§ 2.40 p.m.
§ Debate resumed on the Motion moved yesterday by Baroness Gaitskell—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 BROOKE OF CUMNOR
My Lords, the programme which we are to discuss to-day seems hardly to bite on the most pressing needs of the British people. There is deep disturbance in a great many homes about the growth of crime and lawlessness and violence. There is not one word about all this in the gracious Speech. There is gnawing anxiety about the shortage of nurses in hospitals and the strain on those in the nursing profession at all levels who are having to stand the pressure of overwork. Some of your Lordships may have seen the telegram which has just been sent to the Government from the representative body of the Royal College of Nursing. There is no mention in the Government's programme of this shortage of nurses, or of any steps to mitigate it. The public conscience is troubled over the situation in many of our mental hospitals. There is not a word about that from the Government. I should like respectfully to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord O'Hagan, on having tabled a Motion. I think for debate to-day fortnight, which will give your Lordships an early opportunity to discuss that sad subject.
The campaign vigorously conducted by the organisation "Shelter" has high-lighted once again what I wrote in a White Paper when I was Minister of Housing eight years ago: that too many of our fellow citizens are still living under housing conditions which are a disgrace to a civilised community. There is not a word about this in the gracious Speech, except mention of a Billto continue in modified form powers to limit increases in house rents",32 which, in other words, means to prolong some of the distortions in the rent system which are one of the root causes of inadequate and insufficient housing. There is not a word about the cost of living, which public opinion polls show to be the most important political issue of all in people's minds to-day.
This is the first day of our main debate and I must not dwell on economic policy, or on defence or foreign affairs, for your Lordships are going to debate them on subsequent days. I must confess that I felt tempted to say something about the proposal for legislation relating to the safety, health and welfare of persons on offshore drilling installations, though that may be an economic matter, for it was just about this time last year that, as a member of a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation to Australia, I flew by helicopter to an oil rig 30 miles out in the Bass Strait. It was a fascinating experience and one that would have convinced me, if I needed convincing, that it was important that people who are living under these strange conditions should be properly safeguarded by appropriate legislation.
My Lords, what is there in the gracious Speech for the home front? There is one proposal that we on these Benches warmly welcome, and that is the promise of a Bill for establishing more effective control over dangerous drugs. I know that in the debate on the Address there is the insidious temptation to make Second Reading speeches on Bills which have not yet been published. I must avoid that temptation, but my noble friend Lord Sandford has already earned for himself the reputation of being a leading authority in Parliament on drug control, and I am certain he will help the House to scrutinise this Bill when it comes before us, in order to make it as effective as possible.
My Lords, may we be told who will be in charge of that important Bill? The obvious person, of course, would be the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, but this is a Government which is so misguidedly keen to give itself a new young look that it does not hesitate to throw its best men overboard. Experience and high standing are not, unfortunately. qualities which count for much in Mr. Wilson's eyes when he is reviewing his Government. It seems to most of us crazy that a Government with 33 four Home Office Ministers should place all of them in the Commons and none in the Lords.
I am not sure whether the new social insurance proposals should rank as economic or not in terms of our allocation of time, but of this I am sure: that it would be quite out of place to try to discuss to-day a Bill on this subject which we have not yet seen and which threatens to be immensely complex when eventually it appears. I urge that ample time must be given to debate this most important Bill in your Lordships' House when the time comes. Meanwhile, most of us will welcome the assurance that the Bill will protect occupational pension rights on change of employment. I ask whether we may be assured that that will apply to Civil Service pensions, too.
Then there is to be a Bill to interfere with local freedom and local democracy. I know that my noble friend Lord Aberdare wishes to say more about this subject when he speaks later to-day, so I will confine my remarks on it to pointing out that this Government destroy their own credibility. Four months ago, in welcoming the Redcliffe-Maud Report, the Prime Minister said—and his statement was repeated by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, in your Lordships' House—that reorganisation of local government,would open the way for more devolution in decision-making on issues which at present fall within the decision of central government." —[Office REPORT, 11/6/69, col. 663.]What does the Prime Minister propose now, in relation to education authorities and comprehensive schools, except to pull back to the central Government decision-making powers which until now have always been devolved upon the locally elected representatives of the local people?
I expect my noble friend Lord Aberdare may also have something to say about the Government's yet further shilly-shallying on local government reform in Wales. I had thought—most of us had thought—that the Government were pledged to carry that reform through in this Parliament, but all the gracious Speech says is that,Proposals will be put forward for the reorganisation of local government in England, Scotland and Wales.Those who are skilled in interpreting the words of this annual preview of Govern- 34 ment action know that those particular words mean another White Paper, but not a Bill.
However, we do seem to be promised legislation on the Seebohm Report. I wonder whether we may be told, either by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, or by the Lord Advocate when he winds up the debate, whether the Government have accepted the Seebohm recommendations or have rejected them or have not yet made up their mind on them. I suspect that the third of those is the truth. I would simply remind the Government that a very large number of just those people who are most deeply interested in running and advancing the social services are waiting with the keenest anxiety to hear what the Government are going to say on this. It is not, at any rate at present, an issue between the political Parties, but the right handling of the Seebohm recommendations is going to be a test of wise government.
Again I quote from the gracious Speech. It speaks of… the future administration of the National Health Service.That is another subject about which great numbers of responsible people with no particular Party affiliations are deeply concerned. On this I understand that we are not to have a White Paper: we are to have a Green Paper. I do not much mind whether it is green, white or blue. In the colour sense I hope it will not be red, but in the other sense of that word it will certainly be read by doctors and nurses, administrators and patients and, above all, by the general public, with a genuine longing to find that in it the structural shortcomings of the National Health Service are fearlessly analysed, and that solutions are proposed which are worthy of the problems that they set out to solve. I say this as one who has a high opinion of a great deal of the National Health Service, and in particular of all those devoted people within it, who, over the past twenty years, have been giving their minds and their energies to try to make it better. But the structure is under very severe strain just now, and I hope the Government recognise that.
The gracious Speech ends with a number of proposals which will be of special interest to the legal Members of your 35 Lordships' House. I am not a lawyer; still less am I a Scotsman; so I will forbear to comment on the Scottish law of heritable conveyancing. As to the feudal system of land tenure in Scotland, I remember hearing a great deal about that when, some ten years ago, I committed the error of yielding to Cabinet pressure to introduce a Town and Country Planning Bill covering not only England and Wales but Scotland as well. It was one of the gravest political errors I ever made, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, will be very well advised never to let himself in for so rash a venture. Luckily, I had at my side not only the Solicitor General for Scotland but also my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn, and between them they bore the brunt. The noble Lord the Leader of the House yesterday described this subject of vassals and land superiors and so on as esoteric to the English. I would prefer to call it incomprehensible, and maybe I shall carry him with me. If the Scots are ready to make it more comprehensible to civilised people, we Sassenachs will be pleased. On the other hand, I happen to know that Scotsmen themselves think that the Government's proposals in this field, as they have been so far outlined, oversimplify the problems involved.
There will, I know, be general welcome for the Government's promise to make better arrangements for the recovery of civil debts; and our debates on the Divorce Bill of last Session show how important is going to be the Bill to enlarge the powers of the courts as to financial provision when a marriage has broken down. It was encouraging to all of your Lordships to hear the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack introducing the Government's Bill on this subject a few minutes ago. I hope that not only this but a number of other measures foreshadowed in the gracious Speech which are not primarly concerned with Government expenditure can be introduced in your Lordships' House. It seems to me that the amount of miscellaneous legislation which is forecast in the gracious Speech can hardly be got through in this Parliamentary Session unless a higher proportion of Bills is allowed to originate in this House than has been the case in recent years.
36 I was glad to hear the reference by the noble Lord the Leader of the House yesterday to the Beeching Report and his tribute to the fascination of that document. Naturally—and I am sure he recognises this—there will be strong argument on it of what I might call a geographical nature, but on the need for reforms to speed up the course of justice there will be very little dissent indeed. As to whether the Government actually intend to move swiftly into legislation to implement the Beeching proposals, I found the Leader of the House quite exceptionally coy. He used a phrase yesterday even more cautious than Ministers are accustomed to turn to on these occasions. He expressed the hope thatthere will be a possibility of introducing legislation as soon as possible.—[Office Report,28/10/69, col. 22.]For sheer guardedness that ranks with the inscription placed on the tombstone of a civil servant, an inscription true to the traditions of Whitehall language, which read:Here lies the body of John Smith, civil servant.He would appear to be dead.In the debate on the Address one must touch not only on what the gracious Speech contains but on what it does not contain. The Conservative Government introduced a scheme for the compensation of victims of crimes of violence. That scheme, I think, has worked well and given a great deal of satisfaction, but I remember that when it was first introduced the then Government were criticised because it was a non-statutory scheme and not put on a statutory basis. Now that five years have passed, there has been ample time to see and consider whether the scheme is in a satisfactory form or not. So I want to ask the Government whether they propose now to give statutory sanction to that scheme, which was, as I say, provisionally introduced on a non-statutory basis. I should have thought that a scheme which involves more than £1 million a year of public money should by now have a proper statutory foundation.
Then for four years we have been awaiting a Bill to implement all that part of the important Report of the Committee on Jury Service, under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, 37 Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, which cannot be carried into effect without legislation. That is a committee which I set up as Home Secretary, and it produced an admirable and unanimous Report more than four years ago. Its recommendations would remove a number of strange anomalies in the conditions of jury service, anomalies which date from legislation well over 100 years old, and which among other things quite unjustly debar most women from eligibility to sit on juries, a grievance of many of the women's organisations. Nothing has been done so far by the Government. A sound jury system is surely one of the bases of British liberty. Is implementation of the Morris Report included in what are called the "comprehensive programmes of law reform" mentioned in the gracious Speech? If not, how do the Government presume to call this programme comprehensive?
One or two other omissions I feel bound to refer to. There is no mention in the gracious Speech of any legislation to implement the recommendations of the Littlewood Committee on the working of the Cruelty to Animals Act. This was another inquiry which I instituted. I must say that at the time I never dreamt that another Government would leave the legislative recommendations of the Committee unfulfilled for years. This, and the recent debate which we all recollect on the subject of factory farming, show that the Government have not acquired a very good reputation so far as their attitude to the welfare of animals is concerned.
The last of the omissions I want to mention may seem a small matter, but it is fraught with possibilities of tragedy. The law relating to fire precautions in hotels and clubs and places of resort generally is gravely ineffective and out of date. When I left the Home Office, preparations were well in hand for modernising this law, not so much to save property as to save life. That was five years ago. The legislation must have been ready for a long time now. I am quite sure that successive Home Secretaries will have pressed for its introduction. I am bound to say that if a terrible tragedy occurs one day in a club building where fire precautions have been neglected the blame will rest on the Cabinet who have not deemed this Bill 38 worthy of a place in their legislative programmes.
One must not give hostages to chance. The Government have been giving hostages to chance over the past two years by limiting the increase in police strength which they will allow police authorities to budget for. Every chief constable in a big town where his force is under strength knows that the criminal is getting more opportunity than he ought to have, and will go on getting this until the Government encourage an all-out effort to recruit all the police who are needed.
There is greater disquiet about the state of the country than the Government admit. There is a widespread and well grounded feeling that those who are ready to employ blackmail or violence to further their ends are too often able to get satisfaction, while those whose standards of behaviour are different, like the nurses, find their claims ignored. This is a very bad thing for a country which likes to pride itself on its law and order and democracy and its machinery for peaceful settlement of matters in dispute. When I say that, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, whose speech yesterday we all so much enjoyed, will not draft me into what she called her "Decline and fall squad". Self-discipline is better than enforced discipline, but where there is neither there is chaos, and injustice gathers. To put all this right is partly a matter of law, partly a matter of administration and partly a matter of leadership. This is where I believe the Government fall short. I can hardly think that the most rosy-spectacled Minister can feel content about the state of our country in these respects to-day.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, in his most interesting speech the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, has given us a good start to what I have no doubt will be an interesting debate to-day on Home Affairs. My noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate will be replying to the debate at the end, and I hope that the noble Lord. Lord Brooke, will not mind if I leave one or two points for him to reply to. Among the points which the noble Lord has raised was, first, who would be handling the Drugs Bill in this House. The answer to that is that my noble friend the Leader of the House has 39 not yet had occasion to decide this matter. The Bill will no doubt start in another place; we shall not see it until the New Year. I should greatly hope that it will by my noble friend Lady Scrota, the more so because otherwise I might be involved in it myself, which both the noble Lord and I should equally regret.
The noble Lord then asked about the transferability of Civil Service pensions. The position, as I understand it, is this. Civil Service pension benefits are already transferable within a wide range of employment in the public sector, including the public services and the nationalised industries. It is true that they are not transferable to private pension schemes, but the Government are studying the possibility of making transfer arrangements with such schemes. It must be recognised that there are great difficulties in the way of making transfer arrangements with the private sector on the lines of those which operate in the public sector. Variations in benefits would make it difficult to arrange that a year's service in one scheme should count as a year's service in another. However, I do not understand there to be any policy objection, and the problem is under careful examination. As for the preservation of pension benefits, the Civil Service will naturally conform with the policy on occupational schemes generally, which will be set out in the Bill to be presented to Parliament by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.
Then the noble Lord asked about the implementation of the Report of the Seebohm Committee. The gracious Speech refers to the intention to introduce legislation arising out of the Seebohm Committee's recommendations and to make fresh proposals about the future administration of the National Health Service. The gracious Speech is an earnest of the Government's intention to make a start with the drawing together of the local authority social work services and to settle the future structure of the Health Service. We have, however, always made it clear that it would be necessary to examine the Seebohm Committee's Report together with the administrative reorganisation of the Health Services in the light of the recom- 40 mendations of the Royal Commission on Local Government in England. The Royal Commission's Report was not available until early June and those concerned have required time to assimilate it before giving their further views.
I am well aware of the interest and the anxieties over these matters in the local authorities and in the health and social work professions, and the delay in making known the Government's decisions on the Seebohm Report is longer than we should have wished. Consultations are being pressed forward, but final decisions cannot sensibly be taken on Seebohm nor new proposals made on the reorganisation of the Health Service until the Government have taken a view of the basic structure for reorganised local government. When we have done this it will be possible to finalise our proposals for legislation on Seebohm and to introduce a Bill. We aim to make known our views on the reorganisation of local government in a White Paper as soon as possible after completing the present round of consultations. At the same time we shall issue for public discussion a revised Green Paper on the administrative structure of the Health Services. Meantime, a small interdepartmental social work group is considering these matters together.
I have spoken of England and Wales. In Scotland an integrated social work service will shortly be an accomplished fact, under legislation already on the Statute Book. As regards the future administration of the National Health Service in that country, proposals put forward last December by the Secretary of State for Scotland remain the basis for further work which my right honourable friend will link with his current consultations on local government reorganisation following the publication of the Wheatley Report.
Then the noble Lord asked about the Morris Report on Jury Service. He is not alone, I think, in being a supporter of that Report; but, as he will appreciate, it is a long Report, and any Bill which arises out of it will obviously be a major Bill. The position is that the Government have accepted the recommendations of the Departmental Committee. Legislation to implement them has been in preparation for some time, but it 41 is not possible at the moment to say whether time can be found for a Bill during the present Session, in view of the priorities assigned to Government business.
The noble Lord also raised a question on the scheme for compensation for injury arising from crimes of violence, and asked whether this should not now be made statutory. I well remember, as an Opposition Back-Bencher, expressing surprise that the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor was introducing proposals to constitute a non-statutory scheme of this kind with a great deal of money, and saying in effect: "Well, as the Home Office have a million pounds that they do not want, they may as well spend it on this". It seemed to be odd at the time that the scheme of compensation for those injured in crimes of violence should not have a statutory basis. I said that the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor introduced that proposal. I remember his speaking on it; but it may have been introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, himself. What was said by the Government at the time, however, was that this was a novel field; it was experimental; if it was statutory it could not be amended in the light of experience, and therefore it might be a good thing to start it off as a voluntary effort, a non-statutory matter, and make it statutory later.
A number of minor amendments of the scheme have been made from time to time, the most recent of which was announced by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary on May 21 of this year. It has always been the intention that the scheme should be fully evaluated in due course in order to decide whether it should be placed on a statutory footing. Since, however, the cost of the scheme is borne by the State, it is desirable that this review should not take place until after the Advisory Council on the Penal System has reported on the possibility of giving greater emphasis to the principles of reparation by the offender. No date for the review has been fixed, but present indications are that the Advisory Council will report in the spring of next year.
May I leave the question of fires in hotels to my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate, and say a word on 42 the matters of law reform which are contained in the gracious Speech from the Throne? I undertook that before the Divorce Reform Act came into force I would introduce a Bill in a form which had then been adumbrated by the Law Commission. Under the eventual terms of the Divorce Reform Act it will not come into force until January 1, 1971; so I could have complied with my undertaking by introducing a finance Bill in December, 1970, but that, I think, would not have been in accordance with the spirit of what it was understood I was going to do. Therefore I have in fact made this my first Bill for this Session.
It would not be appropriate now to have a Second Reading speech upon it, but it will clarify and modernise the law. It will give the courts considerably increased power over both capital and income of both husband and wife, who will, for the first time, be treated alike. It will for the first time give expression to the principle that among the other matters to be considered by a court on the dissolution of a marriage should be the contribution which the wife has made by staying at home and looking after the children. It will be almost exactly in the form drafted by the Law Commission. Those interested will find that the Law Commission's Report includes, first, a general discussion on the whole subject, and the reasons for their recommendations. There is then a draft Bill, and opposite each clause thee is a commentary on the clause, so it is easy for anyone to follow.
The Bill is almost exactly in that form, with two exceptions only. It does not implement the recommendation that damages for adultery should be abolished nor the recommendations that actions for enticement and harbouring should be abolished. The reasons are simply these. None of us knows how long this Session is going to last, and I want this Bill to reach the Statute Book. The questions of damages for adultery and enticement, and so on, are obviously controversial. I believe that without the inclusion of these two matters (subject to what my noble friend Lady Summerskill may say) this Bill is really a non-controversial Bill. I should think that the abolition of damages for adultery and actions for enticement and harbouring, and the Law Commission's further Report 43 recommending the abolition of damages for breach of promise, might together make quite a nice Private Member's Bill. But, of course, that is not a matter for me. Those are the only two matters which are not included in the Bill. For the rest, it is, for all practical purposes, exactly as recommended by the Law Commission.
As your Lordships know, I have also introduced to-day a Bill dealing with liability for injuries and damage caused by animals. This is a very unhappy story indeed. Of course, under our law, where judicial precedent is binding, things tend to stay the same in a particular field if there is some new invention which can be dealt with only by Statute. Our law on this subject has always been pre-motor car law. At the time when, if you wanted to carry goods, they were carried in horse-drawn carts and wagons on the highway, or passengers were in coaches, or men were riding horses, it was not remarkable or dangerous to find on the road a horse, or, of course, sheep or other livestock. With the invention of the motor car all this changed, except the law. So we have always had this absurd law under which, for example, if a cow gets through a gap left in a fence and eats the neighbouring farmer's cabbages, the owner of the cow is liable to the neighbour for the cabbages, but if it gets out on to the road and overturns a coach, and 20 people are killed and a number injured, they have no redress against anybody at all. This has always been wrong.
We had a Committee about sixteen years ago, of which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard, was Chairman. This Committee produced a Report, but no Government has ever tackled this because (if I am not saying anything that I should not say) the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Agriculture could never agree on what the right answer was. You have here two very powerful lobbies indeed; you have the motoring organisations, on the one side, and you have the National Farmers' Union on the other. The Law Commission, having gone through the whole subject again, have I think, come out with the right solution. Before any farmer noble Lords get excited about this, may I just say that what people do not under- 44 stand (and it is quite simple) is that all farmers have some kind of insurance policy, and the standard insurance policy covers the holder against third party risks; so they are already covered. I have been at some pains to make some inquiries from the brokers as to what would be the additional premium required. Having looked at the terms of the draft Bill, they say, "We do not think there would be any additional premium, but if insurance practice showed that it was necessary we think it would be something quite small." Therefore, I hope that may be a Bill which will commend itself to your Lordships' House.
Thirdly, I hope to introduce, with the leave of the House, an Administration of Justice Bill. First, it will deal with part of the Report of the Committee, of which Mr. Justice Payne was chairman, on the enforcement of debts. As the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, knows, this was a Report of terrific size which contained some three hundred different recommendations, and I am afraid that it is quite impossible to find legislative time to deal with all that. What I hope the Administration of Justice Bill will do is to deal with two things: first of all, to relieve hardship which is at present arising due to the fact that in certain possession actions for mortgages there is no power in the court to grant any period of delay at all, and there are cases where a man may owe quite a small sum on second mortgage, but because he cannot find it for a month, or whatever the case may be, he loses his home; secondly, to abolish imprisonment for debt and substitute attachment-of-earnings orders.
Of course, lawyers will say—and they are technically right—"We do not have imprisonment for debt; we have imprisonment for contempt of court in not paying a debt", which, from a practical point of view, comes to the same thing. We are almost the only civilised country which still has imprisonment for debt. Scotland has never had it at any time; they have always relied on attachment-of-earnings orders, and this is what practically every other country does. As the Payne Report shows, those who do in fact end up by going to prison—and there are some thousands of them every year—are not in fact the clever professional "bilkers" who know enough to avoid 45 that; they are mostly passive, inadequate people who have just got into a muddle and do not know how to conduct their own affairs, and are really much more in need of a welfare officer. So I hope your Lordships may approve of that change.
Then, thirdly, in the Administration of Justice Bill I shall propose to your Lordships that we should reconstitute the High Court of Justice. As your Lordships know, it consists of the Chancery Division, the Queen's Bench Division, and the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division. It must occur to anyone corning new to it what a very odd trio that last is—Probate, Divorce and Admiralty. It is really a historical anomaly which arose because probate was of course originally a matter for the Ecclesiastical Court, and so was divorce, and the lawyers who specialised in these three subjects, the civil lawyers, were different from the remaining lawyers. All that is now over, of course, and what I shall propose is that we should transfer contentious probate to the Chancery Division, which already deals with the construction of wills, so they may as well deal also with the proving of wills; and that as there is already in the Queen's Bench Division a commercial court we should transfer the Admiralty Court to that Division. We should then be left with a Family Division, which would not only deal with what the divorce part of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division now deals with, but would have transferred to it the wardship, adoption, and guardianship of infant cases which are now taken in the Chancery Division. Therefore, for the first time we shall have a Family Division dealing with all matters appertaining to the family. If we do that, it would be my hope that in some future year we shall then consider and decide what would be the best form of local family court.
In conclusion, my Lords, perhaps I may mention two things which are not in the gracious Speech—as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, said, one is entitled to do this. It is not easy, looking 15 years ahead to say what will then be thought of what this Government have done. I suppose, if we look back at the Attlee Government, most of us would say that the two most important things they did were to give 46 independence to India, Burma and Ceylon, and the creation of a National Health Service. I might hope that this Government will be remembered as a Government which, after a long period of nothing happening, was extensive in its reform of the law; but if I had to take a shot I would say that one of the most important things by which this Government will be remembered is something that nobody ever talks about because it has not been the subject of legislation. But I think the most imaginative thing the Government have done is the creation of the Open University. So many to-day have won, on their scholastic records, a right to go to a university but cannot find a place. Now, for the first time in our history, no one will be denied further education. Everybody will be entitled on his merits to acquire an academic qualification.
As your Lordships all know, we are very short, for example, of lawyers. You cannot get lawyers from anywhere. The Government cannot get lawyers from anywhere. They are all overworked. Industry is advertising and cannot get them. There are many who want to become lawyers, but cannot get places in the university law schools because there are not enough places. There are plenty of places in science but many of the new universities have no law schools at all. Of course, the standard will be just as high as at any other university.
The university will help to supply an ever-increasing need for re-education within industry and the professions; it will improve education and cultural standards in the country as a whole; and it is expected to give a fresh stimulus to university teaching generally. It will complement, not compete with, existing institutions. You will be able to obtain an Arts degree, ordinary and honours, in a variety of subjects or combinations of subjects. It will teach by radio and television broadcasts, integrated with correspondence tuition, discussion and advice at local study centres and short residential courses. The University is now established on a new site at Milton Keynes, in Buckinghamshire, and is equipping itself to enrol students from early next year. I consider it a fine thing to think that never again will one who wants to acquire, and who is capable of acquiring, an academic qualification be unable to do so. 47 The second matter which is not in the gracious Speech, but which has already been discussed a good deal, is the Report of the Royal Commission on Assizes and Quarter Sessions. If I am not detaining your Lordships, I wonder whether I may read this extract:The necessity for holding Assizes in every county, without regard to the extent of the business to be transacted in each county, leads, in our judgment, to a great waste of judicial strength, and a great loss of time in going from one circuit town to another, and causes much unnecessary cost and inconvenience to those whose attendance is necessary or customary at the Assizes.The distribution of a small amount of business among a large number of circuit towns is the cause of serious evil to the suitors. From the impossibility of ascertaining beforehand with accuracy the business likely to arise, the time allotted to some towns often proves insufficient, and complaints arise that the trial of causes is hurried, or that the parties are driven to dispose of their cases by reference… or otherwise, unless they submit to the loss and inconvenience of having their causes postponed until the next Assizes. The expense and trouble of bringing together judges, sheriffs and grand jurors, and the time occupied in the preliminaries of an Assize, are the same at a small place, where there is but little business, as at a large one. The number of jurors— required to be in attendance is much increased by the limited extent of the existing assize districts. If those districts were enlarged, a juror, who had once attended at the Assizes, would probably be relieved from future attendance for a considerable time.We are, therefore, of opinion that the judicial business of the country should no longer be arranged and distributed according to the accidental division of counties —".A split into Districts is recommended. The Report goes on:… such Districts should for all purposes of trial at the Assizes, both in civil and criminal cases, be treated as one venue or county—and that all counties of towns or cities —and so on. It is then recommended that Assizes should be held in towns which aremost central—with which there is the best and most rapid railway communication from all parts of the district—and to which the inhabitants are most in the habit of resorting for the purposes of business.That is not, as your Lordships may think, an extract from the Report of the Beeching Commission. It is from a Report of the Judicature Commissioners in 1869. Since then we have had the St. Aldwyn Royal Commission; we have had the Hanworth Committee; we have 48 had the Peel Royal Commission, and we have had the Committee on Circuit Towns, of which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Finlay, was Chairman. The vices and the remedy have been staring us in the face for a hundred years.
The problem is really quite simple. First, there is the extreme inflexibility of the system. The dates of assizes have to be settled a year in advance, when nobody has any idea whether there will be a great many cases or a few to try at some particular place. The assize towns were virtually settled in the reign of King John, according to what was convenient to the stage coach; and although one or two changes were made when something called the railway train was invented they are still substantially the same as they were. In addition, assizes have by statute to be held twice a year in every county, whether there is any work or not.
When you come to think of it, quarter sessions are very odd. Quarter sessions in a borough consist of a barrister called a recorder, working part-time, and in the counties there is a chairman or deputy chairman sitting with justices. If you have a great many part-time judges they tend, not unnaturally, if they are in practice at the Bar to choose the dates which suit them. So that, as the Royal Commission point out, in the same month you may get one date when there are five courts of assizes or quarter sessions in a district, and another date when there are 20. Also, the dividing line between what a High Court Judge can do and what quarter sessions can do is an excessively hard line.
Then again, the courts themselves are exactly where the prisons were a little more than a hundred years ago. Nearly all the prisons, except for one or two national ones, and all the local prisons, had been built by, and were owned by and run by, the local authorities. The Government had no control whatever over what went on at them. Of course that was found to be inefficient and hopeless, and under the Prison Act of, I think, 1852 they were transferred to the central Government. We are in exactly the same position with regard to courts. Courts of assize and quarter sessions have been built by, belong to and are run by the local authorities. The Lord Chancellor looks after the county courts. 49 They are built by the Ministry of Public Building and Works. Magistrates' courts are so involved that I always find it very difficult to describe them. The local magistrates' courts committee have the first say if they want a new court. If the local authority, which has to pay for it, does not agree it asks the Home Secretary to decide, because in most of these cases the Government pay most of everything, at the end, and the Home Office have the last word as to loan charges. The result, of course, is a wholly disorganised system.
If I think, as I do, that the arrears of work at the Central Criminal Court are most unfortunate, and that we ought to have a large number of courts sitting during August, I have to bear in mind, first of all, that while the judges are primarily a matter for me, they are paid for by the City of London. If I have to appoint a commissioner to try a long and complicated fraud case, and I think of a barrister who could do ordinary cases at the Central Criminal Court but nothing so complicated as fraud, the sensible thing to do would be to take an additional judge from the Central Criminal Court and get him to try that difficult case. But I cannot do that because he belongs, in effect, to the City of London.
So far as the courts at the Central Criminal Court are concerned, they are entirely a matter for the City of London, while the courts' staff—and they are vital —are under the Greater London Council: so the result is chaos. The Commission have pointed out what everybody has known for a hundred years; and your Lordships may ask, "Why has this never been tackled in a hundred years?" The answer is, first, that most of these committees have been made up of lawyers and, while I do not think it is true to-day, lawyers have in the past been resistant to change. Some, it is true, were forward-looking, but there were invariably strong dissenting reports, which always militate against adoption in matters of this kind. We have never had a Government with the guts to say, "We are going to do this", partly because all Governments have said, "There are no votes in this, and we shall have a Member getting up and saying, 'But the Royal Borough of Caernarvon has had an assize since the reign of King John.'"
50 There are a number of local authorities who do not care two hoots about the total result to the administration of justice; all they are concerned with is the question of prestige: and Governments, anticipating fuss, have in consequence never done anything. We have 13 assize towns with a population of fewer than 10,000. I do not wish to appear to be concentrating on Wales, but Presteigne has 1,500 inhabitants; whereas we have two towns with more than 300.000 which have no assize, seven with more than 200,000 and 31 with more than 100,000. So, in substance, the Commission are recommending that the number of assize towns and quarter sessions towns should be reduced by between one-third and one-half, and that we should have not nearly so many part-time judges but a larger number of whole-time judges. They would also break down the very rigid distinction of jurisdiction between the High Court judges and the quarter sessions. The Government have considered this Report very quickly, and apart from one or two points of detail they accept it in principle. The whole Report—and this is a great advantage—except for one matter of detail, is unanimous.
Now I must say that the Government took a great risk with this, for this reason. It seemed to them that this was really an administrative job, and I know from experience that although a man may be a very good lawyer that does not make him a good administrator. That was why the Royal Commission consisted not only of the noble Lord, Lord Beeching, whose talents as an administrator require no eulogy from me, but Mr. Barker, the chairman of Parkinson Cowan and also chairman of the British Institute of Management; Mr. Norman, chairman of De La Rue, as he then was, now Sir Arthur Norman, chairman of the Confederation of British Industry (he has taken an infinity of trouble about the whole thing, and has been into every detail); Mr. Cannon, the President of the Electrical Trades Union; and also, of course, a High Court Judge, now a Lord Justice; a solicitor who is a former President of the Law Society; a barrister who is the leader of the biggest circuit in the country, the Northern Circuit; a Clerk of Assize arid the then Permanent Secretary 51 to the Lord Chancellor—just to see that they all produced the right result. So the result is a great credit, if I may say so, to these men, who gave up an enormous amount of time. I never think we are grateful enough to those who sit on these Commissions and Committees, and I know what an enormous amount of time every member of this Royal Commission has given to finding the right answer. It is shown that it must be the right answer, I think, by the mere fact that these widely differing bodies of both administrators and lawyers are unanimous in their conclusions.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cum-nor, asked me about legislation for this Session. I should think it unlikely that there would be much, if any, but the Royal Commission—and they have thought of everything—have told us by what stages their recommendations should be implemented. It is pointed out that stage one does not include legislation, but is almost entirely administrative; because they are recommending that in future the administration should not be done by the lawyers but by lay administrators. That means that we have to find the circuit superintendents, so to say, accommodation officers and finance officers.
As to the time scale, I would say that this cannot be done in less than three years and ought not to be allowed to take more than five. But it is, in a sense, the coping stone of what I have tried to do in relation to the reform of our law and legal system. If it be not improper for me to reveal this, shortly after taking office I said to all my legal staff, "If you were Lord Chancellor for five years, what would you do? "—because they were the people who were going to do the work, and I thought they ought to have a say. The first thing was assizes and quarter sessions. We have all known this. We are gravely threatened with a real breakdown, and increasingly so, in the administration of justice unless we do what we should do, and what we should do has really been staring us in the face for a hundred years. My Lords, I am sorry to have been so long.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ LORD AMULREE
My Lords, before I start on the few words I propose to 52 say dealing with topics in the gracious Speech, I should like to follow up what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cum-nor, said and express my disappointment. too, that there has been no mention of housing in the gracious Speech, because I feel that that is one of the most important parts of our social services, our social welfare, the National Health Service and all things concerned with it. If you get the population of the country properly and suitably housed you cut your bills for sickness and the demands for social services by quite a considerable amount; and one would like to see every encouragement given in that direction. Although I am not saying for one moment that good work is not being done. I think that if the subject were mentioned in the gracious Speech it would give additional encouragement to those people who are working on the housing side. That is the one disappointment to which I want to refer.
For the rest, I want to confine myself to one or two points. I was pleased to see that steps are to be taken about the National Health Service, the Seebohm Committee and the Maud Report. Like the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, I take it that when the gracious Speech refers to "proposals" in regard to the Maud Report it does not mean a Bill but means a White Paper, because I should not have thought that there would be time for a Bill to be drafted to bring in the proposals of the Maud Committee during this Session. Furthermore, what will be the position of the Commission which was set up—I think it is called the Constitutional Commission?
It is difficult to separate the Seebohm Committee's Report from the National Health Service. I still have grave doubts in my mind about the wisdom of many of the recommendations of the Seebohm Committee, and I should like to put forward these doubts in the hope that my doing so may have some effect when the proposals to implement the Report are put forward. One of the difficulties, I think, arose through the terms of reference, by the omission from the Inquiry of social workers working in hospitals, although the Inquiry was intended to deal with social workers working for local authorities. So no cognisance was taken of the work of the medical social workers or of the psychiatric social workers. That makes for a certain 53 amount of difficulty if you intend to establish a separate social work department, and will only tend to increase the gap between local authority work and National Health Service work.
Another point which I regard with a certain amount of disquiet and which I have mentioned to your Lordships before is the fact that the medical profession seem to be very largely excluded from the proposed social work department. They can be consulted, but they have no real say if they are not consulted. There, again, I think that many of the problems which come before a social welfare department have a medical background. Health problems come in quite a lot; therefore I should have liked to see the doctors more strongly involved in the social work department than is recommended in the Seebohm Report.
To go back even further than the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, to go back to the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834, I would point out that one of the troubles there was the lack of medical interest. or the medical indifference, to what went on under that Act, which resulted in the appearance of the great "mixed workhouses" of which we all knew when we were young, where a large number of people, for the most part elderly and sick, were herded together and nothing was done except to take care of them—there was no medical help given—until they died. It was from the experience gained from those workhouses, and the fact that nothing was done, that the first geriatric services in the country began and were developed before and during the last war and immediately after the First World War. The "single door" I am sure has great advantages. That is where I think the Seebohm Committee made a good recommendation; and, curiously, it was exactly the same in the days of the 1834 Poor Law: there was a "single door". Although one tends to do so, one must not forget that the Poor Law was founded on extremely good principles; although the practice of it could not have been more deplorable if the law had been deliberately bad. But some of the principles were really quite good.
I think that the best way to cope with the problems of the welfare departments and the medical departments is not necessarily to make completely separate social 54 welfare departments but to encourage a combination of the health and welfare departments of the local authorities, probably under the medical officer of health—but it will probably be necessary to redefine what his functions are and to establish him as what is now called a "community physician". I am bound to say that I am not quite sure what that means. but it is a phrase greatly used at the present time.
My Lords, the pattern of medicine or —shall I say?—of disease is changing in this country rapidly and steadily, and there is no reason to suppose that this change will not go on for quite a long time. The younger people are being protected from disease in two ways: first, by preventive medicine and the principles of environmental hygiene and, second, by the new forms of treatment that come along. Therefore a greater proportion of the sick are going to be the elderly. I hope that your Lordships will not think that I am making too much of this subject—because this has been of great interest to me for much of my life—but I think it is true that as time goes on more and more elderly people will be demanding assistance from the community.
I read with great encouragement the Report just published by the Central Health Services Council, called The Functions of the District General Hospital. The Council look forward to the day, quite soon, when psychiatric departments and geriatric departments will both be part of the district general hospital or of the appropriate hospitals affiliated with it. That will mean that the so-called chronic sick hospitals for both physical and mental diseases—although there have been changes in a great many of them in the country—will gradually fade away. One will then see a much better medical pattern evolving for those people who will be in most need of it; that is, the elderly and a certain number of the psychiatrically ill. I do not want to dwell too much on this, for there is to be a debate on the subject in a fortnight's time; but I am certain that there are a large number of people now in mental hospitals who need not have remained there had they been intelligently looked at when they first arrived. At the same time it would be of great advantage if the general practitioners could be more 55 associated with the district general hospitals—even to the extent of being given beds there where they could take care of their patients, probably, when necessary, under the direction of an experienced consultant. I think that would be of great advantage both to the general practitioner and to the patient.
In conclusion I should like to say a word about the patient. The people who make these plans never seem to think about the patient. One is told a lot about career structures for various kinds of people who work in the Hospital Service; but very little thought is given to the patients. Looking forward very optimistically into the future, I should like to see one day the setting up of a Royal Commission on what the patient requires, what the patient really wants. One might then really know what is required and could make one's plans accordingly.
One final word, my Lords. I am pleased to read the suggestion in the gracious Speech that occupational pension schemes will be protected on change of employment. That is a matter that I have raised myself—I think, in your Lordships' House, but certainly outside —on more than one occasion and I have always been told that it was not practicable. Now I am pleased to find that some practical way has been discovered and I wish the scheme good luck.
§ 3.47 p.m.
THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, I would warn your Lordships that I am going to speak about Scotland. Those who are not interested can, no doubt, go away. I should like first of all to endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, has said. I think it a pity that there was no reference to housing in the gracious Speech. Housing is far and away the most important of all the social problems which exist. No doubt the development of housing is rather difficult in the present economic state of the country and in the light of the plans which the Government have had to enforce, but I hope that we may in due course hear more of what is in their minds.
My Lords, the most important thing that Scotland has in front of it is the Wheatley Report. It is too early to dis- 56 cuss this at the present time, but I do not doubt that there will be a good deal of hard fighting, not least over that part of the Report referring to the Orkneys and the Shetlands. But one thing I hope —and this springs to mind from a side reference that I read—is that there will be no disturbance of the religious settlement in education which has now stood for sixty years. I think it has stood with great success; indeed, I think Scotland is one of the few countries where we have no religious problems at all in our educational system.
My Lords, there is the usual, not unexpected, statement that the ports of this country will be reorganised. The term originally used was "nationalisation", but that word fell into desuetude and disfavour; it was then called "public ownership". But, of course, most of the ports are already publicly owned, and so it was for a time called "centralisation". The word "centralisation" is not very popular to-day, so we now have the word "reorganisation". Is this not really the same as "centralisation"? Will it not mean that the Ports of the Forth and the Clyde will be run by a committee sitting in London, and that anybody who is really interested in the development of the area will have to spend his time running around lobbying in London rather than getting on with the job on the spot? I hope that the Government will think hard about this. We like to think that the responsibility is carried on the spot.
The Treasury to-day is reported to have said—possibly in complaint—that the Scottish economy was running at a deficit (or would be so, if it were in isolation) of about £100 million a year. If decisions continue to be made outside the country, that figure will tend to increase rather than diminish. I hope that when this Bill comes forward, consideration will be given to ensure that the people on the spot will be responsible and able to get on with the job.
There is a curious reference to the law in Scotland relating to the construction of highways. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate will tell us something about that matter. I hope he will tell us more about the manner in which the highways are to be constructed. I am not very interested in the law relating to the construction of highways, but I should be very interested to be told 57 what further highways can and should be constructed.
My Lords, the Government deal rather shortly with the modification of the land tenure system in Scotland, and in the same paragraph reference is made to the reform of the sheriff courts..I cannot think that they have anything to do with each other, and it is very hard to see why they should be referred to in the same paragraph. I was prepared to say that if there had been a system of land reform in Scotland I do not doubt that the land tenure would have been reformed very much more quickly. I would concede readily that we have been slow in doing this, but after the very eloquent speech of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on the subject of assizes in England, it might be argued that we have not been quite so slow. In many ways conveyancing is a more difficult subject than arranging assizes in England, but I think that we have been slow. I have no objection to a modification of land tenure—it is a very complicated subject—but there are two things to which I wish to refer.
The Scottish Office put out a very silly White Paper last July—it is a most unworthy document—travesting the whole system. We all know that there are difficulties. We know that there are antique names which always sound funny to my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor, and to others—indeed they sound funny to anybody when they are first heard. But there is no particular point in trying to create class hatred between two people holding tenure, and this was very much the object of the exercise. One should be very careful to know who is holding the land. Feu duties to-day are very much like Consols; they are held by people who want complete security, such as the Church, or trustees or friendly societies. I do not know whether anybody knows exactly who holds all these securities. The second thing about the White Paper is that it makes reference to certain very respectable Reports: the Scott Report and the Report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Reid, who is in this House, and of Professor Halliday and Professor Henry. But in fact, so far as I can see. they do not propose to follow any of these Reports very closely.
My Lords, there are two things which I think are important in the feudal 58 system in Scotland. One is security of tenure. Everyone is proud of a feudal title because he knows that tenure is secure. We had central registration a long time ago, I have forgotten exactly when, but I think it was about three hundred years ago. That made the tenure quite secure and was therefore coveted. The second thing is that it can ensure the continuity of amenities. Having decided to destroy feudal tenure the Scottish Office went to elaborate lengths in the White Paper to try to find how to maintain amenities, which, of course is very difficult to do. Values will be transferred from one party to another. I do not know who are those parties; nor, I think, does anybody else. But it must be done fairly or you are moving in favour of one lot of people against another. I think that the Government should say quite frankly what they propose to do, because there is no advantage in this. It is simply a value on both sides from two parties holding this particular form of tenure, and they may be very different parties indeed.
My Lords, I should like to know whether we are going to hear any more about registration of land titles. There is nothing about it in the White Paper, but I should have thought that a far more urgent matter than what is in fact in the White Paper. May I ask one further question? Are we going to hear any more about reform of the licensing law, as suggested by the Guest Committee? I have drawn these matters to the attention of the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Advocate, because I do not want the excuse to be made that no one in this House is interested in Scottish affairs. There are people who are interested in Scottish affairs, and many more would speak about them if they thought that the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Advocate, did not feel that sufficient attention was being paid to them.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, after the passionate appeal of the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, I must apologise to him because I am completely unqualified to speak on Scottish affairs. I should like first to thank my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor for the expedition which he has shown in introducing the Matrimonial (Financial Provisions) Bill. I would rather like to call it 59 the Matrimonial Property Bill. However, perhaps in ten days time, when we have the Second Reading we shall see whether I am justified in describing it in that way. My noble and learned friend has kept the promise he made in July, and we look forward to discussing the measure in some detail in this House.
I should also like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, on his contribution about health. I propose, in my remarks, to address myself to the Health Service. While agreeing with my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor that the most important and impressive achievement of Mr. Attlee's Government was the formation of the National Health Service, I have to confess that I was a little disappointed to find that in the gracious Speech it is referred to only in a way that might suggest that any alteration in the structure may be a long way off. To-day I want to bring the attention of the House to a matter which I consider should have the very urgent attention of the Government.
My Lords, we have read in the newspapers that the Minister of Health and Social Security has been going round the country visiting certain institutions—hospitals for the mentally disabled, hospitals for the geriatrics and so on. He was so shocked at the overcrowded conditions in some of these places that almost before he left the building, I believe, he promised that he would have certain prefabricated buildings erected as soon as possible. No doubt the staff and the patients were highly delighted. But I believe that the primary and most effective contribution to solving the problem, having regard to our limited finances, would be to improve the conditions of the nursing staff. I would put that first. I have been in some of these places; I have seen beds which were only six inches apart. But I have always felt in respect of any institution, whether it be a hospital or a school, that I would always rather have the position, if one had to choose, that the buildings were deplorable and the staff magnificent rather than the reverse. Of course, if one could say, "Let us have excellent buildings and better staff", if we could have both, so much the better; we would have both. But I always put the human factor first. The position may be compared to the institution of marriage: it 60 is not where you live that matters, so much as with whom you live. I have no doubt that many people who live in palatial buildings with someone in disharmony would prefer to move to a prefabricated house to live with someone they love.
The human factor in life is of such importance that it pervades all institutions. More nursing staff would relieve the lot of those patients who are sitting in mental hospitals and literally vegetating. The overcrowded condition of some of these places is, in my opinion, sufficient to brutalise both the patients and the attendants. We have read about the most unhappy incidents where attendants have assaulted their charges. But who can say whether, if he had to live under these conditions, he would keep his temper? These people have told me time and again, particularly those I met in the North, when I visited many of these institutions, that if only there were more people to help them, more people to share their problems, and if they could have more free time, life would be a little easier.
I have no doubt that many of your Lordships read in the papers last week about the annual conference of nurses at Harrogate. At that conference the President of the Royal College of Nursing said that the morale in the nursing profession had seldom been lower, and she gave a warning that unless the trend was reversed, patients could suffer. She added:The time has come when the truth must be faced … Nurses have to suffer low wages which other industries would regard as absurd and staff shortages which have led to horrific situations.She added that the qualified State-registered nurse, after three years' hard training, received just over £6 cash in hand a week. Yet it was only a fortnight ago, my Lords, that we were told that the average wage in this country was £30 a week.
But it is the student nurses who provide the main labour force in the hospitals. Their wages are euphemistically called "a training allowance". These student nurses cannot be compared with the students in our universities or with medical students. The medical students have time for relaxation. They are taught carefully and can then allocate their time 61 as they think fit. But student nurses in the hospital start at a wage of £395 a year, with a meal allowance of £48; and out of this sum is deducted £156 for board and lodging, and further amounts for superannuation and National Insurance.
For this wage these young women are expected to undertake nursing and domestic work and to undertake, often unaided, tasks in the wards which they find alarming. I think it was a nurse at the Harrogate Conference who described how for the first time she saw a man dying and, not knowing how to handle the situation, went for her book on procedure, which she opened on the bed in order to know how to lay out the corpse. These so-called student nurses, my Lords, are doing a very hard job; and it is they who are keeping our hospitals functioning.
It is not surprising that a large proportion of them fail to complete their training and that there is a significant reduction in the number of recruits. It is this that is worrying people to-day. There is a passive revolt among potential nurses, because these young women feel that they have been exploited long enough. If it is any comfort to the dustmen who are still on strike—and they have my complete sympathy—they may like to know that they earn nearly three times as much as a qualified nurse.
I am glad that the President of the Royal College of Nursing has at last spoken with great passion on this question, because over the years nurses have tried to put up with these horrible conditions, being trained to do so. But the President of the Royal College was not the only one who spoke in this way at Harrogate. The President of the Royal College of Physicians, Sir Max Rosenheim, summed up the matter in these words: "Nurses' pay is terrible." That comes from a man who has been taught to speak with moderation. Doctors, I am sorry to say, are so often accustomed in hospitals to leaving the wards and so much of the unpleasant work to the nurses that they perhaps get into the way of trying to suppress any unhappy thoughts they may have about the conditions of the nurses. So I was glad to see that the President of the Royal College of Physicians did not mince his words.
The nurses are now launching a "Raise the roof" campaign (as they are calling 62 it) to focus attention on their miserable wages; and as an opening shot they have sent a resolution to the Ministry. Well, my Lords, over the years similar resolutions have been sent to Ministers, with little effect. Those well-paid functionaries in control know that nurses are easy to exploit because they have a deep sense of obligation to their charges. I confess that I find it difficult to understand why the leaders of the nurses who are now protesting so vigorously seemed to me a little while ago to fail to give the maximum support to Sister Veale, who certainly appeared to be "raising the roof" on behalf of her exploited sisters. Nurses have to learn (and I am sorry I have to say this to them) that they cannot at one and the same time be meek and submissive, existing on a pittance in a way which would earn the approval of Florence Nightingale, and be effective "Raise the roof" campaigners for the rights of nurses.
Unfortunately, in allocating the rewards in our society little thought is given to the quality of services given. The people who enjoy the greatest rewards are undoubtedly those who can exert the greatest pressure. Here we are dealing with a category of workers who are indeed noble in the manner in which they give their services without thought of reward. Yet, instead of our community saying that these people must be given priority when we are allocating whatever resources are at our disposal, we ignore them, because they have these marvellous qualities which have prevented their bringing to the notice of Parliament the way in which they are being exploited. For decades, nurses have been showered with adulatory phrases, but their medical experience should teach them that there is no sustenance in such a dietary.
The failure to do justice to nurses is leading them to go to work in Canada and the United States, while we take from the Commonwealth countries nurses who are desperately needed there. A similar 19th century bigoted policy is reflected in our medical schools, where we are told 50 per cent. of the students were not born in this country. Yet, despite the acute shortage of doctors, we deny able British girls a medical education by permitting only a small percentage to enter the London medical schools. This is an extraordinary position. A 63 headmistress has to say to her brilliant sixth formers, "Don't think of medicine. They will never take you into a medical school. They have only a tiny percentage of women." In this technological age it would appear that in medical schools custom and prejudice still dictate policy, to the detriment of the patient. I have been in Parliament for thirty years. I have said this time after time. The country is desperately in need of doctors. Fifty per cent. come from other countries, yet brilliant British girls with first-class brains are denied a medical education.
I should like to speak briefly on the administration of the Abortion Act, which has now been on the Statute Book for nearly a year. I get a little tired of the criticism of the Act by individuals who have deliberately opted out of matrimonial responsibility and fatherhood—and I would say that fatherhood is much easier to bear than motherhood. What is incomprehensible to me is the failure of the moralists in this matter to recognise that the woman herself is not solely responsible for her condition. It is deplorable that in parts of the country a schoolgirl or woman who under the Act qualifies to have an abortion is denied relief because a doctor refuses to participate.
It appears that during the first year of the working of the Act 40,000 abortions were performed in hospitals and registered nursing homes in England and Wales. If these provisions had not been made, many of these women would have procured a miscarriage on themselves or had it done by an unqualified person. Statistics on abortion, of course, cannot be accurate. because so many women have been able to procure an abortion on themselves in their own room without anybody knowing what has happened. They have been successful; they have recovered; they have had no infection; no doctor has been brought in who might have sent them to a hospital for a curettage, and, in consequence, they have not become part of the statistics. What statistics we have reveal that more than half of the women who in 1962 died from abortion operated on themselves; that 99 per cent. of those women were married, and that a quarter of those who died had four or more children. This is some measure of the social problem for which the abortion service is used.
64 Having regard to the cost to the Revenue (of course, it is growing as each year passes; for the next few years it will grow and then perhaps become static) to the cost in terms of finance, and the pain and suffering involved, we must recognise that there is another matter which calls for examination. There is one individual who emerges completely unscathed and proceeds on his relatively carefree way, suffering no pain, social ostracism or financial hardship. That is the man who has impregnated a girl or woman by negligence. Is this irresponsible individual to go scot free and be permitted to use the new abortion service as a useful adjunct to his activities? He is not deterred by any affiliation order, because only a small minority of young women are prepared to risk the publicity of applying to the courts.
Having examined the working of the Abortion Act during the last year, and having discussed it with many doctors and social workers, I believe that we need to establish a new social code; namely, to ensure that a man responsible for impregnating a woman by negligence is guilty of an offence against the community which subsidises the Health Service. Illegitimacy has increased and is increasing, together with venereal diseases. I do not think one should be influenced by the fact that daughters of well-to-do middle-class families display their fatherless babies on the front page of our popular Press. The fact is that the pregnant single girl still flocks to the big cities to hide her condition, to seek accommodation and, if possible, an abortion. Nobody can argue that the girl has not been punished. I suggest, therefore, that if, in the strictest privacy, the girl can prove conclusively that a certain man is responsible for her condition, a fine should be imposed on that individual who is guilty of impregnation by negligence. Now that the Revenue and, therefore, the Health Service are substantially involved, common sense and equity demand that the third party, the man responsible, should also be expected to make his contribution to the cost of the Service. I understand that in Denmark girls are expected to give the name of the man, and surely this is the correct approach. I find it difficult to understand how the community can ignore the 65 responsibility of the individual for the condition of the girl.
My Lords, I have dealt in this debate with only two aspects of the Health Service, but I hope that what I have said may influence the Government. Perhaps the last aspect, concerning the position of the third party in the abortion service, will take some digesting, and I am pleased to see that a lawyer is to wind up this debate. As to the nurses, I would ask the Lord Advocate to use his influence in the right places and see to it that action is taken very quickly.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
My Lords, I, too, should like to follow previous speakers and confine my few remarks to certain aspects of the Health Service, since it received a favourable mention in the gracious Speech. When I spoke last on this subject about 18 months ago, I feel that I was somewhat pessimistic about the National Health Service and its future. Since then, however, there have been encouraging signs. I think we are all pleased to see from the latest edition of the Statistical Register produced by the Minister of Health that the number of general practitioners is again rising; and I think there is little doubt that the general health of the nation is continuing to improve.
I should like to associate myself with other noble Lords in their tribute to the National Health Service in what it is doing, but there are still dark areas. I should like briefly to draw the attention of your Lordships' to some of them, and I speak in particular, in this instance, with reference to Scotland. There is no doubt in my mind that, at any rate in Scotland—and I suspect in England as well—the problem that is most affecting the public, because it hits them hard, is the increasingly critical shortage of nursing staff. This, I think, has been foreseen for some time, but I believe it is beginning to reach crisis proportions.
Hardly a day goes by without one reads of reports of the number of hospital beds being reduced and of wards being closed. I can think of three examples in recent weeks. At the Bridge of Earn Hospital, for instance, two wards have recently been closed. At Gordon Cottage Hospital there were recently 25 patients and only four trained nurses to look after 66 them, plus the matron, and some of the nursing work was being done by the orderlies. At Aberdeen Royal Infirmary 29 beds have recently been taken out of service, and there was an estimated shortage of something in the region of 150 nurses.
Those are three quite different types of hospital, but the story is much the same throughout Scotland. In fact, although there is no official established figure for nurses in Scotland, it is thought that at this time Scotland is short of something in the region of 1,000 nurses. If it were not for the reliance placed on, and the time generously given by, part-time nurses, this figure of 1,000 would be considerably higher. As it is, the number of beds is being reduced, as I pointed out, and new units, so important in the development of the Health Service, can be opened only by taking necessary staff away from somewhere else, and that aggravates the position.
I have little doubt in my own mind that the critical areas are going to be in the geriatric and mental hospitals, where particular skills and particular temperaments are required. I entirely endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, was saying in welcoming the tendency to close these hospitals and to group them in one large district hospital.
The cause of the nursing shortage is not at all difficult to pinpoint. Indeed, speakers have been doing so this afternoon, and I am quite certain that the Government have as well. The main question is: What can they do about it? The first thing that I am afraid no Government can do anything about is marriage. The wastage among pupil nurses getting married is something like one-third. I believe that the average trained nurse herself serves for something like only 18 months before she marries. There is also competition from the other professions, such as teaching and ancillary medical professions: for example, physiotherapy. All these factors are causing shortage of recruits for training, which the noble Baroness quite rightly mentioned just now, because this is really the heart of the problem.
The noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, has herself said a great deal this afternoon about nurses' pay. I endorse everything she said; I entirely 67 agree with her on that point. She mentioned the resolution which the Royal College of Nursing has submitted to the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Ministry of Health and Social Security in England. The Royal College, as we all know, is a most responsible body and certainly does not take action of this kind unless it feels very strongly indeed about it. I believe, with the noble Baroness, that the nursing profession feels that it has been victimised: victimised for its vocation and victimised for its good will. Surely, above almost all the professions, this profession deserves the rate, or even more than the rate, for the job, especially at this time when increasingly sophisticated demands on the medical services require a growing number of skilled and dedicated people to serve in them. It can surely no longer be taken for granted that they will serve without proper reward. I do urge the Government in this respect, and indeed suggest that what is needed really in the country, by the public as well, is a new attitude towards those who serve the community.
Another factor which I believe the noble Baroness touched on concerning the shortage of nurses is the actual physical conditions in which nurses have to live in some of the hospitals. Such conditions, of course, vary tremendously from one hospital to another and depend on the personality of the senior staff in the hospital. There is probably need still for improvements in the field of hospital management. I know that this is rather dangerous ground for a layman, and I do not want to set myself up as an expert on this subject. But it seems to me that the present hospital administrative set-up —that is, with the medical superintendent, the matron and the hospital secretary, all more or less equal—is possibly somewhat out of date. I know that frequently it works well, but I think that is a tribute to the people involved. I have often wondered whether there is not need for greater co-ordination between departments in a hospital.
Therefore, it might he a good idea (I have seen this suggested) to appoint someone, who might be called a professional hospital manager, properly trained in management techniques, to co-ordinate the work of the different departments as 68 well as look after the interests of the administrative and the technical staff who, at any rate North of the Border, are in extremely short supply. No doubt he would have to be a highly trained official, but I believe that this would result in a far higher standard of hospital management, better conditions and, consequently, an casing of the problem of staff recruitment.
My Lords, I have almost finished. I think that I previously put forward a suggestion that the Minister of Health should consider the appointment of a kind of director-general for the Health Service whose job it would be to coordinate and run the Health Service as a whole. I have not entirely dropped this idea because I think that, with the re-organisation we are to have in the Health Service, it might be very useful for such an individual to he appointed, to ensure that the new set-up got efficiently off the ground. This is entirely a personal opinion, and I am very much looking forward to hearing what the Government's intentions are regarding reorganisation of the Health Service. I am as yet a little unclear as to whether or not this reorganisation is going to await action on the reform of local government. I sincerely hope not, because if it is I am afraid that it will be far too long delayed, and this will only mean increasing the strain, referred to by my noble friend Lord Brooke. which already exists within the Health Service. My Lords, I am quite certain that reform of the Health Service cannot wait.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in the course of his speech suggested that probably this Parliament will be very largely remembered for, among other things, the work it has done in connection with law reform. I heartily agree with him. I think that during the present Parliament we have made more progress in the direction of law reform than in the last hundred years or even more. To mention just a few of the matters that have been dealt with, there have been the speeding up of the consolidation of our laws; a tremendous amount of modernisation and simplification of our laws; the improvement of the machinery of the courts, which, from the speech 69 my noble and learned friend made, I gather is only just beginning; and a variety of other improvements, particularly the setting up of the Law Commission, who are engaged in examining many of our laws which are regarded as in need of revision. I would say that almost the whole of the credit for this is due to the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor. He was over-modest in saying that the present Parliament would be remembered for its legal achievements. I think that the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, himself will be remembered as one of the greatest Lord Chancellors of all time. I hope he is not blushing.
Having said that, I would venture to say that there are one or two things about our legal system and procedure which are still in need of considerable improvement from the point of view of the ordinary man in the street who has to have contact with litigation or with the law. The first is the high cost of litigation. I made a few inquiries this morning. I thought I was perhaps somewhat out of touch with things, so I asked my partners what would be the cost to a person of embarking on a county court action to recover, say, £100 which was disputed and which he had to go to court to get determined and which he eventually lost. What would he have to pay in the way of costs, I asked; and the answer was that it would be about £100. It seems to me to be a shocking state of affairs when you have to risk the chance of paying £100 costs in order to recover £100 to which you think you are entitled.
I put another question: suppose a man or woman meets with an accident and claims damages which he or she reckons should amount to about £1,000, and it is disputed on the ground of liability. The case goes to court and is tried and the decision is that the defendant is not liable. What would be the costs of the person bringing the action, who of course would have to pay his own costs and those of his opponent? I was told that he should reckon on having to pay about £700 to £750. That, again, is a terrible state of affairs, if one has to risk that amount of money to recover £1,000 of damages. Of course it does not apply to people who are legally aided. And here again there is a certain in- 70 justice, because if a legally-aided person brings an action and fails, the defendant is not normally entitled to his costs and has to find them out of his own pocket.
The second matter that worries a great many people is the delay. A High Court action may well take a couple of years before it is determined, and that is assuming that it is conducted with all speed. I know that the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, has that matter very much in mind, but it still continues, and from my own experience the delay factor has not diminished in recent years. If anything, it has increased. Indeed, while I am on the subject, I may say that the same remarks apply to such matters as public inquiries. I am familiar with the procedure in town planning inquiries. If a person is dissatisfied with a planning decision and appeals to the Minister, it may well take over a year from the date of the appeal before he gets a decision. These things are really a denial of justice. Justice must be speedy and it must be accessible to the person seeking it, and to make it so expensive and so long delayed really deters people from seeking justice at all. One knows of many people who have refused to endeavour to get their legal rights, simply because of the expense and the delay that will be involved.
I would suggest to my noble and learned friend that these are matters that ought to be looked into seriously, either by the Law Commission or, possibly and preferably, by a mixed commission consisting of lawyers and laymen. It is a matter which perhaps if it were conducted by lawyers alone might be somewhat coloured by their own interests and their own outlook, but a mixed commission might well result in getting some suggestions which would improve all these various matters.
The second question in the gracious Speech to which I wish to refer is that of comprehensive schools. I understand that an attempt will be made to discuss this subject in this House more fully in the near future; therefore I shall not say much about the matter. The whole purpose of the comprehensive school is to ensure that all children have an equal educational opportunity. "Opportunity" is the operative word—not an equal education, as it is sometimes misinterpreted 71 to be, but an equal educational opportunity, whether their parents are rich or poor. At the present time if a parent is well-to-do then the child is straightaway able to get an educational advantage, whether or not it is suitable and capable, and this generally carries the child right through life. The purpose of the comprehensive school is to ensure that every child is enabled to have an equal chance: its abilities are assessed at the school and it is given just the type of education to which it is most suited.
I suppose many of your Lordships may have heard in "Twenty-four Hours" on television last night Mr. Heath being cross-examined by Mr. David Dimbleby. He spoke about the gracious Speech and about comprehensive schools. Mr. Heath rather brushed aside what Mr. Wilson had said about the eleven-plus examination and the objection to deciding once and for all whether a child should get a secondary education by an examination at the age of eleven. He thought that was irrelevant: the important question—in fact the only question, in his view—was whether local authorities should be ordered to carry out the policy of the Government of comprehensive education, or whether it should be left entirely to the local education authorities to decide for themselves what kind of education they should provide. That is, of course, an interesting issue, and Mr. Heath quoted some remarks made by Mr. Wilson on the importance of giving adequate powers to local authorities.
But, after all, education should be a national question. It should not be a question of each local authority-hundreds of them—deciding for itself what kind of education should be provided for the children in that area, one local authority deciding, perhaps, that there is no need for secondary schools, or for very few of them, and another local authority providing for a large number, and people (as I know from experience) moving from the area of one authority to another because they find that they can get a better education in the area of the second authority to which they are moving. I am quite sure that the whole question of education should be treated nationally and the policy laid down by Parliament itself. Of course, the administration of policy should be a matter for the local 72 authorities, and there local authorities will have the opportunity of carrying out the policy in different ways. But certainly I would completely disagree that policy should be laid down by some hundreds of local education authorities. As I have said, this is a matter which I hope will be discussed in this House in the near future, and I hope to be able to develop these ideas and to hear the views of other noble Lords on the subject.
The third matter to which I wish to refer is one which has been mentioned by other noble Lords—Lord Brooke of Cumnor, Lord Amulree and Lord Selkirk—and that is the omission from the gracious Speech of the question of housing, which they regard of very great importance. I do not complain that housing is not specifically referred to in the gracious Speech. After all, we passed a very important Housing Act last Session which laid down a completely new policy on housing, a policy of modernisation of existing houses, renovation and modification. Greater encouragement has been given to owners of houses and local authorities to carry out this policy. I believe that to be a move in the right direction, and I can see very little point in referring to housing as such.
On the other hand, certain facts have emerged and been made public in the last few weeks, which shed a new light on the whole question of housing; that is, it appears that we have habitually underestimated our housing needs. We have always assumed that there was a limited number of slums in this country. We sometimes tried to quantify it; some times we made a rough shot. But we have always assumed that this was a matter which we could deal with and get rid of within a few years. It now appears from more scientific investigations that have been made that to-day something like 2½ million families are living in houses that are unfit for habitation, which roughly means 7½1 million people or about 12 per cent. of the population—at any rate a very high percentage. I do not know whether noble Lords have read the marvellous series of three articles in The Times last week by a brilliant young journalist, Winston Churchill, who has taken an immense amount of trouble to investigate the housing situation and to provide figures. And of course other noble Lords have no doubt read the Shelter report. These facts should lead 73 us to revise all our ideas about the housing question. The provision of 400,000 houses a year is not sufficient even to keep the present position static, let alone to improve the situation.
I would plead with the Government, in the light of what has emerged in the last few weeks, both from the report of Shelter and from the series of articles, to look at the whole question of housing again, to see whether it is not a fact that over the years we have habitually underestimated our housing requirements, and whether we should not review our programme. I should be very astonished if we did not find, as a result of this investigation, that we would need to look at the housing question all over again on a far different and bigger scale than anything we have done in the past. I am not one to say "I told you so", but I have been looking at some of the speeches I made on housing in the past, and I am surprised to find that in every speech I complained that we were underestimating the problem; but even I did not realise the extent to which we were underestimating.
If we really want our people to live in decent conditions of life then I think we must take this matter quite seriously. When we talk of people not living in satisfactory conditions, I should like to translate that into actual facts. It means that many families are living in one room; there is no separation of the sexes; there is no indoor sanitation; no provision for hot water; lavatories are shared; with no proper facilities for food storage and so on. When we find that families have to be brought up in these conditions it is not surprising that some of the social results exist which the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, complained of.
Those are three matters I thought it right to refer to in connection with the gracious Speech. We have an enormous programme in front of us, but I very much hope that all the matters referred to in the gracious Speech will be brought forward as speedily as possible and that we shall be able to dispose of them to the mutual satisfaction.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, as the noble Lord who has just spoken has said, we have indeed a heavy Session ahead of us, which signifies many hours of Sittings and all the work and study 74 which lie behind the actual proceedings. A substantial part of the business will apply to Scotland, but there are also, as many noble Lords have said, notable exceptions. Much of the ground has already been covered in this debate, and in addition to that, for brevity's sake, it is not my intention to express views which might await subsequent debate.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, I want as a layman to praise the progress which the Government have made with law reform. In awaiting the proposals for Scotland, I wish that the words "feudal system" did not tend to give to the uninitiated the impression that in Scotland some mediaeval serfdom still exists under the heavy hand of brutal barons. Indeed, I would go to the whole way with the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, in his comments on the matter of heritable property transfers in Scotland.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, and the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, in one of her most knowledgeable and compassionate speeches, have referred, and very properly, to the shortage of nurses—a very serious situation; and besides this, all of us are aware of the shortage of teachers. It occurs to me, in passing, that this is an opportunity to urge a reconsideration of the amount of income which may be retained by married women free of tax, or otherwise to overhaul the grossing-up of married couples' earnings for tax purposes. Surely some revision of this situation would have an immediate effect in increasing the availability of women who have cost the State large sums to train. Many of them now have the time and are willing to lend at least part-time assistance. I am sure that it would contribute some alleviation to the shortage in the nursing and teaching professions.
My Lords, I intend to strike a rather different note from that which the debate has struck hitherto because it is my intention to concentrate on two almost domestic aspects of the coming Session. First of all, I would return to the problem of the pressure of work and what appears to me to be the inevitability of considering Monday and/or Friday sittings. I would reiterate the hope that such should be avoided as much as possible. They impose an entirely disproportionate burden 75 upon Peers who live at a distance, as opposed to those who live within easy reach of London, because their attendance also involves long hours of travel. This means either that Monday and Friday debates are held in the absence of such Members of your Lordships' House or that additional sacrifices are demanded of certain Peers.
What with the increased cost of everything, and the rather tight way in which travel expenses are circumscribed, for some the existing allowances no longer cover cost; indeed, they never cover the cost of neglected duties on the home front which have to go by the board if a Peer is absent in London for several successive days, week after week. Speaking for myself (I am sure there are other noble Lords situated as I am), I should prefer to sit later on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, rather than to sit for four or, indeed, five days a week. The noble Lord the Leader of the House made an oblique reference to this in his peroration yesterday, and I have in fact been in correspondence with the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, on the matter.
My second point is, as I see it, an important facet of our home affairs which cannot wait. And why? Because this is a debate in which we can go wide, as the noble Lord the Leader of the House said. I intend to do so, though I trust not so wide as to inconvenience your Lordships. My problem, and the problem of all of us, concerns the channels for the conveyance to the public at large of the proceedings of Parliament. With the General Election ahead this matter is of importance, as I see it, in any consideration of the wider aspects of our Parliamentary process and this debate is wide enough to present this opportunity. I may say that I have informed the noble Lord the Lord Advocate, who is to reply to the debate this evening, of my intention to raise it.
Is there nothing that can be done to improve the reporting, both in quality and in quantity, so that the public as a whole here at home are better informed on the subject of Parliament? Take the daily Press—and by "the Press" in general terms I cover the whole range of our daily papers. Some of these papers called "newspapers" are not in fact more than magazines which, paid for by 76 advertisements, too often get their circulation by the titillation of the senses rather than the information of the mind. I would refer to one of the tabloids. I have here a copy dated October 17; it is the country edition which I received on the night train on the 16th. On that date, if your Lordships will recall, we had an almost historic debate in this House, with a Division, in connection with the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) (No. 2) Bill. In another place there was an important debate on sanctions in Rhodesia, with a number of most important speeches. In more than 30 pages in this paper there is not one single reference even to the fact that Parliament was sitting on that day.
The quality journals, as genuine newspapers, are in a different category. But could not even they do a little better? The legitimate newspapers may do their best, but it is, perforce, a limited best; and some of the space they give to political commentaries and speculations might well go, I believe, to actual reporting. There are, of course, technical problems, problems of pressures on space and costs, the time of going to press and so on. But the fact remains that, as a general rule, the bulk of the people are short of information on Parliament. No wonder the Press report that the people are becoming disillusioned with politics, because it is too often only the sensational, the scandalous or the trivial occurrences in either House which are brought to their notice. What is the remedy? A change of heart? A deeper realisation by the Press that they are (and I use the words of a Member of your Lordships' House) a "public utility", a "common carrier"?
Then let us turn to broadcasting. The radio and television media are on better ground. The B.B.C.'s regular feature "Today in Parliament" provides only 15 minutes to cover both Houses. Admittedly, it is repeated next morning; but "Yesterday in Parliament" is substantially the same, unless there has been some important late sitting. Noble Lords will, I am sure, agree that this feature is admirably conducted but is 15 minutes always long enough to cover a mass of important business when it has been dealt with during the day? There must of course be a limit. But what about 20 minutes, or even more on occasion? As the Session unfolds, with all the legislation 77 envisaged in the gracious Speech, my impression is that, despite what the Press say, the people, and young people in particular, want to know more, and ought to be told more, about what goes on in Westminster.
There are of course technical difficulties in regard to such a broadcast. In so far as these difficulties are concerned, it is a matter of regret that the legislation on industrial disputes has had to be dropped, because I take the view, and I believe it to be right, that the Press might be in a better position to give space to Parliamentary news if the trade unions had not got them by the throat. The very disunity among the employers renders this position possible, and I for one regard with some alarm the encroachment of trade union power (or is it lack of power?) as it affects broadcasting, as it has done in the last few weeks, and as it has affected the publication of Parliamentary Papers—and in referring to "Parliamentary Papers" I mean to cover both Houses. It is the Parliamentary process in general of which I am jealous, not of this House in particular or of the other place in particular.
My Lords, do we, or indeed they, do enough to help the Press? How many of your Lordships know that, although the Press Gallery in the Commons gets copies of our Order Paper, as we get a copy of theirs in the Prince's Chamber, they do not post up a list of our speakers? Incidentally, now that we have a House of Commons' monitor installed here in the Press Room upstairs, would it not be of advantage to have one so situated that we or the attendants could without much trouble know what is going on in another place? However, I am going a little wide here. This is a matter for the Administration Committee, and it is my intention to write to the Chairman of Committees and to make some sort of suggestion on the subject.
My Lords, to conclude, so far as Scotland is concerned and all areas remote from London, which includes Northern Ireland, which I have no doubt we shall hear of before the debate is ended, the situation in regard to Parliamentary reporting is very difficult because of the necessity for newspapers, of whatever category, to go to press in time to be distributed over great distances. I do 78 not know what the answer may be, unless it is to seek, so far as these more distant areas are concerned, a wider use of broadcasting services, if the wider general use which I have already suggested earlier in my speech does not turn out to be feasible. I could, of course, mention the weekly papers, the Sunday papers, the Parliamentary features on the radio and television, and so on, but I have detained your Lordships long enough. I would only say that I imagine I am not alone in looking forward to the findings of the Select Committee under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Pearce; findings which, as our debate on the subject of televising the proceedings show, are an essential next step to the consideration of such a method of dissemination.
I sincerely believe that here at home the whole Parliamentary process of which we are part, and of which we have the right to be proud—though in this regard there are, I know, one or two notable exceptions—is at some disadvantage in the presentation of its image to the people. I believe that something might with advantage be done to set this right, because, rightly of wrongly, I take the view that it has an important bearing on the subject of home affairs.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ LORD JACQUES
My Lords, I should like to focus the attention of the House on local government reform. In setting up the Maud Commission, in welcoming the Report of the Commission, in making the changes in central Government which facilitate consultation and pave the way for change, the Government have acted with commendable courage, and I hope they will have the opportunity of finishing the job. On this question of local government we are very much in the position of the American who asked his way in Dublin. The Irishman said, "If you go up there and turn left—no; I think it would be better if you go this way". And after he had gone all the four ways he said, "I think it would be much better if you didn't start from here". We are in that position in regard to local government: it would be much better if we had not to start from here. But, like the American, we have no choice. The need for change is so great that it is hardly questioned the area of conflict is the way in which the problem 79 should be solved. One thing is certain: if the ultimate pattern is going to fit modern circumstances, the changes will have to be drastic. I hope they will be based upon social geography rather than Socialist.
Underlying the Maud Report there are four main principles which I hope will influence the Government in their proposals, even if they do not accept the Report in itself. The first of these principles is that our new areas of local government should be cohesive regions. That will give us the opportunity for environmental planning on a scale we have never had before.
I live just inside the boundary of the county borough of Portsmouth. For two hours each morning there is a crawl of cars into town, with people going to work, and a fair trickle of people coming out of the town to work outside the town. Of course it is repeated in the evening, but in the reverse directions. We have two minor peaks of traffic. One is in the afternoon when the people from outside the town go into the town to shop. The census of distribution shows that of the shoppers for textiles, footwear and durable goods, one-third come from outside the town. There is a second minor peak in the evening, after about half past seven, when people are on the move for social activities. For a radius of 10 to 15 miles from the centre of the town the area is one cohesive area for employment, for shopping, for housing, and for social activities; it is an obvious cohesive area for the purposes of local government. This does not mean that the town would take over the country. In that particular case the population of the town is 215,000 but the region proposed by Maud is 600,000, so that the country would bring in the majority.
The second principle that should be observed is to ensure that we have in each of our local government authorities an adequate scale so that we can make the best use of our resources, especially in social services. The evidence placed before the Maud Commission showed that this was largely a matter of population, though not entirely. It showed that there was a break-through at a quarter of a million population, and that at over one million there was very little saving; so the optimum size, depending upon circumstances, upon geography and so on, 80 was a population of between a quarter of a million and a million.
The third principle is the need for co-ordinating the services of local government. This is not new from Maud; it was pointed out by Seebohm, by Plowden and by Newsome, and Maud has quoted them all. They have all indicated to us the need for co-ordinating local government services because, to some extent, all the services are using the same resources, and in any case they are all serving the same people. It is obvious that the best way to get co-ordination is to have unitary authorities very much on the lines that have been proposed by Maud.
The fourth important principle is that we must have viable democracies within local government; and here I think we have to think in simple terms. The most important need in order to get a viable democracy is simplification. What the people want is to know where they have to go when they have an inquiry or seek a service, and to know with whom, in case of need, they can discuss it if they are dissatisfied with the answer they get. Within two miles of where I live there is a housing estate consisting of 30,000 people. It has been built by the city of Portsmouth outside its boundaries because the boundaries are entirely out of date. The city of Portsmouth has a housing office upon the estate, so that people on that estate make some of their inquiries at the housing office, but they get the majority of their services from the urban district. Some of their services, however, come from Winchester, which is 30 miles away, and when they go to Winchester they find there are three "town halls": one for the borough of Winchester, one for the rural district of Winchester, and one for the county council. We shall never have a viable democracy until we do away with that kind of chaos.
The second thing we need in order to get a viable democracy is to ensure that each of our authorities has adequate resources. Unless our local governments are economically viable, then the viability of the democracy is a sheer sham. It means that they cannot carry out their functions, or that they are too dependent upon central Government. I suggest to the House that there are two things we need to get a viable democracy: simplification, and adequate resources for each of our local government institutions. In 81 the reform of local government time is not on our side. Within local government it is known that the case for change is so great that it is inevitable. At the present time there is a great deal of uncertainty and frustration, and if we have undue delay that will turn into complete demoralisation. The sooner we deal with the change, the sooner we shall be able to put local government in the place which it should have within our community. It spends 15 per cent. of our gross national product. We should give it a place in our community in relation to that—a place of great prestige.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
My Lords, in a "bag of all sorts" type of debate, it is a little difficult to know exactly which noble Lord, if any, one should follow. But I conclude that the speaker for me to follow is my noble friend Lord Selkirk, who provided the excellent and thoughtful example of warning the House that he was going to speak about Scotland, and suggested that anybody who was not interested might go out. I am going to speak about Ireland, and anybody who does not want to know about that can equally go outside.
I make no apology for referring to something that we talked about not very long ago, because there can be no doubt that we go forward into this coming Session and this coming year under the cloud that still hangs over Northern Ireland. Even if that cloud may seem reasonably static at the moment, and perhaps even to have withdrawn, nobody will argue against the possibility that it may develop and rain in a most disgraceful kind of downpour before we really know where we are. I naturally looked forward with some interest to see what was said about Northern Ireland in the gracious Speech, and what we find is:My Ministers will continue their efforts to ensure justice and to promote peace and harmony between all communities in Northern Ireland.That is a totally unexceptionable statement, at first glance, and I do not see how anything less could have been said. As a matter of fact, it is impossible for anything less to have been said—I do not say this in a spirit of criticism—because it really says nothing.
82 Reading it with a little more care, I observed that the words:… to ensure justice and to promote peace and harmonyare surely a cliché if ever there was one—possibly two clichés. I do not criticise that either, because I do not expect anything very constructive to come at this point. But I think it is worth pointing out that the production of a cliché is seldom the end product of careful and laborious thought. I could not possibly know what lines of thought went into the drafting of this sentence, but I am a little disturbed at the outcome and I wonder whether there is not here and there a lacuna or two in some of the thinking of the Government.
I remember that in our debate on this subject last week, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor—who has embarrassed me by returning at this precise moment—addressed himself to me in the matter that I had raised, concerning hatred and prejudice on the part of Roman Catholics and Protestants. He made a statement to me, which I think I was meant to find reassuring, to the effect that a number of young people were growing up to be agnostics. He dissociated himself entirely from any thought that this was a good thing, but suggested —unless I misunderstood him—that the problem of Catholic and Protestant might to some extent become lessened by the sheer growth of agnosticism. He ended by saying that this was a factor which we might have to take into account, but I am afraid that that is a factor which I do not take into account at all.
In order to illustrate why I do not take it into account, I should like to revert once more to a little story that was told in that same debate by my noble friend Lord Dunleath, but which I should like to recount in a slightly different form. It is a recent story of a Belfast vigilante asking a British soldier what he was—was he a Catholic or a Protestant? The soldier said that lie was a Jew and the man replied, "Ah, well. You are a Jew. That is your business. What I want to know is: are you a Catholic Jew or a Protestant Jew?" You may be an agnostic in Belfast or Derry or anywhere else, but if your parents were Catholics or Protestants, then to the other side you will be 83 a Protestant agnostic or a Catholic agnostic and it will not make one ha'p'orth of difference.
I should like to read your Lordships a passage from a book with which you may not be familiar. It has a non-commital title and is simply called Ireland. This is the passage:There is a feeling of unhappiness in Northern Ireland, and even the least suspicious observer ends up by encountering it. The luckless visitor who listens to heated declarations and grievances cannot always distinguish fact from fiction. Vested interests, centuries of hatreds, the too recent acts of violence, and what one must regretfully describe as sectarianism and bigotry, weave so complex a web around events that all the indications vary with the eye of the beholder. The real significance of these facts is lost—everyone agrees about that. Thus, when a hand of Orangemen marches through the town with fifes and drums, or an anti-papist anthem blares out, or a bus conductor from Belfast and some other young men attack a barracks by night, the affair is equivalent to the observance of an important rite—the need to assert oneself over the enemy, to kindle fear in his spirit, and, if possible, to master him. This is more than enough to banish good sense and logic about interests which could be common to all; and the observer, in his turn, stumbles.That is taken from the English translation of a book written by a Frenchman about ten years ago, and your Lordships may think that it is a fairly acute piece of reporting.
I ask your Lordships to note the words with which it ends:…the observer, in his turn, stumbles.It is vitally important that the observer should not stumble, and it is above all important if the observer is the Home Secretary, with whom ultimately the responsibility in these matters must reside. I find myself wondering whether there is a risk of this stumbling taking place. The present Home Secretary has most conspicuously done nothing of the kind, and I am not making the slightest suggestion that I think he is likely to do so. But the road ahead is dark and rough and there are corners where no light shines, and it is difficult for any man to find his way.
How is it possible to know exactly what kind of danger lies ahead? I do not believe you can find out from reading books and files in the Home Office or anywhere else, and what I should like to see is a proposal that some kind of individual, agency or office may be set up to provide 84 information, advice and intelligence concerning what goes on in that unhappy Province of Northern Ireland. It has been suggested, here and there, that there should be an Ulster Office, perhaps corresponding to the Scottish Office. I make no suggestion of that kind, nor do I suggest that any change should be made in the present arrangements. That is not my point. My point is that some independent person or committee should be appointed, in order to make sure that the Government are informed better than they can be by any ordinary governmental means which exist at the present moment.
What kind of qualifications would this person have to have? I think they are a little special. Obviously, to begin with he must have knowledge—antecedent knowledge; not knowledge that can be picked up from books and files, but knowledge that comes from knowing the country and having lived in it. Also, obviously he must not be the kind of person who would be surprised if he landed in Belfast for the first time and discovered that a constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary is known as the "polismahn", or that there are people in Belfast who pronounce the first name of the Prime Minister as "Chaychoster". His knowledge must go a little deeper than that. He must certainly know a great deal of history; and not only history as it is—the facts, and what took place in the past—but the significance in the present; the curious by-products which historical processes have brought about and which are now operating in, say, the Falls Road, in Londonderry or anywhere else. Obviously he will have to know what happened at the Battle of the Boyne, but it might be no bad thing if he also happened to know that in Rome, when the news of the result of that battle was known, the Pope was so delighted that he ordered a special illumination of St. Peter's—not a very well known fact among Orangemen, I dare say.
There are also some curiosities that he might well know with advantage, which may seem superficial and trivial—such things as the strange history of the interesting musical instrument that was burnt at the stake in the County Tyrone near the town of Dungannon. This does not sound very important: it is simply an 85 allusion, for those who do not know it, to a song. But songs are the cardiographs of a people, and cardiographs are not easy to read. A wise man who knows his way round the country at all will study the songs, I think, and he will know that in the North of Northern Ireland a song sounds very different when sung light-heartedly at a ceilidhe from the way it sounds when banged out by what is known, for some curious reason, as a flute band upon the ramparts of Londonderry. To go a little further afield, if he had known all his life that the "Wearing o' the Green" was a good, rousing, marching tune, he might be somewhat taken aback to learn by his own experience what a heart-breaking lament it can turn into when sung unaccompanied by a Dublin ballad singer. And if he could hear the Dublin ballad singer he would have another advantage, because then he might know what Northern Ireland looks like not only from London but also from Dublin, and that would do him no harm at all—and perhaps from Donegal as well.
My Lords, where are we to find such a person?—because I believe that we ought to find him. I do not know. I make no suggestion about that; but I know that those who are searching for him should not confine their search to Whitehall, to within the Home Office, to within any office of Government, to with in any particular Party, to within the Civil Service or to within Parliament. What we want is a wise man of deep experience—and perhaps wisdom is the governing characteristic of all. So the net must be cast very wide. Such people do exist, and I believe that such a man should be found and appointed very soon, almost straight away. He should not be, even when he has been appointed, I think, within any Government Department. He should certainly have no executive authority. His business would be to be a kind of super-liaison officer, counsellor, adviser, intelligence agent; and to these ends all his energies should be directed. And he should be extremely well paid.
But at this moment the Government are, shall I say, setting forward rather in the manner of a man walking on thin ice, and it is vitally important that we should have every possible way of finding out in advance what the condition 86 of the ice is; what is going on immediately below the surface; where the deeper and the more dangerous cracks are most likely to occur. It is to help find that kind of intelligence that I put forward my proposal.
My Lords, I end by throwing out a thought of a totally different kind. It is not a very profound or original thought, but it is just possible that it may fall to the ground in some corner somewhere, find a piece of good ground and spring up and bear some small fruit—who knows? It is this: to the extent that the division between the communities which are at loggerheads with one another in the Six Counties is genuinely based on differences of religious faith, those on each side of the dividing line have ready to hand a common instrument for their common benefit—a belief in the power of prayer; a far more powerful healer of divisions than the bullet or the petrol bomb.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, if I try to follow the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, on the subject of Ireland I shall be as lost as was the Irishman in the delightful story which my noble friend Lord Jacques told. 1 rise rather to join my noble friend Lord Silkin in welcoming the statement in the gracious Speech that:A Bill will be introduced requiring local education authorities to prepare plans for reorganising secondary education on comprehensive lines".As I recall, last year I regretted the omission of such a statement from the gracious Speech that we were then considering. It is now over four years ago since Circular 10/65 was issued from the Department of Education and Science to local education authorities; a circular which set out the terms of a Motion carried by the House of Commons on January 21, 1965. For the sake of brevity, I will not take up your Lordships' time by reading out the terms of that Motion, but it was an endorsement of the Government's declared policy to end selection and eliminate separatism at the level of secondary education.
The circular itself laid down principles, but it left to local education authorities the preparation of plans for implementing them. There was no suggestion of imposing a single pattern of organisation; 87 and, indeed, there was very proper recognition in the circular of the physical difficulties that would be involved and the effect that these difficulties might well have in regard to the shape and the timing of local schemes. A number of authorities obviously welcomed the opportunity that was offered them. They were pleased, and they were very willing to co-operate in what they saw as a logical development of secondary education—a development which would retain all that was best and at the same time provide extended and continuing opportunities to all children. Other authorities were not so co-operative, and some were distinctly unco-operative.
My Lords, if I may, I should like to mention briefly a few points which I believe are pertinent to the consideration of this issue. A child's opportunities are all too often today dictated by the part of the country where its parents happen to work and live. Selection for grammar school places varies from 15 per cent. to 40 per cent. We all know that children develop at different ages, and that selection at any arbitrary age ignores this fact. I think we also know equally well that all systems of selection appear to have a margin of error, and the more selective any system is the more critical that margin of error becomes. As a nation, we need the development of all the talent we have. We know that the supply of teachers to our schools is limited, and the supply of highly-qualified subject specialists especially so. We need the influence of these subject specialists in the main stream of our educational service, instead of having them, as they all too often are to-day, locked away in separatist establishments. Experience has shown that the presence of brighter children has a stimulating influence throughout the whole of the school, with no loss to the brighter children.
If we are to have mobility of labour in this country—and I think that increasingly we must expect it—there ought to be the same basic principles throughout the country in the service of education. But by 1967 it had become clear that a number of local education authorities were being, if not positively obstructive, at least as unco-operative as possible. They have been dragging their feet and have been imagining difficulties; some of 88 them seem to have been more concerned with preserving the status quo than with educational advance. These authorities, in my humble opinion, have regrettably made legislation essential in the interests of all children.
No doubt much will be said about the freedom of parents to choose the school their children should attend; but it appears to me that those who may raise this cry have been, and are, rather unmindful that for the majority there has been little or no choice at all. I believe that comprehensive education will bring to all children the chance for the widest opportunities that our educational system can provide—and that as a continuing process. I can see little prospect of that being achieved by those who will say that they intend to repeal any legislation that may be carried. I believe that R. H. Tawnay was abundantly right when he said:What a wise parent would desire for his own children, that a nation, in so far as it is wise, must desire for all children.My Lords, I hope that the promised legislation will go a long way to achieve that which R. H. Tawnay was speaking about. If I may say so, I hope that the legislation will come at an early point in this Session, for I believe that it is at least two years overdue.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, I should like to intervene very shortly in the discussion this afternoon to make two points which are connected, although perhaps rather tenuously connected. I learned quite late to-day that the original batting order had been changed and that we should discuss Home Affairs to-day and not Foreign Affairs and Defence, which had been on the programme that I received about a week ago. Therefore, what I say may be a little disjointed; but I hope that I shall be able to keep my remarks reasonably short.
One of the matters that I want to raise—particularly because there is no reference to it in the gracious Speech—is the question of the Government's attitude towards the Report of the Royal Commission under Lord Beeching. I was naturally very gratified and pleased when the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack devoted a substantial part of his speech to that very topic. In his inimitable and delightful way—of which 89 he has given us some equally good examples in the past—he read out what appeared to be a passage from Lord Beeching's Report. I searched my mind to recall it but could not do so, although I had read the Report only a few days ago. It turned out to come from a Report made about a hundred years ago. This is not the first time that, in this charming way, he has led us up the garden path, so to speak—as no doubt many of your Lordships will remember.
I am very glad indeed—as, I am quite sure, are all those concerned with the administration of criminal justice and with the administration of justice generally—that the Royal Commission, rather sensibly, overstepped their terms of reference and made, if not actual proposals, at any rate rather important implications in relation to the whole system of the civil administration through the county courts. This I regard as one of the most important matters in their Report. Obviously, if the proposals of the Royal Commission are implemented in detail we shall have progressed a very long way towards a unified system for the administration of justice in this country. Those of us who are interested in and concerned about the improvement of the judicial administration of this country have long been anxious to see a unified system instead of the present two completely different schemes, one under the High Court and the other under the county courts. If the Beeching Report proposals that the county court judges are all to be brought into the administration of the criminal law are implemented, then clearly we are well on the way towards a unified system. This, I am quite sure, will be a great step towards getting rid of the straitjacket which is now almost choking the administration of law in this country.
As the noble and learned Lord has said, the first stages in the proposals of the Royal Commission can in fact be carried out administratively and do not need any legislation. That is no doubt the reason why this matter, in terms, has been left out of the gracious Speech. I think it might have been wise to put in something about it, if only to say that the first stage would be taken up; because that would have relieved a great deal of anxiety. I am bound to say that it was very short anxiety, because the 90 noble and learned Lord has told us, only 24 hours after the gracious Speech, that the Government are going to get on with the administrative side of it. I hope, too, that they will be able to prepare the legislation; and it might be that the Law Commission could take part in that. One of the great features of the work of the Law Commission is that they prepare Bills as they go along. This, I should have thought, was an occasion to do something of that kind.
My Lords, the only other point that I should like to make is that while it is true, as the noble and learned Lord has said, that the Report is telling us only what we already know, and what those who are concerned with these matters have always known about the difficulties of the situation, this is the first Report to have made thoroughly radical proposals for dealing with these difficulties. Proposals have been made in the past and quite a number of them have been carried out; but they have been patchwork. It seems to me that the proposals in the Beeching Report are of a very radical character. It may be that they will not all be very popular in the legal profession which, if not as conservative as it was a few years ago, is still rather conservative.
I hope that there will be an opportunity during the coming Session for a full debate on this subject which is one of really fundamental importance. Without a study of this Report, the ordinary man who is not much involved in the administration of the law really could not have any idea of how very close we are to a "seize up" in the administration of the law in this country. It is bad enough in London. But when you get out into the Provinces—and particularly on the circuits such as my own old Northern circuit where there are very heavy centres of population—it is really almost impossible to keep the wheels of justice turning at all. This is not just a question of seeing that something will be done in the future; it is something which has to be got on with at once. I was glad to hear that the Government, and in particular the noble and learned Lord himself, are going to get on with it as quickly as possible. As I have said, I hope that there will be an opportunity to have a full discussion on this Report during the Session because it is a very 91 important document and there is a great deal to be said about it.
My Lords, the other matter to which I wish to refer very shortly, and which is in a sense connected tenuously, is the recent reorganisation of the Departments, which I suppose one may refer to although, of course, it does not arise directly from the gracious Speech. It was as long ago, I think, as 1917 that there was a predecessor of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack who was possibly more of an administrator than a lawyer—the noble and learned Lord said that not all lawyers are good administrators. But Lord Haldane was a very great administrator; I think a greater administrator than a lawyer—eminent a lawyer though he was. He built up the Army which fought in France and which, before he went to the War Office, was hardly fit to go to South Africa let alone to fight in France against the German Empire.
In 1917 Lord Haldane, or the Committee over which he presided, produced a most important document on the Civil Service and the general administration of the country. In it proposals were made for the scientific organisation of Government Departments which everybody said were splendid; but over the long years of Conservative Administrations during the 1920s and the 1930s no one made any effort whatever to put them into operation. It was not until the Second World War, and during the years after the war, that it was seen that the military side, at any rate, required a Minister of Defence and that no longer should there be three quite separate Departments which often were pulling against each other. The first real step was then taken in that direction and we got a Ministry of Defence. Nothing much was done for some years until another reorganisation took place; and now it really looks as if the work of Whitehall and the Civil Service is going to be carried out on scientific lines. From many points of view this is the most difficult and complicated of all the reorganisations and it may well be that there will be teething troubles.
My Lords, I do not think that anybody who is really concerned with public administration, and who has studied this sort of thing at all carefully, can 92 have any doubt whatever that this is a very important step forward in public administration. I do not think that reference has been made to it; the matter has been passed over without a realisation on the part of the public as a whole of how important it is. I felt that I should refer to this subject because I think it is one of the most important and valuable things that the present Administration—which has done so very many important and valuable things—has accomplished.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
My Lords, may I plead with your Lordships to grant me a few moments to say a word or two about one aspect of home affairs which has not been pursued in any depth to-day? I regret very much that I did not put my name on the list of speakers; but there were home circumstances which made it desirable that I should get home fairly early and I was afraid that I might be put somewhere at the bottom of the "batting order". And even had I been put high on the list I should have felt it my duty, and a courtesy to the House, to remain until the end of the debate.
Having said that, my Lords, I should like to refer briefly to the speech of my noble friend Lord Jacques. Like him I have a very great interest in local government. I have examined the Maud Report very closely, but I do not propose to follow my noble friend in discussing it this afternoon. I do not want to be tempted to do so, because I do not agree with some of the remarks that he made; and so I say, "Don't lead me up the garden, Maud." Nor do I want to deal with the question of education, which has been dealt with this afternoon by so many of my noble friends. But in regard to comprehensive education I saw something on Monday night which struck me as being rather novel. I was waiting to attend a dinner for the Deputy Lieutenants of Essex and I was gazing into the window of an estate agent's office where there was exhibited an advertisement for a certain house which was for sale. After the agent had made all the usual euphoric claims about the house he had added, "This house is in a comprehensive education area." I thought that was one of the best selling points that he could have included in the catalogue. 93 Nor, my Lords, do I want to follow my noble friend Lady Summerskill who spoke about abortion. All these subjects demand a full-dress debate of their own, and it is one of the disadvantages of a debate on the Queen's Speech that there is no cohesive theme running through our speeches. Certainly that may have some advantages, but it means that we try to do too many things at the same time; which reminds me of the story of a young man who was driving his girl home from a dance. He seemed to be paying more attention to the girl than to his driving, with the result that the vehicle was swaying and swerving all over the road. As the swaying became worse the girl cried out, "Use both hands!" and the young man replied, "I can't, I have to use one for steering.".
One other matter was raised to which I must refer before I deal with the main subject about which I should like to say a word or two to your Lordships. The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, raised the question of the reporting of proceedings in Parliament in general, and of this House in particular. The noble Lord said that the newspapers do not pay as much attention to the affairs of Parliament as he would like. But, of course, there are difficulties—and I speak as an old newspaper hand who has been an assistant editor and a political editor of a daily paper. The radio and television now skim the cream off the news. I remember times when, working at midnight and watching the edition times, one might have a desire to get the result of a certain by-election result in the paper. That would be unrealistic nowadays because the result would have been seen on television, or heard on the wireless within a minute or two of its being announced. So it is that to-day newspapers—I will not say pay less and less attention to news but at any rate it is not now their sole consideration. As the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, said, they have to be "magaziney" in their make-up as well. If a newspaper fails to entertain its readers, as well as to give them a news service, it will suffer in its circulation figures.
I certainly agree with the noble Lord that it would be a good thing if newspapers concentrated more on factual news, including the reporting of Parliament, and paid less attention to speculation. An outstanding example of such 94 speculation occurred only a week or a fortnight ago when we were assured in every newspaper in the land that the travel allowance was going to be raised by £25 or £50. Let us have less speculation and more hard news. I did not follow the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, quite so sympathetically when he said that the Press should be regarded as a public utility. I have always felt that the Press ought to be free and I would leave it unhampered, so far as we possibly can.
As was to be expected, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, took a general swipe at the Queen's Speech. He complained that many things were not in it: there was no Bill for housing. He did not go on to tell us that this year, despite all the economic difficulties, the Government are building more houses than the Government of his Party ever built. The noble Lord did not tell us that still more houses would have been built this year but for the fact that many Tory-controlled councils up and down the country are sabotaging housing plans wholesale. The noble Lord said that there were many things wrong with the National Health Service. But he did say, also, that there were many things right with it, and I think that there are millions of people in the country who are thanking God at this moment that the National Health Service exists in its present form. The noble Lord did not tell us that it was during the lifetime of a Conservative Government that the squeeze began to operate on the number of medical students being taken into our medical schools. He appeared to want several extra Bills, though he indicated that the list of Bills was already overcrowded. He complained that there was no Bill about animal welfare. I took a note of his words. He said:The Government has not got a good reputation with regard to the welfare of animals.My Lords, that is rather rich, coming from a Party that has been traditionally associated with deer-stalking, fox hunting, pheasant shooting and grouse shooting.
In his opening words, the noble Lord touched upon crime, and he said another word or two about it at the end of his speech; and it is on this question of crime and the police that I want to say a few words. There is far too much 95 crime, and in my view there are far too few police. This is not a Party issue, because crime has been rising under all Governments, and tile rise was proportionally as great while the noble Lord's friends were in office as it has been since my friends have been in office, so I want to forget all about Party politics. This increase seems to be in all kinds of crime. There is large-scale crime and small-scale crime. There is some which is highly organised by gangs who have sophisticated intelligence systems. On the other hand, there is some crime involving miserable little break-ins and coshings of postmasters and small shopkeepers. But it is becoming clear to many people that nowadays crime really does pay.
I will not worry your Lordships with too many statistics, but the numbers of indictable crimes have shown increases between 1950 and 1960 and again to 1968, as they are recorded in the official publications. The number of larcenies in 1950 was 301,000; in 1960, it was 489,000. and in 1968, 826,000; breaking and entering went up from 92,000 to 151,000 to 287,000; receiving from 7,500 to 11,500 to 26,500; fraud and false pretences from 25,000 to 36,000 to 59,000. Sexual offences, for some reason, did not go up quite so rapidly—I do not know whether that it is because of the anti-permissive nature of the tights that are a modern fashion or not: they went up from 13,000 to 20,000 to 23,000. But offences of violence against the person rose from 6,000 to 15,000 to 31,000. If we take all indictable offences which became known to the police, they have gone up since 1950 from 461,000 to 743,000 and again to 1,289,000.
This seems to demolish a theory which many of us had in our younger days, that crime was brought about as a result of poverty; because here we are today living under conditions of affluence, yet the rate of crime is constantly increasing. I can only put it down to nothing more or less than a manifestation in some people of sheer wickedness—what, if we were buying a horse, we should call vice in the animal.
One unfortunate feature of the statisical returns is that last year only 41.9 per cent. of these indictable offences were cleared up, whereas in 1950 the proportion was 46.6 per cent. Of the indictable 96 offenders there were a quarter of a million persons with just over 500,000 offences to their credit, or debit as the case may be. But what is disconcerting is that 10 per cent. of the offenders charged were under 14 years of age, 15 per cent. between 15 and 17, and 22 per cent. between 17 and 21. Twenty-six per cent. were aged between 21 and 30, and 27 per cent. were 30 years of age and over. This means that a quarter of them were under 17, nearly half of them were under 21 and nearly three-quarters were under 30.
I will not try to analyse the offenders by sex because the number of females who fell into this category was relatively small.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
Let us have the figures.
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
My Lords, I have not brought them. I was satisfied with the fact that the standard of virtue among women was very much higher than among men, and I did not think it necessary to emphasise it. The number is very small.
I do not want to go into the question of the publishment of crime. We have had many changes recently, and I should like to see how these experiments work. I must say that I am favourably impressed by the suspended sentence, though I do not want it to go too far. I do net want crooks to "cock a snook" at us, to laugh at us and think we are too soft; because I think that serious crime needs to be punished. I believe that detention centres are doing a very good job among young offenders. There were 1,000 between the ages of 14 and 17, and 3,000 between 17 and 21, who were sent to detention centres last year, and I feel that more centres are needed. Sitting on the bench one often sees cases of young thugs who need three or six months of strict discipline, and the clerk has to telephone round only to find that in one detention centre after another there is no room.
The number of cases referred to probation seem to be fairly stable, though there was a drop last year in the number of offenders over 21 who were put on probation. I should like to see probation used a bit more in these cases. Sometimes these offenders are a little below normal in intelligence, and they can get 97 useful help and guidance. But if that is to be done more probation officers will be needed; and here I shall come into conflict with the Seebohm Report, because I feel that the Probation Service should be left alone to pursue its own task without being merged with other welfare services.
But types of punishment are not the only form of deterrent. I think that the main deterrent against crime is fear of being caught. Last year we cleared up only just over 41 per cent. of cases, as against 46½ per cent. twenty years ago. This brings me to the need for more police officers. There have been many improvements in recent years in the organisation and administration of the police force. We have regional crime squads which I think are doing a very fine job of work, and it was a very imaginative idea to set them up. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, was the author. If he is I thank him for it. What an opportunity to say something nice to the noble Lord!
The panda cars doing local patrols are also proving a great success. Many more streets are seeing a policeman in a panda car to-day than used to be the case a few years ago, when many streets did not see a policeman from one weekend to the other. More radio sets are in operation, and there are relatively few officers now on the beat without a radio set keeping them in constant communication with headquarters. There are more courses and colleges, and the examination results show that more policemen are taking their profession seriously. But I wonder whether some police time is not being wasted. Go into any police station and you will probably see a hefty young policeman sitting in front of a typewriter, tapping away at a relatively slow speed, because it happens to be the job to which he is assigned. I was in a London suburb the other day and saw two able-bodied policemen walking up and down the pavement carefully noting the times at which certain cars had been parked along a broken yellow line. I think that a warden could have done the job as well.
There is another great difficulty. One finds 10 or 20 police officers waiting in a magistrates' court every court day to 98 give evidence. I know that something has been done to reduce this call on police officers' non-crime activities by the system of written pleas in motoring cases. I do not know what else can be done, but if the authorities can discover some way of having these policemen out watching for crime instead of gazing on the handsome faces of the people on the bench, it would be a good idea.
I find that an enormous amount of time is spent by police inspectors acting as advocates in the magistrates' courts. Let me say straight away that they are very fine advocates, and very fair advocates, and on many occasions at a certain stage of the proceedings a police inspector has said that he was prepared to withdraw the case. I do not think the remedy is to appoint lots of young barristers and solictiors as prosecutors in magistrates' courts. There are not enough barristers and solicitors to go round. The barristers are already very busy taking multiple cases in any one court, and the solicitors are busy making lots of money on conveyancing. I have wondered whether it was not possible, when a police inspector comes to the end of his normal period of service, to say to him, "Look here; sign on for another five years for work conducting cases in the magistrates' courts." In that way, I think very useful employment could be found for a further five years for these inspectors, and it would enable the operating inspectors to keep busy in their police work.
When all is said and done, more men are needed in the police forces. As your Lordships will remember, there were some economy cuts imposed on police forces 18 months ago. All the forces were told to restrict their recruiting severely. I know of one force that was already 300 below establishment. It had proposed in that year to add to its actual strength by 100 recruits, but it was told by the Home Office that it could enlist only another 19. In many police forces there is a great deal of overtime being worked, and this has to be paid for. But now in some police forces, instead of paying the men for the overtime they are giving them a day off every few weeks to compensate them. But this again means that there are fewer policemen on the beat. 99 The establishments are not extravagant figures. They have been fixed by responsible authorities, who are anxious not to put up the local rates any more than they have to, and they have been approved in consultation with the Home Office. For the provincial forces of England and Wales (I exclude the Metropolitan force, with its huge deficiencies, for the moment) there should be 77,000 policemen, but actually at the end of last year there were only 66,000. So there we have a deficiency of 11,000, which means that there are six men where every seven men are needed.
It has been said, I know, that traffic duties engage the time of many policemen and that they should be taken off those duties. But I think this would be wrong. More damage is done to the community by reckless car drivers than by a good many of our criminals. In my own county the number of deaths on the roads last year was roughly the same as the number of murders throughout the country. So do not cut down the policeman's work on traffic.
I think that the establishments themselves need to be increased, and recruitment needs to be speeded up to fill even our existing inadequate establishments. Year by year we are getting more criminals and more traffic on the roads; there are more drug cases to be investigated, some of which take many policemen a great deal of time; and there are more demonstrations, which make an additional call on the time of the policeman. Her Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary in their last Report said this:The continuing rise in crime is a warning that we cannot without risk relax our efforts to build a larger and more efficient police service.It is quite possible that the economies that were put into operation 18 months ago were necessary. We knew that financial considerations at that moment came first. But to-day we are living in a day of budget surpluses, and I think we can probably increase police pay as an inducement to recruiting. I certainly feel that public safety now, in view of the present financial situation, can occupy a higher place in our order of priorities. I thank your Lordships for having been so patient.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, no one will disagree with one thing that the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, said at the beginning of his speech, and that is that these debates on the Queen's Speech are very diffuse. This evening, even though we have been restricted to the area of home affairs, the debate has covered a wide field of subjects. including law reform, health, hospitals and housing, local government reform, education, Northern Ireland and Scotland, among others. I do not think my noble friend Lord Selkirk need feel that the voice of Scotland will not be heard in this House sufficiently loudly. It usually is, and certainly to-day three of your Lordships have spoken of the problems of Scotland. If there is one area that is more likely to be overlooked, it is the still, small voice of Wales.
But I wish to devote most of my time this evening to following the noble Lords, Lord Silkin and Lord Garnsworthy, and speaking about the Education Bill which is foreshadowed in the gracious Speech. I do not think either of those noble Lords will be surprised to hear that I do not altogether agree with what they said on the subject. We are in fact utterly opposed to the Education Bill, which we consider to be both valueless and purely vindictive. We think it is a gross breach of the concept of partnership in education between local and central government as laid down in the 1944 Act, and it contributes nothing to the solution of the real problems of education in the 'seventies.
The noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, spoke of the Government's circular on comprehensive education. The facts are that of 163 local education authorities 128 have reorganisation schemes implemented or approved for all or part of their areas. Of the remainder, only 8 have refused to submit a scheme, as they are perfectly entitled to do. I should have thought that the Government would be very pleased with this excellent response to their circular. But not a bit: they are determined to compel 100 per cent. of local education authorities to submit reorganisation schemes. So this Bill follows to bludgeon the 8 recalcitrant L.E.C.s into submission.
The 1944 Act has, I would say, stood the test of time very well, and that 101 Act clearly defined the roles of local and national government with regard to schools. I cannot do better than quote some words of my right honourable friend Sir Edward Boyle. And may I, in passing, pay a sincere tribute to him, as he is now no longer my boss on education. In the short time that I have been speaking in this House on that subject I have come to appreciate Sir Edward's deep knowledge of it and the wisdom of his advice; and he has also shown me the greatest courtesy and kindness. He said:I believe that the balance of power on rights and responsibilities as laid down under the Butler Act was right. Under the 1944 Act the local authority has the responsibility for meeting the needs of children and for putting forward proposals to the Minister. The Minister, quite rightly, has a reserve power to turn down a proposal that he thinks would be educationally damaging, and he can also invite a local authority for discussions, and indeed he may seek to persuade them to consider a different course.But this delicate balance is upset by the proposed Bill, which would give the Minister the power to insist on a local education authority's drawing up reorganisation plans against its will.
§ LORD GARNSWORTHY
My Lords, will the noble Lord forgive me for interrupting? May I ask him to indicate whether he thinks the education of children is the more important issue in this connection? He is developing the theme that the Government intend to interfere with powers of local education authorities. Surely the supreme issue here is that children shall have full educational opportunities. Do not the Government have an obligation to ensure that such opportunities are given?
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, I think the noble Lord has had a chance to make one speech. Of course I believe in the education of children—I should not be doing this job if I did not—but I believe that the local education authority has a very big role to play in it and very often knows the best form in which it can be applied to a local situation.
The Government pay lip-service to the importance of local government, but when it comes down to it they do not seem to pay the same respect. My noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor quoted the Prime Minister's statement on Redcliffe-Maud. I could remind your Lordships of the statement also made on the Wheatley 102 Report which was repeated in this House by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. He said:We agree with the Commission that it is vital that Scottish local government should enjoy greater status and responsibility than it does now, and that it should be so reformed as to enable central Government to give local authorities more freedom and power.—[OFFICIAL REPORT; 14/10/69, col. 1334.]Two days later, on the Redistribution of Seats Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, spoke ofthe basic fabric of democracy in this countrywhich, he said,in my view, is the activities not of the national Parties but of the local political Parties."—[OFFICIAL REPORT; 16/10/69, col. 1558.]Again, in this kind of matter we cannot have local independence, local democracy, unless responsibility is given to local authorities.
Some of us were rather shocked in that same debate on the Redistribution of Seats Bill by some of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Helsby, which received high commendation from the Government spokesman. He said:The plain fact is that the timetable of administrative processes of this kind is very largely governed by what one wants to happen."—[col. 1576.]When he was pressed by my noble friend Lord Swinton, who was anxious to see that there was real consultation on this matter, he repeated:I think that what matters here is what the Government of the day wish to happen." [col. 1577.]That is what we feel is behind the Government's attitude on this matter. It is a disregard of the powers of local government and of the influence it should have.
These plans, moreover, when submitted will not advance the cause of comprehensive education one iota, except on paper, for everybody knows that the funds are just not available to build many more comprehensive schools. if funds were available, the town of Aberdare is desperately anxious to reorganise its schools on a comprehensive basis. At Mountain Ash, next door, we already have a comprehensive school, based mainly on my old family home, and a modern school built in its ground. But at neighbouring Aberdare they are unable to reorganise owing to lack of finance. 103 There must be many such examples all over the country. Until finance is available to help those local education authorities who want to reorganise to do so, I can see no point in compelling those who do not want to reorganise to submit plans. In any case, we are told that the Government are preparing a major education Bill for 1972. Let us hope that they are not here to put it into law. But if they are so confident, why bother with this Bill for the sake of bludgeoning into line eight local education authorities?
And what are the sanctions to be? What happens if a local education authority still refuses to prepare these plans? Will the local councillors be fined or put in gaol, or will the Department draw up its own plans for reorganisation against the wishes of the local education authority? In either case, it is a most unhappy thought and can lead only to great bitterness.
It cannot be said that the Conservative Party is in all circumstances opposed to comprehensive education. Its merit, as has been pointed out, lies in the avoidance, or at least the postponement, of selection at eleven. Many Conservative-controlled local education authorities have worked out their own schemes for secondary school reorganisation including comprehensive schools. Indeed, when we left office in 1964 there were 250 comprehensive schools, as compared with only 43 in 1957. And the only local education authority, apart from Anglesey, to be fully comprehensive is Leicestershire, a Conservative authority which first introduced its reorganisation plan is 1957. But our view is that the case for universal comprehensive education is not proved, and we are determined not to sacrifice some of the best schools in the country for the sake of a principle which is of doubtful validity and certainly not universally approved. What we believe in is good schools. They may be comprehensive schools, or they may be grammar schools, direct grant schools or independent schools; but whatever is good educationally we shall seek to preserve. We are utterly opposed to imposing upon reluctant local education authorities a uniform system of organisation at the expense of the best that we know.
104 My Lords, I listened with great attention to what the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, said in her charming speech yesterday. I think I in part echoed what she said in the phrase "good schools of all sorts"; although I notice that, perhaps not deliberately, she made no reference to independent schools. But she went on to say thatthe education of the greatest number of our children to their full capacity can be completely achieved only by the non-selective method."—[OFFICIAL REPORT; 28/10/69, col. 9.]I cannot agree with that; it is far too sweeping a statement. Comprehensive education has its merits in the right circumstances, but uniformly applied it also has its difficulties. For example, if applied to the big cities it results in neighbourhood schools, as American experience has shown, and I do not believe that it is the universal answer.
I have also been appalled, and I know that other noble Lords have been worried, at the suggestion which recently appeared in the Press that the Public Schools Commission may recommend that all direct-grant schools should stop accepting fee-paying pupils and should accept pupils of all ranges of ability. These direct-grant schools include some of the best schools in the country and are without doubt among the most democratic. I find it quite extraordinary that a Socialist Government should seek to abolish schools that have given boys and girls of all sorts, regardless of means or background, an equal chance to profit from the best education available. We had an interesting debate last Session on the subject of gifted children, initiated by my noble friend Lord Carrington. Most of those who spoke in that debate felt that there was a need to make sure that the bright child was fully stretched and given every opportunity to progress, and it is this opportunity which so many of the direct grant schools provide. Yet for the sake of a principle of universal comprehensive education, they are threatened. Some of them no doubt would rather choose to become independent schools, if their means allowed them. Others would be forced to fit in as one of the local pieces of a comprehensive jigsaw. If Professor Donnison and his Committee make any such recommendation, I hope the Government will treat it in the same 105 way as their previous recommendations on the public schools—ignore it.
The real problems of education are human problems and I believe, just as the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, said in regard to hospitals and nurses, that the human factor is what matters most of all—not paper plans for the reorganisation of schools. What matters to our children is the quality of the teaching they receive, more than the school in which they receive it, and in my view the Government should give first priority to teachers, to their proper remuneration and their training. We have had a number of massive Reports on various aspects of education, except for teacher training, and I believe it is high time that this subject was treated with more importance. What has happened to the National Advisory Council on the supply of teachers? This was disbanded by the present Government and has never been reactivated. We have been pressing the Secretary of State for some time to set up a new National Advisory Council, which we believe could be of great benefit.
There are formidable problems also to be solved in the vast expansion of education which will inevitably occur in the next ten to twenty years. There have been some recent articles in The Times by Mr. Brian MacArthur, forecasting that the present school population of over 8 million will grow to over 10 million in 1980 and to 11½ million in 1990. At the same time, the proportion of those staying on at school into the sixth form will increase, and sixth form education costs twice as much as education up to the age of 16. Sixth formers in turn will go on to higher education, and it is forecast that the student population will rise from the present 400,000 to over 800,000 by 1981, if the same proportion of 18 year olds with the necessary qualifications go to university, polytechnic or college of education. And higher education costs three times as much as education up to the age of 16.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor seemed to give the Government's answer to the problem of the expansion of university student numbers by giving a rosy write-up to the open university; and he particularly pointed out that no one need now be excluded from a university qualification. Some of us are not quite so confident about the 106 open university. It certainly gives the opportunity of a degree to those of an older age who may have missed the chance of attending university earlier, but I am rather more sceptical than the Government in seeing it as a substitute for a normal university course, and I cannot believe that most young men of university age will so consider it. We are bound to wonder whether the money spent now, and committed for the future, is really money well spent. We shall see.
Second only to the human element in education I would put the curriculum. What is taught will affect the future of our children far more deeply than where they are taught. There are grave problems here, too. One of them, over-specialisation in the sixth form, mainly caused by university entrance requirements, is now actively under consideration by the Schools Council and the Committee of University Vice-Chancellors, and I only mention it as one of the problems of education requiring urgent attention, rather than the bullying of eight recalcitrant local education authorities.
I do not wish to argue fully to-night the merits of comprehensive education as opposed to a selective system. As I have pointed out, we are not against comprehensive schools in certain circumstances. We believe that the wise course is to advance slowly and to allow the best of both systems to develop side by side. We believe that local education authorities should be allowed to make their own decisions on the best system of education for their own areas, and we are totally opposed to any effort by central Government to force the pace.
My Lords, may I make a brief reference to the problems of Wales, as mentioned in the gracious Speech, where it reads:Proposals will be put forward for the reorganisation of local government in England, Scotland and Wales.We fully understand the reason for proposals in the case of England and Scotland in the light of the Redcliffe-Maud and the Wheatley Reports, but are there to be new proposals for Wales? We have already had (we thought) the Government proposals in the White Paper of July, 1967. Now, two years later, we are evidently to receive more proposals. At the time of the Redistribution of Seats Bill we heard much of the need for swift action on local government reform. Yet 107 in Wales we have not yet so far seen any action at all. The Goverment face major problems, both in education and in local government reform, and there are many other matters of immense importance which were mentioned by my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor that are not included in the gracious Speech. It is a pity that the Government should waste valuable parliamentary time on what we consider to be an unworthy education Bill.
§ 6.29 p.m.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE (LORD WILSON OF LANGSIDE)
My Lords, we have had, if I may say so with the humility due from one who has only recently become a Member of your Lordships' House, a thoughtful, a constructive and, accordingly, a useful debate. I cannot tell whether or not your Lordships find diverting the circumstance that the Minister who is to wind up this debate from the Government side should have as his essential departmental responsibility the administration in Scotland of criminal justice, but it is a matter of history that his duties did not always embrace quite so narrow a compass. With that in mind I thought at the outset—if your Lordships will forgive me for what at first sight might appear to be an irrelevant digression—to make a reference to the ancient office which, by chance, I somewhat inadequately fill, because that office has still a peculiar and special significance for the people of Scotland.
I had thought to say that there was a time when your Lordships might have expected great things from its holder in the context of a debate upon Home Affairs, for a century or two ago his responsibilities spread right across the political spectrum. I had thought to say that, and then I recalled the words of the poet Robert Burns, inspired by listening to one of my distinguished predecessors in the old Parliament House in Edinburgh in the course of the 18th century. What he wrote was this:He clenchèd his pamphlets in his fist,He quoted and he hinted,Till in a declamation-mistHis argument, he tint it;He gapèd for't, he grapèd for't,He fand it was awa' man;But what his common sense came short,He eked out wi' law, man.108 For those of your Lordships who may not be familiar with the form of English, a free translation might be to this effect: that the Lord Advocate of the day, overcome by his own eloquence, lost the thread of his argument, and after striving vainly to recapture it he lost it completely. But he contrived, for he was a great lawyer, to baffle their Lordships with law; and so far as history tells he succeeded. My Lords, there may have been many reasons to explain the diminished power within Government of the Lord Advocate. Whatever they may have been, my very limited experience in your Lordships' House convinces me that the prospects of baffling your Lordships with the law are altogether negligible.
Turning more closely to the matters which your Lordships have so recently debated, I should have liked to be able to say with confidence that I should answer all the questions and issues which have been raised in the course of the debate. But that, of course, I fear I shall not do, and it is some comfort to have the assurance that this situation is not altogether unprecedented. But I will do my best, and I shall certainly try, so far as possible, to follow up those points on which I cannot now touch.
Surely the principal feature of the gracious Speech is the quite remarkable scope and range of its proposals. All of them—and this, I think, has not been disputed this afternoon—are relevant to the needs of the country, from the feudal aspects of Scotland's system of land tenure to the safety and welfare of those engaged in off-shore drilling operations. May I touch briefly, for they have not already been touched upon in the debate to-day, on the Bills proposed for merchant shipping and the safety of fishermen? The need for revision of the Merchant Shipping Acts has been, as your Lordships well know, for long recognised. A Bill was introduced at the end of the last Session which implemented the recommendations of the Pearson Report. This Bill was not given a Second Reading, and what is now proposed is the reintroduction of this Bill, amended to take into account discussions which there have been with both sides of the industry. I shall say no more of that or of the measure relating to the safety of fishermen, as these will be matters for my 109 noble friend Lord Brown at a later stage of the debate.
So far as the proposals relating to the recommendations of the Seebohm Committee, which have been touched upon by your Lordships, are concerned, your Lordships, I think, will appreciate and accept the reasons why I could not elaborate upon what has already been said about these matters by my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack.
A good deal has been said relating to the field of local government, and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said, of course, that with Maud and Wheatley we have an opportunity, an opportunity which the Government are determined to grasp, to take decisive steps towards reorganisation in this field. With regard to Maud, I doubt if I could add to your Lordships' stock of knowledge upon those proposals, but perhaps I can say a further word upon the subject of Wheatley. On the Wheatley Report, we are ourselves considering the Royal Commission's recommendations and we are getting ahead with consulting the various interests concerned.
The Report, of course, touches very many aspects of Scotland's affairs, and it is not going to be easy to reach quick decisions on all its recommendations. But it is important, and the Government accept this, that on the main issues and on the broad pattern of local government, the broad pattern that is needed to replace the present system, there should not be long delay in coming to conclusions. This is essential for the sake of local government itself, for its members and officers, and for all the various projects and policies which must inevitably suffer a loss of impetus so long as uncertainty about the structure prevails. That is why my right honourable friend the Secretary of State hopes to complete his first round of consultations early next year, with a view to announcing in the spring decisions on basic questions of structure and division of functions. It will then be possible to get ahead with further consultations on the many other detailed matters which are raised by the Report. These matters will no doubt be debated in due course, and as consultations are in progress your Lordships will appreciate why I can say nothing further at this stage.
110 May I pass from that to the other matters dealt with in the gracious Speech, and in particular to the passage dealing with the limitation of rent increases. Excessive rent increases have been prevented by the use of the Government's powers under Part III of the Prices and Incomes Act. Those powers, of course, expire at the end of this year. Rents are of special importance in the household budgets of a large section of the community, and it will continue to be the Government's policy that sharp changes in rent levels should be avoided, that increases should be made only where they are unavoidable, and that when they are made the amount of the increase should be moderate. The Government will therefore ask Parliament to give them modified powers to control rent increases for a further period from January 1, 1970.
I must apologise for spending so much time—at least without warning your Lordships so that those who wished to do so could have left—upon the affairs of Scotland, but they have loomed large in the course of the debate this after-noon. The affairs of Scotland have never, of course, least of all at the present time, been a matter of complete indifference 1 to the Government of the United Kingdom, and accordingly I must pass now to deal with the matters raised by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, relating to Scottish highways. The noble Earl asked me to give him some detail about this. I should say that he explained that he would not be able to be in his place.
Like so much of the rest of this Government's legislation the roads legislation is essentially a modernising measure. It will simplify the preparatory procedures for making new roads, tidy up the law relating to land acquisition for roads and help to promote road safety. The effects of the main provisions of the Bill will be, first of all, to streamline the procedure for making orders relating to the construction and improvement of trunk roads and special roads; secondly, to empower Scottish highway authorities to carry out certain works, such as drainage of roads, maintenance of trees and grass verges, alteration of side roads, where existing powers are non-existent or inadequate; thirdly, to simplify and improve the law relating to the stopping up of roads and of accesses to roads; fourthly, to regulate various situations or activities which may damage the 111 road, or endanger or obstruct the use of the road; and fifthly, to codify the law relating to acquisition of land for purposes connected with roads.
Two further matters relating to Scotland were touched upon by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, and I think by one other of your Lordships (I am sorry that I cannot remember who) relating to the proposals to reform the system of land tenure in Scotland. It was significant and encouraging that I detected no note of opposition from any of your Lordships who spoke to these proposals, and accordingly I shall not enter into the technical detail of what is intended in this Bill, which is, of course, merely the first stage in a fundamental reform of the whole of Scotland's system of land tenure.
The noble Earl objected to the tenor of the White Paper, as also I think did the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, and he suggested that it reflected a strength of class feeling. I gathered that it was the use of the terms, which have no special class significance to Scottish lawyers, "vassals" and "superiors" which had upset him. I think that he is perhaps too sensitive. In any event, if the drafting gave offence in this way I am indeed sorry, and in so far as I have any responsibility for it I am perfectly prepared to say that I am sorry to the noble Earl. But it does not seem to matter a great deal, because we seem to be agreed that this must be done.
So far as the proposals for the sheriff court are concerned, the sheriff court occupies a position of great importance in the administration of justice in Scotland. It has no counterpart in England. It has an extraordinarily wide jurisdiction, both in civil and in criminal matters, and it is of great importance that the machinery under which it operates should be brought up to date and that delays which have been acceptable in the past are brought to an end. Of course, one does not stop the law's delays just by passing Acts of Parliament. Some of the worst of the law's delays that I have ever known—and I have known a few in my time—have been not the fault of the law, or of the machine, but the fault of the people administering the law, and often people who should have known better; and we cannot legislate for that. 112 But it is hoped by this proposal to implement some of the recommendations of the Grant Committee on the Sheriff Courts, to reduce delays and to improve the efficiency with which justice is administered. Finally, the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, asked me what was going to be done about the Henry Report. Speaking from recollection, my impression is that we shall have to wait until we are dealing with the fundamental reform of the feudal system.
My Lords, may I leave Scotland and, no doubt to the relief of many of your Lordships, turn now to what was said in particular by the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, who I think derived some support for what she said from the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian. The latter asked, in particular, what was proposed so far as the future of the Health Service was concerned. May I state the position first of all with regard to Scotland, where, following the publication of the Green Paper last December, a large number of comments were submitted by interested organisations and individuals? As my right honourable friend told the Scottish Grand Committee in July, the overwhelming weight of opinion accepted that reorganisation of the structure of the National Health Service was desirable and that this should take the form of introducing, in place of the existing tripartite system, a unitary structure under which one authority in each area would be responsible for providing all health services. Most of those who take this view consider that the new authority should be an Area Health Board appointed ad hoc for the purpose; but the Association of County Councils in Scotland has expressed a view—I regret that, like my distinguished predecessor, I seem to have lost the place!
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
Do not worry. I will take it as said.
§ LORD WILSON OF LANGSIDE
My Lords, my noble friend assures me that she will take it as said. The position so far as England and Wales are concerned is somewhat different, since the original proposals published by the then Minister of Health attracted considerable criticism and the Secretary of State for Social Services announced in February that he would publish revised proposals. And with the transfer of responsibility for 113 health matters in Wales to the Secretary of State for Wales earlier this year, further proposals are also being prepared for the Principality.
I cannot—and I think your Lordships will appreciate this—go into all the details about the conditions of service of those engaged in the nursing service which were elaborated upon by my noble friend Lady Summerskill. What she said she may be assured will be borne in mind by those responsible. There is one point upon which I would take issue with her, and it is this: according to my information there is no discrimination against women on grounds of sex in admissions to medical schools in England, Wales, or Scotland.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, could I ask my noble friend whether he has made inquiries at St. Thomas's, Bart's, Westminster, and Charing Cross, where I was educated? Has he asked for the percentages?
§ LORD WILSON OF LANGSIDE
I have not, my Lords.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, if my noble friend inquires tomorrow he will find he has been misinformed. I shall not ask for an apology to-night, but I shall see him to-morrow.
LORD WILSON or LANGSIDE
My Lords, obviously, as my noble friend knows, I have not been to the hospitals, but my information, I was assured, was carefully checked. However, if the noble Baroness chooses to challenge it then of course I shall check it again and I shall get in touch with her about it, but this was certainly the information I had.
I was about to pass to the diverting suggestion that the noble Baroness made when dealing with the question of abortion. She suggested that a man who had been guilty of negligent impregnation of a woman should be made guilty of a criminal offence.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
I did not say "criminal".
§ LORD WILSON OF LANGSIDE
My Lords, that he should be guilty of an act which rendered him liable to a fine. I do not know what the law of England would make of this, but I find it horrifying to reflect on the difficulties which 114 would arise having regard to the need, particularly in Scottish criminal law, for corroboration. The difficulties which would arise in relation to proof of this matter—
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether he knows anything about Danish law? If he would like to do a little private study to-night he will find that the girls are asked there in private.
§ LORD WILSON OF LANGSIDE
The subject of Danish law is another question.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
Well, perhaps my noble friend will study it.
§ LORD WILSON OF LANGSIDE
I am very willing to study Danish law. I think we can learn a great deal from the Scandinavians, as the Scandinavians can learn a great deal from us; but, for my part, I say quite frankly to the noble Baroness that I could not regard that as a serious suggestion or as one to which effect should be given. In any event, in this context why should we not have also equality of the sexes, and the woman concerned be similarly subject to a fine if guilty of this particular mistake?
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, would my noble friend not agree that the woman concerned has already been subject to a great punishment? Has the man been subject to the same punishment? I have not heard of a pregnant man yet.
§ LORD WILSON OF LANGSIDE
There is always a first time. I should have known better than to take issue with the noble Baroness on this subject. As I shall shortly tell your Lordships, I have had a great deal of experience of dealing with this kind of situation, and I have just as much human sympathy with these unfortunate women as the noble Baroness.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
I doubt it.
§ LORD WILSON OF LANGSIDE
My noble friend must not seem to suggest, as I thought she did from what she is saying in the background, that I do not share this human concern because I perhaps treated her proposal a little lightheartedly.
115 Before I sit down, may I deal with the point the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, raised with regard to the position of local government in Wales? As the House knows, there has been no corresponding Royal Commission for Wales, but the Government published proposals in the White Paper of July, 1967. These have been the subject of extensive consultation, and it was decided in 1968 that while we all recognised the undesirability of seeking to impose a single type of solution on the various and differing parts of Great Britain, Welsh local authorities and others concerned should have the opportunity to think again about the White Paper proposal in the light of the recommendations made by Maud. In the light of further consideration my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales proposes to make a further and urgent review of the situation, particularly in the geographical context of Glamorgan and Monmouth, to see whether a satisfactory pattern can be worked out which will avoid the continued division between county boroughs and administrative counties; and of course he will report his conclusions to the House.
I do not wish to enter into argument on the Government's proposals for education in any detail with the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, but I listened with great interest to what he said. It is perhaps unfortunate, in this kind of context, to use language like "bludgeoning people into submission". I think it tends to distort the problem and get people into the wrong frame of mind. Surely it has always been recognised that the introduction of comprehensive education across the country would be a gradual process. The rate at which implementation of the comprehensive plans can take place is determined by a number of inescapable financial, physical and legal factors.
Before I finally sit down, may I say just one last word in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor. The noble Lord complained, first of all, about certain gaps in the gracious Speech. I forget what they all were, but they were very numerous indeed. I began to feel that what he wanted was an encyclopaedia of all the human ills which call for the attention of government in these Islands. As he went on to talk about 116 his concern for those matters relating to what I might call the state of the nation, bordering on the quality of life, and, by implication, about our lack of concern for them, I was left with a feeling—and I hope that this is not too unkind a thing to say—that almost every misfortune which might befall us in the immediate future, whether we were roasted to death in a burning hotel or club or whatever it was, was largely due to the circumstance that the noble Lord was no longer the Home Secretary.
The noble Lord spoke about crime and expressed a great concern about it. But we all share a concern about the incidence of crime. For my part, I spent ten years, before joining the Government. sitting as a professional judge in the largest criminal court in Scotland, and no one with that experience lacks a concern about crime. So the noble Lord can rest happily in bed to-night in the knowledge that the Government are indeed concerned about crime. But, while we must constantly search for the answers, my own impression, from many years' experience of crime and criminals, is that political speeches are not really very helpful.
Finally, my Lords, if I may touch upon what the noble Lord good-humouredly suggested was his falling into what the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, had called the "Decline and Fall" school, and what I would call the "Fings ain't wot they used to be" school, he seemed to suggest that perhaps the country was not quite what it had been. There is a good deal of this sort of talk going about, and the vague suggestion is that it is all the fault of the Labour Government. Of course our society has always had its problems. It will always have its sillinesses, and politicians will no doubt make their contribution to that. But to anyone who sets store by intellectual freedom it would be very difficult to find a better country to live in than ours, and the matters raised in the gracious Speech to-day are relevant to the improvement of life in these islands.
§ LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I, despite his recent remarks about me, venture to congratulate him on what I believe is his first speech winding up a major debate in your Lordships' House, in which he has acquitted himself with 117 much greater honesty and clarity than did Robert Burns's Lord Advocate?
§ LORD DENHAM
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Carrington, I beg to move that the debate be adjourned until to-morrow.
§ Moved, That the debate be adjourned until to-morrow.—(Lord Denham.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.