HL Deb 15 May 1978 vol 392 cc45-89

4.45 p.m.

Viscount HANWORTH rose to call attention to the fundamental problems which have to be faced by any Government in the future if our democratic system is to survive, and to the need to discuss what measure of inter-Party agreement might be possible in devising solutions; and to move for Papers. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, we have a large number of speakers today and, allowing some 20 minutes for the reply from the Government Front Bench, this gives us an average of 11 minutes per speaker. I hope to keep my remarks down to just over 10 minutes, and in case there may not be time at the end I shall make a few remarks now which I should otherwise have made then.

First, I wish to thank all noble Lords who have put their name down to speak I am particularly pleased and honoured—I use the latter term advisedly because it is not one I normally use—to have a maiden speech in this debate from the Opposition Front Bench by no less a person than the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rawlinson of Ewell, who, as noble Lords are aware, was Attorney-General. The idea for this debate I owe in great measure to the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury; we discussed the subject one evening and went over the various points, and I decided to put the matter forward for debate.

The purpose of initiating this debate in broad terms is simply that I believe the chance of any one Party alone solving the sort of long-term problems I have in mind is even less likely than getting some measure of inter-Party agreement. We must face the fact that over the last few years the status of this nation has declined progressively until it ranks in many respects near the bottom of the European league. We cannot hope for perfection in our institutions and political life because, as President Kennedy once said: Politics is a field in which all action is second best and the choice frequently lies between two blunders". Nevertheless, our ability even partially to solve problems, admittedly common to other European nations, is unsatisfactory by comparison. It has been rightly said, first, that our present Party system is resulting in the nation taking a very convoluted course on major policy and, secondly, that the differences between the two major Parties are being accentuated to the nation's disadvantage. The reversals of policy by both Parties on, for example, wage restraint, the nationalisation and denationalisation of steel, illustrate the first point. Most noble Lords would, I think, concede the second assertion. Although we may individually start from different points of the compass, the room for manoeuvre in finding sensible and practical solutions is relatively small. What I am suggesting, therefore, is that an attempt be made to reach some measure of inter-Party agreement to at least some of the major intractable problems facing any Government in the future.

The major argument which may be raised against the approach I am advocating is that electioneering necessarily requires some diversity of policy between the Parties. But what the electorate objects to is, first, being taken for a ride on specious promises and, secondly, having to decide between Parties on a basis of what then becomes a mandate to do many things which the majority of the public do not support. We have dodged this issue for far too long and my plea is to raise Party politics to a level where they embrace a greater degree of wisdom and statesmanship.

It is strange that, in spite of the enormous changes in our society and the decline of this nation, politicians should be so isolated from popular feeling that they seem to imagine that a purely selfish Party system which worked reasonably well many years ago can be perpetuated without change. In this context I again quote the method of electing the American President. What more perfect system was there when it was devised? But look what it is today. We have to change our methods and our institutions, and I hope that we change them gradually, but we can do that only if we start the change in time.

The subjects which I particularly have in mind for inter-Party discussions are as follows. I shall deal first with unemployment. Increased efficiency in the manufacturing process (automation et cetera) is necessary if we are to remain competitive without lowering standards of living. It follows that an increase in unemployment is inevitable unless we can redeploy labour so as to increase the GNP. A shorter working week, or earlier retirement, are undesirable palliatives. Fundamentally, more people working efficiently for the optimum number of hours makes the nation more able to afford the things that we cannot now afford—for example, modernisation of hospitals, better old age pensions. In other words, we want an increase in GNP. A longer term problem will be to find useful work for those in the lower intelligence bracket. So many of the things that they could do before are now being automated—automatic petrol pumps are just one example—and today not many people are needed to dig trenches; the work is better done with an excavator.

The next point is that of wage restraint and wage leapfrogging. Here there are several measures which could be taken, but all of them involve rather fundamental changes in our existing thinking, and can hardly be adopted without a measure of inter-Party agreement. Next I turn to social benefits and taxation, in which the present situation is a jungle where those most in need often do not benefit. The take-up of benefits by those entitled is well under 50 per cent. Our taxation system is an invitation to dishonesty. Now I turn to the colour problem. All indications are that in spite of effort by the Government, this will be a continuing problem—certainly accentuated when the second generation of immigrants comes to maturity.

Now I wish to refer to the unions in this list of subjects. I believe that on this question the two major Parties are not so far apart on this matter as might appear. The Conservatives have previously stated that they want strong, responsive unions who can take a useful part in our modern society. To achieve this end much needs to be done to help them to meet the needs of the 20th century.

The next subject is social insurance. Here the present situation is unsatisfactory. If there is negligence, substantial damages can be claimed; if not, broadly speaking, nothing—in fact it is a legal lottery. Do we want an insurance for which everyone pays one way or another (for example, on the price of goods) or do we not? Certainly the American situation, where doctors have to pay enormous premiums against excessive damage claims, all of which is passed on to their clients, is unsatisfactory. I would suggest that this could be a subject for useful debate between the Parties.

The next point concerns Northern Ireland. This is an intractable problem in which there is in fact a large increase of inter-Party accord. Is this a useful precedent for other agreements?

Lastly, but to me most importantly, because so much else depends on it, there is Parliamentary reform. Despite my view that reforms are urgently needed, what worries me is that without at least a partially written Constitution, major changes could be made almost overnight by a Government brought into power by a minority of the electorate. The abolition of a Second Chamber—however constituted—is a possibility, and seems to be a pertinent example of this danger.

Looking rather further afield, I think that it ought to be apparent that our present form of Government, which has nothing to do with democracy in its popular sense, is simply not a practical alternative to Communism in most countries. I earnestly hope that in solving our own problems we may find something more dynamic which could provide this alternative. My appeal is for men of good sense to talk together and to find a common path of solid ground which is in the national interest.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, this is the second occasion in a very few days that from this Dispatch Box someone has sought the indulgence of your Lordships in making a maiden speech. When I do so I am very conscious of how rich your Lordships' House is in legal experience and expertise, which is the field in which I have spent the whole of my life. In another place, because I became a Law Officer as long ago as the time of the Administration of Mr. Harold Macmillan, I could there present myself as a reasonably sized fish in that particular pond, but in your Lordships' House, where lurk Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, quite apart from Lords Chancellor past and present, I revert to being a minnow among trout. On reflection, I trust that as I am counsel and appear from time to time before the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, they will not take exception to that description; though I think they are probably too busy preparing their speeches on the London forum for international arbitration—I hope to read the Official Report tomorrow. But I want to convey to your Lordships my sense of craving for your indulgence in making my maiden speech in this House today.

I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, will forgive me if I approach this subject in the light of those matters which concern me personally the most. I believe that the future of our democratic system depends upon maintaining and sustaining by everybody in the country, and those in public offices the rule of law. The rule of law is an expression which trips very easily off the tongues of lawyers and legislators, but it is not a fancy catch phrase. It is really the great principle—which is often extremely inconvenient to Ministers and administrators—which distinguishes the Western World from the mode of life and government in the East. For them, of course, the will of the ruler is the law. Oliver Cromwell, on being told, "Nine out of ten men will be against you", replied, "But what if I give that tenth man a sword?" That exemplifies the difference between the tyrant and those who believe in the rule of law. So any discussion of fundamental problems must he dominated by the totalitarian dimension.

I can understand, and sympathise with, those who urge the introduction into our Constitution of a Bill of Rights, but I feel that it is of very limited value. We should not forget that on paper the citizens of the Soviet Union live under a Constitution which affords them freedom of speech freedom of worship, freedom from arbitrary arrest, and which limits detention before trial. But in practice, of course, it is a total sham, as Mr. Yuri Orlov is probably experiencing at this moment. It is the arbitrary rule of the ruler, the man with the sword.

Therefore, I do not put any great over-reliance upon declarations. We are witnessing now in this country, apparently, a recent revival of the Nazi philosophy. However, I do not forget that I have seen it before. When I first stood for Parliament in 1951 as a candidate in Hackney, there were members of the British Union of Fascists and the Communists marching through the East End, and I recollect that it was my Labour opponent—a very kindly and agreeable opponent, too—who was the principal target of the Communist abuse. But at that time, of course, the Union of Fascists was led by a powerful leader figure. It is not now. Therefore, I do not believe that, overall, the National Front presents a great threat.

I say that in particular for this reason. On the 6th April, for some arcane reason which was decided by others, I asked for, and was given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, appointment to the Office of Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds. I may say (and I hope it is not controversial to say this) it is the only favour that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has ever extended to me; and I am not certain whether I in fact hold that office as I speak to your Lordships here today. But in the election which arose in the constituency which I vacated because of my appointment to that Office, the National Front polled less than one-third of the votes which were given to a "Pop" star who toured the constituency in a white Rolls-Royce. Of course, I appreciate that they will attract marginally more support elsewhere, where there are special problems. So much for the Right: but, likewise, for the Left. In the General Election of 1974 the Communists attracted only 0.1 per cent. Of the votes cast throughout the country. So when people express their opinion by secret ballot, the totalitarians of the Left and the Right are massively and humiliatingly rejected.

That is not to say, however, that it is not clear that determined, skilful and unscrupulous minorities outside the major Parties, not belonging to any of the major Parties in the State, have penetrated some of the trade unions, which nowadays exercise great political influence; and, such is the indivisibility of the totalitarian creed, it is impossible to believe that their political aims will not influence their conduct towards any Government, whatever Government may be in office, of either of the major Parties. For their political aims are totally unrepresentative of their membership; and, equally, their influence is quite out of proportion to their real representative value. My Lords, I notice that the Communists now have the position of leadership of the largest Civil Service union; and that was a power obtained, not through postal ballot, but by delegates mandated at branch meetings. Compare that with the recent presidential election of the AEU, which was conducted by postal ballot for the first time, where the turnout doubled since the previous election and where the candidate who fought, as he said, the Communists and the Marxists triumphed. My Lords, does that not indicate the imperative need to introduce a compulsory obligation for postal ballot, if necessary paid by the State, for all elections to offices so influential to the public interest?

But, my Lords, for those in public life it seems to me that our major duty in defence of the democratic system is to ensure that we avoid giving opportunity to the enemies of democracy to exploit legitimate social grievances, and to ensure that the institutions of the State function fairly and efficiently. That is our responsibility; and with Government now dominating so much the lives of every citizen, and despite the existence of a Parliamentary Commissioner or a Local Government Commissioner, I cannot believe that the citizen of this country yet feels that he presently enjoys sufficient and appropriate remedy to redress grievances or to secure impartial review of decisions by Government, be it local or be it central. It is, as your Lordships well appreciate, a sense of grievance against authority which leads inevitably to a festering resentment against a system which may have genuinely treated that person unfairly. It is a field of law, my Lords, which I believe requires development.

But if the citizen is better able to challenge and to have reviewed the decisions which are made by authority, then I also believe that Government decisions and Government policies ought to be less reticent and less secretive. I do not refer to matters of State security, but I do believe that Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act ought to be repealed and ought to be replaced by a new Official Information Act in which there should be provision for classification rules made by a Minister with the approval of a Select Committee of the House of Commons and with a certification in a particular case that the information lies within that particular class, given by some body outside the Ministry. I believe there should be reform of the law of contempt, broadly in accordance with the Phillimore proposals, and that reform of the law of defamation is overdue. I say all those matters because it is my view that, if the democratic system is to be successfully defended, such liberalisation of approach by modern Government is essential.

My Lords, if I might follow one point which was raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, I, too, have felt concern for long over certain aspects of our Parliamentary process, particularly with regard to the enactment of law. Generally, the system that we have gives good opportunity for debate and a splendid opportunity for the confrontation of Ministers. But it is in the quality of law enacted that there has been the failure by successive Governments over the years. I wonder whether every Parliamentary stage in the enactment of law needs to be conducted through the adversary approach, and whether some more informal, consultative stage could not be introduced. Because major law, as we have seen, can be, and is, enacted with relative speed and ease. I appreciate that the noble and learned Lord the Solicitor General for Scotland and my noble friend Lord Ferrers, and both the Chief Whips, might not agree that we legislate with relative ease and speed, but, on the whole, we do; and the opportunity and the power to legislate has produced over recent years swollen and ill-digested Statute Books which, despite hours of Parliamentary time, produces law often unintelligible to the practitioner and (may I dare say so?) sometimes unintelligible to the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary. But bad law, like every legitimate social grievance, is in itself a danger to the democratic system, for it decreases public confidence in the institutions and it decreases public confidence in the rule of law; and there are ever present those enemies, ready to exploit with great skill and with great determination the failure, and to offer and present false remedies.

My Lords, on the general matter of Parliamentary reform, I do not think it acceptable to isolate one of our institutions and call, as some do, for its reform or its abolition alone, because if that is seriously demanded then what is required is a full-scale, comprehensive review of each part of Parliament, of each part of Parliament's procedures and each part of Parliament's conventions, and, in particular, review of the manner, power and responsibility for the recommendation of the dissolution of Parliament within its five years. This could be done only by a Constitutional Conference, and to demand major changes of only a part of our Constitution and only one of the Houses of Parliament seems to me both frivolous and irresponsible.

The noble Viscount, by initiating this debate, has, I believe, served (if I may say so with the greatest humility in a maiden speech) the public interest, because these are matters which ought to be debated and ought to be considered. The times demand, obviously, continuous vigilance and unsparing energy in seeking to improve and enhance the modern machinery of democracy. We live in an age, as we all well appreciate, of international terrorism, where a small minority, trained and dedicated, can accomplish a very great deal. We have seen it in Europe; we have read about it and heard of it in Italy. At home, when I was Attorney General, I remember sitting in my car driving through the lanes of Hampshire when the car was blocked by a stalled vehicle. I looked up from the back where I was sitting reading my papers to see my detective in the front seat with his pistol in hand at the ready. I thought to myself how extraordinary that experience would have seemed to my predecessors of only a few years in the past.

But the prime battle must be in the hearts and minds of men. To win that requires, as I have said, constant effort, illuminated by a readiness to afford patient explanation, continuous information, continuous knowledge to the people whom we all serve. Edmund Burke said that all that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. And even more true is that now than when it was first said 200 years ago.

5.11 p.m.


My Lords, it is a particular pleasure and privilege for me from these Benches to be the first to be able to congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rawlinson of Ewell, on his maiden speech in this House—lucid, amusing in places, to the point throughout as we would expect from so distinguished a lawyer and Parliamentarian. I found particularly convincing his references to legislation, coining from so authoritative a source. We shall look forward to seeing him often "opening the bowling", if I may put it that way, for the Opposition. I found this afternoon that he and I have at least this in common—and, I am sure, much beside—that both of us are members of the MCC; but I hope that in future we may find his bowling is of a pace considerably faster than the medium kind that he very properly chose to give us this afternoon. I know that I speak for noble Lords in all parts of the House when I say to the noble Lord how much we welcome him.

Several noble Lords

Hear, hear!


My Lords, the noble Lord will forgive me if I do not follow him. Like him, I wish to stick to my own experience, which is in the industrial field. However, like him, may I very much commend the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, for having introduced this debate. It seems to me to be of great significance that on several occasions recently there have been calls from the Cross-Benches for inter-Party agreement in the national interest; and I should like very much to give this one all the support I can.

The Motion is broad and it must be treated broadly. In the time available, it is not going to be possible for me to do more than add a few arguments in support of those advanced by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, and to suggest a few ways in which a national consensus might be brought a little nearer. In my view, the noble Viscount hit the nail right on the head when he said that the fundamental point is that the measures needed to keep inflation, for example, under continuing control, to improve our lamentably low productivity and, ultimately, to reduce unemployment are so painful as to mean that neither of the major political Parties is going to be able to implement them on its own. In the end, however, international competition will dictate that the decisions affecting British industry (whether nationalised or not) will have to be based primarily on long-term commercial considerations and not on short-term political ones. For example, we shall have to accept that we cannot indefinitely go on borrowing and thus consuming more than we produce, callously and irresponsibly, in my view, obliging our children to repay debts that we have incurred. It was Mr. Harold Macmillan in October 1976, significantly, in the only major intervention he has made since he left active politics 15 years ago, who said: Do you think the world will forever lend you £10,000 million worth every year more than you earn? Why should they? My Lords, I think that also we shall have to restore adequate differentials for responsibility and skill so that the income after tax of senior and middle management and of craftsmen is no longer, damagingly, so much lower than that which can be obtained in other countries. If we do not act to remedy this, then such people will simply disappear.

Here, may I say that the Amendments that were recently made to the Finance Bill in another place should not be represented as alterations made to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor. It may be, to put it bluntly, that to treat them in that way is conceived to be to the advantage electorally of the Labour Party. But in my view it does nothing to solve the problem. The expenditure involved in those changes—which have to be made for the purposes I have sought to outline—should be met by increased taxation of an indirect kind on items that we may enjoy but which are not necessities. The expenditure should not, I believe, be met either by increasing corporation tax or by adding to employers' National Insurance contributions, thus simply increasing unit costs and, ultimately, throwing even more people out of work. Above all, we must learn how to unite for the purpose of increasing national wealth instead of spending so much of our time in squabbling over how such wealth as we have is to be distributed.

A further basic reason why there need to be agreed policies in the industrial field is that the time span over which industry now has to plan ahead is considerably longer than the expectation of life of a single Government. It follows that the Government of the day should not introduce legislation which is likely to be judged by other Parties to be so extreme as to mean that it is promptly reversed as soon as the Opposition become Government. Exactly the reverse has happened under both Conservative and Labour Governments recently. The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, drew attention to a number of examples; and I can quote one or two which I think he did not mention. Pensions is one, and help for industry a second.

My Lords, how, in these circumstances, is it to be wondered at that industry lacks the confidence to plan its investment programmes ten or more years ahead, as nowadays it needs to. The other day I was interested to learn that the central dilemma of combining representative democracy with good economic management was spotted nearly 50 years ago by Winston Churchill. He argued that Parliament was an excellent institution for resolving straightforward questions of interest, but that sound economic policy would often involve imposing unpopular measures on all major Parties. Even at that time he saw the risk of one Party claiming that such measures were unnecessary and of trying to steal an electoral march on the Government in power.

Churchill's solution was to set up an economic Parliament free altogether of what he called Party exigencies and composed of people having special qualifications in such matters. Mr. Macmillan called for a Government of national unity, and he saw the alternative as a slow slide down and down or the collapse of a democracy. In that respect, the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, was speaking in precisely similar terms. More recently, Sir Ronald McIntosh, formerly Director-General of the National Economic Development Office, in commenting on Britain's poor economic performance, said: It may also stem from our Party political structure with its obsessive concern with short-term measures and its destructive concept of adversary politics". I believe we ignore such expert testimony at our peril; yet night and morning the sound on the radio of the way in which business is conducted in another place—in your Lordships' House more self-discipline is brought to bear--constantly suggests that if at the highest level on complex issues it is thought fitting for these problems to be dealt with by two quarrelsome factions, then it must equally be fitting for industrial relations to be conducted in the same way. Fortunately, in my experience in industry it is often the case that management set a better example in these matters from the top.

When and how are we going to learn? Coalition is clearly not practical politics at present; but, in my view, it is high time that agreement should he sought between the Government and both sides of industry, and between political Parties in Parliament as a whole on at least a few basic problems. I am convinced personally that these will not be solved until all those bodies having a stake in them and in which power resides, are prepared to confront them together. Some have been identified by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, and I should like to single out particularly the need to establish soon agreed long-term procedures for the determination of wages and salaries generally. In this connection, I should like to pay tribute to Mr. David Basnett for the initiative that he took in relation to the public services six months ago, and also to the efforts being made on an even broader front in this respect by the CBI.

May I say that I thought the response of the Prime Minister, in reply to a Question last Thursday in another place on those efforts was, to say the least, highly disappointing. It is imperative also that we should find a consensus on the question of employee participation. I hope that the White Paper which is promised soon will provide a basis for progress. We cannot affort to stand still. It is essential that progress should be by consent and not imposed on unwilling employers. This is essentially a matter of starting from where progressive companies have reached in developing agreed participative procedures with their employees, and not from where it is thought they ought to be. We must act, but in doing so we must take account of what management and all employees actually aspire to, and not what politicians or even senior trade union leaders think may be good for them. I believe also that there is an urgent need in the industrial relations field for agreed codes of practice aimed especially at improving the methods by which we resolve our industrial disputes.

Meanwhile, under the present Constitution and our unrepresentative electoral system, the "haves" will not give an inch to the "have-nots". The Lib-Lab pact has provided at least a measure of economic and industrial stability and political consensus in the past year. It remains to be seen whether that pact will prove beneficial to the Liberal Party in terms of votes at the next General Election. Whatever the outcome in that respect, it was very gratifying to me to read in a letter in The Times two months ago from Lord Brown, writing as a loyal Member of the Labour Party, that had it not been for Liberal support of the present Government we would, in his view, have been in the throes of near economic disaster, and if at the next Election it should transpire that politics which put the nation first benefited Party interest also, he would rejoice. So would I, my Lords, and so I believe would millions of other people.

5.26 p.m.


My Lords, it is a very special pleasure for me to be able to start by congratulating the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rawlinson of Ewell, on a very genuinely notable maiden speech. I can assure your Lordships that this is no mere polite convention, as my late father enjoyed an extremely close personal friendship with the noble and learned Lord and his family and this still persists between our families. I know that my father would have been pleased that, in his sad default, this happy opportunity has fallen to me today. I am sure that we all look forward to hearing the noble and learned Lord with great frequency from the Front Bench of his Party.

I turn to the Motion of the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth. I am sure that we are all grateful to him for affording us the opportunity of this short debate. I want to intervene only briefly and on one subject. I do not think that all subjects are ripe for the consensus the noble Viscount seeks. But some lend themselves more than others, and unemployment seems to me to he one of the foremost of these. I am convinced that unemployment is not merely cyclical but endemic in the world system which is now developing. Nothing that either of our major Parties can do will be more than midly palliative, unless there is a very radical rethinking of our attitude to work.

Since the beginning of the industrial I revolution we have been busy teaching the world that business is what life is about. That lesson has been so well and truly grapsed that an increasing number of producers all over the world are starting to compete for orders which are not going to increase in proportion to the extra capacity. This is what the new world economic order claimed by the non-aligned countries means. We cannot tell these countries to stop producing industrial goods and go back simply to raw materials or agriculture or to uncomplaining starvation. The process is irreversible. It is difficult to make so-called fair trading "stick" except inside a club like the EEC, and even that is not easy.

Shipbuilding is a case in point. We cannot tell the South Koreans to stop producing ships. Yet, after the huge spree of overbuilding of super-tankers demand is on the decline. So there is going to be a smaller percentage of a waning demand for the Association of West European Shipbuilders. This pattern is likely to be repeated in many fields. Yet, we go on pinning our faith to "export-led growth" as the way to recovery. I believe this to be naive—at any rate, so far as unemployment is concerned. For even if, in some sectors, there should be growth, or some skills in which we excel should flourish, these will probably be in the area of high technology; that is to say, in capital-intensive rather than labour-intensive industry. It will not directly help the unemployment problem. Even if trade as a whole were to pick up—which might I suppose be the end-result of aid on an ever-increasing scale to the Third World—our share of that trade would be diminished by the sheer number of newcomers in the field. At home the so-called service industries are not going to mop up all the surplus man and woman power—perhaps I should say "person power"— unless one includes the machinery of Government, the Civil Service, as a service industry and expand that, which goes against the current concern to cut back public spending.

Yet, despite all these pointers to the contrary, we go on bringing young people up in the expectation of a 40-year working life and with the additional implication, unchanged, that only work is moral and idleness is a sin. What is more, sin or no, few of us are equipped mentally to withstand the impact of large doses of leisure—small wonder that when rising unemployment takes its inevitable toll, those affected suffer savage disappointment and perhaps severe demoralisation.

Most social problems, I submit, stem from the moment at which energy goes sour. If we are to continue to bring people up as if full employment were just round the corner and its absence just a temporary aberration from the normal and natural order of things, that, my Lords, is a fraud upon society. But human beings are adaptable: that is why they have survived. If you give them such facts as you have and such reasonable forecasts as you can make, I believe they will respond imaginatively to the new situation. But it must be made clear to us all—or as clear as possible—what this new situation is.

Unemployment has only two solutions in broad terms. The first is a growth rate that can absorb it, which I do not believe will happen although I should be glad to be proved wrong. The other is a reduction or a redistribution of paid working life. Even the new Secretary-General of the Transport and General Workers' Union has suggested one sabbatical year in 10 for workers. Many people in universities already have one every four or five years. Then I remember the late Lord Douglass of Cleveland talking to me, movingly I thought, about voluntary work-sharing by employees against the wishes of the employers during the slump. In fact, as working hours decrease a great part of our lives is already lived in the so-called "gift" (that is, non-earning) economy.

If, as I suspect, there is a further expansion of our activities into the "gift" economy, it will be very important that the stigma of not being in the directly-productive or administrative sectors is removed and that proper financial arrangements are made for those who cannot get jobs or are prepared to surrender them to others, and that all the possible outlets for surplus energies are investigated to the hilt, possibly with the aid and advice of a multiplicity of voluntary organisations. Education will vitally affect, and be vitally affected by, all this. Also, now that we are accustomed to measuring our industrial energy requirements against likely sources 30 and even 50 years ahead, I see no reason why we should not attempt the same in the even more important field of human energy.

This area I have touched on is one which, in my opinion, ought not be be confined within the channels of Party politics; it is one on which we should try to reach that measure of inter-Party agreement which the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, desires. But I cannot see how we can begin to talk about a common policy without a prior, thoroughgoing inquiry into the whole phenomenon of unemployment in the developed world and in this country in particular. Evidence and views are obviously required from the Departments of State most closely concerned, particularly the manpower divisions of the Department of Employment, the career education and guidance section of the Ministry of Education, the Manpower Services Commission, and also from the TUC and the CBI—in other words, from the usual sources.

Then one would need to draw on the latest thinking in the universities by economists, sociologists, demographers and others; and perhaps one would need to commission studies from the academic world. But it is vital that such an inquiry should get as near to the grass roots as possible; and to that end it would be necessary to call on bodies such as the National Union of Students, the YMCA and voluntary and religious organisations active in the field, together with, I suggest, the various organisations representing the self-employed.

What would be the best body to conduct such an inquiry? I suppose it could all be farmed out to a Think Tank or Tanks. I have myself been an advocate of Think Tanks, but I do not believe that is a method very likely to commend itself to your Lordships' House. I think we should all prefer a more open and less expensive method of inquiry. In my opinion, therefore, there would be no better way of starting the ball rolling than by a Select Committee of your Lordships' House. These Committees, as we all know, are inter-Party, are served by extremely able Clerks and can engage specialist advisers. Of course, I am aware that there are staff, space, time and business problems and that the facilities available to this House do not permit it to sponsor Committees lightly; nor have I yet consulted the usual channels. I thought I would first take the liberty of floating the idea in this afternoon's debate. If any other noble Lord or Lords feel the way that I do, I shall be happy to hear from him or them and we can pursue the matter further. However that may turn out, I should like to put it on record that I feel the House of Lords could make an outstanding inter-Party contribution to a matter which must be of deep concern to practically every household and family in the Kingdom.

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, we are indeed indebted to the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, for putting down such a wonderful Motion, which gives one a passport to express one's own ideas of what is in the national interest and for everyone else to agree to them! I do not mean by that to dampen the highly desirable objective of trying to reach consensus on matters of enormous national importance, but I think it is perhaps already clear from the subjects that have been raised by speakers in the debate that points have been raised, each of which could produce a full-length debate in this House with very many different points of view. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, that perhaps this House has more hope of reaching, or contributing to, consensus than any other institution.

If it is not impertinent for a Back-Bencher to congratulate a Front-Bencher in his own Party on a maiden speech, I should like to take this opportunity to congratulate my noble and learned friend Lord Rawlinson on a marvellous speech and to express the hope that we shall hear many more speeches from him.

I tried, in making notes for this debate, to confine myself to points which could be loosely interpreted as compatible with the words of the Motion: namely, the essential points to defend our democratic system. I tried to cheat in the first of the four points which I headlined by writing that in practical terms I believed the most important thing was that we should cease the process of "going bust" and that we should maintain our economy, which at the moment is in severe danger. I felt that democracy could not stand the nation going further the wrong way down the economic path. I then put down "the freedom of individual choice" as a more theoretical second heading, which I believe is vital for the salvation of democracy. I put down as a third heading, which has been well and truly dealt with by my noble and learned friend Lord Rawlinson, "the rule of an impartial law"—for the weak, the powerful, for individuals and nstitutions—"right laws and their enforcement". Finally, I put down "protection from our enemies: defence".

Under the heading of not going bust and against the background that our standard of living in this country, relative to those of other countries, has declined and is now at half the level of many Continental countries that were once below us, I found myself headlining first and foremost our appalling productivity record. I found myself wishing that consensus could be reached on how to put it right, because I believe that there is consensus already showing in this debate on the record. Then I realised that there were potential scapegoats from investors through managers, through employees and trade unions and, finally, to Governments; and that many full debates could take place on which of these scapegoats was the most responsible and needed putting right.

In my own view, it is self-evident, but I do not know whether everybody would agree, that, since our main problems and our main lack of productivity lie in our large areas of labour unemployment, and since we have very many good areas where our performance is competitive with that of any country in Europe —in agriculture, in much of the retail and service industries, in small manufacturing industries and in the City of London—our problem lies mainly, as was debated recently in the Chamber, in the structure and atmosphere surrounding collective bargaining. I would add that it is in the large industries and organisations that the lack of incentive, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, becomes so important and is so blunted.

The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, suggested that there Were comparatively small differences of opinion on the subject of wage restraint; at least, that is what I understood him to say. But I believe that solutions are being advocated by men with good qualifications to recommend solutions, which range right through from permanent, though more flexible, incomes policies, to monetary controls and free collective bargaining, with major reforms of the bargaining system, to bring us more into line with—not to copy, but to parallel—those in other countries where the economic record is much better. Here I feel I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, that we cannot totally hide behind the world slump and suggest that unemployment will for ever grow. Enormous growth has taken place in this century, and since the war, in the population of the world and in the world's domestic product. Through our inefficiency and, in many cases, through productivities half those of our industrial competitors, we have lost enormous shares of the market, and it is there that we must look, as well as in the restimulation of the world's economy, to put matters right.

If I may pass to freedom of choice, as I believe that this is a vital aspect of democracy, I do not believe that one can have democracy without freedom of choice; not just for candidates to go forward to Parliament, but throughout our economic system and our life. I believe that this needs the largest possible, most vigorous and competitive private enterprise sector. Many people, perhaps a consensus, say that they believe in a mixed economy and in the private enterprise sector of that economy. Then one hears them in conversation saying, "I believe in private enterprise, but…" and they continue by outlining an area which they believe requires special controls. The problem is that all the "buts" are different and, by the time you have added them up, you are very close to a situation, if they are all implemented, of control of price, of product, of label, of advertising, of factory type and of employment. Then there is not as much competition and as vigorous a private enterprise system as there should be, because the old adage is true, that you cannot have your cake and eat it.

We still have choice, and considerable choice, in our Parliamentary area and I hope that we always shall have. Whether or not change of our Parliamentary system would be beneficial, I leave to others to debate. But, again, it is a subject, regrettably, on which there are a tremendous number of different views, I can remember so well, as a boy, listening to learned Members of this House, and others, telling me that the reason why the French Government fell every three weeks was that it had a system of proportional representation.

In the time available, I shall not deal with the rôle of an impartial law, except to say that I really do believe, as I said on a previous occasion, that the rôle of our law in relation to some of our big institutions, which are in positions of monopoly powers, has to be reviewed, for it is way out of line with that of many other countries.

Finally, there is defence. I believe that this is a clear essential if our democratic systems are to survive, and that it is more urgent than, perhaps, the lack of mention of it in this debate indicates. Of course, we continually hear the difference of view between those who do not want to harm the détente, and those who want to build-up our strength to counter the build-up by some of our potential enemies. Again, it will be hard to reach a consensus. My own view, without reservation, is that those who are, or may be, the enemies of this country, and are also potential enemies of democracy, will only respect strength, which I recognise can be produced only within an alliance. Let us hope that debates in this Chamber will produce the consensus for which the noble Viscount very much hopes. It is interesting and ironical that our hopes in this respect are, perhaps, based on the fact that this House is not an elected Chamber, and that we do not have to look over our shoulders to see what our constituents think of what we have just said, and that gives us more freedom to move towards a possible consensus on these incredibly important points.

5.48 p.m.


My Lords, it is a very great privilege and pleasure for me to speak this afternoon as the third member of the MCC, and in that capacity, and in a more general one to welcome the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rawlinson of Ewell, and to congratulate him on his extremely elegant and substantial maiden speech. If I may pay a personal compliment, it is that, while the noble and learned Lord's profession and mine have not exactly crossed, there was one occasion on which we had official dealings together, and it is a great pleasure to have this opportunity to thank him for his invariable skill and courtesy on that occasion.

May I, somewhat more unusually, refer to two points of substance in his maiden speech. I thought that he raised two extremely important and relevant points about Government in these days. One of these was the exercise of influence, political and general, by people who had no representative capacity in any sense to exercise such influence. The second was the undesirability of automatically assuming an adversary posture, or an adversary attitude—I slipped into Dr. Kissinger's vocabulary—in cases where there was no need for any such thing. May I add to that duet of ideas a somewhat similar one of another danger to democracy in our age, which is the discovery, by people with motives hostile to democracy, of methods of using democratic procedures and rights to produce anti-democratic solutions and conclusions.

I am also very happy to join noble Lords in their thanks to my noble friend Lord Hanworth for introducing this Motion. There had been some little fear that what he had to say would be too general for your pragmatic Lordships, but, fortunately, that was not the case. Indeed, the whole tone of this distinguished debate has been to emphasise how important are the issues which the noble Viscount has raised and how important it is that your Lordships should take a very forward part in discussions on this scale about these matters.

I myself have treated the subject a little differently from most of your Lordships in the sense that I have perhaps avoided the immediate things that each one of us may desire to be done quickly and thoroughly and tried to analyse a little some of the ideas and influences which bear on this whole question and its solution. I have done this—and I hope your Lordships will agree—partly because what we are saying today will be, in its official form, at least one of the authoritative works on the subject when it comes to be considered in its entirety and its profundity by people in politics, in academic circles and generally.

It seemed to me that we could profitably start from the consideration that much of what we are talking about rests on the history of this country during the last 30 or 40 years—and I make no apology for going back to some of that history because in fact it helps the analysis of what we are discussing today. In 1945 we had reached the summit of absolute power and absolute organisation that this country had ever achieved. I am not saying that we were top nation; I am simply saying that as a political unity we had reached that position. Almost at once, and I think absolutely rightly, the Government of Mr. Attlee and Mr. Bevin, as it has come to be called, resolved that the right policy was to withdraw from a position of empire. We probably carried through the most skilful intended withdrawal, admittedly under some pressure, that has ever been accomplished in history. While on the subject of that particular Government, I should like also to add that, as they go back into history, the more that Government seem to gain respect from readers of history for their integrity and their purposefulness and indeed their great measure of success.

From that period we became a much more humane country than we had ever been before. Also for the first time, through the educational reforms introduced by both Parties, we drew on a very much greater proportion of the population for the skills that we needed in the work that was to come in succeeding years. Also after certain setbacks we accomplished a remarkable economic recovery, and it is not often remembered that in the late 1950s we were not only paying interest on some of our wartime debts; we were actually reaching the point where we could repay a certain amount of capital. When one adds to this certain successes in industry—not in every industry but still certain successes—we are compelled to ask ourselves what has gone wrong, in the sense that we are not at the moment a wholly happy country. We are a little lost in our judgment and direction of where to go. How has it happened?

That leads us on to consider whether certain changes in Government handling of matters would help to set things right. May I give a few of the possible causes—because I think they still exist and they need some correction or eradication. First, may I say a word about doctrine. In the 1930s, which one remembers so vividly, I think we were veryshort on, doctrine. We thought too pragmatically We thought in terms of Hitler as a freakish man who could possibly be cajoled into being reasonable. We simply did not think in terms of the evil which the whole Nazi doctrine and system represented.

Today, by contrast, I would maintain that we have too much doctrine around, and it deflects us from the pragmatic methods in which this country is so skilled. I do not intend to argue about this. I would simply say that if we had not had this excess of doctrine, we would not now, have this sharp reaction in the educational field in favour of the quick learner and the gifted student, and we would not have the exodus from this country of a number of the highest skilled people in business and elsewhere because of the taxation system. Doctrine has taken over too much of practice in contrast to its absence in the pre-war period.

Another point that has affected our psychology, and which again somehow we shall have to seek to overcome, is what I would call the anti-hero fashion. Our literature of this period, popular and "classical", is very much permeated with an exhaustion with the good hero and a certain pampering of, as I say, the antihero, the person who is neither good nor skilful and who ends up somehow by being the hero of the story. This goes very wide and very deep. I think some of our defeat psychology stems from this and can be added on to an exaggerated description of our loss of power. We have lost power, but many people might be surprised at the degree to which we still retain influence, so that we have a psychological as well as a physical and political recovery to make. If we can do that then perhaps we can deal better with some events which happened in 1973.

Those of us who were present in this House at the end of 1973 when the recent economic crisis really and suddenly hit us with the multiple rise in oil prices, obtained a reaction from this House which was brilliantly enunciated by the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, that it ought to be possible for us to achieve a certain togetherness in the face of this sudden and indeed unexpected shock; and there were those of us who sought in a small way to work to that end. But somehow it did not prove possible.

It is difficult to understand why perhaps our whole organisation—and this is what this debate is about—was not quite ready for the positive reaction which I think many of the citizens of this country would have liked. However, if we were disappointed in that we then had an interesting shock in the other direction, and this in a sense is the point of my story. When the Labour Government came into power there was renegotiation of the Common Market Treaties and the referendum—and I must confess to having been critical of both. I remain critical of the first. The referendum suddenly gave us, I think, a political cue to one thing which we were really looking for in the debate to which I have referred. The referendum produced a surprisingly positive reply. I am sure that this was because the reference was a direct appeal to what I would call not the silent majority but the "middle majority". Much of the problem of the period we had been living through is that it has been difficult in an atmosphere of asperity, if not antagonism, to find what the middle thought and the middle opinion would be.

Therefore we found—and I think that this should be catalogued among the possible ways of achieving more consensus —that a well chosen referendum on a subject where the instinct of the ordinary person is important is perhaps more positive and helpful a political institution than hitherto we in this country have believed. I say this because I think also that the extremisms, which are pronounced and which are unfortunately considered to be newsworthy, do not really represent, even in these much criticised days, the instinct and character of the normal British person. He or she, by and large, remains decent, law-abiding and helpful, not wanting to riot and, as one noble Lord has already mentioned, quite anxious to do his share of the country's work.

Having said that much, I have not answered the question which is posed; namely, whether there is a method for and the possibility of finding inter-Party harmony or inter-Party collaboration. I come to this debate upon this point with the major disqualification that I have never asked the electors of Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh to elect me to anything, because I foresaw the result. However, I venture to make the point that this is a subject which has to be approached with very great care. Surely in any democratic State there is almost bound to be a natural division—sometimes wide, sometimes narrow—between those who think that a State should hurry ahead with what it believes to be advance and reform and those who believe that that is all right but that perhaps we ought to go a little slowly and be tested as we go.

I think that any proposal to consider inter-Party getting-together in an age which, as we all know, has much more Whip power than the Victorian Parliament. cannot just be pushed on one side. One cannot solve the problem simply by wishing that politicians would behave differently. There is a perfectly reasonable, understandable difference in human character and human approach to political and other situations which up to a point makes genuine difference inevitable. The secret of the matter may well be not so much a general wish for general agreement as great judgment in deciding when a subject or a situation—like, for instance, a war—calls for instant agreement and when it simply is extremely difficult and when the timing of any kind of advance would be fallacious, if not disastrous. Those are just a few reflections upon some of the items which have influenced our character and which need to be kept in mind, and some of the items which can either help consensus or set it back, despite good reasons for going forward.

The last point that I wish to make concerns our constitutional arrangements as a whole. From all the discussions that have been launched and all those that will come, it seems that there is a feeling that some of the institutions which have served us extremely well over many years and which have been adapted are beginning to creak a little. I am not making allusion to any particular proposal or to any particular theory. Although I disagree with many of the bases of the argument, I have been very much struck by the suggestion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, that perhaps the time has come when this country should have a look at its constitutional institutions, its constitutional doctrines, as a whole, to see whether they are really adapted to the rest of the 20th century.

The noble and learned Lord suggested in his recent book, that a learned and, so far as one could get it, impartial and unprejudiced Commission might be appointed to study this fundamental subject, not in too much of a hurry and not with too much publicity, to take a real look at the Constitution. It could find out whether we do need something to be written down in order to protect our rights, to see whether we need to have a different disposition of Members of the Houses of Parliament, and so on. I find this to be an attractive suggestion, not as a method of wasting time but as something which I believe will be a subject for useful consideration. I hope that the suggestion will be further discussed to find out whether we as a nation can and wish to take this grave but I think positive step.

6.6 p.m.


My Lords, this is not the first occasion upon which the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, has given us the opportunity to debate this subject, but it is none the less valuable for that. I should like to add my congratulations to those which have already been extended to my noble and learned friend Lord Rawlinson of Ewell. I do so for a particularly personal reason. For many years my noble friend represented in the other place the constituency where my family and I live. Aided by his very charming wife, he represented with extreme distinction all Parties in the constituency. My wife and Lady Rawlinson and my noble friend and I have become a very friendly quartet. During the time that my noble friend represented the other place it was my pleasure and privilege to be associated with him in some of the functions of the Epsom constituency. The work which he carried out there, in addition to his very onerous duties as a law officer, will long be remembered. Characteristically, my noble friend has today made a vigorous and convincing speech, and the more that this House has the benefit of his views the better the place that it will be.

In a sense, this Motion, to give it a medical connotation, is rather like an illness which needs to be diagnosed urgently, but the diagnosis is very much more difficult to provide than may seem at first sight. There is general agreement that at present—perhaps it is easy to say this in a non-elected Chamber—there is some measure of disillusionment, for one reason or another, among the electorate of this country with all of the main political Parties. It is perhaps due to this that such evil—and I use the word deliberately—organisations as the National Front and other bodies have tended to make their presence felt. It has been encouraging to see at recent by-elections, including the one in Epsom and Ewell, that they have suffered a very large rebuff.

But when there is this reaction towards great political Parties there is a tendency for a rather dangerous fringe concentration of less scrupulous organisations starting confrontations. This is why, as my noble and learned friend Lord Rawlinson of Ewell said in his maiden speech, law and order is such an important point. I believe that, on this important topic, there is a large measure of agreement between the main political Parties. It is perhaps frequent practice now to blame the media of communication for various things, but there has been a tendency for certain communications media to exaggerate the differences which take place. Of course, on the extreme Left and the extreme Right of the two main political Parties, there is bound to be a certain amount of rather violent talk and perhaps something almost culminating in violent action. But, on the whole, there are many fields—foreign affairs and the Health Service, for instance—where there is a large measure of agreement. There are certain aspects where there are major disagreements, including hospital pay beds, how much we spend on defence and where the cuts should come.

These are serious matters of disagreement, but I think, while there is this cynicism, there are reasons for hope. It is essential to recognise that in a democracy such as ours one cannot have political Parties which go back in history over many years which do not have disagreements from time to time. The main problem, on which I think the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, is rightly trying to pinpoint his Motion, is to try to narrow the gap of these disagreements in certain matters. Whether this can be done quite as easily as some people may think, and all would like to see done, is another matter. Inevitably, particularly during an Election campaign—and I have taken part on behalf of friends and colleagues in another place in about five Election campaigns— heated words are spoken and possibly specious promises are made; rather fewer now than perhaps 10 or 15 years ago, but these are taken up by the media, perhaps quite properly, and they are made to stick. In my view, they are given far more significance and far more importance than the point at which there is genuine agreement between the Parties. This may be an oversimplification and one has to recognise that.

The other matter is one which has not been mentioned in this debate so far; that is, the value of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, where visits are made to other countries and people from other countries visit us. Views are exchanged by delegates of all political Parties. Of course not all the countries visited by the United Kingdom hold views anything like our own. We accept that and they accept our views for what they are; but I believe that over the years these visits abroad have already done a great deal of good.

Finally, we have in this Motion an idea which it is certainly admirable to propagate. I think the difficulty is rather like trying to plant a seed in the very variable weather we are now having, in that the turbulence of this situation, nationally and internationally, in which we have found ourselves over the years may make the matter harder to bring to fruition. But we must always hope.

6.17 p.m.


My Lords, owing to the lateness of the hour and the fact that this is a short debate my thanks to the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, and my congratulations to the maiden speaker have to be expressed in these few words. Democracy is vitally important to us, above all as a safeguard against other and worse forms of government and as a means of getting rid of Governments without bloodshed or civil war. Democracy must be preserved at all costs. That being said, the whole of the remainder of my speech will be devoted not to a praise of democracy but to a consideration of its limitations and how it can be kept in check.

Carried to extremes by some people anything elected by a majority vote is regarded as democratic and therefore good, whereas any appointment made by nomination or selection is an offence against democracy. Those who hold these views arrogantly speak of the elected Chamber as if it had all the virtues. This is a grievous and dangerous mistake and also a nonsense. No recent Government has been elected by a majority of the citizens of Britain. In many decisions and appointments so-called democracy can be quite out of place, or even become a hypocrisy. Trade union card votes are an example and are often much nearer to dictatorship than to democracy. In many situations minorities are far more important than majorities. Minorities or single persons supply most of the ideas and innovations on which progress in thought and technology rest. Fortunately many decisions are daily made which only seem undemocratic to the ignorant and depend in fact on a consensus of opinion among a minority of properly informed persons who are equipped to deliberate upon the decisions required. To my mind, with a wider view of democracy, these are in fact democratic decisions in the sense that they are not dictated ones.

For reasons which r hope will gradually become apparent, the rest of my short speech will be devoted to the phenomenon of the Cross-Bench Peers. I cannot speak for the Cross-Bench Peers, of course, because our very nature is one of independence, but I can speak of the Cross-Bench Peers, and will try to be entirely factual. There are, I think, 200 of us. Needless to say, we cannot all be present together; neither can the whole of the Conservative Peers or Labour Peers be present at one time.

The first point I want to make about the Cross-Benchers is that they make a substantial contribution to the number of Peers sitting in your Lordships' House on any occasion. We frequently number 40 out of a total of perhaps 240 percent. I do not include Bishops or Law Lords in any of my calculations. If we take Peers who made 40 or more attendances during the Session 1976–1977, and are therefore fairly regular attenders, the Independents number 52, the Liberals 24, Conservatives 110 and the Labour Peers 98. So the Cross-Benchers have nearly 20 per cent. Of the total, and if you care to add the Liberals, to get a measure of those who do not wish to align themselves with either of the major Parties, the figure is over 26 per cent. The whole point of this exercise is that, given a free society like the House of Lords, where anyone can choose where he sits without reference to Party or constituents, more than a quarter choose not to join either of the major Parties. This is some estimate of—I am not quite sure what the noble Lord, Lord Gore-Booth, called it, but at any rate it is the middle road of politics.


My Lords, the phrase I coined was "the middle majority".


I thank the noble Lord. If this reflects the thinking of people at large there should be about 166 Liberal and Independent Members of the House of Commons. Unfortunately, this is not true, and shows how faulty the present electoral system is. Very large numbers of voters, as your Lordships know, vote Conservative because they want to keep Labour out or vote Labour because the want to keep the Conservatives out; they feel that a Liberal vote would be wasted, and there is no Independent to vote for.

But do we—I still speak of the CrossBenchers—reflect the thinking of the people at large? Possibly not. I claim no special merit for Cross-Benchers in this House, which is so full of experts, but I could modestly mention that all the Presidents of the Royal Society, all the O.M.s (except the military ones) and all the Nobel Prize winners whom I have personally known who have been Members of your Lordships' House have sat on the Cross-Benches, with the possible exception, I think, of the late Lord Blackett, who I think sat on the Socialist Benches. We number among us ex-Governors General, famous diplomats, ex-members of the Civil Service, professors, vice-chancellors, economists, and some very distinguished hereditary Peers. Of course, we are lacking in other respects. We are lacking in politicians, because most of them may have come up from another place and naturally prefer to stay with the Party which they have served for many years. We are deficient in landowners, on whose expertise in farming and forestry this House very much relies.

This catalogue of the virtues of the Cross-Benchers is not intended to suggest that we have any monopoly of distinction in this House. It is to make my second point, that you could not assemble a company of this calibre by any electoral system whatever. If we reform our electoral system we must be sure that the second Chamber is not abolished and that there is some means whereby in both Chambers there is a substantial body of persons who can speak for themselves without Party allegiance. If we take a broad enough view of the true nature and purpose of democracy—namely, that everyone has a right to be heard—this should lead to a Parliamentary system which has more, not less, hope of survival.

6.25 p.m.

Lord O'NEILL of the MAINE

My Lords, first of all I should like, as so many other noble Lords, have, to congratulate my noble and learned friend Lord Rawlinson on his excellent maiden speech. I do so with particular pleasure as we both served in Her Majesty's Irish Guards during the war. I very much regret that I missed the opening speech of the noble Viscount, for reasons beyond my control; I arrived just as he was sitting down. But it is entirely due to him that I am on my feet at all, because he persuaded me to take part in your Lordships' debate, and I am afraid my remarks will be rather disjointed.

It is not very long ago, my Lords, that there was, or appeared to be, considerable co-operation between the two major Parties, and the names which spring to mind are, on this side of the House, Lord Butler, and on the other side of the other place, the late Hugh Gaitskell. Indeed the Press were in those days rather critical and coined the word "Butskellism", because they felt it was the duty of the Opposition to oppose and that there should not be so much consensus as there was in those days. How wrong they were, and how many of us would welcome the return of the consensus policies which used to exist 15 to 20 years ago. You may well ask how was it that Hugh Gaitskell survived? If we look back to those days we will remember that the union leadership was rather different from what it is today, and whenever Mr. Gaitskell was in trouble with the intellectual Left Wing of his Party he was always supported and rescued by the union leadership of those days. So I admit that the situation has changed.

To come back to this side of the House, I think history will show that no one made a greater contribution to the possibility of 13 years of Tory rule than Lord Butler, with the new ideas which he persuaded the Conservative Party to adopt. In my opinion, my Lords, continuity of policy would in many respects breed confidence, not least in the City and among businessmen. I remember well that a few months after I came to your Lordships' House, at the time when the Conservatives were in power, I put down a Question asking why the Prices and Incomes Board was being abolished. It was, of course, not very well received by the Whips Office at that time. Later on, we remember, when the U-turn came along, far more stringent prices and incomes policies were adopted than had existed at the time of the Prices and Incomes Board. This leads me on to make a plea. I hope that the next Tory Government will not automatically banish the NEB. Alter it by all means; have discussions with its excellent chairman. But do not just automatically abolish it. I believe that the IRC should never have been abolished. However, that is another matter. But I hope that we shall not go in for too many U-turns in the future.

In the long run there is, in my opinion, one overriding method of ensuring moderation, and that is by the introduction of proportional representation. I had the great honour of serving on Lord Blake's Committee three years ago, and I remember the first Press Conference we gave. It was held under the auspices of the Hansard Society. I remember the great hostility among Press correspondents who I had known for years and who I thought would welcome this effort. However, the change which has taken place since those days two-and-a-half years ago is astonishing.

If by an overwhelming majority your Lordships thought that that method was suitable for Scotland, it would be hard to argue that it would be unsuitable for Westminster. The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, made a passing reference to the fact that he had always been brought up to believe that the reason the Govern- ments fell in Paris every three weeks was that the French had proportional representation. I remind the noble Viscount that a better example of proportional representation is modern Western Germany where the system works very well indeed. If we could produce as good results with the additional Member system—which was the proposal in the Hansard Committee Report—as Germany has produced under that system, I do not think that we would be holding this debate today.

I was extremely heartened to read the report in this weekend's Economist and I hope that your Lordships will read it. According to that report, 68 per cent. of the poll said that they were in favour of proportional representation for the United Kingdom. In the long run that kind of thing cannot be totally ignored and pushed under the table. It will have, in time, to be sought out and wrestled with. I believe that nothing would bring about greater continuity of policy, greater moderation in politics and less adversary politics than the introduction of proportional representation.

Finally, like so many noble Lords who have spoken in the debate, I should like to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, for putting down this Motion for consideration for the second time. This has been a very worthwhile debate, and I am sure that your Lordships will join with me in congratulating the noble Viscount on his initiative in allowing us to debate this subject.

6.33 p.m.


My Lords, I think that the time has come for the acceptance of a voluntary guillotine which I propose to apply. I can do that easily because I am delighted to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, in all that he said when introducing this Motion. I am in very strong agreement with him. However, I should like to make a few brief remarks and fortunately that gives me the opportunity to congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rawlinson of Ewell on his maiden speech. We are very glad to have him here as a distinguished Member of the Conservative Front Bench. He mentioned law and order. The only addition that I should like to make to the introduction by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, is to indicate a slight measure of urgency as regards this problem not on the economic side—which I think is being dealt with—but on the social side; the law and order side.

I should hate to think that what we do during the next year or so will leave a legacy of bad feeling among our young people, but I think that that danger is beginning to show now. The effects of inflation are well known to everyone. They upset everyone's arrangements and they upset the arrangements of the young people, too. They have no stability, everything keeps changing—prices, wages and jobs—and on top of it all we add the gloomy predictions about unemployment being not just a temporary thing but something that will be with us for many years. I am not saying that that will happen, but if we are to be faced with that type of situation we must realise that the next generation will be in very grave danger of departing from some of our democratic ideals.

For older people that type of frustration usually leads to apathy which is bad enough. However, in the young, apathy is not a natural attitude. I am afraid that they are much more likely to go to some shady pressure groups and it does not take long for these to become extremist groups in which they could become involved. Therefore, I think that it is urgent for the Parties to see whether there is anything they can do to reach a measure of agreement which would have the effect of improving conditions for our up-and-coming generation.

6.35 p.m.

The Earl of HALSBURY

My Lords, with your Lordships' permission and by agreement through the usual channels I have been allowed to intervene at this stage because I promised my noble friend that I would speak on the Motion. I must say that the initiative which he ascribes to me is something which I certainly do not deserve. We have merely talked to one another about the matter from time to time. I shall select, if I may, one topic to which he referred, after I have thanked him for introducing the subject and also added my name to those who have congratulated the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rawlinson of Ewell, on a most marvellous maiden speech. There is no doubt about it that when it comes to its own peculiar combination of charm and style the legal profession has all the other professions licked.

The topic about which I should like to speak is one that was touched on by my noble friend; namely, the relations between Government, Parliament, the public and the unions. In that connection we have a great deal to do. I hope that I can get through a rather delicate subject without putting any noses out of joint. I shall begin with a little bit of recent history. At the end of the war the German trades union movement was in ruins. The residue of its leadership came to this country to seek advice from the TUC as to the best form in which it could set up a brand new trades union movement in Germany taking advantage of all the experience that lay within the TUC. It was given advice and it took it and it has worked extremely well. The advice was as follows: to divide the economy into a limited number of more or less independent sectors—I think that they finally fixed on 16—with one trade union per sector. That is what it has done.

Consider all the problems that it solves. There can be no demarcation dispute because any two people working in the same sector have only one union to which they can belong. Secondly, there can be no competition between unions to attract or recruit members thereby instituting a leapfrog process on claims. So those are two problems which are solved.

If we adopted such a structure in this country, it would leave the unions free to start the big constructive job that they ought to be doing and are not; that is, to solve the vexatious problems of parities between people in different kinds of occupations. Each union would have to solve the problem of its own internal parities. That problem is not insoluble. Many pioneer studies have been carried out which have been most interesting. I took part in some of them in the days when I was associated with the Office of Manpower Economics. The idea was to draw up a number of independent panels with very different characteristics—panels of professional men, of medical men, of personnel managers and of unionists—and give them a number of job specifications and the opportunity to arrange those job specifications in rank order; such as which should be the highest paid, which the second highest paid, which the lowest paid and so on.

The peculiar feature of those studies was that there was a remarkably high correlation coefficient between panels with entirely different backgrounds. I was struck by that aspect and at the time when these studies were taking place I was giving a series of annual lectures at the Police Staff Training College on different aspects of social tension. I used the trainee officers to form a couple of panels to find out how policemen would grade the professions. They graded them in exactly the same rank order as all the studies that had been made. But when we turn to the actual pay that those people, arranged in rank order, were getting, we see that there was a strong negative correlation between the money they actually drew and the money these independent expressors of opinion thought they ought to be drawing. Agricultural labourers, who were at the bottom of the list of what was actually drawn in wages, according to the panel's opinions were placed about two-thirds of the way up it. Motorcar assembly operators, who were very high on the list, were placed at the bottom by the various panels. There should be more of these purely objective scientific studies of the distinction between public and private opinions. Of course, I think that I should be the highest paid man in England, but nobody else does, so I am not. Let us think of the liberation of trade union creativity that could be let loose if we could have a structure like that.

There is another way in which the unions could play a creative part, and that is in coping with unemployment. Every Government of every complexion, willy-nilly, find themselves managing a mixed economy. We must assume that wherever there is management there is the potentiality of mismanagement. Of course, we all know that no Government of the day ever mismanages anything; they merely cope with the mess left behind by their predecessors, and they leave the mess they make to their successors. However, it is not necessary to attribute blame; it is not necessary to suppose that their mismanagement is due to negligence. Comes OPEC with a four-fold rise in the price of oil which puts a violent strain on the economy, on a scale greater than it can absorb, and four or five years later we are coping with a level of employment that is extremely painful.

We can cope with unemployment in many ways; purely fiscal means is one way. However, we may have to use a double-edged weapon and social means to control unemployment. The most painless way in which to absorb a large sector of employment is by premature retirement at the age of 64 or 65. I cannot remember just what an age group comes to at that age, but in the immediate postwar period age groups came to about half a million per age group; as half of them would be men and most of the women would not be working by that time, one could probably absorb a quarter of a million by one year's premature retirement. That is the most painless way of becoming unemployed.

At the other end of the age spectrum—and this is desperately important—there should not be unemployment among school-leavers or university graduates. Here one could take a leaf out of the young's own enthusiasm to make the world a better place. There are squalid areas of industrial devastation in this country—for example, the South-Eastern approaches to Swansea with old poisonous lead mines; the 10-square miles of country between Birmingham and Wolverhampton, which consists of old opencast and drift mines from 200 years ago—it is a great wilderness of barren brick and dump which would provide plenty of work for enthusiastic students armed with bulldozers. But it is no good having a scheme like that and launching it when unemployment hits you; it must be prepared in advance. The plans for all these schemes can be stage-managed by the trade unions.

There is another matter which can be illustrated by the experience one has in a wages office when one calculates the cost of a strike. The figures that I shall give are so ludicrous that noble Lords will say that this must be the equivalent of the story of a visitor to a lunatic asylum who saw a man hitting himself on the head with a hammer. The visitor said: "Why do you do that?" and the man said: "Because it is so nice when I leave off". When will we leave off doing ruinous things? What I shall say—and I have one minute left—applies to light manufacturing engineering industry running one shift. It does not apply to the process industries. It also applies to those who have a full order book. After a strike it actually pays an employer to work overtime at time-and-a-half in order to recover his overheads, which he would lose if he did not. He cannot afford to lose production, which is possible if you are working only one shift.

What is the result? If a man knocks off work to go on strike, he would get his pay back multiplied by one and a half times. Just how crazy can we get? Again, only the trade unions can manage a situation like that for us and say that workers will not be paid at time-and-a-half for knocking off and going on strike. If we could only get the union relationships to Government, Parliament and public on to the right lines, all would be well.

6.45 p.m.

The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Harris of Greenwich)

My Lords, let me begin by making two comments. First, I want to express my gratitude and that of the House to the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, for having set down this Motion today. Secondly, I should like to express my warm appreciation to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rawlinson of Ewell, who has used this occasion to make his maiden speech. It was a notable speech, and one which in one particular respect I shall return to in a moment. Unhappily, I am not in the position of two noble Lords—the noble Lords, Lord Rochester and Lord Gore-Booth—in welcoming the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rawlinson of Ewell, to our House as a member of the MCC. However, I shall do the next best thing and welcome him as a member of the Kent County Cricket Club, who, I would remind him, are the joint county champions.

The debate which we have had today has inevitably ranged over a very wide field. We have gone over the ground of electoral reform to the question of race relations—which was touched on by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, in his opening speech—and from the issue of pensions to that of industrial relations. Therefore, the task facing me in attempting to wind up this debate is inevitably rather forbidding. I think that it would be foolish—indeed it would be quite impossible—to attempt to deal with all the many issues which have been raised. Therefore, I propose to deal with what I think was the central theme of the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, taking, as he did, a number of examples to illustrate my argument.

If I may, I should like to begin on a point on which the noble Viscount and I, if not in total agreement, at least share a fairly similar analysis. It is certainly possible to envisage a situation in which the problems facing a democracy become so severe that that democracy disintegrates. Indeed, that has happened to some European nations in the lifetime of many of those present this evening. However, having said that, I think that it is a little fanciful to talk as though such a situation was imminent in this country.

Certainly in this country we suffer from one particular malady; namely, our capacity to move with extraordinary swiftness from dark, doom-laden talk, in which the breakdown of our democratic institutions is predicted with a degree of pleasure which many of our neighbours in Europe find mildly surprising, to a period—sometimes only a matter of a few weeks later—in which the mood swings violently towards euphoria: yesterday's agonising problems are suddenly apparently matters of no importance; all our difficulties are behind us; the headlines become intoxicatingly optimistic. Anyone in a situation of that kind, who is slow to recognise the new mood and is mistaken enough to talk in rather sober terms about our country's continuing problems, finds himself dismissed as a dreary Jeremiah.

I think that we saw some of this last year. When the balance of payments swung round, so did the mood of the media. I say at once that I do not want to suggest that the particular problem which I am now discussing is exclusively the fault of the media; it is not. It is a much more significant problem than that and certainly politicians cannot exclude themselves from being responsible for part of this difficulty. However, undoubtedly, the media must share part of the responsibility.

Having said that, I hope that in the brief speech which I propose to make this evening I shall succeed in avoiding the temptation to indulge either in gloom or euphoria. Let me begin by dealing with what I believe is this country's central problem—that is, the rate of inflation. Here I think that we can be satisfied that we have, as a country, made significant progress. But we still have a very long way to go. Two years ago our inflation rate was running at 21.2 per cent.— a truly frightening figure. Twelve months ago it was down to 16.7 per cent., and now it is down to 9.1 per cent. I think we should recognise that this is a major national achievement. We have made this remarkable progress thanks to the co-operation we have received both from trade unions and employers.

It has, of course, not been painless. Some people, some occupational groups, consider that they have been treated unfairly. I am afraid that this was to some degree inevitable. It is pure self-delusion to imagine that roaring inflation can be brought under control without sharp and disagreeable measures having to be taken. The considerable progress that we have made in the last year would certainly have been quite impossible without the wholehearted support of the general public.

I believe that we had the overwhelming backing of the British people in the course that we as a nation set ourselves. The successes we have achieved have been solely due to that support. Without it Phase 1 would not have succeeded, nor would Phase 2, and nor would Phase 3. But I repeat that I believe that we still have a significant way to go. An inflation rate of 9.1 per cent. is still far too high. It is well above the rate of inflation being experienced by many of our friends in Europe, so we will require the firm support of the people in the struggle to reduce the rate of inflation still further.

I repeat that I believe that a massive majority of our fellow-citizens are prepared to experience even some personal discomfort if they believe that the problem of inflation can be conquered. I agree with the noble Viscount that this is undoubtedly a bipartisan objective. Indeed, I believe that any politicians who attempt to suggest that the immense difficulties we will face in our struggle to cut the rate of inflation can in some miraculous way simply be dealt with by a change of Government will simply not be believed. Were that it was quite as simple as that, but, as we all know, it is not. It is a profound national difficulty that still faces us, which will be experienced by any Government who may be in charge of our affairs.

Undoubtedly—and on this I agree profoundly with a number of points made on both sides of the House this evening—after the period of grave national difficulty we have just passed through the British people are not in the mood for some of the cruder Party stuff that some politicians appear to assume the public expects from them. Having said that, I must explain where I part company from the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth; that is, on the point which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, in his speech: there are undoubtedly genuine differences between the Parties. It is profoundly mistaken to believe that they are bogus; that it is all just a question of make-believe. Where I agree with him is that it is silly to exaggerate those differences; to pretend that there are grave differences either where none at all exist or where they are, at best, rather marginal.

Let me take one or two examples of what I mean. This brings me to the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rawlinson of Ewell. I think there is genuine bipartisan support—indeed, it would be a serious matter if there were not—on what he said about the rule of law. I entirely agree with everything he says. It would be foolish to pretend that there were fundamental differences between our Parties on this matter. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Rawlinson, said that he saw maintaining the rule of law as one of the central objectives both for a Government and for a Party. I agree with him without any qualification of any kind. Indeed, to say anything other than that would negate everything for which Parliament stands.

But the problem is—and we all have to recognise this—that there are some people who are simply unprepared to accept a decision by a court if they do not like it. I deplore such an attitude, from wherever it may come; whether it comes from a rebellious councillor, or some trade unionist, or even the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, who made an extraordinary speech the other day following a decision by the European Court of Human Rights in the Manx birching case. It is quite interesting just to recall this particular episode, because it demonstrates how deepseated this problem is.

The United Kingdom signed the European Convention of Human Rights in 1950, and it was ratified in 1953. Therefore, both Labour and Conservative Governments were involved. Under Article 52 it was provided that the judgment of the Court would be final. Under Article 53 we undertook to abide by the decision of that Court. I do not want to say much more about what Mr. Taylor chose to say following the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, except to say that it seemed to me to demonstrate the need for politicians to accept their own responsibility as leaders of public opinion in demonstrating their own support for the rule of law when a court takes a decision which they do not like.

Secondly, the question of race relations was touched on by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth. I describe it deliberately in these terms rather than as "immigration", because the issue of race relations is profoundly serious in this country, whereas the endless argument on immigration is almost wholly bogus. The central question on immigration is this: are the 1.8 million immigrants and their second generation going to remain in this country?

The Opposition have made it clear that they, like the Government, totally reject any policy designed to drive these people out of this country. The Opposition also accept—and I welcome this—the obligation to United Kingdom passport holders from East Africa. They also accept the continuing right of dependants to join people already in this country. So on the major issues of immigration there is in fact strong bipartisan agreement. One would not think that to read the newspapers from time to time. One would think there were profound national differences on this question.

Let me mention the matters on which there is a dispute. There is the question of whether it is desirable to have a register of dependants, and whether male fiancés should be allowed to enter the country before marriage. But even if these changes were made, the effect on the number of immigrants in this country would be negligible; quite trivial. That is the truth of the matter. That is why this whole argument about immigration is bogus, but there is no doubt that it is damaging and that we should take it seriously, because it creates fear and uncertainty in the minds of many immigrants living in this country. It diverts our attention from the issue of genuine importance which we should be discussing, which is the wider problem of race relations.

I indicated at the outset of my speech that the ground which was covered in this debate had been so wide that it would be quite impossible to deal with the many issues that were raised. I have taken two examples, as I indicated I would, to demonstrate, I hope persuasively, where I agreed with the noble Viscount in terms of the analysis he laid before us at the beginning of our debate. There is wholly justifiable public anxiety in this country about a number of serious problems still facing us, certainly the question of inflation, which I have dealt with already; the problem of unemployment, which is an extremely serious matter in this country as it is in every other advanced industrial country in the West; and, a point touched on by several noble Lords, the productivity record in this country. All these are formidable problems about which there is, I repeat, substantial public disquiet.

Another feature of this debate has been a frank recognition that the Party system that we have in Britain will continue much as it has before, but, secondly, that it is a profound error for any of us to attempt to maximise differences on issues where there is in reality a very substantial amount of genuine bipartisan agreement and, in many cases, an urgent need for a common national approach. That view was expressed by many noble Lords in this debate and it is one with which I profoundly agree.

7.1 p.m.


My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. My main purpose in initiating it was to provoke thought. It is not my views but the collective views of noble Lords which matter for the future. I would not therefore wish to comment on any individual speeches, but only to say that the debate has gone the way I rather optimistically hoped it would, including its timing. It therefore only remains for me to beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.