§ 3.7 p.m.
Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Tuesday last by the Earl of Mansfield—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.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, as one looks at the scope of the gracious Speech on topics relating to Home Affairs, it is indeed noteworthy, and I promise the House by no means coincidental, that there is so much emphasis on the individual. It was a point my noble friend Lord Hewlett spotted and mentioned in his excellent speech on Tuesday. And our programme was commended by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, as being, on the whole, quite attractive. I think that this concern with people lies at the centre of that attractiveness. Indeed, it was this aspect that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister referred to in another place on Tuesday as being the key sentence in the gracious Speech. Noble Lords will, I am quite sure, have forgotten, but this in fact was the tenor of the peroration of the speech I made on this occasion last year. But I ask no forgiveness if I harmonise again this year on a new series of variations on this same basic political theme. because it is, after all, the Home Office's very own tune.
However, I start with Northern Ireland, where I hope one can say without undue optimism that some progress is at last being made in restoring a framework of normality. We are pressing forward with implementing the Constitution Act passed last Session, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is currently engaged in talks with certain political Parties in Northern Ireland for this purpose. In spite of some appalling incidents, the level of violence, particularly in Belfast, has declined. In each of the last three months there were fewer than half the number of shooting incidents by comparison with those of the same months last year; and, thank goodness! deaths arc right down, too. Of course, this decline is in no small way the result of the bravery and determination of the Security Forces; and it is good to know that in the last three months alone they have arrested more than 300 persons for offences of a terrorist nature.
The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, asked yesterday what happened to those of the Security Forces who were severely handicapped in the process. As the House would expect, everything possible is done for Servicemen who have suffered in this way. As soon as possible they are moved 149 to an Army hospital in Great Britain with special physiotherapy facilities, and these play a major part in rehabilitation during the early stages of treatment. On completion of that, the Servicemen are transferred to a medical unit specialising in rehabilitation, and specialist medical treatment continues to be provided even after they have left the Services. Up to the time of the Serviceman's discharge he is given full advice on resettlement and training. In particular, he is seen by a medical resettlement board whose members include a disablement resettlement officer from the Department of Employment who arranges rehabilitation and vocational training where these are recommended; and an officer of the Regular Forces Employment Office Association is there to assist in finding suitable employment in an area of the individual's choice. So I do not think we are backward in providing for those who are doing this magnificent service.
Having made a little progress, the Government also want to ensure another plank in the rebuilding of a stable society in Northern Ireland, one indeed which is so important that we want to do it now by Westminster legislation—and here the individual is vitally concerned. A discussion paper on the future of Northern Ireland was published in October last year, and in it we indicated that there must be absolute fairness and equal opportunities for all. A broadly based Working Party reported last June to give us the guidelines whereby, through voluntary and compulsory means, we should seek to overcome religious discrimination in employment in that Province; and as discrimination on religious grounds is often closely tied up with political discrimination, we want to get rid of both of them. There will be exceptions only where religious affiliation is a bona fide professional or occupational qualification for a job. Although the Working Party referred only to the private sector, the public sector will he bound too in so far as in the public sector discrimination of this kind is not already illegal in Northern Ireland. In other words, having gone some way down the path to restoring law and order there, we can now get on with the more edifying and constructive aspects of legislation in Northern Ireland.
150 However, I would now come home again across the Irish Sea where the same theme can be echoed, and I look at some of the promised legislation. We have not yet seen the Protection of the Environment Bill, but this will provide for the control of environmental pollution, extending and developing existing statutory controls over waste disposal, water pollution, noise and air pollution, and in its various forms this is a subject liable to touch upon each one of us as we live rather close together in rather a small island. So far as I am concerned, noise is something that I hate, perhaps above all, and I am glad to see it being brought under control.
On the question of waste, we are reformulating the law about collection and disposal. The waste disposal authorities will have extended powers and duties and will have to make comprehensive plans for this in their areas. They will also have new powers to regulate waste disposal operations by means of a licensing system, so as to achieve better standards. On water pollution, the existing methods of protecting water from pollution will be strengthened, and discharges into estuaries and coastal waters brought under control for the first time.
On noise, the existing statutory nuisance code will be streamlined, local authorities given new powers to control noise from construction sites and similar works, and they will be able to designate noise abatement zones within which they will have power to control noise from premises.
On air pollution, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will have powers to make regulations controlling the composition of motor fuel and the sulphur content of fuel oil, so as to reduce pollution. In addition, power will be given to local authorities to collect and publish information on air pollution in their areas, subject to appropriate consultation with industry. The House will wish to know that the whole area of offences and penalties on this subject is being re-thought.
There is to be a Local Government Bill. It was in fact introduced yesterday in another place and has three main features; making new arrangements, first, for the distribution of the rate support grant to local authorities on a more flexible basis than at present. Then, on 151 rating, there will be, as from next April because it ties in with the general local government reform, a much improved scheme of rent rebates which will help to ensure that people who are entitled to rent and rate rebates do in fact take up their entitlements. To get flexibility the details of both these matters are to be left to regulations under the Bill. Thirdly, there is machinery under two Commissions to investigate complaints—a sort of local ombudsman machinery. This is yet another instance whereby the troubles of an individual can be looked at and put right. There has been a long history of consultation on this Bill and I have no doubt that Members of this House will be only too anxious to get their teeth into it when it arrives here.
The Safety of Sports Grounds Bill, which I have just introduced, will be available to your Lordships shortly. It is, of course, based upon the Wheatley Report, on which we had a debate in January, and I think perhaps I can leave this subject to a Second Reading debate in the fairly near future.
I noticed also that the evening papers had taken great account of another Bill which was introduced yesterday in another place—the Cinematograph and Indecent Displays Bill. Indeed my noble friend Lord Mansfield, whose speech I also enjoyed so much on Tuesday, welcomed this Bill. There are two Parts to the Bill: first, strengthening control over cinematograph exhibitions, and, second, strengthening the safeguards against the public display and unsolicited distribution of indecent matter. In essence, we say that the individual citizen should not be affronted by unwanted sexual or quasi-sexual displays. The first Part of the Bill is needed to close loopholes in the system of film censorship; the second Part strengthens the law in respect of the public flaunting of indecent matter and will replace a lot of out of date 19th century provisions by a new offence of displaying indecent matter in any place to which the public has access, with certain exceptions which are spelled out. Suggestive advertising and unsolicited circulars are dealt with as well. The provisions in this second Part of the Bill are not primarily aimed at material which the individual makes a conscious choice to read or to see, and they do not affect the existing obscenity law or the substance of the film 152 censorship arrangements, because all that Part I does is merely to extend the existing control to some exhibitions which have hitherto been exempt. The approach adopted in the Bill is broadly to treat this matter in terms of a need to protect and improve the public environment rather than in terms of outright censorship.
Then we had introduced here yesterday a Road Traffic Bill, containing several provisions which will have an impact on the problem of our environment and on the interest of road users. The only trouble here is that although I think some solace is offered to us all there are areas of the Bill which will impose the obligation upon those who drive cars—dare I suggest that this could ever apply to anybody in this House?—just to behave a little better than they do already. But there are provisions to make our roads safer. There will be a statutory duty on local authorities to deal with road safety: they will have to investigate accidents in their areas and take a variety of remedial measures. Parking at road junctions in towns will be banned; there will be wide powers to regulate the use of lights on vehicles, and the Bill permits the introduction of a training scheme for young drivers of heavy goods vehicles. Other provisions in the Bill permit the introduction of a scheme to ensure that new cars comply with safety and environmental standards, and the powers of the traffic commissioners to control the conduct of goods operators will be reinforced.
A further reform makes it easier to provide passenger transport services in rural areas by cutting much of the red tape involved in setting them up while protecting the essential interests of established bus operators. The penalty provisions have two objects: first, to simplify and bring up to date the level of maximum fines for various road traffic offences and, secondly, to grant to the Crown Court alone (except in the case of driving while disqualified) the power to imprison for road traffic offences, leaving the magistrates' court with much greater powers to fine as well as their non-custodial penalties. This last point is controversial, not least among the magistrates, and it is something that we think is provisionally right, but we should welcome the opportunity to discuss it and to listen to Parliamentary 153 debates on this matter in the House. Various parking and lighting offences are too frequently committed at the moment and also failure to display Excise licences. People just get away with it. So we are carrying out our announced intention of allowing the owner of the vehicle to be pursued if he was not the driver, unless he can get a "signed confession", as it were, from the person who was the driver at the time.
Your Lordships will have seen also in the gracious Speech the fulfilment of those heavy hints I made last summer to introduce a Bill to remove in various spheres unfair discrimination on the grounds of sex. Our proposals have been set out in the Consultative Document, and I gather that this has gone so well that we may have to look into the question of the availability of copies. If people have had difficulty in getting this document I am sorry, but we have circulated copies to some 500 interested organisations and copies have been available from the employment exchanges for members of the public. We have asked for comments by the end of the month. This exercise is an interesting counterpart to Northern Ireland, as I mentioned earlier, where the Government is outlawing religious discrimination, but here we deal with the matter on grounds of sex. It will make unlawful such discrimination in areas of employment and training with certain fairly small exceptions. Complaints will be dealt with by industrial tribunals, thus providing a speedy, effective and locally accessible means of redress. We are setting up the Equal Opportunities Commission, the object of which is set out in the paper, and I look forward to the debate on this subject to be initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Royle, in a few weeks' time.
My Lords, the gracious Speech speaks about community relations and life in urban areas. If ever there was a topic that affected the individual it is this. One has only to look at some city centre, areas and talk to the people who live there to see how over many years perhaps the combined non-co-ordination of a great number of agencies produces conditions which one can readily see, and which permanently blight a person's upbringing and later life in that place. It is not just a question of community relations, although where amenities are 154 few and competition for them is great it is easy to see how any identifiable minority can find themselves picked on. The problem is much bigger. All aspects of social policy have a bearing on the happiness or otherwise of people—housing, play spaces, employment, education, health services, social services, public transport and so on, for quite a long list. They all play their part. When these go awry, people despair at the multiplicity of agencies which are all failing them. They cease to try to get things put right, and so the vicious circle descends. This is the vicious circle of deprivation. It results in people being a burden on the State at many stages of their life and wasting their own copious talents.
Some years ago, the Plowden Committee coined the phrase "positive discrimination". This was in educational terms. The House knows that the Government now use this concept to give extra resources to educational priority areas. The same idea underlies the urban aid programme which the Government, after many obstacles, have been expanding. We have in the twelve areas of action and research community development projects which again deal in much the same sort of terminology. A very recent effort is the two-year experiment in Stoke, Sunderland, West Dunbartonshire and Flint, whereby regional arts associations, regional sports councils and local authorities have been invited by Government to lead local campaigns to co-ordinate and develop a full range of leisure resources in those areas.
As an earnest of the Government's wish to push on with this, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary now co-ordinates the projects of all Government Departments impinging on this problem. In the longer term we have set in hand a study of the problems of urban deprivation. This is to show us those more coherent and effective policies which we believe we can develop over the whole range of activities in local government, central government and many other statutory and voluntary agencies. The mention of voluteers leads inevitably on from what I have been saying, volunteers working not only among the young, as the gracious Speech mentioned, although that is a vital area as well. I think of volunteers not only as those who run the well-known agencies of awesome repute, nor just those who work in youth clubs. 155 Volunteers include many others who set out to defeat apathy and to revive and fashion community spirit in their own areas, including many deprived areas. There is an endless interlocking network of bodies, all of which try to bring light and interest into dark and dull places, to help their fellows and, incidentally, to gain for themselves a rewarding experience into the bargain.
My noble friend, Lord Hewlett, spoke of the Wood Street Mission. Which of your Lordships has not got his own favourite voluntary organisation with which to fascinate and encourage us? We have now a Cabinet Minister, my noble friend Lord Windlesham, for the first time looking after the interests of the voluntary movement. He has a unit in the Civil Service Department to this end. His aim will he to expand opportunities, co-ordinate Government help and develop the existing links between Whitehall and the field. The concept of voluntarism is deep-rooted in this country. There is no lack of enthusiasm. There is a longstanding partnership between volunteers and Government bodies, both local and central. I saw this enthusiasm and the plethora of ideas when I had this responsibility myself. There is, indeed, so much going on that it is sometimes rather difficult to get an overall picture of it, although I believe we are learning fast. Our view is that it is a sign of a healthy society when people band together to improve the existence of others, and themselves, rather than just lying back in the arms of the Welfare State. Voluntary effort of this sort is something that I know my noble friend Lord Windlesham will wish to encourage and develop wherever he can.
My Lords, a few moments ago I spoke of Northern Ireland and I set the proposals to improve the opportunities for the individual there in the face of discrimination into a background of a gradual return to law and order. Just so here. The changes and advances of which I have spoken are valueless and empty unless the society they will benefit is itself orderly and respecting of the law. This means, of course, that we must keep the law itself up to date. The Criminal Law Revision Committee and the Law Commission have a number of topics under review. The Government have set up a Committee, under Lord Justice 156 James, to examine the division of criminal jurisdiction between the Crown Court and the magistrates' courts. Another Committee, chaired by Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, is considering the very difficult area of the law relating to mentally abnormal offenders. Within the Home Office itself, there are working parties on bail procedure in magistrates' courts, on extradition law and on the review of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme. The Home Secretary's Advisory Council on the Penal System will shortly be submitting their Report on the treatment of young offenders.
We must also see that the courts are properly armed with penalties to deal with crime in whatever form it occurs. Some of the Bills I have mentioned are reviewing penalties within their sphere. But as well as severe maxima, in terms of fines or imprisonment, for serious offences we must have the wider facilities, whereby offenders can be treated within the community rather than in custody, wherever this can be done without risk to the public. I have heard some encouraging comments on the progress of the experiments introduced under the Criminal Justice Act of last year. Of course, as we all said at that time, such an exercise puts more strain still on the Probation Service, but that Service is growing. Its numbers went up by nearly 450 more officers last year, and we are still aiming at the figure of 5,350 by the end of 1976, and are providing training arrangements accordingly.
But, above all, for a peaceful and law-abiding society we rely on the police, and indeed on their ability to detect and hunt out the criminal. This, after all, is the best deterrent of all. It may be a cliché to say it, but it is nevertheless profoundly true. This year, for the first time, there are over 100,000 police in England and Wales. Perhaps noble Lords may even have seen some of them, because they are coming back on the beat again. It is true that London is still a problem, but certainly in terms of pay—and this applies particularly in London—what has been done under Stage 2 and what can be done under Stage 3 seems to us to present a fair and imaginative way of dealing with the police pay problem.
Is it, therefore, just fortuitous that in the first six months of 1973 the number of offences known to the police dropped 157 by 5.4 per cent. from the figure for the same period for 1972? Is it just chance that 36 out of 47 police forces in England and Wales were able to report an overall decrease in crime in their areas? I did say, during the firearms debate the other day, that this does not, alas! apply to crime of violence; but otherwise it is quite significant. After all, when crime has increased annually for the last 20 years, I think that these figures do give us grounds for hope, most certainly not complacency, but hope, that we arc beginning to thrust back the forces of lawlessness. If I can embark on a martial metaphor, it does look now as though our arsenal contains the right weapons, our strategy is sound and our resources are properly deployed. Thus protected, it seems to the Government that we may legitimately and with pride place before Parliament a programme of legislation and study and debate which will lead to the benefit and advancement of all our citizens living in these Islands.
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ BARONESS PHILLIPS
My Lords, I should like, without, I hope, any sense of patronage, to compliment the Mover and Seconder of the humble Address—both charming and professional speeches which were enjoyed by all your Lordships. I would also thank the Minister for his splendid introduction this afternoon. I liked his theme of the individual. I hope that he will not be disappointed if I do not follow him in all the matters he has raised, but it has always seemed to me rather sad, when we speak of the Secretary of State for the Home Office, that we all too often think of provision for those who are in trouble rather than those of us at home, the vast majority, who are not in trouble.
The gracious Speech always presents an opportunity for one to cover almost every kind of known subject that is likely to be discussed in your Lordships' House, but I will resist the temptation and maintain my reputation for a short speech. I would select the sentence which reads:At home My Government's continuing aim will be to secure a prosperous, fair and orderly society,…and then goes on,…to improve the health, welfare, educational and other social services.158 I was delighted to read that there was to be an improvement in these services, and I read on to find the improvement in the educational services. It is not necessary to remind your Lordships, living as many of you do in London, and indeed perhaps staying in London, that we in this great city are facing several crises, one in our educational system. At the moment 32 schools in the Inner London Education Authority, covering 19,000 children, are on part-time education. This is indeed very serious. It represents a situation which I think it possibly paralleled only by the war years, and in my humble judgment may make some contribution to the kind of lack of law and order that we have. The child who is not in school and not under any supervision may well be the one who will be the vandal, through sheer boredom.
We may then ask why there is this apparent breakdown in the education services, why there are not enough teachers. Is it because they cannot exist on the salaries they are paid and that they enter other professions or industry? Is it because they are disheartened that the question of the London allowance and their superannuation situation has not been dealt with fairly, nor indeed apparently speedily? I mix a great deal with teachers, for whom I have the greatest admiration. The teachers will handle all our children at some stage, and if their morale is low this is going to have a very strange final effect on the total situation in society. At the moment they are being asked to teach and work in buildings which were in existence, in some cases, 50 years ago. In some as long ago as almost 100 years. Yet we read that the Government's programme of school building has been severely hampered by the cost limits set on these buildings. Indeed. I read in The Times Educational Supplement that there has been a cutback by the Government of educational building as part of the moratorium.
Your Lordships will recall the debate we had on the James Report on Teacher Training, when the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, assured the House that the timetable for action was going to prove to be more speedy than can in fact be accomplished. That seemed to me a somewhat ominous warning. I would ask the Government whether we can expect any kind of action on this Report. Can 159 we expect any kind of action on the Russell Report on Adult Education? Here perhaps I see some encouragement in the fact that we are to have increased opportunities for voluntary service. I was delighted to hear the Minister speak of this. The adult education bodies in this country, particularly the women's organisations, have for many years been the providers of volunteers for both statutory and voluntary social services, and they could undoubtedly provide even more if they were given a little back-up and support. I find that I have been, according to the Minister's lovely phrase, working in an "agency of awesome repute". But I can assure the Minister that it has been one which has provided many volunteers for both voluntary and statutory authorities.
I notice we are to have further debate, and possibly legislation, on the tax credit system. I would remind the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, that he assured the House on June 26 that every mother who gets family allowances can, under the new scheme, look forward to drawing it weekly from the post office as at present. There must be no going back on that statement, and until the outline of the tax legislation is finally published I shall continue to watch the point. The women feel very strongly about this matter. Then we are to review pensions annually. This I applaud. May we hope that the Government will perhaps look at what the pension should be tied to, so that it does not always lag behind price rises?
I would give note of another matter which I intend to raise yet again, and that is the earnings rule. I call in aid a comment from the Guardian last Saturday which is headed, "No Logic for the Pensioner". It is always a very happy situation when somebody says what you have been saying for a long time so that you can quote them. This is what it says:Not for a long time has finding a job been easier than it is now and finding workers been harder. The Retail Consortium has already begun looking nervously ahead at the prospect of its members' shops crammed with Christmas goods and customers and no one to serve them.The Consortium's solution to the problem is an eminently sensible one. Raise the limit on the money pensioners are allowed to earn before their pensions begin to be reduced. That way the shops will be able to tempt 160 more of their recently retired staff back to man the counters.It goes on to describe the earnings rule, of which your Lordships are well aware. It continues:Three things are illogical:(i) That a Government which appears to feel so strongly about the injustice and disincentive effects of high marginal tax rates on the rich should not feel equally concerned about their impact on the old.Another official justification for the rule is that pensions are intended only for the retired, and yet the limit does not apply to the over 70 or the over 65. Employers who are finding it almost impossible to fill vacancies would be wise to urge Sir Keith Joseph to apply a more sensible and humane rule.Not only is London in a crisis in relation to its educational staff but it is in a crisis in relation to staff generally. The other day one of your Lordships referred to the fact that when you travel on the trains and buses, wherever you travel, you see the notice, "staff shortage". Can we ask that these fit people, who would be useful, can be allowed to play a part in solving this problem of employment?
I see that we are—and I am delighted to know this—to have an overhaul of the laws in relation to credit. I would only sound this warning to the Government. Professor Goode, a distinguished member of the Crowther Committee, talked about the "existing hotch-potch of ill-assorted archaic Statutes." He suggested at that time, through the Report, that there should be two major Acts, the Lending and Security Act and the Consumer Sale and Loan Act. I hope that the Government are going to introduce a set of rules which will cover all types of credit, and not select merely those which might be attractive as a consumer interest. Of course, as one might imagine, the prospectus that we have before us may well be a General Election prospectus.
I then see that there is a reference to the citizen and consumers. May I ask that the Fair Trading Director be given certain tasks? Let him deal with the nonsense that we have had with us for so long, the "2p off" offer; the kind of thing that is not worth the paper on which it is written. I have made some investigation into this, and I find that the customer does not like it, the retailer does not like it, the manufacturer does not like it, and yet, rather like the Common 161 Market, we seem to be stuck with it. I beg that the Government will look into this question and put it to the Director. He could proceed with this as not being a matter in the economic interest of the customer. May I ask, as a consumer, when we are going to look at the Munro Report on Children's Shoes? It is an excellent Report which has been lying there for nearly 18 months. A Question put down in the other place received the reply that it was under investigation. As that is some little time ago. I hope that we shall see this as part of our consumer efforts.
May I also ask that the Government will scatter broadcast, rather like the Highway Code, the splendid leaflet, Your Rights When Buying Goods? This should be put through every letterbox so that citizens will know the splendid rights that they have under this new Act. We are finding it very difficult to get supplies of leaflets. In this connection, may I ask the Government to look at the possibility of investigating all the problems, the sorry story, of electrical goods which break down and for which servicing is not obtainable; television sets, refrigerators, deep freezers, cookers and electric blankets? They would mount to high heaven if we were to collect them all together. There is a real necessity for something to be done in this connection.
We are to have legislation on discrimination on grounds of sex. The White Paper is now being studied, and I am happy to tell the Minister that my organisation "of awesome repute" is busy studying this very carefully and will be sending in some notes. It is a little difficult for me to persuade them that the Government will take notice of these when we realise that all the work we did on the Social Security Act did not seem to come to anything at all. We still have discrimination against women within the social security scheme. It is a little difficult to persuade my organisation that there will not still be discrimination in other connections.
We are to have legislation to promote road safety. My noble friend Lord Champion will be speaking in much greater detail about this matter and particularly on the question of the juggernauts. I would only underline this to 162 say that women feel very strongly about this. Another matter to which I would give some passing reference is the dangerous loads which are allowed to be carried by road. Recently some of my members did some research in different parts of the country on the particular hazards which they faced. The laws which govern this situation appear to be relatively few. If a load is longer than 60 ft., police permission must be sought to move it by road; and if it is longer than 80 ft. a certificate must be obtained from the Ministry of the Environment. But it seems that the actual content of the load does not have to be described unless it is of nuclear danger.
What of the chemicals, acids and gases which now travel in containers in great numbers on our roads? The police say that they often have difficulty in finding out what is being carried in the containers. We all remember the tragic story of the woman motorist who stepped out of her car into a pool of acid. The Fire Research Station in Hertfordshire carried out research into the number of times fire brigades had been called to incidents involving road tankers. Over a five-year period the number rose from 132 each year to 264, an increase of 100 per cent. Every day we hear on our radio of a dangerous load which has overturned on some road making it impassable. Not only are chemicals carried, but there are loads of steel girders, gigantic baulks of timber and pieces of concrete which are carried through residential roads constructed for only light traffic. Here is a great area for legislation before more terrible accidents take place.
Finally, there seems to be very little in the gracious Speech on the question of housing. There is a reference, but it is not very specific. I appeal to the Government to look at the situation which enables vast buildings—I will not name my bête noir again—to stand empty in the very centre of cities, while people live in squalid circumstances within walking distance of those buildings. Legislation can surely be devised to deal with this, and also with the speculators who undoubtedly contribute to the inflationary situation in which we all find ourselves. It was said in 1769 that the ruin or the prosperity of a State depends very much on the administration of its Government, and therefore we need 163 only observe the condition of the people to see the quality of the Government. There are far too many people badly housed, not cared for, and there are still far too many poor and far too many elderly who live and die alone for us to be wholly complacent.
§ 3.49 p.m.
LORD BEAUMONT or WHITLEY
My Lords, I too should like to join in congratulations to the Mover and Seconder of the Address in reply to the gracious Speech, and particularly to the Mover since I think that his public form is not as well exposed as that of the Seconder. The noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, has hidden depths; behind that modesty and gold braid: he is a really smart operator. I remember when the noble Earl was up at Christ Church with me. He and the honourable Member for Bristol. West were such good and hardworking Conservatives that the University Conservative Association had hurriedly to pass a special rule that the whole of the executive of the Conservative Association could not all come from one college. So he is a definite asset to the political as well as the legal brains in your Lordships' House.
My Lords, I feel it important that I should try, at breakneck speed, to cover most of the points on Home Affairs raised in the gracious Speech merely to give an indication of the attitude of the Party to which I have the honour to belong. That Party has, it is undoubted, over the past few months gained added importance in this country's political scene and is, I venture to forecast, going to have more; and since, particularly for the benefit of the Conservative Party, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, is on record as saying that the Conservative Party does not know what Liberal policies are, it is our duty to point them out. It is on the whole, as my noble friend Lord Byers said, a humane and a good programme that is being put before us at this Session—the kind of programme we have learned to expect from the present Government over the last few months of its life. It is, of course, unfortunate that it had to start off with a different few months—the cripple of Selsdon man remains. Perhaps in these days of increasing equality of the sexes it is a good thing, a matter for praise, that Selsdon woman should con- 164 tinue to exist where Selsdon man is rather disappearing.
The other point that was brought to the notice of the general public in a recent letter to The Times by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, and that I think is worth pointing out, is that the last relic of Selsdon man are these charges for museums and art galleries which arc still on the agenda. I cannot think of a single reason why these matters, which now stick out like a sore thumb from the rest of the Government's proposals and attitudes, should still remain, unless it is that the Prime Minister rather loyally wishes to save the face of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. We all know the noble Viscount far too well to think that he would want that clone and to think that he would let his amour propre stand in the way of doing what is right for this country. I do therefore beg the Government to take another look at this matter of the charges. It is a pity that it was not mentioned in the gracious Speech.
I am not, of course, satisfied by the whole programme because I feel, and my Party feel—indeed, I think the country as a whole is feeling, and saying that it is feeling—that it is not enough just to tinker with the system as we have it at the moment, and that the approach both of the Government and of the Official Opposition does not in many ways go nearly far enough.
To come down to details, we naturally welcome the Anti-Discrimination Bill for Northern Ireland. We are very pleased to add our words of tribute to those of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, towards the troops in Northern Ireland for their behaviour, which has been beyond praise under so much provocation. I would personally like to add my tribute, and I am sure those of my frineds on these Benches, to the group of Ministers who have done so much to bring increasing peace to Northern Ireland over the last two or three years. It is our continued complaint about Conservative Governments that they do things too late and too little. That what has been done in Northern Ireland has been done far too late is, I think, undeniable; but for once I do not think we can say that it is too little. We know that they are doing their best—and it is a very good best too.
165 There are various things in the gracious Speech which are pious, but we should like to see a little more about them before we commit ourselves. We all know that we are "against sin", but we just wish to see how sin is defined in this particular sense. This is true of the proposals on housing. I noticed, as other people have, that it is not enough that the Government should continue their efforts on housing. If that were all they were to do we should not get very far; what we want is some kind of real change. It is good to know that we are going to have control of pollution, or some more control—how much is what we should like to know. It is nice to know that we are to have encouragement for voluntary services, particularly among the young. Good! But let it go far enough, and let us hope particularly that it enables the Department under the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, to work with the necessary speed in this area. It is important that some of the slow safeguards should be abandoned if you are working with young voluntary organisations. I know that some of the ideas they throw up are half-baked, but it is also true that those organisations expect, and are entitled to expect, a quick response to good ideas which they put forward to relieve misery and deprivation.
We welcome without reservation the reform of the law of credit, the laws for the safety and health of workers, the review of company law and an ombudsman for local government. There is a good little Bill on road safety which we have had a chance to look at, and I should like to ask the noble Lord who is to reply to this part of the debate whether it will give local authorities more control over the siting of zebra crossings, which have in the past been a very justified cause of complaint and of friction between the general public and the Ministry. A local authority has been able to say, "We can produce a zebra crossing only if we satisfy such and such conditions laid down by the Ministry". The local people say, "But we know this spot is dangerous"; and often their words are proved too tragically true.
As to the football fields, of course we wish to see safety preserved. We may have to look at this proposal a little critically. It has already been mentioned that the possibility of excluding fields with a capacity below 10,000 is not 166 necessarily a good one. Sometimes a very small club, which has a field holding only 10,000, suddenly finds itself catapulted into the big league by the luck of the draw. It is on grounds like that that accidents quite often occur. It is also true that in most cases the local police know what the problem is. Football is one of the declining spectator sports. We must put safety first, but we do not want to put an overwhelming burden on clubs if it is going to produce merely a marginal response. The idea sounds good, but we must look at it more carefully.
The Bill on cinema clubs and obscene display is another interesting one. With the principle I, and I think most of my noble friends, go along entirely: that we should not increase censorship as such but that we should protect the public completely from having things thrust on them which they do not want—invasion of their privacy, pollution of the atmosphere, pollution of the mental atmosphere. I go along with this entirely. Whether in fact the Bill goes too far I do not yet know—I rather suspect it does. For instance, if the cinematograph part of it goes so far that it means we shall not be able to see the kind of films which until recently have been put on by the much lamented New Cinema Club, it will he a very great pity indeed and an infringement of our liberties. We have the whole conception of obscenity and indecency; it is a difficult one, and this Bill seems to do very little to settle the matter. Is it still to be for the newsagents to make up their own minds what is an indecent display, recognising that what is indecent in Soho—or on 42nd Street, for that matter—may be very different from that which is indecent in Kirriemuir? There is a difference of opinion between noble Lords in this House, held honestly on both sides, as to what kind of thing is indecent. Are we getting any further towards solving this problem?
Now that I have seen the Bill I am particularly worried about the provision that in a public place there shall be no advertising of an indecent display such as will convey the fact that it is indecent. I think it is absolutely right that there should be no advertising of such a display which is in itself indecent; but I think that the principle behind the Bill should be that in fact the public should be 167 warned that the display is indecent, so that if they go in they know what they are going into. For example, if noble Lords wished to hold an orgy in the ballroom at Claridge's, I think it absolutely right that they should be allowed to do so if Claridge's would allow it. which I am sure they would not. I also think it is absolutely right that they should be banned from displaying any indecent advertisement saying that this is what is on; but I would have thought it absolutely right that there should be displayed notices indicating what was to go on in Claridge's ballroom on that occasion, and that anybody going in expecting to find something else will get a rude shock. Surely this is what the Bill should be about, and it seems to me that a wrong principle has been written into it. But we will come to that point when the Bill has been through another place.
Going now from the particular and finishing with the general, why we think this Government are failing is that they do not go far enough in the kind of things that they are trying to do in this next year—possibly the last year of this Government. For instance, as has been pointed out in another place by a member of the Conservative Party, why is there no mention of the ability of people to be M.P.s at the age of 18? I know that by convention this is a matter strictly for another place. I think it is a bad convention, because I feel it is very sad that in all constitutional matters the House of Commons is both the judge and jury in its own cause. I think it is right that we should raise the principle of what should be the qualifications for being a Member of Parliament. Here, it seems to go to something which is at the very root of the philosophy of so many of us—in all Parties, probably—and that is that we do not sufficiently trust the electorate. I think there should be very strict rules as to who are electors, and I am all for having an age limit, but I do not think there should be any limit as to whom the electors may elect, because we should trust the electorate. I think the electorate are perfectly sane and sensible enough. They do in fact reject the jokesters and non-serious people. When I had the pleasure and privilege to be Press officer to Clement Freud at the Isle of Ely election, it was quite clear that 168 the electorate of the Isle of Ely wanted to know almost only one thing, namely, "Is this man basically going to be a serious M.P.?" They made up their minds, in my view rightly, that he was. But this is what they were concerned about, and it is a sign that the electorate in fact reject the non-serious people. I think we should widen the area of people who are eligible to be Members of Parliament.
Why is there no mention of the Kilbrandon Report? Possibly it is because the Kilbrandon Report was not published by the time the Queen's Speech was prepared. I know that is the easy answer; but I suspect that one reason is that the Government do not propose to do very much about it in the near future, and I do not suppose the Opposition propose to do much, either. The Kilbrandon Report is one of the most important Reports produced in the recent history of this country, and we owe an immense debt to those people who have put in so much work on it. I would add that we owe a particular debt, because it is so heartfelt, to my noble friend Lord Foot, whose services we on these Benches have missed so much while he has been working so hard on the Report. I am appalled at the fact that their work may in fact be pigeonholed. It is already being suggested that this may happen. It must not happen, because if there is any fault with the Kilbrandon Report it is that it does not go far enough. The recommendations of the main Report on Scotland and Wales are, I am sure, right; the recommendations of the Minority Report on England are, I am sure, right—and both are sections of the two Reports which go furthest.
My Lords, where worker participation is concerned we are told that we are to have legislation. I am quite certain that it will not go far enough. We are to have a tax credit scheme, but is it going to do away with the 43 or 44 means tests which now exist? No, it is not: it is going to do away with two or three of them. On pensions, the Government have done well; but they have not yet done well enough, because what is important about pensions is that we must tie them to something like either the cost of living or the average national wage, and preferably the latter. If I am told that that is inflationary, my answer is that it 169 is not inflationary if the rest of us are prepared to make some sacrifice to see that pensions are looked after in these ways.
My Lords, the country is in a very odd mood; that, I think, everyone will realise. The country is not happy with the way it is being governed. I think it is ready to follow a strong lead: not a strong lead from a strong man as such, but a strong lead from people who are prepared to produce a framework which will provide a just society—something which we may be used to thinking we have at the moment but which we have not. I thought it was a notable slip, or something of that kind, on the part of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, when he spoke of "lying back in the arms of the Welfare State". Anyone who lies back in the arms of the Welfare State to-day would not get very far, my Lords. There is something very wrong, and we must have a framework. Within that framework, what is needed more than anything else is to restore to individual people more and more control over their own lives. It is this that the important parts of the Kilbrandon Report are about; it is this that worker participation is about; and it is this, I think, about which we should be doing more and more in this House. In spite of the fact that, as I say, this is a good and humane programme which has been put before us, the ultimate accusation against it is that it does not meet the needs and the demands of the British people to-day.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ BARONESS ELLES
My Lords, having been designated from this House to serve in the European Parliament and on its Committees, I was regrettably absent on Tuesday to hear both the gracious Speech and the Motion moved by my noble friend and European colleague, Lord Mansfield. I was, regrettably, spending part of the time in the fog at London Airport, and part of the time discussing social policy in Brussels. It is precisely because I was in Brussels discussing the proposed social action policy, which has been drafted by the European Commission to go before the Council of Ministers, that I have felt moved to say a few words in this debate to-day.
The similarity between the measures outlined in the gracious Speech and those 170 which have been singled out for priority in the European Community's social policy programme is remarkable. These social policies are strikingly similar, in that they single out those areas of poverty, sickness and old people who are so often left out of identifiable social groupings. It is precisely these groups—marginal groups, frequently not easily identifiable in scientific approaches to our society— who need the most attention but who get left out of the cumulative wealth of the nation. It is again precisely in an affluent society, with sustained economic growth, that all the industrialised Member States of the Communities—including ourselves—have benefited and are benefiting now.
In particular, I would mention the concern which is felt, both in the Communities and in our country, for the elderly. The social action policy, indeed, includes a special study of the social problems of the elderly. This is going to be of particular importance when applying measures to help that category of people, because this is precisely the category which is increasing in numbers year by year. Already the proportion of those over 65 is increasing, so that by 1975 the numbers will be sustained by fewer working people. Working people will have to contribute more in order to support more and more elderly.
It is precisely in the field of pensions, a matter which was mentioned in the gracious Speech, that I hope the Government will look at those measures which have been taken by the Member States of the European Community to solve this problem. This Government have already brought in an annual review of pensions, which is a considerable improvement, but such a review has been operative in other Member States of the Community for some time. These other Member States use different measures in order to increase pensions. In some, pensions are tied to the cost-of-living index, in others they are tied to the wages index. Even those who have been against our entering into the Community will, I hope, realise that these are positive measures which can help and benefit certain sectors of our population.
There are two more areas which I should like to mention, and to which high priority has been given in the European social action policy. The first is the General Safety and Health Committee, which 171 will be set up, and to which we in this country can contribute a great deal of knowledge and experience because in this matter our industrial record is good. Other European countries can benefit from our knowledge. Similarly, there are certain aspects of it where we in this country shall be able to benefit—for instance, on problems of rehabilitation, where people not in their first youth turn from unskilled work to new kinds of skills and come across new dangers and new difficulties which are inherent in scientific and technological development. Other Member States are quite advanced in this area, and it is to be hoped that in the studies that we shall be making, outlined in the gracious Speech, concerning safety measures in industry, note will be taken of the experience of other Member States in this field.
The other area that I am hound to mention is the question of the removal of unfair discrimination against women. It has been said, as many things have been said over the centuries, that a civilisation is judged by the way it treats its women. I think that, so far, in that judgment, our own civilisation would not come off very well. But it is to be hoped not only that the negative aspect of legislation to remove discrimination will be implemented, but that they will take note of the European Community's outline which takes a far more positive attitude to the kind of problems which concern women when going into work. I should like just to mention some of the areas which are now being studied in the Community, and which I hope will be taken note of by the Government when implementing this anti-discriminatory legislation. These areas cover recruitment, job re-entry after maternity, vocational guidance, training and retraining; and, above all, flexible working hours. I think that that is a very constructive and helpful attitude to take if we really want to give women a fair chance to earn their living in modern society and to contribute to what is undoubtedly becoming a very tight labour market. We shall be relying on women in order to provide and fill the necessary vacancies in employment as sustained economic growth is maintained, and as the need for labour is consequently increased.
172 These are just some of the subjects in the gracious Speech which I welcome and which are very much in line with the social action policy of the Community. It is a tribute to the work being done between the Government in this country and other institutions of the Community, working with representatives of other Member States, that a consensus of opinion can be reached and that we are tackling in the same way, and with the same hopeful results, problems which have been experienced and are being experienced by the eight other Member States of the Community.
I should like to refer especially to one aspect of the Speech which I welcome personally, and that is the introduction of the tax credit system—one which I have welcomed as one possible way of bringing immediate financial help to areas of our population which would not otherwise be helped, whether they be the low-income groups, due to their lack of ability to earn, or through age or sickness, or, as we say, any other impediment. I therefore welcome this aspect and hope that it will not take the Government five years to implement the legislation. I hope that after the Finance Act is introduced next year, we shall have the opportunity, as Conservatives, to bring in the scheme within the next two or three years.
Finally, I would draw attention to the social action policy, hoping that our own Government will co-operate in every way with the European Community, both in giving of our own experience and knowledge to those other Member States who are dealing with the same kind of social problems as we are, and in listening to the measures, the knowledge and the experience that these other Member States have had and are having. Whether we like it or not, whether we like being in the Community or not, we must all agree that the measures outlined in the gracious Speech are very much in concert with the main objective of the European Communities which is outlined in the Preamble to the much-discussed Treaty. They affirm the essential objectives of their efforts: the constant improvement of the living and working conditions of their people.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, I expect the House will not be 173 surprised to learn that I propose to address my remarks to discrimination against women. I am glad the noble Lords are appreciative! I would draw the attention of the House to the Foreword in the White Paper Equal Opportunity for Men and Women. It says:The Government wants to eliminate unfair discrimination on grounds or sex wherever possible and to change the prejudiced attitudes which give rise to it.I should like to be given some evidence that the Government are trying to change these prejudiced attitudes. I wonder whether noble Lords listened to a radio broadcast by Mr. Enoch Powell last week. I suppose Mr. Powell is the most publicised Back-Bencher in the Commons. Mr. Enoch Powell described the proposed legislation on the radio on October 6 as daft, a huge piece of idiocy, and something to cause a good belly laugh. We all know that the racialist is anti-feminist, but as the B.B.C. gave this Member of Parliament an hour to air his views I want to know whether the Government are asking for equal time to put the case for legislation.
I am well aware of the attempts of some men to rationalise their prejudices. I recall after the last war the most influential man in one of our African colonies coming to discuss independence. I recall he waxed eloquently on the new constitution. So, of course, I turned to him and said, "Do you propose to give women the vote?" He replied very earnestly, "Oh no. You see, in our country the women do all the work in the fields and provide the food for the family; the men sit outside the house and have the time to discuss affairs. Do you not agree, therefore, that it is only the men who should have the vote?". How can we win? Incidentally, never will I forget that Mr. Attlee (as he was then) was in the chair; and the man I referred to was educated in England.
However, I come now to another point that I want to raise. If the noble Lord cannot answer all these questions I very much hope that he will write to me. I shall be pleased to receive his letters. I want to bring to the attention of the House the attempt being made by employers to evade the "equal pay" Act. Surely this calls for some action. I have seen on television the Prime Minister 174 speaking earnestly to many groups of employers on the subject of Phase 3 and so on. Does he ever talk to these men about women and how employers treat them? I should like to know what the Government are doing to outwit these rascals in their plan to cheat the woman worker. On the radio yesterday the whole country, indeed the whole world, was told that the average weekly wage for a man was £40 and for a woman £22. How can the Prime Minister say to the country now, before the next Election, that he is going to be the friend of the women? If these are the facts, what is being done? How are the employers being approached?
I was pleased to be a member of the Select Committee on Discrimination and I recall that in the course of our discussions on sex discrimination it seemed to me that there was only one matter upon which we were not all agreed. It was the question of removing the restrictions on women employees under the Factories Acts. Incidentally, I hope that the noble Baroness who has just spoken will agree with me in this because in one way we both belong to one category of women. The most articulate women in sedentary jobs rarely consider in depth the lot of the mother who finds it necessary to find work in industry, the woman who has never had any opportunity of higher education, the woman who finds the economic pressures in her home so great that she must go out and find a job at any price. My claim to knowledge of their condition is due to my having worked among them as a doctor. The great exploitation of the labour of these women made it necessary, despite powerful opposition from employers, to limit their hours of work and to prohibit night work. But it took many years, at a time when Conservative Governments were the rule, to change the law. It is now suggested, again with the full approval of the employers who profit from the cheap labour of women, that times have changed and that the Factories Acts are superfluous.
Employers came before us on the Select Committee and in soft dulcet tones tried to explain how life had changed, how women were different and how the working woman no longer needs the protection that she had been given. But how have things changed for these women? 175 Women still have a most important biological function which men do not possess. To talk about equality in this field is rubbish. Women are the mothers of the nation and as such they should be afforded protection. There is still widespread poverty in industrial areas. It is particularly marked in large families and we often hear about this in your Lordships' House. The pressure on the mother to go out to work to supplement the family income is not decreasing. Those who argue that the protection afforded the mother should be removed pleaded the freedom of the individual. What arrant nonsense!
The fact is that the mother working outside the home is already doing two jobs. She is already cooking, cleaning, washing and caring for a family. If she is married to a drinker or to a mean man—and let us not forget that most men do not tell their wives what they are earning and that if they get an increase in their wages they do not immediately increase the housekeeping allowance—she may be pressed to do night work. I find no reassurance in the T.U.C.'s advice that the women are given a free choice and are not penalised if they choose not to work at nights. What free choice can be exercised by the unfortunate woman who is intimidated by a bully? The women who worked in the coal mines in the last century had a free choice; but they were driven there by circumstances and no mercy was shown to them.
If any noble Lord thinks that I am over-stating the case that the working women to-day are quite incapable of looking after themselves, I want to tell them that evidence of the employers' willingness to exploit women to-day is to be found in the Report of the Commission on Industrial Relations, No. 49, which has just been published. It describes how industrialists are exploiting the labour of women and children on machines installed for the purpose in the family home. Last week I put down a Question on this matter and, of course, the Government did not deny it. The Report states that £8 and less is being paid for a 40-hour week. How can these women and children be protected without legislation? These modern sweat shops are hidden from public view. The 176 industrialists, so we are told, send the work to the homes of their victims in a plain van. They do this to hide their own identity. This merciless treatment of the woman homeworker should be examined by those who assert that times have changed. Incidentally, the Home Secretary mentions in the White Paper that the law could be changed. It is now said that women workers no longer need protection and that these Factory Acts can be repealed. Those Acts have provided some shield against callous exploitation in the past and there is no evidence now, in 1973, that employers have changed.
My Lords, I hope by saying that to have encouraged some noble Lords to recognise this very serious aspect of discrimination in the field of labour and I hope that when the time comes for the Bill to go through this House they will oppose any change in the Factories Acts which have been designed to protect these unfortunate women.
My Lords, I turn shortly to an entirely different act of sex discrimination, the only one which the Select Committee omitted to ask to have reversed; namely, the refusal of the Church of England to permit the ordination of women. I deplore the fact that we have not attracted one Bishop to this debate on sex discrimination. It is significant that, of the letters that I have received on discrimination, not one raises this question. It was this indifference which influenced me to agree to this omission. However, I think this must be said because women feel strongly about this at the time that the Church has decided to highlight the traditional discrimination against women by coercing Princess Anne into "promising to obey"—and she has very little opportunity of refusing—by using the wedding service from the Book of Common Prayer of 1662. The Dean of Westminster, very much on the defensive when challenged on this point by a number of women, said that this is the only form of wedding service legally prescribed by the Church. I admire Princes Anne's physical courage. I hold my breath when I see her take these terrifying fences. I regret that she was not encouraged to defy this anachronism imposed on women by the Established Church.
My Lords, may I correct one point? The noble Baroness, Lady 177 Summerskill, said "the only service prescribed by the Church of England". It is not prescribed by the Church of England but by Parliament, in the Act of Uniformity.
§ BARONESS SUMMERSKILL
My Lords, not being an authority on these matters I was very careful. I can tell the noble Lord only that I was quoting the Dean of Westminster who, when challenged on this point by some women, said that this was the only form of wedding service legally prescribed by the Church. If the Dean of Westminster is wrong and the noble Lord is right, I apologise.
Finally I would say this to the House. One definition of "obey" in the Oxford Dictionary is "to do what one is commanded." Princess Anne holds the rank of colonel. Can a captain command her to obey? Does not this constitute a threat to discipline at Sandhurst? What if other captains follow this example and start demanding obedience from their colonels? My Lords, I have concluded on this light note, but I hope the Government, prodded by the employers will not introduce a Bill ostensibly to remove sex discrimination but which will impose hardship on the poorest and most overworked women in this country.
§ 4.31 p.m.
THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, will excuse me if I do not follow her line of argument very closely. I hope also that she will realise that it is not because of a lack of interest, but sheer lack of courage. I can give the noble Baroness one consolation, which is that my wife never promised to obey me. Whether it made the slightest difference I have no idea.
My Lords, I should like to congratulate the Leader of the House on getting for us what is a fair share of legislation in the early part of this year. I think it will keep us busy. I do not want to comment on it—we do not know precisely what lies in it—but I should like to make two comments on housing and to take up the last remark of the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips. It is a tragedy that at this time there are so many people living in accommodation which is inadequate; the more so when one thinks that over the 178 last fifty years probably no subject has been discussed with more resolution and passion than that of housing.
I will take only two sides of this matter. I believe that the United Nations statistics—one must not trust them too much in this sort of thing—show that we ought to build 500,000 houses a year for our requirements. I do not believe that we ever shall. That means that we have to maintain our existing stock of houses at a higher level than we are doing at the present time in order to prevent deterioration. I consider that more could be done in that direction. There is a suggestion of this in the gracious Speech. Anyone who has any experience of trying to maintain houses knows that it is extremely difficult. It is not only a question of finance; it is also a question of finding someone competent to do the work. If I may mention my own experience, during the last twelve months I have had three contractors to do quite a small job of work, and each of them did the work so badly that someone else had to do it again. I do not believe that my experience is anything like unique. The other day I raised the question of the use of non-flammable material in house building. I believe that more could be done by the Government, and I hope that this matter will be pressed in the National Housebuilding Registration Committee. There are a number of materials of different sorts, Celcure is one, which are proof against fire and against dry rot. More could be done which would be of value in this connection than we are doing at the present time.
The other aspect of the matter I wish to mention is the important part played by building societies in this country, but here I must declare my relationship with the Building Societies Association of which I have been President for nearly ten years. I must make clear that I have nothing to do with the policy of the Building Societies Council and I do not speak on behalf of them. The views that I shall express are entirely my own. I think I should say three things about building societies. They are an entirely indigenous invention which started nearly 200 years ago, and no country in Europe has been able to devise a similar system for house mortgaging. The only countries which have been able to produce 179 systems which in any way resemble what we have in this country are what I would call slightly Anglo-Saxon countries—, America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
The second point about building societies is that they are wholly nonpolitical and are representative of all political Parties. They continue to seek to avoid involving themselves in political struggles in any way. Thirdly, building societies are neutral. There is no profit element, and they are governed entirely by their own Acts, which differ substantially from the Companies Act or anything like that. I might add, also, that if you look at the figures on foreclosures you will find that they are so small and so utterly remote that it is impossible to present them statistically. Nearly always foreclosures arise from special circumstances, of families breaking up and events of that sort. I know it is difficult for the Government to fit building societies into Phase 3. There is considerable difficulty about that owing to the structure of the societies.
On the other hand, there have been a number of changes in rates in the last 12 months and I am not surprised that politicians have had to comment. I think that had they understood the working and structure of building societies better, they might have rephrased some of their comments. One of the results of those comments has been to let in on the scene what I would describe as the "jackals". The B.B.C. put on one of its muckraking programmes which, frankly, perverted the appearance and worth of building societies in a manner which I deeply regret. I find it very hard to understand why the B.B.C. considers that it is immune from the normal courtesies which a civilised society requires in its conduct of affairs. I do not understand what is the value of throwing mud at organisations in which 14 million people have invested their small savings. The great majority of those savings are in sums of under £500; they usually comprise a few hundreds of pounds.
I see no useful purpose in trying to denigrate organisations of this character, and I say that with the more conviction because building societies as a whole have made two enormous contributions to the 20th century. As everyone knows, 180 they borrow short and lend long. Other organisations do the same—banks do it to some extent—but I think that no other organisation does it so extensively, or makes that almost its entire line of business. The building societies have done this so successfully that investments in such societies are regarded as trustee securities. So it is important that the standing and reputation of these organisations should be maintained. Building societies have become the biggest instrument for national savings in this country. Annual savings in building societies exceed in amount the savings in national savings banks, trustee savings banks, premium savings bonds and national savings certificates all put together. To my mind, that is of considerable significance to the sociological development of this country.
Building societies have also played a major part in increasing home ownership. Figures for 50 years ago, in the 1920's, are difficult to obtain, but I think that then home owners represented about 10 per cent. of the householders in this country. To-day the figure is well over 50 per cent. More accurately, one could say that since the war the percentage of owner-occupiers has doubled, from about 25 per cent. to over 50 per cent., and that most of the owner-occupation has been achieved through agencies which are building societies of one sort or another. I do not want to go into all the criticisms which have been made, but I should like to mention one or two, because I think that to a great extent they are ill-founded. There has been much talk about first-time purchasers. On this there are two points that I should like to make. Of course first-time purchasers should be encouraged; but nearly 50 per cent. of all mortgages are for first-time purchasers: in other words, the figures run into between £200,000 and £300,000 a year. So the numbers are very large. Secondly, if you do not pay the full rate to start with, then it becomes bigger later on. That may or may not suit somebody. All I am saying is that these kind of things require adjustment according to the different circumstances in which people find themselves.
It has been suggested that building societies should be more elastic. Well, the story of building societies has shown an 181 immense variety of systems over the years that they have existed and, like evolution in biology, the better ones have succeeded and others have been discarded. This is true to-day. Among the 400 building societies you will find a large number of different ways in which these kind of operations can be conducted, from save-as-you-earn to various systems of linkage to insurance and things of that character. These are all different ways of doing things according to the circumstances.
It is often said that there are too many big offices, and that building societies ought not to have these huge offices; that they look very pretentious, and their expenses are too high. Let me give your Lordships the figures on this. In the current year building societies will lend about £3½, billion, and to collect the money to do that through the 2,500 offices they require to collect £9 million, allowing for withdrawals and so on which will take place. That means that each office will on average need to raise between £3 million and £4 million. I think with that average the number of offices is not excessive.
It is sometimes suggested that they should invest in the equity of the buildings on which they offer mortgages. On that I would only say that they would be investing in the development value of a house instead of confining themselves strictly to the monetary value and nothing else. If they were to take an equity value, they would lend on properties which have a considerable development value, and not necessarily where houses are most required. Therefore I think it would be wrong for them to be concerned with taking a speculation in the future value of properties.
My Lords, subjects like reserve liquidity have been examined by the Prices and Incomes Board and also by a Commission. I do not want to go into that. What can the Government do with building societies? Quite frankly, they can do very little. One thing they could do would be to subsidise. I think that would be wrong. It was done in a small way earlier this year, and I do not think it was very successful. They could restrict their operations. I do not think anybody wants to do that. If of course anybody can find a cheaper and better way of house financing, then let them do it. But 182 I think the Government have been wise in the course they have taken. They are setting up an advisory committee which will enable the building societies to maintain their commercial responsibility, and at the same time there will be a considerable source of mutual education. I think this is a great advantage, because both sides, the Government and the building societies, have quite a lot to learn from each other. As a matter of interest, the building societies took a truer line as to the movement of money rates in April of this year than apparently the Lords of the Treasury themselves took. But that is as it may be. This is a delicate instrument which has been evolving by experience over 200 years. It would be foolish to try to control it, the more so because at the present time extensive thought is being given to going into Europe and possibly extending the system that we have in this country on a European basis. If that is the case, it is important that the movement should be in a thoroughly healthy condition.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, when I first listened to the gracious Speech it seemed to me that we were very fortunate indeed to be living in such a wonderful country at such a wonderful time and with such a wonderful Government. I could not help wondering whether the late Dr. Pangloss had not risen from his grave and come to help in Whitehall in the preparation of this document. One cannot read it without a feeling that all really is for the best in the best of all possible worlds; that there may be a few little things here and there which could be marginally improved, but that undoubtedly within the next year or two these things will have been improved and we shall have no need to worry.
I will not quote at any length from the gracious Speech, but there are just one or two points touching on the particular subject that we are supposed to be discussing to-day. It says:At home, my Government's continuing aim will be to secure a prosperous, fair and orderly society…They will have particular regard to the requirements of the old, the sick and the needy…They will so contain public expenditure that the rise in productive investment and in exports is not put at risk. My Government will continue their efforts to counter inflation.There is no suggestion that those efforts are going to be any different from those 183 which presumably have been made over the past months and years and the results of which we see to-day.
The gracious Speech continues lower down:My Ministers will continue to give high priority to housing policies and in particular to improving living conditions in the worst housing areas, and to giving additional help to voluntary housing movement.All these of course are good things. But there is so much complacency here. There has been much complacency, I am afraid, in the able speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, and in many other speeches, both to-day and yesterday, and I am very disturbed indeed that there are not more noble Lords in this House who seem to be aware of the real problems that many people—not ourselves individually; we arc well insulated from them; but the great mass of people—have to face to-day and which are not getting any better for them but are progressively getting worse.
I shall try to confine myself to two matters of home affairs and only touch fleetingly on economics, which I believe will be discussed next week. In thinking about this matter, it seems to me that there is in the second paragraph of the gracious Speech a clue to the reasons for, to my mind, the signal failure of the present Government to get to grips with the real problems which are confronting us and to take the steps which surely are essential if we are to make any fundamental improvement in our society, not only in the material standards of living but in what is now perhaps too frequently called the quality of life: the sort of things which enable people not only to earn more, to have longer holidays abroad, larger televisions, more motor cars and the rest, but also to enjoy their lives, to get to their work every morning feeling relaxed and capable of doing a good job, and to get back in the evening feeling that they can enjoy their family, dig in the garden, or do whatever it may he. Those are the essential qualities of life which we are rapidly losing.
We should be endeavouring to create a society where young people do not feel frustrated and do not turn increasingly to the taking of drugs and other crimes as a symptom, not of their wickedness—they are not more wicked than any of us 184 have been in our day—but of the things which are wrong with our society. I believe, as I say, that one can find a clue to this in the second paragraph of the gracious Speech, where it is said:My Government's objective throughout will be to promote the interests of the individual, whether as citizen or as consumer.I will not say there is anything fundamentally wrong with that statement because I have nothing at all against protecting the interests of the individual or the consumer, but I do not believe that you can succeed in the long term in protecting those interests if you do not go wider than the individual and protect the interests of the community and if you do not look beyond the consumer and at least see that the producer has a square deal. In the past we have not done that to a sufficient extent. My own Party have failed also, though perhaps theirs was not so great a failure. There have been failures on both sides. I should like to give two specific examples. Over the past few months we have experienced a very rapid rise in the cost of food. This affects everybody. The Government want to protect the consumer, but I suggest that the reason why food has risen so markedly in such a short space of time, and why the consumer is suffering so much to-day, is because over the past decades the producer has been largely neglected. I am not talking about the British farmer, because special steps have been taken to safeguard his interests to a greater or lesser extent; but, taking producers as a whore throughout the world, their interests have never been looked after by any Government in this country, with the one great exception of the sugar producers of the Commonwealth.
There is a lesson to be learned from this, my Lords. Where the producer has been safeguarded by a fair and just price over a period of time, and even at times of world shortage such as we are experiencing to-day, the consumer is protected against enormous rises in the price of sugar because of the arrangements of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement; but in all other foodstuffs no such concern has been shown for the primary producer, and, as a result, there has been no protection for the consumer.
Let me now move away from food to something which is perhaps even more 185 pressing—certainly it will be so in the future months—and that is oil. Again, in the past, in our unthinking, arrogant way, we have looked upon the producers of oil—and I am speaking of many decades ago—as poor, benighted, ignorant people who happened to have a resource in their countries which they could not exploit. We have exploited it and we have done what we could to obtain that oil at the lowest possible price. Until fairly recently there has been no attempt whatsoever at any genuine partnership between the Governments of the producing countries and ourselves, as consumers. The interests of the producer have been neglected. But now the boot is on the other foot. It is no longer a question of the few rich countries of the West dictating the price they wish to give for the primary products of the oil-producing countries: it is of a consortium of oil-producing countries dictating to us the price that we have to pay for the products they are going to allow us. We do not like that—of course we do not—and the consumer suffers. The consumer, the community, the country, all suffer because we have sought for short-term advantage for our consumers and our individuals and have neglected and ignored the legitimate interests of the producer, whether of food, oil or any other raw material, including coal.
Proceeding further on the question of oil, we know that it is essential for many things in our industrial life, but above all it is essential for transport. Already, before an oil crisis has occurred, we are suffering a crisis of transport in our large metropolitan areas (particularly in London) because of a shortage of drivers and conductors on our bus and Underground services. We are now facing, during the course of this winter, a possible situation where we may well have insufficient oil to run our private motor cars, with private motorists being restricted and people being forced to use public transport, but where, because of this neglect of producer and community interests, there will not be sufficient people to man the public transport services. It is not only in public transport that we can see this taking place. One can see it in almost every aspect of our communal life. The essential services, one example of which is represented by the firemen in Glasgow, are suffering. The Glasgow firemen do not have the official 186 support of their union, but they have the support of many other firemen in other parts of the country, and this is leading in certain areas to a very serious breakdown of an essential service, our Fire Service.
There is also serious difficulty in finding sufficient people to deal with garbage disposal. We have already heard that there are problems in the Probation Service. The noble Viscount spoke happily—I say complacently—about the situation of the police. There may have been an improvement, but undoubtedly there is a very grave shortage of policemen at the present time. More and more, as one looks throughout this country, one sees the essential services being affected. I consider that the driver of a bus or a garbage truck is just as much the producer of a service as is the producer of food or the producer of oil. Those producers have, over the years, been starved because they are inevitably more susceptible to wage restraint as compared with those who are carrying out unnecessary services. These latter may give pleasure perhaps, and profit also, but they are not vital. I refer to such services as "pop" singers, bingo halls, property development at all levels: those are the occupations which are gaining the greatest rewards.
I do not think we shall ever get to grips with this problem, which is catching up on us far more rapidly than most people allow themselves to believe, if, regardless of Phases 2 and 3, we continue to allow, in effect, enormous profits to he made at the highest levels and enormous wages to be taken home—I do not say earned—at the lower levels in inessential industries and occupations of this country, whereas the people in those services and occupations that are vital to the quality of the life of the community, in whatever area they may be, are restricted and curtailed in the rewards they can get. I would suggest, my Lords, that we cannot safeguard the rights of the individuals if the interests of the community are ignored, and we cannot protect the consumer if the just claims of the producer are to be put on one side. What we must accept now is that the consumers and individuals themselves are no longer paramount and that those who do the essential things and produce items to meet the essential needs of the community must be respected far more 187 than they have been in the past. And so long as we continue with the complacency, the self-congratulation, the smugness that runs throughout the whole of the gracious Speech we shall still be moving faster and faster into a situation where many things which will be painful to many people will inevitably overtake us. It then will be too late to do anything about it except regret it.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross, in opening this debate to-day, said that a large part of the gracious Speech referred to concern for the people. I wish to speak for a few moments on the housing problem of this country. One passage in the gracious Speech was:My Ministers will continue to give high priority to housing policies and in particular to improving living conditions in the worst housing areas, and to giving additional help to the voluntary housing movement.The Conservative Party have always had a good name regarding housing, and we have done a great deal since the war on housing. But unfortunately all is not well now, and the level of house-building is dropping.
The Minister for Housing and Construction, Mr. Paul Channon, said in a speech in Blackpool:I still find it appalling that so many of our fellow citizens still live in totally inadequate housing conditions, and some have no homes at all. I believe too that this debate has shown, as in the past, that in housing as in so many other fields, we believe that fairness should be our guiding principle.If I understand the message of this conference this afternoon, you commend our housing aims as a Government, but you tell us to get on, to act faster and do better. I accept that. Of course, we must do that. We must and we will do that.My Lords, those were the words of the Minister when winding up on the important debate at the Party Conference in Blackpool last month.
The problem is largely one of finance, and the housing figures so far this year are as follows. In the past nine months, 220,000 houses have been completed in Great Britain; and in the same period there were 260,000 starts. If we are lucky —and we need to be lucky—we may reach 300.000. My own view is that the total will not reach more than about 290,000. Last year was a fairly successful 188 one, although it was not too good. We completed 319,270 houses in Great Britain: 196,270 for sale, and 123,000 for letting. We also made important progress in improvements to housing. In 1972, 137,000 houses were improved. It is important to keep the stock of housing in good order so that they last longer, as my noble friend Lord Selkirk said. During the three and a half years of the Conservative Government over 853,000 houses in the private sector in Great Britain have been improved. That is a great advance, but one reads some disturbing articles. The Financial Times yesterday, for example, said, "Building orders down again". The starts between July and September of this year were 3 per cent. down, and in the same period the completions of local authority houses were 14 per cent. down. Why is that? It is mostly a question of finance.
My noble friend Lord Selkirk said that the building societies have done a wonderful job in this country for owner-occupation; but their deposits a few months ago were at a very low ebb and they were not able to finance as many people who wanted help to buy houses as they would have liked. I have no interest at all in housing societies, but I have made some careful inquiries, and I am glad to tell your Lordships that at the present time a much better flow of funds is coming into the building societies. Funds, however, are not coming in fast enough for the societies to be able to offer all the finance they would wish for in new and second-hand housing. It is important to get activity going again and it should be possible for people to obtain a mortgage for second-hand houses in good repair. Parliament has given the vote to people at 18; to-day people are getting married much earlier; they are better educated than they were, and they look to get a mortgage on a good second-hand house. The people who have been living in second-hand houses and who want a better house will take a mortgage on a new house. But there are not sufficient funds to go round to finance both new and second-hand houses: hence the great problem we are facing to-day.
My noble friend Lord Selkirk touched on the point—and turned it down, which I think was quite right—that it is not right for the Government to give a subsidy or restrict the activities of building 189 societies. We want to see their activities expanded. There is another way to look at the question, and I hope that Her Majesty's Government will give it careful consideration. In 1959, when we were in great difficulty regarding this matter, the Government made a loan to the building societies—not a subsidy—of £100 million under the Housing Act of that year. That was stopped in 1961 because there was a financial crisis. The then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Selwyn Lloyd, had to put an end to it. Most of the £100 million was spent, and it gave great relief to the building societies. I understand that all that money has been repaid. Is it not possible for the Government to look at that again to see whether they could give loans to the building societies so that there will be sufficient funds to enable people to buy second-hand houses as well as new houses.
There was an important restriction in the 1959 Act; that is, that money would not be loaned to purchase houses built earlier than 1919. It is some years now since 1959, so this restriction might be revised to apply to houses built earlier than 1929 or 1930. This is to avoid money being loaned on houses in bad repair. I have here another Press cutting —and I do not want to bore your Lordships too much with cuttings—from last week's Bury Free Press, a paper from West Suffolk. It said, "Homes crisis may hit local firms". It continued:Industrialists moving into West Suffolk could be driven away by a shortage of housing for key workers".East Anglia has been a great growth area and is of help to industries from the Common Market countries because it is near to the big ports of Harwich and Felixstowe.
All this is very disturbing, and I am sure that Her Majesty's Government will give this most serious consideration and carry out their intentions in the gracious Speech to try to see what can be done. More help should be given to local authorities. When we passed the Housing Finance Act, I was one of those who said that I was rather sad that the whole of the subsidy was cut off to local authorities, except the rising cost subsidy, for the building of new houses. That subsidy was to try to help deal with inflation in this country. All that money was 190 given to the people and it has been of great benefit to them by enabling them to get big reductions in their rents. But of course one has to dangle some encouragement in front of local authorities as a carrot if one wants local authority housing built, because to-day the cost of building local authority houses is so enormous that many authorities have told me that the more they build the more they get into debt on their revenue account; and as Parliament has laid down that they must keep their housing revenue account in balance one year with another, they say it puts up the rent of existing tenants too much, so they slow down their production of new housing. That is why I say that it is, in my humble opinion, a matter very largely of finance and I hope that Her Majesty's Government will look into this matter—and I am sure they will—most carefully.
§ 5.11 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my old school friend and contemporary, the noble Lord, Lord Wolverton. The noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, began by saying that no one would be surprised if she spoke about discrimination against women. I suppose no one will be very much surprised if I single out the passage in the gracious Speech which announced that:A Bill will be introduced to strengthen the laws against indecent public advertisement and displays; and to extend the controls over cinematograph exhibitions.In the public mind, in so far as I exist at all, I am identified entirely with this alleged obsession. Not so very long ago a taxi-driver dropped me here and said to me as I paid him off: "Excuse me. Could you tell me your second name? I know you are 'Lord Porn'. What is your other name? "Well, as those who have suffered under my oratory in past years will realise, that is not the entire picture. Perhaps it would have been better if it had been, but at any rate, I have become, as they say, stuck with this particular topic for the rest of my life.
In fact, a Bill was published this morning called the Cinematograph and Indecent Displays Bill, which was gracefully but briefly explained to us by the noble Viscount. Lord Colville. I suppose there are very few noble Lords who have had a chance to look at the Bill. I have 191 been able to give it only a cursory inspection and therefore what I say about it will be of a preliminary nature. Noble Lords may remember that in the spring of 1971, two and a half years ago, I initiated a debate on pornography. I submitted that pornography had increased, was increasing, and ought to be diminished. Soon afterwards I became chairman of an unofficial committee which last September produced a report on that subject. That report, which made a number of quite drastic recommendations, was debated in this House at the end of last year. What I say to-day is said of course, entirely in a personal capacity. Our committee ceased to exist a year ago, but I should imagine that my general point of view would be echoed by a good many of my former colleagues.
Reminding the House briefly of our recommendations, I would place them under four heads. We argued that the law of obscenity should be substantially changed so as to make it a great deal harder than it is now to produce and sell pornography. It should be made a criminal offence to exhibit indecent material; it should also become a criminal offence to employ performers (this was a rather novel, though not quite unprecedented, proposal) in obscene or indecent performances; and we proposed the extension of the obscenity laws to cover films and broadcasting. There were other recommendations, but those were the main ones.
To come to the Bill itself, may I straight away make two general comments? One, I welcome it cordially as an initial step in the right direction, as a supplement to the existing very inadequate defences against pornography, and in some ways a first instalment of the recommendations which we ourselves put forward. Secondly, this Bill would be totally unsatisfying if we were to regard it as a substitute for a comprehensive assault on pornography, which is certainly threatening the nation no less at the moment than when I initiated that debate two and a half years ago. I will not say much about Part I of the Bill, which deals with films. It does not go so far as we would go, or as we went in our report, in recommending stronger control of cinema clubs; but, as with the rest of the Bill, one can say here that 192 there has been a move in the right direction. The whole question of films and film censorship is to-day in a very fluid and rather worrying condition, and if only for that reason I will take leave of it for the time being.
Part II of the Bill, as the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, explained, deals with indecent displays. It contains eight clauses but I suppose that Clause 6 will seem to many to be the crux. Clause 6 makes it an offence to display indecent matter in any place to which the public have access, subject to various qualifications as indicated by the noble Viscount. This clause does not apply to public museums and television broadcasts. I certainly regret that it does not apply to television. However, this clause, while not identical, is closely in line with clause 5 of the draft Bill attached to our report—which I need hardly say was no brilliant brainchild of mine but was the result of very expert legal advice in drafting. We proposed in our report that:any person who exhibits or distributes in a street or other public place any written, pictorial or other material which is indecent is guilty of an offence";and we went on to define "public place" in a certain way, and so on. So there is a very close similarity between what we proposed (it was not our first, but our second main proposal last year) and what the Government are doing. If one is offered half a loaf or even a quarter-loaf, I am not a man to throw it back at the well-disposed donor. Therefore, so far as this particular aspect of the Bill is concerned, taking it by itself, I think it is a credit to the Government and possibly a credit to others.
Perhaps I may spend a minute or two looking at what is involved here. One of the difficulties which I am afraid I have repeatedly found in discussing this hideous subject is that one cannot really describe in any public place, in this House or anywhere else, the evil, the wicked objects, that one is in fact denouncing. If one does that or goes very far along that line, one soon falls into the trap of the pornographers and becomes a pornographer oneself. That is a real handicap. I remember the debate last November: one noble Baroness said that she had never seen any real pornography—and that makes it very much 193 harder to discuss the question with people who have very strong views about it, whose views seem to get stronger and stronger, but who in fact will not look at any. That comment is not aimed at anybody in particular but is a general observation.
No one in this House, I suppose—and I am not a particularly observant person, perhaps fortunately in these latter days —can be unaware of the large enticements at some of the cinemas in very prominent places. I will not recount sonic of the worst advertisements, but one cannot walk from St. Martin-in-the-Fields to this House without being asked in huge letters at the corner of the Strand and Trafalgar Square: "Do you want to remain a virgin for ever?". That question is put, one might say, to practically everyone who visits London. Even interpreting that in the widest sense— "virgin" in the ambidextrous sense— this particular question may not have a great deal of relevance to your Lordships, but it is undoubtedly a fairly shocking feature of life to-day. And no one can Pretend that it is willingly bought or expected by those who come under its baleful influence. That is just one instance: one can find a great many worse than that.
I will leave out Soho for a moment, and all the talk about dirty raincoats, and so on, in that part of the world. I am informed by Scotland Yard that over one area of Soho the number of shops which they regard as selling hard "porn" has come down from 36 to eight in the last year. "Say not the struggle nought availeth": eight is still eight, and I am not quite sure why they are still permitted: I suppose that Scotland Yard officers have been busy until now getting rid of the other 28. But do not let us deny that in regard to hard "porn" considerable progress has been made. However I would not say that either in the last two and a half years or in the last year the standard of magazines on sale in the ordinary newsagents has improved very much. W. H. Smith have a higher standard than others, but even they occasionally lay themselves open to criticism. I would not say that the standard had improved, even though one or two of the largest magazine proprietors have been in trouble.
194 My own experience, speaking as someone at the end of many complaints—or at the beginning of them—is that nothing causes more general disgust than the kind of magazines which can be bought in any newsagents. I am not speaking of Soho but am speaking of the magazines which sell several hundred thousand copies throughout the country. They have a very large sale all over the country, alongside the papers bought for children. I hold in my hand (though I will not advertise it by mentioning its name) an utterly disgusting magazine. If any noble Lords wants to see it afterwards, that is rather a different matter; but at any rate, "Not in front of the children", as the saying is. Perhaps the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, may wish to see it, although he has seen plenty of this kind of thing so perhaps he is the one who needs it least. At any rate, taking an utterly disgusting magazine such as this, no one glancing through it can possibly deny that the contents arc quite indecent.
The real question, which will come up when the Committee stage of the Bill is reached in another place and here, is how far the contents of a magazine sold in the most prominent place in a newsagent's shop can be described as "displayed in a public place". If we take the cover alone, I think it would be a matter of argument as to whether the cover would be regarded as being indecent in the criminal sense. I think it would be if I were on the jury, but of course there are others who might be more liberal-minded. Let us assume that the cover gets by and the contents remain as they are now. We then have the problem of the table of contents on the outside of the paper. I shall not read much of it to your Lordships, but perhaps I might mention two: "Why Girls become Company Whores" and "Full-fronted Sexy Hubby", and so on. One can multiply those headings many times over in these magazines, and when we come down to the question of indecent display it would be difficult in my opinion not to describe these headings as "displayed".
It may also be that other noble Lords, and particularly legal Members, will want to look closely at Clause 9 of the Bill. I will not go into it now, but it may have a relevance in regard to this matter. We are agreed that something drastic ought 195 to be done about the indecent display of material of this kind. The question will be what constitutes "display". There will also be the question of what is "indecency" although personally I do not think that will give rise to anything like the same amount of difficulty—or so I was advised last year by all our legal experts. I think the hardest problem will be deciding what is to count as "public display". However, that will not be a reason for holding up the Bill in any way. I repeat that I cordially welcome this Part of the Bill and I hope that we shall be able to deal adequately with it.
Before I close I should like to say a few words on what might he called the general theory behind this Bill. I have only been able to glance at it to-day, but the Home Secretary gave an extremely interesting and comprehensive interview which was published in the Daily Telegraph not so long ago, so I think we have some idea of the way in which his mind is working. When I opened the debate in April two and a half years ago I said that most people in this country disliked pornography but most people disliked censorship also. That is of course the problem. It is childish to say, I am against pornography, so let us get rid of pornography," and it is equally childish to say, "I am against censorship and so I am not going to draw a line anywhere". Clearly, everyone who takes this matter at all seriously agrees that one must draw the line somewhere. The question is how to draw the general line and how to apply it. I am well aware—perhaps no one could be better aware than I am, not only since our report came out, but as the result of so many arguments and discussions since—of the very great difficulty of formulating a test of obscenity which will be generally acceptable. Even if you leave out those who are in favour of sex at all costs, and even if you leave out those who come to this subject with a tremendous bias in favour of freedom at all costs, sometimes they are ready for restrictions on, say, racial propaganda or violent propaganda. So they seldom apply it with the utmost rigidity. Nevertheless, there are some people who say that there must be freedom of speech at all costs, and it is very difficult to argue with them. But if you take people who 196 are seriously concerned with the problem of how and when to draw the line, I think all such people would agree that the perfect definition is hard to come by in one sense, and of course the perfect definition in a matter of this sort is very difficult and is not to be expected in this world.
When the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, spoke last November he pointed out that until then at any rate there was serious discrimination among those who propounded various ideas for a new law on obscenity. That being so, if I may say so respectfully (and I hope it does not sound patronising) one cannot blame the Government too severely if they do not come forward on this occasion with a fundamental revision of the law of obscenity. I am quite sure that it must come; I am sure that in many cases the present law makes the task of prosecution virtually impossible, and certainly I shall never rest until such an improvement comes about.
Meanwhile, let us be thankful for an enlightened approach as far as it goes. Let us congratulate the Government on coming forward promptly in this way at the beginning of the Session. Let us wish them success with this measure, and they will not misunderstand me if I say that people like myself will go on pressing, now and in the indefinite future, for a much wider measure of justice and purity.
§ LORD STRANGE
My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down may I ask him a question, because there may be some other people as innocent as I am about these machines. Would it not be possible to arrange for a display of these illegal machines, so that we may find out exactly how much the butler is allowed to see?
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, that kind of thought has passed through my mind. It certainly could not be conducted by a Private Member. If it were arranged I think it should be arranged by the Whips, but I think it would be a good plan.
§ 5.32 p.m.
My Lords, I am sure the Government will he gratified by the powerful support of the noble Earl. Lord Longford, in this matter. I am no sort of expert on this subject, and I do 197 not even know how one becomes an expert. It seems to me that this has been an example of how a campaign which started in your Lordships' House has come to fruition. I can only say that I find my noble friend's campaign easier to support than some of the other campaigns which have already been successful in your Lordships' House. I want to say a few words about one particular aspect of housing; namely, the so-called scandal of high land prices.
When I heard the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition say on the first day that we shall be discussing many matters, including the absence of any action with regard to the scandal of land prices and the problem of housing, I thought I should hear a diatribe against the Government for their failure to do anything about the scandal of land prices. But that has not happened; nobody has mentioned it. I am not absolutely surprised that they should not. I think it will be mentioned, and it may well be mentioned in circumstances of a more emotional character than we find in this House. The idea of collecting land values for the State is one of the oldest controversial ideas going back to Henry George and the single tax, and the taxing of land at site value under the Lloyd George scheme. Then we had the development charge of Lord Silkin, and the capital gains tax under which we now operate. From a purely personal point of view, I thought that by far the most scientific ideas were those of the late Lord Silkin in the 1947 Act. If, as is rumoured, he had been allowed to charge it at 50 per cent. instead of 100 per cent., we should still have been working under that general advantage. But as enacted it became unworkable and had to be revoked. I am mentioning these items to show that it is really a very complicated problem—but that is not how it is going to be represented, I am sure, on the hustings. On the Opposition hustings, I think it would be quite a simple argument. It will all be due to speculators, who are invariably Tories, and if one only liquidated the speculators one would liquidate the problem. The number of Tory speculators under this theory must be quite astronomical.
My Lords, I was hoping that in the comparatively detached atmosphere of 198 this House we could have a firm exposition of what the Opposition would want us to do, and what they would do if they were in power. Are they suggesting that the State should buy land at market value and sell at market value? If so, the scandal would remain, the State taking the position of the speculators. Any profit would go to the State. But taking administrative expenses into account, would there be much profit? Or would they buy at less than market value, despite all the complications of estate duty, mortgages and so forth? I really think we are entitled to know. One thing no Government will try to do is to dispose of land below market value. There are worthy classes of people who ought to be helped to acquire land, but once you start trying to differentiate between different commercial interests, you head for trouble. Unfortunately, there have been examples of Jiggery-pokery in local councils in recent years, but if one started on this system one would have jiggery-pokery on an unprecedented scale. I have confidence in the present Minister of Housing. I believe that the housing legislation foreshadowed in the gracious Speech will have some success in this extraordinarily difficult position we are now in, which is only partially due to inflation. I believe too, that from the undertaking given about housing associations, in which I am particularly interested, they will be given a larger part to play. I have no doubt that when we get this legislation it will mean the expenditure of much blood, toil, tears and sweat which I do not look forward to; but in my experience when the talking is done, that the only way anything ever does get done.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
My Lords, five years ago during our debate on the Address I spoke of the increasing damage that was being caused to life and property by fire. Perhaps the time has come to do so again, particularly as bonfire night is only just round the corner. In the intervening years we have had the Holroyd Report which made many far-reaching proposals for improving fire fighting and fire prevention; we have had the Cunningham Report which increased firemen's pay, and we have had the Fire Precautions Act. Incidentally, I still think we have one of the finest fire services in the world. 199 But one thing has not changed. Fire damage goes on increasing, and it looks as though this will be the worst peace-time year since the Great Fire of London. If we look at the figures we find that in 1968, when I last addressed your Lordships on this subject, the fire damage amounted to £98 million. Last year it was £108 million; this year it is £121 million for the first eight months. If we make another comparison, eight years ago it was £74 million, and if this year it continues to increase at the rate we have experienced in the past eight months it will be £180 million—nearly 2½, times what it was eight years ago. In July this year it was £18½ million, nearly three times as much as in July last year. In August this year it was £15½ million, 50 per cent. more than August last year.
My Lords, of course we must have regard to inflation. But if inflation swells the value of buildings burned down, then it equally inflates the value of their replacement, and these figures relate simply to direct damage. We must add to that the lost employment, the lost profits, lost production, lost exports, lost taxation to the Exchequer, and lost rate revenue to the local authorities. That has been stated by experts to amount to an all-in figure of about £500 million. With my customary moderation I will call it £400 million. Can we visualise what that means? If one took 400 million £1 notes and placed them end to end they would reach from London to Brussels, to Berlin, to Warsaw, Moscow, Omsk, Tomsk, Vladivostok, Washington and back again to London, and off again from Maplin Airport as far as Peking, and you would still have some of those pound notes left. It is an enormous sum for us to see going up in smoke. Not only is the damage increasing, but the number of fires has increased as well. Last year there was an increase of 15 per cent. This year it could be even greater. I fear this comes about because too many people take too little care about fire. In some respects it is also due to the flammable nature of our modern environment. We have more petrol, more chemicals, more T.V. sets, more electrical installations, more factory production lines generating explosive dust, more juggernauts cracking our gas mains, more stubble burning in the fields, and temporarily more arson and more bombs.
200 But it is not only in relation to industry that this damage is important. There are 100 fires each year in schools, 400 in churches, 600 in hospitals, 900 in hotels; and it is a fact that one half of the damage is caused in a relatively small number of very large fires. Let us have a look at a few of these in recent years: Summerland and Pwllheli, the latest estimate is over £2 million between them; a railway bridge in Wales, £2 million; a Lincolnshire paper mill, £3½ million; a Lancashire textile mill, £3;½ million; a Lancashire warehouse,£½ million; a Cheshire brewery, £3 million: and a few weeks ago a store in Colchester estimated to cost £3 million.
The fire brigade should really be the instrument of last resort; prevention is very much better than cure. What can be done in the nature of fire prevention in buildings? I believe that there should be more sprinkler installations in big buildings, particularly if these are connected directly to the fire station. A sprinkler can knock out a fire in a very few minutes. If we take the seven £1 million fires that occurred in a recent month, not one of those buildings was equipped with sprinklers. It is a well-known fact, and perhaps should be even more widely known, that the insurance companies grant big premium reductions if sprinklers are installed. There is also a tax concession, and in certain parts of the country direct grants from the Exchequer. I feel that this tax concession should be greater than it is, and in very big buildings the use of sprinklers should be made compulsory. There are some insurance companies which also grant premium concessions where automatic fire alarms are installed. Some of these alarms are better than others. Can we be told when the British Standards specification for these alarms is likely to be ready? I think there is one thing the Government should do without delay. If you install fire preventive equipment at present your local rates go up it is as simple as that. That is a deterrent, and I should like to see the Government remove it.
It is very sad to reflect that two out of every three fire deaths take place in people's homes. I think the Home Office has clone very well to circulate its recent Danger of Fire handbook, but I am sorry that they did not include in it a suggestion that every household should 201 equip itself with a portable chemical extinguisher. I should like to see more propaganda carried out in schools, because far too many fires in this country are caused by children playing with matches, and some of those fires are very disastrous indeed.
I think we must also have more control over building materials. More and more synthetic materials are being used in building and some have not been properly tested. The Fire Brigades Union suggest that there should be compulsory testing of all these materials, and that the report should be sent to all local authorities for their building inspectors, and to all the fire brigade chiefs. They point out that some of these materials not only are highly flammable but also emit poisonous fumes. I should like to see building regulations framed in such a way that there are more fire-proof and smoke-proof doors in big buildings; and in big rooms which arc not sub-divided special precautions should be taken.
What about the "front-line troops", the members, the normally dedicated and often heroic members of our fire brigades. Last year, Cunningham gave them an increase in pay. That was not adequate, and in any event it is completely out of date this year. Many firemen are drawing less than the average adult weekly wage. I hope the Pay Board will take into account the fact that these men are working what are called unsocial hours, frequently fifty-six hours a week, and will see that they are rewarded accordingly. If your Lordships ask me whether I believe that firemen should strike, my answer is unequivocally no. But as a corollary of that it is the duty of society to see that they are properly recompensed.
There is discontent in the Fire Service —make no mistake about that! Far too many firemen are retiring. They can get more money in the factory just down the road, and incidentally they can spend more nights at home with their wives. Many brigades are under strength; I will not exaggerate that, but some brigades arc under strength. London is 500 under strength. I feel that something should be done to tempt men back into the Fire Service.
The Cunningham Committee suggested that in every fire brigade there should be set up a consultative committee to con- 202 sider management questions. I should like the Government to tell us whether anything has been done about that suggestion. The Cunningham Committee also suggested that the rank of leading fireman should be abolished. There is strong opposition to this in the Fire Service, and I hope we may hear that the Government have finally decided not to implement that recommendation. What about promotion in the Fire Service? Last year, 1,000 firemen passed the examination for leading fireman; 500 passed the examination for sub-officer; 500 passed the examination for station officer, if we include those who passed the examination of the Institution of Fire Engineers. What are their chances of promotion? Are they to be frustrated? I know as well as anyone else that passing examinations is not the only criterion for leadership. In the First World War in France I never passed any exams but I was a pretty good company serjeant major.
I believe that most fire brigades are fairly well equipped with modern appliances, but with increasing numbers of motorways and motor crashes some of them are short of rescue vehicles and heavy lifting equipment, and I hope they will he encouraged to make purchases of these. And there are a few other questions. There have been experiments with infra-red equipment to enable firemen to see through smoke. I should like to know how those experiments are proceeding. Is the turntable ladder on the way out? Is it being replaced by the Snorkel hydraulic rescue platform and by the Simonitor high-level water jet controlled from the ground? I know that many brigades are buying these, and I think it is very wise of them. In a paper that I submitted to the Chief Fire Officers' Conference a few years ago I had a good word to say for the Snorkel, but I believe that in some circumstances there is still need for the turntable ladder. Perhaps the Government could tell us whether there is any policy line on that. Is the hook ladder on the way out? In some districts it will perhaps he necessary, but I must say that when I was chairman of a county fire brigade committee the hook ladder used to frighten me.
The Holroyd Committee have suggested that there should be a great intensification of fire research. What is being done? They also suggested that the Fire 203 Staff College and the Fire Technical College should be merged. There is strong opposition in the Service to that proposal. Perhaps the Government could tell us whether that idea has been dropped. Also there have been experiments with a protective tunic for firemen. I should like to know how those experiments are getting on, and whether the firemen are likely to have the benefit.
Another matter that concerns the firemen and fire officers—or perhaps I should transpose that: the fire officers and the firemen—is local government reorganisation. Under this the number of tire brigades is to be cut down by half. This means that half of the Chief Fire Officers are going to be either retired or downgraded. I have always believed that big fire brigades are better than small fire brigades: they can carry more specialised equipment. However, is everything possible being done to safeguard careers? As another aspect of this reorganisation it is being suggested that some fire stations and some control rooms should he closed down. That may be attractive financially, but is it wise? With our very densely packed streets is it not better to have a fair number of medium-sized fire stations scattered around the district within easy reach of a fire, rather than a smaller number of centralized, large fire stations from which there will be much further to travel?
A few minutes ago I spoke about fire precautions in buildings. What about the fire prevention organisation itself? I feel that not enough fire prevention officers are being recruited. I also feel that more firemen should be trained in fire protection work. This is another of the suggestions that I made at the Chief Fire Officers' Conference some years ago. Since then it has been suggested by Holroyd; it has been suggested by Cunningham, and supported by the Home Secretary himself. Cunningham, in his Report, suggested that in order to set firemen free for this inspection work civilian cleaners should be employed in fire stations to carry out those menial tasks which he described as "bull". I am not aware of the exact derivation of that term, but it is noticeable that the Home Secretary himself has recently commended the idea to fire brigades. I wonder whether, in a few months' time, he could check on those brigades and 204 find out what they are doing, because I know that several of them are far from enthusiastic.
I feel that we have to speed up this inspection work. There are a quarter of a million hotels and boarding-houses to be attended to. I think that the Home Secretary should set a deadline for completing the inspection of these hotels, for if that is not done then the 30,000 schools and the 17,000 hospitals and hostels will be left very badly behind. In some hospitals there is a grave need for improved fire precautions. The Chief Inspector of Fire Services is under no illusion about the need for improving fire precautions. In his recent report he says this:Too little effort is expended to avoid outbreaks of tire. A dynamic policy of fire prevention is needed.I believe that all aspects of fire prevention should be put in the hands of the Fire Service. At the present time many of these tasks are being carried out by bowler-hatted public officials of various kinds, with nothing but a code of practice to guide them.
Of course, if we are to give the Fire Service a more comprehensive role, firefighting plus fire prevention along the comprehensive lines that I have suggested, more staff and more money will be needed; and the men will have to be paid more. At the present moment the Fire Service is costing us only £85 million a year—that is about just under 3p per head per week—and Government forecasts that are being made say that the increase at constant prices next year will be only about 2½ per cent. for the Fire Service, while for other domestic services it will be 3 per cent., 4 per cent. or 8 per cent. That same source also tells us that in 1976, again in constant prices, the expenditure on the Fire Service will be even less than it was last year.
My Lords, I hope that I have not been sounding any "false alarm". I believe that the menace, industrial and social, of fire damage is greater than the financial figures would indicate. Fire will grow and grow; and we neglect it at our peril.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ LORD GARDINER
My Lords, may I first apologise to the House for having missed a number of the earlier speeches. As I have already explained to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and the noble 205 Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, I had unfortunately long been committed to-day to opening a memorial hospital library outside London, and I was unable to resile from that. As I told them, I propose to deal only with law reform, which I think has not been the principal subject of any other speaker so far. Therefore, my noble friend Lord Leatherland will forgive me if I do not follow him in his pursuit of the serious question of our increasing fire losses. In any case, he is such an authority in that field that I should have found it difficult to add to what he said.
May I first congratulate the Government on a legislative programme which includes a number of Bills that I feel sure will be supported in principle in all parts of the House. I should like to give a particular welcome to the company law reform measure, and also to the Bill to implement the Report of the Crowther Commission on Consumer Credit. Next, I should like to congratulate the Government on their omission of certain projects from the gracious Speech. I am glad to observe that there is no reference to any Bill to implement the unhappy Report of the Criminal Law Revision Committee, most of whose recommendations were so strongly condemned by the Bar Council, the Law Society, the Magistrates' Association, Justice, numerous other bodies, and not least by a majority of the noble and learned Lords of Appeal. Your Lordships may remember the noble and learned Lord, Lord Reid (who I must congratulate on having just completed 25 years as a Lord of Appeal), ending his speech by saying:I trust that the Government will set the Report on one side and send the whole project to the Law Commission.I am also glad to observe that there is no reference in the gracious Speech to something else that I was afraid we were going to be threatened with, and that was the proposal to hive off the profitable parts of the office of the Public Trustee; to give those profits to the banks and the insurance companies, while retaining for the State only those parts of the Public Trustee's work which is necessarily unprofitable. I am very glad to see no reference to that in the gracious Speech. I must congratulate the Public Trustee on 206 his recent Annual Report. He is evidently in good health. It is a very good Report, and he has made a record profit.
Yesterday morning I had it in mind to include in my commendations of the Government the fact that there is no reference in the gracious Speech to a Bill to hive off the Land Registry. But although it is nowhere referred to in the gracious Speech, the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack introduced a Bill yesterday afternoon, and I am afraid I am unable to do so. However, I will not pause to discuss that matter now because I understand that we shall be discussing it on the Second Reading on the 15th of this month.
May I now refer to a number of law reform projects, all of which have these ingredients in common: they are recommendations which have been made by commissions and committees, mostly of very busy people, most of whom reported some time ago, and they are all recommendations as to which the Government simply cannot make up their mind whether they accept the recommendations or whether they do not. I put a Question down about this subject two or three weeks ago. May I identify the projects. No. 1 is the Report of the Craythorne Committee on the Law of Sunday Observance.
We all know, particularly in relation to shops, and as the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, has often pointed out, how much this branch of the law needs to be reformed, and your Lordships may remember we did in fact pass through this House with very little dissension a Bill to give effect to their recommendation. In the other place the only point it ran into, if my recollection is right, is whether or not there should be Welsh local option. Whatever the answer to this, I should have thought it was a point on which the Government might have been able to make up their minds. It is nine years since the Report was published, and I put down a Question—not asking about legislative prospects, because I am not so ignorant that I do not know you cannot do that usefully just before a gracious Speech from the Throne—asking whether the Government had come to any, and if so what, conclusions about the recommendations contained in the 207 Report. The Answer was—it is not of course an answer to the question—The Sunday Cinema Act, 1972, and the Sunday Theatre Act, 1972, implemented certain recommendations of this Committee relating to cinemas and theatre. The Government have no present plans for legislation on the Committee's other recommendations.So they simply do not answer the question as to whether they have come to any conclusion, and if so what, about the recommendations. That is after nine years.
I come next to the Law Commission's Report on the Interpretation of Statutes which I also thought was one of their most important Reports. This is over four years old. The Question I put down was the same. I asked nothing about legislation; I simply asked whether they had come to any, and if so what, conclusions about the recommendations contained in the Report. The Answer wasThe Report provokes strong criticism with some of whichbut they did not say what—the Government sympathise. We have no present intention of introducing legislation.That was not a question they had been asked. I suppose I will have to put these two Questions down again, unless perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, is able to give us the answer when he comes to reply. It is over four years ago since that Report was made.
No. 3 is the Report of the Law Commission on Taxation and Income and Gains Derived from Land. The reply to the Question was that the two recommendations were implemented in the 1971 and 1972 Finance Act, and that "the remaining five specific recommendations will continue to be borne in mind." It is nearly three years since the Report was published, and here again the Government arc apparently absolutely unable to make up their minds whether they accept the recommendations or whether they reject them.
No. 4 is the Report of the Committee on Privacy—a subject to which some of us attach a good deal of importance. There they said—The Government intend to publish a White Paper later this year.My Lords, eighteen months have now passed; I suppose that inevitably means that the Government are putting this off as long as possible and have no intention 208 of introducing any legislation this Session; but perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, will be able to tell us whether or not that is so.
No. 5 is a Report which the Government say they are considering. It is the very important Report on the Adoption of Children. I am sure your Lordships will agree that that is a most important subject, but it is nearly eighteen months since the Report was published and all the Government say in their reply is that they are considering the Report. Perhaps the noble Lord will be able to tell us how much longer this consideration is likely to go on.
My Lords, No. 6 is the Report of the Population Panel. Here the Government say, that apart from family planning in the National Health Servicethey are still determining their attitude towards the other recommendationts…and an announcement will be made later in the autumn.I believe I am right in saying that autumn will end this month, so perhaps we have not long to wait for that announcement.
No. 7 is the Report of the Law Reform Committee on the interpretation of Wills. As to that the Government say that they have not yet reached any conclusion on this Report but they have invited corn-meats. This is rather strange in the days of the Law Commission, because your Lordships know that the Law Commission always take a lot of trouble to go into the whole subject very fully indeed and then they publish a working paper: This is what the law now is these are the suggested criticisms; these are very provisional proposals for putting them right; what do you think? Then there are months of consultation, so that when they come to make their Report they have taken into account the views they have heard from all those who have been asked for comments—which are usually very wide and include everybody who is likely to be affected by a change of the law in that field. Here a contrary procedure is being followed, I believe almost for the first time: that the Lord Chancellor's Law Reform Committee have spent some time on the important subject of the interpretation of wills, and like the Criminal Law Revision Committee have not apparently consulted anybody; and it is only when they have come to their conclusions and made their Report 209 that, for the first time, anybody else is to be consulted.
No. 8 concerns the Law Commission's Report on Forgery and Counterfeit Currency. This Report we are told is under consideration. No. 9 is the Law Commission's Report on Personal Injury Litigation, the Assessment of Damages. We are told that the Government are considering the recommendations of this Report but have not yet reached any final conclusion.
No. 10 is the 21st Report of the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Legal Aid and Advice. As to that the Government pointed out, quite rightly, that three out of the four recommendations have been carried out. The fourth recommendation is, of course, a very important one. It was a recommendation that the 1964 Act should be amended, so that a contribution by an assisted person who succeeds against another assisted person is refunded where the conditions of the 1964 Act are satisfied. The Committee add that the cost of this extension of the Act would be very small. My Lords, that was eighteen months ago. Here is concerned this very small sum. May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, whether he can tell us how much longer it will take this Government to make up their minds on this very small point on this Report which was published over eighteen months ago?
No. 11 is the 22nd Report of the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Legal Aid and Advice. This was published on April 16, so the Government have had over six months and they say that it is under consideration. Could we be given any indication as to how much longer they will take to make up their minds on that Report?
My Lords, No. 12 is in a different category, a category where the Government have made up their minds but we hear nothing about implementation. No 12 is an old friend, the Blagden Report on Bankruptcy Law, containing 50 recommendations for the improvement of the law in that field. For 15 years every Government have said that they accept the recommendations of the Committee on Bankruptcy Law and that the necessary legislation will be introduced as soon as possible. This, of course, is not in any way a criticism of the noble and 210 learned Lord on the Woolsack, because it is one of the subjects which from time immemorial has been begged by what used to be the Board of Trade and is now the Department of Trade and Industry. If 15 years is not enough, could we be given any idea as to how long the Government do propose to go on without making any attempt to implement the recommendations which all succeeding Governments have accepted? A quarter of a century—would that be the outside limit? Or, if not, what period would be likely to be the outside limit?
No. 13 is the Report of the Law Reform Committee on Conversion and Detinue. As to that, we are told that the Government accept these recommendations. Strictly, nothing about it is contained in the gracious Speech, but may I ask whether that Bill, for example, comes into the concluding passage of the gracious Speech, which says:Priority will continue to be given to programmes In support of law and order and law reform…"?Is it intended that that should be included in this Session? No. 14 is the Committee on the Official Secrets Act. Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act is an important subject to everybody. I think we are all agreed that it is an important subject; and having asked about that we were told:The Government accept in principle that Section 2 of the 1911 Act should be repealed and replaced by legislation on the general lines proposed by the Committee".My Lords, may I ask again: is that intended to be included in the general reference to law reform Bills at the end of the gracious Speech? No. 15 arises from that same passage, where it goes on to say,…to the improvement of community relations…Your Lordships may remember that in the last annual report of the Race Relations Board they pleaded for two or three short amendments to be made to the Race Relations Act. We have heard nothing about that. May I ask whether that is intended to be referred to in the phrase about community relations?
Then No. 16 is one in which the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, and have been interested for some time. Your Lordships may remember that in the period of office of the Government 211 preceding the Government of which I was a member a battle was won by those interested in the criminal law. It was a reform for which Margery Fry and many of us had fought, she for all her life, and that was for the State to provide compensation for those who were injured by criminal acts. A Criminal Injuries Compensation Board was brought into being in a most curious way, as I ventured to say at the time. It has no statutory backing at all. The Government simply announced one day that they were going to set it up. The Home Office said, "We have £l million this year which we do not want, and we will spend it on this"; and the Board has continued on that basis ever since. The reason given at the time, which may have been very sensible, was that you can never tell how a thing like this is going to work out; therefore, if you can start it as a sort of voluntary affair, with no rigid rules, you can alter it as you go along when you have had a bit of experience; whereas if you start it as a statutory scheme then it is much more difficult to alter. I quite see that argument, but this Board was set up, I suppose, about 10 years ago now; and what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, and I have for several years running been asking during the debate on the Queen's Speech is how long it is intended that this should go on. I do not know whether the noble Lord, when he comes to reply, could tell us what the prospects about that matter are.
No. 17 is in quite a different category. I express regret that the gracious Speech contains no reference at all to any Bill to make any amendment to the Industrial Relations Act. Now I, speaking from these Benches, naturally have my own view about things. Having been in office myself I have always been impressed by the great difficulties involved in the control of the economy and of inflation. I think it has been made a great deal more difficult by this Act (very popular, I think, with the public) being brought in to clobber the trade unions. I am afraid I am an unrepentant Donovan fan. I thought the Report of the Royal Commission was absolutely right as to the limits within which you can improve industrial relations and stop strikes by legislation and the limits beyond which you cannot. I think nothing has done so much to depreciate industrial relations 212 in this country as the Industrial Relations Act.
I am quite sure that Sir John Donaldson and the Judges of that Court have done everything they could, and I would wholly dissent from any view that they are influenced in any way at all by any political consideration. But, of course, the difficulty of this kind of legislation is that it does not, in my view, improve the stature of Her Majesty's Judges. I am not old enough to remember (and I do not suppose any one of your Lordships is) the poster in the Liberals' General Election campaign of 1906, showing a High Court Judge sitting on the Bench in his robes, handing a flail to the employer to apply to the employee but it may be that sort of thing which Winston Churchill had in mind when he said that the courts are not good for trade unions and trade unions are not good for the courts. Whatever other view may be taken of the Industrial Relations Act—and, of course, I am one of those who thought that an Industrial Relations Bill was necessary—I should have thought there would be few who, after this distance of time, would not have thought that there are appropriate ways in which it ought to be amended, and I regret not to see it mentioned.
Lastly, my Lords, with regard to the Sex Discrimination Bill which is referred to in the gracious Speech from the Throne, I cannot say that I welcome it, because I have read the White Paper. I am told that "White Paper" is not the right name for it: it is supposed to be a Green Paper. It is not green, it is not a Command Paper. The Printed Paper Officer found it difficult to classify. But, having read it, I think its quality is such that it will be absolutely useless; and I hope that somebody will consider whether in this House we ought not to proceed with our own Bill. However, in this Green Paper the Government have said that it is only for consultation. They call for consultation and discussion, and they want this to take place by the 30th of this month. I am delighted to see that my noble friend Lord Royle, the chairman of your Lordships' Select Committee, has put down a Motion to enable us to discuss this subject on Wednesday week. I am sure we shall have an interesting debate.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ LORD AUCKLAND
My Lords, whatever may be said about the gracious Speech, it is inevitable that, whenever home affairs are discussed in your Lordships' House on these occasions, whichever Minister has to reply has a formidable task ahead of him and this occasion is certainly no exception. We have covered an extremely wide field of matters in the gracious Speech, all of which, I think, arc very important. I know that even those of us who are not professionally connected with the law will have listened with great interest to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, who speaks with such knowledge and who has regaled us with some very important matters on various aspects of the law.
One of the very important sections of the Speech is that on pollution. It is one which will be very generally welcomed. All Governments have done a great deal, through Clean Air Acts, to get rid of the fearful smogs we used to have. I remember that two years ago I was in Los Angeles for a few clays. I was staying with some friends at Burbank. I looked out of their window and saw a blue haze, or what turned out to be a blue haze. I said, "Is that the sea?" and they said, "No, that's the smog over the city." But I am bound to say that Los Angeles has done an enormous amount to combat very serious smog problems because, of course, there are no commuter rail services there. It is important that we bolster up our public transport, particularly the railways and the Underground, in order to ensure that the advances we have made in the eradication of pollution of the air continues. Then there is the Litter Act. I wonder whether the Government are satisfied that the penalties are adequate for the very indiscriminate disposal of litter which takes place, not only in our countryside but in rivers, and so on, and does a great deal to cause pollution.
We listened with interest to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, on the important Cinema and Indecent Displays Bill, which deals with pollution of the mind. Although the noble Earl has been gibed at a great deal by many people, in all walks of life, I believe, whether or not everybody agrees with the methods which he and his committee used, they have 214 provided a useful service. Anybody who has been in Denmark knows what goes on there. Fortunately, there this sort of thing has become so rife that the young are thoroughly bored by it. The time has certainly come to do something radical about the cinemas and other places which indiscriminately show the carrying out of indecent acts. Nobody wants to be unduly narrow about this, but if one looks through the list of cinemas in the London West End these days one finds that there are not many where it is possible to take a young family. I do not think that is a particularly good commendation of our society to-day.
I want now to say a few words about the part in the gracious Speech which deals with the National Health Service. The Government say thatthey will have particular regard to the requirements of the old, the sick and the needy.In about six months' time the reorganised National Health Service will come into effect. During the passage of that Bill in both Houses of Parliament there was a good deal of criticism about some of the administration which was to be introduced. This criticism still holds good. There is a good deal of concern, not only by those of us who serve on hospital house committees and leagues of friends, but by the paid officials in our hospitals, as to what their future role will be when, after April next year, this reorganisation comes into effect. This is not, of course, an occasion to go into details on that matter.
The whole emphasis of the gracious Speech has been on the individual, on the person. The legislation is slanted towards the person, through increased consumer protection; at Company Law, to clean up the small number of unscrupulous businesses in this country which do a great deal of damage, and at improvements to the Health Service, which have been many. But it is all the more important that our Health Service should concentrate more and more to-day on the patient and more and more on the person, particularly the old, the sick—especially the chronically sick, an area where much has been done, though much still remains to be done—and the needy.
I should like to ask my noble friend one particular question: what do the Government intend to do about the Report of 215 the Committee on Nursing which was so admirably chaired by Professor Briggs? This is a very important document, and I hope that the House will have an opportunity of debating it this Session, because the great emphasis was on how to obtain more nurses, how to keep them, and how to improve their conditions. I believe that, on the whole, nurse recruiting has improved in numbers. What we do not know—or many of us do not know—is how many leave after their first or second year of training. This has been a problem for many years, and it is not confined to this country. It occurs in such countries as Scandinavia where nurses are, I understand, paid a good deal more than they are here. In America, where they are certainly paid more, there is still a nursing shortage. This is due to some extent, of course, to the shift work which is needed, and to the necessity to work night shifts. Here is something which no Government can neglect to examine.
I should like to say to my noble friend how very glad I am—and many of us will be—that when he made his recent visit to Roumania he secured reciprocal agreements for people from this country visiting Roumania to have free treatment, in the same way as Roumanians would have if they came here. Having been in Roumania myself for a few days earlier this year, I know how many British tourists and businessmen visit Roumania and the Eastern European countries nowadays. I would ask my noble friend to press, so far as he can, for the countries of the E.E.C. to respond in a like manner. One of the great worries is that although, as I understand it, people from the E.E.C. countries can get free treatment here, there are a good many countries in the E.E.C. where British people have to pay for a large part of any medical treatment that may be required. I know that there are problems here. I know that these countries have their own rules; but having joined this club, as one might call it, we arc. I think, entitled to certain benefits of this kind. I hope that my noble friend will impress upon his right honourable friend the need for this matter to be looked at.
I think that everybody will agree that my right honourable friend Sir Keith Joseph and his team are doing an excellent job in this department. One of the 216 great problems is money; there is still a grave shortage of hospital beds. We hear of the alleged (some of it is) maltreatment of patients, particularly in our mental hospitals. No doubt this takes place. But why?—because of money. because they are grossly understaffed. This is due not only to the pay, which is certainly hardly adequate in many cases, but also very often to the fact that the living conditions are far from suitable. This is a matter which I think needs to be looked into; it is an issue where I think the Treasury must be more flexible. I said at the opening that this was a gracious Speech which concentrates on the individual. The late Lord Woolton, when Chairman of the Conservative Party, once said of the Party: "We cope, we care." I think that although this gracious Speech is not immune from criticism, that thread of thought runs through it.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, if I do not expatiate at any great length on the excellence of the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the humble Address it is because that has been done so well by so many speakers. I must say that I tend to think that in this House we overdo the courtesies; but I would rather have the courtesies than be without them, for they add something of value to your Lordships' House. We had an excellent start to the debate to-day by the speeches of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Cuirass, my noble friend Lady Phillips and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. All of them laid very welcome stress on the individual, on persons and their place in our society—as did the speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, and the noble Lord, Lord Auckland. I think that all law-abiding citizens will very much welcome the noble Viscount's announcement about the increase in the number of our police, and particularly his mention of their reappearance on the beat. That is really something to be welcomed. The noble Viscount has probably heard of the "copper" who got out of his Panda car; and fell down. He had lost the use of his legs. The use of their legs is something I sincerely hope will be restored to the police. I believe the right place for them is on the beat.
My noble friend Lady Phillips tells me that she intended to ask why there is in the gracious Speech no promise of 217 legislation about the New Year's Day holiday. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, can tell us anything about that. I may take it, I suppose, that the words, "Other measures will be laid before you" make provision for the inclusion of such a measure. That phrase is always a standby of every Government, for it makes it possible to include something later. On the passage in the gracious Speech on sex discrimination it will be quite impossible for me to add to the powerful speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, and of my noble friend Lady Summerskill. My noble friend Lady Summerskill mentioned that Mr. Enoch Powell gets more publicity than every other Back Bencher in the Commons. My noble friend knows something about publicity. I should be really surprised if her trenchant speech is not well reported in the Press tomorrow. She is indeed a brave and bonnie campaigner for the things in which she believes.
I very much agree with the wise words of my noble friend Lord Walston about the primary producers and their changing place and condition in the world. Time after time when defending our agricultural policies in this country I have attributed our freedom from major slumps to the fact that we isolated our primary produce, agricultural products and coal from the pressures of world markets. Now a world shortage is doing for the world's primary producers much the same as we did for our own producers from 1945 onwards. We might not like its effects, but I believe we have no right at all to expect to be provided with food or other products cheaply at the expense of others. We have just to live with these conditions and to adjust ourselves to them.
My noble friend, Lord Longford—and I agree very much with him—welcomed the Bill against indecent public advertising and display. It would be a great pity, I think, if, as he said, he should be thought of in the future only as an opponent of pornography. His services in so many fields of human endeavour have merited a place for him in this country as a man of great humanity and sympathetic understanding. I hope that posterity will remember him as such. I shall certainly do so to the end of my days.
For Lord Aberdare's sake, I hope that my noble friend Lord Leatherland has 218 supplied him with a list of the sort of questions to which he has to reply; but I must enter a plea that the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, if he has the answers to all the questions, will not keep us here till 10 or 11 o'clock in order to give them. I hope that he will drop my noble friend a note about it. My noble friend's knowledge always impresses me enormously. I am sure that the fire service and your Lordships' House will be grateful to him for his speech.
I am bound to leave comment on the knowledgeable and authoritative speech of my noble friend Lord Gardiner to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, who, I hope, has been well briefed on the inclusions and omissions of Law Bills in the gracious Speech. Seeing my noble and learned friend's name on the list of speakers, that, I should have thought, would be something that Lord Aberdare would ensure. I cannot remember the poster mentioned by my noble friend, but I can remember one poster of the 1906 election. The words underneath it were:Lloydie Georgie bent his bow,Aimed at a pigeon and killed a crow.I think I could very well adapt those words, and indeed the poster, to the author of the Industrial Relations Act—but I will not enter into that deeply to-night.
My Lords, I had intended in my speech to say quite a lot about transport; but the introduction of a Bill in the House yesterday makes it clear that we shall soon have the opportunity to discuss on Second Reading the whole subject of road traffic. I strongly support what my noble friend Lady Phillips called attention to; namely, unsafe loads, and her desire that they should be made safer. In this connection I must refer once again to the so-called juggernauts. From time to time we have praised Mr. Peyton for the fight he has put up in the E.E.C. to limit the weight and size of vehicles. But there are rumours that he has succumbed to the pressure of the European transport Ministers and I should very much like to know whether there is any truth in those rumours. As a transport man, I am not against large lorries being used for certain types of traffic, always provided that what they carry could not be better carried by rail and that the heavy lorries use roads and routes suitable for 219 such vehicles. This is part of the task of Government in this connection.
A very worrying feature of our urban transport—it has been referred to to-day —is the shortage of staff to man the buses and the tubes. Unless this problem is solved very soon, it will not be a shortage of imported oil which will seize up our urban transport but an acute shortage of manpower in the industry. Undoubtedly this is a problem the solution to which must somehow be found, even if it means exceptional consideration of wage rates within the Government's counter-inflation policy. We all know the difficulty about special cases but we cannot allow our urban transport to die in support of rigidity and inflexibility in pay codes. Also, in London particularly as I understand it, part of the problem of securing staff is lack of housing, which leads me on to the words in the gracious Speech:My Ministers will continue to give high priority to housing policies and in particular to improving living conditions in the worst housing areas…I like those words, my Lords. Last year's gracious Speech devoted five words to housing. They were:The provision of better housing.That was a much more modest promise than that in the programme for 1973/74. Certainly there was no mention last year of the high priority which we are now told is to continue, a phrase which somehow to me reeks of complacency, and about which the noble Lord, Lord Walston, complained.
My Lords, a year ago we were promised little in the way of housing, and the achievements of the Government for the past year have matched up to the modesty of that promise. Indeed, during the whole of the period since this Government came to power in 1970 there has been a marked decline in housing achievements. If we take the three-year period from June. 1970, to June. 1973, we see that there has been a drop of 161,000 in the number of houses built, compared with the period from June, 1967, to June. 1970, when there was a Labour Administration. By far the worst feature of the decline has been in council house building. That has fallen from 18.5.090 in 1969 to a 122,800 in 1972; and the figures for 1973 look like 220 indicating a further decline. For during the first half of this year only 54,000 council houses have been built and there does not seem to be any prospect of any improvement on that figure in the second half of the year.
The decline is especially serious at a time when the cost of mortgages is pricing more and more people out of the house market. When I was looking to purchase a house far hack in the inter-war years, a period of 21 years for the repayment of a mortgage I found a frightening prospect. The years seemed to stretch unending before me. To-day, if they can find the necessary deposit, a young couple have a term of 35 years frighteningly held out before them as about their only hope of becoming house-owners. Like the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, I am very much in favour of house-ownership even if it bolsters up and continues capitalism with—what is the phrase?—its "unacceptable face" To-day interest rates for mortgages stand at 10 per cent. or more, and I see that one authority says that before long they may reach the staggering figure of 14 per cent. compared with the 4 per cent. of the days when I was looking for a mortgage. It seems to me quite crazy that I can, without lifting a hand or doing a moment's work, receive £7.50 free of income tax for every £100 loaned to a building society. "Ah!" I shall be told, "that is the result of inflation." To that I can only reply that it is not only a result but also an important factor in the cause of inflation: and I may say that even before I listened to the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, I did not, and I do not, blame the building societies for the high interest rates. They cannot isolate themselves from the general atmosphere surrounding the lending of money.
The Government hold out the prospect of continuing to give high priority to housing policies. If I were looking for a house to rent or to buy the prospect held out to me by these words would be far from reassuring; for the result of the Government's policy has been to bring in conditions in which a house priced at £4,900 in June, 1970, would be priced at £9,900 to-day. That would mean that the normal deposit required would be at least twice that of 1970; and based on a 90 per cent. mortgage to be repaid over 25 years with interest rates at 10 per cent., as compared with 8½ per cent. in 221 1970, a house purchaser would have to find £81.80 for monthly repayments compared with £36.16 in 1970. This is a condemnation of the policy which the gracious Speech tells us is to be continued in the year before us. Part of the story of housing and housing policy is, of course, land prices and I make no apology at all for the general condemnation of land prices as a scandal made by my noble Leader. That was also referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Gage.
Since the Tory Government came to power on a false prospectus this is what has happened to land prices. Mr. Paul Channon, Minister for Housing Construction, said, in answer to a Question this year, that the average price per acre of private sector housing land in England and Wales rose from about £8,000 in 1969 to £20,000 in the second half of 1972. What does this mean in terms of individual housing? Taking the United Kingdom as a whole, the average value of a site upon which new houses were built in 1970 was £1,098. That figure includes the cost of road works, drainage and other services. By 1973 that figure had jumped to £2,817. The site value as a percentage of the purchase price of the house had gone up from 22 per cent. to 29 per cent. In Scotland there is an example of the mad escalation of land prices, all of which adds to the serious inflationary trend.
My Lords, in view of what the noble Lord is saying, I think he ought to tell us what he would do if he were in our position. I think we have the right to know.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, if the noble Viscount will be patient for a few minutes, I shall come to that: I will not shirk it. As I was saying in Scotland there is an example of the mad escalation of land prices, all of which adds to the serious inflationary trend. In Edinburgh a 4-acre site was sold three times in two days in 1972. That was after the Tory-controlled council there had decided not to buy it for housing for £100,000. On August 22 the Scottish and Newcastle Brewery sold the site to High Life Investment Development, Ltd., for £137,000; the next day they sold it to a Mr. Young for £200,000, who promptly sold it again the same afternoon to Salveson Properties 222 at £220,000. This, my Lords, is madness: no other words can be applied to it. It is no wonder that there are protests in our society about this sort of thing. I could give other instances that I have here, but time will not permit. This, my Lords, is "the ugly face of capitalism", and it is a direct result of Tory policies in dismantling all the past Labour Government's attempts to ensure that the property "smart Alecs" do not profit from socially created values. And that is what they are—socially created values.
My Lords, the promise in the gracious Speech that…Ministers will continue to give high priority to housing policiesappals me if it is to be judged by the results of their past housing policies. What we want to see—and the next Labour Government will introduce it as a first priority—is a measure to take into public ownership all land needed for building and for development (this is the answer to the noble Viscount, Lord Gage), and it will be paid for at existing use values and not at the present enormously inflated prices. There is more that I could say on this aspect. I will not itemise all the Labour Party's declared policy on housing, but I could of course supply them to the House if necessary. I think I can sum up our attitude to the housing problem by saying that we shall make houses and their provision a social service and not a commodity to be distributed on a property-crazed free market. Those policies I think the country would welcome, and certainly not a continuation of policies under which house prices, rents, rates, mortgage and interest rates have become the highest in our history and house building the lowest for many years.
My Lords, there is much more that I have prepared to say about this gracious Speech, much of it condemnatory. I am bound to say that there are some things in the gracious Speech that I like. This is inevitable when reading a gracious Speech of the sort that we have had this week. But some of the things that I have mentioned, and some of the criticisms that have been levelled by my noble friends, are such that we ought to be causing the Government to think again on many of these aspects. So I hope that the country will understand it when, as I 223 hope in not too long delayed a time, we go to them and tell them all about it.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ MINISTER OF STATE, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND SOCIAL SECURITY (LORD ABERDARE)
My Lords, I am sure the whole House is most appreciative of all those of your Lordships who have taken part in this most interesting debate. It is a formidable task that remains for me, to do anything in the way of winding up when we have covered such a vast array of subjects. It was indeed a great relief to me to hear my noble friend Lord Auckland actually mention one subject which concerns my Department, and one on which I felt I probably could give him a reasonable answer. We have covered a tremendous field in the scope of the Home Affairs side of the gracious Speech. I do not pretend that I can answer all the questions that I have been asked, and certainly not, I am afraid, the questions put by the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, who stumped me every time with a number of very technical questions. However, I assure the noble Lord that I listened, as did everybody else, with the greatest interest to his remarks on the Fire Service, and I will ensure (in fact my noble friend Lord Colville was here when the noble Lord spoke) that an answer to his questions comes from the Home Office.
My Lords, the Home Affairs section of the gracious Speech seems to me to fall into three different parts. The first part is the over-riding need to sustain the expansion of the economy and to counter inflation—and this is the subject that we shall be debating on Tuesday. The second part consists of general policies to improve the health, welfare, housing, educational and other social services. The third part contains a number of specific proposals designed to improve the life of the individual citizen and his environment. This was a point made by a number of your Lordships, who have emphasised that help to the individual citizen and his environment is one of the underlying trends of the gracious Speech. Such measures as pollution control, the health and safety of workers and the public, the protection of consumers, the licensing of sports grounds, the avoidance of unfair discrimination on 224 grounds of sex, road safety and traffic control will all contribute to the wellbeing of the citizen in his daily life.
The noble Lord, Lord Champion, who has just wound up, referred to the Road Traffic Bill which I had the honour to introduce into the House yesterday. I think the whole House will welcome the fact that my noble friend the Leader of the House continues to get major Bills started in your Lordships' House. He said on Tuesday that there is a good prospect of another major Bill starting here before Christmas, and I am sure we should all very much welcome that. Your Lordships take a great interest in road traffic matters, and I look forward to some interesting debates in the course of the passage of this Bill. Of course, my particular interest usually lies in the casualties who suffer after the road accidents, but I shall be nobly supported in the course of the Bill by my noble friends Lord Colville and Lord Mowbray, who are much more expert on the subject than I am.
My Lords, one matter in the gracious Speech that has been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and my noble friend Lady Elles, is that part which refers to the tax credit scheme:Legislation will be brought forward to enable a tax credit scheme to be implemented in due course.I think this is a most imaginative scheme and one that will have enormous benefits in the future. I am very glad that, on the whole, your Lordships welcomed the idea.
We have, as your Lordships know, accepted the majority recommendation of the Select Committee of another place in favour of the scheme. Its essential features are that it completely abolishes the P.A.Y.E. system, with its complicated codes, and also involves the disappearance of family allowances, child tax allowances and the family income supplement. It works in this way. The taxpayer will be liable to tax on all his income, but instead of the main present allowances he will be entitled to a weekly cash amount for credit which in the normal case his employer will include in his pay packet. There will be a basic credit for a single man or single woman; there will be a married couple credit, and there will be a child credit. 225 For most workers this will mean that only the net difference—that is the amount by which the tax due exceeds the credits due—will be deducted from their pay packet; but for lower-paid workers and for workers whose earnings are interrupted by sickness or for any other reason, for retirement pensioners and many widows, it will mean that their take-home pay or benefit will be positively increased by the amount by which the credits due exceed the tax due. It is this ability to pay net credit as benefit which is the radical new feature of the scheme.
It has a great many advantages. In the first place, I can reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, on the point which she made about mothers: all credits for children, which will include the first child when the new scheme comes into operation—and there are 7½million of them—will be paid to the mother. These child credits will be worth more than the existing child allowances and family allowances which they will replace. The mothers will get the cash each week from the post office, in exactly the same way as they cash the existing, and much less valuable, family allowances. I hope that the noble Baroness is now reassured on this point. Up to 1 million pensioners will no longer need supplementary benefits and the scheme will also bring particular help to the 3 or 4 million pensioners who, while above the supplementary benefit level, do not pay tax. It will also make a major contribution towards solving the problem of family poverty. It reduces the extent of means-testing, and in particular it removes from the so-called "poverty trap" three out of every four families who may now take home 50p or less out of every £1 increase in income. It will provide an automatic form of family support; it will bring substantial support to the single-parent family, and particularly to the widowed or separated mother, who will receive the higher married rate of credit, as well as the child credit. In general, it is much fairer than the tax allowances, which help those who pay tax more than those who do not, and it provides, without means-testing, a substantial and comprehensive benefit to lower paid workers. It is very much simpler for everyone 226 to understand, and because of this it requires fewer civil servants for its operation. Therefore, my Lords, I think it has a number of very great advantages.
A number of your Lordships have mentioned housing. The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, mentioned this, and my noble friend Lord Selkirk made a particular reference to building societies. It was a subject also mentioned by my noble friends Lord Wolverton and Lord Gage, and mentioned again just now by the noble Lord, Lord Champion. I would confirm what the noble Lord, Lord Champion, seemed to doubt: that we shall continue to give our housing policies high priority and we shall press on towards our objective of seeing that everyone has a decent home and it reasonable chance of owning or renting the sort of home he wants. I do not think it is very profitable to hurl figures backwards and forwards across the Chamber, but as the noble Lord, Lord Champion, pulled out some figures perhaps I might just throw a couple back at him. In the last year of the Labour Government, in 1969–70, the number of starts in house-building was 319,000, and the annual average number of starts over the three years that we have been in power is 345,000. Beyond that, we have put a great deal more effort into improving old houses and we have doubled the number of improvement grants attained by the Labour Government. Over the past three years 1 million new homes have been built in the private and public sectors. In addition, a great step has been taken with the approval of improvement grants to bring over 900,000 more homes up to modern standards. To meet the substantial demand for individual home ownership, something like 2 million mortgage advances were made by building societies and over 100,000 council houses were sold to tenants. We have been making progress, and it will be seen that the improvement grants have made a remarkable contribution.
Our first care has been for those most in need, and that will continue. The rent allowances and rebates that we introduced entitle the less well off to substantial financial assistance, and this is available whether they are council tenants or occupy privately rented accommodation. The special requirements of the elderly and the handicapped and the 227 problem of homelessness will play an increasingly important part in our housing policies. In our new measures, we shall concentrate on the areas of greatest housing stress, where housing and social problems often go together—in the housing action areas, which will be designated by the local authorities. We shall ensure priority for housing in the general improvement areas, areas where the environment in the older residential districts needs to be improved. As part of our policy of widening the choice to individuals, we shall expand the voluntary housing movements with the Housing Corporation playing a leading role. I am sure that that will please my noble friend Lord Gage.
Private house building at a stable level is essential if the demand for home ownership is to be properly met. Two crucial matters which have been of concern to us are the ready availability of building land and mortgage finance. The land problem is already easing. New planning guidelines have been announced to encourage the use of land for housing, and we can help local authorities in the ready provision of essential services if we give them more powers. These are among the measures to make more land available when needed. On mortgage finance, the situation is improving. I listened with great attention to what my noble friend Lord Selkirk said. He speaks with much authority about the building societies and I was grateful to him for what he had to say. We have negotiated a voluntary agreement with the Building Societies Association to stabilise the flow of mortgage funds and this agreement is being recommended to its members by the Building Societies Association. It would mean that the building society movement would follow more closely coordinated policies on interest rates, liquidity and selective lending. If too much money flows into the societies, they will increase their liquidity and then if necessary reduce their investment rate. If too little money comes in they will reduce their liquidity and, if necessary, raise their investment rate. This should result in a steady flow of mortgage funds, a more orderly housing market and steadier house prices.
As my noble friend said, the Council of the Building Societies Association will 228 continue to recommend investment and mortgage rates to their members but they will do so in the light of forecasts and analyses provided by a new joint advisory committee, consisting of representatives of the Building Societies Association and the Government. I was glad that this was welcomed by my noble friend.
We are also concerned to help young people buying a home for the first time, and the Building Societies Association Council has agreed in principle to recommend to their members a selective scheme based on deferment of interest. Certain first-time purchasers will be able to defer part of their interest due on the loan in the first five years. They will repay it subsequently, often on the proceeds on the sale of the house, but if not, by instalments. The effect of the scheme would be to reduce the mortgage rate from 11 per Cent. to 8½, per cent. in the first year.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, referred to law reform. My noble friend Lord Colville of Culross referred to certain specific law reform proposals which will be included in this year's programme, and there is at the end of the gracious Speech a more general reference to law reform. This is a continuing process and we are fortunate in having the two Law Commissions, the Law Reform Committee and the Criminal Law Revision Committee, from whom many useful proposals have emanated in the past. Your Lordships will recall that in the past Session a number of recommendations of these and of other bodies have been implemented, some by Government legislation, such as the Supply of Goods (Implied Terms) Act and the Guardianship Act, and some by Private Members' Bills introduced with Government support; for example, the Law Reform (Diligence) (Scotland) Act and the Domicile and Matrimonial Proceedings Act. We hope that this process will continue. There are a number of recommendations for law reform which are under active consideration and which, if acceptable, will be implemented as circumstances allow.
I was grateful for the noble and learned Lord's welcome to the Bills for the reform of company law and consumer credit. But I am afraid I cannot help him any further than we tried to do by Written Answers on the large number of specific Questions that he asked. On the other 229 hand, he mentioned that we have not satisfied him on two particular matters within that number, and we have not answered his Questions properly. I will certainly see that he is written to and that criticism is remedied. He knows as well as all of us that in many cases these consultations take a long time; certainly, with the best will in the world, once one has a report and has cleared one's own lines within the Department and while other outside bodies comment and give their views, there is a lot of work to be done. I welcome the fact that he has drawn our attention to our slowness in some respects.
The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, referred to some educational matters, particularly to the shortage of teachers in Greater London. It is true that some secondary schools in Greater London are working part-time. The main reason for this is the raising of the school-leaving age, which has added 250,000 pupils to the country's secondary schools this academic year. The school staffs have been increased to match this increased teaching load. Quotas have been raised and have been well met throughout most of the country. Staff available in London fall short of the quota by between 1 per cent. and 2 per cent. This is the measure of the overall shortage in London. Within it there are greater shortages in particular specialities; for example, mathematics and French. The shortages could have been avoided by deferring once more the raising of the school-leaving age, but I believe the decision to go ahead was right and justified.
The noble Baroness asked me about the James Report. It is planned to reduce the intake to non-graduate courses of teacher training to 32,000 in 1974, compared with about 36,000 in 1973. This reduction in teacher training will not affect the supply of teachers for the schools until the school year 1977–78. It has nothing therefore to do with the supply situation in the current year. Even so, at this reduced rate of recruitment the teacher force is being increased from 400,000 to 550,000 by 1981. A force of this size will enable us to introduce induction training and in-service courses over the next few years.
So far as the Russell Report is concerned, the Department of Education and Science have been analysing their pro- 230 posals in the light of the progress made in the provision of adult education during the time the Committee was sitting. When these preparations are complete (which I hope may be before the end of the Autumn) my right honourable friend proposes to arrange discussions with the major interests in the field of adult education. The noble Baroness asked a great many questions, and I cannot answer them all. This is the answer to the last one: the Organic Peroxide (Conveyances by Road) Regulations are expected to be made by the end of this year. Following that we hope to make regulations covering the operation and construction of vehicles for road conveyance of inflammable liquids and also corrosive substances. We hope that these will be introduced next year. We are working on regulatory proposals for the operation and construction of vehicles for the conveyance of petrol and organic peroxide; and we are hoping soon to introduce codes of practice for packaging corrosives and inflammable liquids.
The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, gave us a quick run over Liberal policy. I noticed that once again he was suggesting that we should do more and more, as he did the other day when we were discussing pensions. I hope that the Liberal Party have costed some of their proposals and will tell us where the money is to come from. I listened with great interest to my noble friend Lady Elles on the subject of the other European Community Members and what we had to learn from them. I can assure her that in my Department we take this matter seriously and are studying carefully what is done in other countries. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has just completed conversations with the German Minister, and has been duly impressed by what they are able to do in Germany. But it is difficult sometimes to make direct comparisons, because although she rightly said a great deal more is done in certain fields, in other fields—particularly perhaps in the Health Service—we are more advanced than others are.
The noble Baroness, Lady Summer-skill, has apologised for her absence and said that I could write to her, and that I will do. The noble Lord, Lord Walston, accused us of being complacent. But the gracious Speech is normally phrased in such a way as to be thought 231 complacent. We are very far from complacent, and most of your Lordships have agreed that there are some substantial and interesting measures in the Speech. I can only suggest that the noble Lord is complacent, having wandered off without any apology before I could answer him.
The noble Earl, Lord Longford, did not surprise any of us by the subject which he chose, but I should like to join with the noble Lord, Lord Champion, in saying that we remember the noble Earl in this House for many other notable contributions to our debates. I was encouraged because he urged us to go further with our proposals for the restrictions on indecent public display. At the same time, the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, was suggesting that we were going too far. To be steering a steady middle course between the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, suggests that we are probably just about right in the proposals that we are putting forward. But I was glad to hear that the noble Earl supported the Bill so far as it goes.
I will write to the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, on his very interesting speech. He mentioned the leaflets that the Home Office arc distributing. This has been a major effort and a useful one. Certainly a very interesting leaflet came through my door. The Home Office are about to have an advertising campaign on television. I was delighted to hear my noble friend Lord Auckland on a subject in which we are both deeply interested. We are well aware of the concern among the staff of the service. It is bound to be a difficult time when one is making a change of this sort. I can only assure him that we have their interests very much at heart. He asked me about the Report of the Briggs Committee. This has been sent to outside people for comment, and we are awaiting the return of their comments before we finally make up our mind what to do about the Report. But I am sure that if we are not very active we shall have the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, on our trail by the time the next Queen's Speech is considered.
I also listened to my noble friend on the subject of the exchange of free health facilities between different coun- 232 tries. As he said, I managed to sign an agreement with Roumania, which is very satisfactory, and I hope to do so soon with Hungary. But it is more difficult with the E.E.C. countries, in that, although we have got the full reciprocity that we should have under the Treaty, it would not be possible for a fellow member of the E.E.C. to give our citizens better treatment than they give their own citizens. But they give to British visitors all the facilities that their own equivalent citizens would get in their own countries. My Lords, I apologise if I have not answered any noble Lord's specific question. I shall look through the Report of the debate and do my best to write to anybody who might feel he has not had an answer from me. I am most grateful to all your Lordships who have taken part.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (LORD WINDLESHAM)
My Lords, I beg to move that the debate be adjourned until Tuesday next.
§ Moved, That the debate be adjourned until Tuesday next.—(Lord Windlesham.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.