§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given Private Notice—namely:
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware of the public concern at the reduction of gas pressure which took place last night in the area served by the North Thames Gas Board and of its warning of further cuts to-day; and whether they will give an assurance that every effort will be made to maintain pressure adequately to ensure safety in the operation of all appliances.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Stonham will be answering this Question by a Statement at about 3.30 this afternoon.
§ ADDRESS IN REPLY TO HER
MAJESTY'S MOST GRACIOUS
§ 3.2 p.m.
§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion moved on Tuesday, November 9, by Lord Francis-Williams—namely, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:—
§ "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 DERWENT
My Lords, as your Lordships know, it has been arranged through the usual channels that to-day and to-morrow we should discuss Home Affairs, and it has been suggested by the noble Earl the Leader of the House—he suggested this in a letter he sent round to most speakers—that we should, so far as possible, divide the subjects, taking so many on one day and different subjects the next day. We shall do our best about this, but it is a little difficult. One has only one opportunity of speaking on this Motion, but one may well want to speak on different subjects. A further difficulty is that some of the subjects which the Government may well be most sensitive about do not appear on the list 450 at all, and some of them we shall be raising.
In opening this debate, there is a further difficulty this year. Much of the wording in the gracious Speech is more than usually vague. There are a number of matters about which we know very little, and unless Ministers are more forthcoming in the next two days, we are not likely to know very much until the necessary legislation comes forward. But much of the other wording, even where we know a certain amount about the matters covered, is rather vague. I saw it suggested in one newspaper that this vagueness was deliberate, so as to keep the Liberal Party sweet for as long as possible. I must say that I found it somewhat difficult to believe that the Liberal Party were quite so naive as that, until I listened to the speech last week of the noble Lord, Lord Byers. I am sorry the noble Lord is not here today, but I did warn a Liberal Whip that I would comment on his speech. I quote from the OFFICIAL REPORT of November 10, col. 45, where the noble Lord said:We can "—and "we" meant the Liberal Party—take credit for having killed the nationalisation of iron and steel".The Prime Minister contradicted that at once, and indicated that if ever he got a working majority he would continue with the nationalisation of steel. But it makes one wonder whether perhaps the newspaper that I quoted was quite right.
My Lords, the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting. May we say that we have stunned it rather than killed it?
§ LORD DERWENT
I am not certain about that: not according to the Prime Minister. The self-deception of the Liberal Party evidently goes quite far. I do not want to speak at great length, because there are a number of other speakers; and I hope the House will approve of the course I propose to take. I am not going to deal with all the matters on Home Affairs. I shall select certain matters only in which I have an interest or which I think ought to be brought forward, and I will deal with them in a fairly general manner. Other noble Lords, I know, will take up the subjects, and others on which they may well be 451 experts, and deal with them in more detail. In this way I think I may be able to reduce the length of my speech. I also want to divide my speech—and I do not think I will keep your Lordships long—into two parts. First of all, I want to touch on those matters which appear in the gracious Speech, and then I want to talk about matters which do not appear in the gracious Speech—and I regret that they do not appear. Incidentally, I am not here referring to steel.
I should like to deal first with what I may call the provision of dwellings. I use that phrase because it not only comprises matters such as housing programmes, but goes much wider. I would start by drawing your Lordships' attention to a paragraph in the gracious Speech which reads:A Bill will be introduced to establish a Land Commission with power to acquire land for the community and to recover a part of the development value realised in land transactions. My Ministers will introduce legislation to reform the leasehold system for residential property in England and Wales, including provision for leasehold enfranchisement".All reference to that very big subject appears in one paragraph. As regards the second phrase, "to recover a part of the development value realised in land transactions", we have not yet many details of what is in the Government's mind. But I think I can probably say from this side of the House that there may be some support for the principle involved—in fact, I am sure there will; but we shall doubtless clash quite heavily later on as to the actual details of what is proposed to be done.
So far as the Land Commission is concerned, what is the purpose of this Land Commission? We have had a White Paper dealing with the subject. I do not think I have ever before seen a White Paper that gave so little information. It does not even explain why it is necessary. It is certainly not necessary for the collection of betterment, which is what comes in the second part of the sentence, because that is a pure tax collection matter which can be dealt with through the usual tax collection system. We all know—and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, will agree with me about this—that the trouble with the acquisition of land is that the planning system wants modernising and speeding up. I always think of 452 the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, when I say "planning", because he knows so much about it. We have had considerable experience over many years of the various planning Bills and planning system; and I think it is generally agreed that what we want is to speed up the planning system. But, so far as I can see, the Land Commission is not going to have anything to do with that; in fact, the White Paper specifically states that it will have no planning duties at all. It is not right to say that we need a Land Commission for this.
Then one might ask: what is the purpose of this new bureaucracy? I think there is little doubt that it will reduce the amount of land coming forward for development voluntarily. Already even the publication of the White Paper has reduced the land coming forward. So evidently it is not going to help there. I would suggest to your Lordships that the only purpose of this Land Commission is to have some organisation to start with, even if it does not do very much, so that it will be available if it is decided to go fully ahead with the nationalisation of land. I believe that, in the Government's mind, this Commission has no other purpose.
May I go on to the next part of this matter, leasehold enfranchisement? Is this going to help the housing situation? Is it going to provide one additional house? What, in fact, is this leasehold enfranchisement—a subject which I know is dear to Liberal hearts—going to do? It will do three things. First of all, it will enable contracts, willingly entered into between two sides, to be broken at will by one side. That is the first thing it is going to do, if what we have been told so far is correct. Secondly, I think that without any shadow of doubt it will have the effect that in the future there will be fewer houses to let. We are told by noble Lords opposite—and we all agree—that more houses to let are needed. If people wish to let a house, and it is going to be compulsorily purchased by their tenant at some future date to suit the tenant, far fewer houses will come forward for letting; and houses will probably be sold.
The third thing which will happen as a result of leasehold enfranchisement is that it will make any possible future town planning almost impossible in the big 453 cities. I know that some Members of the Party opposite dislike the big London landlords, though I have found them quite good landlords—the Grosvenor Estate, the Portland Estate and so on—but that is neither here nor there. It has been said (I do not know with what truth) that there are going to be no exceptions to leasehold enfranchisement. In the big estates, I think that all the ground leases fall in in a block, or a street, or a square, virtually at the same time, because the ground leases are made out in that way. As a result, any area can be properly developed at the end of the ground leases. If all the houses are to belong to different individuals, it will be quite impossible to have proper town planning; planning will be piecemeal, and the big cities will get uglier and uglier.
The next part of the gracious Speech to deal with houses, dwellings and so on, is the sentence:A Bill will be introduced to regulate priorities in privately sponsored construction"—in other words, building licences—back to them! Many of us believe—in fact we are quite certain—that given the proper climate, and given a certain time in accordance with the climate, then the local authorities, plus private builders, are capable in a period of time of producing all the houses that are necessary. We are equally certain that neither the local authorities nor the private builders can produce the necessary houses on their own. Both are needed as fully as possible.
The Minister of Housing and Local Government has made it quite clear that, because of some Socialist theory, he is not going to allow private building to play its full part. So far as possible, building is going to be switched over to the local authority side. The Minister has made a variety of statements which make that quite certain. This policy is going to reduce the number of houses built—hence the building licences. So I ask Her Majesty's Government what single thing they have done in the last Session, or what single thing they have promised in the gracious Speech, which will produce one single extra dwelling place.
In the last Session there were two adverse factors. There was the introduction of the Rent Bill (and I am talking about providing dwellings) and the 454 capital gains tax. They both had a slightly different effect, but as a result of the two together an increasing number of houses are standing empty. I know quite a number in my own part of the world. The houses that are standing empty which were to be let have not yet been let, and may not be let, because the owners know that in a comparatively short space of time they will need them for their own occupation; and rather than run the risk of not being able to get possession in a few years' time, they are leaving them empty. I know personally quite a number of cases of that kind.
As regards the capital gains tax, something quite different has happened. People who are selling houses have got into their heads—I think probably rightly—that in a year or two the effect of the capital gains tax on the sale of house property will be to put up the selling price of houses because the seller will want to cover himself against the tax he has to pay. I am sure that that will be the effect. At the moment, people are waiting to see; and I know of quite a few houses which are standing empty for that reason.
In the gracious Speech, what plans do we find to provide new houses? First of all, we have the Land Commission proposal; which will have the effect of making land for housing scarcer, because already land is not coming forward as easily as it did for development. Secondly, we are to have leasehold enfranchisement, which will also make housing land scarcer. It is bound to do that. Then there are to be building licences, which will ensure that privately-built houses are scarcer. Then where are these cheap mortgages about which we heard so much at the General Election? The mortgage rates to-day are the highest we have ever known. Even on new estates which are partly built, or in process of building, a few months ago there was a waiting list for every house built. Several builders have told me that the top three, four or five people on the waiting list say, "We cannot do it. We cannot take a mortgage at that price", and the builders have to go round trying to find somebody to buy. In some cases, they have been unsuccessful. That does not help to provide dwellings for people. I do not know who is answering on housing, but when the noble Lord comes to 455 reply to this debate, I shall be interested if he can tell me of any one thing that has been promised to be done that has provided, or will provide, a single additional house.
May I leave housing for a moment and go to another subject. A phrase in the gracious Speech reads thus:A Public Schools Commission will be set up to advise on the best way of integrating the public schools with the State system.I would ask your Lordships to notice the exact wording—to integrate the public schools with the State system.From that wording, I suggest, it is quite clear that it is the intention of this Government, if they can manage it, not to allow any free choice by parents in the education of their children, in spite of the Declaration of Human Rights, to which we were signatories. If noble Lords opposite deny that it is their policy to destroy the public schools, surely the correct wording would have been something in the nature of:to set up a Commission to advise on the best way of admitting to public schools those who most benefit from admission, irrespective of financial ability to pay the fees.That would have involved using a type of school to widen the class of children going to them. But no! Socialist theory is quite clear from the wording in the gracious Speech. Parents are not to have any choice in how their children are to be educated, and the public schools are to be destroyed. If the Government do not mean that, why did they put this wording into the gracious Speech, because that is exactly what it says.
I come next to the paragraph which says:My Government will promote the provision of improved services for the family, the development of new means of dealing with young persons who now come before the courts, and the advancement of penal reform.That is all very praiseworthy, and within certain limits I can promise help from this side of the House in arriving at reasonable solutions to those matters. I would only say that we shall not be able to support the measures if they follow too closely the Report of the Longford Committee, because we believe that many of the suggestions in that Committee's Report were not wise and were, in some 456 cases, the result of rather woolly thinking.
I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, one question on this paragraph. Are we now, at long last, going to see the end of preventive detention? I would remind your Lordships that this form of imprisonment was brought in by a Labour Government, and long before it had run long enough to see whether it would work the penal reformers amongst noble Lords opposite were pressing for it to be abolished. They were saying such things as, "Iniquitous! Just do away with it". The Conservative Government at that time took the view that we had better let it run until we had a little more experience, and in the end we came to the same view, that it was not satisfactory. I seem to remember that we had a little difficulty in persuading the noble Earl the Leader of the House and the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that we should not do away with it until we had something satisfactory to put in its place to deal with these recidivists, but they felt, and other noble Lords indicated, that they could do away with it and they knew the answers to what to put in its place. They were in a desperate hurry.
Eighteen months ago, when I was answering for the Home Office, I told your Lordships that we had decided to do away with it and exactly what we were going to put in its place. We said that if we were re-elected this is what we were going to do in the near future. Unfortunately for the country, and perhaps even more unfortunately for the preventive detention prisoners, we were not re-elected. That was eighteen months ago. Since then the Labour Party, who knew all the answers, have done absolutely nothing. We do not even know if they are going to do away with it, and we certainly do not know what they are going to put in its place. So yet another Session has started, and again I ask the noble Lord, Lord Stonham: are we going to see the end of preventive detention this Session?
My Lords, may I say one word about immigration? I am a little surprised that although it is mentioned in the gracious Speech, in the list of subjects suggested by the noble Earl the Leader of the House to be debated during these two days immigration was not even mentioned. However, the paragraph in the gracious 457 Speech dealing with immigration says this:Further steps will be directed to the effective integration of immigrants into the community and to strengthening the control of Commonwealth immigration.If those words mean what they say, I can promise Her Majesty's Government full support from these Benches. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, will be able to tell us that those words do mean exactly what they say. There have been rumours, I agree only rumours, that the Government were weakening on their White Paper. I hope that they are only rumours; I hope these rumours were merely put about, again, to keep the Liberal Party happy.
The last of those matters in the gracious Speech which I am going to mention is the question of the Ombudsman, the Parliamentary Commissioner. I do not want to say much about it because we do not know exactly what is in the Government's mind. We must wait to see what they bring forward. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, when he replies to-morrow, as he is the expert on this matter, will answer one question. An Ombudsman, Parliamentary Commissioner, or call him what you will, has been tried out in only small countries with small populations where, obviously, it is a much easier problem. I should like to know whether the Government visualise having to have almost a new Department of State with an army of civil servants for this, in a highly industrialised country with big cities. I cannot see how they can avoid it, but I think that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor may be able to give us some indication of how he visualises this.
May I now deal briefly with the two things which are not in the gracious Speech but which I wish were? First, there is no mention of new Shops Acts legislation. We all know that our Shops Acts legislation has been improved slightly over the last few years, with help from all sides of the House, but it is still in rather a mess, and the last Conservative Government started intense discussions with the interested parties. Those discussions were carried on by the present Government. We have now reached the stage—and I think the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, will agree with me—where 458 there is a wide measure of agreement among all Parties, and I would go nearly as far as to say that the points of disagreement are almost Committee points. During the Last Session we were told by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that Shops Acts legislation would be coming on in the near future; I think that was the phrase. He did not say "immediately", and obviously he could not say exactly when, but all of us interested in this subject, inside and outside the House, believed that the Government were ready to go ahead with new legislation, including, I may say, some of the recommendations of the Crathorne Report on Sunday trading, and we are intensely disappointed to find nothing in the gracious Speech about it. I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, whether he thinks it has been left out just because there was not any more room on the page or whether we have any chance of having this new legislation, because I am sure it is needed.
The other matter which is not in the gracious Speech and which I rather regret is not there is that of the war against crime, and the police. I am not suggesting that there ought to be further legislation, but as it is one of the most important problems that the ordinary citizen has to consider, I do think it would be wise to have some mention of it in the gracious Speech to indicate that the Government are really taking this matter seriously.
One of the principal difficulties of the war against crime is the question of police recruiting, not only in quantity but, perhaps even more important, in quality. I read in the newspaper, and of course I do not know whether it is true, that the Police Federation, with whom I must say I do not always agree, had the very good idea that an inquiry should be held into police recruiting by an independent committee formed of people who were not involved personally in this matter, either in the Home Office or in the police. It was reported that the Police Federation took this view because they did not think that people who were personally involved could really look at the question properly, and I understand they said that this was not just a question of pay and conditions of work, which could be dealt with by the various police and Home Office organisations. This went much further.
459 May I at any rate give an example of what they may have had in their minds, and I certainly have in my mind when I support them? The police are anxious to get university graduates to go into the police as a career. They approach them just towards the end of their undergraduate training or when they have just got their degrees, and it is noticeable that in the case of these young men, although of course they are interested in what their starting pay and conditions of service would be, these are not the considerations which tell with them. What really tells with them is the sort of career ahead of them. I believe, and I know quite a lot of chief constables believe, that these young men do not go into the service because there is such an appalling block in promotion in the senior ranks in the force. I know some chief constables think that every chief constable should be compulsorily retired at 60, and superintendents and chief inspectors at 57. That would remove this present block. I do not want to argue the whole case because it is involved, and covers questions of pension and so on. But that is not the sort of question—it is a matter that is really affecting recruiting—that those in the police force or the Home Office could look at properly. An independent inquiry is needed. Whether the newspaper report is correct or not, I do ask the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, to see the Home Secretary on this question, and if he has not considered it, to see if he would, or if he has considered it adversely, to induce him to consider it again, because I believe it is of vital importance to the recruiting of the police and the fight against crime.
I have rambled a bit because the whole of this section of the Queen's Speech is something of a hotch-potch, and it reads to me much more like an Election manifesto. There is so much in it; much of it we will not see this Session in spite of the fact that it appears in the Speech. Perhaps it would have been more polite if I had not called it a hotch-potch but called it a pot-pourri, but some of it does not smell well enough for that.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO (LORD CHAMPION)
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, is such a kindly man that I was a little surprised by the carping nature of his speech. He 460 has, of course, made a number of points. He talked about this as being a hotchpotch gracious Speech and then he said that it was a pot-pourri. What I say about it is that this is a first-class programme of work for the coming Session of Parliament, and I am sure that by the end of the Session the country as a whole will be glad that this gracious Speech was this Government's programme of work. I can assure the noble Lord that there is nothing vague about this Speech, and that certainly there will be nothing vague about the actions following this Speech, because the actions have been prepared; in many cases the legislation is ready and will be presented to the House, and I am hoping to secure the co-operation of the noble Lord in pushing through this great programme that we have before us.
I regard this gracious Speech as the second part of the task of this Labour Government. The first stage was inevitably to deal with the serious economic situation that we found when we took office, and, however much our opponents try to minimise the seriousness of this, the fact remains that there was a trade deficit estimated at between £750 million and £800 million.
§ LORD CHAMPION
Well, a balance-of-payments deficit. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his correction. This indeed was serious, but I must say here that this was only a heightened manifestation of the malaise that has afflicted the British economy for all too many years past. The steps already taken and the steps that are being taken to work out the National Plan will, we all hope, result in overcoming this unhappy situation by 1970.
My Lords, to your relief, I am sure, it is not my intention to go over the ground covered by the economic debate of last week, some of which, as I have said, in this gracious Speech will apply to the second stage of the Government's task; that is, to try to make life in this country of ours more civilised and more humane. Measures and actions designed to this end are contained in the gracious Speech, although some of the measures mentioned there are, understandably, in furtherance of the economic policies of the 461 last Session. I have tried to categorise many of the measures under the headings I have mentioned "Civilised" and "Humane," but find that they interlock and are intertwined.
Under the heading of "civilised" I placed improved services for the family; the development of new means of dealing with young persons who come before the courts; the advancement of penal reform; the improvement of the administration of justice, and the reform and modernisation of the law; the effective integration of immigrants into the community; the advancement of higher and secondary education, together with the setting up of a Commission which might lead to an ending of the class basis in our public schools. This is, to some extent, a reply to one of Lord Derwent's points. This will, of course, be a matter for the Commission to consider and to report on, but I am sure the noble Lord is not happy about the class basis that exists in our public schools, despite everything he said about the mention in the gracious Speech.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, I feel that I must raise a little protest here, having taught in a public school myself. The only thing that bars one from going to a public school to-day is a lack of money. That was why I myself was barred from going to one. But so far as class distinction is concerned, it is absolutely fictitious; there is no such thing. When I was at Epsom College we had boys who came from every class under the sun; they all mixed equally together, and there was no thought of class distinction.
§ LORD CHAMPION
The noble Lord has said that only a lack of money prevents someone going to a public school. If the public school is, as I believe it is, a good form of education, the only bar to entry there should be lack of ability. This, I believe, should be the basis upon which the public schools are in fact based; or at least the boarding schools of this particular type, which I admit do provide an excellent comprehensive system of education. I believe that this is the answer to the noble Lord.
§ LORD SOMERS
Certainly. Also, would not the noble Lord, Lord Champion, agree that in any walk of life if one wants better quality it is natural to pay for it?
§ LORD CHAMPION
Not necessarily in this field. I think that ability should be the test, not necessarily money. This, I believe, is a factor that is of tremendous importance.
LORD BELHAVEN AND STENTON
Would the noble Lord tell us who is going to pay for this very expensive education?
§ LORD CHAMPION
This is a matter which will have to be considered by this Commission. The Report which they produce will be carefully studied by the Government. I have merely put in here what I think should happen in respect of these excellent institutions; that they should not be on a class basis or even the financial basis mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Somers.
§ BARONESS HORSBRUGH
The noble Lord has said the standard would be that of ability. Does he agree that that will be a non-comprehensive school, because they will be testing for their ability after an examination?
§ LORD CHAMPION
A very nice point by the noble Baroness, and one that I should expect from her, as an ex-Minister of Education. I have not set out what is going to be the basis for the public schools. What I have said is that a Commission is going to consider the whole matter, and to provide us with a Report. And I think that the suggestion I have made will flow from their Report. But I must not anticipate what the Commission is going to say in this connection.
I think that I might now go on with my speech. The final point that I would make here under the heading "Civilised" is the appointment of an Ombudsman to protect the individual from possible injustice by employees of the State. Under the heading "Humane" I put the sentences dealing with the measures to be laid before us relating to the 463 sick, the unemployed, the widowed and those injured at work, and the promised legislation under the family doctor service. In this latter connection, I, of course, as the House will, welcome the agreement of the doctors, and I personally would praise my right honourable friend the Minister of Health for the tact and patience with which he has dealt with what at one time appeared to be a most intractable problem. If we succeed in the course of a single Session in achieving the programme that I have just mentioned, this country of ours will be a more civilised and more humane country at the end than it was at the beginning.
I must make it clear at this point that the Government regard many of the measures that I have mentioned as interim measures, and this applies particularly to those relating to social security, which we are proposing to put into operation as rapidly as possible pending the longer-term developments which will flow from our major review of the whole field of the social security services. I cannot imagine that any great controversy will arise about the things I have mentioned so far, and I do not propose to say much about any of them, for I am sure we shall all will the end, even if in the course of this Session we disagree about the means.
I must say that I look forward tremendously to the contributions that will be made in this debate by knowledgeable noble Lords on all the matters that I have so far mentioned. Clearly, if I attempted to cover them all in the course of my speech it would be of unbearable length. I must, however, say that my noble friend Lord Stonham will be answering a certain number of the questions that have been posed. He will be dealing particularly with the matters that fall within the province of the Home Office, and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, despite the grievous burden that he has recently carried, will wind up the debate tomorrow night, when he will answer further questions, and I think particularly those questions posed by the noble Lord on the housing problems, as well as certain others which arise out of the reform of the law mentioned in the gracious Speech.
464 I mentioned earlier that some of the measures referred to in the gracious Speech are designed to further the Government's economic policies. Clearly the more efficient working of the ports falls within this latter category. No one in this House will need convincing of the necessity for action here. What is needed is the early implementation of the interim ports plan of the National Ports Council, which was welcomed by the Minister of Transport in July of this year. This, together with some of the things that must, I think, emerge from the considerations of the "little Neddy", sitting under the chairmanship of the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, constitutes the physical side of what is the immediate requirement of this great exporting-importing country.
Perhaps even more important than the physical side is the human side of this complex problem. The implementation of certain of the recommendations of the Devlin Committee will call for legislation aimed at a reduction of the number of employers in the docks; and this will necessitate changes in management, outlooks and attitudes. This is always difficult for people to achieve. We do not easily change our attitudes. But perhaps the most difficult field here will be to bring about a change in industrial relations which have for much too long bedevilled this part of industry by casualisation—men herded into pens to be sorted out and selected for the day's work. This is one of the things that we certainly must get rid of, if it has not already been got rid of. I know that when I saw this in operation, to me there seemed to be something less than human about it. I believe it still exists to some extent. The sooner it is ended and this industry is decasualised, the better for everybody concerned.
My noble friend Lord Brown, and his National Modernisation Committee, are at work on this great problem of decasualisation, necessitating a wages payment system which will ensure a living wage for the dockers, even at times when there are peak shortages of work. It necessitates the maintenance of incentive of the piecework systems, and the working of reasonable overtime when pressure demands. Even if my noble friend and his Committee knew of the difficult task they were facing when they entered into 465 this field, I am sure that they know more now, and that the easy, glib solution postulated from time to time just will not solve this problem. We wish them well in their work, and look forward to helping, by legislation and in other ways, their attempts at a solution of this hitherto intractable problem.
On agriculture, one of the things mentioned in the gracious Speech, there is nothing I would wish to say to-day, for the proposals in the gracious Speech were dealt with by my noble friend Lord Addison in his admirable speech, and in the agriculture debate of a fortnight ago. So I move on now to the part of my speech that deals with the better protection of consumers. This concerns a measure in which certainly three noble Ladies in this House have a deep interest: Lady Elliot of Harwood, because of her chairmanship of the Consumer Council, and my noble friends Lady Burton of Coventry and Lady Phillips, whose persistent work on behalf of consumers I am sure the whole House admires.
Our main purpose in introducing new legislation to deal with trade descriptions is to give the consumer those additional safeguards against misdescription of the goods he buys. This is something which the Molony Committee on Consumer Protection thought necessary. The new legislation will be based on the existing merchandise marks law, but will be in a modernised form. It is our intention to enlarge the category of misdescription and to include oral as well as written misdescriptions. New powers will be to sought to give the Board of Trade an opportunity to require the compulsory labelling of specified classes of goods with particular information. We also intend to make it quite clear that the new legislation applies to trade descriptions used in advertisements. In all these ways we expect the new legislation to provide the consumer with powerful safeguards against deception. Of course, we cannot hope to deal with all dubious sales practices in one Bill—some of them may never be amenable to legislation—but our proposals should give the normal consumer greater protection than he has had before. I look forward to the co-operation of the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, in getting this legislation through the House, because I am sure he recognises the necessity for it.
466 The proposals for the coal industry have already been announced in the White Paper of November 4, including the decision to write off an additional £15 million as a result of the deferment, at the Government's request, of the Board's application for price increases in 1965–66. That White Paper also contained the announcement of the decision to refer the question of price increases to the National Board for Prices and Incomes. What is tremendously important about this great industry is the task of bringing about the necessary redeployment of manpower consequent upon the reduction in coal output that is looked for. Redeployment of manpower is an easy phrase and it comes trippingly off the tongue, but it concerns human beings—human beings living in a close-knit community that has grown up around a hole in the ground. The task of redeployment of manpower will require all the sympathy and understanding of the Coal Board and of the Government, who must co-operate closely in this matter. In this connection I look forward to the speech of my noble friend Lord Blyton, who is so knowledgeable about the coal industry.
I think the House will expect me to say a few words about references in the gracious Speech to local government finance. We plan to introduce three Bills to implement the decisions we have taken as a result of our examination of local government finance and the rating system. There will be a Rating Bill applying to the whole of Great Britain, followed later in the Session by separate Bills dealing with the wider field of local government finance in relation to England and Wales, and Scotland, respectively. The Rating Bill, the first Bill to be introduced in the next few weeks, will have two purposes. First, it will give householders the right, if they wish, to pay their rates by monthly instalments. Secondly, it will provide for rate rebates for domestic ratepayers with small incomes, so as to reduce the unfair regressive effect of rates. This Bill is intended to have effect in the financial year beginning next April. The second Bill, applying to England and Wales, will be introduced before Easter and will be accompanied by a White Paper. Its main purpose will be to increase Exchequer grants to local authorities while reshaping the system of grants. 467 I must say that at present we see no alternative to rates as the main local source of revenue, and no prospect of any substantial increase in revenue from other local taxes, but we must reduce the burden of rates, which increases every year as the services for which the local authorities are responsible grow. These must extend and develop, but we cannot leave the ratepayers to carry so high a proportion of the rising costs. We shall, therefore, provide for an increasing share of the cost to be borne by the Exchequer, and we shall try to distribute the money being given in such a way as to help the areas which need it most. This Bill will not affect ratepayers until the financial year beginning April, 1967. Perhaps I should mention that the Bill for Scotland will in principle follow the lines of the Bill I have just mentioned, but there will have to be adjustments to suit the peculiar Scottish conditions. I am leaving out any reference to housing, but look forward to the speeches of my noble friends Lord Leatherland and Lord Cohen of Brighton, both of whom are experts in this particular field; and I am sure my noble friend the Lord Chancellor will have something worth while to say on this topic at the end of the debate.
I turn now to one of the proposals which is likely to prove somewhat controversial, namely to establish a Land Commission. This was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, and by his Leader on Wednesday last. I am not sure if this is one of the proposals in the gracious Speech which the noble Lord, Lord Byers, claims as part of the Liberals' stolen clothes. The idea of community-created values in land accruing to the community I found first in a book I read many years ago, Henry George's Progress and Poverty, which was written between the years 1877 and 1879. As the White Paper itself points out, the idea was not unknown even in 1427, and it found further expression in the reign of Charles II—not, I should think, a particularly liberal period in our history. The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, complained that this whole Speech was designed to meet and to placate and please the Liberal Party.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, I do not like to interrupt the noble Lord, but 468 I did not say it about the Land Commission. I said it had got nothing to do with anything.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, before the end of the Session the noble Lord will find that it has something to do with a lot of things that matter. It will certainly have a lot to do with the landlords, I think he will find it has a lot to do with the price of land, and I believe he will find that it has something to do with the claiming of betterment for the community which the community ought to have and to hold; it should be theirs. So I think it is very much more than the noble Lord would say. What we propose here is a compromise solution, for only a part of the community-created value will be taken in the form of a levy on the development value. It is a compromise, but we think it is a workable solution and avoids some of the complications of past schemes.
The White Paper, despite anything Lord Derwent said, does not have within it the germs of a wholesale nationalisation of the land, but the Land Commission is to be given power to purchase land ripe for development. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in his speech last week, said that this proposal would not add one acre more land to that available for development. Of course, he was right, but it was not much of an argument to use against this proposal. He went on to say that it is not going to make the land cheaper. The noble Lord seems to have missed the sentence in paragraph 24 which reads:The Commission will be able, in appropriate cases, to dispose of land for owner-occupied houses at less than their market price.I, personally, hope that the power given to the Commission here will be widely used, as indeed it ought to be, having regard to the heavy demands which have been made in the past by landowners on owner-occupiers or owner-occupier builders of their own houses. It is time something was done about it, and that is what we are trying to do.
The other controversial measure which we shall be concerned with is that dealing with the greater disclosure of company accounts. I was glad to hear the welcome that was given to this by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and particularly 469 to the proposal to require the details of contributions by companies to the funds of political Parties and to other bodies which carry on political activities. The disclosure of this information will be of value to the shareholders, prospective investors and the public generally. But I can foresee a few skirmishes about this when the Bill comes to this House. I have said a little about higher education, and we are going to have a debate very shortly, initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins. Lord Robbins, who has unrivalled knowledge and whose Report was a landmark in this field, will be introducing this debate. I look forward very much to what will be said then, and of course Government statements will be made in the course of that debate.
On road transport the gracious Speech refers to "co-ordination", and in this connection I have nothing to add, except that the Minister of Transport hopes to make a progress report before the end of the year. On the road safety aspect, however, I can say that we shall, as early as possible in this Session, be introducing a Bill to improve road safety. It will deal with two aspects of this serious problem; the safety of goods vehicles—a much needed measure, judging by the results of the spot checks which took place last year and the year before, which shocked us all, and it is time something was done about them—and drink and driving. The intention is to secure greater safety in the operation of goods vehicles and, in particular, to institute annual tests for the heavier classes of goods vehicles at Government testing stations, and to assign maximum weights for individual vehicles to prevent their being overloaded.
Drink is undoubtedly a very serious factor in causing accidents on the road. The provisions of the 1962 Road Traffic Act did not go as far as many people would have wished in deterring people from driving after drinking. The law as it stands at present just is not strong enough. It allows thousands of casualties to happen every year, often without any penalty at all, which are in fact due to drink. Many of them are caused by drivers who show none of the ordinary signs of intoxication but nevertheless have slower reactions and take greater risks because of alcohol in their bloodstreams. It is a tragedy that in December and 470 January post-mortems showed that 38 per cent. of the drivers who were killed had been drinking, most of them quite heavily, and it was not only the drivers who were killed. This, in brief, is the background to our proposals for legislation which will lay down a maximum permitted blood alcohol content. This principle will commend itself to the growing body of public opinion, which is revolted by drink as a factor in the toll on the roads. This is only one factor on the safety front, but in fairness to the whole community it calls for decisive action, and that is what we shall shortly ask the House to endorse.
Lastly, my Lords, I turn to what was left out of the gracious Speech. There seems to have been much greater interest in what was left out, rather than in what was included in the Speech. I refer, of course, to steel nationalisation. From where I was standing during the reading of the Speech, I watched members of Her Majesty's Opposition straining forward, listening intently for a mention of steel nationalisation. I can understand their disappointment when the final sentence was spoken without a single word being devoted to it; disappointment which found immediate expression in the speech of the Leader of the Opposition in the other place, and, indeed, in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in this House. I ask them: What were they hoping for?—clearly, a Bill on which at least three months of valuable Parliamentary time would have been used up in the other place, and always the possibility of a defeat of the Government there, or here, on an issue which would inevitably have become the Election issue. In the meantime, many precious months would have been lost to Parliament, during which the highly desirable measures in the gracious Speech would have been lost to the country.
What would the noble Lords have liked to see left out of this excellent programme to make room for steel?—the Land Commission, I should think; the Bill for regulating priorities in building construction; company disclosures of political information, leasehold reform, and things of that type. I can well understand that that is the sort of thing that noble Lords would have liked to see left out.
§ LORD CARRINGTON
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would allow me to intervene for one moment. Of course, everything he is saying was true on the last occasion when the Prime Minister promised that steel would be nationalised in this Session.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, as I say, I can well understand the noble Lord's pressing that and making his point. Noble Lords would very much like to dictate the issues upon which this Government goes to the country. It is up to us to frustrate their knavish tricks, and I believe that we have in this regard.
§ LORD COLERAINE
I quite see the force of the noble Lord's argument, but surely the logical conclusion we must draw from it is that he is equally anxious not to have steel nationalisation as an issue at the next Election. How is he going to avoid that?
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, the noble Lord must not draw from what I say the conclusion at which he has arrived. In parenthesis, I must ask this of the noble Lords opposite. If they feel so strongly on this matter, why have they not put an Amendment down on the Order Paper deploring the Government's decision not to introduce a Bill to nationalise steel?
§ LORD CHAMPION
Of course, the Tory Party has tried to exploit the differences which exist within the Labour Party on this issue. Of course they do exist, and I can understand what they are doing. It is the job of the politician to try to open and then to widen the breaches that appear in the enemy's ranks. That is good tactics, and we all do it. We naturally play on the weak points in the Tory ranks.
§ LORD CHAMPION
Powell versus Heath is one of them, and many things have been said which enable us to get 472 into the breach and endeavour to widen it a little. That is all part of the political game which we understand. But it is the job of the statesman to decide, when framing a programme for the coming Session, what is best to put into that programme for the nation. If that happens to coincide with what is best for the Party of the Government in power, so much the better for the Government that is in power and for that Party.
We think that here in this programme we have our priorities right. This programme is, as the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, said in his excellent speech:So well balanced and so well suited to the times that it would be difficult for reasonable people to be controversial about it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 270 (No. 1), col. 7; 9th November, 1965.]We in this House are reasonable people, my Lords, and I look forward to a nice quiet Session during which we shall be putting this excellent programme through your Lordships' House.
My Lords, may I congratulate the noble Lord? He only just managed to get away from the parking meter in time under the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Egremont. He has been speaking for forty minutes as opposed to Lord Derwent's thirty minutes, and I was about to put the red light on him.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, the only thing I would say in reply to that is that mine was a very good speech!