring the coming week. And I am now giving him notice of what those questions are.
Perhaps it would be easiest to deal with them in the order in which they appear in the gracious Speech. The first matter is the police. The rather bald statement appears in the gracious Speech that:My Government will he actively concerned to build up the strength and the efficiency of the police.If I were a policeman, a bald statement like that, not saying what it means, would produce in me the reaction—and 302 I am quite certain that it is the reaction among some sections of the police force—why are we mentioned at all in the gracious Speech? Are we going to he messed about? A bald statement like that, without any explanation, may well produce such a reaction.
I would remind your Lordships that my right honourable friend the then Home Secretary introduced in the last Parliament a most important Bill, now the Police Act. It was a most important measure, and had a general welcome from all parts in both Houses. As soon as it became an Act, before the Recess, we began to implement it. Of course, it will take a considerable time for full implementation; and it seems to me, therefore, that when I ask the noble Lord what this phrase in the gracious Speech means, or is likely to mean, probably one of three answers will emerge.
It may, of course, be just an expression of good will towards the police. If that is all it is, it seems to be quite unnecessary. One does not imagine that even this Government want to antagonise the police. After all, they are not foreigners. If it is just that, perhaps the noble Lord will say so, and I think it need not have appeared at all. On the other hand, it may be that they are announcing their intention to continue to implement the Police Act. If that is what this means, why did not the Government say so and do away with all this? Or is there some underlying hidden meaning to this phrase? What I am asking for is a little enlightenment. I think we are entitled to it after a statement as bald as this, and I am quite certain the police are entitled to it.
The next matter I want to refer to is the statementMy Government will be actively concerned … to improve the penal system….I do not want to debate the whole penal system this evening. The noble Lord and I have often crossed swords on this and, as often as not, we find ourselves in great agreement, but I should like to know whether this is an announcement of the Government's intention to implement the Longford Committee Report, or are the Government going to follow the example set by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in a 303 debate he initiated last Session and wash their hands of it? I should really like to know what lines they are going to work on.
There is one definite question I should like to ask and perhaps the noble Lord can answer it. He will remember that on July 23 last, in answer to a Written Question, I told the House that we, the then Government, intended to do away with preventive detention, and I said at the same time what we intended to put in its place. Probably the noble Lord will be able to answer my question as to precisely what lines the Government intend to go on. I am quite certain they will do away with preventive detention. I want to know whether they are going to alter the lines on which we made our announcement. This matter will, of course, I quite realise, need legislation, but I should have thought legislation of a fairly simple kind.
I would give one word of warning about after-care, which the noble Baroness has just mentioned. I am not sure whether I am agreeing with the noble Baroness or not, but your Lordships are aware that a new probation and after-care service has been started. It is going to take a considerable time to develop fully. I quite appreciate that, with experience, alterations will have to be made when we see how it is working, and I would ask Her Majesty's Government not to rush into making alterations until we have a little more experience in this matter. It may be possible to speed up, but that is largely a question of recruitment. I would ask the Government not to embark on changes just for the sake of changes. This is a service which needs time to settle down, and I do not think any of us have quite the right answer yet.
I should like to say a few words about capital punishment, which is a subject mentioned in the gracious Speech. I do not want to argue the pros and cons of capital punishment, but I understand that this matter will be dealt with by Private Member's Bill. That does not mean, of course, that Her Majesty's Government will not have a good deal to say as regards its drafting and what it contains. That, of course, is quite clear to everyone. I would ask Her Majesty's Government, and I should like 304 the noble Lord to ask the Home Secretary, to think very seriously at this moment—I mean now, before the Bill is actually produced—about the position of the police and prison officers. Assuming capital punishment is done away with—and I am not arguing that one at the moment—presumably, again, almost certainly, there will have to be alterations of some kind concerning the alternative penalty for murder. Under the present capital punishment arrangement Parliament recognised that the police and prison officers, from the very nature of their job, really needed special protection against crimes of murder. That applies particularly to the police. I would ask Her Majesty's Government to think very carefully about this, because it would be quite disastrous if, owing to some mistake we made now, in five or ten years' time we had to arm our police. In my submission, these two classes of people still need certain protection against this particular crime.
We then come to what I may term the immigration problem. This is a very complicated subject which is not suitable to be debated to-night, particularly the control of immigration. I feel certain that we shall have an early opportunity of debating the whole subject in detail and, I hope, in a calm atmosphere, because this is an urgent and immediate problem to which I think we should all give careful attention. I cannot see that there is any necessity for Party politics on this important issue as such. There are two mentions of the immigration problem in the gracious Speech. The first is that the Governmentwill take action against racial discrimination …".I should like to know just what this means. It sounds to me like another one in the series of what one might call the "Fenner Brockway Bills". I think I am right in saying that your Lordships have never debated one of these Bills because the other place, in my view quite rightly, did not send the Bills forward, on the ground that one could turn these Bills into law and, once they became law, they were unenforceable. If I am right in saying that this is another in the series of "Fenner Brockway Bills", I hope that Her Majesty's Government will consider that they have done their duty by their fringe by mentioning it in the gracious 305 Speech, and will now forget all about it. On the other hand, they may have something else in mind.
The gracious Speech also says that the Government will take action topromote full integration into the community of immigrants who have come here from the Commonwealth.I have read that again and again. I do not quite know what it means. It rather sounds as if you are passing a law to say "Thou shalt love thy neighbour". I really do not understand it, if this means bringing in legislation to say that integration has got to take place. I always thought that integration was really a question of persuading people that they wanted to mix. Whether this means there is going to be a Bill to say "Thou shalt mix", I do not know. Perhaps the noble Lord can enlighten us on that. I suspect that it is a bit of padding; that it sounds good but does not mean anything.
I am not going to say anything about Ombudsmen. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is the expert on the matter, perhaps almost as great an expert as my noble friend Lord Mancroft, who perhaps has dealt with the matter as far as he possibly can to-day. Any matter dealing with the law as such I shall leave to my noble and learned friend Lord Dilhorne to deal with to-morrow, if he wishes to say anything on it. Perhaps it would be unwise for me to say anything now, with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor sitting on the Woolsack at the moment and with my noble and learned friend intending to speak tomorrow. I am not going to keep your Lordships any longer as it is getting late, but those are a few questions, quite definite questions, on which we should like enlightenment. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to answer some of them to-day, and then I shall pursue the others in due course.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE, HOME OFFICE (LORD STONHAM)
My Lords, I would join with almost every noble Lord who has spoken in congratulating my noble friend Lord Mitchison on his maiden speech, and I agree with those who think he is a remarkable maiden. I am looking forward with keen anticipation to the days when Lord Mitchison performs in Committee, because I do not 306 know anyone who equals him when it comes to Committee points. I would also add my congratulations to the noble Viscount, Lord Weir, on his maiden speech. I did not know much about the subject of distillation of fresh water from sea water, although I know it is extremely important. I am glad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, that the noble Viscount talks on other subjects as well, and I look forward to more water over the weir.
My Lords, as so often happens in these debates when we have 16 speakers and when I am at the end of the day—it used to be on the other side—I feel a bit like the boy who stood on the burning deck whence all but he had fled. Something of the same kind has happened. Since so many noble Lords were kind enough to say that they did not expect an answer, and since I am also able to say that everything that has been said in this debate will be referred to the Minister concerned and most carefully studied, and where necessary letters will be sent, I propose to reply only briefly—at least, briefly at first—to my noble friend Lady Summerskill and to the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, who seem, alone of my questioners, apart from my noble friend Lady Reading and the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, to have stayed on. Fortunately, both Lord Auckland and my noble friend Lady Summerskill, devoted most of their remarks to health matters, and I can therefore deal with that as one subject. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, for his most kind congratulations and his good wishes, and for the kind words he spoke about my interest in home safety.
May I just answer the noble Lord's point about accidents due to fireworks? This is certainly a matter of very considerable concern to my right honourable friend, who has been discussing the matter closely and carefully, as might have been imagined, because this is the season. The noble Lord may be aware that these fireworks accidents have been the subject of careful review and study over the last two years. Statistics have been produced and conversations have been going on with the manufacturers, who have, indeed, taken action which has been in part effective. What other action may be taken subsequently will 307 naturally largely depend on the reports which my right honourable friend receives. But I can say that the matter is being closely watched, and the dangers are realised.
The noble Lord disagreed with the abolition of prescription charges because he thought that many workers were able to pay; but he immediately followed that up by saying that he had several young children and it amounted to quite a lot of money when they were all ill at once. That, of course, also happens to the workers who, as he suggests, are able to pay. But the fundamental reason why we shall abolish all prescription charges is that we want to revert as soon as possible to the original concept of this Service; that the means of health should be free at the time of use. These prescription charges have been a very heavy burden to the elderly, to the sick, indeed, to all classes of persons, at the very time when they were ill and when they were most vulnerable.
Of course, it is going to cost money—indeed, it will cost more than the actual £25 million which sick people pay for prescriptions and appliances—because it will mean that doctors will prescribe things that cost less than two shillings. They will also in future not be inhibited from prescribing necessary medicines, as they were in the past, because they thought their patients could not pay even the two shillings. In so far as the cost rises for that reason, then the Government will gladly welcome that cost.
The noble Lord mentioned the shortage of physiotherapists. I hope he will add to that the shortage of almost all the workers in the important ancillary professions. I am quite sure that this is a matter which my right honourable friend will be very carefully considering. The noble Lord asked that we should be told as soon as possible what the Government's plans are for reshaping the Ten-Year Plan. I am quite sure that my right honourable friend the Minister will be most anxious to make a statement on this matter as soon as he possibly can. My noble friend Lady Summerskill used words, as I understood them, to the effect that a halt had been called to the Ten-Year Plan, but the position is that my right honourable friend the Minister is having a complete review of the position, 308 that immediate schemes are of course going forward, and it is rather a matter of the horizon which he wants to look at before being too completely committed. Again, of course, he will be making a statement as soon as possible.
My noble friend very movingly referred to the great difficulties and the sufferings of mothers because of the acute shortage of maternity beds in hospitals. As I think she must be aware, I was acutely conscious three weeks ago, as chairman of a London group of five hospitals, of all the matters to which she referred. Naturally, I cannot anticipate what my right honourable friend is eventally going to say and do about these matters, but I know that he is also well aware of the position, well aware of the yawning gaps to which my noble friend referred; the shortage of doctors; the very large numbers of Commonwealth doctors on whom we are at the moment depending; the need, to which the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, referred, for more medical schools; and the fact that you cannot make a doctor in five years. All these matters are very much in the mind of my right honourable friend, and he is, of course, aware of the difficulties facing the general practitioners.
There is one point which my noble friend Lady Summerskill mentioned and which I would just answer briefly. She made reference to the fact that the productivity of women workers outstrips their earnings, and I think she quoted somebody else as saying that for every ten shillings they get they earn a pound. She made reference to Convention No. 100 of the International Labour Office, and to the fact that there was a unanimous resolution at the recent Conference of our Party, on the right to equal pay for equal work. I am not in a position to-night—and I know my noble friend will appreciate this—to give any precise details, but we are considering how best we can make progress in this particular field. It raises great difficulties And very complicated issues, but my noble friend can be assured that the Government fully recognise the importance of this matter and will pursue it in all possible ways which appear likely to produce the best results.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, I do not want to hurt my noble friend's feelings, but that is precisely the answer we have had from every Con- 309 servative Government during the last thirteen years.
§ LORD STONHAM
We have had only three weeks, and I myself have not had even as long as that, to produce an answer. I can only hope that if we work together on this matter we shall produce much better answers—and not merely better answers but better conditions, which will bring us nearer to the objective which I think we both have at heart.
The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, and my noble friend Lady Reading raised a number of questions with regard to Home Office matters. The noble Lord appeared to think that some of the matters were put in as a bit of padding; that they sounded good but do not mean anything. I wondered, when he said that, whether that was the way the gracious Speech was prepared when his Party were in power. I rather gathered it was so, judging from the eventual results. But he is quite wrong if he thinks that is the way the gracious Speech is prepared under a Labour Government. I am going to answer his questions, but he will appreciate that it is utterly impossible to give precisely detailed answers on all of them.
The noble Lord asked about out immigration policy. During the three weeks the Government have been in office, no changes have been made, administrative or otherwise, in the control of immigration; but, as he well knows, there will be full opportunity to discuss this subject when we come to consider the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. There will then be a full statement of Government policy. On the question of racial discrimination, it is our intention to legislate on this question, but I cannot, of course, anticipate the terms of the Bill which will be laid before the House. Again, however, there will be ample opportunity to discuss any details when the Bill comes before us.
The noble Lord then asked me about our intentions with regard to the police force and building up its strength and efficiency. The Home Secretary is convinced that the greatest deterrent to the criminal is not the possibility of a long sentence but the certainty of detection. To this end he is determined to do everything in his power to build up the strength and efficiency of the police force, because we are confronted with a very 310 grave crime situation, which we inherited, and we have a great deal to do if we are to deal with it successfully. My right honourable friend takes the view that the immediate task is to build up our police strength, at present manifestly inadequate in numbers. The pay rates recommended by the Royal Commission, which began to take effect in 1961, have greatly helped, and the male strength of the police force in England and Wales has gone up by just under 7,500. But this still leaves us more than 8,500 short of an establishment which, in some of the most important areas of the country, is dangerously low. Although recruiting has been, and still is, fairly satisfactory over the country as a whole, excluding certain vital areas such as the Metropolitan area, the net increase in the strength of the police this year has been much smaller than at any time since the new rates came into operation. In 1961, the net increase was 2,844 officers: in the first nine months of this year it was only 382. This decline has been mainly due to an increase in wastage, and there has been a significant increase in the wastage of probationers and others who have not completed their full service for pension. We must overcome this difficulty. Pay is important, and the new pay agreement, which provides increased salaries of 7½ per cent., will help, particularly because it provides for an increase for probationers; and in future recruits will get £700 a year on entrance and, for the first time, they will have an increase at the end of their first year. There is also the very important provision under which mature entrants of 22 and upwards will come in at £800 a year. We are very hopeful that this will assist in bringing in some valuable, mature recruits.
It is a matter of major concern that the strength of the Metropolitan Police, whose needs are probably greatest, has actually decreased by some eleven officers this year. At a time when the additional needs of the force have been estimated at being at least 5,000, this is a situation which needs careful thought; and on this I should have thought the noble Lord would agree. The Home Secretary is determined to act and to stop another kind of waste—namely, the employment of police officers on work which does not need their special training and experi- 311 ence. We are proposing further to examine the possibility of using traffic wardens in connection with the control of traffic. We must also ensure that the police officer's conditions are as good as they can be. The Police Council have already agreed in principle on a reduction in hours from 44 to 42, and it is our intention that this reduction should be achieved as quickly as posible, even though we recognise that this may be difficult in some of the major forces, such as the Metropolitan Police, until strength has been radically improved.
In the same way, the present excessive rates of overtime worked by detectives in some parts of the country (some detectives have worked as much as 100 hours a week, as the noble Lord is aware) must be reduced. A good detective is not a clock watcher, but he cannot do his job properly if, week after week, he has to work excessive hours. Detectives, of course, like other people, can be helped materially to make the best use of their time if they have adequate transport and office equipment. We want to bring all forces up to the level of the best in that respect. There is also a very considerable programme of capital investment, both for operational and for housing purposes, now running at some £11½ million a year, and the Home Secretary attaches the greatest importance to this as a means of enabling the police to do their job efficiently and in good heart. We mean to put into operation as soon as possible schemes for the further development of regional crime squads. They are already in existence on a small scale, and they will play a major part in enabling the police to take the initiative in the war against crime.
The new police research and planning branch of the Home Office has produced some valuable, but necessarily confidential, recommendations regarding the security of cash in transit. Other studies include the joint use of computers for fingerprints, modus operandi searching, and criminal indexes. The police also have a special need for an efficient personal radio set—a sort of pocket edition of the rather cumbersome "walkie-talkie"—and field trials of sets which have been prepared by several manufacturers are due to start in a few weeks' time. The noble Lord 312 asked for this information, and we shall, of course, have other opportunities to discuss our plans for making the police force a stronger defence against crime; but I hope that what I have said will indicate the resolute determination of the Home Secretary to discharge in full the duty laid on him by the Police Act, to which the noble Lord also referred, toexercise his powers under this Act in such manner and to such extent as appears to him to be best calculated to promote the efficiency of the police.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, I am delighted to hear what the noble Lord is saying: he is carrying on the policy which we started, and is evidently carrying it on energetically. There is just one question. So far as he knows at the moment—I can put it only in that form to him—is there any intention to amend the Police Act in any way?
§ LORD STONHAM
I really cannot anticipate any decisions that my right honourable friend will make with regard to the Act, but I think I have given enough indication to show that the Act is being implemented.
The noble Lord asked a specific question about what would happen if, as I hope and believe, capital punishment for murder is abolished.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt again, but I do not want an answer to this. I was merely putting a point of view about capital punishment which I hoped would be considered.
§ LORD STONHAM
If the noble Lord does not wish an answer and the House does not wish to be detained while I am giving it, that is quite all right, and I will go on to the next point about which the noble Lord inquired and to which I believe he does want an answer. He asked what we mean by sustaining the family, and the preventive treatment of delinquency. Although my noble friend is very much seized of the vital importance of catching criminals, he is also convinced that one of the most important contributions he can make to the well-being of society and, incidentally, to helping the police, is to prevent the making of criminals. And the right point to start is to provide the right machinery for dealing with children who have committed offences.
§ LORD STONHAM
On this subject I can convey what would be the somewhat different attitude on the part of the present Government to that of their predecessors. Our juvenile courts devote a great deal of time and care in dealing with young offenders and their problem is always how to deal with the child. We at the Home Office are now asking ourselves whether a court, however informal and enlightened, is really the best instrument for undertaking all the consultations with parents, probation officers and others, which must precede the decision about the best way of dealing with the child. The Kilbrandon Committee has made very interesting proposals. They envisage the separation of the function of determining guilt or innocence from that of deciding on treatment. These proposals were made in the light of existing Scottish arrangements. We want to consider how far the underlying principles, if accepted, may have a wider application. The Committee of my noble Leader, Lord Longford, whose report, Crime, a Challenge to us All, was signed by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and by other Ministers, canvassed the possibility of family courts relying on a strengthened family service; and certainly a unified family service seems both necessary and, in the long run, inevitable.
My right honourable friend has reached no firm conclusion, but he is convinced that our aim must be to avoid putting the stamp of criminality on delinquent children. For this we must provide for the maximum consultation with the social and remedial services before making decisions about how to deal with the child. I have referred so far to children who have to be taken away from home. But it is far better to leave the child with his family and ensure, through the social services, that adequate support is provided. For many years now the emphasis has been increasingly on preventive case work and this was given statutory recognition in Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1963. Local authorities were required under that Act to report to the Home Office the arrangements they had made. These reports have now been received from all but a few of the authorities. They are 314 being studied as a basis for further consultation with the local authorities and with the other Government Departments. But I can say at once that they show in general a great improvement in the arrangements for co-ordination and a focusing of preventive work on the children's departments and enlargement of their staffs. The whole picture is very much more encouraging, because a number of authorities have established advice centres, staffed in most cases by the children's department, while a number have also made schemes for the provision of material assistance in kind and, in exceptional cases, in cash.
But there are two main problems the Government have now to consider. First, nearly all the reports from local authorities refer to the difficulty of building up the necessary increased staffs of skilled social workers. The number of students in training will be about 240, compared with 68 three years ago. Arrangements have been made to raise the output to 300 students in 1966, and the process will be further accelerated. But the second problem is that of organisation. Here again the reports from local authorities about their various methods of discharging the new statutory duties will help the Home Secretary in considering the further steps, as well as the proposals made by Lord Longford's Committee for the better co-ordination of family services and for ensuring a single point of reference in each area to which problems can be taken.
The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, asked other questions about preventive detention. I should like to explain what our views are on the treatment of offenders in general. It is difficult enough to catch a criminal, but it is almost as difficult, when you have caught him, to know what to do with him. Our aim is to do what is best in the interests both of society and of the offender, and to give him the best opportunity of rehabilitating himself as a useful citizen. The Government can now look forward to considering the views of the Royal Commission on Penal Reform; but vitally necessary improvements cannot be held up pending the Commission's Report. My right honourable friend has been Home Secretary for only three weeks, but he has given considerable thought to a number of penal problems, and I am able to 315 indicate the directions in which he wishes to move and the possible changes which are to be examined.
One of our first aims will be to keep young people out of prison. To this end, we shall continue to provide remand centres so that persons under the age of 21 do not have to go to prison on remand. We shall also increase the number of places in detention centres until courts in all parts of the country are adequately served. When that objective has been achieved it is hoped to avoid short sentences of imprisonment for offenders under 21 and to imprison only those for whom a sentence of three years or more is necessary. With adults, it is the long-sentence prisoner who presents the most difficult problems. The longer a prisoner is removed from the world, the more difficult it becomes to reintegrate him into society. He develops habits of mind inseparable from life in a closed community. Social and family ties, if not completely severed, are severely stretched because normal social contacts are few and far between.
One of the existing sentences for persistent offenders which has caused much concern, as noble Lords are aware, is preventive detention, which we feel does not serve any useful purpose. But before abolishing it we want to be sure that the right provisions are put in its place. These are now being carefully considered, including the right method of dealing with prisoners of inadequate personality—the "passive, inadequate, deviants" who form a substantial proportion of the prison population. It means that, though we shall abolish preventive detention, we shall not necessarily put in its place what was advocated by the noble Lord in an Answer to a Question on July 23. I cannot go further than that in answering the noble Lord's question.
We also accept the unfortunate fact that there are some prisoners—though fewer than some may think—who are likely to remain confirmed enemies of society for many years, no matter how they are treated. At the same time we are convinced that there has been an over-readiness to attach the label of recidivist and that the majority of prisoners are reclaimable. Our present system does not allow enough scope to 316 those concerned with the treatment and training of prisoners to do what is needed.
§ THE EARL OF IDDESLEIGH
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question on a subject which is giving increasing concern in Devon? Will he add to the security precautions in prisons? The number of escapes from Dartmoor and other high-security prisons is causing us very real concern.
§ LORD STONHAM
Yes, my Lords, this question also is receiving the close attention of the Home Secretary. While it is obviously impossible in public to mention details, certain methods are being adopted, and particular attention is being paid to night security.
To help those concerned with the treatment and training of prisoners, plans are being worked out for the establishment of an allocation centre for long-term prisoners. At this centre individual prisoners would be observed and examined, and those who are suitable would undergo an early and intensive training for rehabilitation. They could proceed by varying stages to earn their freedom through release on extended parole before they are finally discharged. The prisoner would be selected for the appropriate training, and the length of his detention during this training period, under conditions of security, would depend upon his own response and co-operation—it may be short or long. If he proved himself suitable he would move through semi-secure to complete parole conditions and then to the enjoyment of full liberty. This is the system towards which the Home Secretary hopes to progress steadily.
One aspect of prison administration which we wish to change is the attitude towards the family link. The maintenance of strong family ties, we are confident, is of the utmost importance in planning for the rehabilitation of offenders. We should like to see a considerable extension of the present practice of allowing men serving the longer sentences who are suitable for parole to go home for a week-end or longer to see their families. The benefits to those prisoners who have succeeded in winning and keeping the affection of a wife and family would be incalculable.
One of the biggest problems facing a prisoner on discharge is to get a job and 317 keep it. This problem will still be with us under the new arrangements, but men will emerge from prison much better prepared to face life in the community, especially as we shall provide them with experience and training in the sort of work they may get on discharge. There is considerable room for improvement in the provision of work for prisoners. We are beginning to make progress on the right lines, but much more remains to be done. There are, it is true, a few prison workshops which are beginning to approach outside industry in equipment and general efficiency, but we have a long way to go before we have anything approaching the fine modern industries which are to be found in some foreign prisons. I am glad to say that an expert in management and production is now being appointed to supervise developments on these lines.
The Home Secretary is particularly concerned with the working hours in local prisons. Many prisoners are still working no more than 20 hours a week, and we cannot expect a prisoner to settle down readily to a full day's work on discharge when, over a period of months or years, he had spent the greater part of his time in fruitless idleness.
Another matter which we shall consider is prisoners' pay. At present, except for the few selected for the hostel scheme, they get only pocket-money. We wish to extend the hostel scheme still further and to examine the possibility, as the output of prison industries improves, of paying prisoners wages more in keeping with the work they do. We are also very concerned to improve the prison regime, including standards of food, clothing and equipment. There are still over 5,000 prisoners sleeping three to a cell. This overcrowding is a major cause of short working hours, but that is only one of the evils resulting from overcrowding, which prejudices every kind of effort made to train prisoners.
We need more prisons quickly if we are to begin to provide reasonably decent living accommodation. We also need modern buildings to replace the grim old prisons, built a hundred years or more ago, that were never designed for modern penal methods. But in pressing ahead with the building of new prisons we shall have regard to the need to provide establishments which combine economy and 318 fitness for the progressive regime we propose to introduce.
Finally, I want to deal with the question of after-care, which the noble Baroness, Lady Reading, and the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, mentioned. The noble Lord said that the new services had already started, but that is not my understanding. The real start will be within a few months' time, when the Probation Service will have taken the decisive steps in its development into a Probation and After-Care Service. It has already been expanded to 2,200 officers and will increase to 2,750 by 1966. We are not really satisfied with this rate of expansion and hope substantially to increase it. Facilities for training are being extended. The capacity of Home Office training courses for older students is to he trebled for the course beginning in January. It is hoped to raise the total output of students to near 300 next year.
There has already been much local and regional consultation with probation committees and the probation service and considerable agreement in principle. Details of the necessary arrangements, including the absorption into the Probation and After-Care Service of suitable welfare workers at present employed by voluntary bodies, are now being worked out. I do not think there is any real reason for the fears which I understand have been expressed in some quarters. We expect that by next April these arrangements will have been completed in much of Southern and Eastern England so that the new Probation and After-Care service may then be functioning in that area with full responsibility for the provision of after-care. But if after-care is to be successful, the preparatory work in correctional institutions must be carried out by skilled social workers capable of working in close liaison and in parity of esteem with officers of the new Service. We are urgently considering how to secure for prison welfare officers the enhanced status recommended by the Advisory Council on the Treatment of Offenders.
The Advisory Council called fora greatly increased understanding of the part to be played by members of the community in the rehabilitation of offendersand went on to recognise that the help of voluntary workers acting as auxiliaries 319 to probation and after-care officers would be necessary. The Home Secretary agrees on both counts. First, no after-care programme can succeed without public sympathy and support. Second, the sheer volume of work will make it necessary for the Probation and After-Care Service to receive lay support. I am confident that the necessary volunteers will be found, and that probation officers will welcome their help.
One particularly welcome development in the field of voluntary service in recent years have been the provision by voluntary bodies of hostels for discharged prisoners and borstal boys—here, of course, great work has been done by my noble friend Lady Reading and the W.V.S. This fulfils a deep need. Your Lordships will doubtless be glad to know that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is considering proposals for a scheme of assistance towards the cost of running such houses. Details of the proposals have yet to be worked out but we have in mind that, subject to annual review, grants of up to £100 per annum per head may be be made towards running costs, though not towards capital expenditure, to augment the payment made by residents themselves and the voluntary donations of those generous people who have supported, and are still supporting, this imaginative venture.
I read somewhere in a newspaper that for the last three weeks a gale Force 320 9 had been blowing through the corridors of Whitehall. We do not expect the gale to blow quite so strongly at the Home Office and have quite the same effect, but I am certainly confident that in the months and years that lie ahead we shall see the "wind of change" having its effect there, too. I also read that President Johnson, the day after he was elected, said that in his great society there would be no poverty, no unemployment, no slums, no delinquency and few Republicans. Under the Labour Government, we do not expect to accomplish all those things in this Parliament, but we do expect and are confident that we shall in all departments go a long way towards their accomplishment.
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Chesham, I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.