HL Deb 14 July 1976 vol 373 cc339-429

4.2 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, returning to the debate, I should like to add my thanks to those already expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for the explanation of the size of the subject and for the sympathy extended to those who may go rather wider than some of the matters hitherto dealt with. I was impressed by the becoming, but perhaps unnecessary, modesty of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, in referring moral matters to the "professionals" such as the right reverend Prelate and, to a lesser degree, myself. After all, in the attaining of such professionals we have only the laity to draw upon. But I believe there is a question which has to be asked first: whether or not there is cogency or relevance in the term, "state of the nation".

As is my wont, I have been trying out this debate on Tower Hill today in the open air and I got the impression from certain of the more turbulent hecklers that the state of the nation today is represented by certain behaviour patterns within industry and commerce; and words such as "Lonrho" and "stripping" were bandied about. I do not accept that completely, of course, but it is a dangerous assumption when we extrapolate from any given circumstances certain of those circumstances which may appeal to us for various reasons and interpret them as being epidemic or, at least, as representative of the community. I could have said, and in fact tried to say, that when I considered the responsibility accepted by and represented by the trade unions over the last few weeks, I have been deeply impressed by another side to the community—a growing sense of its coming together at times of crisis and its sense that there is a "belongingness" which is part of the true welfare of that community.

It would be easy enough, looking at and listening to the beer-can swillers and the toilet roll throwers at football matches, to assume that modern youth is decadent. I would commend to your Lordships evidence that comes from such jobs as I assist in from time to time, where youngsters display the most extraordinary capacity for responsibility and respond eagerly to the chance of leadership. In the 13 hostels and institutions for which I am partly responsible, the overwhelming number of those who are doing responsible jobs are young people. I pay my tribute to them; and there are not a few of your Lordships whose sons and daughters are entitled to that kind of tribute.

It is not true that there is "a" state of the nation. Today there are many states within the community, if one can so call it; and I shall presume to look at this situation from the very standpoint which the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, ascribed to my right reverend friend—who will, I am sure, excuse me if I tread on his ecclesiastical or theoretical toes. I am sure we shall speak with one voice on many of these matters.

As a professing Christian, I am persuaded that the moral issue is paramount; and though I would never insist that it is a pure reflection of economics, I would admit that economic and social conditions play a very large part in the contemporary ethical situation. But there are two principles which belong to the Christian faith which must be taken into account. The first is the relevance and size of sin. It is an interesting comment that whereas Christians can make sense of sin, in many circumstances where a faith is absent there is great difficulty in coming to terms with it. Well, we have come to terms with it; and though it was John Wesley who bade his preachers to persuade those who heard them to flee from the wrath to come, I am not insisting that there is a double dose of original sin in the community today.

It would be unwise and very stupid to imagine that we shall be moving, or are likely to move, into tranquil waters or that our present problems are unique. They are part of a continuing problem which will awaken us to a higher sense of values. At the same time, there is an irrepressible condition of hope which belongs to the Christian faith. That hope is not entirely confined to those people who regularly attend churches or even those who know the names of the churches they stay away from. But in the general religious situation there are a number of elements which I believe are relevant to an examination of what can be called the various states of the nation, referring to the subject with which we are engaged this afternoon.

There has been a widespread and continuing decline in organised Christianity in these islands. It would surprise me if in the urban areas more than 2 per cent. or 3 per cent. of the population today have any radical association with organised Christianity. It would also surprise me if it could be argued that there is any widespread decline in actual behaviour patterns. It is not so much that Christian faith has declined as that there has been a grave decline in the Christian environment. In the past that environment has not only provided discipline—which may or may not be excellent—but also provided an area of taboos in which certain matters were regarded as wrong and certain other matters were regarded as right. Having lost that faith, that ecclesiasticism, in large measure, we have not found anything comparable to put in its place. We are living in the first secular age, and we are reaping the results of that secularity.

If one argues that this ought to apply equally to the Continent of Europe, the answer is that in France, Italy and other parts of Europe there has come into being another faith. I was taken to task by a daily newspaper the other day for confusing ideology with religion. As a matter of fact, the line is very closely drawn and I should have thought that the various thoughts and ideas of Communism belong to the nature of religion as a total way of life. Therefore, whether it is under Marchais in France or Berlinguer in Italy, a very large French and Italian community are committed to the alternative religion of Communism. It is not surprising that they have found an answer to what has not been found within our shores as yet; and that is an efficient and commanding reason for behaviour patterns which may not have been deeply enrooted in the past in faith but were nevertheless part of the climate which infected for good a great many of the people living within the effect and environment of that climate.

I would presume to take two illustrations of that. One of them I have referred to many times before, and I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I seem to be beating the same drum again. There is widespread commitment to over- drinking, particularly among young people. I regard alcohol as a far greater evil than drugs. It may be of some comfort to your Lordships that the drug menace, which was so largely publicised a year or two ago, appears to be tending to wane. On the contrary, the commitment, particularly of young people, to drinking has tended to increase. I believe this is part of the attitude of those who have no sufficient reason for a moral principle because they have lost the reason which was given to them in the Christian faith and have found nothing as an alternative with adequate monetary and sanctional powers.

The second illustration is one to which I speak with considerable feeling. I believe that there is a manifest and most deplorable increase in what can generally be called Fascism. I remember the days when I stood in crowds in Ridley Road; I remember the days of Olympia; I remember the fear that gripped me of the sheer wickedness of the Fascist message. I never expected to hear it again but I hear it regularly, and those who are competent to tell us about what is going on in their own constituencies and areas are eloquent as to this menace. It is senseless; it is mindless; and it is part of the attitude of those who are not seized of any ultimate moral or absolute moral principle.

It is because of that menace that there is within the community now, aided and abetted by the racialism which is still so endemic, a situation of profound disquiet to many of us, and I share it with your Lordships this afternoon. I am sure that the answer is reason, and reason, and reason. I am sure that the answer is publicity of the kind which can demolish the ridiculous and wicked nonsense which is promulgated by those people who create more heat than light, and who are activated not so much by love or care but by sheer savagery. I speak in no temperate terms of the menace of Fascism, which is one of the contemporary elements in the situation of the world as we endeavour to understand it this afternoon as we discuss the state of the nation.

But there is one overwhelmingly important issue and it comes to me through the channels of the Marxists—and why not? One of the words to which they so frequently refer is "alienation". It is an alienated society which I describe, a society in which the sense of community has largely been lost, the kind of society in which enlightened self-interest takes the place of any kind of corporate self-restraint.

I for one do not so much blame the inherent wickedness of those who practise these things as I regard the issue as belonging to a much more general realm. I believe that most people are likely to be decent if you set them within a framework which encourages decency, and that most people are likely to be indecent if you set them within a framework which suggests indecency. I therefore believe that the socialism to which I adhere is, in practice and in principle, the right way to inculcate the sense of belonging, so that instead of separateness and individualism there comes the discipline, as has been expressed for good in many of the socialist or semi-socialist countries, whatever their other evils.

It is for that reason that I hope the debate this afternoon will reinforce the conviction that if we are to redress the malaise from which we now suffer—and it is a serious one—if we are to command the interest and the loyalty of young people, if we are to turn back the processes of indolence and self-indulgence, we shall best do it by offering to people, young and old, the prospect of a community to which they belong, from which they are not alienated, in which they have a part to play and from which they have blessings to receive. This may sound rather like the end of a sermon, but I am not at all sure that in these days the essence of what our fathers called "the sermon" is much more potent than the essence of what today we are inclined to call "the address". In any case, my own commitment is to a faith which may not recover in the days that lie ahead—a Sunday centred religion and all the elements in which I grew up of Sunday observance and Bible study; but I believe that there is no alternative to the kind of moral discipline which springs from the sense that we belong to one another and that we ought to live in a classless society.

4.14 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of PETERBOROUGH

My Lords, I ask for, and know that I shall receive, your Lordships' good indulgence in this my maiden speech. Much more would I prefer to read Prayers one hundred times than make one speech. To the Prayers there is one auditor—almighty, inexhaustibly merciful, infinitely patient and ready to hear much with which we can assume He will not always agree. For a speech He is joined by your Lordships whose indulgence, like the silence in Heaven, is not required to last for more than the space of half an hour. I will, I hope, occupy less than half that time.

A diagnosis of the state of the nation can call forth a whole cascade of clichés and an abundance of generalisations which certainly no history tutor would pass. This has happened, I suppose, in every generation, at every turn of events, since historical comment began, and to end up with deploring this, bewailing that and lamenting the other is more than ordinarily futile. To find the cure, to name the cure and to see how the cure can be taken is more to the point.

From all surveys of states of nations, from the earliest timid minor prophet to everyone who is concerned with this ever-recurring human malaise, there comes one incontrovertible cure. It is put negatively and therefore, I believe, all the more clearly reflects the positive. It is that a man's life as opposed to his existence consists not in the abundance of the things he possesses nor, indeed, in the abundance of the things he strives to possess. This touches and colours everything—morals, education, dealings one with another wherever we may meet and the fulfilment of the heart's desire and, above all, of the stature of human dignity. Without this, morals inevitably become expediency, education is so much sawdust and human dignity is diminished so that a man, without any apology, is called "a case" and, worse still, his wife and children "statistics". And without it all kinds of wearisome and unverified assumptions go on and on being unquestioned.

There is a deadly assumption about human nature which is scarcely ever challenged. A child, I believe, and your Lordships will agree, grows into a man when he learns and is encouraged to accept the consequences of his own actions. Put another way, he must grow in courage to make mistakes and, unlike so many politicians, he must not turn these mistakes into principles. I am now being very courageous. Human dignity is increased and measured by responsibility, and the assumption that it is always somebody else's fault is the most shattering insult that one human being can pay to another. When I as a boy—I have not given up the habit yet, but it is safer to say "when I as a boy"—planned and executed some delicious malefaction I was always flattened to be told by some fluttering honorary aunt that of course I did not mean it. Of course I meant it.

Parallel with this assumption is, I believe, the persistent notion, especially in the last 25 years, that legislation, and more legislation, can alter human nature. Theologically it is unsound; historically it is unjustified. In May 1872 my predecessor in the See of Peterborough from this Bench protested against this very thing. William Connor Magee was nominated to the See of Peterborough in an off moment by Benjamin Disraeli who thought that thereby he could please the Irish. After 22 years he was translated to York and died within the year, not as your Lordships may suppose from excitement but from influenza. The Intoxicating Liquor Licensing Bill, called the permissive Bill, was before this House and it was the very perilous nearest that this country got to temperance by legislation. Magee said that if he had to choose it would be better that England should be free than that England should be compulsorily sober, and every newspaper report then and since has deliberately omitted the word "compulsorily". Magee's point was deliberately blunted and I have this chance to sharpen it again.

The point was, and the point is, and the point always will be that out of freedom to accept voluntarily the best can come the crowning of human dignity and enjoyment. From compulsory virtue comes the loss both of freedom and of the virtue itself and it does not take that destroyer of Parliaments, Oliver Cromwell, or Mrs. Grundy or her illegitimate daughter, Dora, to make that self-evident. I think it is time that the lust for legislation to this dead-end should be diminished and not increased if the people of this country are to grow into the voluntary responsibility for themselves and for one another which is the mark of a lively and healthy nation.

All unverified assumptions of, "Give us this or give us the other and all will be well" must be questioned, and questioned out of existence. All Christians must agree that a man's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses, and the chorus of all men of good will echoes that agreement. Here I believe is good ground for expecting the best. Going about the towns and villages of my diocese I am more and more impressed by a growing openness of mind and expectancy on the part of very many people that this grey gloom will be pierced and dispersed. They are beginning to see that those who grin like dogs and run about through the city are not clear-eyed observers of reality. "Cynicism" is not another word for "realism". There is never any harm at any time in expecting the worst because then one is always surprised by the best. The exercise in diagnosis and cure which a debate like this creates is good in itself. Such things no doubt began when the Tower of Babel fell—and there must have been a Government inquiry to discover why that happened—and it will end when the last overdraft is cancelled. We shall not do much good for the country or for humanity, nor indeed for ourselves, if we are content with rearranging the symptoms.

What we can do, and I believe what all of us can do, is to spread the asking of awkward and creative questions and then let the answers take root, without keeping pulling up the roots to see how they are doing. This is real radicalism. Mean-while a little weeding would not hurt, otherwise what are we here for? Well, my Lords, I rushed in and these sleeves do not an angel make, and before I become a standing cure for insomnia I will end. Thank you, my Lords, for your indulgence.

4.25 p.m.

Lord HOME of the HIRSEL

My Lords, my noble friend's judgment in putting this Motion on the Order Paper would have been fully vindicated if the only speech that your Lordships had heard was that of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough. It was a maiden speech but it was also a model—a model of Parliamentary performance with a particular flavour of one who understands the weaknesses and the strengths of humanity and its humours. He gave us a very timely reminder of the combination of freedom and self-discipline which is necessary to the dignity of man. We hope to hear him very often in the future and to have the benefit of his wisdom, his humour and his humanity.

However, the speech of the right reverend Prelate is not of course the only speech which your Lordships have enjoyed. My noble friend set us a teasing exercise in discipline with a provocative speech which set us thinking and he made a great many pointed reflections on the state of our nation which compelled our attention, as also did the noble Lord, Lord Byers. But not the least value of this debate is that we shall each approach the subject from our own angle, and for one moment I am tempted, and shall have to yield to the temptation, as an amateur to follow the professionals—the noble Lord, Lord Soper, and the right reverend Prelate—because I was struck by something that the former said about the moral foundations of our society.

I take it that in staging this debate my noble friend Lord Carrington was in one way inviting the politicians to contribute their share of the answers to the questions lately voiced by the most reverend Primates the Archbishops of Canterbury and York: what sort of society do we want and what sort of people do we need to be to achieve it? Implicit behind those questions is that our society requires a moral and ethical regeneration. For the finding of the most reverend Primates was, and I quote— Many thoughtful people are concluding that we are drifting into chaos". I imagine that the most reverend Primates meant social, economic and political chaos and my noble friend Lord Carrington and the noble Lord, Lord Byers, gave some statistics about the relative performance of our society which we cannot possibly ignore. But one word which I noted particularly in the exhortation of the Archbishops was the choice of the word "drifting". Our democracy may be the best but the best is not necessarily self-perpetuating. Your Lordships will recall the words of Edmund Burke: All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing". Those are probably the truest words ever spoken. There is a great deal of apathy about in our country today. Your Lordships will remember that quite lately Mr. Solzhenitsyn spoke about the "strangled silence of the majority"; and I do not believe that democracy was ever meant to be like that.

However, I must practise my own assessment of how far we are drifting into chaos with this caution which I always find I have to give to myself when talking about the relationship between religion and politics. A nation can do no better than the people who compose it and the Christian code of conduct for the individual, as I understand it, is explicit. If in practice we did not covet, we did not steal, we did not bear false witness, we did not kill, a great weight of anxiety would be lifted from the shoulders of the nation and from our society. In that sense I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Soper, who said that the moralistic is imperative, but to a number of complicated political, social, and economic questions, there is no clear-cut moral rule as between right and wrong, as I see it.

Let me give an example which is topical. Christianity will tell us that if we receive an immigrant into this country we should treat him as one of ourselves. But it will not tell us at what point the flow should be modified, or halted. It will indicate that the Welfare State is good because it reflects the conscience of the nation, but it will not fix the level where the "something for nothing" may sap the individual's morale. It will bless the peacemakers and condemn war, but it will not define the line of demarcation between conciliation and appeasement, or measure the price that may have to be paid for detente. On these matters, we have to make up our own minds as politicians and as citizens of our country, and we must try to do so in a responsible way. Nothing can take that responsibility away.

My Lords, by the process of mental selection over the centuries, we have chosen certain values which have made an indelible imprint on the national character, the national performance and our international reputation. The Christian religion I must put first because it has had the most profound effect on our community life in Britain; secondly, the Westminster model of Parliamentary democracy and its institutions as they have grown up over the years; and, thirdly, the more philosophical concept of individual freedom. Are those values, by which we are recognised ourselves, and by which Britain was recognised far afield, still valid? Ought they to be confirmed, modified or discarded? The question is urgent, because there is evidence that faith in the essential Christian foundations of our society is faltering, and that there is a loss of confidence in the institutions of a democracy. Misplaced, I agree with my noble friend Lord Carrington, but it is there. Why?

It is possible in an age of science and technology, where man has so clearly become a creator in his own right, and where inventive genius has increasingly made of life a push-button service, that the young generation may be concluding that there is no need of any set of values external to those that each man makes for himself. So that there is no need for any outside strength or authority upon which he can call, or to which he can turn. From my own observations, again I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Soper. I do not find this convincing. The young are certainly self-reliant; they are certainly experimental—in many ways admirably so. But I do not find them self-confident. Indeed, I believe that the permissive society has produced a widespread feeling of insecurity among the young. Very many are looking for a faith in which they can believe and on which they can rely.

Why do they not rally to the Christian standard as their forefathers did? The answer is not creditable to us, but I think it is simple. The answer is that the majority are totally ignorant that there is any such set of social values as those contained in the Christian code of conduct. I fear we may have lost a generation in the aftermath of war for a number of reasons connected with it, but if we believe—and I imagine most of us do so—that no code of conduct for community living could be better devised than the Christian code, then the Christian values must be taught to the new generation of fathers and mothers so that they can teach their children. This must be taught at home and in school, and much more extensively than it has been in recent years. It is a colossal challenge to the Church and to all of us, because none of us can opt out of this. We must not be put off by any misplaced, soppy feeling that this can amount to indoctrination of the young. If we are talking about a Christian code of conduct in relation to one's neighbour, the more of that kind of indoctrination we have, the better.

My Lords, the second of the values about which I want to speak and which have underpinned the nation, has been Britain's championship of and example in democracy, the Parliamentary pattern of it, and the balance of rights and duties which it places on the citizen. There can be no question again, I am afraid, that democracy is increasingly at a discount. It is strange that it should be so. In its origin, Parliament was devised to protect the individual against the encroachments of overbearing power. The need for that is no less than it was in the days of the Stuart Kings. Not only can sectional and nonelected bodies wield immense power, but bureaucracy itself is a power which can be almost totally inhuman. One of the main causes of the individual's loss of faith in democracy is that Parliament seems to be unable, or perhaps unwilling, to protect the individual against the inroads of power on his freedoms.

When one considers the sheer size of modern institutions—the nationalised industries, the multiple companies and stores, the corporations, the Civil Service, national and local, of which we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Byers, which is now all pervading-is it any wonder that the individual begins to see himself as no more than a pawn in the game of power? From all of our experience, I think we know that fighting bureaucracy is like grappling with a ball of cotton wool, a deadening experience. If I am not wrong, the balance has to be tilted, for size has taken over. The balance has to be brought to equilibrium, and the power which is exercised at the expense of the individual, reduced.

My Lords, Parliament is in danger of failing democracy in another way. It involves the operation of our Party political system. For 100 years following the Reform Bill, although Whigs and Tories hated each other, and would not go into each other's houses, and while Liberals and Socialists also in the early days of the century disliked each other thoroughly and pursued with enjoyment all the ascerbities of debate, which is proper in a Parliamentary democracy, they did not in Parliament push their Party doctrines to a point in legislation where the Party in Opposition was compelled to say, "When we take over Office, we will repeal what has been done". I do not believe that democracy can survive this unintelligent, Tweedledum and Tweedledee form of politics. The Party leaders then did not preserve basic tolerances for any particularly moral reason, but they knew that nine-tenths of the art of politics in a democracy is continuity and the confidence which flows from it.

In the last dozen years, it has become a regular practice to use a Parliamentary majority to force through Parliament legislation which the Promoters know the Opposition will have to pledge themselves to repeal. That is really a caricature of what democracy should be. And, of course, the crime is greatly compounded when the Government of the day indulging in that practice is elected on a minority vote. Unless we in Parliament mend our ways, and either resume the basic tolerances or change the franchise to exclude the extremes, possibly adopting the referenda to ensure restraint in the use of power—and I think the first is the more British and the better way—rather than proceed along our present road any further, I say absolutely bluntly that I do not believe that even the British brand of democracy can survive.

My Lords, my final value is freedom of the individual. I must telescope this because I have spoken long enough. Here, to some degree, I think we are imprisoned by words. Freedom has in some curious way become associated with licence or exploitation. What essential freedoms does the individual ask of Parliament? I will select three, but of course there are others. He asks, of course, the right to speak his mind in all circumstances. He asks, I believe, the right to own and be the master of his own home. And he asks the right to work for himself and for reward. What should our democractic political system ask of him?—because there must be some response from the individual if democracy is to work. I believe the minimum that democracy should ask is that he should be able to relate his own performance to the fortunes of his country, to equip himself so that he can help to defeat mob psychology with reason and do his best to distinguish between the false and the true. In some ways it is a race between education and democracy. I do not believe we are doing too badly. Nevertheless, which is going to win still hangs in the balance.

My Lords, I conclude, in the context of which I have spoken, that the Christian religion and code of conduct is still valid as a base for our society today, that our democracy and its institutions are still valid, but that we must, if our Parliamentary democracy is to survive, take steps to be more tolerant of each other within the Party system and not drive each other to extremes; and, lastly, that democracy should conscientiously and consciously create for the individual the opportunity to determine his own way of life. If we could live up to even some of those precepts I believe that society in this country would be more content and more free.

4.43 p.m.


My Lords, a funny thing happened on my way to the House, and if I may be granted that indulgence which your Lordships extend to maiden speakers, which I shall sorely need, I should like to take this first opportunity to apologise to the House for the immense amount of trouble occasioned by the dispute which preceded my arrival here. To the noble Lords who served on the Committee for Privileges for many arduous days, involving the study of over 2,000 pages of documents, to the noble and learned Lords who in written judgments of great wisdom and elegance effectively demolished the alternative case, I would wish to pay tribute. To the whole House, which devoted an hour of its valuable time to the matter, to the noble and learned Lords and noble Lords who participated in that debate, not omitting the two noble Lords who ensured that the opposite view to that taken by your Lordships received an airing, I tender my gratitude and deepest regrets that they should have been put to so much trouble. All I can do in return, and it is most inadequate, is to place myself unreservedly at the service of your Lordships' House.

My Lords, it is the height of folly or bravado, or both, to attempt to follow the brilliant speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the other noble Lords who have spoken, and especially the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough from whom your Lordships will want to hear far more frequently than from myself: but if the House will bear with me I should like to speak briefly on men and machines, on the apparent failure of the one to come to terms with the other. It would seem to be at the heart of our apparent lack of success in making material progress compared to that of our friends and competitors in other leading nations. We need to defer to no other country on the quality, or indeed the scale and scope, of our research and inventiveness.

Your Lordships do not need me to list the scientific and other discoveries made in this country during the past 30 years, discoveries which have brought benefit to the whole world. No other country, even those with far larger populations and natural resources, has made greater contributions in these fields, as in so many others with which I am not presently concerned. It does not seem to me that the rate at which these advances are being made in the United Kingdom is diminishing; indeed in certain areas I believe they are accelerating. To give but one example, there are the brain and body scanners developed by EMI which are three or four years ahead of any other country in the world.

Yet, with rare exceptions, we seem to get stuck when we come to the stage of developing and exploiting our discoveries, and allow others to make better use of the benefits they have to offer. We seem to be frightened of machines. I make no claim to expert knowledge about them; indeed the reverse is the case. But it is urgent to spread the understanding of their benefits and the need for speed in their introduction. The main problem lies, of course, in the fear of the loss of particular jobs. That jobs disappear is inevitable, for it is the purpose behind the need for change. I do not believe I am in danger of breaking the non-controversial convention by which I am bound, for to me any blame for our present state is the responsibility of the country as a whole rather than either side of industry or even of Governments past or present, save in the matter of inflicting grossly excessive rates of direct taxation on the most enterprising and energetic. What is needed is an exercise in imagination and communication.

My Lords, I am not an enthusiast of the currently fashionable campaign for more open government in the sense the campaigners mean it. Every Member of your Lordships' House knows too well that the larger the committee the slower the progress, and if we are to incorporate in the day-to-day decision-making process, all 55 million of us, we shall slip backwards even further. I do not believe the media reflect the views of the country in this regard, but are beating their own drum. Their desire to have a television camera, accompanied by a sharp-tongued reporter armed with prepared awkward questions, to follow Ministers from the time they shave in the morning till they kiss their wives goodnight, is based on less lofty motives than they pretend. Where more openness could be a blessing is in Governments having the courage honestly to expound and explain the problems and tell the country what needs to be done.

My view may be naive, but I believe it to be shared by the majority of the country. We seek to be led, as once we were, to the great position of respect in which we were held. To my mind this would be made much easier if we faced up to the need for electoral reform. But there is no doubt that we are still capable of remarkable achievements. The workforce is not the biggest bunch of work-shy layabouts the world has ever seen. The managers are not the hard-nosed ignorant parodies of their foreign competitors. But, through fear of change, some dreadfully old-fashioned habits and attitudes are more widely held in this country than in others. It is here that leadership is required and there are some welcome signs that it is being given, most notably last week in the NEDC meeting chaired by the Prime Minister.

Great courage is unquestionably needed for every articulate leader in Parliament, in industry, in the unions and indeed in countless other vocations. Only the political Parties can show the way, and from these Benches I am hopelessly incompetent to assess the hazards they will encounter from their supporters, who do not seem invariably to live up to that description. But somehow the word has to go out that battles long since won do not need to be re-fought.

We have a long way to go to achieve that measure of social justice we seek, but the journey could be so much more rapid if a decent burial could be given to some of the out-dated ideas and dogma of decades ago. Respect for heroes long since gathered is fine, but some of them must be looking down with incredulity that we cling to the notions of their time in circumstances changed beyond their aspirations. Of late, the Government have given many indications of their desire to get across some of the essential facts. The mix of the economy is not to be too much further imbalanced; the great and small companies upon whom we depend are not to be unduly harassed; the industries in public ownership are being encouraged to manage their affairs in a somewhat more businesslike manner; even profit is no longer a dirty word, though it seems some way short of being sanctified.

The Government's most difficult and delicate task must lie in educating, coaxing, and indeed comforting labour at this time of dreadfully high unemployment, on the need to let the most modern machines take over. Much more requires to be done in the provision of establishments to retrain those made redundant. Much more help needs to be given to those establishing new manufacturing businesses, and I wonder if we might not borrow back an idea we gave a generation ago to the developing countries; a genuine tax holiday for such new enterprises for a short number of years. Doubtless the Inland Revenue would howl, but that sound can be music to the rest of us.

My Lords, there must be concern and compassion for those who need to be displaced and measures to ensure that they are quickly reabsorbed into productive work. If that can be done—and it requires brains which are there, not money which is not—I firmly believe that we can enjoy a, future as great as our past in a land which is still in many respects the envy of the rest of the world.

4.52 p.m.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, I should like to join with my noble friend in congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough on his speech. I agreed with almost everything in it. I am also glad to be the first to congratulate the noble Lord. Lord Ampthill, on his maiden speech. Obviously, the noble Lord knows a great deal about industry, and we shall hope to hear him on that subject many times in the future.

Since the war, the British people have not done themselves justice. I do not think there is any doubt about that, but there is not much agreement on what comes next. I suppose one first asks whether we could improve the situation by passing more legislation, however well conceived. We have passed in the last 30 years some very useful reforms, but the law, by itself, is never going to maintain the character and vigour of the nation. I agree completely with the noble Lord, Lord Soper, when he says that behind the law there has to be an accepted framework of traditions, habits, norms of behaviour, within which we can keep order and enjoy our freedom responsibly. The plain fact is that many of those voluntary restraints and loyalties have fallen into disrepute and been cast aside. As the noble Lord said, nothing adequate has yet been put in their place.

No doubt, the historians will be able to explain the great subterranean changes in morals and attitudes, but I think they will be astonished at the silence with which these changes have been accepted by the British, of all people. They will record that in the 1970s the state of the nation was darkened by the refusal to respect authority, even though one had chosen the leaders oneself; by a creeping inefficiency in all forms of service, and by the lack of interest, let alone confidence, in the future.

If I believed that what was happening now was irreversible, I would not have had the heart to intervene in this debate. But I am comforted by history, which shows periods of dither and decline followed by resurgence and a fresh sense that there is somewhere further to go. We cannot say exactly when we are going to turn the corner, but here and there the signs are encouraging. The Rotherham by-election, for example, and the determination of the Government to cut expenditure. It looks as though we are beginning to recognise what is wrong and to want to cure ourselves.

The malady from which we must recover is not peculiarly British. Many Western democracies and, so far as I know, dictatorships as well, show similar symptoms, and they take the form of an increasing disenchantment with the failure to manage public affairs in a rational, consistent and comprehensible manner. It is our intelligence and our skills which appear not to be equal to the job. That is very depressing. Not so long ago we were proud of the discoveries in all fields of knowledge, but now knowledge itself is discredited, reason mistrusted, and the truth blurred or concealed. As we know much more than our fathers how can it be that we do worse? As we have so much more wealth, how can it be that the State achieves so little with it? In a confused way, millions of people ask those questions, find no answers, and lose faith in politics and progress.

What do the Ministers do? They continually get up and tell us that next year will be better than this year. Do your Lordships know anyone who now believes that kind of optimism? The public scepticism goes very deep because it is founded on experience. Consider a few of the major failures of this age of unparalleled advances in science, technology, social studies and the means of communication. We would have thought them the equipment for unparalleled progress. Now, Governments cannot perform their first duty, which is to keep order. Police forces increase, but crime and violence increase faster. Governments cannot control the value of money, and yet they know that inflation at the present rate is a recipe for social disintegration, opening the way for some kind of dictatorship.

Governments cannot arrest the pollution of the environment. They cannot maintain standards in some of the social and industrial services like education, housing, the Post Office, transport. The public does not understand how all this can happen when Ministers have at their command far more knowledge, much more money, and many more civil servants. The failure must be due to one of two causes: either the character of the British people has changed, or the method chosen to apply the new knowledge and the increased resources has been wrong. In my view, the truth is a mixture of the two.

Since the war, the method chosen has been the centralisation of power and this can very easily be shown to undermine the character of the people. At the same time, the vast explosion of subjectivity aiming at doing your own thing rather than doing the right thing has made government very difficult. The centralisation of power saps the character of the people when it withdraws from them the exercise of duties and obligations that they can perform reasonably well themselves. The citizen must learn in his daily life to practice that degree of restraint and respect for others without which he and his fellows cannot enjoy the freedom which our ancestors have handed down to us. When the citizen finds the State taking the responsibility to itself and when he discovers that the more he pays in rates and taxes the worse service he gets, what is the point of exercising self-restraint in the hope of better times to come? What does he do? He opts out, prefers a quiet life and assumes that, whatever happens, he has a right to a job and a rising income. He lets somebody else take the hard decisions.

The interesting thing is that a wide withdrawal from the harsh realities of life and a determination not to get involved—not to help the police, not to vote at local elections, not to stand up and be counted when bullied by officials—has shown itself many times in history before and has always been a sure sign that the power at the centre was being badly exercised and the character of the citizen damaged in the process.

I should like to quote to your Lordships an extraordinarily true remark made many years ago by Goethe to Eckermann. He said, Ages which are regressive or in process of dissolution are always subjective, whereas the trend in all progressive epochs is objective. Our age is subjective if ever there was one. One can see that in art, for example. When introspection takes hold of the people, it shows up in contemporary art. Pictures and sculpture are abstract and novels record the stream of consciousness; that is, what the characters can dredge up about themselves. The art itself maybe of a high order but it is a long way from life. It is art for art's sake, not art for life's sake. One cannot blame the artists. They have been faithfully reflecting the general subjectivity of our age, which is both a cause and a result of centralising power in the hands of the Government. The cuckoo State ejects the young citizen from the nest and in his place puts a ravenous bureaucrat whom the parents foolishly nourish with food that ought to have gone to their own family.

Progressive intellectuals—and I dare say that there are quite a few in your Lordships' House—want it this way. All socialist reformers from Plato down to Bentham and the Webbs have been dictators at heart. They know what is good for other people and they want the power to impose their plans. I remember as if it were yesterday the shock of hearing Sir Stafford Cripps say that we could trust the Government always to spend money better than the private citizen. Stafford Cripps was not referring only to the social services. He meant industry as well and he passionately believed what he was saying. Can anyone believe it today, with rates and taxes taking 60 per cent. of the national product, with a borrowing requirement of 10 billion, and with a fantastic number of administrators and officials compared to those who, like teachers, doctors and nurses, actually do the job?

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, the noble Viscount has quoted some extreme remark and asked whether anybody can believe it, but he has just made an extreme remark himself. He said that all socialist reformers were dictators at heart, but nobody really believes that. Do people believe that about Lord Attlee?

Viscount ECCLES

In a sense, yes, my Lords—that is to say, if you believe that through the power of the State you can do good to everybody, you must want to increase the power of the State. That leads you on, little by little, for a reason which I shall come to in a minute. By decentralising the powers of bureaucracy, we could perform a great deal of the administration ourselves with part-time or voluntary workers. There would then be more money to spend on our own families and on those in need of help. But even more important would be the involvement of the citizen himself in the obligations and responsibilities now carried by the State. We shall not achieve this kind of decentralisation until we abandon the fatal doctrine that men are naturally good and only require the intervention of the State to equalise their material condition in order progressively to become wiser, kinder and happier.

My Lords, this is the nonsense that has so weakened our own and other societies which have swallowed these unreal fancies. What has actually happened? As the restraints and responsiblities have been removed from the individual his natural inclination to be lazy, selfish and irresponsible has had to come to the surface. There is nothing now to stop it—and that is exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Soper, was saying. When these weaknesses show themselves, the progressive intellectuals—I think that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, is one—have no further remedy but additional centralisation.

Well, I am now cautiously optimistic because I believe that this debilitating process is coming to an end. The worm is turning. The public want decentralisation; they are going to vote about it at the next Election. It is of some interest that the promise to cut down central Government and distribute power is at the centre of Mr. Jimmy Carter's programme in the United States of America. I guess that it will carry him to the White House.

In conclusion, I want to say a brief word about the nature of decentralisation. I do not think that its advocates always recognise that we live in too complicated a world to decentralise straight from the State to the individual; and, as a matter of history, I believe that in the days when our freedom was most vigorous, cherished and admired, it was exercised not so much through individuals as through a network of associations and institutions that flourished in between the State and the individual. These institutions—religious, charitable, cultural, sporting, co-operative and so on—were formed for purposes which people espoused by their own choice. They were essentially non-political but they were the sinews of a free society

Today, the bureaucracy would not like to share their power with independent associations. They would oppose decentralisation. But I see no other way of reviving the vigour and the spirit of the ordinary citizen. By a happy circumstance, the wisdom of pooling national policies in larger groups (like the European Community) provokes a reaction at home of wanting to strengthen local and ethnic associations. We are therefore in a good position to start dismantling the power of the State and giving the ordinary person, not just a chance to be perfunctorily consulted, but the practical means of running the associations of his or her choice.

Such a policy would require deliberate discrimination in favour of the independent or quasi-independent association and in favour of the self-employed, and its opponents would tell us that we should lose the economies and technical advantages of large Government-controlled services. I do not believe it, my Lords. We should gain much more by the distribution of responsibility. So I conclude these remarks by forecasting that if my Party embraces this cause it will sweep the country and Mrs. Thatcher will take up residence in No. 10, Downing Street.

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, rising to address your Lordships for the first time I fully realise that there are many aspects of the subject under discussion—the state of the nation—that other noble Lords are much more equipped to deal with that than I am through their much greater knowledge and experience. As it happens, a number of these matters have been ably brought forward in this House this afternoon. However, there are one or two points I should like to cover to some extent.

First, it seems to me that the most important parts of a nation are its members; in short, the people themselves. Secondly, I do not have to emphasise to your Lordships the importance of good leadership. That definitely affects the state of the nation one way or the other. I think it reasonable to state that in the past few hundred years we have on the whole been fortunate in this respect. Let me briefly give your Lordships a couple of examples. I should like to take your Lordships back momentarily to the first Elizabethan period and remind your Lordships of the famous speech by Her Majesty the Queen at Tilbury when the Spanish Armada was even then on its way up the English Channel. I shall not quote here the words of good Queen Bess; after all, this is not the Old Vic; it is the House of Lords. Suffice it to say that Her Majesty made a most stirring speech to her troops and indeed offered to take up arms herself.

That famous scene brings to my mind—and I am sure to the minds of your Lordships, too—another great English leader, who, just over 350 years later, after the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, exhorted us to fight on if invaded, to fight on the beaches or wherever we happen to be, and he told us that we would never surrender. I appreciate that in this debate we are discussing the state of the nation today, and I have given those two examples, which were a few hundred years apart, to show that in time of crisis this country produces the leader to bring us to victory: and I am sure that it will happen again if, God forbid!, such a crisis arises.

I referred earlier to the people themselves. I believe that today our Elizabethans are just as adventurous as those in that earlier period. They have the same spirit. Let us, for instance, take the seamen as a comparison. We have only to recall the late Sir Francis Chichester, Sir Alec Rose (who is still with us), and the younger Chay Blythe, among others, to make the point.

My Lords, I should like to conclude by emphasising that it is the young people of today who not only are playing their parts, in however small a way, in the nation's affairs, but will be playing much more important parts in our future. They, to us, are our greatest asset. I should like to add that, despite a minority of young people who get the headlines in the Press because of their misbehaviour, the majority of young people today are exceptional in that they are more socially conscious than those of past generations. Although we have our little malaise periodically—and we have heard this afternoon from many speakers that we are in the midst of a malaise at this moment—there is not really much wrong with us, and I think I have made the point, without I hope being too complacent, that we have an uncanny habit of rising to the occasion when required to do so. I think I have spoken long enough and I thank your Lordships for your kindness in listening to me.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, I am in the curious position of having to congratulate three maidens. I do not know whether that constitutes a hat-trick, and if so I apologise to the sensitive people who know about cricket. I want to thank the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, and the right reverend Prelate for three exceptionally good maiden speeches, and we know that we shall hear from them again.

One of my problems in approaching this debate was that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington—whom we thank for giving us the opportunity to discuss this matter—gave us the gift of the entire firmament. I was only looking for a navigation star. But the other thing which impresses me is that as we consider the state of the nation I hope that we are not, in diagnosing the troubles of this country, treating the state of the nation as a necropsy. Indeed, as I listened to some of the speeches I wondered whether we should be looking not at the patient but at the doctors, because here we have the difficulty, with which we are all concerned, of how on earth in our own self-examination we shall find the answers for this very I complex problem. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom. It was the age of foolishness. It was the epoch of belief. It was the epoch of incredulity. It was the season of light. It was the season of darkness. It was the spring of hope. It was the winter of despair. We had everything before us. We had nothing before us. We were all going direct to Heaven. We were all going direct the other way. Your Lordships will recognise that as the opening of the Tale of Two Cities, referring to 1775, 200 years ago. Dickens was talking about the Britain of 200 years ago on the eve of the French Revolution. Britain, which as we are reminded from every medium, was at that time getting its come-uppance from its American colonists. Britain was being isolated as a group of offshore islands off the coast of Europe. But Britain was simultaneously moving into the Industrial Revolution in which steam was to give it a 50 years' head start on mass production and to give it the momentum which, American colonists or no, was to make it the imperial master of two-thirds of the world. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was very much like the times in which Dickens himself was writing, dealing as he had to do—and as we all have to do—in the superlatives of the extremes.

A century ago, in Dickens' time Britain was in dire straits. It looked as though it had lost its industrial advantages. Its competitors were doing rather better than Britain. Go back and read of what in fact was happening in the competitive field 100 years ago between ourselves and Europe. We had had our great heyday. We had had our 1851 Exhibition. We had been setting the pace for the whole industrial and commercial world, and now while Europe had developed technology we were still indulging in our own rather archaic practices.

There was a definite recession. We were importing more than we were exporting. We were living on the invisible earnings from investments overseas of the profits from industry—profits which, I would again point out, had not been ploughed back, even in the 19th century, in the industries which at that time, in fact, were manifestly neglected in terms of the improvement of machinery abroad. There was dire unemployment; and the trade unions, which in the previous quarter of a century had been waxing strong enough at least to impose on the legislators various Acts in support of themselves, were beginning to wilt. I may point out—and anybody who understands and knows about the British Labour Movement will understand—why, in the light of what happened in the 1870s, we are not in the same sort of mood today. It was also the time of the Education Acts and the Public Health Acts; and, indeed, in the social field we were doing rather well. Fifty years ago we had the General Strike. Thirty years ago, victors in a world war, Britain was going through an austerity more severe, I would remind your Lordships—and all of us here remember it—than it had endured in two world wars. We had, as your Lordships will remember, bread rationing for the first time. It was the best of times: it was the worst of times.

My Lords, in the history of this country it is always so. It depends upon who is having the best of it and who is having the worst of it. When we were told, "You've never had it so good", it behoved some of us to point out that it was because we were buying cheap and selling dear at the expense of the less-developed countries, and building up the resentments which we now have to meet (and politically we are always overtaken by this kind of thing) in very clear and sharp terms in the United Nations Trade and Development discussions and in the demands for a New Economic Order. Our chickens are coming home to roost; and when those who are having it good say, "I'm all right, Jack ", it is always at the expense of Jack, who is having the worst of it.

The difference—and what a difference!—is that 200 years ago, 100 years ago, even 50 years ago, we did not have the mass media to remind us instantly and constantly of what was happening. Injustice could in fact be swept under the rug, although it came up eventually in different ways. Scandals, whether in business or in high places, could be hushed up. I say this in the presence of the right reverend Prelate—my noble friend Lord Soper is not here—a century ago respectability was a pseudonym for hypocrisy. The forbidden subjects, the frank discussion of which now scandalises some of your Lordships—promiscuity, homosexuality, pornography, battered babies, battered wives, broken marriages—were there; they were simply covered up. Adolescent delinquents, if they were poor, were sent to gaol; if they were rich they were sent to administer the colonies. There may be more of all of these things today because there are more of us. Crime is writ large because it is more spectacular, whether it is hijacking or walking off with £2 million from London Airport. There is more crime—and I admit it—because crime is imitative and because the criminal has become the antihero of so much of our so-called entertainment.

But, my Lords, we are not a nation of criminals; we are not a nation of decadents. Our morality—and I insist upon this—is healthier because we have recognised the disease instead of, as in the past, pretending it was not there. As a young police-court reporter I knew every perversion in sexual psychopathy. There was nothing I did not know at the age of 17; but, of course, we did not print it— "All the news fit to print". We just referred to "a sexual offence" with the sentence. That was the constraint of respectability: we did not discuss. But I knew all that then, and, knowing all that, so far from doing me any harm it reinforced my own sense of my, I hope, non-smug values, and increased, above all things, my tolerance of the people I saw in the courts, and so on, who nowadays are exposed, denounced, untreated, et cetera. We are now building up what is becoming this great phantasy of a rocking, decadent society of which these things are the placarder manifestations, but of which they are only a very small part.

My Lords, we are discussing the state of the nation, and in our debates we can have our political karate performances; we can have our economic recriminations about the way things are managed; we can lament the fact that we can no longer dictate the terms of trade, or that the lesser breeds without the law are taking the law into their own hands. As the only nation which ever deliberately and on principle, and I think to our everlasting credit, gave away an empire, we can deplore the behaviour of our ex-colonies, for which we were so long responsible. We call it "ingratitude". Ungrateful for what? We have heard—and I appreciate the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel—about the importance of democracy. What democracy did we offer or teach, or train people in, in the colonies? We gave them the panoplies, we gave them the Mace, we gave them the wigs, we gave them the stuffed gowns. I think we ought to have learned, and should have learned now—and history certainly makes it quite clear—that you cannot export democracy. You can only behave democratically and, by example, teach people what are the principles and meaningfulness of it. The methods must be indigenous. These must, come out of the nature of the people themselves, and you cannot artifact. If we have failed, we have failed by inadequate example, not because they themselves did not pick up our panoplies.

I repeat that the best of times are the worst of times, and I prefer to look at the best. I have a great deal to do with young people. I have also, as has been obvious in this House in the past, had a great deal to do with young nations. I believe in the growing-up processes of both. I think that when you give your youngsters the key to the door you must not always ask them what company they are keeping, or deplore the kind of company they do keep. If you have not got them taught by that time then you are not going to make much impression by simply adopting repressive measures, and so forth. I think—and I say this very strongly—we have the finest younger generation that we have ever had in this country or that exists in any country, and I mean that very sincerely. As has been pointed out—and I repeat it—what we see are the manifestations of a very small minority. I say again that the situations are bigger than they were before because there are more of us. There are 60 million people now, when we start comparing; and, after all, we can always turn back to Charles Dickens again, when we will find juvenile delinquency as ever was.

This generation is really having a very tough time in our present crisis, but they are, two generations later—let us always remember it—like the few who did so much for so many. As Lord Clancarty has pointed out, in terms of our great adventurers we now in fact have a generation of great adventurers. What we are doing now with the young people is failing to recognise what is really needed. They are adventurers without adventure. We are not giving them the inspiration. What they need is the moral alternative to war. I was impressed—although I did not accept it entirely because I was following through the dangerous significance of it—when the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, pointed out how excellently we are running the Armed Services. Well, I would agree. I think this is important. I accept the discipline and everything he said about it, and I applaud it. But the ultimate logic of it is that you must have another war; because there is nothing in the mechanism of what we are talking about which can absorb the unemployed of youth and all the things that we regard as a great outlet for young enthusiasm. We must find a moral alternative to war, and we have not found it.

There is no worse misreading of the younger generation than to think that they are looking for security, least of all social security in terms of unemployment benefits. They are certainly not, in the long run, even looking for job security. They are looking for a future career but not to the ultimate pension at the end of the line. They want to share in the opportunities of the changing world, a radically changing world, changed by science and technology. Whatever our criticisms of the shortcomings of our educational system—and here I want to quarrel in a minor way with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington—I do not accept for a moment that there has been no great change or that there has been a change for the worse since the war. We are a much better educated country today than we were in 1945—much, much better. We may quarrel about comprehensive education; that is one of the techniques.

If your Lordships look around now, you will find that there is education in the broad and not just training which is simply limiting by defining jobs: "You in your small corner, me in mine". This is now a generation which has much more talent available. Of course, we were losing talent in the old days of privilege; but there is more talent than ever available now. Young people are more adaptable to change; they have more initiative but far too few outlets for it. They are the workforce of the new industrial revolution in which Britain once again can take the lead.

My Lords, let me say this. We are so prepossessed with "Keeping up with the Jones's", with matching up to our competitors. The noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Byers, compared us one against the other of the competitors. I have one suggestion, when we are talking about Germany in this way. Next time, we will lose the damned war! The only way to make sure you can get a back-up is to lose, like the Germans and Japanese. As, when considering the development of their island, one Barbadian said to another: "Why not declare war on the United States?—because they always take care of the vanquished". The other Barbadian asked: "What if we win?". We might learn that lesson. We have not done so well out of wars in terms of our recuperation. A great deal of our problems stem from the fact that after the war we did not get all the advantages which we might have got of re-tooling on the scale that we should have done. We took obsolete reparations.

I find this whole situation of comparing with conventional productivity totally discouraging. It stultifies our imagination. I am not minimising our economic plight when I deplore the phrase that we are hearing all the time: "We cannot afford …". I know what we are talking about. The money is not there. But it is an attitude of mind that I find difficult to tolerate: "We cannot afford to be imaginative!" Imagination does not cost money. What you must do is to make sure that you are stimulated adequately. We can afford to employ our ingenuity, we can afford to be innovative and to stop being imitative.

My Lords, I am delighted to see that the Government are prepared to back Stephen Salter's wave project—harnessing the waves to the generation of electricity; a constant source of power with no pollution. I am not going into the technicalities. It is an interesting and fascinating thing, the practicability of which I accept. The system that he has designed is almost, "do it yourself". I was going to say "improvised", but that would underestimate the sound scientific principles and research which makes it possible. As always in these cases, when things are really effective, they are invariably simple. We translate the science and technology into simple techniques. We can see in that kind of thing the initiative, the imagination and, above all, the capacity to encourage people to do things from scratch in their own way. In this area of electricity generation through wave power, we can do it in a most interesting way. Each unit is self-sufficient. Each unit could almost be made in a back yard, rather as the Chinese would do it. And every unit in it, however big the system, can readily be replaced.

My Lords, following the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, and the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, in their appeal for an imaginative approach, I should like to see us go much further along the same lines as wave power technology—tackling problems like the generation of electricity in terms of waves. I want to see Britain develop an ocean industry. We have had a windfall with the North Sea. To bring it in, we have had to rely upon the existing oil companies and on foreign science and technology. Our methods have been derived from off-shore drilling experience elsewhere. But, as the oil companies have discovered, the North Sea is a vastly different proposition from the Gulf of Mexico or anywhere else. We know that tragically in the lost lives of divers, and we know it in terms of the giant rigs and platforms. We know that these are structures "writ large" from experience based on completely different circumstances. We know the problems of pipeline laying and we are discovering things about the sea bottom that are not in the text books—and I am talking about the North Sea and the Celtic Sea and as far out into the Atlantic as you like.

We need a new technology, we need an ocean engineering industry for coping with new opportunities which will not be confined to oil. We need an industry and not an "ad hockery", an industry which will avoid the risks in the marine environment and the hazards to personnel. We need imagination, and, with that imagination, the challenge to the initiative and enterprise of a generation which is on the threshold of a new dimension of industrial change.

I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, approved and reinforced the idea of the Welfare State. Some of us, certainly on this side of the House, who stand four-square for the Welfare State, stand for something else as well; we stand for what we are talking about today. We are talking about the "Fulfilment State" in which people will have opportunities beyond the necessity of mere survival and existence to be able to apply their imagination and their principles towards a better State and a better nation.

5.39 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to associate myself with the congratulations offered to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough, the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, and the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, on their maiden speeches. I, too, hope that they will contribute many times again to our deliberations.

My Lords, there are a good many elements in the decline which I, for one, see in the condition of the nation. In drawing attention to one of these elements; namely, what I regard as the malfunctioning of the constitution, I hope I shall be acquitted of claiming that it is the sole or even the most important.

But I think that the increasing defectiveness of the British Parliamentary system, once one of our most glorious ideological exports, is contributing in some degree to our poor economic performance. I should like to touch on one or two aspects of the Constitution which were suggested by my noble friend Lord Carrington and the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and were discussed even more fully by my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel.

My Lords, there has been growing anxiety voiced in many quarters about the way in which what has sometimes been called "adversary politics" is working today, and has been working for the past 10 or 12 years. This system was defined in an interesting book by Professor Finer as, a stand-up fight between two adversaries for the favour of the lookers-on", He goes on to say that it is a battle, with two rival teams of politicians in open contention which goes on before an election, during an election, and—above all—continues after the election in the form of a continuous polemic across the floor of the Commons where a powerless Opposition confronts an all-powerful Government in the hope of winning for itself a more favourable verdict at the next general election Now it may well be said: "What is wrong with that? Is it not the great merit of our Constitution that one team is in office with plenary power to do what it likes, but continually subject to a barrage of criticism so that at the end of four or five years the electorate can record its verdict?" And since the verdict is often unfavourable, in practice we get alternating periods of single-Party Government, which prevents long monopoly of power et cetera. The so-called "swing of the pendulum" has been claimed as one of the great virtues of the British Parliamentary system.

I should like to suggest that the world has greatly changed since that was true, if it ever was. The golden age of the "swing of the pendulum" was a century ago when for some 30 years after 1866 Conservatives and Liberals alternated in power. First, Disraeli, then Gladstone, Disraeli, Gladstone, Gladstone, Salisbury, Gladstone, Salisbury, Gladstone. This state of affairs was acceptable and worked quite well in those days for three reasons which do not prevail today. First, the House of Commons was not the omnipotent sovereign body that it is now.

Your Lordships' House had real power which admittedly it sometimes abused, but there was a genuine Second Chamber with an accepted legitimacy.

Secondly,—and I echo what my noble friend Lord Home said—there was a convention that a new Government did not promptly repeal on coming in all the principal measures of their predecessor. On the contrary, Acts were very seldom repealed. The custom was, rather, for a Liberal Administration to modify or build upon the measures of the Conservative Government which had just gone out, and vice versa. Gladstone, in 1880, did not deem it his duty to repeal Disraeli's Health Act, Food and Drugs Act, Rivers Pollution Act or Artisans Dwelling Act. Nor did he feel obliged to say in advance that he intended to do it, either. Thirdly, and most important of all, the field of national domestic life in which public opinion expected Governmental intervention was far more limited than it is today. The swing of the pendulum therefore mattered much less. There were great areas which it simply did not affect at all, or at most marginally.

My Lords, all this has changed a century later. The decisions of the House of Commons are now for all practical purposes and on all major issues final until the next Parliament reverses them—and they are just as final when based on less than 40 per cent. of those who vote and less than 30 per cent. of those who could have voted, as they are when based on a majority of the electorate. There are no checks and never have been on the omnipotence of "The Queen in Parliament", but today this means the omnipotence of 50 per cent. plus one of the Members of another place. As for the second point, the convention of constructivity rather than destructivity with regard to the legislation of the previous Administration, this has also vanished.

The list of reversals and re-reversals over the past few years is formidable, and I will not detail them. The whole field of economic planning has been subject to the same sort of changes—likewise pensions, labour relations, education and land. As for the history of steel nationalisation, it is too well known. The mere mention of this list shows how great an area of our national life is now regulated by Governmental action. This is the third important contrast with the age of Gladstone and Disraeli. When the pendulum swung in the 1880s, the number of people or interests involved was relatively insignificant. Today it affects vast regions of the economy, it affects social relations, education, housing, taxation—the whole framework of life. There is a great difference between a pendulum that swings within the carefully regulated limits of a well-oiled time piece and one which lurches so violently from side to side that it is in danger of cracking the very clock case itself.

We are faced with a new situation and one which has only come into being quite recently.

For, oddly enough—and despite its enshrinement as a part of our Constitutional folklore—the swing of the pendulum in its old form almost ceased after 1895 and did not reappear for nearly 70 years. From 1895 the Conservatives were in office for the next 11 years, the Liberals solo or in coalition for the next 12 after that. Coming to more modern times, between 1918 and early 1964—a period of 45 years—there were only two major changes in the political wheel of fortune; the Labour victory of 1945 and the Conservative recovery in 1951.

But if we take early 1964 as our starting point, there have been three major changes in little over 12 years. The pendulum has begun to swing again, but in a very different world and with very different consequences. The state of the nation—anyway the economic nation—cannot fail to be affected by this new situation of reversals and re-reversals in almost every field of our national life.

Of course some of these changes are objective responses to a real change in the situation, but I think that this is true of only a small proportion. In general, they are the result of Party policies and programmes which are much more extreme than the vast majority of the electorate desire. For example, today we have situation in which a Government exercises power based on a majority (admittedly a bare majority) over all other Parties in the House of Commons, but that majority is based on only 39 per cent. of those who voted and only 29 per cent. of those who could have voted. Over 60 per cent. of the voters voted for other Parties. In what sense is this democracy?

Moreover, the Government based on this minority are endeavouring to force through measures which only have the support of a minority within that minority. A study kept confidential at the time—and no wonder!—was carried out by a fir m called Marketing and Opinion Research International in January 1974 for the Labour Party. It revealed that only 6 per cent. of Labour voters were in favour of establishing the National Enterprise Board, only 12 per cent. were in favour of nationalising shipbuilding, the aircraft industry and ports, and only 26 per cent. were in favour of nationalising development land. These are percentages, remember my Lords, of Labour supporters who in the first Election of 1974 constituted only 37 per cent. of those who voted and, as I said earlier, in the second Election 39 per cent.

If these figures applied to minor items of Labour's Manifesto, perhaps one would not be so disturbed. But all of these are major measures with far-ranging consequences, and in some cases exceedingly difficult to unscramble. Yet they are being carried at the behest of tiny minorities. Take the nationalisation of the shipbuilding and aircraft industries—a drastic measure whose attempted passage in another place has provoked deplorable scenes and led for the time being to a total breakdown of the conventions governing Parliamentary procedure. Yet it is being rail-roaded through Parliament, although less than 5 per cent. of the voters and only 3½ per cent. of the total electorate are in favour of it. My Lords, I ask again: in what sense is this democracy? I suppose someone might argue that a survey of opinion in January 1974 is not relevant two and a half years later. It seems to me very unlikely that it will be so far out as to make any real difference to the substantial point.

Our electoral system produces single party Governments based on a minority of the voters, alternating in power because of very small shifts in opinion. It required statistically less than 3 voters out of every 100 to change their allegiance from Labour to Conservative between 1966 and 1970 in order to convert a Labour lead of 110 over Conservatives into a Conservative lead of 43 over Labour in the House of Commons. In three out of the last 13 elections the Party with the largest number of MPs had actually fewer votes cast for it than the runners-up.

These statistical oddities did not matter so much in the days when Governments left the major part of our national life alone. Nor did they matter so much in the days, not so long ago, when a Government which held Office by a narrow majority (such as Mr. Attlee's in 1950) regarded it as morally wrong to bulldoze a lot of highly partisan measures through Parliament, or in the days when people respected Winston Churchill's dictum made on 2nd June, 1931: No Government which is in a large minority in the country, even though it possess a working majority in the House of Commons, can have the necessary power to cope with real problems. It is a much more serious matter today when no such convention prevails and Governments are determined, at almost all costs, to enact every detail of a Party manifesto which 90 per cent. of their, supporters have never read—not just the small print, but the big print, in most cases. Economic planning by industrial firms is virtually impossible. To be effective, planning must look beyond the term of a single Parliament. But if the whole system of taxation, incentives, grants; company law, is going to be changed with every change of Government, it would be hardly surprising if the top executives just gave up and abandoned the effort to take any rational decision at all. And this instability is not confined to the world of business and economics. How can people plan for their children or their old age, or anything else, if all the rules are altered every three or four years?

This situation is made worse by the increased polarisation of political attitudes. The gap between the thinking of the two major Parties—or, perhaps I should say, the thinking of those who compose their Manifestos—is much wider than it was twenty years ago. As a result, the alternations of the Parties have a much more unsettling effect. What this country needs above all today is a measure of stability; and our political system, as it operates today, is a recipe for precisely the opposite.

It is one thing to diagnose a disease but another thing to prescribe the cure. Electoral reform might be part of the answer. I have had my say on that elsewhere and will not burden your Lordships with my views now, except to observe that both Houses of Parliament were convinced as long ago as 1917 that the present system ought to be abolished, and it has survived only because they could not agree what to put in its place. It is often said that electoral reform will lead to coalitions and therefore, though I do not myself see the link, to weak government. All I can say on that is to echo the words once used, if my memory is correct, by my noble friend Lord Coleraine, who said in this House that if strong government was what we had been enduring for the last twenty years or so, he would be only too happy to try weak government for a change.

Electoral reform is one possibility. A strengthened and perhaps elective Second Chamber is another. I do not deny the great difficulties which either of those reforms would encounter, and particularly electoral reform. Perhaps a change of heart by the political Parties in their approach to this would be even more efficacious. So far as electoral reform is concerned, I am well aware that the prospects are not very good. Their detestation of it is the one thing that the Left Wing of the Labour Party and the Right Wing of the Conservative Party have in common. I am reminded of Disraeli's remarks on the disapproval of the Reform Act of 1867, which was expressed by both the Edinburgh Review, the organ of the Whigs, and the Quarterly Review, which was the organ of the high Tories. They were, he said, like two first-class rival posting inns which did a roaring trade in the days of` the stagecoach but were now confronted with the prospect of a revolution in transport. I quote: Instead of that intense competition and mutual vindictiveness which before distinguished them, they suddenly agree. The boots of the Blue Boar and the chambermaid of the Red Lion embrace and are quite in accord in this—in denouncing the infamy of railroads. So, my Lords, I do not underestimate the difficulties which confront the electoral reformer. All the same, I believe it will come; and it will come not because the present system is unfair to the Liberals —though it is, and one need not be a Liberal to see that—but it will come because of the increasingly unsatisfactory nature of a system which gives alternating periods of absolute power to Parties voted in by a minority of the electorate. This is a system which makes personal and economic planning virtually impossible. It is a source of instability of the most undesirable nature, and it is beginning to call in question the very legitimacy of government itself. For these reasons, I believe that public opinion will at no very distant date—in the first, rather than the second, part of the 1980s—demand that something should be done. And, since public opinion gets its way in the end, something will be done.

5.55 p.m.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, we have all followed with the closest attention the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Blake, who is the leading historian in the House at present and, if I may make a safe remark, the leading male biographer in the nation. I should like to pay my tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for having introduced this subject. As I knew to my cost in the old days, the noble Lord never makes any speech which is not effective. I should also like to congratulate the maiden speakers and the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, and to say that I agreed entirely with what the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, said about youth. Perhaps the noble Earl will recall—certainly the noble Lord, Lord Blake will—what Sir Winston Churchill wrote in his memoirs, when he referred to the foolish boys who passed a resolution—incidentally, over the dead bodies of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, and myself—which was called "The King and Country Resolution", and then were to prove themselves within a few years as the finest generation ever bred in Britain. Perhaps the noble Earl was right, but personally, I am never bold enough to make these great generalised verdicts. I do not think you can ever tell whether one generation is finer than another. At any rate, I agree entirely with the noble Lord that this is the best educated generation—far better educated than after the war—and I agree with my noble friend, Lord Ritchie-Calder, there.

I should like to refer to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Blake, when he referred to the gap between the thinking of the two Parties being much wider than it was 20 years ago. I go back a little further, but I do not think the argument is relevant. Certainly when I joined the Labour Party 40 years ago the gap was very much greater then than it is today. In those days there was no comparison between the Socialists and the Conservatives. Of course, today there are a good many points of contact, and I think that has been so since the war when the Parties came together in coalition. So, in terms of recent history, I do not accept that the gap is larger than it was.

Since the noble Lord has brought in the past, may I say just one thing about the point of view of some of us on these Benches, which may or may not include some Liberals. When I was making my way—perhaps unlamented and unwelcorned, I may say—over a period of four years in the 1930s from the ideas of the noble Lords opposite to those of the Labour Party, I remember reading a leading article in The Times, which ran as follows: Unfortunately, wealth is like heat: it is only when it is unequal in its distribution that it can perform what the physicists call work. That may seem a platitude to most people, not only in this country but in other countries who belong to what is called the Right in politics. But to Left-Wing people it is simply a recipe for disastrous reaction. So there will always be this difference between the Parties and all the rest of it, and we must make it clear. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, is no longer with us, so I will renew my protest against his assertion that all Socialist reformers in the end turn out to be dictators, or words to that effect. At any rate I also made that protest while he was here.

If we take the movement in the last 40 years in this country and in other Western countries, of course, there has been a far-reaching movement. Of course, for many of us, such as my noble friends Lord Soper, Lord Ritchie-Calder, and others, it has not gone far enough; but there has been this far-reaching movement towards a greater measure of equality. Many noble Lords will think that that is the whole trouble; that that is what we are suffering from. But there has occurred a far-reaching movement towards greater equality. That is simply a matter of history which I do not think anybody—I am sure this includes the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, and other very learned people—will question. But what has not occurred—and here I am making concessions to those who want to denounce any tendency towards complacency, which they might find in myself and my colleagues—is the emergence of a higher motivation.

When I joined the Labour Party—and this may be true of other old Labour friends here—we looked not only to this greater equality and much fairer distribution of wealth, which was one aspect of the matter, but towards a society in which the general public would be motivated by a desire to help the community rather than by self-interest. That has always been an immense part of the Socialist aspiration. I am not arguing that that has occurred. I am not admitting for a moment that the opposite has occurred, or that there has been any deterioration. I honestly do not think one can measure the movement either way in that sense.

I was told that the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, was going to speak about moral issues. I was sorry when he left that to the theologians, but I hope he will not rule me out in these discussions. At any rate, he spoke mainly about economic matters. I shall not dwell at length on our moral balance sheet, and I think it is very hard to weigh up the credits and the debits over recent years. As has been stated in this House on various occasions lately, as by the most reverend Primate when he opened his debate the other day, as well as by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and others—and I may have said it myself—it can fairly be said that we are today a more compassionate society than we were pre-war. I think we have become steadily more aware of the needs of those in distress and of the handicapped. I think that is true. Even if you take what is statistically quite a small problem, that of the disabled, the Bill which was carried through this House by general acclaim is an example of something that would not have been carried in past times in this House, or in any other House; and, of course, the distressed areas and all such horrible phenomena of the pre-war period would not be tolerated today.

In passing, I must ask noble Lords—I shall put just this one question, in case any of them are still in a position to answer it; perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, can do so when he replies: Can anybody point to a period when Britain was a better country to live in than it is now? This is one point which the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, might touch on. I am not thinking of foreign countries. It is easy enough to say, "Damn all foreigners" or, alternatively, to point out how much better they are getting on. But if we just take our own country, I submit that it has never been a better country and I wonder whether the noble Lord agrees. If there was some golden age, when did it occur? No one believes that the 'thirties were such a golden age, with mass unemployment and a foreign policy which played its part in war.

Immediately after the war, I had the honour of speaking very often from the Government Bench, and was told by my dear old friend Lord Cherwell and others about the total collapse of the will to work. No one in those days of the Conservative Benches had a good word to say for the Government of that period, and there were many criticisms of the whole idea of the Welfare State. So I am only asking the noble Lord to agree that there has never been a better Britain than the one today.

Coming to this question of the motivation—I now speak generally, and am not aiming particularly at capital, labour, the professions, politicians or anybody else—the former Archbishop of Canterbury and the present one have both put their finger on the single word "greed". I do not think one can avoid the conclusion that a very large proportion of our economic troubles spring from greed, wherever one happens to locate it. I am not saying that we are, as individuals, any more greedy than we used to be before the war. I am submitting, however, that this greed is proving much more dangerous now and is likely to prove fatal unless it is corrected.

In pre-war days, only a small proportion of the community were, in an economic sense, free. They followed their own selfish interests according to the dictates of a political economy which they were persuaded, rightly or wrongly, justified the pursuit of selfishness in the ultimate interests of the community. Economic man, whom we were taught to admire, was greedy man, but the great majority of the population—may I finish the sentence; I hardly thought I would get by without an intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins—were not in a position to give effect to their greed.


My Lords, I only wanted to know who it was who taught the youthful Earl to admire greed?

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, the word "greed" was not applied to economic man, but that was the economic man whom I was taught to admire. Although the noble Lord left his high position in Oxford the moment I arrived on the scene, the fact is that his influence lived after him so I was still brought up in that atmosphere. Though I say it now and should not, I was quite successful in propounding these theories in front of the examiners. However, that is all by the way.


My Lords, the noble Earl would not have been passed by me if he had propounded these theories.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, perhaps it was just as well that the noble Lord passed on. Of course, in a sense, that whole situation has been altered. The vast majority of the population since the war has been free from this terrible fear of unemployment, and those other great evils which prevented people from giving effect to their greed. Therefore, we are living in a liberated era, but we have not been able to develop the values required by this new and liberated era. So I am humbly, respectfully and firmly submitting to the House that what we are really looking for behind this debate, and after this debate, is the way to formulate new values which are appropriate to the liberated era.

The wisdom I am advocating is, to use the words of Saint Augustine, "Ever old and ever new". One must begin, as always, with the Ten Commandments, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Soper, will be present as I will, and as I hope others will be, at the great rally in aid of the Ten Commandments which the Festival of Light are organising on 25th September. I assure noble Lords that I am not getting a commission for mentioning that great occasion. Then we move on from the Ten Commandments to the Sermon on the Mount. Some may stop there, and others will pursue their theological studies more profoundly. But each generation is faced—and this has been said much better by the noble Lord, Lord Soper—with the ineluctable duty of applying the Divine revelation to its contemporary needs. It is no good just turning over the text of some book even if it is the Bible, and saying that the answer is there. It is not there. The noble Lord, Lord Home, dealt with that very effectively and said that Christianity gives one a starting point, it gives one standards, it gives one inspiration and, ultimately, it tells one whether one has succeeded or failed, but it does not give one the practical concrete answers.

Before I close, may I say that freedom does not work automatically. It does not survive automatically. It requires intense exertion on the part of all of us to make sure that it does not undergo the fate in this country which it has undergone so often and so recently. Also, freedom does not automatically confer the blessings which we rightly claim for it. It can be abused and exploited by those who treat it as a licence for unlimited selfishness, and for total disregard of the community in the assertion of their own rights.

Where then are we to seek these values? There are those in this House—and I know that the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, is among them—who have found a lifelong inspiration to public service here, and all over the world, in a humanism unconnected with religion. They are deeply respected, but I will not stop to argue with them today.

For my part, I respond, as so many are doing, to the powerful lead being given by the Archbishop of Canterbury towards Christian renewal and, on similar lines, by the new leader of my own communion, Cardinal Hume. If they, or we who follow them, whether or not we be attached to Churches, wish for a text to be inscribed on our banner, we could do worse than use the last words of a great address given many years ago by the late Archbishop Temple. Those words are as true now as when I first heard them: Only religious faith can make the world safe for freedom. Only religious faith can make freedom safe for the world". There, my Lords, is the core of the whole matter. If we strive to live up to that message, however imperfectly, there will not be much need to worry about the state of Britain—still so mighty, still so generous, still so anxious to find out what is right, and do it.

6.11 p.m.


My Lords, first I should like to join other noble Lords in congratulating the right reverend Prelate and the two noble Lords who have made their maiden speeches. I hope that they will be willing to speak often in your Lordships' House. We should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for initiating this debate at the present time because I believe that there is a greater appreciation in the country of the problems which face us now, a greater realisation that these problems will not go away on their own and a greater willingness to accept whatever measures are necessary to put things right. As an industrialist and a former Treasury official, inevitably I see these problems in economic terms and, with deference to the noble Earl, I should like to discuss the problems in those terms—in terms of greed, perhaps he would say—rather than follow him into rather more metaphysical reaches, which certainly I am not able to do.

Before definining the problems and suggesting what action we should take, it is worth trying to see how we got here, from having one of the highest standards of living in Europe to having, among the countries of the Common Market, Scandinavia and Switzerland, the lowest, with the exception of Ireland and Italy. Fundamentally, it comes from having tried since the war to do too much and to expect too much from our economic system. This is quite understandable because, as certain noble Lords have pointed out, at the end of the war we had fought longer than any other country. On VE day the British Empire had almost as many divisions in contact with the enemy as the Americans. We were still the centre of a great Empire, and Marshall Aid, that very generous act on the part of the Americans, concealed from us our economic and political weaknesses.

When I went to the Treasury in 1947, one of our first exercises was to try to work out what the British ration would be when the reserves ran out and I think I am right in remembering that we came to the conclusion that it would be something like 1700 calories per day per person. During the war I do not think the ration ever fell below about 2,850 calories. At about the same time, together with the noble Lord, Lord Roberthall, I was sent to see M. Monnet to discuss with him the possibility of closer economic collaboration between France and England. He began our discussions by saying that with the exception of Great Britain and the neutral countries every country in Europe had been defeated in war and every country in Europe had been occupied by an enemy army. Therefore they were disillusioned with their institutions and were ready for change. Our institutions had carried us successfully through the war. We were not ready for change and saw no need for it. Certainly I did not see any such need.

Again, ever since the war—in particular immediately after the war—our defence budget took a higher proportion of the national income than that of any other Western country except the United States. At the time of Korea we embarked upon an enormous defence programme at the request of the Americans in order to help them get their defence programme through Congress. It was indicated to us that they would pick up the balance-of-payments cheque. That did not happen and it put us back for a very long time. We were giving out aid to all and sundry in a way that provoked the noble Lord, Lord Keynes, to put in a Cabinet paper that we must stop acting the Lady Bountiful with money that did not belong to us.

In addition to all this, we led ourselves to expect a steadily rising standard of living, an increasing Welfare State and full employment. In turn, this led to increased taxation of industry and reflation whenever unemployment seemed to be rising, with the consequence of inflation, and to profits having a falling share of national income. This in its' turn led to accusations that industry had failed the nation. This accusation was made by politicians, both political Parties, trade union leaders, the media, and so on. We were told that it had not invested enough. In its turn, this led to increased intervention—more nationalisation, the IRC, the NEB and all the rest of it.

But today there are signs of a change of attitude on the part of the present Government, the leaders of the trade unions and others towards the private sector. The first change was the relief of stock profits which are not really profits but only the result of inflation. From the two White Papers which were published the week before last I should like to quote two sentences. In one we read: The downward trend in profitability must be reversed"; and in the other: The apparent profits indicated by company accounts drawn up on a historic accounting basis may conceal the fact that the firm is not making sufficient money even to replace the assets it has consumed". This displays a most welcome realism.

What action should we take? First, I submit that we should never let the critics of industry forget that it is industry which produces the wealth upon which all else depends—our standard of living, welfare, aid, defence and so on. If industry does not produce the wealth, the other things will not happen. In order to do this industry must be profitable. People will not save and invest unless they get a proper return on their money. As the noble Lord, Lord Byers, said, the public sector must pay its way; it must cover its costs and be able to pay interest on the money that has been invested in it.

A profitable or an unprofitable private sector affects almost everyone in this country, either through pension schemes, life assurance, or directly through the jobs which people have, or do not have, in industry. This is generally understood in a way that I think commentators, politicians and, for that matter, industrialists do not understand. In a recent CBI survey, of those polled 98 per cent. agreed that companies need profits to plough back into business, 89 per cent. thought that it was only fair that companies should pay dividends to shareholders, and 86 per cent. said that it was important to them to live in a free enterprise society.

What should we do? I submit that we should support the pay deal that was recently concluded between the Government and the TUC and that we should urge all those concerned on both sides of industry and the Government to start work immediately on the problem of re-entry. We shall have to have a Stage 3 before we can get through the rigid control of prices and wages that we now have. Further modifications of the Price Code are absolutely essential and certainly I believe that the Price Code, not necessarily price control, should be abolished in Stage 3.

Industry must be allowed to pay proper dividends, otherwise people will not invest. There must be a realistic programme of reducing the borrowing requirement—one that can be monitored over, say, three years. This will have the effect of reducing the proportion of Government expenditure taken from the national income. All of this must be hacked up by a realistic and tough monetary policy. I think it is quite unrealistic to call for expenditure cuts during the current year. My experience of the Treasury is that if you try to cut expenditure during the financial year it is merely wasteful and usually counter-productive, but I think that the cash limits which have been laid down by the Treasury should be rigidly enforced, particularly on local authorities.

There are two reasons why a policy of this kind should be followed: one is confidence abroad. If you have a floating currency it is worth what people will pay for it, not what you think it is worth, and part of what people will pay depends upon the confidence they have that the Government of the country will follow a sensible policy. But perhaps, more important, in order to avoid industry being crowded out as it builds up its production, there must not be a competition between Government expenditure and the requirements of industry as production increases. To refuse to do any of these things will merely result in the economy being overloaded as it has been time and time again since the war and we shall he once again in that "stop-go" cycle that we are so used to.

Industry, both public and private, depends upon management, and as an industrialist I say that you cannot exaggerate the serious drop in morale that has taken place in middle management over the last few months. This is due in large part to the perpetual denigration of management that has taken place, coming from politicians, trade union leaders; from some people in the City and from the media. It is also due to the effect on the standard of living of the pay policy and inflation. Management needs—and expects—differentials just as much as do the members of the trade unions, skilled workers led by Mr. Scanlon and Mr. Chapple.

As, until a few weeks ago, the chairman of a company that operated all over the world and chairman of the London Business School, I can say that good British management is as good as any in the world, but I think there is a danger that the educational sytem is not turning out in sufficient numbers the people that industry needs. My own company would recruit more good engineers and technologists, if we could get them. Between 1971 and 1975 the number of home students admitted to engineering studies fell from 9412 to 8,462 and in the case of social studies the numbers of home students rose from 13,694 to 17,387. Is this a sign that as a nation we are causing young people to think that it is more desirable to study subjects vaguely designated as helpful to the community rather than engineering and other technological disciplines? If the answer is, "Yes"—and I think it is—then I think it is partly industry's own fault for failing to communicate about itself, its importance to the national wellbeing and the excitement and the interest of the careers it can offer.

There is one ray of hope, because quite recently, referring to applications for university places this year, the University Central Council for Admissions reported: A substantial rise in interest in vocational subjects, particularly engineering". So let us hope that the tide has turned. Men and women on the shop floor and in the offices want to know—and have a right to know—what affects their daily lives and to have some part in those decisions. This was brought home forcibly to me a few years ago when I was going round one of our works and I asked a young shop steward whether he was satisfied with the consultative arrangements that we had there. He said: "Yes, and they are very necessary, because you see in my father's day when he was told to do something, he just got on with it and did it, but when the lads are told to do something today they want to know why, they want to know whether it is reasonable, and when they are satisfied on that, then they will do it."

Communication, participation, or whatever we call it, must be built up from below, from the place of work, where most of the decisions that affect the daily lives of people are taken. I do not believe that the solution is to start with worker directors, but if and when we do get to worker directors, they must not be appointed by trade unions; they must come from the people who work in the organisation, just as some noble Lords have said that the trustees of pension schemes should come, not from trade union leaders, but from the people who depend on those pensions.

I do not believe that the vast majority of people in this country want violent changes in the society in which we live. I believe that they accept the mixed economy as we now have it, with a substantial and large private sector, but which they accept should be profitable. All the public opinion polls show that they do not want any more nationalisation. I do not believe that they want either a Marxist siege economy or a British form of Poujadism, where "only small is beautiful". I believe we have a unique opportunity at this time as a nation to solve the problems that have beset us since the war, but it needs a joint effort; it needs leadership from politicians, trade union leaders, industrialists and businessmen of all kinds, supported by the media.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him a brief question. He spoke of the lack of sympathy for profitability in private industry. Does he not think that the same lack of sympathy, almost hostility, from private industry towards the nationalised industries is as much to blame for the position we are in today? Is that not as much to blame as the other way round—the attitude of the Labour Government and the Labour Party towards private industry?


My Lords, I am not sure that I have really understood the noble Baroness, but if I may give my own personal views, I feel that we have a mixed economy; that we are going on having a mixed economy; that it is no good wanting to turn the clock back from nationalisation, as I think some noble Lords have already said, but that the nationalised industries must pay their way, as was the original concept when they were nationalised after the war. In the same way, I am sure that most people on the shop floor believe that the private enterprise system must make profits in order to be successful.


My Lords, may I ask a question about—

Several noble Lords

Order! This is a debate.

6.30 p.m.


My Lords, like other noble Lords I have enjoyed very much listening to the speeches today, particularly those from the Front Bench of my noble friends Lord Carrington and Lord Home of the Hirsel. The debate has been illuminated by no fewer than three maiden speeches, the deliverers of which have been justly and rightly congratulated by all who have followed. I should like to endorse those congratulations.

My Lords, the subject of our debate is the state of the nation. The speeches have ranged from deep, philosophic and religious attitudes and problems to economic matters of high importance, such as were contained in the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Plowden and Lord Blake. So if I descend for a few moments to the lower, more earthy soil of politics, I trust that the House will allow me the short time I ask for.

It seems to me that nobody can deny that the state of the nation is critical, economically and socially. We are divided today as we have not been for many years past. In summary, the facts are that many countries in the world have lost faith in Britain. It is not difficult to find those within our own frontiers who, I regret to say, also share that view. Our currency, which is a measure of international confidence, has dribbled downwards. The drip seems to have ceased for the moment, but there is the constant threat of that drip turning into a flood. But Ministers always assure us, and I have heard it from Ministers of several Governments, that sunshine is just round the corner, and if we will but contain ourselves, we will see the sunshine very shortly.

But the fact is that unemployment remains stubbornly around the figure of 1¼ million, and is kept in check only by subsidising the creation of jobs. Only a super-optimist could claim that we as a nation are being successful in a competitive world. In this debate we have had figures which are, indeed, depressing. Socially, I believe as a nation we are divided as never before, and that the unfortunate human qualities of envy and greed are fostered in some directions, not many, as political weapons for the achievement of political objectives.

The other aspect which worries me, and I am sure worries other Members of your Lordships' House, is that power is slipping from Parliament. Today, corporate bodies like the TUC, like the CBI, negotiate policies with the Government, and then Parliament is expected to, and indeed does, rubber stamp the result of those outside negotiations. The Opposition declaims in general terms, but can spell out no positive alternatives in detail to check the present decline. I would hazard this guess—and this will not be popular in some directions, and certainly not in my own Party—that if Mrs. Thatcher were returned tomorrow at a General Election, she and her Cabinet could not at a stroke alter the face of things, either industrially or socially.

A Conservative Government would be faced, I fear, with the venomous hate of a Tory victory, a hate which was expressed recently by Mr. Scanlon, and which has been expressed by other trades union leaders. There would be 8 million to 10 million men and women taught to be bitterly resentful of the electoral result. I believe confrontation would be inevitable over a wide social and economic field. Yet deep in the hearts of both those 8 million splendid men and women and many more outside the unions, they are aware of many of the main causes of the industrial shortcomings and the measures that are needed, "measures of stability which the country needs", in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Blake.

I do not believe any single Party, my own, the Party opposite, or the Liberal Party, could command enough electoral support to bring forward those remedial proposals which in our hearts we know are necessary; and so we go on, cliff hanging on the edge of an economic crisis.

Your Lordships may well ask, and rightly so, what these steps are that I have in mind. I shall express them in headlines, as it were: first, gross overmanning in Government employment and in industry, which can only be tackled with trades union co-operation and with trades union support: policies of early retirement and generous redundancy. I would say the second step is the abolition of restrictive practices to be seen in various industries, such as demarcation disputes and other forms of restriction. There again, only with trades union support can those be overcome. That support will require the rank and file of trades unionists to appreciate that by incentives and tax reliefs their jobs will not be put at risk by the abolition of restrictive practice, but that they will share in the increased profitability of industry.

I believe that the acceptance of the closed shop should not deprive any man of conscience from his right to work. I believe further nationalisation should be put into cold storage, that taxation should be eased, from the very lowest to the very highest. I believe that the unpleasant but necessary cuts in public expenditure will have to take place. These, and other measures which your Lordships may well know of, are what I believe the man in the street knows himself are required. But which Party will bring these forward, and face the howls of anguish which will come from within and without if measures are proposed to Parliament for such remedies as I have outlined? I fear the answer is "none", because there is not sufficient electoral support in the country for any Party to bring them forward.

I believe that it is only by the coming together of Party leaders that we may have a position where the remedies which are essential for our national recovery can be brought forward. On 29th June, on the BBC, Mr. Heath said he wished for an area of agreement between Parties on various great issues. Today, the noble Lord, Lord Byers, mentioned that dread word "coalition". I do not believe Mr Heath's proposal for a coming together of areas of agreement is sufficient. We must go further. I believe that we in this country shall need to come to a Government of national recovery, to rally the country to face the perils which are around us and to accept the essential steps of our recovery. Such a Government would have only one object, to take the steps we know are needed but no one dares declare as their policy. Once the purpose of a Government of national recovery is achieved it should be dissolved, and we can return at once to our Party system. Like other noble Lords, I dislike coalitions. The word "coalition" I dislike; to me it savours too much of expediency, compromise, and finally sharing out the goodies.

But we have had a Government of national emergency, in 1931. We will not dwell on that one, because very soon it ceased to be a national Administration and became in other words a Tory Administration. But Mr. Churchill, overnight, in 1940, formed a coalition Government which had only one purpose, which was victory, and when the war ended Mr. Churchill would have liked to continue that coalition. Personally I think the Labour Party were absolutely right to decline to continue that situation. Nevertheless it was a Government with a single purpose, and if we had a Government of national recovery it would have that single purpose. It would require the Labour Party, not to abandon their beliefs, but to put them in cold storage. Those noble Lords opposite who believe intensely in the socialist State would not be asked in any way to surrender their beliefs. All they would be asked to do would be to postpone the implementation of their beliefs while the period of national emergency was in operation. Once the danger was passed the great basic differences which divide us could be brought to the surface again.

Such a Government would, of course, require powerful and wholly disinterested leadership, either from the present Leaders of Parties or possibly those whose names have not yet been mentioned. Personal positions and personal ambitions would be sacrificed and subordinated, as they were in the year 1940 when Mr. Churchill formed his Government. It asks a lot of men and women in high places to consider this, but in nine years we saw this happen twice. My hope is that the need will not arise but my belief is that it will, and when it does let us, before it is too late, consider the outline of something I have been bold enough to suggest to your Lordships.

6.44 p.m.


My Lords, I think we all owe a debt of deep gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for having placed this Motion on the Order Paper and for having in so lucid and convincing a way spoken to it. In the last few weeks we have already had two debates on the acute financial crisis in which we find ourselves involved, and in many ways it seems to me to be a good thing that an opportunity should be provided to explore wider horizons and backward looking perspectives.

The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said so much that in my judgment needed to be said that I was moved to expunge at any rate the opening remarks with which I intended to begin my observations. But I am glad that I find myself in the list after my dear friend, if I may so allude to him, the noble Earl, Lord Longford, who seems to me to have done grave injustice to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. It seemed to me that at the beginning of his speech Lord Carrington made absolutely clearly the point that in absolute terms this community is far better off than it was in, let us say, 1950. But the noble Earl reproached Lord Carrington and asked him to adjust his views and perhaps to give us the benefit of his further reflections on this subject when he replies to the debate. I hope that Lord Carrington will reveal to us other thoughts which have passed through his mind rather than repeating himself on this.

Surely, it is quite incontrovertible that the standard of living of the majority of people in this country has increased, shall we say, 50 per cent. in the last 25 years. I do not expect all noble Lords here assembled to feel that their standard of life has increased 50 per cent. in the last 25 years. Penal taxation and the increased scarcity of services—an almost infallible sign of increasing prosperity—have borne very hardly on the upper income groups. But certainly those of us who can remember the 'thirties, the 'twenties, and, as I at my advanced age can remember, the years before that, know that we live in a totally different world. But the subject of discussion, I take it, this afternoon and this evening, is our comparative position and the pickle in which we have got ourselves through the imprudent conduct of day-to-day policy. Here, surely, there is no need for me to repeat the incontrovertible figures which were adduced by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and the noble Lord, Lord Byers, concerning the decline in our comparative position in the Western World.

As was said, we used to be very near the top of the league table, and we now find ourselves at the bottom, at any rate so far as Europe is concerned, with Italy and Greece and perhaps Portugal below us. In the meantime, countries which suffered the same sort of disturbance as we suffered during the war, in greater or lesser degree, Germany, France and Japan, have forged ahead, far ahead in the case of the two former countries. Now if we look round the world at large we see general recovery beginning, while our own position, although doubtless somewhat better than it was this time last year, is still one of great peril.

My Lords, what has brought us into this humiliating position? As an economist I intend to stick to my last. I abstain from discussing the constitutional questions which have been so splendidly developed by the noble Lord, Lord Blake, and others. My focus, at any rate at the beginning of my observations, is on the economic tendencies. Here I think there are two clear and different tendencies which have combined to bring us into this position; namely, a greater rate of inflation than elsewhere (other than in the quite hopeless cases in Latin America and so on) and a greatly less degree of increase of production per head.

I do not wish to detain your Lordships with overmuch discussion of inflation. I have said so much about this in the last five years within these walls that I am afraid of becoming a bore about it. It is much more profitable to talk a little about causes of our poor productivity. I shall only make two points about inflation. First, I would emphasise that even if our productivity had been considerably greater than it has been, the degree of inflation which was allowed to develop in this country was so much greater than any conceivable increase in productivity that we should still have been left with that problem.

The second point I want to make is the contrast with Germany. No one can say that the economy of the West German Republic did not suffer as much as ours in the last war. Yet look at the contrast. Germany today is the most economically solid part of the main part of Continental Europe—I except, perhaps, Sweden—with us at the opposite end of the line, at any rate as regards the great Powers. It may be that the Germans in this sense benefited by previous misfortunes. The twice burnt child dreads the fire. I remember that Keynes once said that there is no evil in the world so difficult to eradicate as a small evil; if rats and wasps were wolves and hornets, they would have been exterminated long ago. For a long time our inflation was of the order, so to speak, of rats and wasps rather than wolves and hornets, although it has developed in that direction recently. It may be that it is because we have never suffered for a long period the evils of hyperinflation, twice witnessed in this century in Germany that we have been so imprudent on this occasion.

Let me confine my observations to the other side of the picture. Why is it that our productivity has been so comparatively low? In the late 1940s, even in the early 1950s, it used to be said—and I think that the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, alluded to this circumstance—that it was all due to the gigantic efforts and sacrifices we had made in the war which entitled us, so to speak, to expect other people to help us and maintain our standard of living. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, answered that. The comparable efforts and sacrifices were made by other countries which have forged ahead, while we have comparatively dropped behind.

An explanation which is often advanced nowadays for our poor performance so far as productivity per head is concerned is lack of investment. I should be very sorry indeed to be thought to be arguing that our position would not have been better than it has been if investment had been greater during the last quarter of a century; at any rate, if investment springing from a voluntary disposition to save, to abstain from consumption, had permitted greater investment without provoking inflationary developments. But I think it would be difficult to show that our investment as a percentage of gross national product, although inferior to what has taken place elsewhere, has been all that bad. In any case, the problem remains as to why it has not been even greater.

To deal with that, I suggest that we have to dig deeper. We have to ask what is the return on investment per head. If we inquire into that, there is surely considerable evidence that the return on every £1,000 of investment in British industry is considerably inferior to what it has been in many parts elsewhere. It is bogus to attempt precision in matters of this sort, but I certainly have seen figures coming from very authoritative sources which suggest that in some parts at any rate the return on £1,000 for investment is sometimes as little as a half of what is achieved by some of our competitors. If that is so then here, I suggest, is one of the main problems to which we have to address our minds.

Why is this? Is it a bad state of industrial relations manifesting itself in strikes, and suchlike disturbances? I would not wish to minimise the evil consequences of certain strikes in certain sectors of the economy, but I doubt whether statistically it could be shown that over the years our record in this respect has been so conspicuously worse than has taken place in other parts of the world as to account for the fundamental problem to which I am drawing attention—the poor return on each £1,000 of investment. I personally have much more sympathy with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, when he alluded to restrictive practices, demarcation regulations, overmanning and the like. I shall not give examples which have come under my personal observation—I do not want to embarrass friends and associates who are still grappling with just such problems—but I certainly have little hesitation in saying that if, by some wave of the magic wand, this sort of obstacle were swept away all along the line, we could easily see the spectacular increase in productivity per head which some people seem to think of when they talk vaguely about production catching up with inflation. Of course this is not going to happen.

Why do these obstacles exist? In the old days when there was catastrophic unemployment it used to be said that if only we had full employment restrictions of this sort would fade away and everything would be all right in that respect. Well, we had nearly two decades of pretty full employment until recently and, in the branches of industry with which I have any acquaintance, there is little sign of a clearance of obstacles of that sort.

Some people say that we should look to deficiencies of management—


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point, I feel that the House deserves some explanation. The noble Lord referred to a lack of precision and he has given ample demonstration of that. He has referred to demarcation problems in the trade union movement as one of the major reasons for the lack of an adequate return on capital. Really! to make statements of that kind without adequate proof is a hit preposterous. If the statement is one that the noble Lord genuinely believes, let us have the evidence that it is the demarcation problems practised by the trade union movement that are responsible for the low return on capital. I was very interested in that suggestion and was hoping that the noble Lord would give evidence for it. I should be delighted to have evidence of that fact.


My Lords, I said that I was not going to produce concrete evidence of cases that had passed under my observation because that might embarrass people who were grappling with such problems at the present time. Let me develop my theme: it is an inquiry into the accusation that the poor performance as regards productivity is due to deficiences of management. I should not wish to argue that there is nothing in that. It is pretty clear that, with conspicuous exceptions, management here has not been all it should be and certainly compares unfavourably with some management elsewhere but the usual explanation of this—namely, that management is still recruited on a class basis and that boards are still dominated by an hereditary principle and so forth—is, if it were ever true, out of touch with the present facts of life. Go to an annual meeting; see the board paraded before you. Do you see nothing but serried rows of guinea-pigs owing their position to friendship and influence? You may see some, but the total vision is out of date. The men who run industry today are to an increasing extent men who have come up the hard way—technicians, lawyers, accountants and so on. If you insist that management is inefficient, you must find better answers than the dreary clichés of class.

That is not to say that all is well or that there is nothing wrong in this quarter. In this connection, I was greatly struck by an observation made by the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, in a recent debate. Re took a number of men whom he regarded when up at the university as being more or less first-class and compared that sample with a similar sample taken by a relation of his in Germany. Needless to say, the comparison was vastly unfavourable. Proportionately, at any rate on this sample, more first-class brains were attracted into industry in Germany than are so attracted in this country. I believe that there is a great deal in this example.

After more than 50 years in university life, I am pretty sure that the atmosphere in such quarters, though it is admirable in many respects, tends to disparage business as a career. I think of my own experience year after year cross-examining my brighter pupils as to their eventual ambitions before the final examination. The conversation would run something like this: "Well, X, you seem to have fairly good prospects. What do you want to do? How can we help you?" "I should very much like to go into academic life, Sir". One would explain that that was a vocation which had its ardours and endurances and was supremely risky. One passed on. Public service? "Yes". Publishing? "Yes". Journalism, broadcasting? "Yes". It was quite possible to contemplate, but profit-making enterprise was the exception rather than the rule. Of course there were brilliant exceptions, for instance, from the London School of Economics, but I am pretty clear that, in the main, the fashion is not that way.

However, this is not the fault of the young people. It is much more the fault of the spirit of the age. Who is to blame a sensitive youngster for shying away from such a career if a substantial part of the apparatus of communication—the Press, the media, fashionable littérateurs—have, over the last half century, combined to denigrate business and the spirit of free enterprise? How often does one see a play or read a novel dealing with such aspects of life in which the boss, the manager, is not either a sinister chap or a figure of fun, a philistine as regards the arts or a shady figure in personal relations? In such an atmosphere, the amazing thing to me is not that there are so few high spirited and intelligent people, going into industrial management but rather that there are still some who do so.

However, do not let us be under any illusion. What with the spirit of the age and the dead set against them in their prospects by the present system of public finance, more and more industrial managers are losing heart and more and more—and I say this with knowledge of the talented young—feel that their future lies abroad.

How can we put this right? That is the question which the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, eventually raises. At this late hour, I shall not venture on specific suggestions, but I am sure of one thing. I have been expatiating on a very disturbing feature of our national life, but the total situation is not wholly bad nor is it necessarily a result of bad will. There is bad will about, but the main influences creating this spirit of the age are faulty sentiment and intellectual muddle. As regards private relations and standards of conduct— and here I can join for a moment with my dear friend the noble Earl—I am sure that, though there may be exceptions, in all sorts of ways things are better than they are often represented to be.

There is more mutual understanding, more kindness, more sensitivity to injustice, less stuffiness, less hypocrisy, more capacity for understanding intellectual arguments if intelligently presented than there was in the world in which I grew up. There is far more of this than there was in the world in which I grew up. The trouble is much more at the public level in confused ideologies and lack of clear thinking. Well, for this there is no quick remedy. We must talk these things out according to our lights in a spirit of candour and mutual tolerance, and for that I know no more suitable media than your Lordships' House, debating a Motion of this kind, which is one of the few public places left where one can have a grown-up conversation.

7.11 p.m.


My Lords, it is both a privilege and an ordeal to take part in a debate of this kind in your Lordships' House and to follow so many distinguished contributions from Peers who have made their maiden speeches on this occasion and from those who have addressed your Lordships on many a previous occasion. If I start by making an allusion to economists, I should hasten to assure the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, that I had prepared these remarks before I knew that I was going to have the pleasure of following immediately after him. Although I was very interested in his speech, there is one thing of which I should like to remind him. He said that there was a drain of talent going abroad from this country, from the universities, because of the conditions and the frustrations which exist here at present. But I remind him that over a 100 years ago we sent the pick of the universities abroad into the Overseas Service. We encouraged men to go abroad to serve in the great companies in the Far East and in Africa. We encouraged young men to go abroad to find their lives and future overseas, and it is really ridiculous for us now, in our inward-looking way, to try to discourage men from leaving this country and doing what we encouraged their parents and their grandfathers to do in generations earlier—


My Lords, might I venture to interrupt the noble Lord for a moment? There is this salient difference between this beneficial outflowing in the past, to which he referred, and the frame of mind in which people are leaving this country nowadays: then it was a positive contribution; now it is an escape to what is thought to be a more favourable climate.


That, my Lords, is precisely the motive which took so many men to Australia to make their fortunes there, because 50, 60 or a hundred years ago they felt that they would be unable to do so in this country. My grandfather did precisely that. He went to look for gold in California and in South Africa, and the only regret we have is that he did not find it.

I said I was to refer to economists because, for as long as I can remember, we have been turning to economists to seek guidance about the state of the health of the nation, and almost every prescription in the economists' pharmacopoeia has been tried. We have had financial bleedings, industrial purgings, legislative poultices. We have been prescribed the fresh air and active exercise of the policy of growth, and the cold baths and the shut windows of controls and restrictions. As a result of all this we have today a nation in a mood of discontent and defeatism, a nation divided, at odds within itself, prone to lassitude, and morosely occupied with the past. We see a nation which envies its neighbours in Europe for the material standards of their conditions of life, the strength of their currencies, and the efficiency of their democratic institutions.

We hear constantly in your Lordships' House elderly Peers on both sides indulging in the luxury of moral self-flagellation, and grumbling because we no longer can exercise the 19th century Britain's administrative control over a quarter of the world, or the world authority which was derived from a two-power Navy before the aeroplane and nuclear bomb had been invented.

If I had any faith in psychiatrists I should advise the authorities to send the economists packing and to bring in the psychiatrists, but as the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Soper, said, facing us is a problem for which each individual must seek an answer for himself, not from experts, but from within the resources of his own conscience and circumstances. I do not take the gloomy view of the situation in Britain that the statistics of my noble friend Lord Carrington reflect. I can choose certain statistics which give me great encouragement. For instance, one can look at the report of the Committee on Invisible Trading and see the immense success which we have had in that field. If one realises that during this year we shall be exporting goods to the value of £1,200 million to a small country like Belgium alone, if one thinks in terms of the technological advance which is represented by the oil industry in the North Sea, and of the brain scanner invented quite recently from EMI, then one begins at any rate to provide a balanced picture of the future of this country.

I can bear out what the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, said—that in fact the intake to the universities (and to my own particular university) of engineering students for next year is not only beginning to climb so far as numbers are concerned, but also so far as quality is concerned. These are indicators of the potential of this country to recover. But what I believe is required is something which will change the mental outlook, particularly of those who seek, and succeed indeed, in setting the tone of our national life, so that we can here recapture our self-confidence, our sense of unity, our sense of self-discipline and, above all, the old good humour which was the foundation of our past success.

Let us first accept, my Lords, that changes have taken place during the past 60 years which nothing can now reverse. We did not lose an empire, in Dean Acheson's phrase. What happened was that we understood the realities of the post-1945 world, and we accepted the logic of 1776 in respect of our inheritance of the empire of the Moguls on the one hand, and of that one-time pirates' nest, the Seychelles, on the other. Let us not forget, when we grieve over the lost glory of a lost empire, that this in fact was the culmination of a policy originated by the Governments of Great Britain more than a century ago.

Let us also recognize—and here I perhaps digress a little, but this is something I have wanted to say for some time—that part of that imperial inheritance is the fact that this small island in Northern Europe has become a multiracial community. We would never have been a multiracial community today (which we are) if we had not had those past associations all over the world with countries containing black and coloured people. I am appalled at the way in which we approach the policy of race relations, at the stupidity and insensitiveness of authorities who attempt, for instance, to make the Sikhs on motorcycles wear crash helmets against their long-held religious beliefs.

I remember many years ago on a visit to Detroit coming to the Greek area and seeing so many Greek Americans sitting on the pavement outside their cafés reading their Greek language newspapers, just as if they were outside a café in Athens or Corinth. I think that the anti-racialist legislation of recent years has lost sight of the real criterion of racial equality, which is not to produce some sort of uniformity of esteem and behaviour but to recognise and value the differences of culture which the immigrant communities have brought to present-day Britain.

My Lords, if Britain today is a multiracial State, we recognise it as also being part of Europe in a manner which it has not been since it was a Province of the Roman Empire 15 centuries ago. It would of course be impossible to ignore the powerful draglines of history, or the associations which we have had, in friendship and alliance, in war and enmity, with many of our colleagues on the Continent of Europe at the present time. If Britain today is different from anything we have had before, it is because of the immense social changes which have taken place.

But let us remember that in the same sort of era, in the days of the 16th century, in the Tudor period, when great social and economic changes were taking place in this country, the secret of the success and the vitality of Britain during that century was the fact that so many with natural ability were able to join with those with inherited status and obligation in the service of the State. It produced a balance, it achieved a sense of unity, despite the religious conflicts of the time; and it is precisely this social balance and this sense of unity, despite all the changes which have taken place during the last three decades, which those who think like me seek to sustain.

There will no doubt be many more changes during the next 30 years. Some of them are most desirable: a new approach to industrial relations, to which the noble Lord, Lord Byers, referred; the reform of our electoral system, which Lord Blake outlined in what seemed to me as brilliant a speech as I have listened to in your Lordship's House; the development of our relations with the EEC and the part we shall play in the moulding of its institutions; and eventually the devolution of power to the component parts of the British Isles. But none of these is more than a reflection of the national need to adjust itself to the new circumstances in which 20th century Britain lives. They do not go to the root of the problem. The root of the problem lies in the minds and the spirits of every individual.

My Lords, there are within this nation immense reserves of moral and spiritual strength. What is needed, I believe, is to mobilise those resources. If it can be done in time of war, why can we not do it in time of peace? Is it necessary to wait for some great and serious economic crisis, or to await the arrival on the scene of some dynamic leader? I do not believe that is the case for one moment; but I think there is one thing that is necessary, and that is an occasion appropriate which will strike the imagination of all the people in this country, but particularly of the younger generation—and it is possible that that occasion could be next year.

The Silver Jubilee will be the occasion for national celebrations and, for the Queen, a moment of rededication to the service of the nation. It will be a time when the divisions in the political world will be submerged under a general sense of unity. All over the country innumerable voluntary organisations, which are so important to the quality of our national life, will be planning and working to share in what is after all a great success story, which is linked to all the traditional values of our national life, to the institution of the family, to service to the State, to loyalty to the nation and to a thousand years of history. Would it not be possible to link this to a national rededication in which every individual has an opportunity to take part; and also to undertake at that time, and perhaps continuing for long afterwards, some form of voluntary service, even if it be only a contribution to cleaning up Britain for that particular occasion?

I agree with Lord Ritchie-Calder that the younger generation are certainly as good as any young generation were before, but this next year will be the first time in their lives that they will have had a chance to take part in a great national festival. The eyes of the whole of the world will be on us. We shall be celebrating a success. We shall also be showing that of which we are proud. It could be that that occasion would appeal vividly to the imagination of the whole nation, and particularly to the younger people; and, my Lords, it might give what we need, and that is an impetus to revive the confidence of the nation in itself.

7.26 p.m.


My Lords, we are indeed in debt to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for the opportunity of this wide-ranging debate. My day-to-day professional duties are discharged in the courts of justice in the City of Glasgow, which, as many of your Lordships will know, lies in the northern part of the Kingdom. I cannot imagine that that is of any interest at all to your Lordships, particularly at this time of night. I mention it for two reasons. I mention it, first, to explain and confess that I do not enjoy any of the rich and varied expertise which is enjoyed by so many of your Lordships who have contributed to this debate. I mention it also because it may be that some of your Lordships, particularly the noble Earl, Lord Longford, may think that to some extent it would be understandable if this kind of professional life slightly distorted my view of the state of the nation.

Let me begin by saying that I agree entirely, without reservation, with the noble Earl's view of Britain as a country in which to live; and I have no serious disagreement at all with the views expressed, particularly by Lord Ritchie-Calder, about the younger generation, and on a variety of other topics. But, my Lords, particularly in old buildings, there is always rot about, and somewhere along the line over these last 25 years or so the rot in our social fabric, it seems to me, has worsened until today we face the question which has faced so many civilisations before us. The question is: Is the corruption in our society curable? This is not to embark on a Jeremiad. Elderly Jeremiahs are notoriously the greatest bores of any time and place; and, after all, the question is not a new one. It has presented itself from time to time over the centuries to different peoples; but sometimes finding the answer is more urgent than at other times, and for British people [...] is a deal of evidence today that the search for the answer right now is indeed more than somewhat urgent.

Corruption, not just the crude corruption of "bribery and corruption" (although, heaven knows!, there is a good deal of that about at the moment in local government, in private business and elsewhere; an unacceptable amount, indeed) but a more profound form of the disease, more difficult to detect but equally unacceptable, is there in many areas of our national life for anyone with eyes to see; and if I simply stress the word "unacceptable", perhaps that will cover a wide area of the evidence which it will be unnecessary for me to rehearse. It is an insidious disease, not always tangible. It feeds, and it seems to feed on, the debasement of our currency.

To some extent, I think it explains, too, the frequent triumph in modern times of the special interests over what we used to regard as the interests of the people. I see some evidence of it, too, within my own profession and in politics. Professor Bernard Crick recently expressed the view that politics in this country has reached a new low. The professor's view we should not lightly ignore. After all, he published a work entitled In defence of Politics. Perhaps in his anxiety to make his point he overstated the case. I myself feel that it might be more accurate to say that today British political health is as poorly as it has been at any time since the 'thirties. That is a lot lower than our country can afford in present circumstances. Considerations of principle and practical sagacity rank far behind what are regarded, often quite wrongly, as those of electoral advantage and those of internal Party manoeuvrings. I speak as one who became a political activist nearly 45 years ago, when I went up to university in the early 'forties.

If I am right, the question of the curability (touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Alport) of, as I call it, the corruption in our society is a currently crucial one. The answer is that it is curable; although, do not let us forget, as Gibbon observed in the Decline and Fall: How much swifter is the progress of corruption than its cure. Do not let us forget, as many other noble Lords have already said in the course of the debate, in different ways, that whether it is cured will depend, as it has always depended, on the qualities of the people but, above all, on the presence within the nation of a will to effect the cure.

Is that will present today? I am not sure. I think it is. But the trouble is—and this point was made, too, by the noble Lord, Lord Alport—how is it going to be harnessed? I always think it rather pathetic in modern times—although no one has said it today—when politicians try to inspire the people to respond to the challenge of the times by appealing to the "Dunkirk spirit". How misguided that is!—because when the British Army was withdrawing in that long, hot summer of 1940 to the Channel ports we simply did not envisage ultimate defeat at all; neither then nor in the long five-year haul that followed. We had our defeatists then. We had the spivs. Do your Lordships remember the spivs? We had them in every level of society. But the heart of the nation was sound. That was why we stood when France fell, albeit geography had something to do with it as well. And when Winston Churchill said: "We shall never surrender", he was not trying just to inspire us or to impress upon the world that we meant business. He was speaking for us. He was saying what we the people felt, because we had the will to win. We never lost it; and so we won.

If the politicians really want to harness the national will to cure the ills of our society today as opposed to retaining or regaining or winning political power—as one Party in my part of the country is intent on doing today—I suggest that before appearing on the "box" or anywhere else to rally the nation, they should reflect on the following. First, if the state of the nation over this last decade or two has fallen below par, it is difficult to think of any other single group more culpably responsible than the politicians and the bureaucratics they command. The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, conceded that they built up expectations. I put it rather higher than that. They have more to answer for. As "Jolly" Jack Priestley put it some years ago, very aptly, when writing of politicians: They have a trick of suggesting that by prodigies of statesman-like thought and action they will shortly rescue us from the pits into which we have so carelessly fallen. The possibility that they dug the pits and pushed us in apparently escapes them. The second point upon which they might reflect is this—and this is something I am wary about as an old political activist now frustrated. I talk to the young, to the 20 to 40-year-olds about their feelings about politics and why they are not interested. They tell me—engineers, doctors, dentists and ordinary working men in factories, the thoughtful ones—that they find it increasingly difficult to take any of our political leaders (and this is irrespective of Party) seriously against the background of the kind of political gymnastics, to use a neutral term, of modern times. I do not say that they are justified in this. I greatly regret it. But our political leaders ignore it at their peril.

Finally, my Lords, our politicians might care to reflect on these words of the American, the late Adlai Stevenson, written 25 years ago. I first read them in 1953 and I remembered thinking, "Thank Heaven, we are not as bad as that." Now, I am not so sure. He wrote: For years I have listened to the nauseous nonsense, the pie-in-the-sky appeals to cupidity and greed, the cynical trifling with passion, prejudice and fear; the slander, fraudulent promises and the all-things-to-all-men demagoguery that are too much a part of our [the American] political campaigns. As the ad-men take over political salesmanship here, are these things not also too much a part of ours?

If all this sounds to the politicians on both sides as just a little bit smug, reflect from this. The first Election I fought in was in 1950 and the slogan on which we were fighting and which we put to the people without fear was "Work or Want!" That compares not unfavourably with the little gnomes of, "Yesterday's Men", to take an example on one side; or "Beware Foot and Benn disease!", the notice which appeared on my neighbour's door at the last Election in the constituency in which I reside. My Lords, that is all I have to say. Reflection on these areas, humbly I commend as having possibilities if the politicians seriously wish to harness the will to restore the state of the nation if restoration is accepted as being required.

7.40 p.m.

Lord O'NEILL of the MAINE

My Lords, at this stage in a debate in your Lordships' House everything has already been said by somebody else; but my only excuse for making the remarks which I have prepared is that, as my friends in your Lordships' House know, I am usually fairly brief. Thirty years ago, an observer would have considered the future of the United Kingdom with considerable confidence. Germany—potentially our greatest industrial rival—lay in ruins. Not only had she lost the war, but she had suffered a major partition and a double occupation. France, after suffering a humiliating defeat and partition in 1940, was soon to lose her wartime hero, General de Gaulle, when he made a sulking retreat to Colombey les deux Eglises. While Japan, one of our former rivals—an original threat to the eastern portions of our pre-war empire—had been atom-bombed and occupied by the Americans. Her new "emperor" was General MacArthur.

My mythical observer, as he surveyed the scene, would doubtless have come to the conclusion that Britain had a golden future. Her industry had survived the war virtually intact; she was still the dominant power in the Persian Gulf from which unending supplies of cheap oil could be brought, not without profit to the oil industry in which Britain played a considerable role. Her armed forces were the most modern and powerful in the world after those of the United States of America.

Towards the end of the war, I remember hearing a broadcast by General Smuts in which he forecast that after the war the world would be dominated by two super-Powers: America and Russia. At the time it seemed almost impossible to contemplate, at least with regard to Russia. There she lay, gravely battered by Germany, having suffered immense casualties and having several times nearly faced defeat. How could she achieve the staggering transformation to super-Power status when, without western assistance she would have gone to the wall? But so it was to be. This man of vision could foresee what was denied to the mass of the British people.

And so today, as we look back over the past 30 years, we can ask ourselves: Was our decline—though, thank God! as yet not our fall—inevitable? I do not believe that it was. If after a short period for recovery we had thanked God for our salvation and set to work with a will to rebuild our industrial and financial power, we would today be the Western Germany of Europe. The pound instead of having to be constantly propped up with foreign loans, would stand proudly at 3 dollars. The various technological leads we have achieved since the war would not have had to be abandoned for lack of finance. Perhaps most important of all, London would still be the financial centre of the world. We have, however, chosen to tread a different path. We have since the war lurched from one financial crisis to another. We have lived beyond our means, and we have assumed that others will always continue to rescue this once great nation. And today, when realisation of our parlous plight is starting to sink in, we are clinging to the oil rigs off the coast of Scotland in the hopes that an oil bonaza will save us at the eleventh hour.

All this leads me to talk about what I consider to be two of the most important problems facing our country today. The first one has been eloquently discussed by my noble friend Lord Blake. It is electoral reform. The second problem is devolution. The other day I listened to Tony Benn—I believe he likes being called that—talking about the fantastic future for North Sea oil as if it all lay close to the Norfolk coast; and (a) had nothing to do with Scotland, and (b) was in no sense a security risk. Unfortunately, the present first-past-the-post electoral system suits both the major Parties—or at least they think it does. I fear they will continue on their way until hit by some major disaster.

So far as the Labour Party is concerned—and I have said this often before in your Lordships' House—without the large number of Members of Parliament coming from Scotland and Wales they would have found it difficult ever to form a Government. So far as the Tories are concerned, the present system has suited them well, or so they feel, since the end of the First World War. But with regard to Scotland, there is a real danger looming ahead under our present electoral system. It could be that at the next Election the Scottish Nationals will return more Members to Westminster than any other Party. With this tremendous boost to their pride they would then demand independence, perhaps by stages. If this were refused, they could then start to be really difficult, for Scottish nationalism is fuelled by Scottish oil. As a member of the Hansard Commission which sat under the distinguished chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Blake—who made such a wonderful speech today—and now as a member of the new National Committee for Electoral Reform, I feel that I should point out this real danger.

Now to turn to devolution. One would have thought that with the example of Ireland before them, the British Parliament would have been more generous in their attitude to Scotland and Wales. It astonishes me when I listen to sensible, moderate and progressive people inveighing against any form of devolution for these two countries. In my view, the whole matter has been sadly mishandled. Before 1970—and I had no idea when I was writing this speech that the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, would be taking part in this debate—it was decided by the Conservative Party that a very minor measure of devolution would be conferred upon Scotland. This resulted from the findings of a Committee under the able chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Home. If this undertaking had been honoured at that time, there would have been widespread gratitude in Scotland; but no, nothing was done and today Conservative support in Scotland has reached an all-time low. Unless real generosity is shown by all Parties in England—and I know of course that the Liberal Party have been committed to this for years—I fear serious trouble during the next 10 years.

May I say at this point that many noble Lords have said to me privately since I have been in your Lordships' House: "How can we possibly confer devolution upon Scotland and Wales. Look what has happened in your country!" My Lords, I should like to plead with you once again to believe that what has happened in Northern Ireland is most unlikely to happen in Scotland and Wales because they, thank God! are not faced with the same problems. Yes, there are some problems in Scotland; yes, it is true that the Scottish police are thankful when a football match between Rangers and Celtic is over, although they may have rather a difficult night before them. But the situation is nothing like Northern Ireland and there is no reason to suppose that what has happened there should happen in Scotland or Wales.

Secondly, many very well-informed people have no idea how Canada and Australia are governed. They have absolutely no idea that it is a Federal system. They have no idea that there are seven State Parliaments in Australia and eleven Provincial Parliaments in Canada. They think that everything happens in Canberra or Ottawa. I know that geographically there are great differences; but if the Canadians, with their great problems in Quebec, can manage a Federal system; if the Australians can do it, and if that great Republic of America can manage to have the United States, why is it thought to be impossible to have devolution in Scotland and Wales? I have talked about this before. I think it is a most important matter for the future, and so I make no apology for talking about it again.

Finally, I should like, if I may, in the spirit which the noble Lord, Lord Alport, has always shown in this House, to say across the Floor how delighted I am—as I was the other day when the noble Lord, Lord Cromer, paid a tribute to Mr. Callaghan for his understanding of the plight of the nation—to see the way in which the Government are tackling the economic problems with which we are faced today. I wish them well. I hope they succeed and I should like my noble friends on the opposite side of the House to know that many of us on this side understand the appalling problems with which the nation is faced. We wish to pay our tribute to the Prime Minister and to Mr. Healey for the way in which they are tackling those problems.

7.52 p.m.


My Lords, looking round the House, I cannot help feeling that in an important debate like this it is the greatest pity that Peers cannot be persuaded to keep their speeches to a respectable length so that we might achieve a greater attendance. There are some speeches which are well worth the twenty-minutes or twenty-five minutes they have taken; but in the majority of cases they are not.

Before attempting to draw any conclusions on the subject of this debate or before making any recommendations, I believe that the present situation must be seen in perspective. This can best be done, I think, first by looking back a little into the past, not for precedents but to see how people's philosophies and their attitudes to the social structure have changed, and to discern where change in some directions represents an inevitable trend which cannot be reversed with any hope of success, certainly in the near future.

Secondly, I think it is always useful to look at what is happening in other countries. Other nations have different backgrounds and, to some small degree, people have different temperaments. Nevertheless, useful conclusions can be drawn, particularly where problems similar to our own have arisen. I do not propose to discuss this aspect today because it would take too long and also because I have not done enough research to be confident of giving a worthwhile point of view.

Historians will, no doubt, trace back many of the changes which have occurred to a starting point perhaps in the 1880s—certainly as far back as the First World War. This may be interesting, but for my purpose it is quite sufficient to go back to the 1930s. In my view, the biggest and most important change which has vitally concerned everything, because of its enormous effect on personal attitudes, is that religion no longer provides the yardstick by which most people's behaviour was, directly or indirectly, influenced. At the same time, the largely accepted, relatively stable, order of society which we inherited from the Victorians has passed away. Although it has long been apparent that these things were happening, the consequences were not fully felt in our society until the mid-1960s.

In consequence, what important changes have taken place in people's attitudes?—and I believe it is people's attitudes that matter more than anything else today. In place of religion, with a belief in an after-life, a humanistic approach has to some extent taken over. The result has been a greater concern for the welfare of others with, at the same time, what some of us would consider to be an excessive concern for the value of human life. Gone, almost, are the previously considered virtues of, for example, bravery, self-sacrifice, sexual morality and the merits of self-imposed discipline. The mass of people with less clearly defined ideals have tended to become more selfish, and in this age the importance of survival by being a strong nation has declined so that therefore the concept of the nation as being of importance to everyone has also declined. Added to this, the loss of clear ideals has made the moderates less effective in combating the extremists who, by definition, know what they want to achieve, at any rate in the short run. So the outcome has been the permissive society.

For years, we have tended to rest on our laurels of long ago. Even in the late 1950s some of our great firms still seemed to believe that Britain made the best engineering goods in the world and it was the customer's, and not the firm's, misfortune if the goods were not sold. Most firms failed to realise they no longer had a big stick to wield over the blue-collared workers, and seemed unable to employ the simplest techniques of man-management, leadership, or what you will.

Equally, and perhaps to an even greater extent, our unions continued to live in the 19th century, and failed to make the necessary changes in their structure and outlook. To some extent, at least, they were taken over by activists, to whom their outworn shibboleths were as manna from heaven, just ripe for picking. It has taken years to be realised—and dimly even now—that there is only so much national cake to be distributed. Soaking the rich and pressing the companies leads nowhere, because there is no longer a worthwhile amount of money to be redistributed. Moreover, in this situation excessive wage demands by politically strong unions simply mean there is less for their comrades who are in a weaker position. Is that Socialism?

What always surprises me is that great changes can occur, and in no time some people seem to have forgotten what they thought beforehand. Not long ago, it was a popular habit to talk about the country becoming ungovernable if certain things occurred—I certainly made that point myself; but the point I want to make now is that, within what was then meant by that phrase, the country has become ungovernable by Parliament, except with the consent of the unions—and this, of course, regardless of the wishes of the majority of the populace.

Lastly, in this relatively brief look at the past, one must mention the need for Parliamentary reform. This has been so very ably put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Blake, and I initiated a debate on the subject two years or more ago, and so today I will say nothing further except that, of all the reactionary elements in society opposing necessary change, I give Parliament something approaching the top rating, both as regards an exaggerated view of their self-importance, and a stiff-necked opposition to making long overdue changes to an outdated system. They talk about inroads on their powers by the civil servants; at the moment, I would say, "Thank God for our imperfect, shortsighted and bureaucratic Civil Service!"

On this basis I conclude that, first, there will be a continuing move to the Left, whether or not the Conservatives come into power at the next Election. I suggest that their only hope of remaining viable, except as a choice of evils, is to work out a credible system for a mixed economy—some nationalisation and some degree of State ownership. So far they do not seem to have any useful forward policy to appeal to the long-term idealism of the electorate. Sometimes, in exasperation, I almost wonder whether a penny off a pint of beer is as far as their research teams manage to look.

Secondly, in default of a religious revival—hardly credible at the moment—we must try to supply other worth while motivation. A large number of people are anxious to do something worth while which is not directly to their benefit. The poor, the aged, the sick, the under-privileged and the disabled will be with us and in need for a long time to come—and dare I mention also recreational facilities? Further, there is the wider objective of help for developing countries. Many people can be motivated and satisfied by helping these worthwhile causes.

What is required for the nation, in my view, is inspiration and leadership. Leadership can succeed only if it faces in a direction in which people are willing to be led. It follows that this cannot happen so long as there is total political fragmentation, disunity and obscurantism between the Parties, and unless there is a willingness to abandon petty issues for the greater good of the electorate, who, after all, are the nation, we shall not get very much further.

8.2. p.m.

The Earl of GOWRIE

My Lords, the Motion of my noble friend Lord Carrington has sired three maidens, and I should like to add my congratulations to the bouquets that have strewn their way. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark notwithstanding, we do not usually know anything about the politics of Bishops, and for all I know the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Peterborough, who made his maiden speech this afternoon, is a secret Fabian. Nevertheless, it seems to me that a quotation which I culled from his speech should be sent to the offices of every constituency Tory Party in the land, and it reads as follows: From compulsory virtue comes the loss of freedom and the loss of virtue itself. I do not know who could put it better than that.

The noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, whose speech I also very much enjoyed, told us: The battles long since won do not need to be refought", and with that I think we can all agree. The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, who is not in his place, must be a welcome addition to the rather besieged membership of the old Anglo-Irish Peers in your Lordships' House, of which I suppose I am one and the noble Earl, Lord Longford, is another, so we are glad to welcome him.

I believe that the comment of the right reverend Prelate touched the heart of the matter—the frustration and anxiety about our national situation which seems to me to have informed today's debate. It was also held up to us with his customary and relentless clarity by my noble friend, when he said that lack of success, even if it is relative success, has an effect on the morale of a country; that most people want to work in a successful enterprise, and that we seem to have lost confidence in our ability to generate success. Like my noble friend, and though I share his anxiety and misgiving about Britain in the first year of the last quarter of our difficult century, I am not all pessimism. If I offer a brief list of the things that trouble me, and indeed most of them have troubled others this afternoon, it is with the same feeling that others have had, that only by identifying some of our difficulties have we a chance to suggest ways by which they might be overcome. So let me start with the bad news in order to end with the good.

Our nation is called in formal terms the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It seems to me that we cannot debate the state of the nation without also considering the state of the union. Nations, like political Parties, are coalitions flung together by history and geography. Am I too gloomy in suggesting that we are less cohesive in this sense than we have been—not than we have ever been, but certainly than we have been since the 1920s when the Republic of Ireland won its independence? One part of our nation, Northern Ireland, displays most of the symptoms of incipient civil war. This is not a simple affair to be put right by enlightened social or economic policies. It is, it seems to me, blood trouble, a horrid ethnic conflict which will, in my opinion, take generations to lie down altogether. But thank God, though, that the virulence of the situation there has strengthened the collective determination of all British political Parties and, for we must acknowledge this, the determination of the Government of the Irish Republic not to exploit the disease but to resist it.

In all this they have been inspired by the patience and tolerance of the British Army, engaged in what would seem to me to be the nastiest of all military tasks. But I do not believe that the patience or tolerance of the British public will last for ever, and we seem to be as far from providing any political treatment of the trouble as we ever were. I hasten to say that this is no criticism of the Government. As one who comes from Ireland and makes his home there, I can testify to the great personal popularity, in the Republic at any rate, of the present Prime Minister and people's delight not just in his Irish name or origins, but in his experience of and affection for the whole island.

Then there is our Northern kingdom of Scotland, which was referred to in notable speeches by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and my noble friend Lord O'Neill of the Maine. I do not wish to make my remarks upon devolution, but it is my view that unless we in this Parliament of the United Kingdom make political moves, and the right political moves, very rapidly we may within a few years witness the break-up of our union. Yet we are all of us, on all sides of the political divide, confused and uncertain as to what our response to Scottish nationalism should be. I believe that we should do ourselves a service—and, of course, in the word "ourselves" I include Scotland, because we share the same nation and the same Crown—if we made something unequivocally clear. We must tell it to all our people, and tell it now.

The mineral wealth of Britain must not be negotiable as between one part of the country and another; it belongs to all of us. Indeed, North Sea oil, as many have said, may well provide our collective last chance to pay our debts and build a new industrial and commercial civilisation to replace the decay and disillusion of the old. Any political or constitutional rearrangements which gloss over this commitment to use British national resources to restore British economic wellbeing will, in my opinion, be a confidence trick and, like all confidence tricks, it would soon cause a furious and perhaps, indeed, a violent resentment in all quarters of the kingdom.

I do not think that any noble Lord mentioned—and I apologise if I missed such a mention—the situation in Uganda. I believe that ordinary people in this country appreciate the concern of the Foreign Office for the lives and liberties of Britons who live under that corrupt and tyrannical régime. Also, I believe that the days of gunboat, if not of hijack diplomacy are over—for us, if not for others. But we cannot expect to count on the spirit of national unity which we need to get us over the hill of these hard times if we tolerate for very long an atmosphere of national humiliation. If Mrs. Bloch has been murdered—murdered, effectively, for being British—we must respond. I suggest that we ourselves should make it clear to Kenya that we identify with them in their sufferings at the hands of the Ugandan regime. I suggest that we should be prepared to back our support for Kenya with men and materiel, if need be. I believe that there would be a surge of popular support for a Government initiative of this kind.

If I had to sum up the national mood in a word, I think I would choose the word "frustration". The British are frustrated with each other. I mean by this that there is not, in my view, a general tendency to seek scapegoats or to blame foreigners for the long comparative slide which we have suffered and which my noble friend Lord Carrington itemised in his speech. Of course there are always people who will trade on frustration to try to create scapegoats. We read that the National Front are making headway in Thurrock, a constituency not noted even for New Commonwealth immigration. Abuse of this kind we must fight in the old, wearying way: with patience, with truth, with the facts and with reason.

The noble Lord, Lord Soper, said in his speech that we must fight abuse with reason, with reason, with reason. But the general frustration that I mentioned is, I believe, different. It emerges from an increasing—indeed, a general—inability to identify with the State and therefore with the nation. Ironically, but to us on this side of the House in no way surprisingly, this alienation from the State is a direct consequence of what I would term as corporate greed.

I take corporate greed to be the desire of large organisations, be they commercial or political, to increase their share of people's wealth and their power over people's lives, and I hope that in this the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, will acquit me of being a Poujardist. I am, in fact, a Tory because in the end I believe that the corporate greed of the State is more of a threat to the life and soul of the individual than the corporate greed of commercial organisations. At least, I argue to myself that there are more of the latter; at least their hold on our lives is not statutory; at least they are, by the very nature of business, susceptible to individual needs and fancies.

But like most people I do not differentiate very much between the destruction of the physical continuity of communities—South London or the East End, say—by local planning authorities and the destruction of the cultural continuity of communities by a strident and undisciplined materialism. This could not have been better put, in my view, than in the words of my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel when he referred to the sheer size of modern institutions in which the individual sees himself as a pawn in the game of power. Surely the end result is much the same—cynicism, alienation and frustration or, in less abstract terms, not giving a damn about things or each other, not giving a damn about institutions, not giving, in the long run, a damn about your own inner self or your soul.

At present we are, in my view, a down-in-the-mouth country. Even the Welfare State, which grew out of our great humanitarian and reforming traditions and which was nursed by the sense of togetherness which we experienced in war, has become a millstone about our neck. It has strangled our productivity and put us so much into the hands of our creditors that our independence and, hence, our identity is virtually meaningless. If you do not believe me now, my Lords, wait until the announcements next week. Even the consumer society, the swift passage from hand to hand of goods and cash, cannot provide employment or challenge for school-leavers. So what is to be done?

I said that I would end with what I saw as the good news. Your Lordships may be surprised, if you share my sense that people in the country are frustrated, that I believe that there is a chance for us to lift our national morale and recover some of the guts and gumption that the world still associates with us and which my noble friend Lord Alport urged upon us. In the first place, as my noble friend Lord Carrington said, a little success is good for morale. There can be no doubt, if we can only respond to it, that we have now the long awaited chance to improve our share of world markets sufficiently to attract domestic and foreign investment back into British manufacturing industry.

I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Byers, who said that we should continue to attract foreign investment. I am not just talking of the present upturn in exports. Given the weakness of the pound and the easing, even if only temporarily, of world recession, that could hardly be avoided. I mean that whether you are an optimist or a pessimist about the extent of North Sea oil deposits, there is just no way that these could not give us relief from our chronic balance of payments difficulties, at least for 20 years. This would be so even if the Saudi Arabians, say, were to return to pre-1973 pricing, and I somehow suspect that they will not. Twenty years, surely, should be long enough to overhaul our battered infrastructure and to concentrate resources where they may help us to earn rather than simply to enjoy our living. But it may not be long enough unless we cease to veer—in economic management, at least—from one side of the boat to the other; or, as my noble friend Lord Blake said in an altogether exceptional speech, unless we cease to imitate the pendulum that lurches so violently from side to side that it cracks the clock case.

I am also optimistic because at last there are some signs of economic consensus between the two ruling political Parties in Britain, at least on economic management. We had a speech from the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, on this subject. On the need to cut public expenditure, on the necessity of profits, on the certainty that taxation levels are effectively above any level of political tolerance, we are all Tories now. Jim "can't fix it". What a splendid slogan for a Socialist Prime Minister! In passing, since I have a special interest in this, is it too much to ask that Jim should keep his fingers out of Felixstowe? Nor will a Labour Opposition, composed of any members of the present Cabinet, be able, should the Conservatives win a General Election, to resist at all effectively the continuation of such management by the Tories. I for one have a little blue book composed entirely of quotations from senior Ministers over the last few weeks.

Finally, I am optimistic because our historical tradition is to go to the brink of disaster or even, as with Dunkirk, a little beyond it and then to go on to great things. Last spring our currency came within a few hours of collapse. I mean that there was a week or so in which it was likely that funds held in sterling would flow out of London on a scale too massive for the Central Banks to arrest. This more than anything changed the course of the Government's management of the economy, which up to that time seemed to rest on the altogether extraordinary belief that if you bring in legislation dictated by senior trade union leaders you will some- how buy restraint on the wages front. The belief is, in my view, entirely erroneous. What brought wages under control under Mr. Wilson and Mr. Callaghan was the same phenomenon as brought them under control under Mr. Heath: fear on the part of workers and their wives of the effect of wage increases on prices. Were prices to stabilise for a time, no power on earth could prevent higher wage claims being bargained for. The simple reason is that British workers are not paid too much. They are paid too little.

Low wages are the high price which we in this country pay for overmanning and for higher levels of employment than our productivity, itself held back by bad pay—and we had remarks from the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, on this theme. In the event then, the Government have shifted in our direction—or have been required to shift direction towards what I would say would be a permanent reduction of the public sector deficit, and this can only be a change for the better. Do we not also have evidence all about us that this change of direction may be coinciding with a change in popular mood? My noble friend Lord Eccles seemed to sense it everywhere. The evidence I see is that almost everyone is anxious to get the Welfare State back to its role of providing opportunities for all, rather than enforcing equality upon all, and of protecting those who cannot help themselves rather than prohibiting the legitimate aims of those who can. Like my noble friend Lord Eccles, I feel that this shift in mood will bring my right honourable friend to No. 10, but if the mood continues, politics aside, we can only go up in the Western World. I think that after this debate most of your Lordships will agree with me that we only have "up" to go.

8.21 p.m.


My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, introduced this debate, he said that it would be wide-ranging, and it certainly has been. He also expressed the hope that it would not be of a Party political nature, and I think his hope has been fulfilled. It has been a sombre debate; occasionally I think slightly out of balance, and I should like to react to the debate this evening in a personal way, taking off a Ministerial hat and being an ordinary Member of your Lordships' House, and tell your Lordships what I think is the state of the nation. Before doing so, I should like to add my very sincere congratulations to the three maiden speakers who played such a valuable part in our debate today, and to express the hope that we shall hear from them on other occasions.

The state of the nation: how does the world see us and what part do we play? I suspect that our friends are worried about our economic capacity and will. I should like to return to that in a moment. But they also see us as a bulwark of democracy, of charity, of good sense—something which has been inherent in our nature, which is part of our system and to which a vast area of the world owes so much.

I was in Washington the other day when we handed over Magna Carta. One could never have any doubt about what the people of the United States of America feel towards us. Two hundred years ago they were in revolt; today, in many ways we could stand shoulder to shoulder on any issue that might appear on the world scene. The Commonwealth: as the noble Lord, Lord Alport, knows, if you were to cut away what often has to be said publicly because of the neighbouring influences, there is not only a deep affection, a respect, but also an envy for what we have been, what we are and what they fervently hope we shall remain.

Also, we play a major part at the United Nations. We are very much the oil within the machine. The adroitness and experience of those of our mission who serve there play a formidable part in the way in which the United Nations seeks to grapple with the problems. In the political field we at NATO still play a very prominent role indeed. In the military sense it is true that our contribution is not as large as we should like to see it but what we do provide is of the most sterling worth.

So on a world scene, apart from this concern, which I will come back to, as I have said there is a feeling of stability, a resource that this country can provide; and indeed it is remarkable that this should be able to be provided by what today is a second, medium Power. We are not a super Power; we do not pretend to be. But internally, I suppose, when one balances the scales one needs to balance them in terms of time and distance. When one compares education today—and the noble Lord, Lord Carrington referred to this—with the opportunities of educaton for the children of the North in the 'thirties—and the noble Baroness, Lady Ward of North Tyneside, will appreciate this point—which is better? Which is more equitable? Which gives advantage not only to the individual but also to the State? It is the type of education that is being created, not by one particular Party but by all the political Parties.

I have no doubt that if I fell sick on any overseas journey I should want to come back here, not because of the quality of the surgeons but because of the dedication of our nurses and all those who provide the back-up within our hospital service. If I ever fell into any degree of misdemeanour and had to appear before a court of law, without any hesitation I should much prefer to be in a court of the United Kingdom. We have retained these things, despite all the pressures and all the problems.

When we talk about youth, I can still remember my father commenting on the period of my youth. But when we look at the youth of today it is better; it is better educated, it is much more sympathetic to its own and to others. That is something to be proud of. It is true that there is more violence, and I suspect that to a certain extent it is due to the media. If there is a football match between Rangers and Celtic and there are 90,000 people watching and 50 people create a disturbance, that is a very small percentage of the vast numbers of young people who go to football matches and behave as they ought to behave. But this should not make us complacent. There are many things that are still wrong in our society, and that, I suspect, is why the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, is within his Party and why I am within mine. Perhaps we approach these matters differently, although I suspect in practice there is little between us.

The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, spoke of the difficulties as he saw them, and of the need perhaps for a coalition Government. I believe passionately that there can only be a coalition Government when it commands the will of the people within the country. A coalition Government made up of Ministers who decide to get together command no more respect. I personally believe that this country is better served by a Government made up of a political Party seeking the support of others in the policies which that Party feels it is necessary to adopt. Taking the analysis of the problem put forward by the noble Lord, it may well be that if the Government were to fall, they would not fall because of failure to command the support of their own Party, but because of the Opposition and the splinter Parties of the day.

My Lords, I should like to come to the real issue of this debate; that is, the economic decline. The economic decline has been one of very many years. The pound sterling to which the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, referred has been declining for at least 50 years. It has had its slight upturns on occasions, but it has been on a continual decline. I have no doubt at all about what this country must do and I believe there is a realisation within the country of what needs to be done.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Byers, said that we have a mixed economy, and that is true. I believe that only a mixed economy is possible for this country. We have to establish a proper relationship between the two sides of industry, which is of supreme importance. Certainly within the last three months, and particularly from the meeting of "Neddy" the other day, I believe that we are now moving towards a proper relationship between the public and private sectors. But I say this in defence of one side of the public sector: occasionally in this debate has come the criticism of the size of the bureaucracy, the size of the Civil Service, whether it is of the centre or of local government. If the size of local government is too big—and this is the only moment that I will indulge in Party political controversy—the responsibility lies on noble Lords opposite, because nothing bloated local government more than the 1972 Act. Its repercussions, particularly in the pay field, have been profound.

However, at the end of the day, the size of the Civil Service depends on what Parliament demands of it, whether by a Conservative or Labour Government. I have looked into the question of Civil Service manpower in relation to its work. Of course, there are areas in which one can say that it is overstaffed; in other areas it is perhaps too thin. But I will say this, and I think it is right that I should say it. If we are envied for something more than anything else by our friends from overseas, it is for the quality, the dedication and the incorruptibility of the British Civil Service, and the way in which they not only administer and advise, but are genuinely servants of our British people. It may be that we shall need to look at its size. That is what we are now doing. But I am very clear in my own mind that the country will have to make up its own mind that if it wishes the size of the Civil Service to be cut, then the area in which it operates will have to be cut, with perhaps a higher risk of rougher justice not only to the general public, but also to Parliament.

My Lords, so far as the economy is concerned, we have a mixed economy. The public sector has a fundamental role to play. We have sought to give to management of the public sector not only the responsibilities, but the ways and means by which they can be profitable organisations. This has been a hard decision, but I believe it is right. There is no doubt whatever—and here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Plowden—that the private sector has got to be profitable. I will become interested in private sector profits only when they are being made, and then I shall be interested to see how they are used. I would hope that a greater proportion of the profits of private industry than perhaps has been the case in the past half century are to be ploughed back, not only into their own companies but into other industries.

If I were to express a personal view to the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, I hope that the big public institutions—the banks, the insurance companies and all those who today hold a very substantial share in the private sector—would exercise a greater degree of responsibility towards the management of those companies than perhaps they have done in the past. But I am quite convinced—and it is easy to blame the failure of industry either on management or on the workpeople—that both have a very heavy burden to bear. I believe there is only one way out; that is, to get a greater degree of co-operation on all sides, getting the workpeople, whether it be the trade union movement or those directly within the firm, to participate in the highest decisions of management of the company concerned.

The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, I thought put forward as an example the spirit within the military forces, the way in which the esprit de corps of the forces of today was high. The noble Lord is quite right. They no longer need the heavy Army Act as they did in my day. But I wonder whether he would agree with me that one of the great reasons why today the Army, and all our Services, have such a wonderful spirit is that those who are set in authority live cheek by jowl with their men. It may well be that in industry—and I certainly think there is a lesson to be learned from Germany—management must identify itself far more with the workforce, be seen and be able to be understood, because unless that is achieved then talk of communication is of little value.

I have only one last thing to say in this respect. The oil which is to be found in the North Sea, and I suspect to be found in other parts surrounding our coasts, provides us with a real opportunity to put our house in order. We must seize it. I believe that there is this spirit. Too little credit has been given to the trade inion movement for their great gesture of last year and of this in accepting a voluntary incomes policy. I do not know of any other country in the world in which the representatives of the workers have not only come forward and said, "We will fix this at a certain figure and we will police it," but the following year had the courage to go to their own people and say, "We must take less." If that spirit is matched by management and by investors, then there is real hope for this country.

The noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, in his concluding remarks spoke of the unitary State and the problems of devolution. There is undoubted risk when you seek to change the Constitution of your country. I think the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, was quite right, some months ago when we had a debate, when he thought that his proposals of some years ago were no longer apt for the present situation. I have no doubt that there are great risks in what the Government contemplate in the field of devolution for Scotland and Wales, but I have no doubt at all that the risks are infinitely greater if we do not go down this path, not only so far as it is humanly possible to go without endangering the basic fabric of the unitary State but doing it with a warm and a confident heart. Unless we seek these changes, I believe the break-up of the State could well prove inevitable.

However, I do not believe that that will be so. Nor do I believe that the United Kingdom is in any way as bad as some feel that it is. We have great difficulties, but if we can achieve and maintain ("maintain" being perhaps the most operative word) the right spirit of co-operation among all our people—and I believe this is a question of leadership, not only of Government, of Parliament and those in public life, but of all those throughout our community in whatever field it may be—I have no doubt at all that in a few years' time, instead of this miracle or that miracle, it will be said, "The British have done it again!"

8.44 p.m.


My Lords, your Lordships will be vastly relieved to know that I have no intention of taking up the invitation that Lord Robbins gave me of reviewing the events that crossed my mind during this debate. Whether it would be harder on your Lordships than on me, I do not know. I rise only to join with others in congratulating the novices who have run their first race. The right reverend Prelate said that he would rather read prayers than make a speech in this House. Far be it from me to stop him from reading prayers, but I hope he will occasionally take time off and come and make more speeches in this House. We welcome the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, and were the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, here I would welcome him too, but he is not.

The only other thing I do is to thank your Lordships who have taken part in this debate, especially those who have remained behind to hear the noble Lord the Leader of the House. In asking leave to withdraw this Motion, I hope that perhaps somewhere some time somebody may read this debate, because it seems to me there have been some speeches which are well worth reading again.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.