§ Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Wednesday last by the Duke of Norfolk—namely, That a humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
§ "Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual 128 and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament".
§ 3.10 p.m.
§ The Lord Chancellor
My Lords, I would suppose that it is a wholesome and civilising practice of Parliament to have a general debate at the beginning of each new Session of Parliament on general topics contained, or not contained, in the gracious Speech. It obviously puts a strain on the ingenuity of the opener of a debate on so varied a range of subjects as that of home and social policies, and an even greater strain on my noble friend who will reply to the debate after 34 speeches, or thereabouts, on an even wider range of subjects.
I should like to make a few (but I hope connected) remarks which have occurred to me, as the oldest Member of the new Administration after the recent general election, on the subject of our home and social policies. I hope the House will forgive me if, although of course speaking on behalf of my colleagues, I put them in a slightly personal way. I have, I believe, spoken in every general election since 1924, and I therefore have considerable experience of being on the losing side and considerable experience of being on the winning side. Being a good winner is, I think, as difficult as being a good loser. It is perhaps more difficult to be a good winner than a good loser. I still bear the scars of the taunts and jeers which greeted us when we lost. I shall have things to say in my remarks with which many noble Lords will disagree. I shall hope to leave no poison behind in the wound; and I ask them to accept that, although they may not agree with what I say, it is said without malice and with considerable personal affection and respect for those against whom I have been waging political warfare for upwards of 50 years.
However one views the result of the last election, without in any way belittling the personal achievement of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, and without in any way over-emphasising the effect of the double faults served by some senior members of the Labour Party in the course of the campaign, I do not think one can avoid confronting the fact that the effect of the election was a massive vote of no confidence in the Labour manifesto, which was surely one of the most inept political documents of our time. It was inept because of its extremism, inept because of its inconsistency and inept because it failed to achieve the very purpose it was designed to achieve, since quite manifestly the Labour Party wished to fight on the issue of unemployment and succeeded in raising the issues of foreign policy, defence and the Common Market. I must say in all charity to the Labour Members that unless they can rehabilitate the picture of the party as the legitimate successor of the party of Attlee and Bevin, or even of Aneurin Bevan and Sir Stafford Cripps, I believe they will go down gradually to a dwindling and extremist rump, and that the mantle of constructive opposition will fall on the shoulders of my neighbours to my left and the mountaineers who man the Mappin terraces further back. The Labour Party should go back to the drawing-board.
129 However, may I turn for a moment to congratulate the mover and the seconder of the humble Address, whose speeches commanded general praise last week. It is no small thing for the Earl Marshal of England, and its premier Duke, to agree to take part in the moving and seconding of the reply to the gracious Speech. We all had great joy in the speech made by my noble friend Lady Airey of Abingdon, and the way in which she put her remarks. I particularly welcomed her reference to that passage in the gracious Speech which refers to the Matrimonial Causes Bill which I hope to introduce very shortly into the House.
I should also like to join in the chorus of welcome to my noble friend the new Leader of the House and in the general acceptance of the words of praise and affection with which the former Leader, my noble friend Lady Young, was greeted, again very generously, from the Opposition and Liberal Benches as well as from my own. I hope that we may retain the tradition of civilised discussion that we have had under successive Leaders of different parties.
With respect to what the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, said in his speech last week, I do not think that the respective role and influence of the two Houses changes from election to election. The function of the elected Chamber is surely to determine the political colour of the Executive, and with it, of course, the main policies and direction of Government legislation as announced in their political programme. I see no reason why the role of the working House of Lords should constitutionally differ from election to election, and still less why the role should differ in proportion to the magnitude of the election result, which seemed to be the proposition for which the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, was arguing. We are an independent second Chamber, but we are not elected. We hold our offices here by inheritance or by nomination. There is something profoundly illogical in the proposition that we were asked to accept: that a party which had fought the election on a manifesto containing a proposal to abolish the House of Lords should now look to the House of Lords to hold its banner aloft in battle.
I think it is generally accepted that the gracious Speech reflects the contents of our election manifesto. When the manifesto was published it was widely appraised as a very moderate document—moderate in the sense of the modesty of its proposals and not in the sense of a depreciation of its quality. In one sense I fully accept the appraisal of it by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, as the mixture very much as before, but perhaps with a second dose of the same medicine. I therefore gently remind him that it was precisely that for which the great majority in the other place were elected. I think that was generally accepted during the campaign. The main critics of our party tended to agree with it by implication because they were driven to fantasise a secret manifesto which, it was alleged, we would put into effect if successful. There was, of course, no such secret manifesto, and the gracious Speech gives no colour to such imaginings.
Coming from the general to the particular, I now make a series of specific points. It is agreed that we have been to a great extent successful in the fight against inflation. Of course, we are still conducting that fight. It is a matter for eternal vigilance, like the 130 fight for liberty. I would venture to suggest to the House that the battle for recovery and the campaign against unemployment must now go forward. It is rather on that theme that I want to address my next remarks.
I do not agree with the suggestion which the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, made the other day that in the Speech there is no general or determined attack made on unemployment. I genuinely think that this is to misunderstand the difference which exists between the parties in this House and in the country. I do not think that we differ as to aims at all; I think we do differ profoundly as to means. It is on that theme that I wish to speak for a moment. When we come to debate economic affairs tomorrow, I think it will become even more apparent that there is a general belief in the Opposition that lasting gains are to be made in the fight against unemployment by attempting to spend or borrow our way out of recession, whereas we believe, and believe quite simply, that the correct strategy is to make Britain one of the most efficient—I should prefer to say the most efficient—industrial countries in the Western world. This is a difference of method and not a difference in aim. It is this belief which colours not only our economic policy but our whole approach to home and social affairs.
Speaking for myself, I do not regard unemployment as a single problem or a single evil. On the contrary, I believe it is a complex problem, consisting of a large number of interacting factors requiring a whole battery of policies to defeat it and to recover from it. Although we dealt the other day with foreign policy, I do not, for instance, regard the Common Market as irrelevant to the battle for full employment. I think it has a close connection with it. I shall not go into it again today because we discussed it before. I do not believe that education is foreign to the question of full employment. It is for this reason that we are placing greater emphasis on the quality of teaching and the content of the curriculum, references to which are to be found in and formed part of the gracious Speech. I believe that vocational and industrial training comes into the battle against unemployment, and to that too reference is made, as also to the quality of business management and the teaching of business management.
I cannot even dissociate the whole question of law and order from the problem of employment. Of course we have other and better reasons for sustaining the battle against crime, but a country riddled with dishonesty and violence, and upholding moral principles which are inadequate to face a modern society, is not likely to be efficient and productive. We cannot afford, therefore, to ignore the material spin-off.
I believe that modern technology comes into the campaign for more employment (and that is, as a matter of fact, one of the reasons for the reintroduction of the Data Protection Bill—failure to pass which would prevent us from ratifying the European Convention and so breaking into that market) and the encouragement, also referred to in the gracious Speech, of new technology and research. Employment is also concerned with that.
131 Public health comes into it. There never was any truth in the scare that we have harboured sinister designs on Health Service expenditure, which, despite financial rigours, has more than doubled in cash terms in the four years in which we have been in office.
Incentives come into the question of full employment. One of the best incentives surely is to allow people to buy their own houses with their own savings, which has proved an extremely popular policy. Taxation comes into it, and that is why we shall be reintroducing the major tax concessions which fell with the Dissolution owing to an absence of agreement between the two Front Benches. Rating policy comes into the question, and this is surely part of the justification for our rating reforms and our proposals to do away with some of the worst precepting authorities and to curb some of the more preposterous increases imposed on local businesses, which of course have no franchise to vote in local elections. The state of the inner cities comes into the question of unemployment, and hence our strong and continuing commitment to them, again referred to in the manifesto.
I believe that trade union policy comes into the matter very closely, and that is why we propose to let the cool breeze of real democracy blow away some of the cobwebs, obsolete prejudices and restrictive practices from the stale and backward-looking atmosphere in some of the trade union back-rooms. In tackling unemployment, with great respect, it cannot be for the party opposite to taunt others with lack of determination in dealing with this question when they fought the election on a pledge to leave the Common Market and, as I believe, sought to persuade the electorate that you can protect inefficiency and that you can combat over-manning, excessive wage demands and restrictive practices, with a battery of tariffs and import quotas.
No, my Lords, I do not believe that there is a difference between us as to aims. I do assert and accept that there is a wide difference between us as to the remedies to be applied.
If I may refer to some other matters, I do not want to trespass on the economic debate tomorrow. That is not my strong suit. But there are respects in which I think I can assert that social and home policy can be stated in quantitative terms. Perhaps I may look back a little over the years to illustrate that fact. The Lloyd George Budget of 1909 (two years after I was born) was a Budget of £150 million—gold sovereigns of course, but still £150 million. It was a social budget at the time. Between the wars, when I was a young man, the Budget, year by year, was of the order of £800 million in the currency of that time, and, as we were badly neglecting our defences, these were mainly and primarily social budgets.
Today our Budgets are of the order of £130,000 million in contemporary currency, with an annual borrowing requirement of something of the order of £10,000 million, which, with a 10 per cent. bank rate—and that is the only multiplication table I can manage on my feet—would come to an addition to the taxpayer year by year of a burden of £1,000 million before you get into any returns at all. But this, too, is 132 broadly a social budget, because a relatively small proportion of that money is being spent on defence or foreign policy. It is relatively a social budget.
Only the other day, my noble friend Lord Glenarthur was able to refer to the fact that our projected social security budget is of the order of £35,000 million. In fact our achieved National Health Service and social services budget is £15,000 million in cash terms—twice as much as in 1979. We are spending£3,800 million on the disabled. There are 50,000 more students in higher education than four years ago, and we are spending another £2,000 million on special employment and training measures and the new youth training scheme. I would therefore respectfully submit to the House that all this talk about callousness and lack of compassion is pure self-delusion. We are aiming at improving the society in which we live. It may be, as we think, that we are more conscious of the constraints of international recession and of the impossibility of pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. That is a question of means, and not a question of ends.
So I would go on to say that we really must come to terms—all of us—with the social revolution which has taken place in our generation. When I was first Education Minister (now over 25 years ago) I got into great trouble with the then headmaster of Eton for saying that when the then generation of sixth-form grammar school boys entered their forties and fifties the advantage of a public school tie would to some extent disappear. That has now happened. It is no particular surprise to me to find myself the only old-Etonian in the Cabinet. This is not because the standard of public schools has gone down. I still think that Eton is the most excellent school in the world. It is because the first product of the Butler Education Act has now come into full age when it can expect legitimately to exercise full leadership. The policy of that Act was to provide secondary education for all and a first-class grammar school education to those who wished it and who were in a position to benefit from it. That policy has now begun to produce the mature results of our then far-sightedness. I only hope that, when it produces a generation of those in their forties and fifties, the (to me) less attractive comprehend-sivisation does not reduce the standard which we are beginning to achieve.
The fact remains—and I think that this is, and ought to be, a matter of general satisfaction—that despite all the talk about polarisation, despite even the wholly lamentable level of unemployment, and despite even the manifest, and to my mind even more lamentable, decline in moral standards and in respect for the authority of law and order, we are not any longer living in the 1930s. The population of this country has never been better fed, better clothed, better educated or better protected against the ill-effects of sickness, old age, handicap or unemployment than it is now. In my lifetime there has never been less differentiation or privilege on the lines of class. Wealth has never been more widely distributed: and I believe that it has been a failure on the part of many of our critics to recognise that fact that has largely contributed to their lack of success in gaining the popular vote.
We must stop living in the past and try to evaluate the consequences of the social revolution which has 133 taken place in our time. I can remember the time at the end of the war when I was considered a dangerous revolutionary because I proclaimed what to me was the obvious truth that in the post-war world every home should have a fridge. But the wage-earner today is more likely to own a car, a television set, a washing machine and a vast range of other expensive consumer durables. His children have never suffered less from poverty-related disease.
When I first entered public life the agricultural wage was about 30 shillings a week. I have lived to see the day when even the unemployed and the disabled have a standard of life which would have made the skilled worker of my youth, and his family, envious indeed. I thank God that I have lived to see that time. So let us not belittle our achievements in home and social policy: but let us face the fact, which we shall have to examine tomorrow, that without a sound economic policy we shall not be able to sustain our momentum.
I would ask the House to believe me when I say, on behalf of my colleagues, that although we differ from our opponents as to means, and although we are probably more sensitive to economic constraints than some of our critics would have been had they succeeded in obtaining the position of responsibility which we now hold, we intend to continue in the way in which we have gone over the past 50 years of my lifetime. I am grateful to the House for listening to me so patiently because I know that some of the things that I have said have been mildly controversial—and were intended to be.
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ Lord Elwyn-Jones
My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on his continued occupation of the Woolsack, to which he has given his own inimitable shape. In his own inimitable fashion he has on the occasion of the debate on the Address embarked upon an election speech. I thought that it was only in America that Presidential campaigns were restarted the morning after the election itself, but the Lord Chancellor, with his youthful and surprising energy, wants to introduce the practice here. We shall be debating the economic situation tomorrow. I think that the last time we debated the Queen's Speech I was reproached by the noble and learned Lord for embarking upon economic questions when we ought to have been talking about home affairs; but the order is now reversed.
We are grateful for the noble and learned Lord's concern about the future health of the Labour Party. Many, of us have been through worse that this before, and of' course the party will recover because it represents the basic strength of our working people. While on this occasion the noble Lord has been willing to embark upon a party political speech, and while I am in no position to boast the results of the election from my party's point of view, perhaps it should not be forgotten that more than half of those who voted, voted against the Conservative Party and against "Thatcherism". So let there not be this dogma, which is already creeping in. Let there be a little modesty, in particular in the light of the appalling problems that the country still has to face.
We have made serious criticism—and tomorrow we shall do so again, more profoundly—of the apparent 134 complacency about, if not acceptance of as inevitable, the appalling level of unemployment in this country. According to those who are informed of these matters, the total of those who are not able to work when they would wish to do so is now approaching 5 million. It is an appalling state of affairs and, as the noble and learned Lord has indicated, it is linked to another grave aspect in our society which I shall speak about in a moment; namely, the serious increase in crime. We on this side of the House believe that unemployment is a major factor contributing to that increase. There are now well over 2 million more people unemployed than there were when the present Government came into office in 1979, and far from that number diminishing, there are indications that it may continue to rise. So I fear will the incidence of crime in our society.
Two sections of our population have been especially badly hit—the young, and the racial minorities. The blacks find it harder to get a job than do the rest. Forty per cent. of those unemployed in our country today are less than 25 years of age. Two out of three school-leavers cannot find work. In a recent procession a group of them carried a banner stating,We have reached retiring age —16".A bitter jest, my Lords.
A happy feature of our present affairs is that until now the fabric of our society has held fast. In a previous debate on the Address I ventured to draw the attention of the House to the warning given some time ago by the House of Commons all-party Select Committee on Welsh affairs. It reads:The committee warns Parliament of the risks of serious social disorder if chronic levels of unemployment endure, particularly among the young, and stresses that if condemned to suffer the worklessness of the 1930s, Wales is unlikely to respond with the apathy and despair of those days".I venture to say that apart from the character and quality of our own people, what has been crucially important during this dangerous period has been the existence of the welfare state. Many of us in this House were at its birth when the postwar Labour Government—and, indeed, others who were like-minded—resolved that the social injustice, unemployment and poverty of the 1920s and the 1930s, with laissez-faire and privatisation at their maximum, should never happen again. It was the new deal that was then created by and for our people in the fields of social security, the health service and education, in which men and women of all parties played a part, that was the basis of our national reconstruction after the war. If we undermine that pattern now, we shall do so at our peril, and there are disturbing signs of that undermining taking place.
I propose to deal with rather more of the particularities of the problems that arise than did the noble and learned Lord—I say this without offence to him—and it is good to note that once again it falls to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, to have responsibility in the House of Home Office matters. To say that my noble friends and I look forward to crossing swords with him again on the Data Protection Bill would be carrying courtesy to the point of incredulity. We were hoping that the revised version of the Bill would be more acceptable than its predecessor, but a glance at it makes that very unlikely. The almost universally 135 condemned Clause 28 is still in the Bill. If the clause remains then a Bill that is intended, as the Queen's Speech puts it,to protect personal information held on computerscould result in highly confidential and sensitive information being capable of being disclosed to the police, the Inland Revenue, the Customs and Excise and the immigration authorities without any indication on the data protection register that anything of that kind was possible. To this, and the other serious defects in the Bill, we shall return next week.
Within the domain of the Home Office, the subject to which I have already referred, which has caused the public the greatest concern, has been the increase of crime in recent years. Last year, 3,250,000 notifiable offences were recorded by the police—an increase in the recorded crime rate of 25 per cent. since my colleagues and I had responsibility in this field. The noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, referred to the problem in a speech in 1976 in another place. Incidentally, we greatly hope that the noble Lord will continue to take an active part in discussions in the House on matters relating to the Home Office, particularly in view of the large new Tory intake in another place, apparently bent on turning back the clock in penal and, indeed, many other matters. It is going to be an exhilarating experience to be present in this House in this Parliament because, with that reconstructed Commons it will fall to us rather than to another place to put the Government right from time to time. What the noble Viscount said on that earlier occasion was:A Government that cannot protect its own citizens from attack in the streets of its towns and cities, that cannot protect property from damage or homes from intrusion, had failed to live up to the basic duties of Government".Stern words, indeed. If they were justified in 1976, what is to be said of a Government, elected on a law and order platform, whose term of office has been marked by an increase of one quarter in the recorded crime rate? That increase is not the only cause for concern. The situation is worsened because, as the crime rate has increased, the detection and conviction rates have substantially decreased. Yet greater probability of arrest and conviction is surely the most likely way to deter the criminal. A two in three chance of not being caught, which seems to be the position today, is almost an encouragement to the criminal. I understand now that only about 15 per cent. of all crimes in London result in arrest.
One serious factor which, I fear, is at work is a lack of co-operation between the police and the public, in some areas amounting to alienation of the police from the public. It is good that steps are now being taken by community policing and other endeavours to remedy that position. But the situation gives a clear warning to us that special care must be taken in the proposed Police and Criminal Evidence Bill to ensure that the granting of new powers to the police is balanced by the protection of the legitimate rights of the individual and of the public. If not, increased alienation will result.
Seldom has a Bill been more roundly and responsibly criticised than that Bill. It is at least reassuring that the new Home Secretary has felt it right to delay introducing it so as to have the opportunity of 136 reconsidering the representations that have been made. He is going to have a busy time. It was less than reassuring when he added:I do not wish to give the impression that I am at present persuaded that substantial changes are required".If this proves to be the case, the House will have the salutary task of puttiong the matter right in the course of our debates.
An early example of trying to put the clock back, which seems to be emerging from another place, is the attempt by a number of Members there to restore the death penalty for murder. When we last discussed the matter in this House in December 1974 in the wake of natural anxiety about the terrorism perpetrated by the IRA, along with others I opposed restoring the death penalty, in particular on the ground that it would risk retaliatory violence and ruthless reprisals against our own soldiers in Northern[...]Iireland. We would put their lives at greater risk. It is a very heavy responsibility for Members of Parliament to bear. Yet terrorists are, I believe, unlikely to be deterred by capital punishment. The hunger strikes of 1981 showed that as many as 10 IRA convicts were willing to inflict the death penalty on themselves to the considerable propaganda benefit of the IRA. That benefit would have been all the greater if a British hangman had hanged them. In this connection, we would do well to remember and ponder over Winston Churchill's words:The grass grows green on the battlefield. Under the scaffold, never".Two further considerations have influenced my views on this matter. One is the danger of inflicting this terrible and irrevocable punishment on the wrong person. I shall not forget the agony suffered by my old friend and former Home Secretary Chuter Ede having decided not to reprieve Timothy Evans, who was hanged, when later Chuter learned that Timothy Evans was not the murderer. There have been other cases of fatal judicial error. Human judgment is not infallible and errors can occur again.
Another fact that I learned from my own experience in the courts in those hanging days was that jurors did their utmost to avoid convicting an accused of murder when death on the gallows might result. Therefore, more murderers were acquitted than should have been the case. Apart from these practical considerations, in my view, society diminishes itself whenever it takes the life of a prisoner in captivity. We live in a period when there is a desperate need to restore respect for human life and to foster a deep reverence for it. I do not believe that restoring the death penalty will increase that reverence.
What will emerge in discussion of this matter in another place—and I make no apology for expressing my views clearly upon the matter today—remains to be seen. But it may be significant to hear in mind that when the European Parliament debated a resolution in June 1981 in favour of the abolition of the death penalty, it was overwhelmingly carried and there was an absolute majority in favour of abolition among the United Kingdom Members of the European Parliament. Since then 15 countries have signed the Sixth Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, providing in Article 1 that:The death penalty shall he abolished. No one shall he condemned to such penalty or executed".137 As I have said, 15 countries have signed that protocol. France has signed it; the German Federal Republic has signed it and the Scandinavian countries have also signed it. What is our intention? Do we really want to he the only country in Western Europe which proposes to restore the rejected and barbarous weapon of the death penalty?
On penal policy, it is disturbing that the Queen's Speech makes no reference to the scandalous conditions in our prisons. Overcrowding is infecting every aspect of prison life. The prison population in England and Wales now stands at nearly 44,000–7,000 more than the figure of 37,000 above which the prisons became overcrowded. In addition, there are 400 prisoners being held each day in police custody in police cells in London and the South-East.
Time and again the prison and borstal governors' branch of the Society of Civil Servants has drawn attention to the gravity of the position. A letter from Mr. Norman Brown, Governor of Strangeways Prison, Manchester, was published in the Daily Telegraph on 30th November 1981. He is a man who is faced with the problem day by day and the letter went as follows:We just cannot go on locking men and women up, many for 23 hours a day. Why do the warnings continually given by the prison service go ignored? We are the people who have to work and contain our inmates in the squalor that we do; we are the people who have to deal with the barricades, the fires, the hunger strikers, the riots, the slopping out. Is it not time that the necessary legislation be introduced to reduce our prison population and restore the morale of the prison staff, allowing us to operate a system with decent standards and dignity, or must we go on being ignored by Parliament and the courts while they carry on talking about overcrowding for yet another 30 years?That is a cri de coeur and yet prison conditions have certainly been ignored in the Queen's Speech.
The tragedy is that exhortation to the courts by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice and others, has produced only a limited response. Direct action is necessary now to reduce the prison population, otherwise we stand condemned by civilised observers in Europe and elsewhere. First of all, we may indeed need to revert to more legislation on the subject. If I may say so, we on the Opposition side, including the Liberals and noble Lords behind me, did our best in the debate on the Criminal Justice Bill to enable more to be done. But certainly more can be done by executive action by the Home Office now; for example, by the exercise of the Home Secretary's powers of executive release and—whether or not this will need legislation I am not sure—by reducing the parole threshold. The only way to deal with the problem is to reduce the prison population. Building more prisons does no more than make way for the prisons that are now in a state of collapse. It is no answer. Therefore, we shall hope to hear a response to this problem from the noble Lord who is to reply to the debate. There was discussion on an earlier occasion of a code of standards which was to be produced and made available. We should like to know what steps have been taken to bring that about.
I have turned to sombre themes without apology. In my view, we face a critical phase in the history of our society. To mock at the efforts of those of us who sought, after the war, to set up a new future for our country, does less than justice to my generation, less than justice to the future. If we forget and forego the 138 message of compassion that came at that time, we shall regret it. I shall not forget the occasion when the House debated the provision of transport for rural areas, which was carried against the resistance of the Government. My old friend Rab Butler—and he cannot challenge my description now—told me at that time:The trouble with the Tory party is that it has lost its heart".If that is so, then the future for the Tory Party is indeed a very bad one.
§ 3.56 p.m.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, we on this Bench must reserve our position about the Lord Chancellor's new description of us as "mountaineers" until we have looked into the possibility of an implied analogy with the Mountain in the French Convention of 1789, because I am not sure whether we should accept that or not. In the meantime, mountain or plain, the Alliance parties of course will share his satisfaction in the improved standard of life of the people in his lifetime and in all our lifetimes, and will regret only that it has not been as fast as the improvement in the standard of life of comparable people in other countries.
We also of course share the horror of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, as regards unemployment, without fully sharing either the diagnosis or the remedies advanced by his party for it. We agree with a great deal of what he said about particular Bills which are coming before this Parliament. The whole House will have been moved and impressed by what he said about the death penalty. Other points which have been raised already will be taken up by later Alliance speakers. The whole House will listen with the greatest expectation and interest to the two maiden speeches by the noble Lord, Lord Quinton, my old school contemporary, and the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore.
But before we can logically discuss what the Government intend to do, is it not the case that we ought to take a moment or two to discuss how they got here?
Until now in British politics, we have been able to discern the meaning of a general election by looking at the Queen's Speech and at the manifesto of the incoming Government party which lies behind it. That party has gone to the people, has stated its intentions, has obtained the approval of the electorate and has been returned to Westminster, and that is that. This time we cannot read the Queen's Speech that way, nor the manifesto which preceded it. The election figures have been well reported, but we must never lose sight of them. The Government received a lower share of the votes cast than they did in 1979. They received a minority of the votes cast and the opposition parties gained a majority. The Conservative Party received 43 per cent. and the opposition parties 54 per cent. We must not mince words at the beginning of a Parliament: the Queen's Speech thus represents the programme of a party which has been rejected in favour of other parties by more than half the voters. In no other West European country could this have happened. In all others the percentage result 43, 28, 26 would have given rise to a coalition or other arrange 139 ment among the parties which would, even if roughly, have represented the will of the people.
In Britain alone does the electoral system make it possible for a party with a minority of the votes cast to stand forth in sole authority in Parliament and to present, without regard to any other party, a programme of its own. We must all hope that the Government remember this when they go abroad, and particularly the Prime Minister, who has said that she is proud to have received the endorsement of the British people. That is precisely what she has not received. Her tendency to confident elation is sometimes justified and valuable, but the Government have not obtained the endorsement of the people; they have a reduced share of the votes, and that reduces their right to speak for Britain abroad.
These facts are not only well understood in Western countries, where one would expect them to be understood, but also well understood by the Soviet Government, and, it is interesting to see, by so distant an authority as the leader writer of the New Straits Times of Kuala Lumpur.
The House of Commons does not correctly represent the people. If I say that the degree to which that is now the case is no longer acceptable, I do not mean to brush aside the valiant and unrewarded efforts of campaigners over the last decades for a proper electoral system. The Liberal Party has for long sought a proper system of popular representation. Many of us on this Bench have also done so within the old Labour Party.
However, the figures themselves tell us of a new urgency. In 1979 the Liberals had 14 per cent. of the vote and 2 per cent. of the seats in the House of Commons. That was a gross distortion all right, but not for all that many people. It was still possible to say, without more than moderate absurdity, "Let them put up with it; 14 per cent. is a reasonable price to pay for the proven virtues of our first-past-the-post system". Now it is no longer the case. Now it is 26 per cent. who have obtained 3½ per cent. of the seats. That is no longer acceptable to any thinking person. I would go further: I do not think it is safe.
Let us look at what this means in political reality. Behind each Conservative MP there now stand 30,000 people; behind each Labour MP there now stand 40.000 people; and behind each Alliance MP there stand 338,000 people. Parliaments have often been constructed to give some sorts of voters less weight than others, or no weight at all. In the 19th century the democracies of Europe gave people of all sorts more or less weight than others. In various German states, in the Netherlands, in Finland under Russia, in Norway under Sweden, and in Italy, you found examples of votes being weighted according to the voter's occupation—be they clergy, landowners, farmers, and so on—according to their birth (as we still do in this House), according to the extent of their landed or house property, or simply according to their wealth as measured by the tax they paid, or according to whether they lived in town or country and, in one country—Italy—according to whether or not they could read.
But, of course, between 1899 and 1920 they all introduced proportional representation.
140 It also happened in our own Parliament, where at different times tenants, lessees, dependants, all women, young women and even now electors working abroad, have been given no weight in Parliament at all because of their presumed lack of wisdom or importance. It happens in South Africa today that people of different races or race mixtures are given different weights in Parliament.
This, of course, was all done on purpose. The systems embodied a conscious intention. It remains specifically a modern British problem that we have drifted, without any intention—at least, without any expressed or expressible intention—into weighted voting. This is not weighting on the grounds of class, sex, race or tenure of property; it is weighting on grounds of opinion. The vested inertia of our system has now allotted every voter of the Right 10 times the weight of every centre voter, and every voter of the Left eight times. A system which does that must be compared with those systems of intentional weighting which I have just mentioned.
We have long given up political discrimination on grounds of class, wealth or sex. That we should now discriminate on grounds of opinion is no less a serious matter because it has happened by inertia rather than by will. Political discrimination is systematic injustice, however it comes about.
Our system was all right when there were only two opinions—roughly Left and roughly Right. So long as one side got more votes than the other, all agreed that we need not fiddle about with the details, that we should let that side govern. But now there are three sides; and if our democracy is to have the right to claim, and to enforce, the obedience of the people to Parliament, then we must indeed begin to fiddle about with the details.
What, then, should we do? We may perhaps leave aside certain recent suggestions. One is the suggestion of the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, who said that the Alliance should:work hard to gain more seats within the existing rules".We now stand at a 10 to 1 loading. I am no statistician, but I think that the existing rules would tolerate up to a 15 to 1 loading against the centre. Would the noble Baroness be happy with that? Then there is the suggestion of Mr. Reg Prentice, who calls on his Conservative colleagues in the Commons to act as a "constructive Opposition" to the Government. At the next election all will be made plain; the Conservatives offer a one-party state; vote Mrs. Thatcher and you get Prentice thrown in free to keep her in order. These suggestions are best regarded as provisional and in need of further discussion.
In considering the way forward, we in this Chamber should first notice a remarkable new fact. The House of Lords is now, I think for the first time, more representative of the people than is the House of Commons. At the Divisions on amendments to the humble Address last year we voted: Government 115, Labour 44, Alliance 44. In percentage terms that is about 56, 22, 22, which is not too far from the voters' 43, 28, 26. At any rate, it is a great deal nearer than the 61, 32, 3, which shows up in the Commons.
A particular duty, therefore, devolves on us: not only the normal one imposed on us by our security of 141 tenure, which is to put party advantage behind us as far as is humanly possible, but a new one arising from the fact that the Commons are now party advantage institutionalised. They are grave sufferers from the very disease for which only they can enact the cure. Anxiety, even alarm, cannot be confined to the ranks of those who have suffered. I believe there are many here in the Conservative Party and in the Labour Party who can read the signs as well as we do. You do not have to be a martyr to recognise injustice.
There must, therefore, be an all-party movement in this House as well as in the country to get PR. We know from the most recent opinion poll that a clear majority of the electorate want it. Let us not at this stage spend too much time and energy on debating which of the many systems on offer would suit us best: all would remove the time-bomb constituted by the present skew in representation. Some would have worse side effects than others. We can debate that later. The great thing now is for those who see the danger to come together and start moving.
Many questions must be answered. Shall it be for the House of Commons first? Shall it be for the European Parliament first, which is actually more urgent, and where we, by our present system, would force injustice on other countries? Shall it be for local government first? Shall it he for all three simultaneously? Should there be a motion debated and voted on first? Or should there be a Bill for a referendum? Or should we go straight to a Bill introducing a new system?
It would clearly be wrong to rush into action this side of the Summer Recess, but soon after the avalanche should start naturally rolling. We have a new popular understanding of this essential democratic right. We have a new and very welcome group of businessmen led by the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, and Sir Graham Wilkins, who want it for the economic and industrial stability which experienced people know has to be achieved. We have the groundwork done over the years by the Liberal Party and by the existing campaigns, one of them led by the noble Lord, Lord Harlech.
Our preference in the Alliance would be for a referendum held under a referendum Bill. This formula worked for the European Community question. But we shall, of course, come with open minds to the conversations we hope to have with those in the Conservative and Labour Parties and on the Cross-Benches who favour the introduction of proportional representation, and we shall hope to learn from them. My Lords, there is nothing so strong as an idea whose time has come, and there is nothing so dangerous as an injustice against the people denied and brushed out of sight.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ Lord Quinton
My Lords, in my anxiety to conform my behaviour to the customs and conventions of your Lordships' House I thought it best, in the interests of unprovocativeness, to move in accordance with the promptings of an academic déformation professionelle towards the higher safe ground of abstraction. At the same time this possibly gives rise to expectations of a connected and dangerous aspect of that déformation of which I spoke—the incapacity of persons of long 142 academic habit of addressing a group of people for less than 50 minutes at a time. But, in view of the large number of Members of your Lordships' House planning to speak in this debate, I herewith undertake to commit no such atrocity.
I find it impossible, in rising to make some observations about the gracious Speech, not to give some inkling that it is not an entirely accidental fact that I rise to address your Lordships from this part of the House, but I hope that what I have to say will not be objectionably partisan. It really takes the form of comments on two immediate reactions which the gracious Speech excited. First, that it was, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said, the mixture as before, and he was not ashamed of that; and secondly—and here I am afraid we have another small French passage—the expression déjà vu was employed.
So far as the mixture as before is concerned, of course there are conditions of a somewhat intractable kind which require a long drawn-out process of treatment. If I may suggest that our body social has been for a considerable time afflicted by a debility of over-government, it would seem appropriate that that should be treated, not by some miracle of surgery, some instantaneous cure—that is the fantastic ideal behind most projects of violent revolution—but rather by a long and careful procedure of a regular and steadily administered kind—that is of a physiotherapeutic nature—where the congested joints are steadily loosened and the neglected or dried-up blood vessels are rehabituated to a flow of animating liquid.
As to the other and more brief remark about the contents of the Speech—the programme of parliamentary work outlined in it—that it is déjà vu, what I am going to suggest is that perhaps it has not been vu quite intensely or clearly enough. In the rather terse outline of the programme, there lies embedded, I think, an entirely consistent body of fundamental ideas. Perhaps the most important of these is the fostering and protection of the autonomy of the individual. It would be impertinent of me to do more than briefly remind your Lordships of the history of this remarkable idea.
To all intents and purposes, it seems to have been invented in Athens two and a half millennia ago. Athens, as someone has remarked, was a town at that time approximately the size of present-day Portsmouth. This notion has, since that time, had its ups and downs, having been somewhat under wraps during the Middle Ages, bursting forth in the Renaissance, undergoing a very thin time indeed in the present century, most terribly and conspicuously of course in the cruder types of totalitarian society where the extinction of individual autonomy is a proclaimed and undisguised object of the régime.
In our own case, I see it almost as an outcome of wartime exhaustion. Of course a measure of totalitarianism in wartime is not to be objected to, since there is an absolutely unitary public motive driving forward the body social, and the body politic that guides it—a motive which is not to be found, not even reasonably to be expected, in peacetime. Our totalitarianism, or our gentle approximation to it, has 143 been a gradual matter of slow ossification. It is the debility that I spoke of a little while ago.
The legislative programme outlined in the gracious Speech, as I see it, is directed towards protecting the individual, enlivening his autonomy, bringing it to the position it held perhaps a hundred years ago. To this end, five items in the programme command immediate attention. The first is the object of bringing trade unions more under the control of their members so that the trade unions directly serve the interests of the members rather than some perhaps larger and more far-reaching ideological purpose of the official full-time leaders of the unions.
It is often remarked as a sad thing about our society that we do not have something which exists in the United States—a measure of co-operation between management and workers in a joint conspiracy to enrich themselves together rather than to beat themselves to pieces against one another. This is something difficult to bring about when the primary agendum for a trade union is of a large and broad political nature and not of a limited and industrial variety.
From trade unions one proceeds directly to house buying. This is something which makes people more flexible. They can move about because they can sell a house much more easily than they can acquire a house through some public authority. It encourages the circulation of people around the community. Also the idea of the proposal to control rate increases aims to leave more money in people's hands for them to spend themselves rather than having it spent for them, often on items which, if they understand what they were, they might be extraordinarily surprised that such things should exist at all. An example would be workshops for curious purposes which I need not develop any further.
Over and above this, there is the aim of increasing parental choice in schooling, and the fifth of the items that I would mention is that of securing greater value for money from the health service. All these items are directed towards reducing the dependence of people who are not what one might call naturally dependent. Of course there are many people who are naturally dependent because they labour under some extreme disadvantage of circumstance. The trouble with our extremely broadsided method of dealing with it over so many years is that it has turned many people who do not suffer from any specific natural disability of old age or physical or mental handicap into dependent beings. It has caused a kind of infantilism to spread itself amongst the community.
I stand here as a defender of the consumer society. I want there to be more consumer sovereignty and less state sovereignty. We have around us decaying in our cities great public monuments to the incorrectness of the view that the state always knows best. I am thinking of the tower blocks into which large numbers of our fellow-citizens have been herded and in which they have found it increasingly disagreeable to live.
I entertain hopes that the sliced factory loaf will soon undergo the same public disapprobation and rejection as the tower block. Already there are signs, even in the most unlikely places—which a certain 144 prudishness prevents me from naming because of a slight political implication—of the reappearance of genuinely baked bread in answer to the demand for it.
This may seem absurd in a way, but there is a great deal to be said for the consumer society. The trouble with it as a phrase is that the idea of consumption suggests eating. "What did you consume?" is a kind of euphemism for a purely material activity, but consumption is what is most important in life. Going out fishing is consumption. Going out fishing in a trawler is production, but going fishing from the side of a stream is consumption. One buys the equipment and what one does with that equipment is an end in itself. One does not mind whether one catches anything. The same is true of art, of philanthropy and of all the activities that are most distinctive and special about human life. Of course, people's work should be enjoyable to them, but, the way things are, few people can have that genuine Ruskinian hope that work is the highest thing in their lives and for few can that be a reality. What work can be is satisfying, agreeable and rewarding to the individual in facilitating his own private individual purposes.
In closing, I take up just one observation, with which I wholly agree, made by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor when he spoke about the amazingly improved conditions of life for people in this country now compared with the 1930s or further back in the century. The reason for this—perhaps it is impolite of me to say so—is not political activity, but the activity of a number of bright, inventive human beings who have got on with inventing penicillin, television, home electricity, even frozen food, and all sorts of things which enhance the quality of life and have satisfied human needs more cheaply and more easily. What political activity can do is to create the conditions in which that sort of advance takes place. Little can be done directly. That is why I favour what I take to be the underlying principle of the gracious Speech.
One is naturally tempted to end a set of observations of this kind with a reference to Milton's "Noble and puissant nation rising from its sleep and shaking its invincible locks", but I think that is a little grandiose. So I simply refer to Gulliver as the emblem that I have in mind, awaking in rather curious circumstances to find himself being crawled over by a lot of minute, apparently well-intentioned, excessively busy figures, tying him by hair, ears and fingers to the soil. I hope that by a little heaving and shoving, gently removing the little interfering figures from his surface one by one and separating the strings from his hair so that it is not torn out, leaving horrible, unsightly bald patches, Gulliver will rise up and the innate genius of our community will be able to realise itself more effectively.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of London
My Lords, I count myself fortunate to follow the noble Lord, Lord Quinton. I do not know whether those whose duty it is to arrange this list of speakers appreciate that they have asked a Balliol man to say something about the speech of the President of Trinity. But let me assure the noble Lord that no trace of the traditional 145 animosity between the two houses in any way mars my words of appreciation for his maiden speech. I know that your Lordships will join with me in our appreciation for his stimulating, eloquent and enjoyable speech and in saying that we admire his zeal in taking the opportunity to speak so early in his time in your Lordships' House. We look forward eagerly to hearing him on many occasions in the future.
I wish to speak briefly about one matter referred to in the gracious Speech—namely, the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. I am mindful of the many other very important issues which are contained in it and upon which I feel I could properly comment, but I restrict myself to this one, partly for reasons of time and partly because, as the noble and learned Lord Chancellor indicated—and so has the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones—so much of what is proposed in the other parts of the gracious Speech depend in the last resort upon our society being under-girded by law and order. Much of what is proposed will be of no avail if that is lacking in our country.
I think I can speak not only for the Church of England but for the other Churches when I say that we welcome the amendments made in another place. I also wish to take this opportunity of expressing our gratitude for the way in which the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, in his former capacity as Home Secretary, considered the representations which were made to him. We much appreciated the courteous, frank and full replies which he gave to the expressions of our reservations. We were naturally particularly glad of the decision to amend Clause 10 relating to confidential information and documents. We are grateful and believe that this decision will help us to improve our relations with the police, rather than impairing them. Nevertheless, that issue expresses but one aspect of concern about the Bill.
I would not wish your Lordships to suppose that this matter which affected us personally provided the main substance of our concern about the Bill. We welcome the amendments, though there are still matters to which I wish to draw your Lordships' attention this afternoon in the hope that further attention can be given to them by the Government, perhaps before we come to debate the Bill.
The definitions of "serious arrestable offence" in Clause 74 are a great improvement, but the effect of definitions (a) to (g) is considerably diminished, if not vitiated, by definition (h)—namely, the "prevalence of similar offences". That phrase surely cannot mean offences similar to those listed in (a) to (g), for if it did it would be wholly otiose, because one instance of those would be sufficient to justify the matter being deemed "a serious arrestable offence". Presumably it means the prevalence of a number of similar offences of a different kind to those that are listed there. There is nothing to prevent it being interpreted in that way by a zealous officer in respect of matters of a relatively minor nature.
I would suggest that Clause 8 does much to vitiate the advantage which has been given us in the earlier definitions. It may be argued that the requirements for stop and search in the first clause of the Bill will prevent abuse of this last subsection of Clause 74; but I doubt it. Might I mention that it is sometimes 146 forgotten by the critics of the Bill that, certainly in the metropolitan area, the powers of stop and search have been there since 1839, and in fact the provisions of Clause 1 define and restrict them rather than extend them in an unreserved way. That must be said in fairness to those who believe that the Bill in its present form is right and good.
I cannot say that I am happy about the provisions for intimate body search without the presence of a doctor, but, and in the light of the discussions which I have had with senior representatives of the police and of what I have learned about the grave problems which are presented by the drug traffic and the problems of drugs, I can understand why this provision is desirable; although I must say that it still gives me a certain concern. I welcome the fact that there is a time limit for the period a person can be detained without charge and that persons must be allowed access to legal representation, but there is a problem here which may lead to difficulties. As a specific time limit is set, there may be real circumstances in which all the allowed time will be used, when in fact, with a sense of urgency, the person could be released or given contact with his family after just a few hours. It is difficult for us at times to realise the grave distress which is caused not only to the person (which, presumably, may be justified, of course) but to his family when he is deprived of contact for any length of time. We have to face the sombre fact that in some areas, to which I shall refer a little later, there is a deep distrust of what happens in police stations, whether it is justified or not; and of that we have to take account in any legislation.
I must welcome the decision to establish an independent prosecution service, and I can only wish that I were here able to give a similar welcome to proposals for an independent complaints service, which I believe is necessary if confidence and trust between the police and the community is to be encouraged where it exists and to be restored where it has been lost. The problem of this Bill, as I see it, is not how it would be applied by the vast majority of the police throughout the country, but rather how it would be applied by a minority of police in specific parts of the country. The questions raised by the Bill are to do with how it will be applied in Brixton, in Toxteth, in my own diocese in Stoke Newington and in Stepney, and whether the safeguards introduced are sufficient. There are many situations and cases where—one must face it—trust has broken down; and that has then escalated because no one in the local situation has had adequate opportunity of communicating with the public.
We in the Churches have time—certainly in London; and I know it has been done elsewhere—to build up a network to foster and develop relations between the police and the local community. We shall continue to do that to our utmost. I readily admit that there are groups at work in the community whose ambition it is to divide the police from the community. But they can only aggravate and feed upon the existing distrust and it is, I believe, absolutely essential that everything be done to try to remove that distrust and to foster the right relationship.
I do not wish in any way to minimise the demands which the police have to face. I was astonished yesterday when I was speaking to the Metropolitan Commis- 147 sioner and he told me—and I am sure he is an honourable and truthful man—that the deployable force at his command at the moment, when the number of offences in the metropolitan area is 700,000 a year, is still the same as it was when they numbered 70,000. If that be so (and, as I say, I have his word for it) it indicates something of the pressure which is being put on our police forces, especially in the metropolitan area, of which alone I can speak with first-hand knowledge. For the reasons I have given, I must welcome the provisions in Clause 67 providing for consultative bodies although I would wish that the provisions there could be more specific.
It is, I believe, important to ensure that all parties who take part in such consultations come with, as it were, a proper degree of autonomy and independence. For them to be there, as it were, merely at the invitation of the police does not help initially to create the right kind of sense of responsibility which should be felt by consultative bodies. It is easy, if one is in a position of selecting those whom one wishes to consult, to select those who are likely to be favourably disposed towards one's own views.
My Lords, I believe that these points need to be considered if in fact the two aims, which I accept are behind this Bill, are to be achieved: namely, the aim of enabling the police to do their job with greater efficiency and to secure a reduction in crime and the maintenance of law and order; and, at the same time, to do that in the best possible relationship to the community and with the support of the community, which is essential for any good policing.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Lord Ogmore
My Lords, this is the first time that I have spoken in your Lordships' House. I do so with temerity and a certain nervousness, but I hope that your Lordships will give me a sympathetic hearing as is the practice with maiden speakers. I follow in the footsteps of my father who, as your Lordships know, was a dedicated parliamentarian and one who, I believe, had a gift for speaking eloquently and knowledgeably in your Lordships' House. I can only hope that my contributions to your Lordships' debates will, in some way, begin to measure up to his standards. I was interested to see that education was mentioned in the gracious Speech and I wish to say a few words on this subject. I declare an interest in it, as I have two daughters in a Church of England comprehensive school.
I hope that Her Majesty's Government will continue to maintain their commitments to the state system as well as being committed to private education. Standards must be maintained or even, where possible, improved. I also think that teachers should have the opportunity to attend refresher courses periodically throughout their careers. This should have the two-fold advantage of keeping them up to date with modern methods and maintaining the zest for teaching which I know they had after completing their teaching courses at university.
As a parent, one of the most difficult things to decide is the choice of schools, both primary and secondary. I would not wish to forgo this freedom. I remember a 148 good friend of mine, who for many years was a headmaster at a primary school, telling me that a good way of knowing whether a school was any good was to wait outside the school when it closed for the day and watch the pupils leaving for home. If they were cheerful, full of zest and well behaved then, nine times out of ten, it was a good school. My friend maintained a discipline, and there was a happy understanding between him and his pupils, who, for the most part, behaved themselves admirably. Surely, this is the kind of atmosphere that we want in schools. There must be some tolerance and yet a firmness, so that things do not get out of hand.
I should also like to see adult education continue to flourish. I know of people who have returned to education in their adult life after, perhaps, achieving very little during their school years. They then, several years later, achieved remarkable results, gaining degrees and O and A levels of the General Certificate of Education. This can only be to everyone's advantage, but I think that a lot depends on the tutors who can instil in them the necessary desire to learn. I look forward with interest to hearing more about the Government's proposals for educational improvements.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ Lord Wells-Pestell
My Lords, I believe that it was in January 1982 that the Procedure Committee issued a report calling your Lordships' attention to the fact that, if there were comments to be made following a maiden speaker, they should be left only to the Peer who followed the maiden speaker. My recollection is that that was no new departure. There had been a previous report some years before on the same matter, but the attention of the House was called to it in order to save time—certainly in long debates.
So it falls to me to make reference—and I do so very gladly—to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore. Many of us knew his father. Many of us would have liked to see him on this side of the House, instead of with the Liberals. But the fact is that he was an independent person; he had a mind of his own; he did what he thought he ought to do, and one cannot quarrel with that at any time. It is delightful to find that his son is now in your Lordships' House sitting with the Liberal Party and, I imagine from what he said, prepared to carry on his father's tradition. I say to the noble Lord, on behalf of all noble Lords present today, that we congratulate him on his maiden speech. It had many merits, which I shall not take up the time of the House in enumerating. All I would say is that we hope to see him as often as he can attend your Lordships' House, and we hope, in the light of what we have heard today, that he will not hesitate to take part in those debates which are close to his heart.
I shall not say very much about the Speech from the Throne. It does not depart very much, if at all, from the practice of the Government over the last four years. It merely shows the Government's determination to carry on with the same kind of policies. I want to say that I deplore that when one considers the deplorable effect that they have had on sections of the community, particularly those sections which are less able to look after themselves. I believe—and I have said so in your Lordships' House 149 on more than one occasion—that the Government's policies have been a successful prescription for those who are better off in the community, and certainly not for those who are struggling to keep their heads above water.
Reference was made in your Lordships' House this afternoon to the comparison of life today with life many years ago. But let me say, with the greatest respect, that that is no comparison at all. What we have to do is to compare the lives led today by some people with the lives led by others. When people suggest to me that in the past four years this Government have measured up to their responsibilities, I want to ask why it is that in 1979 one person in five was living in, or on the margins of, poverty, while today the figure is 11 million. I have no reason to doubt the figures that I have been given, but twice as many people are today living in, or on the margins of, poverty compared with 1979. So I do not accept that the Government have discharged their responsibilities to those people in the community who need help most of all.
The only other reference that I want to make to the Speech from the Throne is to the sentence which reads:My Government will pursue policies designed to increase economic prosperity and to reduce unemployment—almost the same words as were used in 1979. Has that promise been discharged? On the contrary, there are twice as many unemployed people today as there were when the Government took over in 1979. So, whatever we do, let us be honest about this.
I am not unmindful of the difficulties which Governments encounter, and which this Government encountered from 1979 to 1983. But do not let us have another manifesto which states that that is the intention of the Government when, in fact, they went out of office having made things a jolly sight worse for an increaing number of people. I do not deny that the Government are entitled to feel satisfied with the result of the election. It may well be that we in the Labour Party got what we asked for; I do not know. It may have a very salutary effect—and I hope it does—on the Labour Party.
The present Government are extremely elated about what they have achieved, but let us look at that. I can improve on the figures of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. Do they really have a mandate from the people? Of those who voted, 42 per cent. voted for the Conservative Party, but there were nearly 58 per cent. who voted against the Conservative Party. If you take into account the fact that only 72.7 per cent. of those who were entitled to vote in fact voted and that 27.3 per cent. did not bother to vote at all for any party, your Lordships will see that about 30 per cent. of the total electorate voted for the Conservative Party. I accept that an even lower number voted for the other two main parties, but when we talk about having a mandate from the people let us be quite clear what we are saying. It is not a mandate from the people as a whole: it is a mandate from less than 30 per cent.
Your Lordships may wonder why I am spending a little time on this aspect. It is for the simple reason that I feel that, when a Government are in office on the votes of such a small percentage of the electorate, they need to pause from time to time and consider whether 150 they are doing the right thing. One of the things which has annoyed my friends and me during the last four years has been the intransigence of the Conservative Administration. From time to time, it has refused to listen to reason and has ridden roughshod over suggestions which we have made.
I want to say to noble Lords opposite that for the first time for many years I believe that Government supporters in this House have a duty to watch very carefully what Bills mean when they come here. It has been said in the other place by Conservative Members of Parliament that they must provide their own opposition to their own Government in order that there shall be really good, reasonable legislation. I believe the same applies in this House, where there is a considerable, built-in Tory majority. I believe it is important for Members on the Government side to watch very carefully the content of the legislation that is put before them. We on this side of the House are very conscious that, time and time again, we have suffered because Ministers have listened and then have completely ignored our suggestions, which have generally been considered to he good suggestions. I want to refer to one particular incident in which I was involved, together with a number of Members from all sides of your Lordships' House.
On 13th December 1982, some six of seven months ago, I initiated a debate on the Government's intention to reduce the starting salary of probation officer trainees by £1,000. That will be news to most noble Lords who are here today, because they were not there. About five or six noble Lords on the Government side were present during the debate. A decision had been taken by the Home Office to reduce the starting salary of probation officer trainees from £4,551 to £3,551 per annum. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, had the unfortunate task of replying to the debate. We did not see eye to eye on that occasion, nor during the steps which many of us have taken since. The fact is that, during the debate, speakers from all sides of the House, each having personal, practical knowledge of what they were talking about, made not the slightest impression upon the Government. We were told. "There is no problem about getting probation officer recruits". Of course there is no problem when there are nearly 4 million people unemployed. But is that the yardstick you use for determining starting salaries? Is it not the job which should determine what starting salaries must be?
Subsequently, several of us went to the Home Office, where we saw the junior Minister, who could not have been more helpful, more concerned or more considerate. We had with us the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, who for several years was Permanent Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office. There is probably nobody in your Lordships' House who has closer, deeper or greater experience of the Home Office than the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale. We had with us, too, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. Nobody in your Lordships' House will doubt that he is an expert on this subject, having been president—and, I may say, an active, working president—for many years of the National Association of Probation Officers. As your Lordships know, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was also chairman of the Parole Board for some time. We also had with us the 151 noble Lord, Lord Wigoder. I do not have to tell your Lordships about his qualifications, ability and experience. We had others with us, too.
The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, took part in the debate. For many years he was—I was going to say the supreme commander of the National Association for the Care and Rehabilitation of Offenders. Few people know more about the probation service than does the noble Lord. We had with us also the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, who is a Recorder and who is known to most of your Lordships.
It did not matter what we said. It was like water off a duck's back. We were listened to, but nothing was done. The amount involved was £90,000. Noble Lords will be told that the amount involved was £300,000. It was £300,000 because the reduction of the starting salary had repercussions on the higher salaries. However, we were concerned about preventing the starting salary reduction of £1,000 a year for probation officer trainees. That comes to about £90,000. All we were told was, "These are difficult times and we have got to make our contribution". If that is the thinking and the attitude of the Home Office, the sooner there is an inquiry into how the Home Office is run, and by whom it is run, the better, because I have very grave doubts—no, perhaps I had better not continue.
I informed the Leader of your Lordships' House that was going to raise this matter. I saw him last week. He encouraged me to do so, if I may use the word "encouraged". It is my word, not the word of the Leader of the House. He knew that I was going to raise this matter and I make no accusation about or criticism of him. Those of us who have been departmental Ministers—albeit, in my case, a very junior Minister—know that things happen which perhaps ought not to happen. Sometimes I wonder whether decisions are made and are communicated to Ministers at a later date. I may be quite wrong about that, so far as this matter is concerned. However, the point I am trying to make is that I believe that a responsibility is placed upon this House in particular. It is supposed to be a reforming Chamber. In the best sense of the word, it is supposed to be an advisory Chamber. This House ought to fulfil that function more. Therefore, I invite noble Lords opposite, in view of the fact that there is such a numerically strong Government in the other place, to watch legislation very carefully.
If I may return to the point which exercises my mind, the starting salary of probation officer recruits, an Early Day Motion was put down in the other place by Mr. Charles Irving, who is a very distinguished member of the Conservative Party. I have known Mr. Charles Irving for a good many years and I have great regard and esteem for the work he has done in the field of delinquency. His Early Day Motion was as follows:That this House is astonished and disturbed by the decision of the Home Secretary to cut the rates of pay of trainee probation officers: finds it impossible to reconcile this decision with the Government's declared support for the Probation Service as an integral part of the Criminal Justice System, in particular at a time of critical prison overcrowding[...] and is greatly concerned to protect the future of the Probation Service and alarmed that the future must 152 be jeopardised by reducing the pay of its recruits by as much as 25 per cent.We shall not see any real improvement in the treatment of delinquents or in the care and supervision of delinquents unless we have an adequate probation service. People go to prison, and when they come out on parole they are supervised by a probation officer. In the case of prisoners who are released early because of good conduct, many of them come under the supervision of a probation officer. There are 10 different kinds of supervision involving probation officers, ranging from those in detention centres to long-term prisoners.
We shall not be able to deal with this problem if we have a disgruntled probation service. I am sure your Lordships will take it from me when I say that I have never known the probation service to be so aggrieved and so cross as they are at the present moment. I believe that much can be done by your Lordships, when legislation comes before this House, to make clear your own feelings and not allow matters to go by default.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Lord O'Neill of the Maine
My,' Lords, I should like first to welcome the fact that my noble friend Lord Whitelaw has become our new Leader. We are most fortunate in this. When the history of these times comes to be written, I believe it will be granted that no one made a greater effort to achieve something in Northern Ireland than he did. It is not his fault that he did not succeed.
Secondly, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor said that he was going to make some remarks which were nevertheless connected. I am afraid, with less abilities than him, that my remarks will be totally disconnected—but I should nevertheless like to make them.
I was disappointed with the very short reference to Northern Ireland in the Queen's Speech. The most important aspect there is industrial development—and there is no mention of that whatsoever. At the same time, I was slightly alarmed—and I will hand the press cutting I have to my noble friend Lord Elton when I have finished making my few remarks—to read that the Public Accounts Committee was trying to stop the building of the great new bridge in Derry. I happen to know that the origins of that bridge are entirely due to my noble friend Lord Whitelaw. When he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland he had sufficient clout in the Cabinet to hit the noble Lord, Lord Barber, over the head and extract the large sum of money necessary to build that bridge. I hope that this is merely the view of MPs on the Public Accounts Committee and that in fact the bridge will still continue.
Derry has for many years been a deprived city. One of the achievements of the Northern Ireland Government was the large industrial estate at Maydown, where Du Pont made their first European investment and today employ about three-quarters Romar Catholic workers. It will be a great boost to Derry if the building of the bridge continues. It will assist the flow of traffic between Derry and Donegal, and those two areas were cut off from each other by the Settlement after the First World War.
153 I believe that I have said enough to draw attention to this matter and I shall be grateful if my noble friend is able to say something in his remarks at the end of this debate. I fear that I might not be here if the debate continues until it is very late; but this is an important matter and one that must raise anxious queries in Northern Ireland. Even if the Government have made a Statement which I have not seen, there would be no harm in having it repeated in your Lordships' House tonight.
My second totally disconnected remark relates to something more homely; the pound in our pockets. I wonder whether the Government realise the resistance there is to using the new £1 coin. It is sham gold, but when one views it by artificial light, it turns into sham silver. It is very heavy both for the pocket and the purse. When one remembers that the Americans are perfectly happy to have a dollar—which is worth considerably less than a pound—in the form of a dollar bill, I wonder whether it is really necessary for us to have this heavy coin, which I understand is not being at all appreciated. Again, perhaps that is something which my noble friend might be kind enough to comment upon when he is winding up.
Lastly, because I have been knocking around in one political world or another for some considerable time, I should like to offer a word of caution. I remember well being in New York in 1959 when the results of Mr. Macmillan's general election came through. He had doubled the majority left to him by Sir Anthony Eden. His first term of premiership had been brilliantly successful, dealing with the aftermath of Suez and one thing or another—but from that moment on, trouble poured in from all directions. I hope the Government will appreciate that a majority even larger than that which Mr. Macmillan achieved for his second Administration may present problems and that caution is necessary.
Finally, I will not make a speech—as I have done several times—about how desirable it will he one day to change our electoral system. Nevertheless, a European election will be facing the Government before too long, and I hope that the United Kingdom will not he the only European country to fight that election on a non-proportional basis.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
My Lords, I should first like to apologise to the noble Lord the Minister and to your Lordships because I fear that I may have to leave before the end of this debate. I will, however, read Hansard with great interest tomorrow to learn what the Minister said. I understand that I am no longer allowed to congratulate maiden speakers but I wish to associate myself very strongly with the remarks of my noble friend. I also very much enjoyed listening to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor; but nevertheless felt that perhaps part of what he said did rather confirm his own point that it is difficult to win gracefully.
I will not make a long speech, but wish to put forward one or two ideas. First, it would seem only right to recollect the economic background against which we must judge the offerings in the gracious Speech. Indeed, how else can we judge whether the measures contained in it are the right measures and the 154 relevant measures or not? Vital statistics of British economic life have been put forward many times by Government critics and they are well known. Moreover, they are the subject of tomorrow's debate—whereas our concern today is to measure the effects of these statistics in human terms.
To my mind, there can be no doubt that unemployment and recession, together with Government social policies, have brought in their wake the return of poverty to many of Britain's families. There is undoubted proof that many of the changes which the Government have made to our society have led to the number of families caught in the poverty trap doubling since 1979. It must be right to say that in the gracious Speech there is absolutely nothing about the poor and the need to alleviate their poverty. It says nothing about the need to narrow the gap between the stricken North of England and the relatively well-to-do South; nothing about the ethnic minorities and the need to end their increasing alienation from society; nothing about the inner cities and the need to end the decay and deprivation which is common there. Surely, my Lords, these are the real problems of today. But instead the gracious Speech contains a great number of irrelevant economic measures mainly about privatisation in pursuit of party doctrine. It must be true to say that privatisation is not going to do one single thing to help those fundamental problems, not one single thing to help these human tragedies. All it will do is make big business bigger or make the rich even richer through stock market killings.
The gracious Speech contains reference to,the right of certain public sector and other tenants to buy their homes".There can be no doubt that bad housing is one of the fundamental causes of deprivation. So to extend the possibilities of home ownership, while satisfying the natural and justifiable wish of so many to own their own houses, does nothing to counter that particular source of deprivation. In fact, the very opposite; for once the balance of the country's housing stock is lost through tempting too many tenants to buy, it can only mean there will be insufficient accommodation for those who through financial necessity are forced into low-rent housing. It is clear for all to see that the housing queues for such low-rent accommodation are growing in certain parts of the country.
So there is surely unequivocal proof that the gracious Speech contains nothing to redress the balance between the well-off and the badly-off. There is nothing that will bring about a lowering of unemployment with the consequent liberation of those families from the poverty trap. There is nothing to provide realistic assistance to one-parent families, who now number one in seven families in the country and whose children have been identified as the least privileged in the land. And there is nothing that will make an attack on the poverty which is felt by so many of our old age pensioners. So in this respect it is as if the gracious Speech were a confirmation that Government policies in recent years have been deliberately moving towards the American pattern of a polarised society with much more extreme inequality, and that this inequality is indeed being seen as necessary in order to stimulate initiative and change.
155 There are many others on these Benches who are better qualified than I to make suggestions as to how to help that movement. Therefore, I should like very briefly to touch on one aspect which I find very relevant, and that is regarding the present tax and benefit system operating in this country. I think it would be fair to say that there is general agreement as to the need for reform but little agreement as to the direction that reform should take. It is for that reason that I would urge the Secretary of State for Social Services and the noble Minister opposite to take heed of the report of the investigation of the structure of income taxation and income support carried out recently by the House of Commons Treasury and Civil Service Committee, which was published earlier this month.
The subject is obviously such a very complex one that I would not wish to go into it in any detail, but simply put forward one or two of the points which in my view seem to be very relevant. First, the report stressed the failure of social insurance to achieve its stated objectives. Thirty-five years after its introduction the national insurance system still does not prevent widespread dependence on means-tested benefits, for many of which the rate of take-up is relatively low. Child benefit has not prevented the persistence of poverty among families, and we now have more than 6 million people at or below supplementary benefit level. Furthermore, increased reliance on means testing has led to the problem of the "poverty trap", or the high marginal tax rates on additional earnings faced by those on means-tested benefits. The main culprit supposedly is the family income supplement. Yet there is little clearcut evidence that the incentive to work had been undermined in this way. But, as the report notes:it is impossible to believe that there is not widespread resentment, confusion, frustration and cynicismresulting from the workings of the present system.
The report made the point that one reform should not be considered independently of others and that any final reform of the system should be seen in terms of a co-ordinated programme in which each element is designed taking account of other changes. Another feature of the report, which I found of very great importance, was that the effects of the different reforms should be analysed using a sample of actual families. All too often tax and social security policy is discussed in terms of hypothetical families without regard to how representative they are of the actual population. Indeed it was shown that such hypothetical families in the Department of Health and Social Security tax/benefit model tables, widely used in answering Parliamentary Questions, correspond in broad terms to only 4 per cent. of actual families when taking into account family composition, housing circumstances and sources of other income. So, I do think that one of the priorities facing the Minister must be to take note of this important part of injustice and irrelevance which is represented by so much in our tax and benefit system.
Finally, on a completely different point, I should like to say a few words about the final clause in the gracious Speech, which reads as follows: 156In Northern Ireland, my Government will continue to give the highest priority to upholding law and order.No one could have a higher regard than I for the work of the security forces in Northern Ireland—for the Chief Constable himself, and for the British Army which is stationed there—and it is because of this regard that I am very concerned at the support which appears to be given to the movement for reintroducing capital punishment for terrorist murders.
My noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones has already spoken about this matter, but I do feel so personally concerned with this question that I should like to add to what he has said. I do not wish to go into the moral arguments against hanging, nor do I wish to go into what I consider the highly retrogressive nature of bringing this whole issue back into the national debate just at a time when all other Western European countries—also, after all, affected by rising crime waves—have put it behind them. I should merely like briefly to put forward a few points which prove, I should have thought, unequivocally that hanging terrorists, far from creating a deterrent, would also make the task of the security forces, both in Northern and in Southern Ireland, more difficult.
First, from the point of view of deterrence, surely it must be agreed that those who starve themselves to death, who run a daily risk of death through their own activities, and for whom all respect for human life has had to be suppressed, would not be in the least deterred by the re-introduction of capital punishment. Secondly, from the point of view of the fight against terrorism, many senior Army and police officers in Northern Ireland have been opposed to capital punishment on the grounds that, critically dependent as they are on evidence from the public to bring about convictions, they fear that the restoration of the death penalty might deter many witnesses from giving them this vital information.
Furthermore, success in defeating terrorism demands the alienation of the community from the terrorist, and the creation of a new generation of martyrs would undoubtedly bring about the very opposite effect. I think it is important to remember that this would apply equally to Southern Ireland, containing, as it does, so many potential recruits to the para-militaries. The Irish security services there would indeed find it impossible to contain the great surge of support to the banner of the Provisional IRA which would undoubtedly follow the execution of even one single Provisional at the hands of the British.
Finally, purely from the point of view of justice as we know it, it must be unthinkable to impose the death penalty specifically on those who have not had the opportunity of a jury trial, as is the case in Northern Ireland under the necessary existence of the Emergency Provisions Act. So I can only hope that the Back-Benchers of the Government party in the other place will remember those practical points and not allow natural feelings of retribution or revenge to influence their decision. If they do, and thereby bring about the restoration of capital punishment for Irish terrorists, that could prove only to be an inspiration to the para-military cause and not a deterrent. It would bring in its wake untold violence and suffering to many innocent British and Northern Irish people.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords, I was very happy when both the proposer and the seconder of the humble Address mentioned Northern Ireland in their speeches. It is a pleasure to see the noble Baroness, Lady Airey of Abingdon, in her place today. The noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, said that he thought injustice and discrimination against the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland had been ended. I fear he may have been just a little too sweeping in his remarks. Of course, much has been done to improve the situation since 1969, but the reports of the Fair Employment Agency, the record of some local authorities and the uneven impact of unemployment on the two sections of the community show that there is still a great deal to be done. I trust that the Government will not forget that. Perhaps I may now take the opportunity—I think I speak for all—of giving our very best wishes to the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, as he takes up his new responsibilities in the Northern Ireland Office.
As an Englishman, I acknowledge our inherited responsibility for many of the wrongs of Ireland. Gladstone, Asquith, Balfour, and Lloyd George in their day did much to repair the damage done by such things as the penal laws, the Ascendency, and the economic superiority of Britain. Those statesmen worked very hard, but, alas, some injustices continued in Northern Ireland. In Britain we were largely either ignorant or indifferent to this until 1969. I therefore apologise for the connivance of my ancestors in politics and policies which divided and ruled. I regret their indifference to human misery and I am sorry that it took me until almost the age of 40 to become interested in these matters.
To say such things is not to justify in any way nationalist, republican or any other kind of violence. It does not mean that I agree with abstentionism either in the 1920s or at present. I trust that my remarks may pave the way towards mutual forgiveness and may perhaps help the English to look more sympathetically at the historical record. If they should by any chance move some Unionists to admit that there are very considerable problems and move some Nationalists to engage in political dialogue, I shall be more than happy.
We are faced at present with two and sometimes three or more different and separate cultures in one geographical area. We are also faced with more than one political and religious tradition. In this plural situation, I believe it is our duty—the duty of all of us—to seek accommodation between points of view that are legitimately different.
That is why today I should like to look at a story of success in most difficult circumstances. I refer to the Londonderry Public and Police Liaison Committee. This committee came into being in December 1970 as a result of the report of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, on the police in Northern Ireland. In paragraph 139 of his report, the noble Lord wrote:We found that the representatives of moderate opinion were anxious that a proper relationship between police and public should be created in Derry.158 It then fell to the Londonderry Development Commission to establish this new committee. Its terms of reference were:To provide a formal medium for consultation between the public and the police with a view to achieving the fullest measure of co-operation between them at all times,The commission appointed non-elected and non-party political members broadly representative of the whole community. In 1974, after the reorganisation of local government, some councillors joined the committee. The committee now has a membership of 14: six councillors, seven local community representatives and the Divisional Commander of the Royal Ulster Constabulary's "N" Division, which covers the City of Derry and the immediate surrounds. All five electoral areas are represented, including such areas of possible tension as the Bogside and Shantallow.
I mention these details because the presence of a senior police officer and of people known for their concern for the good of the community has probably been essential to the survival and success of this committee, through bad times and better times. The privacy and confidential access by the members of the committee to the Divisional Commander has played a major part, in addition to the regular monthly meetings. There have also been local meetings at police sub-stations as a devolution from the main committee. The latter have dealt with all kinds of police and security issues and proved more than just a complaints committee. There is very much a two-way channel of communication. For example, the relatives of arrested people can contact members of the committee, who are also used when the police want a complainant to see a particular police officer.
It is, of course, a weakness that the SDLP and the Irish Independence Party have never nominated councillors to serve on the committee. Here one can only hope and look for a change in attitude. However, the position in Derry is a great deal better than in Belfast, where there is only one committee serving the whole of a much larger city. In Belfast, the committee also lacks community representatives.
I therefore ask the Government to study the record of the Derry committee, which had the good fortune of having the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, as its godfather and an impartial commission as its parent. Will the current RUC review of local security committees and police liaison committees consider whether the title, composition and procedures of the Derry committee should not be applied much more widely across Ulster? In particular, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Elton, to initiate in the Home Office a review of this matter so that principles that have been tested for 13 years in Northern Ireland might also be applied with great benefit in Britain.
In our cities in Britain we have seen too many riots, too many deaths in police custody, and we have too little fully applied community policing, for there to be any reason for complacency. I submit that we need to learn from wherever we can both in Britain and in Ireland. As has been said earlier today, good policing is critically important for civilised life, particularly in the cities. In areas of tension, it can make or mar community relations. Let us therefore examine the achievements of Derry just as we do those of, for instance, Handsworth or Exeter.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ Lord Rawlinson of Ewell
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in opening this part of the debate invited us to commiserate with the Minister, my noble friend Lord Elton, who is to reply at the end of the debate, because of the different subjects that are bound to be canvassed in it. I am going to switch rather starkly from the previous speakers speaking about Ireland and hanging and refer to other matters concerning law reform.
It was 120 years ago, in 1864, when old Lord Palmerston was asked what was going to be in the Queen's Speech and the extent of the legislative programme that he had in mind, that he replied, "Oh, there's really nothing to be done. We can't go on adding to the statute book ad infinitum. Perhaps we can have a little law reform, but we can't go on legislating for ever". That was nonchalant old "Pam", whom Dizzy a little earlier, your Lordships will remember, described, however, as "ginger beer, not champagne" and "old painted pantaloon". Nevertheless I believe that "Pam" had a point, especially with regard to law reform and especially at the start of a new Parliament. But it does provide a great opportunity to tackle some of the urgent problems which are arising in the administration of the law.
With the present Cabinet, which has, apart from the Lord Chancellor, three leading members—the Foreign Secretary, the Home Secretary and the Chief Secretary—all of whom are distinguished lawyers, I should have thought that ought to be a quartet able to squeeze out of the Government business managers sufficient parliamentary time for a really substantial programme of law reform. I do not mean revolution in the law but energetic and realistic advances and improvements, especially in the administration and procedure of the courts.
I know that this is of little attraction to the professional politician, yet it is very often of very great importance to the citizen, and it is not healthy for society to live with a complex and confused statute book or with overworked and understaffed courts and with fields of law which patently require change. With regard to law reform, in the gracious Speech, apart from the hangover from last Session of the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill (which I shall come to and in respect of which I think there has been a lot of distortion and unfair comment), as I understand it, the only real suggestion for law reform this Session is the improvement in family law.
The United Kingdom parliamentary system is not the most apt to afford clear and precise law making. In my view it is excellent for debate, for the questioning of Ministers and for demonstrating grievances, but I suggest that its weakness lies in the manner of making law. I personally am not convinced that the maintenance of the adversarial system across the Chamber throughout the whole of the legislative process is the best way. There should be, in my view, certainly at some stage, more round table discussion. On that, having served for 23 years in another place, it certainly satisfied me that for law making to have only a single Chamber—as was proposed by noble Lords opposite in their manifesto—with the legislature 160 organised as it at present is, would be totally impossible for a coherent law making body. I leave apart, if you did have this one single all-powerful Chamber, the dangers to an independent judiciary and the dangers from its unilateral power to prolong a Parliament's life. A second Chamber is imperative. But I trust that real thought and study, if not decision, at official levels should be made to ensure that this does continue, because we shall not be forgiven if we leave it too late.
The process of good law making and administration is also not improved by the division of responsibility between the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's department: the anomalies whereby the Home Office is responsible for criminal law, and even legal aid in magistrates' courts, and the Lord Chancellor for the civil law and legal aid generally. We have to appreciate that the Lord Chancellor's department is now a major spending department of state. From the Supply Estimates for the year ending 31st March 1984, the gross provision for the administration of justice in England and Wales comes to £174.3 million; legal aid is some £324 million—a far cry from the days when the Lord Chancellor's office was an agreeable place, where a few gentlemen discussed which of their friends should be recommended for appointment to the score or so judgeships and, as an alternative, they decided which banquet they should despatch their Lord Chancellor to speak at.
Now the administration of justice, the provision of courts and the supply of good judges is of great demand. It has always, and still does, go to the very heart of the duty of a state. It has to receive adequate resources. It is not sufficient to supply funds to the police unless it is matched with sufficient and proper expenditure on the courts and the law. This is a Government who hold themselves out as dedicated to providing an efficient system of law and order, and that demands great attention and great resources towards the administration of justice.
First, there is the provision of the courts: more courts of the right kind and not the vast palaces which were established, for instance, at Winchester. I remember when I was Attorney-General going with the then Director of Public Prosecutions to look around that vast building, with its enormous great corridors behind the courts. It was a tremendous waste of space and totally unnecessary. Now if you go to somewhere like the fresh courts in Fetter Lane you see courts of adequate and sensible size. But more are required.
Then there are judges: those who sit and preside in those courts. There has been a vast increase, especially in the lower judiciary. When I first began to practise at the bar, the Central Criminal Court in 1946 was, I think, staffed by four; now I think there are at least 26. But there are demonstrably too few judges in the superior courts, especially in the Court of Appeal. As a result, it is necessary constantly to use part-time-duty retired judges, especially in the Court of Appeal. Of course, they are distinguished and experienced judges who have given, and still give, very good service, but in principle surely that is not satisfactory. Parliament has laid down a retiring age for judges of 75—although there are greatly loved and much admired exceptions. There always will be, and perhaps ought to be. 161 Nevertheless, where a retiring age is laid down, is the part-time recall of those judges to serve in the Court of Appeal right? I appreciate that it is presently impossible to man the Court of Appeal and deal with the business of the Court of Appeal without the help of those retired judges, but it is a defect of the system and surely there should be sufficient full-time judges to cope with the business. The Master of the Rolls should be given sufficient judges to staff his important court.
I also trust that the heads of division are given really adequate administrative back-up and help. We are fortunate to have an energetic and very highly regarded Lord Chief Justice, but he must be under tremendous pressure combining the judicial and the administrative work.
With regard to the junior appointments, in the system of appointing deputy judges and assistant recorders it is essential to afford the opportunity for people to be tested for their judicial qualities; but who gives the reports thereon to see whether they have displayed sufficient and proper judicial qualities? There is some anxiety at the Bar over this. Apart from being a law officer, I had the good fortune to have the experience of being leader of a circuit and chairman of the whole Bar of England and Wales. I believe that help might be obtained—and perhaps this ought to be examined by the Lord Chancellor—by having official committees of circuits reporting to leaders of circuits, who could officially pass that on to the Lord Chancellor. It is better than the suspicion that there is some sort of back-stage reporting upon these temporary and assistant judges as to their judicial qualities.
I come now to juries and the vital role that they play in the maintaining of the criminal law. I am not satisfied that sufficient attention is everywhere paid to their guidance, their interest and their convenience. Unfortunate accounts are given of lack of organisation when they are summoned to arrive, naturally in a state of some bewilderment, in ignorance of their duties. But there is a lack of system. In court the judges treat them certainly with sensible understanding, but greater attention should be given by the administrators to see that jurors are properly treated when they report for duty and that their duties are properly explained to them by somebody with sufficient official knowledge so that they can carry them out properly. I ask, why is no juries Bill referred to in the Queen's speech? We had considerable debate on the matter in the last Session. Do we not want to exclude from juries those who have previously been convicted?—because they certainly ought to be excluded.
With regard to civil juries, I should like, if I may, to mention a matter in which I was personally involved with counsel. It was a case in which there were six months of evidence and 100 witnesses were called. A jury heard the evidence and added the rider that the movement upon which it was making a decision was a political organisation, not a religious one. That was the decision of the jury, having heard all the evidence, and having sat for that length of time. But apparently the state of charities law is such that it has not been possible to take any action. Clearly there is here the need for an inquiry with a view to bringing about serious reform.
162 I now turn to the question of the prosecuting authority which is to be introduced. During the election campaign there has been much distortion in regard to the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, as well as grossly unfair reflections upon my noble friend the Leader of the House in regard to when he was Home Secretary, and on the present Solicitor-General. As I understood it, the Bill's object, following the recommendation of the Royal Commission, was to rationalise powers, many of which are presently enjoyed, and even to reduce some, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London has pointed out. The Bill is also to deal with the controversial Judges' Rules. It included the recommendation regarding an independent prosecuting service. Personally I am not attracted to a local prosecuting service. I fear that a shadow of local politics could hang somewhere over such a proposal. I should prefer an extension of the Director of Public Prosecutions system, by having regional directors answerable to the director, who is in turn answerable to the Attorney-General. I accept that that would change and enlarge the office of the director, but I believe that it is important to organise the matter in that way and retain the link with the Director of Public Prosecutions, who is answerable to the Attorney-General. This is the most important part of the Attorney-General's role.
I know, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, knows, of the constant demands that a Cabinet and Government make on an Attorney-General to engage in the advisory parts of his duties. He is of course counsel to the Cabinet. But it is important to recollect that his most important duty is that of responsibility for prosecutions. I am glad that the proposal to move the chambers of the Attorney-General from the Law Courts to Whitehall has been rejected. Similarly, the appearance of Law Officers in court, representing the Crown, is of such vital importance. They are the counsel for the Crown, and the prosecutor. They should appear in the superior appellate courts, and in the circuit courts wherever possible.
I believe that in Scotland there has been a suggestion for a pilot scheme for a public defender. I am not sure about that. The great strength of the United Kingdom system is that, with few exceptions, advocates participate by way of both prosecuting and defending. In my view, that creates an advocate of a more independent frame of mind, with a better sense of balance and greater fairness.
I now turn to the question of legal aid. Nowadays a large percentage of the livelihood of the average barrister arises from publicly-funded fees. I suggest that we need carefully to review the question of where the legal aid scheme is going. The purpose of the legal aid scheme was to provide advice and advocacy for those who otherwise were unable to afford it. I can, of course, understand the need which must be imposed on every spending department to control expenditure. The legal aid service cannot wholly match a privately-funded service, because, as in every professional and other service to free society, the ablest are naturally sought out, and in the case of advocates are briefed by the privately-funded sector. In legal aid a proper element is the public service aspect, which is 163 represented by the lower fee. But if the publicly-funded fees are too low, if the differential is too great, that will lead to two standards. I emphasise that if criminal legal aid is reduced artificially too far below the market level, problems will arise.
Has not the time come to extend legal aid to tribunals? Modern conflicts continuously arise between citizen and state, impinging on the lives of so very many, often involving complex matters of law and fact, in an area where a citizen often requires professional help. It is an area where the citizen's interests are grievously affected. The present Lord Chief Justice has made great strides in development of administrative law, with the extension of the judicial review, and I hope that the Government will see their way to extend legal aid to tribunals.
I welcome the suggestion regarding improvement in family law. There have been distortions and injustices. To the ordinary citizen in certain circumstances conduct must play an important part in a fair adjudication upon the breakdown of marriage.
I hope that the Government will take the opportunity of this new Parliament to take very seriously the duty and the need to advance law reform, and not to concentrate solely upon the political issues, important as I know they are. I hope that they will make major strides in the improvement in the administration of justice. For a very long time the administration of justice in these islands has excited the admiration of informed observers all over the world. But the price of excellence is inevitably constant inquiry, followed by energy in execution, to provide for changing need in a fluid society, to modify what served well yesterday but which may not be apt for today, and to ensure that what is good is made better.
§ 5.47 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to begin by differing from my noble friend Lord Kennet, by accepting, in a strictly personal capacity, with modest alacrity, the reference of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to Members of this Bench as mountaineers. It is presumptuous of me to think so, but I believe that when he made that remark he looked in my direction. If my new noble colleague Lord Ogmore had been in his seat at this moment I should have liked to assure him, bearing in mind what he said about how nervous he felt, that even after all the years that I have been in your Lordships' House, standing at this altitude and beginning to make a speech, I have an absolute horror of heights.
It is inevitable that by this stage in a long debate on the Queen's Speech numerous references should have been made to the all-important subject of law and order, and one or two remarks that I shall make will do little more than dot the i's and cross the t's of speeches, more able than mine, which have been made from these and other Benches. However, I should like to take the opportunity to say with what personal pleasure I welcome the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, to this House, because for many years I have had such happy contacts with him on the general subject of law and order.
164 The Government's intention—I think that I am quoting the Speech—to support,the services which maintain law and orderwill command universal support throughout this House and outside. As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said, it is below that lofty expression of intent that the differences begin to appear—differences of perception as to the causes of crime and delinquency and the circumstances in which it arises, differences in perception as to the policies to apply to those circumstances, and in particular differences as to the methods of dealing with the crime itself.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, spoke of the importance of balance—the balance to be maintained between the rights of the citizen, on the one hand, and the requirements of an orderly society, on the other. There is another and crucially important aspect to this matter of the balance between freedom and order. It is one that is not incumbent on the state but on every individual citizen. It is the balance to be struck between rights and responsibilities. Among the responsibilities is surely that of playing an appropriate part in support of law and order. This is the reverse side of the coin to that of the Government's explicit commitment to support the services of law and order. For that reason, I would place, at the top of any agenda for combating crime, measures to prevent its occurrence in the first instance.
The all-party penal affairs group is about to produce a report on this subject that addresses itself to individual citizens as well as to a number of Government departments. There are many preventive measures, social or relating to a particular situation, that can be taken or improved upon involving private, public and commercial property owners. Perhaps the most important point that we shall make in the report is the need for local communities to act together in crime prevention—in the streets, on the housing estates and elsewhere in our inner cities. There are now many examples of this community collaboration in support of the services that maintain law and order. They need and deserve every support at the level of local and central Government.
Community preventive action includes security measures. It also includes what has been called "proaction"—positive and constructive schemes in support of the probation, police, education and social services to improve leisure interests and activities, especially for young people. Intermediate treatment, as it has come to be known, is beginning to take off. It is just as important that the Government should support this as it is that they should support the law and order services directly.
Several references have been made to the connection between unemployment and crime. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, and others have mentioned this. That was only to be expected. It is fundamental to the whole question of reducing crime that the level of unemployment should be greatly reduced. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there is precious little hope, while maintaining that essential balance to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, referred, of causing a descent in the 165 crime graph until or unless there is a reduction in the level of unemployment.
The relevance of unemployment to crime is well established by research. A United Kingdom study last year entitled Economics and the rising prisoner population, by McLintock, showed that a 100 per cent. rise in unemployment resulted in a 25 per cent. rise in delinquency and that for every 1,000 young people unemployed, 23 more have been sent to prison. Conversely, in a North American study by Fleischer, it was shown that a 1 per cent. decline in unemployment has resulted in about a 2.5 per cent. decrease in delinquency.
I was interested to hear the references by the right reverend Prelate to the efforts to bring the police and the general public into a closer understanding in London. No one would dispute the importance of restoring the traditional relationship between the police and the public. Mutual respect and confidence have suffered in recent years. There is a certain amount of blame to be attached to both sides. I was reminded once again during a tour in Tower Hamlets and Brixton last week of the awesome difficulties that face the police in some of our inner city areas. I was again impressed by the fact that, by and large, they do their job outstandingly well. The more difficult the social environment and the economic circumstances in which the police have to work, the more important it is to back the police.
Of all the recommendations made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, in his report on the Brixton disorders, the most important, I believe, was his recommendation that more police officers must be brought back on to the beat in the streets and on the housing estates.
A reference has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, to the probation service. I hope very much that, as part of their intention to support the law and order services, the Government will expand the probation service well above the planned 1 per cent. growth. I see this as a test of the sincerity of the Government in their expressed desire to reduce the prison population and to encourage the use of more non-custodial measures. Some of us will be debating this matter on Thursday evening. I shall say no more now than that the probation service stands ready to take on the new and more exacting job that the Criminal Justice Act of last year empowers. But the service is already heavily burdened. The additional powers will over-stretch its resources, including the planned increase.
I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I devote a few words to the subject of parole. Among the measures in the new Act which, when implemented, will add to the burdens of the probation service, Section 33 includes the proposed reduction of the threshold for eligibility to parole. I hope very much, encouraged by a reference in The Times today, that the new Home Secretary will implement that section as soon as possible, provided that it is done commensurate with an increase in the establishment and resources available to the probation service. I am convinced that the parole system has made a positive and constructive contribution to law and order. We, on this side, during the passage of the Bill, argued 166 strongly for the threshold to be reduced to six months rather than the nine months being contemplated in the Home Office under the previous Parliament.
There is one other form of service towards law and order that deserves maximum support from the Government. I refer to the service due to the victims of crime. There are now, I am told, about 150 victim support schemes. They deserve every encouragement. The new Act makes possible various forms of restitution. There is a lot of mileage to be made out of conciliation schemes with a mediator between the victim and the offender in which the probation and social services and, in some cases, no doubt, the police, will play a part. I believe that all these schemes will be valuable weapons in our penal armoury.
These are some of the recipes for the support which the Government promise to the services that maintain law and order. It has been asserted that the Social Democratic Party is soft on crime. With the greatest respect, I refute that. It is not soft to seek, as a general policy, to reduce resort to custody and to give shorter sentences. There is plenty of good precedent for it elsewhere. It is not soft to develop constructive schemes in local communities and to enlist maximum public support. That is plain common sense. I am encouraged in the belief that more members of the public, not least those who have been the victims of crime themselves, support this view. A survey made last year shows clearly that the tide is moving in a much more helpful and constructive direction.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, usually the Queen's Speech gives us enough to talk about and a great deal to do. However, at the outset of a new Parliament, we really need a Queen's Speech for a Parliament rather than only for a Session. We want to lengthen our perspective when we are beginning a new Parliament especially when the Government have such a secure majority as the present one. We should aim in every Parliament to bring under review some areas of our institutions which are candidates for change and reform. I do not know whether this Government have within their machinery a committee known as the Committee for Future Legislation, but it is worthwhile for any Government to have a programme for the whole of their term to foresee the measures that they will bring forward from time to time.
I attach great importance to the efficiency of our institutional life, and in that area there is a considerable amount of conservatism and apathy among members of the public. We tend to take what there is and to work within what there is and we do very little about changing the institutions which are the framework of our political, social and industrial life.
I would have several candidates for the waiting-room for change and reform. I am surprised that so little mention has been made, for example, of the future of this House. There has been mention of the electoral system, but I have a few other candidates, some of which probably are on the list for attention, such as building societies. There is also the question of charities, which I do not think are on the list, and trade 167 unions, of which we are probably hearing rather too much. It must surely be the case that a Conservative Government today claims to be a reforming government and not merely a conserving government.
I listened with great interest to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rawlinson, as regards his proposal that there should be a comprehensive programme of law reform. That is another side of our institutional life which is constantly in need of attention in changing times.
There is nothing in the Queen's Speech about the future of this House and there is no hint that in this Parliament something might be done about it. But we are always being talked about, we are always either being promised something or we are being threatened with something. It may be that even quite a number of Members of the Labour Party in this House are relieved that pressures for the abolition of the House of Lords or serious curtailment of the range of our activities, are for the time being removed—probably for ever. Certainly there is an increasing awareness in the mind of the public about the need for a second chamber.
The idea of having single chamber government where a majority of one might be enough and where slovenly legislation might easily get through, is quite enough to convince the public that some second chamber is necessary under our system of government, otherwise we need a Bill of Rights or a constitution, some protection which is over and above the caprice of the legislature from time to time, except on the strongest mandate from the people.
I welcome, along with the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill of the Maine, the appointment of the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, as the new Leader of the House. With his vigour and boisterous temperament I sincerely hope that he will see that there is something to be done about the House of Lords. He must have been reading his old hymn book recently in which he will find the following two lines:There is room for new creations In that upper place of bliss".;but, may I say, not overly many of them and not any more, if we can help it, which extend the hereditary principle. We have to be careful not to damage the repute which this House is gaining in public estimation by resuming that aspect of our composition which probably has least public support. I will say no more about that, but I believe that the Government have a duty to do something about the House of Lords.
The House of Lords has committed two grave errors in my lifetime. One was to throw out the people's budget in 1909 which led to the Parliament Act in 1911. The other was to reject the Rhodesian order for the renewal of sanctions in the late 1960s which led Sir Harold Wilson, the then Prime Minister, to throw overboard the co-operation of the Conservative Opposition in the programme for the reform of the House of Lords. It was a great pity that that happened. I believe that we came as near then as we have been for 70 years to an agreed reform of the House of Lords. The opportunity was lost by impulsiveness on both sides and I deeply regret it.
§ Lord Somers
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord for a moment? I do not think that to make two mistakes since 1909 is a bad record. I wonder how that compares with the number of mistakes made in the other place.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, we shall probably make a few more yet. Secondly, I should like to mention the electoral system to which several noble Lords have made reference. I say to my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell that if we are to examine the theory of the mandate, look at the total votes cast and relate the total poll for particular parties to the number of seats that they have in the House of Commons, then we have to carry that discussion to its logical conclusion and look at the question of changing the electoral system. The question of the mandate can crop up with any government. If there had been a Labour Government committed to the shift of power from one section of the community to another, it would probably have been done with a substantial parliamentary majority resting on no greater mandatory strength than that of the present Government.
So the question of changing the electoral system is now of great public importance and of great importance, too, to the future of our parliamentary system. I was hoping that the Government would be willing to encourage the closest investigation and study of our electoral system, the criticisms that are made of it and the references that are made to systems in other countries, to see whether some of the fears about a change in our system would be well founded either on the experience of others or on the study of the possibilities of our own arrangements.
At the last election we heard a good deal about tactical voting. That is becoming a kind of do-it-yourself system of voting first for your second preference so that you can bring about the alternative to what might otherwise happen. There is a better system than that in existence in other countries at present. If governments are going to claim that they have mandates, then they really must be prepared to rest their claim upon substantial public support. It will have to come to that in the end; we shall probably have to have a referendum about it; we will certainly have to have a wide public discussion on this change. After all, if there is nothing else that is going to bring it to our notice, with our continued membership of the EEC—which again I am glad to see is assured—we will have to change our electoral system to conform to the general pattern for elections to the European Parliament. We cannot stand out from the general system adopted by our partners in the EEC without distorting the political composition of the European Parliament itself. So we want to hear from the Government what they have in mind to do about the discussion of the changes in the electoral system; whether they are prepared to sponsor a public inquiry, committee or commission—some body which can bring together the talents to make an intellectual as well as a practical study of electoral systems.
Incidentally—and I refer now to the Parliament of 1910 and 1911—the Parliament Act was passed in 1911 by a hung Parliament; at that time the Liberals did not have an overall majority in the House of Commons. There are some things that can be done by 169 a hung Parliament that cannot be done by a Parliament with a single party having a majority.
Turning to the other elements in my little programme of institutional study and reform, I had expected something to be said about building societies. Not long ago we had a debate on building societies. Surely they are candidates for pretty early attention. Probably some preparatory work is already being done on new legislation. These societies have grown enormously in recent years. They began as locally created movements for mutual help for house purchase and now they have become the institutions in charge of the nation's housing policy.
Some of them hear the names of their origins and have probably given notoriety and fame to places in Britain which would not have enjoyed such public esteem had they not had their building society. An example is Halifax, which is noted for Mackintosh's toffee and the Halifax Building Society. Who would have heard of Burnley, one might ask, had it not been for the Burnley Building Society? These locally created institutions are our national mortgage broking enterprises on a vast scale. Notwithstanding the terrific expansion in the work and power of building societies in the economic and social system, their range of activity and their constitutional arrangements are very much the same as they were in the beginning. There are so many interests involved in what will happen to the mortgage interest rate, and whether investors will get more and borrowers will have to pay more that we now hang on meetings of the Building Societies' Association more closely than we hang on the meetings of the Court of the Bank of England.
There is no doubt that a combination of cheap money and tax reliefs has brought about a revolution in home ownership in this country, and it has largely been brought about by the building societies. That is why we have a very close interest in how they run their affairs, who is controlling them, and to whom they are accountable. Their constitutions are not suited to the size and the importance of their activities at the present time. Are we to be given a White Paper about building societies? There has been no public discussion on the changes needed in building societies, except in meetings of building societies and in some sections of the press. But where do we find the case for change in the structure, in the range of activities and in the control of building societies, so that we know where we are hoping or expecting to go?
Another large area of social activity is charities, which is regulated by many societies with out-of-date constitutions which belong to the Victorian period. I am talking now of the voluntary societies (not the charitable trusts or foundations) which are soliciting funds from the public and which in some cases have considerable membership, large numbers of voluntary workers and considerable payrolls of one kind or another.
Some of these societies have become rich and powerful. Some of them are standing in aid of Government services; a number of the voluntary services are married up to the state provision, especially in the field of care of children. Therefore, they are a very important annexe to the state services. What do we plan to do about charities? A very notable report was 170 produced some years ago by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, but I think that the present Government have shown quite noticeable indifference to the changes in charity law.
Finally, I come to the question of the trade unions—and the Government have quite a lot in mind to do about them. I think that there is a very significant danger in linking the aim of greater democracy and control within the trade unions with the political objects of trade unions. If the political levy, which I think contains numerous irregularities and unsatisfactory features, is to come under consideration in relation to the options and choice of members of trade unions, consideration must at the same time be given to the effect upon the finances of one of our major political parties. I have referred to this before, but we go on talking about the political levy as though it were solely a trade union matter. It is not.
The political levy is now the substantial source of funds to the Labour Party, and one cannot interfere with the one without damaging the other. I think that the future of a political party must not be a football in the controversy about trade union democracy and trade union activities. It really brings us to the question of state aid. In other countries, state aid to political parties was introduced in order to end unsatisfactory features of the voluntary system. In West Germany, state aid came in when donations from business to one of the political parties, with tax reliefs, became so great as to distort the financial resources of the political system in that country. The result was that the West German Government ended the tax reliefs to company and business donations to political parties and introduced state aid in order to give all parties a quota of financial help in their activities.
When state aid was introduced in Austria it was to end the system that the ruling party always had a rake-off from government contracts for its own funds. There is corruption in all systems of voluntary aid to political parties. It is almost impossible to escape from it. No private money goes into political parties without strings being attached, either seen or unseen. If you look at history you will see how corrupt that became at one time in our affairs.
Similarly with the trade union levy. While opportunities exist for manipulating the voting strength at a political party conference by reference to contributions from the political levy, there are bound to be irregularities and unsatisfactory features. I think that the aim should be to reduce the heavy dependence of our political parties at the present time upon their traditional sources of financial aid, and to bring the state in to inject enough support to relieve the political parties of dependence upon those features of voluntary help which give rise to the most serious questions about their origins and their purpose.
I should hope that this sort of programme would offer the opportunity of attention by a reforming Government for the next five years, and that we may from time to time get the opportunity of returning to these subjects. I sincerely hope so. If any information can be given by the Minister as to whether the Government have intentions beyond the present Session on matters that have not been mentioned in the Queen's Speech, that might help some of us to make our own arrangements for the future.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
My Lords, although it is already well known in your Lordships' House that I am an elected member of the Greater London Council. I would begin formally by declaring an interest. I am now in my 10th year of service on that authority. Among my opponents in the 1977 and 1981 GLC elections was a candidate fighting under the banner "Abolish the GLC". In 1977 he obtained 297 votes out of the 31,848 votes cast. In 1981, of the total votes cast then of 29,526, his vote had risen to 330. An increase of 33 votes in four years. Four years of a Conservative-controlled Greater London Council. Four years in which the rate precept had risen by an average of 9.8 per cent. a year; far less than the rate of inflation.
Contrast that with the fact that the GLC precept has more than doubled in the last two years. Contrast, too, that 330 votes to abolish the GLC with the recent general election vote for a candidate in whose manifesto the same pledge was contained, who obtained 26,456 votes; that was the Conservative candidate for almost the same seat. This illustrates how rapidly the GLC has become discredited since the 1981 GLC election when the then moderate leader of the Labour Pary was ousted by the Left-wing within 24 hours of victory.
Since then policies have been implemented which have alarmed Londoners, both the resident electors and those responsible for businesses, who find that the profligate expenditure of the present GLC and the consequent rate rises are forcing them out of London. The GLC precept this year is over 39p, almost 40p. The inner city are hardest hit as they are additionally burdened with an inner London education authority precept of 77p. Is it surprising that the public have demanded the abolition of the GLC? The Government have rightly responded to this demand through the Conservative manifesto and now in the Queen's Speech, and I note that the transport authority is to be set up very soon.
I welcome the wording in the Queen's Speech and I am glad that 1986 is the date set for the end of the GLC, as that gives time for the research, planning, and appraisal necessary in this complex process. It is essential that whatever follows the GLC gives better value for money to the ratepayers, and that the solution does not simply make us worse off.
I have been sufficiently directly involved in the last two health service reorganisations to be rather sceptical of reorganisations in general. Each new structure seems to have lost out on the financial savings envisaged and ended up as a no more satisfactory. organisation. The abolition of the GLC is a wholly attractive idea and seems to promise a solution to all our local financial problems. This view is not merely simplistic but almost naive, and the public reaction has made clear how little understanding people have of the way in which local government works, and of the immensity of the dismantling task.
Accepting the abolition as a starting point, how does one begin the process? Presumably all functions which can reasonably be transferred to the boroughs will be so transferred. That will still leave many which are 172 strategic functions and not specific to any one borough but cover the whole of London. Examples are flood prevention; strategic planning, including strategic road networks; fire brigade; highways and highway planning powers; and waste disposal. How would we deal with these? Centralise them all under various Government departments? Is this Conservative policy? It never has been. We have always supported the autonomy of local government, and our belief in democracy convinces us of the value of a directly-elected body.
One little appreciated function of the present GLC is its equalisation effect across the boroughs. Personally—and I have spoken here before on this point—I have always felt that the equalisation levy currently paid by Westminster and the City to the so-called poorer boroughs is very unfair, but that is not the equalisation I am speaking about. That is quite a different matter. If functions were transferred to the boroughs how would this be done? Would the matching staff be transferred? Interesting situations could arise. Give Bromley Council Crystal Palace, which serves the whole of London and areas outside London, and it would cost them £1.43 million a year, instead of the £36,500 share that they now produce through the precept. This is an example of what I mean by the equalising effect of the regional authority.
There are, of course, many mechanical problems. The last Secretary of State for the Environment suggested that 9,000 local authority jobs could be shed throughout the country—possibly 4,000 of those from the GLC. That would still leave about 18,000 staff. How would they be dispersed? On a basis pro rata to the rate base? Or pro rata to population? The consequences of that decision could result in a massive rate increase for all boroughs but the two cities of London and Westminster. Those cities might well be faced with funding or building large new offices to house the staff that would be transferred to them.
I would remind your Lordships that the housing function was gradually transferred from the Greater London Council to the boroughs by the Conservative GLC. This process began in 1980 and is almost completed. This was carried out because it was considered that housing was properly the responsibility of the individual boroughs, and that they were in a better position to know and to meet local needs. The transfer of housing was the result of a policy decision, and I believe it was the right decision. It was, however, not based on any attempt to save money. It was realised at the time that it would be an expensive business, and this certainly proved true. When a conscious decision was made to transfer, acceptance of the massive costs that went with the decision was understood. We would be well advised to study that operation and benefit from the experience that was gained then.
The other alternative to staff transfer is the creation of staff redundancies. I shall not go into this, but it would mean costs of tens of millions of pounds. Then, too, there is a very substantial GLC debt. What of this?
Thought must be given to many matters, of which these are just a few. We shall have time in the next three years to consider these matters in detail. I would make no comment on the metropolitan authorities save to remark that I do not consider their situation in 173 any way a parallel to the Greater London Council's, and my comments refer specifically to the Greater London Council.
There is another paragraph in the Queen's Speech which I consider relevant to my comments on the GLC. I refer to the following sentence:Legislation will be brought forward to provide a selective scheme to curb excessive rate increases by individual local authorities".The ratepayers of London will welcome this as an effective and immediate way of controlling the way in which the GLC are throwing away ratepayers' money on projects which are, at best, only marginally within their control. Just this morning I sat on a committee which proposes to pay expenses such as those for baby-sitting incurred by women who wish to participate in the meetings. The solicitor to the Council pointed out in his report that, under the legislation claimed to permit this, it was essential that those being paid should actually be participating in the meeting, not just members of the public attending. I asked the chairman to define how this participation was to be assessed and I was informed that one could participate simply by being present. When asked how these participants differed from any other person present, no answer could be produced. Surely this is simply paying the public to attend a council meeting. If so, it is surely a most unfortunate precedent.
The same committee was considering grants for child care and day care groups and there were recommendations with high priority for 67 projects for Islington, forwarded to the GLC by Islington Borough Council, which preferred to pass the costs on to the regional authority, although they were rightly local authority matters. No other borough in the whole of London has sought to milk that committee of the GLC to this extent.
Lambeth appeared to be the runner-up, with 16 projects in the same high priority classification. Questioning of the Chair revealed that a special consultation meeting had taken place between the leader of the GLC and the leaders of some boroughs and that advice was sought and given as to how boroughs could obtain maximum grants from the GLC. Is it the fact that the colour of the flag flown by Islington council matches Ken's colour that has given Islington such an advantage over all other London boroughs?
More and more expenditure which should be for the borough to fund or refuse is being pushed through the GLC. The Inner London Education Authority is also pushing its projects through the GLC, which is unfair to outer London ratepayers. In view of these abuses, misuses of power, it is indeed not surprising that the public have demanded the abolition of the GLC.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
The public have demanded the abolition of the GLC, my Lords. In my two years in your Lordships' House, I have often mentioned the presently unsatisfactory situation at County Hall and the financial eflects—in particular, the effect on individual domestic ratepayers and on businesses, which are vacating centrally situated offices at an alarming rate. The number of vacant 174 office premises in the City of Westminster now has caused a dramatic fall in the rate base and must cause a rise in the rates for those who remain. I am relieved to see that the Conservative manifesto commitment to stop the rating of empty industrial property was not included in the gracious Speech, as this could have a disastrous effect on inner London. Firms would simply be able to vacate premises and leave them to stand empty without a thought of finding tenants to succeed them. Areas could become desolated. The gracious Speech included the phrase,measures to improve the rating system".I hope these measures will be able to reconcile the need to retain a rate base in the cities and. at the same time, prevent destruction of properties such as roof removal, which I hear is practised elsewhere to remove the rating burden.
There is public anger and frustration now over the GLC and the rate burden. I appreciate this and indeed share this feeling. I must apologise to your Lordships that my fiduciary duty obliges me to leave the House before the end of the debate to take part in today's GLC meeting.
My comments today are intended to set your Lordships thinking: what should be done? How should it be done? Do we need some type of directly-elected voice to speak for London? Do we want more hoards or quangos? Do we aim to centralise many functions? How can we protect the London boroughs from the new problems? Let us beware of any repeat of the non-accountable Thames Water Authority, with its right of unlimited precept, or of a series of mini-ILEAs, as the Inner London Education Authority—I speak here as the parent of a current pupil—is not satisfactory and is not accountable to any direct electorate.
There is time to think. It will take all the time we have to work out the right answers. Your Lordships' House will have the opportunity to discuss these matters fully. I know of the great wisdom in this Chamber that will be of such help in determining these outcomes. But the important thing at the end of all of this is that we must be sure that Londoners do not end up paving even more than they do now.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Lord Banks
My Lords, may I say at the outset that, like other noble Lords, I may have to leave before the end of this debate—in my case to catch a train. If that should happen I hope that I shall be forgiven.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, has raised some very pertinent questions relating to the abolition of the GLC. I am sure that some very careful thought will have to be given to the points she has raised. I hope that she will not mind if I turn now to two different subjects—first, to the level of pensions to which the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, referred in passing when she was making those justified criticisms of the present social security system; and, secondly, to the need for electoral reform, about which my noble friend. Lord Kennet, and the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, have spoken so forcefully. I regret that there is no reference in the gracious Speech to either of these important current issues.
175 During the election there were some alarming reports about the Government's intentions in the field of social security. According to Colin Brown, writing in the Guardian on 25th May,A Cabinet committee have been considering proposals to privatise national insurance".The rest of that report referred only to unemployment benefit, but pensions are very much part of national insurance. However, I take it that the Government have no intention of seeking to privatise the state pension. It is true that the basic state pension is inadequate. The Third Report from the Social Services Committee in another place for the Session 1981–82 issued last October said this:Nobody pretends that the present basic state pension of around 20 per cent. of male average earnings for a single person and 30 per cent. for a married couple is adequate; as the sole source of income—which it is for several million pensioners—it is so inadequate as to need almost automatic supplementation by supplementary benefit.It is true that the earnings-related pension, the second half of the state pension, will effectively supplement the basic pension substantially; but, as the Select Committee said, it will not bring full relief for many years. For those who retired before 1978 the earnings-related pension brings no relief. For those retiring now it brings only marginal relief, and full relief will be enjoyed only after 1998 by those retiring then and subsequently. All pensioners will not be on the full rate until well into the next century.
As I said in this House on 24th June 1975, when we considered the Social Security Benefits Bill of that year, the oldest will be the poorest until all those born before 1933 are dead. It is not surprising that the report of the social services committee in another place says that the future of these pensioners is a major concern.
I take an example which is given in that report: the case of a single male retiring at age 65 in 1982 with an earnings-related addition to his basic pension of £3 per week. At constant prices a similar male retiring in 1998, when today's retirer will be 81, will be receiving an additional component nearer £30. The question is whether society will tolerate such a difference in the pensions being received by those who have retired, particularly when it is the oldest who will be receiving the least. The Select Committee said:We are convinced that some sort of assistance for older and poorer pensioners is inevitable".I should like to ask what the Government intend to do about this serious problem. One solution would be to pay a supplement to all pensioners but to have earnings-related pensions offset against it so that for every £1 of earnings-related pension there would be £1 knocked off the supplement. The full supplement would go to those with no earnings-related pension.
It is clear that to pay a supplement of that kind would be costly because half the amount of the social security budget of £35 billion goes on the elderly so that it would not be cheap to do it. But it would be a reducing liability, one that would gradually work itself off—which is quite the opposite of most of the liabilities which Governments incur. What is more, we should only be paying today's pensioners what we have permitted ourselves to pay tomorrow's pensioners.
176 An alternative course would be to take the age allowance, or part of the age allowance, or the difference between the age allowance and the personal income tax allowance, and turn that into a positive cash credit in exactly the same way as has been done with child benefit. That would bring help to the poorer at no additional cost to the Government; although, of course, it would involve re-distribution. A more drastic solution would be so to increase the basic pension as to phase out the earnings-related pension altogether. But whatever solution is adopted, there is bound to be re-distribution of income. I think that we have to face that. We in the Liberal Party have put forward tax credit proposals, which are one possible way in which this re-distribution might be carried out; and I should like to ask whether in this new Parliament the Government are prepared to look again at the tax credit concept.
I turn to electoral reform. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, made it very clear that the general election demonstrated once again the stark absurdity of our electoral system. The Conservative vote has declined, as we have heard, by nearly 2 per cent. since 1979; and it was actually a lower percentage than when the Conservatives lost the general election in 1964. Yet the Conservative Party have been rewarded with a trebled majority. The Alliance polled nearly as many votes as the Labour Party; yet attained 10 per cent. of Labour's seats. The Government are supported by a minority of those who voted; yet they have a landslide victory. The Government, having less than 50 per cent. of those voting, have, in my opinion, no mandate for anything; yet the result is interpreted as an endorsement of Government policy.
It has been interesting—if exasperating—to listen to arguments advanced in support of the present electoral system even in the face of these results. The Prime Minister has said that we cannot have proportional representation because we need clear and decisive government. Surely, to take one example, over the years West Germany, with proportional representation, has had clear and decisive government. Leaving that on one side, what the Prime Minister is saying is that democracy can be permitted only if it produces a certain end. If it does not or if it is thought that it will not—and I think that is very important—the system must be distorted until it is thought that it will. In other words, the will of the people is not the first priority. Mr. Hattersley has said to the Alliance. "Don't complain about the rules after the game!" But of course we have protested about the rules before every election for years. We do not challenge the validity of the general election result; we are pointing out how grotesquely unrepresentative it is and asking for reform before the next election.
Another argument which is addressed to the Alliance is this. "Labour managed to emerge under the present system. Why can't you?" But of course Labour had the benefit of concentrated support in particular areas. The electoral handicap under which the Alliance suffers is that it draws its votes evenly throughout the country and among different classes. That is why, with almost equal votes, there is such a discrepancy today between the numbers of seats of the Labour Party and of the Alliance. But why should concentration of support be considered a virtue to be 177 rewarded? Surely, if there is any virtue in the distribution of votes it is to be found in securing support evenly from all different classes. Then, Mr. Norman Tebbit said that proportional representation means coalition and coalition would not be good. I am bound to ask, "Who is Norman Tebbit to decide when the will of the people must be thwarted for the sake of what Mr. Tebbit considers to be the general good?" Finally, there is the hoary old fiction that people are choosing an individual to represent them in their own constituency and are voting for the man rather than the party. Except in a handful of constituencies, it is clear that people are voting for national parties and national leaders, and are influenced overwhelmingly by the national campaign. Flow absurd, then, that their preferences between those parties should be so completely distorted!
I heard the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor say on television the day after polling day that nobody has said what system of proportional representation they wanted. That may well have been true of that particular programme; but I am quite sure that the noble and learned Lord is fully aware that we on these Benches have argued for years for the single transferable vote this time and that that was the system to which the Alliance was committed in its manifesto. But of course we would consider carefully any alternative proposals which any Government thought fit to put forward. At the very least, in our view, the Government should hold a referendum to test the opinion of the electorate on the need for change, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, has said. Although the plight of today's pensioners and the unsatisfactory nature of our present electoral system are not mentioned in the gracious Speech, I hope that they will not be the subject of Government neglect in the months ahead.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Lord Pitt of Hampstead
My Lords, I want to refer briefly to five items in the gracious Speech. The first is the statement that:Legislation will be brought forward to provide a selective scheme to curb excessive rate increases by individual local authorities, and to provide a general power, to be used if necessary, for the limitation of rate increases for all authorities".I notice that the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, welcomed that. I merely want to say this. Rates was an issue during the whole of the last Parliament. In fact, it seems destined to be an issue again in this Parliament. But the problem of local government finances is not just an issue of rates. It is a major constitutional issue. The right to make decisions on levels of taxation goes hand in hand with the right to fix spending levels. You cannot have the one without the other. So curbing the one means curbing the other. It means taking away from local people the right to decide how many policemen or firemen they want in their area, the standard of education in their schools, how many teachers and how many home helps they wish to employ. These are all local issues and. if they have to decide on those issues, they must decide on how to pay for them.
What is required is not less democracy for local government. but more. What is required is an extension of the powers of local authorities over local 178 taxation. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, has heard me on more than one occasion in County Hall say that what we need is a local income tax, and I do not believe that you necessarily have to abolish the rates in order to have local income tax. I believe that local authorities can have both and they should be able to levy both.
Moreover—and this is my real criticism of the Government—this Government have shown a lamentable unwillingness to shoulder their share of local government expenditure. I was looking at the percentage of relevant expenditure met by the rate support grant over the last few years. It was 59.1 per cent. in 1981–82, it was 56.1 per cent. in 1982–83, and it is proposed that it shall be 52.1 per cent. in 1983–84. In other words, there has been a steady reduction in the willingness of central Government to make their contribution to the cost of local expenditure.
Moreover, central Government have taken power to penalise heavy spenders. What does this power involve? It involves withdrawing central Government contributions. What does that mean? It means increasing the rate burden. I live in Hampstead and I pay a lot more rates than I ought to pay, simply because central Government have steadily reduced the percentage of their contribution to local government expenditure. They have proceeded to penalise the Greater London Council for overspending, and I have to pay for it. They have penalised the Inner London Education Authority for overspending, and I have to pay for it. They have penalised Camden council for overspending, and I have to pay for it. Some noble Lords may think that that is fair. I think it is unjust. There was an article in the Guardian yesterday headed "Hasty plans which ratepayers could repent at leisure". I think it will repay careful reading.
The second issue on which I intend to comment is the proposal to abolish the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils. I am laughing, because I was at County Hall in 1963 and I was then a member of the London County Council. We tried very hard to persuade the then Conservative Government not to establish the Greater London Council. But there was this great argument that we needed an overriding authority which could deal with problems that affect London as a whole: there was no such authority and one needed to be established.
I do not know to what extent the situation has changed. According to the popular press, what has happened is that the Government are planning to introduce legislation which will reduce Ken Livingstone down to size. I cannot really believe that any Government would be contemplating legislation, merely in order to "do in the eye" somebody who is temporarily leading an authority. After all, leaders come and go and it would seem to be a very absurd base on which to legislate.
In 1963 I came to a conclusion as to the reasons for the abolition of the London County Council and the establishment of the Greater London Council. The conclusion to which I came then was that the Tories assessed that they could not win the London County Council and therefore decided to abolish it. The trouble now is that they have discovered that the 179 authority which they created is one that they cannot always win, so they are now proposing to abolish that, too. In fact, I suspect that they formed the same opinion of the metropolitan county councils in 1983 as they formed of the London County Council in 1963, and are therefore adopting the same solution. I sincerely hope that the Government will give a lot of thought before they embark on this course.
The next sentence to which I want to refer states:Legislation will be introduced to extend the right of certain public sector and other tenants to buy their homes.The funny thing is that that is the only reference to housing in the gracious Speech, but it could hardly be described as a policy for coping with the severe housing crisis which faces this country. In 1977 the Government's housing policy review concluded that we needed to build 300,000 houses every year to meet the housing shortage which then existed and to provide for new households. The year1977 was the last year in which we built 300,000 houses. We built 304,000 in that year; in 1978 we built 280,000; in 1979 we built 244,000; in 1980 we built 234,000; in 1981 we built 198,000, and in 1982 we built 171,000. In other words, we have an accumulated deficit of 322,000 houses, if we are to meet the target that we set in 1977.
But that is not all. Nearly 14,000 households in England and Wales applied to local authorities in the year which ended in April 1982, under the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act. Moreover, because of the loophole created by the amendment to that Act, which I am happy to say I opposed in this House, there are many authorities that are telling people that they have made themselves intentionally homeless and are refusing to rehouse them. Furthermore, nearly one-quarter of the housing stock in England and Wales is in a bad condition. There are 1.2 million dwellings which have been declared unfit for human habitation: 1.1 million dwellings, both fit and unfit, require repairs costing over £7,000, with 300,000 of those requiring repairs costing more than £14,000, and more than 4.1 million dwellings require repairs costing £2,500. Nearly 1 million dwellings lack one or more of the basic amenities—that is, bath or inside toilet—and 500,000 lack both a bath and an inside toilet. What is required is not just a gimmick but a serious housing policy. We require another Harold Macmillan. I hope that the new Minister for Housing will turn out to be another Harold Macmillan.
I was glad that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London commented on the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill: it saves me having to make much of a comment upon it. I want to make just one point. If in fact it is decided that the police are to be given additional powers, every effort must be made to improve police discipline and, so far as possible, to prevent the police from abusing those powers. We all know that there is plenty of evidence that the police abuse the powers they now have. I hope that the noble Lord. Lord Elton, will tell his right honourable friend, who happens to be a friend of mine for whom I have the very highest regard, that he ought to go through the Bill with a fine toothcomb and remove all the obnoxious elements contained in it. If, as I said earlier, more powers must in the final analysis be given to the police, the question of police discipline and an 180 improvement in the complaints procedure will become of the utmost importance. I hope that the noble Lord will take back that message to his right honourable friend.
Finally, I want to deal with another issue in the gracious Speech:Further action will be taken to ensure that patients receive the best value for the money spent on the National Health Service".On more than one occasion many noble Lords have heard me raise the question of the need to finance certain services centrally. Today I shall take just a couple of minutes to illustrate that point. I will use as my reference the renal service. I have strong personal reasons for using the renal service as my illustration. Of 32 countries which were surveyed last year, the United Kingdom was seventeenth in the number of patients per million treated by dialysis. The number of centres per million averaged 2.8 for all 32 countries. The United Kingdom has 1.1 centres per million—in other words, less than half the average. It is difficult to say which patients are left out, but, at a guess, the over fifties will probably find that treatment is difficult to obtain. I am sure that people like me and most of your Lordships will not receive such treatment, because we are over 65.
But that is not all. Nowadays there is need for a great deal of short-term renal support for patients. Many of the new drugs and many of the new procedures bring on acute renal crisis. The anti-tumour drugs, upon which great hope is placed in dealing with cancer, tend to bring on acute renal crisis. Much of the great, adventurous surgery, in particular vascular surgery, which is carried out today has as a side effect the production of acute renal failure. That being so, the work of any renal unit is very much increased. What is worse, there is need for a great deal of research into the prevention of chronic renal failure. Therefore, in addition to the need to double the number of units which we now have, there is need for the allocation of specific funds for research into the prevention of chronic renal failure. I have gone into this problem in detail in order to illustrate the point I am making.
This particular service cannot be funded by the district. It needs either central funding or, at the very least, regional funding. I hope that the Government will take this matter on board. It is important not only that we get value for money in terms of the services that we render to patients—I am all in favour of that—but that we should allocate the funds in a way which will enable us to provide the maximum good for patients.
This Parliament promises to be a very exciting one. A great deal will depend upon the way in which this House operates. I hope that all of us will prove worthy of the challenge.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, when the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor opened our debate this afternoon, he referred to the recent general election and pointed out, as one possible interpretation of the results, that it might lead to the substitution for the Labour Party of the Alliance as the more formidable opposition. If this were to happen—and I agree that this is a possible interpretation of those results—I 181 could only comment that it will not happen if the Alliance make a change in our electoral system the principal theme of their political activity: first because I believe that, whatever may be said in answer to public opinion polls, there is an enormous residual preference for the single member constituency system. Secondly, though it is possible—as the noble Lord, Lord Banks, did—to point to West Germany as a country where instability has not been the consequence of one form of proportional representation, it is equally easy to point to the unfortunate position in which our friends in Italy find themselves today, where another general election has produced another probably unmanageable Parliament. If the Alliance is to progress as it hopes, it will do so by showing that it has real answers to the real problems—not the institutional framework but the real problems, economic and social, (and today we are concerned with social issues)—with which the country finds itself faced.
In this debate, one very important such issue has been raised by my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes. It seems to me that everything she said was more than borne out by the speech of the noble Lord. Lord Pitt of Hampstead, who revealed that, unsatisfied even with the resources available for exploitation by the three extravagant authorities within whose area he finds himself, he is willing, rather than curb their extravagance, to give them yet further sources of revenue. If anything could have persuaded me how right Her Majesty's Government would be to abolish the Greater London Council, the speech of the noble Lord. Lord Pitt of Hampstead, has made further convincing unnecessary.
I should like to talk about a related though different subject—the future of our educational system. Education has been referred to in the gracious Speech in rather quiet and modest terms—the kind of thing which the noble Lord. Lord Ogmore, talked about in his welcome speech: welcome not only for its brevity but also for its content. But there are issues, beyond parental choice and minor improvements here and there in the system, which I believe will have to be faced now that we have a Government with a long period ahead of them in which to face those issues. If, of course, the election had gone the other way, the position would have been very different.
That is why, unfortunately from some points of view, education did not figure much in the election debate, because it was perfectly evident that, supposing we had had a Labour Government, its defence policy would have been of such a kind that the only educational problem would have been the number of hours of compulsory Russian taught in schools. But now we can look seriously at education—and there is general agreement (by no means on only one side of the House) that there must be a large and steady improvement in our education system, not only because we should be able to take pride in it ourselves but because, as my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor reminded us, it is inseparably connected with our economic recovery.
There are here issues of principle which are more important in the end than the question of parental choice, because parental choice assumes that parents 182 will choose between institutions of equal merit according to the particular dispositions of their own children. But, if the schools are of unequal merit or are of no merit, then parental choice is not of great assistance. Nor do I believe that parental choice can in itself exercise the necessary pressure for some forms of improvement, if only because the children who may most require an improved or different form of schooling may, well come from homes where parents are less exercised on these matters than some others would be.
So we are faced with a curious situation in which there are two elements directly and primarily concerned with education. One is the individual child and the individual children for whom we wish to see provided the best education that is within our resources—and the children must come first in any education policy. And. although I realise that they do not like it, "children" in this case embraces also those in further and higher education. Secondly, we have the providers of that education on the ground; that is to say, the teaching profession. It is a profession organised into a number of trade unions and other organisations which seem to me to have been failing the nation by their lack of response to some of the problems that we face and by their persistent belief that only increasing expenditure will enable them properly to fulfil the task the nation expects of them.
We have a nation that requires a higher standard of education; we have the children who deserve it; we have the teaching profession, which I believe requires better leadership than it has; and we have also—and this is where what I have to say links up with the remarks of my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes—the local authorities which are responsible under the law for the provision of education. One difficulty that faces Her Majesty's Government in rethinking our education provision is that local authorities (or some of them) have not shown themselves to be up to the demands which should now be made upon them.
We are told, and rightly, that, when the GLC is abolished, some consequential arrangements will have to be made about education for inner London because the present ILEA is constituted on the basis of the existence of a GLC. But, as my noble friend said about the GLC, it is equally important that proper thought is given to the way in which education for the children of our capital city can be best provided. I do not see that we can simply, in the name of local autonomy and because of the persistence in the majority party in the present ILEA of views about education which I believe are contrary to the interests of the children and the interests of the nation alike, acquiesce in some of the disadvantages which children in London have as against children in other local education authorities.
Since I do not wish this to be thought of as merely a party point, it is my view that a number of Conservative councils in the country—although less guilty in performance and though not commited to the ideological absurdities of the majority in ILEA—have also not fully realised their responsibilities. This is perhaps more through indifference or lack of commitment than through commitment to the wrong things; one can suffer as much from apathy as from enthusiasm.
§ Lord Mishcon
My. Lords, I hope that the noble Lord. Lord Beloff, will forgive me for interrupting such an excellent speech, but will he. as a great authority on politics, inform the House why it is that it is an absurdity for the electors of London to have elected the ILEA and the GLC to carry out their policies, whereas it is so wise of the electorate to have elected so recently his own Government?
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, I believe that would take me fairly far from the substance of my speech. I will just point out that the ILEA itself is not directly elected: that—as the noble Lord very well knows—the number of those who vote in local elections is considerably less than those who vote in national elections; and that, although education ought perhaps to be at the forefront of voters' minds in local elections, it is not necessarily always so. I am not at all sure that we might not be thinking eventually—and here I am thinking dangerous thoughts, because, although the CPRS may have gone, dangerous thoughts will go on—about some form of directly-elected local school boards on the American model. If we must insist upon some form of local autonomy, that might be better than entrusting it to bodies which have general purposes.
So far as one can see, the Government—understandably at this early stage—are proceeding by indirection. by the offer of finance to assist local authorities with particular programmes to which the Government attach importance on national grounds. It is interesting and revealing that both the local authorities and the teaching profession are very unenthusiastic about this, although, for someone looking at this from the point of view of the national interest, it would seem a not unreasonable measure by any Government which had, after all, the primary responsibility for seeing that the education provision matched the national need.
I should like, in conclusion, to say only that the real driving force of what I am trying to put before this House is that we have, in the educational world at any rate, if not in other aspects of our affairs, to reconsider some fundamental issues about the relationship between central and local responsibilities, and that these cannot merely be passed off as a by-product of arguments about extravagence or the lack of it, about more or less expenditure. These are fundamental institutional questions, and to my mind, if I may say so, of more immediate relevance to more people than some of the institutional questions which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, asked us to address ourselves to.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Lord Allen of Abbeydale
My Lords, like other speakers, I have a considerable sympathy with the noble Lord. Lord Elton, in having to answer so wide-ranging a debate; but, even so, I propose to extend its scope just a little bit further by saying that it is a matter of some regret to me, even if no great surprise, that so far I have heard nothing from official quarters of possible changes in the law relating to compensation for personal injuries. It would obviously be quite inappropriate for me this evening to attempt to tackle this vast subject in any comprehensive way, but I should like to touch on one or two topics where the 184 Government in the past have made pronouncements which have left some of us a little puzzled and perhaps a little unhappy. They are topics which although different in character all come within the general scope of injuries suffered by individuals.
The trouble is that the various problems dealt with in the report of the Royal Commission on this subject will not just go away and solve themselves of their own accord. I would like first to say just a word about industrial injuries. In 1980 the Government issued a discussion document about possible amendments to the Industrial Injuries Scheme, and in the following year they followed that up by issuing a White Paper. There could be differences of view about some of the proposals in that White Paper, but it had the great merit of proposing some shifting in the distribution of resources from the more trivial cases to the more serious cases, and in a part of the White Paper flecked with green it proposed a most desirable amendment of the Law Reform (Personal Injuries) Act 1948 so as to end duplication between social security payments and damages paid in compensation.
The White Paper said that the proposals would be the subject of a Bill to be introduced as soon as possible, and that the idea was to implement the main scheme by a target date of 1984. Well, here we are within sight, legislatively speaking, of 1984. Where is the proposed Bill? I wonder what has happened and what the prospects are.
I should like next to refer to quite a different subject. That is the possibility of introducing a special allowance in respect of severely handicapped children. When the noble Lord. Lord Trefgarne, was defending with his customary skill what I really believe was the indefensible decision to do nothing about the Vaccine Damage Payments Act—a topic to which I hope we shall return one day—he indicated that as resources permitted the Government saw the way forward as providing benefit for handicapped people in general, however the handicap was caused. The reference is to column 364 of Hansard of 27th January last. Since then, alas, we have heard no more.
As Chairman of Mencap—and I must take this first opportunity of thanking the Government for their recent grant towards Mencap for the next three years—as well as a member of the Royal Commission. I have been much impressed by the burdens put on a family with a severely handicapped child. The whole pattern of life of the family can be gravely affected in ways about which money can do nothing, but there is almost always extra expense too. There are perhaps 100,000 children in the country with really severe handicap. And, in the light of research by York University, the Royal Commission was convinced that there was a case for an extra allowance of £4 a week at 1977 prices. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor was good enough to volunteer on 1st December last (col. 1265) that the updated equivalent then would be about £7.50 a week, or £30 million a year. It is not a vast sum to meet a real need compared with the figures for the social security budget as a whole, referred to by the noble and learned Lord in his opening speech today. One would like to know whether there are any real prospects of the resources referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, being made available in the foreseeable future. Action would 185 be even more acceptable than words of comfort and encouragement.
Then, just one word about one aspect of product-liability. The Government some time ago took a decision to allow the defence by companies of development risks in tort actions brought against them for negligence. This was a decision which ran contrary to the findings of the Law Commissions, the Royal Commission, and the Council of Europe Convention, and also a draft EEC Directive in the form it was in when we last debated it. It is a decision which is particularly relevant in regard to drugs. It would mean, if implemented, that if, notwithstanding all the precautions about new drugs, there was now another thalidomide tragedy, the individual would have precious little prospect of bringing a successful action against the manufacturers, and it would be the individual citizen who would be left to carry the risks.
As I understand it, the West Germans legislated some time ago to put the onus on the drug companies, but when this issue was last raised in this House, almost exactly two years ago, it appeared that our Government was trying to persuade the other EEC countries to come into line with us and to abandon the West German approach. It was not a very promising prospect it seemed to me. I realise that this is a topic on which the European Parliament has been expressing views, but I wonder what is the present state of play. It really would be undesirable if in this respect we ended up out of step with the rest of Europe.
Then, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is to wind up, I cannot refrain from raising very briefly one point directly affecting the Home Office. The criminal injuries compensation scheme was introduced—I think I am right—in 1964 on an experimental basis. It is now nearly 20 years and several millions of pounds later but there is still no sign of putting the scheme on a statutory basis. Are we really to go through yet another Session without seeing a long overdue Bill dealing with this scheme and giving it a statutory position?
Finally, I come to road traffic accidents. This is an area where the defects of the present system of tort actions are especially apparent: that is, the delays, the cost, the difficulty of getting reliable witnesses, and so forth. It is an area where the Royal Commission plumped for a "no-fault" type of scheme. I am a little puzzled on what are the Government's views. I have read again such exchanges as there have been in Parliament, and although the Government have certainly not said "yes", they have not really said "no", either.
I have seen letters emanating from official quarters which suggest it would be a mistake to pick out one particular group of victims for compensation. But that is an argument which, it seems to me overlooks two facts. First, that Parliament has long recognised the unique feature of motor vehicle injury by requiring compulsory insurance against third party risks; and, secondly, that we already pick out the victims of work accidents for a special "no-fault" scheme. I have also seen various ingenious attempts by lawyers to think up possible anomalies which could arise under a "no-fault" scheme for traffic accidents; but that is a rather dangerous game to play. If there were a contest on which scheme involves the greater risk of anomalies, the present tort scheme would win hands down.
186 I have had talks with quite a number of lawyers, not only those on the Royal Commission, who think there is a strong case for change. I heard with great interest what a leading silk, Mr. Robert Alexander, had to say on a recent television programme. He has no objection to my referring to his remarks. He said that it was his view that the present rules for resolving disputes about traffic accidents were far from satisfactory and that he was attracted to the idea of avoiding this gladiatorial process by following the route of no-fault liability. It was only people who had been involved, he said, who realised the uncertainty, the emotional energy and the anxiety which went into litigation.
There is no doubt that there is considerable disquiet among those who have been affected by the failure to tackle some of the problems on which I have touched. The experience of the National Association of Compensation Claimants shows that there is a very large number of ordinary and rather inarticulate people who are baffled and frustrated. I receive a fairly steady stream of heart-rending letters from individuals who, at great personal cost, have discovered the difficulties of the present laws.
I have no doubt that in time changes will come. The present system simply cannot be defended for ever. We cannot go on ignoring what has been happening in other parts of the world. Whether progress of any kind will be made in this Session remains to be seen. I recognise the problems of Whitehall in that the issues straddle a number of departments and that there is no one department in overall lead. The trouble is that as time goes on too many members of the community are finding out for themselves what is wrong with the present system. Stress, misery, frustration and hardship are being experienced on too great a scale for comfort in the compassionate society on which we pride ourselves.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, after having heard the most effective speech of the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, I wonder whether I have made a mistake. I have decided not to pursue the two points that in my 12 minutes I intended to make when I asked for my name to be added to the list because at the end of the day this is a debating Chamber. I think the effectiveness of Parliament is by debate; and I feel that there were one or two points which, if allowed to go without some kind of antidote, would do more damage in the long term. Therefore, I hope that in presuming to do just that I am doing the right thing.
What gave me the most confidence that the gracious Speech was on the right lines was the speech made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones. In my estimation he is one of the most astute and experienced parliamentarians in either House. What gave me confidence was that he could find nothing in the gracious Speech to be critical about. He went on to other things, and that is what I want to come to now. I know that if there had been any fundamental weakness in the gracious Speech that ought to be aired he would have seen it. He would have seized upon it; and, with that great skill of his, it would have been in the headlines. He did not do that because there was no weakness there.
187 But what he did do was what he accused the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor of doing. He made very friendly comments on the introductory speech of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor but said that he was fighting the next election. He said that the noble and learned Lord did not speak on the gracious Speech. I have a feeling that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, was fighting the arguments which in strict parliamentary terms have not yet started. As is always the case with him, he was so effective and persuasive that it worries me when I just as genuinely have a different view of what might happen.
§ Lord Elwyn-Jones
My Lords, I would not be so vain as to invite the noble Lord to read my speech tomorrow; but if he does me the honour of doing so he will see that I pointed out what I alleged to be were serious omissions from the gracious Speech. There is the issue of the condition of prisons and, above all, that of unemployment. I rashly contended that it indicated the Government had no policy for unemployment. It is very dangerous on the noble Lord's part to invite such an intervention as this because the House listened patiently to me then for long enough.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
But, my Lords, we know the noble and learned Lord well enough to know that of course he had an alibi up his sleeve. That is why I referred to him as being experienced and astute. But the main burden of the 22 minutes that he took, and which were very effective, had nothing whatever to do with the gracious Speech but had a lot to do with what he expected would be the problems we would be debating in the future. There is no doubt about that.
What did the noble and learned Lord say? He was very effective in pointing out the increase in crime, the dangers of it and the awful consequences that could flow from it if nothing is done. That was right, and that is where we are all agreed. But then he went on to imply that new Members in another place were remiss in suggesting that something new and slightly more stern should be applied. Indeed, when he referred to that he called it "putting the clock back". I believe those were the words he used. However, if that kind of appeal is suggesting that the options that have been used over the past five or 10 years—which I suppose compared with what he had in mind when he commented on the new Members of the other place—are the soft options, can he or anyone say that they have produced much success?
We do not yet know What the stern measures will be; but when the alternative to possible stern measures has been in operation we have seen the terrific climb in the crime figures to which the noble and learned Lord so eloquently referred. I believe that we must be prepared to face up to the great menace which is engulfing not only this country but the whole of the Western world. When we are thinking of some way to combat it we should not feel we must be loyal to past methods when it is clear that they have not produced the answer. I am rather worried by the fact that the noble and learned Lord seemed to give the impression that in combating crime we must go down the same road as we have gone down in recent years. The noble and learned Lord's 188 eloquence has great appeal, but we need to meet the problem with something more effective and practical when we attempt to put legislation on to the statute book to deal with it.
I always seem to get on the wrong side of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, but I really am one of his greatest admirers. I felt that he fell a little below his own level. It may well have been because he feels strongly about the issue, and let me say how much I admire him for feeling strongly. For example, in talking about capital punishment he said that we knew that Timothy Evans was innocent. We do not. What we know is that had we at the time of the trial known of the obscenities and horrible things that had happened during the Christie occupancy of the same house, it is doubtful whether Timothy Evans would have had to face capital punishment. But, if one reads the evidence, there is no question of being able to say with the certainty that the noble and learned Lord did that Timothy Evans was innocent. I use that to say that I do not think that we have to—
§ Lord Allen of Abbeydale
My Lords, I wonder whether I might interrupt for one moment to remind the noble Lord that there was a judicial inquiry by a judge after it was all over. I am not sure whether he is aware of the findings in that inquiry.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, I think that the findings of that inquiry were that justice had not been done, but not that Timothy Evans, on the evidence that came before the original trial, had been shown to be not guilty.
§ Lord Allen of Abbeydale
My Lords. I do not want to pursue this, but in fact the findings went further than that. Noble Lords may recall that a posthumous free pardon was granted to Timothy Evans.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, I thought I had met that point. Absolutely. If the evidence that came out later in the following trials had been there for the original trial, there is little doubt that he would not have been found guilty in those terms. There is no doubt about that. All I am saying is that it is not in accordance with the evidence that existed then to use that in an argument to state positively that we ought never to consider the possible reintroduction of capital punishment for any grade of crime in any way. As I have said, I believe that we ought to approach it in a more open-minded fashion.
§ Lord Ferrier
My Lords, I hesitate to step in where angels fear to tread, but I think I am right in saying that the issue of capital punishment was not mentioned in the gracious Speech at all.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, if my noble friend will allow me, that is precisely what I said. I said that the matters that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, spoke on so eloquently and so effectively had nothing whatever to do with it. If that had been in the gracious Speech he would have been on to it like a shot. This issue is anticipating a debate that is to come. It is a debate that we shall have to face up to. I merely want to suggest that when we come to approach it we 189 approach it in the light of all the evidence, and not feeling loyalty to the past out of sheer loyalty to the past. I know that the noble and learned Lord would be the first to accept that proposition.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Banks, said that our electoral system was unfair and should be reformed. That again is not a matter that was in the gracious Speech, and there again it is preparing the ground for later arguments. If you can get the atmosphere right before you start producing your evidence, it helps people to accept your version of the evidence. I wish to ask just this one question. When people talk about being fair or unfair, fair to whom? Have we to approach the issue on the basis of being fair to a self-appointed group who claim to be—and perhaps are—a party, or of being fair to the nation? I feel that it is the duty of people in either House of Parliament to give priority to being fair to the nation and to have a system which will give the nation its best chance to get the best share of the good things that are going in the world.
I should like to remind your Lordships of what would have happened in the last election had we had either of the systems being recommended by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, and the noble Lord, Lord Banks: we should have had roughly 300 Conservative Members, 170 Lahour and 160 Alliance. What happened was in the best interests of the country: within 24 hours of the last count the world—our friends and possible business associates everywhere—knew who would be the members of the Cabinet, who would be setting the general climate in which things would have to work. Within 24 hours they knew the manifesto upon which any future legislation would be based. For them to know who they would be dealing with and the manifesto on which policies would be based cleared away any uncertainties. What was preventing investment in the country on the scale available in the world were the uncertainties. In 24 hours they had been removed.
If the system recommended by the noble Lords had been in operation, resulting in the figures that I have given as to possible membership, I venture to suggest it would have taken weeks for people to decide who would coalesce with whom and which personality should have what post in the Government to bring about a situation that was considered fair to deal with legislation upon which the country's climate would eventually depend. I believe that it would have perpetuated an uncertainty which in economic terms would have been very dangerous indeed for this country in trying to get out of its economic problems, involving high unemployment and all that goes with it.
At the moment there are hundreds of millions of pounds waiting to be invested in any country that has the protection of the Common Market tariff barriers. Foreign investors prefer this country in many instances because they understand the language and are impressed with our stability, if you like, part of which flows from our electoral system. If the people wishing to invest still did not know with whom they would be dealing, the policies they would have to counteract and so on, I believe that our possible recovery would have been slowed down to a truly dangerous point. On the evidence of the last election, had we been encumbered with proportional voting, which would have meant 190 coalitions, negotiations, bargaining for position and all the things that go with it, I doubt whether we should have had the credibility, or the creditability that we need, to attract the investment which is the only thing which can get us out of our problems.
I truly believe that some of the speeches that we have heard today on the gracious Speech have been concerned with preparing the way to bring about changes without any real thought, in order to serve some kind of self-interest, and so some balance must be struck. It is quite likely that the SDP—and the Alliance—may grow to be the possible alternative Government. If the SDP wants that, and if in order to maintain a healthy system we get that, the SDP ought to do it in exactly the same way as the Labour Party did it with the Liberal Party in the 1920s. The Labour Party then proved to have more effective policies and leadership, and so it replaced the Liberals. If the SDP proves that it has greater efficiency and greater stability to offer than the present Labour Party, it will replace Labour.
If the time comes when the Conservative Party, or any other party, under any other title produces policies that are as out of touch regarding the good of the country and what the people want, as those of the Labour Party in the last election, then the Conservative Party—if it ever does that—also deserves to be overtaken by somebody else. In the meantime when we consider whether or not we do such things, let us forget our past loyalties and past feelings. We are starting a new world, where we are facing new problems, and I believe that we must all pool our thinking to try to get the right answer.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
My Lords, I am awfully pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, is going to put aside his own prejudices and start again. This will be very nice for all of us, because we are very used to those prejudices, we know them very well, we have heard them very often. The noble Lord told the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, that he was not going to follow him because he was going to make a political speech in relation to the debate. He is perfectly entitled to do so, but I find political debate of this kind extremely boring and I am not going to reply in that way.
However, I must make one political point. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff (who I notice is not in his seat) said that it would be terrible for us if in an election we obtained the same kind of result as the Italians are experiencing from proportional representation. He seemed to forget that the majority of the voters of this country, who voted against the Tory Government, think that our election was a terrible disaster, too. So you pays your money and you takes your choice. However, I am not going to enter into an argument on proportional representation; we are going to have a great deal of this. A very careful statement was made earlier by my noble friend, and a number of much less careful criticisms were made by the noble Lord opposite. That is my opinion, though not necessarily everyone else's; but I am not going on with the point.
It seems to me that the arrival of a Government with a huge majority, under whatever system it is obtained, is an occasion which gives us the right to expect some 191 brave and imaginative action in one or two areas which do not usually get it. Neither of the points that I have in mind got into the Queen's Speech, but that is not a reason for not talking about them. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, very properly pointed out, omissions from the gracious Speech are a matter of interest. It seems to me that the Government are steeling themselves to be beastly to us in many ways which they think essential, and I am sure that they will, alas! have the courage to back their own convictions, however wrong and however unpopular. Yet I want them to pluck up their courage in a positive way, and not only in a negative way. I want them bravely to make two major changes in two very different fields in which difficult problems have been with us for a long time and will not go away without major changes.
The first one concerns the prisons. The noble and learned Lord dealt with the matter very well, and additional thought was given to it by my noble friend Lord Hunt. Therefore I shall deal with it cursorily, bearing in mind also that the noble Lord who is to reply to the debate knows as well as I do all the arguments for drastic action, and so it would be boring to go into them in too much detail.
Basically, the noble Lord will not dispute the case put up by the noble and learned Lord that the present situation, which is one of crisis, is not really tolerable, and he will not dispute the comments of his own Chief Inspector. I shall quote one comment of the Chief Inspector that the noble Lord did not quote. It is that,By no stretch of the imagination can these conditions be regarded as humane or proper. They are unacceptable. They certainly fall short of the standards set by Rule 5.3 of the European Standard Minimum Rules Indeed, we doubt if this standard can be said to have been reached in any of our local prisons".The Chief Inspector pointed out that the building programme cannot help overcrowding for another four years or so, and he stated:The net result is therefore likely to be a worsening of overcrowding".Nor will the Minister dispute the fact that each night there are some 400 prisoners kept in police cells in conditions which are very hard to defend.
I do not think I am saying anything that the Minister does not know, and I do not think that I am expressing sentiments with which in general he does not agree. The point is that we have a situation which is unacceptable. We believe that it can be dealt with without legislation, and we believe that it should be dealt with without legislation. That is the point I wish to make, and I think that I can make it fairly quickly.
The best and simplest way of reducing the prison population is to have shorter sentences. On the whole, we have practically the longest sentences in Europe, and it is reckoned that if in England and Wales we could reduce the average length of sentences to those in Scotland, we should halve the prison population in a year or two. It is a very interesting point, not usually known. Our noble Leader the late Home Secretary tried very hard to do this, with the help of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice, and in 1980 he met with some success. But that was swamped by about 4,000 more prison sentences than previously, and the situation has since 192 in no way improved. So I think that the new Home Secretary, whom I warmly welcome to his exacting task, should try again and should promise that if the courts will undertake to reduce all sentences by a stated amount—10 per cent., 20 per cent., or whatever is thought to be the right amount—for a year, he will monitor the effect carefully and not go on with the scheme if it produces unacceptable results. I do not believe that it would, and I do not believe that the courts would refuse to co-operate in a once-for-all effort to end this blot on our democracy.
Secondly, last year's Criminal Justice Act gave the Home Secretary powers of executive release by which he could release certain categories of non-violent offender up to six months early. His Minister of State told us that it would be used "only as a last resort". If all non-violent prisoners serving under three years were given three months' remission, not six months, there could be a reduction in the prison population of about 3,000. It seems to me that a prolonged and unacceptable situation, which we now have, can properly be regarded as a last resort, and I hope very much that we shall hear something about this matter, if not today, within quite a short time.
I come now to the third point, about which my noble friend Lord Hunt also spoke. The Criminal Justice Act also empowers the Home Secretary to reduce the 12-month minimum period before parole can be granted. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, has told us in this House that the Government were persuaded of the desirability of doing this if it were possible, and the usual prolonged consultations are taking place. I do not want to go into too much detail, but one of the objections to such action is based on grounds of expenditure. However the expenditure is very largely estimated to relate to increasing the number of prison and probation officers, which is rather desirable. It is about £2¼million net.
The possible saving of about £100 per head per night, which the prison service pays to the police for 400 men at the moment—sometimes more, sometimes fewer—spread over a year would amount to an astronomical figure. A big saving is possible here. None of these things requires legislation. The noble Viscount who was Home Secretary had the wisdom to make these things potentially available in the last Act. The time has therefore come when some action should be taken. That action must be positive and immediate. This area has been in crisis for the whole of the period in which the Government have been in office and for a long time before.
I should also like to say a few words about capital punishment although it does not appear, as has been pointed out, in the gracious Speech. Whatever the Prison Officers' Association may say, there is no doubt that capital punishment would have a very disturbing effect on senior management throughout the prisons. I do not think that anyone, including, I believe, the Home Office, doubts this. Its reintroduction would affect morale very badly. I hope therefore that there will be a debate in this House before a vote is taken in another place.
The other subject—I can deal with it quickly—is very different. I am asking for a major increase in the financing of the arts so that the endless diversion of 193 artistic endeavour from producing the best to producing the least expensive is at last brought to an end. The arguments are overwhelming, the cost is very small and the ensuing advantages to our society are immeasurably greater than any of the costs involved. Positive encouragement of this kind would be popular. I need not say much about this. It does not feature in the Queen's Speech. No one else has referred to it, but it is an important part of home affairs.
I should like merely to point out that each year 50 million ordinary citizens go to our galleries and museums and 40 million to our historic houses—figures that compare favourably with the 22 million who attend football matches. The arts enrich our lives. As leisure increases, as it is bound to do through unemployment and early retirement, the arts will become more important than ever. I shall not elaborate further today. The details of the argument are set out with irresistible clarity in Sir Claus Moser's excellent Robbins lecture of last year, "The Arts in a Cold Climate" on which I have drawn freely today.
We spend £8 per head. Germany spends £39. France spends £13. Let us not preen ourselves on putting our expenditure up to £9. That would not be imaginative or bold for a new and powerful Government. Let us at least equal France and raise the figure to £13 per head. It would affect our overall expenditure so little as to be unnoticeable, and the benefits would be enormous. I have deliberately made no suggestion of how such an increase should be distributed. I should like, however, to insist that some money is injected into the rather depressed area of art education in schools.
The fact that the arts need a major rise in assistance to prosper is irrefutable. If they do not prosper but go on sliding, we shall all be the sufferers. I wish to welcome the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, to his post as Minister for the Arts. I am glad that the tradition by which the right honourable Paul Channon and myself were first tested in Northern Ireland and then, having stood up respectably to the hard realities over there, were thought reliable enough to be let loose in the dangerous and unquantifiable area of the arts, has been once again followed. Northern Ireland's loss will be our gain. I wish him every success, our first poet Minister, and, above all, I beg the Government to have the courage to give him proper backing.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Lord Rea
My Lords, I regret that I was not able to be present at the beginning of the debate. I apologise in advance if I repeat some points that have already been made. It seems to me that today's debate has been mainly centred on topics related to law and order. But this is also the place to raise matters to do with a more expensive edifice than the law. I refer to the National Health Service. The Speech from the Throne contained only a short paragraph on health. It stated:Further action will he taken to ensure that patients receive the best value for the money spent on the National Health Service".This was amplified a few days later by the Secretary of State for Social Services in his speech to the National Association of Health Authorities, in Harrogate, and yesterday in another place. He implied, as we really knew, despite the non-controversial nature of the wording in the gracious 194 Speech, that this meant increasing private involvement at various points in the National Health Service. But one thing he did say was that the present method of financing the National Health Service would remain. This Government, committed to hardheaded, business efficiency, have found in fact that private insurance cannot deal with most of the activities of the National Health Service. So by default, in fact, the Government have admitted that the National Health Service is good value for money now, as it stands.
Of course, we would all like to see a better, more effective and more efficient National Health Service. We, on these Benches, will, I know, work hard towards this end. But we have pointed out from time to time the well-known fact that of all industrial countries, the United Kingdom spends a lower proportion of its gross national product on health than any other, and still has a health service second to none. "Value for money" implies efficiency and effectiveness—in other words, that the enterprise, whatever it is, should do what it sets out to do well and economically and that there should be high cost effectiveness.
Economists and health planners have for many years discussed how this should best be applied to the complicated issue of health service administration. This was, in fact, the subject of the 1971 Rock Carling Fellowship monograph written by Professor Archie Cochrane, the director of the Medical Research Council's epidemiology unit in Cardiff. This short book is well worth the reading by anyone responsible for the administration of health care. It is, of course, well known to the permanent officials in the DHSS. The essence of his argument is that many medical activities, which were thought to he effective and essential, are not necessarily so. This applies to many accepted orthodox medical activities, let alone new or alternative methods of medicine that are now trying to get recognition and to play a part in the National Health Service.
His main message is that all procedures, new or old and established, need to he subject to randomised controls—in other words, they need to be objectively and scientifically evaluated in a way that tends to eliminate bias. This is easier when applied to specific clinical treatments for particular diseases. It is less easy when applied to the board, lodging and "tender loving care" aspects of health services.
One meaning of value for money in the present Government's eyes, as Mr. Fowler has confirmed, is that many supportive services such as laundry, catering and cleaning might be more economically provided if they were let out to private firms. Nobody could really complain if these services were more efficient and less costly than those provided at present by the health authorities. But, even if this were so, the fact remains that someone will be making a profit while providing these services. Efficient management within the National Health Service could do the job without the extra cost of this profit for which the taxpayer pays. Effective management is not the prerogative of private industry. An example is British Telecom, which makes a handsome profit at the moment, and is of course a ripe plum that is about to be reached for.
195 We are also told that the National Health Service may be asked to pay for the occasional use of expensive equipment that is the property of private hospitals and health organisations. Up till now, private patients have more often come to the National Health Service in order to obtain expensive help because the capital cost of some equipment, for example, in radiotherapy, is too high for the private sector. It is now proposed that the National Health Service will pay the private sector for the use of various facilities which they own.
This might be fair if, when the boot is on the other foot, it can also be seen that the full cost of National Health Service facilities is borne by private patients when they use them. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case and is the main reason for the anger of health service workers about private practice, and the wish to end pay-beds within the National Health Service hospitals. There is a feeling, with some justification, that private patients are getting services on the cheap from the National Health Service. Until all aspects of private care in National Health Service hospitals are very carefully scrutinised, all talk of cooperation between the public and private sectors will he regarded with a certain amount of suspicion by health service workers.
Overall, however, the "hotel" aspects of the National Health Service are not so basic in the consideration of value for money as the costs of the procedures, drugs and treatments which the National Health Service provides. As we discussed in this House about two months ago in the debate on the private/public mix which was initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Hunter, each doctor disposes of some £20,000, if he is a general practitioner. and £¼ million, if he is a hospital consultant, of National Health Service money. Drugs, at a cost of some £2 billion, constitute a major part of this cost. There are in fact several openings for a reduction in this large sum and the Greenfield Report from the DHSS shows how generic substitution by pharmacists for the proprietary drugs which doctors prescribe could save a considerable sum which might amount to some £200 million per annum, or 10 per cent. of present drug costs.
Major economies in hospital expenditure could be achieved by general practitioners taking back much of the work of hospital out-patient departments, and a co-ordinated "day care" or early discharge policy would enable patients to get back to their own homes much earlier, saving costly hospital beds. There is a form of analysis, which is carried out by most hospitals, called hospital activity analysis, which looks in detail at many things which go on. If this could be extended to indicate how much hospital care, both in-patient and out-patient, is received by the patients of every general practitioner in the country, and if the results were fed back to those GPs, wide differences would be revealed and the resulting discussion, in my view, would have a very interesting effect and might eventually result in a considerable reduction in hospital expenditure which, as we know, absorbs far the greatest share of the National Health Service budget.
The DHSS is aleady financing a number of studies looking at innovative aspects of care of this type which 196 will free resources for new developments. These studies need to be extended and acted upon. Different and more economical methods of care need to be subjected to the randomised controlled trials which Professor Cochrane has suggested. Many of these will test the effect of transferring resources from the hospital to the community, from the out-patient department to the general practitioner's surgery or health centre. This shift would be popular with patients since much care now carried out in hospital would be available nearer the patient's own home. I have suggested before that the Government should provide incentives to those doctors who are providing a good standard of care and vet can be seen to be economising in the use of the scarce resources of the National Health Service.
In summary, I would like to point out that, if private firms are brought in to deal with certain sections of the National Health Service, great care should be used in assessing that they really are more cost-effective and provide as good a service. Will the services that they provide really be more economical, and will the National Health Service not be in danger of falling into the hands of opportunists? If the National Health Service is to pay private agencies for services, then private patients must in return pay the full cost of any National Health Service facilities that they use. There is a very big scope for looking carefully at present medical practices and organization, and constantly encouraging and testing innovative procedures and ideas.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
My Lords, the hour is getting very late, and I hope therefore to be brief. However, I should like to mention some of the young people of this country. Let me begin with education. I had planned to deal with that matter in a certain amount of depth, but my noble friend Lord Beloff has made such a very interesting speech on that subject that I shall make only one comment on it.
The gracious Speech says that it is the intention to improve the standards of education. As education is, in my view, the basis of the future of children of this country, it is obviously vitally important that the standards of education should be as high as possible. However, it has been brought to my notice on several occasions that, although we and the ratepayers think that the young people of this country are being educated, because of truancy, in a great number of cases young people are not receiving the education for which the ratepayers are paying.
Indeed, during the last election campaign one of the candidates in a large town went up to some young boys whose votes he hoped to win. They all turned out to be 18 years of age. There were six of them and he asked them what they were doing. In every case they were doing nothing. He asked them what qualifications they had gained at their schools, and between the six of them there was only one qualification. He asked them why that was so—they appeared to him to be reasonably intelligent—and in every case they said that the school, was too boring and therefore they had not attended and had not gained any qualifications. I should like to ask the Government whether, through the Department of Education and Science, they could 197 bring to the notice of local authorities the fact that they should do more to ensure that the pupils whom they are supposed to be educating actually attend school.
Another part of the gracious Speech mentioned the right to buy homes. That is a major principle with which, on the whole, most of us would agree. But I am sure that all members of your Lordships' House would understand that someone who is unemployed is unlikely to be able to buy a home. If someone is unemployed in the North of the country, it is possible that he will come South to try to get a job and he will be greeted here by having no home. There are hostels and lodging houses and such people are able to sleep rough. There are a number of organisations that are financed voluntarily and sometimes they receive a small amount of money from the local authorities. However, I am reliably informed that in our city there are a very great number of people who are without a home. On one night within the last 10 days there were 55 people sleeping rough under Hungerford Bridge. We all know that in this great city of ours there are a very great number of bridges.
The picture emerges from a charity with which I have a certain amount to do, that the local authorities not only do not care but are also dodging their responsibilities and are not providing homes—indeed, roofs—for the people who are part of their city. I am asking the Government whether, in the not too distant future, they will institute a survey to find out how many people in our city are not only without homes but without roofs as well. I am afraid that the numbers are increasing because, as I have said, the people from the North are coming South to look for work, not knowing that it is almost impossible to find a roof.
Having said that, I feel very strongly that the young people expect more from us, the legislators of this country, than we have given them to date. I think that we should take far more initiative in providing leisure pursuits for them. Many years ago 1 was able to play most games for my county, so I was of a fairly high standard but not high enough. I suggest that there are a great number of ways in which, with some organisation, leadership, imagination and enterprise, we could collect some of the young people who are now doing absolutely nothing and put them on the soccer field, the hockey field, the cricket field—and, who knows, perhaps even encourage them to take up basketball or swimming. We might have a Sobers on Merseyside or a Pele in Brixton, It would be marvellous if we could find more leisure pursuits for these people.
I think that the Government are doing a wonderful job in training the young people for jobs for which of course they have not been trained before. But, as we all know, at the end of the road they do not always get a job. Therefore, in my view it is very important that these young people's lives should not be wasted. In fact, I think it is our duty to provide facilities, encouragement and leadership. During the last part of this Government's tenure of office the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Mr. Neil Macfarlane, was given the job of going round the country to find playing fields and to encourage local authorities to help young people participate in sports. When the noble Lord, the Minister, winds up perhaps he can assure me that in actual fact this Minister—who I see 198 has been reappointed—will have the same responsibility because I thought that this was imaginative.
A very great number of people who retire at 55 years of age would love to have the opportunity to get back on the soccer field to teach sports to young people. It is good for the young; it uses their surplus energy and makes them friends. I sincerely ask the Government to do their best to promote this, even to a greater degree than was done in the past. That is my small contribution, but I wanted to say a few words about trying to encourage the young people.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, in her Majesty's most gracious Speech it is stated that legislation will be brought forward to modernise the law on police powers. There is concern that the police might be given powers to search people's internal anatomy. In cases of concealed drugs or other smuggling, this may be necessary, but I hope that the Government will reassure your Lordships' House that this most intimate job will be undertaken by doctors or nurses who have been adequately trained. I am sure that many people will welcome the statement that measures will be brought forward to protect personal information held on computers.
As family law is quoted in the most gracious Speech, may I now quote from a letter which I have just received from the Catholic Child Welfare Council about the new adoption agency regulations. The letter says:I think you will agree that the reference to religious upbringing is really very slight and could well he ignored in practice".The wish is to have at least reinstated the existing regulations, which were clearer than these which have just been issued. In 1975 I was one of the Members of your Lordships' House who helped in getting the religious clause inserted into the Children and Young Persons Act, but we were also given strong assurances by the Government that the matter would be dealt with appropriately in the regulations. This point may seem very unimportant in this modern day and age, but to some people who respect and honour the sacraments of the Christian Churches this is an important matter. Up and down the country there are many children placed in children's homes, community homes and penal institutions who are the casualties of broken homes. If the Ten Commandments were respected, we would have a more stable and less violent society. Our present-day situation is the result of veering off course.
The gracious Speech stresses the support for the services which maintain law and order. I should like to ask the Government a question about the secure unit at the community home at Redhill in Surrey. I am told that this special unit, which caters for children between the ages of 14 and 16 who have severe problems and have committed serious offences such as arson, murder and rape, is shortly to close. What is to become of these children? Are they to be placed in ordinary prisons?
This very difficult problem seems to be tossed periodically from the Department of Health and Social Security to the Home Office like an unpopular 199 football. If these young adolescents are to be placed in prison without special treatment and education, do noble Lords not think that they may not come out eventually as more dangerous individuals, embittered or depressed, who will be an even greater risk to society? Instead of trying to push this problem to one side, should not the DHSS and the Home Office come together and share the challenge of coping? Is it not true to say here:Problems shared would be problems halved"?I am pleased that the gracious Speech put emphasis on the patients so that they will receive the best value for the money spent on the National Health Service. Sometimes in the past, when the National Health Service has been in the headlines, the patients have not been the first priority. It will take a long time to forget the terrible days of the strikes which put patients in a very vulnerable position. In Aberdeen cancer patients who were dying had no clean linen, and friends and relations were not allowed to bring it in. The only specially equipped ambulance with an incubator for transferring critically ill babies to specialised treatment on populated Teesside was blacked. I hope that a way to prevent such situations ever arising again will be found.
Competition is never a bad thing unless it puts too much pressure on a situation. It is to be hoped that it is a way of raising much needed standards. When one reads that a new variety of bacterium resistant to all the common antibiotic drugs is invading hospitals, it must be of the utmost importance to have the highest possible standards of hygiene. I also hope that priority will be given to painting some of the old and gloomy wards. Clean, attractive walls and ceilings help to raise morale. When I visited a friend suffering from leukaemia last year who was in one of the most famous teaching hospitals in London I noticed that the paint was peeling off the ceiling.
The Government have said that they are putting priority on the mentally ill, the mentally handicapped and the elderly. I feel that many of the mentally handicapped and elderly should not be taking beds up in the National Health Service if they are not ill. If they are in need of care and support this could be better provided in a more community situation. It needs careful thought and planning. After years of living together in institutions patients cannot just be plonked back into the community without support. In some districts there is not good enough co-operation and joint planning and funding between the social services departments and the health authorities. Very often the problem seems to be that the social services accommodation does not provide adequate nursing care, so some elderly people have to go miles from their homes into a total hospital situation which could have been avoided if some compromise had been available. I hope that the Government will encourage cooperation between health and social services.
I hope that the Government will come around to realising that a balance has to be kept within the National Health Service. If casualty departments are not kept at reasonably high standards, then disasters will arise. I visited the casualty department at Pontefract General Hospital a few weeks ago. This department has now become totally inadequate for the 200 changing situation which has come about due to having two busy new motorways which have opened on either side of the hospital. The reorganised district has to cope with a large mining population spread over a wide, populated area.
There are six beds in the casualty department, no recovery area, a very busy fracture clinic next door and a tiny waiting area. The hospital has no intensive care unit and the patients have to be transferred to the wards, sometimes having to use three different lifts. If people die in casualty the bodies have to be removed by taking them past the waiting patients. The staff are really worried, and say that on a Thursday night it is almost unbearable chaos. Regional health authorities have many priorities to meet but if casualty departments are inadequate there will be more lives lost and more long-term handicap sustained.
I should like to end by saying how loyal and splendid are the many volunteers who work and give such useful supplements to the National Health Service hospitals. To give just one example, at the small district general hospital in Northallerton in North Yorkshire my branch of the British Red Cross Society runs a canteen with volunteer helpers. Each year thousands of pounds profit is raised, and this goes back into the hospital towards buying up-to-date medical equipment for that hospital.
I applaud sharing if it helps with caring for patients who will benefit from the results. It is most interesting to hear about the National Health Service and BUPA combining to run a special new kidney machine. If the Lithotripter is as good as it sounds, it may prevent much pain and suffering to patients, as well as saving the National Health Service much needed money. I hope that the department will evaluate this procedure carefully, and if it is successful I hope that all regions that need one will be able to have it.
Something which costs no money and which every hospital needs is TLC. I hope, with all the high technology and expertise, that tender, loving care will not be forgotten.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Lord Ferrier
My Lords, before I turn to what I believe may be the most important contribution that I shall make to this debate, concerning the penultimate sentence of the gracious Speech, there are one or two other points which I feel should be developed in this debate on home and social affairs. My first point relates to the remoulding of the telecommunications system, and I particularly refer to the telephone system. The Bill when it is published will, I imagine, be a revised edition of the proposals which have already received the attention of this House, but the point I wish to emphasise particularly in reference to the subject of this debate is the social aspect of the availability of the telephone.
I chose to call my challenge and appeal an appeal for "Granny up the glen". That is an easy phrase, but it might be granny in the high rise flat, or it might be the handicapped person in any basement or cottage. It might be the sick or the bereaved. Please may we come to treat the telephone, as one of my supporters has said, so that in our civilisation it is be as important a part of a dwelling as hot and cold water, or a water 201 closet? This element in the whole concept is not a commercial factor in terms of the telephone system. It is a social factor, and should be included and financed as such, and that is my appeal.
As for an independent prosecution service, which is referred to in the gracious Speech, prudent as such a proposal indubitably is, let no one fail to appreciate the serious complications which will arise throughout the system South of the Border. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord who is to follow me may be thinking of making some mention of this problem.
Turning to the National Health Service, it amazes me that the Opposition and the media, especially the BBC, seem to miss no opportunity to decry the National Health Service's obvious and manifest success. They do not seem to listen to the figures given by the Ministry of the increased contributions to staffing, and the like. They will not dig into the real difficulties which beset the problem: difficulties of overmanning; difficulties of the hypochondriac; difficulties of busybodies; difficulties of the diehard, so much determined to die hard. The enormous advantage which stemmed from the co-operation of private medicine is decried.
The gracious Speech refers to ensuring that,patients receive the best value for the money spent".Certainly that is to he praised. May I remind the Ministry that as the supply of fully qualified chiropractors is being steadily increased by the output of the Anglo-European college in Bournemouth, the manifest financial advantages of the profession's manipulative therapy should be rendered available to patients of the National Health Service within the provisions thereof. The potential savings not only in money terms but in mercy terms and in workers' productivity terms are so substantial that BUPA and the like must soon trim their sails to this wind of change in the treatment of back pain.
My next point is the reference to the Scottish roads on the last page of the paper. I do not quite know what is meant by "reform of the law". I do not know whether this refers to motoring laws, but I do know that Scotland's needs from the road system and the overall service which the system provides require a thorough and radical reassessment in terms of return for money spent. Now that the A9 highway has been more or less modernised, what about the road expenditure on massive road development such as the M9 which is not properly used? It is ahead of its time quite considerably as is the magnificient road complex in the Ardrossan, Saltcoats, Troon and Prestwick areas. Many millions of pounds have been spent ahead of the need. All this time Edinburgh, which should have had an outer bypass 20 years ago, is still resisting the completion of the task which has produced half a by-pass. It is a splendid road which I understand is already carrying 16,000 vehicles a day.
The region is fiddling about with ridiculous proposals which are set out in an article in today's Scotsman, that has come to my hand. It is an extravagance to which I believe, because of what is mentioned in the gracious Speech, the Government should apply themselves to see that proper use is made of the information at hand and the money available. Despite the fact that, set out in the current plan, the by-pass is 202 due for completion in 1991, should we not be sure that it is done in time for the Commonwealth Games in 1986 as part of the whole national problem? One item is missing which is mentioned in the article. It is something that should be borne in mind by the Government in their approach to the subject of roads around Edinburgh, and that is that the original concept included provisions which would enormously assist the use of public transport.
My final contribution on this matter is something about which I have serious misgivings. I refer to the penultimate sentence in the gracious Speech:Other measures will be laid before you".This will have to he reappraised. It is the problem of reporting Parliament to the public. I make no apology for raising it again if only by virtue of the experience of the recent election—an election which made manifest the extent to which the radio and television broadcasts now take a prominent place in the conduct of our parliamentary democracy. This came on top of the BBC's action in curtailing and restricting its long-established programmes "Today" and "Yesterday in Parliament". It has acted strictly within its rights. It has proved in its analysis of its ratings that it is obsessed by the idea of entertainment and is not committed to the political service which was foreseen by the late John Reith.
Would that Portland Place had the conscience of Bush House. I heard on a recent overseas programme the comments of a Continental listener who said that after all the BBC now belongs to the whole world: Bush House, yes; Broadcasting House, no. I think I am right in saying that I am not alone in resisting the complacency with which some people are content to swallow the diktats of the BBC. Of course it is for the other place to take the first steps, but let the process not be delayed.
Two items have come up in the debate which I feel are worth mentioning. One is the reference to capital punishment. The Lord Harris of Greenwich has put a Motion on the Order Paper. As we talked about proportional representation I felt that we were rather deafened by the grinding of an axe on this subject, because there is very strong resistance to the idea of proportional representation. My noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls outlined one very good reason. If it is agreed that neither the Conservatives nor Labour will have anything to do with proportional representation, would it not be wise for the political experts to approach the question of the possibility of the Double Ballot system? I feel that if both sides say they will not have proportional representation and our friends opposite say we must have electoral reform, then let us try to see if there is not a middle course towards electoral reform. If not, the Double Ballot system might meet the demands of the people who sincerely believe that some measure of reform is necessary.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Lord Wilson of Langside
My Lords, we mountaineers on this Bench, as I think we are now entitled to call ourselves—if my title is perhaps not impressive, that of the noble Lord on my right carries a great deal of weight—are not disposed more than most to disagree with one another, but I disagreed with my noble friend 203 Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge when he said that he found the arguments introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, boring. I enjoyed Lord Harmar-Nicholls's speech more than quite a number of others that I have listened to this afternoon. I wished for a moment that I had been following him as I would have enjoyed the political fisticuffs. I disagreed entirely with the arguments he supported on both heads to which he spoke, namely, law and order—with particular reference to capital punishment—and electoral reform. I will not pursue them, however, because it might bore your Lordships as apparently it bored my noble friend.
I voted against capital punishment when it came up because, in the last resort, I did not think it would reduce the number of killings by criminals. That would be the basis of any judgment which I would reach on this matter. My experience, for what it is worth, was that whenever we discussed this matter in public there were the opinion pollsters talking to the man or woman in the street and asking, "Are you for hanging?" The immediate emotional reaction would tend to be. "Yes"—in the immortal words of our unworthy judge, the late Lord Braxfield, who would say. "Some of that lot would be nain the waur o' a hangin'." But when one deployed the arguments fully on both sides, my experience always was that the judgment was much more balanced and that a quite different result was obtained from the immediate emotional reaction. That is all I want to by about that.
In the context of law and order a certain amount has been said in this debate, and a good deal more has been said from time to time outside by the media, about the difficulties of our penal establishments; the great shortcomings and the great difficulties under which staff have to work in so many of them. I thought I would mention—by way of contrast to that; because I know that there is much validity in these criticisms—that just a few weeks ago I visited a young offenders' penal establishment, a joint establishment with one wing devoted to the short, sharp sentence—something which we have had in Scotland for at least 20 years, 1 think—and the other wing devoted to the longer-term prisoners. I have not visited a penal establishment for. I suppose, some 15 years. Prior to that, in the course of my duty I have visited many establishments, prisons, borstals, what we used to call approved schools, and so on. I was impressed immensely by what I saw at Glen Ochill in Perthshire. I do not by that it was perfect; I do not by that there was not a limitation in what one can see in one day's visit. But I did not come away depressed as, 15 years ago. I almost invariably did. I came away with a very considerable respect for the staff of these institutions, the warden. the governor and his staff, and the contribution which they were making to the problem which was theirs. I came away with some hope. I got the impression, for what it is worth, that things were better than they had been there, certainly when I had first known them.
With regard to law and order otherwise, I listened with immense interest to the speech of my noble friend Lord Hunt, because he spoke from an extensive experience in many of the law and order fields of 204 which I have little or no first-hand knowledge or experience. He was absolutely right when he said that what we must try to aim at is prevention. This reminded me that when I had to deal with them in the courts, we used to claim—with what validity, I do not know—that the sheriff's court at Glasgow was the biggest criminal court in Europe. No one contradicted it. What I always felt then as they came before us day after day—and we did not deal only with criminal cases but with other matters as well—was that the odds that we could deal with them successfully, that is to say, to stop them from committing crimes, were very much against us. There is no doubt that it is prevention that should be our aim. I should like, if I may, to reinforce Lord Hunt's urging on the Government of these recipes for prevention. I hope that the noble Lord the Minister will be able to tell us of the Government's real commitment to such recipes.
I should like to emphasise, too, that we in the Social Democratic Party, as Lord Hunt has said, certainly are not soft on criminals—whatever that means. But one should have the unfailing faith that there is treasure, if only one can find it, at the heart of every man. These are not my words. They are the less often quoted words of a great Home Secretary, Winston Churchill. That is the sort of approach which must be our guide. I have often thought that if these words of Winston Churchill were quoted more often at gatherings of the Conservative Party, then the approach of the rank and file—not the wise leaders and Ministers of the Conservative Government but that of the rank and file—to this problem of crime and prevention would be better appreciated. When I had responsibilities in this field I had the greatest difficulty in persuading the then Shadow Home Secretary that I was just as much concerned as he to protect the public against the depredations of the criminal, and that the first duty of Government in this context is to look to the safety of the victim or the possible victim. That is the first priority.
But we must take a broader view than that kind of Churchillian view—not literally; because there are some criminals who, because they are prone to behave like wild animals, must be restrained. There is no doubt about that. These are all matters of which we are perfectly well aware. If we could get down to prevention on the lines outlined by Lord Hunt, we might make some better progress. I am sure that the great benefit of the failure of Conservative Governments in this field of law and order will have humbled them a bit, so that they are left a little more humble and perhaps a little wiser in their approach to this immensely difficult area.
I have spoken for ten minutes. I have to say that there is one only one other matter to which I wish to turn and that is electoral reform. The case for this was always strong. I should have thought, in the light of the speech of my noble friend Lord Kennet, and that of Lord Banks from the Liberal Benches, that it would be accepted by most people that the case for such reform was unanswerable. It will present difficulties, of course, some of which were touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, but the case on the merits, however we achieve it. I should have thought was unanswerable.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Baroness Cox
My Lords, there are many aspects of the gracious Speech for which I should like to express my support. However, I will confine myself to the reference to education. I was delighted to hear that the Government will.pursue policies for improving standards of education and widening parental choice and influence in relation to schools".I strongly support this commitment for two reasons. First, because in many schools standards of educational attainment and standards of behaviour, leave much to be desired and, secondly, because I firmly believe that it is parents, rather than politicians or bureaucrats, who know what is best for their children and that parental influence is one of the best ways of making schools and teachers more accountable.
I should like briefly to amplify these two points. First, on the question of standards, a considerable body of research is now available (and more will be published later this week) which shows that in many schools pupils are not achieving satisfactory standards of attainment. I give two examples of studies to illustrate this point. The Institute of Mathematics undertook a survey in which 8,000 fifth-year secondary-school children were given a test to assess the most basic mathematical skills, the sort of skills needed for everyday life. The questions were designed so that virtually every pupil should have been able to answer them correctly. However, the results were generally very poor and they also varied considerably from one area to another. For example, the proportion of children who could not undertake the simple mathematical sum of multiplying 6 by 79 was 14 per cent, in Buckinghamshire; that rose to 25 per cent, of the children in the ILEA. Similarly, over 50 per cent, of the children in the ILEA could not turn the words "one hundred and forty-nine pounds and ninepence" into figures. One cannot help wondering what on earth those pupils had been doing with their teachers in maths lessons during all those years of compulsory schooling. The results of that survey give strong support to the concern which has been expressed by many in recent years about the lack of numeracy among school leavers, and I suggest that the findings are very worrying indeed for parents, for employers and for pupils, and, indeed, that they also have implications for us as a nation.
My second example moves from basic skills to the provision for more academic qualifications, and a study of A-level results in the ILEA in 1978 showed some very distrubing situations. In one comprehensive school for 700 pupils, the total A-level results were as follows: three pupils took English and all failed; one took history and failed; one took French and failed; one took biology and failed; one took chemistry and failed; one took economics and failed; one took art and failed; two took sociology and failed; one took Urdu and was awarded an A grade. In another comprehensive school of 700 pupils, I am afraid there was not even that bit of light relief. The total A-level results were that only two pupils took English and both failed; four took art and all failed; two took sociology and both failed. Those were the entire A-level results for that school.
206 I hasten to emphasise, of course, that not all the ILEA comprehensives have results like those and I understand that one of those schools has since closed. But that does not alter the fact that there were pupils who spent two precious years of their teens studying in those schools, with nothing to show at the end of their time there but failure.
And in case noble Lords should think that I have just chosen two maverick schools as examples, let me point out that in seven long-established comprehensive schools the number of A-levels achieved in 1978 was only just over one-half the number achieved 13 years earlier in 1965. Moreover, should any noble Lords he hoping that the situation has improved since 1978, I must sadly point out that more recent research suggests that there are still many schools up and down the country offering pupils who stay on into the sixth form to take A-levels such slender chances of success that they could be accused of playing a cruel confidence trick on their pupils.
I now turn from educational attainment to other important aspects of schooling—behaviour and truancy. A study undertaken by the National Children's Bureau compared comprehensive schools with grammar and secondary modern schools, and found that standards of behaviour and rates of truancy were significantly worse in the comprehensives than in either the grammar or the secondary modern schools. This is worrying because, as your Lordships will know, there has been a steady move towards comprehensivisation, from 10 per cent. of our country's secondary schoolchildren in the early 1960s, to over 90 per cent. of our children nowadays.
The National Children's Bureau research showed, for example, that pupils in the top ability group in comprehensives were six times more likely to play truant than those in grammar and secondary modern schools, while, on behaviour, the report states:The behaviour of pupils in comprehensive schools was significantly worse than that of pupils in grammar and secondary modern schools taken together".What is even more disturbing is that the study showed that the longer the schools had been comprehensive, the worse they were in behaviour and truancy. In the words of that report:teachers in the older comprehensives were most critical of their charges, and the combination of teachers in the secondary moderns and grammars seemed least likely to regard their pupils as having signs of disturbance, maladjustment or distress. This is in accord with the findings for truancy and staying away from school, in that those in the grammar-secondary modern combination appear, as a group, 'better' behaved, or 'better' adjusted to school".What lessons may be learned from these disturbing findings? First, we should be prepared to think critically about our education policies. A socialist sociologist once called the policy of comprehensivisation:a gigantic experiment with the life chances of millions of children".That is one statement on which I am pleased to agree with one of my socialist colleagues. But surely the idea behind an experiment is that one tries it out to see whether it works, and, if it does not, one thinks again. However, one of the most disturbing features of education policy over the last two decades has been the dogmatic and doctrinaire imposition of policies such as comprehensivisation, wholesale, without any systematic assessment of their effects.
207 I am not against comprehensive schools as such. All of my three children have attended one and I recognise that there are many good comprehensive schools which are worthy of respect and support. But surely, if a school or a system of schooling is not working satisfactorily, we need to be prepared to think about reform and change; and research findings endorse the reservations expressed earlier by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor about comprehensive schooling.
This is where the second part of the Government's commitment on education—the commitment to increase parental choice and influence—is so important, because these can be effective and democratic ways of achieving accountability and change. The Government's commitment is particularly, important, because one of the most alarming features of education policy over recent years has been the flouting of parental choice by certain local education authorities. For example, in my own borough, which is commonly called the People's Republic of Brent, one of the most popular primary schools, renowned for its high standard of educational attainment and consequently in great demand, is being forced by the local education authority to contract its intake and to refuse entry to pupils, even though it has room for them and though parents are pleading to be able to send their children there. This, of course, is happening so that the local education authority can fill up other, unpopular schools.
Similarly, current proposals for reorganisation of secondary schools in Liverpool may impose a new system of schools, much against many parents' and teachers' wishes. I was appalled to see on television recently the 24-year-old chairman of the Liverpool Education Committee talking about developing (or was it imposing?) his plans for community corn prehensive schools, which involved abolishing well-established and very popular schools which did not tit in with his ideals. He did this in a way which seemed to imply that he thought he knew better than parents what is best for their children.
It is in the light of developments such as these that the Government's commitment to widen parental choice and influence should he encouraged. If a school is doing a good job, is in demand and has spare capacity, why should pupils be denied the chance to go there? Or if a school is unpopular and parents do not wish to send their children there, why should they be forced to do so, especially if there are spaces in the school of their choice?
We now have a situation in which the falling birth rate has created considerable slack in the system. Last September, about 700,000 pupils entered secondary schools. That number will drop to 500,000 by 1989. Consequently, there must be cut-backs in schools. The decisions on how these changes are to be implemented can either he made on doctrinaire grounds by politicians or bureaucrats or they can reflect the wishes of parents and pupils. The latter would seem to me to be preferable, because making schools responsive to parental choice increases the accountability of teachers to those whom they serve. Conversely, artificially boosting pupil numbers protects bad 208 schools from adverse reactions to poor teaching and administration.
I conclude on a note of optimism. In spite of all the noise and fury about the "cuts" in education, it is a fact that more is being spent now, in real terms, per child than ever before in the history of education in this country. Also, as a result of the falling birth rate, pupil-teacher ratios are more favourable now than they have ever been. So the present time is a time of opportunity: opportunity to experiment genuinely and to use available evidence to assess the successes and failures of educational ideologies and practices. And the Government's commitment to increase parental choice and influence is to be welcomed as truly democratic. I hope that they will be able to introduce their measures soon, for only by doing so will they be able to help parents, such as those in Liverpool and Brent, whose freedom to choose the kind of education they wish for their children is already curtailed or threatened. As any parent will understand, that freedom is so precious that its loss is immeasurable.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Lord Gifford
My Lords, I should dearly have liked to debate with the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, her very carefully thought-out speech on educational policy, but at this time of night I must stick to the areas which I had mapped out for myself: areas which feature in the gracious Speech on the powers of the police and on the powers of local government. They are areas in which one can discern the philosophy of the new Government as they start their first year of office, areas where one can seek to distinguish between some of the myths upon which they got themselves elected to government and the realities which they are now seeking to put into operation.
The party opposite vaunted itself as a party of freedom, yet it proposes to put into legislative form a massive encroachment upon our civil liberties. It vaunted itself as a party of democracy, of democracy which, it says, it seeks to extend into the trade union movement. But it seeks in its legislative proposals drastically to cut down the limited democratic rights which people have available to them in local government.
So let us look at the reality. We start with the statement in the gracious Speech that:My Government will remain steadfast in their support for the services which maintain law and order".That does not tell us much. Law and order is an awful cliché It is part of the propaganda of every authoritarian régime: protecting the law, however unfair, maintaining order, whatever causes there may be to protest against that order. It is the cliché which has banned Solidarity in Poland, which defends apartheid in South Africa. So let us look a little further than that:A Bill will be introduced to replace the existing law on the prevention of terrorism."Terrorism" is another emotive word for certain types of serious crime. Terrorist crimes do, of course, rank high on the scale of wickedness, but so do many other crimes, murders and rapes which are not classified as terrorism. There is another proposal, to which I shall come in a moment, to modernise the law on police powers and in which there is to he a categorisation of 209 certain crimes as serious crimes. So why do we need to have a Bill replacing the existing temporary laws on terrorism?
What I fear is, that we are to make permanent a series of laws which were meant to be temporary—laws which include the corralling of certain citizens of the United Kingdom in some parts of the United Kingdom, and which include provision for seven-day detention at the disposal of the Home Secretary; detention without access to friends or lawyers, which should be no part of our system of administering justice, and which can become a weapon of harassment.
We then come to the new law on police powers:legislation will he brought forward to modernise the law on police powers".That sentence is misleading to the point of dishonesty. Why did the gracious Speech not by quite plainly—because we have already read this—that what is in preparation is a Bill to give new and sweeping powers to the police?
When the Prime Minister decided to go to the country, we were about to debate the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. It is a pity that we did not at least begin to do so, because we might have had some effect on the Bill that will ultimately be put before us. The Bill as drafted in the last Parliament contained an armoury of police powers which, if they became law, would take us closer to the nightmares of authoritarian rule than we have ever known in peacetime. Yet these powers are proposed by the party of freedom—the party which claims that it wants the minimum of state control upon our lives.
We shall in due course go back to the particular provisions of the Bill which will no doubt occur—for example, the power to stop and search virtually at will in the street, curbing the freedom of thousands of our citizens. There will be the power to impose road blocks in our streets upon very subjective criteria. It is quite one thing to be asked politely to stop because there is an escaped prisoner or criminal in the vicinity, but it is quite another to have that imposed regularly if the chief police officer so desires as a matter of coercion rather than of consent.
Other powers have been mentioned, and they include the power to search the intimate bodily orifices, the power to arrest for summary offences, and the power to detain for questioning for long periods. These are all part of the Bill that was before Parliament and which fell on the calling of the general election. Let us look not so much at the particular ingredients of this proposal but more at the philosophy which lies behind it; the philosophy that it is justifiable to intrude on liberty in a way that the party opposite would deplore if they found it in a foreign country of socialist persuasion.
I read on in the gracious Speech:Proposals will he prepared for the establishment of an independent prosecution service.In principle, that is something that I welcome—but I only welcome it provided that the prosecuting authority which will come out of the proposals is an authority accountable to elected representatives. What I fear is that the authority which the Government will in due course put before us will not be accountable in any 210 way, because the Government do not believe in accountability. When it is a question of the accountability of police forces, the philosophy of the party opposite is that the operation of police forces should be virtually not subject to control at all. I fear that, with the prosecuting authority that is to be prepared for us, we shall have another body about which we cannot complain—still less, remove—when its powers are abused.
I will deal very briefly with the one matter I wish to raise that is not in the gracious Speech. What is not in the Queen's speech is something like this:Measures will be laid before you to prevent prisoners being held in inhuman conditions".I refer particularly to the scandal of prisoners on remand in the Metropolitan Police area today. Between 400 and 500 people are being held in various police cells in and around London, in conditions which are intolerable in a civilised society. For instance, at Camberwell Green magistrates' court people are being held two to a cell, in cells measuring 8ft. by 6ft., cells where there is no natural light at all, where the prisoners who enter them often for weeks on end do not see the light of day. This is perhaps the touchstone of the concern of the new Home Secretary. He has the powers to relieve this situation; he has powers to relieve the prison population by extending remission, and therefore easing the numbers in the prisons, which will in turn ease the numbers in the police cells. I ask the Minister in his reply to tell us tonight what is going to be done about this intolerable situation.
I go back to the gracious Speech now, to the local government proposals:Legislation … to provide a selective scheme to curb excessive rate increases by individual local authorities".Local authorities provide the services which make a community function, which make it live. Some authorities have visions of how even in a small way they can enrich the communities which they serve. They want to provide better schools, more books in their libraries, more recreation—as, for instance, the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, for their young people—better housing, more child care. It is usually the local authorities in the areas of greater poverty which have that vision that something better can be done. And yet members of the Tory party, who facilitate the grossest extravagances for the rich and powerful in our society have the gall to by that it is extravagant to spend money upon the poor. They do not merely by it; that of course is their right; and it is their right as voters to turn out the authority if it is thought to have been spending too much money and putting too much on the rates. But they do not just by it; they wish to interfere. The party that hates state control is going to interfere with the rights of local authorities to fix the rate at the level they think, rightly or wrongly—that is for the voters to decide—will best conduce to that vision of the future of their own community that they with passionate sincerity want to work for.
Not only do the party opposite propose to interfere with that; they propose to abolish some of the councils who could most effectively realise a vision which seems to frighten members of the Conservative Party. 211 When the time comes I will be ready to defend the Greater London Council and the other metropolitan authorities, not just in general but in terms of the particular Labour administration of the day. Some people who criticise them have no idea of the good work they are doing. So the proposals to cut down the rights and indeed the existence of local authorities are shabby. They cut down on what is already a pitifully small area in which people can exercise the democratic right through the ballot box.
The measures in the speech on home and social affairs are measures not of freedom but of oppression; and although noble Lords will know my views on this House, however much I am in favour of seeing it abolished, I will use my voice to fight for a majority here, which may be easier to obtain than a majority in the other place, a majority which sometimes may put a check upon the slide which this gracious Speech portends, a slide into authoritarian rule.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Lord Auckland
My Lords, whatever else is said in praise or criticism of the gracious Speech, it has, I contend, the merit of being both brief and lucid. We now have 15 months in which to discuss, in the way in which only your Lordships' House can discuss in a reforming capacity, some very important measures of legislation.
At the end of every gracious Speech there are the words:Other measures will be laid before you.Those words, coming from whichever side in either House, always engender a feeling of prediction and, at times, of foreboding. I should like to deal very briefly at this late hour with two topics: the National Health Service and a very brief reference to education.
As regards the National Health Service, the words contained in the gracious Speech are unremarkable in themselves. It might be said that they could have been written by any Government of any country. But we shall have to wait to see what the end product is. The issue of privatisation—a word which I find horrible in the extreme—has been discussed over quite a long period of time. I have varying views, I admit, on this particular matter in regard to the National Health Service. For example, with catering I would rather see students from a certain college not far from here, if necessary trained in the hospital service, doing the catering within the National Health Service. I believe the National Health Service could benefit. There are of course catering colleges in other parts of the country.
A recent survey of food in hospitals was rather revealing because it was not only in the National Health Service hospitals but in some private hospitals that the reports were not exactly favourable. Of course, whenever one is talking about catering I suppose it depends very largely on when the inspector, or whoever it is, goes round the hospital and whether the hospital concerned is in a state of being repaired or whether construction is taking place. Therefore, it is not always entirely fair comment.
However, in the case of such services as laundry there can be a case made out for private services being 212 used on the condition of course that the rates charged for the job are competitive and are compared like with like with the internal laundry services.
I turn to a specific point about the construction of the National Health Service. The reorganisation of the health service—I believe in 1964—was given, to put it midly, scant praise. There have been some efforts to reorganise it still further. I have members of my family who have worked in the service and, as many of your Lordships know, I have served on hospital committees myself. I hope that my noble friend the Minister can write to me and inform the House later, even if he cannot refer to the matter at this late hour as he has a gargantuan amount of material to plough through. What will be the situation with regard to the house committees, particularly of long-stay hospitals? Is there any chance within the ambit of the gracious Speech that these house committees will he restored? I declare a non-financial interest, having served on one myself for nearly 20 years before reorganisation. In my submission and in the submission of many who work in the health service, if this were done it would do much to improve morale which in certain aspects of the health service, and particularly in long-stay hospitals, is not as it might be.
For example, one hears sometimes of ill-treatment of patients by nurses. Very often these allegations are grossly exaggerated. I do not know how far the hospital ombudsman can look into these cases. But if we had the house committees which existed when the National Health Service first started, and the hospital management committees, I submit that there would be a much more speedy way of getting to the bottom of many of these troubles. As I have said to your Lordships before, this is no condemnation of the area health authorities or the community health services, which are doing as good a job as circumstances allow. But particularly in long-stay hospitals, and in areas like the one in which I live in Surrey where there are seven or eight of these hospitals, they cannot conceivably devote sufficient time to one individual hospital, as the old hospital management committees used to do.
I am not suggesting that at a stroke there should he another reorganisation of the health service. It has to be a medium-to long-term exercise, rather like the reorganisation—or abolition or whatever eventually happens to it—of the Greater London Council. We cannot afford any more experiments which will not come to fruition.
I should just like to by a few words about education and the arts. I do not see anything in the gracious Speech about the arts. The two are intertwined. I note that it bys of education:Legislation will be introduced to enable grants to be paid to local authorities in England and Wales for innovations and improvements in the curriculum".I hope that music will he included here. Very often highly talented children who play the oboe or clarinet cannot get the facilities that they should for the reason that these instruments are expensive.
I believe, reluctantly, that there have to be some cuts in the education service. These are facts of life. But I believe that music is an art of great importance. Our leading orchestras, which tour the world, and earn 213 much-needed currency for this country, recruit their members from among children who have been to a great variety of schools: comprehensive schools, secondary modem schools, grammar schools, public schools. I believe that certainly in the locally maintained schools arts such as music should be encouraged so far as financial arrangements will allow. This would do much to ensure that the quality of the arts in this country, which earn us hard currency, will be maintained.
Finally, and very briefly, I want to speak about your Lordships' House, of which I have been a Member since 1957. Attempts have been made to reform your Lordships' House even in the time during which I have been a Member. The real problem is what one means by reform—to devise a formula which will bring about reform not for five years, 10 years, or even 100 years, but which will produce a reformed Chamber which will work in the very long term. I believe that this is rather like the situation which faced the mythical Sisyphus, who rolled the stone one yard up the mountain, and then it rolled two yards back. I have a feeling that some of our legislators elsewhere will not exactly help in what might be very desirable reforms. So, like it or not, we are really back to square one—that we should leave well alone.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ The Countess of Mar
My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, (who is no longer present) I propose to say a little on education, but what I have to by will perhaps be very different from what she had to say. The last radical change to take place in education was in the 1870s. In order to support the increase in trade and commerce, an army of clerks and bookkeepers was required. They needed to be both literate and numerate, and the education system was developed accordingly. The Education Act 1944 extended the period of compulsory schooling, but did not alter the system already in being. There was always room for the high flyer who could progress from the three Rs to Latin and Greek and any other subject for which he might have an aptitude. I have no doubt that there always will be.
We are now in the process of suffering, or enjoying, another revolution—this time a technological one. Verbal communication skills will always be necessary, as will the ability to handle chip products. People will no longer be required to keep ledgers in beautiful copperplate, write letters, or make calculations for accounts. Computers, television, and telecommunications have insinuated their way into the business and social world almost without our being aware of it. Just as Latin and Greek are no longer essential to a higher academic education, it would seem that English grammar and mathematics will soon become subjects for specialist study. This tide of change has already been seen by some educationalists, and indeed by Her Majesty's Government, because they have started at the bottom and introduced computers into primary schools. Be it inspiration or vision, may the process continue.
Children and young people do not need to be convinced of the benefits that this tide brings in its wake: no more learning by rote, with a word processor 214 to correct spelling and grammatical errors; no more long calculations and mental arithmetic, with machines to take away the dullness of it. Those of our generation—or should I by generations?—who regret the passing of traditional education as a loss of good discipline are at the very least short-sighted. How much broader our outlook would have been had we been released from the tedium of endless pot-hooks to study some of the more inspiring subjects now open to young people. This technological revolution has created a kind of unemployment that will, I fear, be beyond the capacity of any individual or Government to overcome.
Unemployment is a word with so many unfortunate connotations. We used to have a leisured class in this country. No doubt, many of us would have belonged to it. Could we not, through our education system, recreate a leisured class, not this time on a social basis but rather on the lines of an actor resting? This would need a complete reappraisal of our educational priorities. I wonder whether the teenagers who now aimlessly frequent coffee bars and shopping precincts would still wish to do so if their eyes and minds had been opened from an early age to the wonders that surround them. I realise that, to inspire children, inspired teachers are required. But there must be hundreds of people in this country who are both willing and well qualified to take on the task.
There will always be some who will want to work as we know it, just as there will be others who will not, or cannot, work. There is no reason why the monetary wealth of the nation should decline as machines take over from men and women. One can imagine the wealth of invention and innovation waiting to be released by the new leisured class, who would have time to investigate and create if only they were given the means. The noble Lord, Lord Quinton, in an excellent maiden speech gave food for thought on this subject. This is not the time to explore all the possibilities. I shall await with eagerness the proposed legislation to encourage innovations and improvements.
I also welcome the proposals to widen the scope of parental choice of schools but I view the proposals to allow them increased influence with just a little doubt. I am a product of the state education system. I believe that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor was Minister of Education while I was at school. My daughter was also educated by the state. At one stage, I was in grave danger of interfering with her schooling in the mistaken belief that, because I had been to school, I knew all about education. Thank goodness, I left things alone.
What I am attempting to say is that parents are not necessarily the best people to advise on education. We cannot expect to keep pace with all the changes in the education field or with the qualifications required by employers. If we pay a plumber to replace a washer, would we stand over him and tell him how to do it? Should not the same principle apply to education? By all means, parents should be encouraged to take part in, and even to organise, school functions in order to make the school an integral part of the community. Their children should be encouraged to take part in community functions and so become good citizens. 215 The boundary between influence and interference is fine. Let parents have as wide a choice of school as possible. Good schools will thrive. Poor ones will either fall by the wayside or pull themselves up. I have no doubt that the freedom to choose the schools to which parents send their children will greatly narrow the abyss between the best and worst of our state schools.
The state education system has had its roots and its branches hard pruned in the last four years. Now it should be allowed to burst forth in luxuriant foliage and blossom to the benefit not only of individuals but of the nation at large. The wealth of the nation lies in the educated hands and minds of its citizens.
§ 9.43 p.m.
§ The Earl of Lauderdale
My Lords, as the thirtieth speaker it amazes me that there is anything left to say. But the Speech makes no reference to your Lordships' House itself, the very existence of which was called in question by the party opposite, not in one election but in two in succession, and to the future of which this Government must. I believe, give their mind in due time. Although the law of dislike for the unlike will always prevail—the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, seemed to hear that out—the abolitionists should now be rejoicing as they descend from the glitter of electioneering paradox to the rusty kitchen sink of reality. The fact is that their party, despite electoral slaughter is here; it is here in full strength; it is still free to exert influence and to do so in a forum where ideas count more than rhetoric.
Should the party opposite, in their paranoiac fear of the Tories, suspect that an unsympathetic majority in another place might seek to prolong its life, the professed abolitionists would simply join with the rest of us in vetoing any tampering with the Quinquennial Act. Like it or not, this House is the long-stop of the constitution. The question that I believe we must address ourselves to during this Parliament is whether it cannot be improved.
Rabindranath Tagore, the poet, said: "The clumsiness of power spoils the key and resorts to the pickaxe" So it is perhaps worth recalling that in the last Parliament this House wrought the Government's defeat no fewer than 50 times. The three occasions that are vivid in my memory concerned the issue of rural school buses; the privatisation of the Ordnance Survey in the very teeth of the Government's own White Paper; and the endeavour to tamper with special housing schemes where state and charity funds were involved side by side. On all three I have to say, the Government showed a granite indifference to the hammer of reason and were therefore forced to submit to the chisel of a humiliating vote, driven to admit that it is better to go back than to go badly. If that sort of situation could arise, and was evoked, in a Parliament where the Government majority was 40 or 50, goodness knows what might not happen with a majority twice that size.
So, as others have said—and I believe that it is really common ground through both sides of the Chamber—the role of this House at this time is now magnified and not "minified". All the more welcome, then, is the arrival of our new Leader of the House, the 216 noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw. In joining other tributes to his arrival, let me not be accused of neglecting the gracious Baroness, who has left that post for another, and who made her debut answering for foreign affairs with gallantry and resourcefulness this afternoon. We wish her well. We love her dearly, but that does not mean to say that we do not enormously welcome the arrival of the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw. He does, of course, belong to the group who were described in a memorable passage during the election as "the special breed of former Chief Whips". I wonder why they always remind me of Stonehenge? I suppose it is their rocklike solidity against the turbulence of time. But he is just the man for the here and now. He is as crafty as George Washington, who dared to say:I am not a politician and my other habits are good".He is listed high in the Cabinet. He has enormous influence. He has much experience of political manoeuvre; I might even by manipulation. He is going to need it all and we shall need him to use it.
For in your Lordships' House I believe it is only fair to say—and this is an opportunity to say it at the start of a new Parliament—that some things are not all as they should be. Take the new Government. It is quite true that we have 15 Ministers here out of 84, which is an improvement on having 12 out of 86. But there are four departments which still do not even have a Parliamentary Secretary in this House. I refer to the Departments of Education. Employment, Trade, and Transport, and if I wanted to throw in a makeweight—but I do not want to start an inter-Celtic row—I would refer to the Welsh Office, too. The practice of Whips answering for departments to which they do not belong cannot honestly be described as satisfactory, no matter how well intentioned they are as individuals. In most cases they may now have a desk in the department, but they have neither voice nor standing. I know of one case, which must be nameless but is true, where the Whip answering for a particular department had never even met the top people in that department and a friend, who had served in it, had to offer to show him around.
What about Whitehall's condescension towards your Lordships' House? On arrival, one Parliamentary Secretary was actually summoned to see the Permanent Secretary, whereas it should have been the reverse order. Within the past 12 months another department bitterly resisted a request that there should be released to a Select Committee of this House an as yet unpublished report which had already been made available to the corresponding committee in another place.
I ask whether the funding is right. Are we allowed enough clerks? Everybody knows that there was a great battle to get sufficient clerks on to the staff to man the various sub-committees of the EEC Scrutiny Committee. However, I can think of one case where the promoter of a Private Bill wanted to move that, instead of a Committee stage on the Floor, the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee. He was very severely discouraged on the ground that there were not enough staff.
Should, or need, committee travel be as rare as in fact it is? Of course, we know about the European 217 Scrutiny Committee's visits to Brussels and elsewhere, but nowadays that is a fairly limited range. I remember well when one of the sub-committees of the Scrutiny Committee studying coal thought of a visit to the Polish coalmines. This was very severely resisted, and indeed was prevented on budgetary grounds.
The Select Committee on Science and Technology is. of course, very different from its predecessor in another place. For one thing, it is much better informed. For another thing, it is less frenetic, but for a third thing it travels very little. Is that really necessary? Should they be inhibited? I believe that they are. On the subject of useful travel, which after all is educative and valuable to the work of the legislature as a whole, why do so few of your Lordships volunteer for journeys organised by the CPA or the IPU while the House is sitting? Could it be that there is some relationship with the attendance allowance?
On a minor point, but still on the subject of funding, only the other day I was told that the reason one of our Rank Xerox machines in the basement is continually breaking down is that it is not regularly serviced because that would be too expensive.
218 My noble friend Lord Whitelaw is not only a genial, favoured and popular personality, but he brings a gentle revival of the hereditary peerage. Some of us have much rougher progenitors than he; but one generation down there is no sense of obligation to the Government of our creation. So the hereditary Peers are brutally, savagely independent and are pretty indifferent to patronage. Since no man chose his father, we hereditary outcasts, as you might say, are like jurymen—pricked for service by sheer hazard. Therefore, we bring an element of unregenerate and often not very well educated common sense—an ordinary cross section. I hope that my noble friend Lord Whitelaw is the first of a goodly new infusion of hereditary Peers.
Like my noble friend Lord Home, I doubt whether the abolitionists will have another chance for a little while yet. But that is no reason for complacency. I have indicated a few matters which deserve attention. We are part of Parliament. We look to the new Government to be assiduous, as in modernising so also in protecting our constitutional processes, ever mindful that sudden power is as apt to be insolent as sudden liberty is apt to be saucy; and that behaves best which is grown gradually.
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, the noble Earl at the commencement of the 30th speech bewailed the fact that there was very little left to say. I noticed that it did not inhibit him in any way. At the beginning of the 31st speech I am tempted to say that there is nothing else to say, nevertheless I will say it. In my parliamentary experience over a fair period in the other place and a few years in your Lordships' House that experience has been enlivened by listening occasionally to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in one of his more puckish moods. We had such a mood today.
Whether it was that he had perfected an election speech and thought that he should give the benefit of it to this House, or whether he was rehearsing a speech for the next election, we know not. Whatever it is, he intended to provoke, and I am bound to say that I have felt provoked. He began with certain fatherly advice to the Labour Party, which no doubt in their wisdom they will not accept, that the electorate had totally voted a vote of no confidence in the Labour manifesto. But he went on to say really that there was no difference between the parties in their aims in this House or in the country at large but only in the means by which they intended to achieve those aims. I totally disagree with that proposition.
The real indictment of this Government surely is that the whole thrust and direction of their policy has been such as to create an unfair and an unjust society, and has laid down the foundations for a return to what might be described as the upstairs/downstairs society. There are profound changes. This is to a degree a revolutionary Government, which shows what little influence the Lord Chancellor has had in the Cabinet. Whatever else he is, he is not a revolutionary. He represents, as we know, the slightly paternalistic but compassionate line of Conservative thinking in this country. But the true indictment of this Government is that the difference between the rich and the poor in this country in 1983 is greater than at any time since the 1930s.
The educational opportunities for those in the deprived areas of this country are less now than at any time since the war. The chance of somebody in Toxteth getting on to the rung of the ladder that enables them to receive higher education is much less now than it was 10 or 20 years ago. The thrust of the direction of policy within the health service is not towards its abolition, it is surely towards forcing more and more people to insure for their health, and reducing the health service so that it will eventually provide for the rump; that is, the old, the young, the poor, and so on, on a lesser level of service. That is the thrust and direction of this Government's policy. It is something with which I totally disagree. Speaking for the Alliance, the aims of our policies are totally different from the aims of the Government policy as I see it.
The noble and learned Lord argued—quite rightly of course—that the Labour Party had failed to make unemployment the main issue at the election because of the way in which they had cast their manifesto, so that the attention of the electorate was directed to other issues which have been raised by the manifesto. 220 such as defence, and so on. He rightly pointed out that in dealing with unemployment in a modern, sophisticated society you needed a whole battery of policies: that your foreign policy, your relationship with the EEC, your educational policy, were all concerned in the battle against unemployment.
I entirely agree with that particular point that he made, but I find it difficult to reconcile the fact that, for example, in my area of the country in certain sixth forms of successful comprehensive schools they now have to share textbooks—one between five pupils in some subjects. That is for children who sometimes live 12 or 15 miles apart from each other. They are studying to get into the universities of this country on that kind of provision.
I mention a point that the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, raised about musical education. In my old county the education committee used to provide every child who showed any kind of musical talent with the instrument of his or her choice as a loan for the whole of the school career. We produced a considerable number of instrumentalists who often became quite famous soloists and many went on to orchestras. Now we do not provide anything of the kind. That does not affect the family that can afford to buy the child the instrument. But imagine what it does to the child whose family cannot afford that and is now deprived of an instrument. That is the kind of thing that is happening.
I relate that to foreign policy. I find it difficult to reconcile that fact with a Government that can provide an enormous sum, some hundreds of millions of pounds, to provide an airfield in the Falklands 8.000 miles away. It is a policy which I believe will look ludicrous to future generations in this country. I will not go through the rights and wrongs of the Falklands war, but I am considering how this policy will look in years to come when this country could not provide for its own at home but can provide, as a matter of priority, that amount of money to lay down the foundations of an aerodrome on islands 8,000 miles away, which are, after all, the forgotten leftovers from an earlier era of Empire. I am pointing out that the Government set their own priorities and can find the money when they want to for certain purposes; but provision in the state education system does not appear to be one of its priorities.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor claimed that this was a social Budget and pointed out that the Budgets introduced during the course of this Government had been social budgets. He compared the social, economic and educational situation of people in this country with the conditions that existed in his boyhood and early manhood. But that is an unfair comparison because of technological changes and the various developments that have accounted for these changes. The only proper comparison is surely with like countries. We should compare what they have achieved. I am bound to say that I am not impressed with the economic achievements of this Government when one compares this country with, say. West Germany, which has never had the benefit of North Sea oil. We have underestimated the enormous benefit to this country of North Sea oil. If one takes the benefit of the income of North Sea oil out of the 221 economic equation in this country we would be virtually bankrupt. When one compares our achievement with our continental friends and rivals we have to measure it by a yardstick which includes a very large discount for the godsend income from North Sea oil.
I thought that the enthusiastic portrayal by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor of the situation in this country today was entirely misleading. I am sure that if he were to read his speech tomorrow—and I am sure he has too much good sense to do so—he would disagree with many of his own propositions. I am not so sure that he was not delivering the speech with his tongue in his cheek.
I now turn to one or two other matters raised in the debate. The noble and learned Lord, Lord ElwynJones—in what he described as a sombre speech, but which I thought was extremely pertinent—referred to many of the great issues that will come before this House. He touched on the question of the death penalty, and I agreed entirely with the sentiments he expressed. I am not at all sure that it would not be a good idea, though there are different views on this matter, to have a debate on this subject in your Lordships' House at an early date so that the views of those experienced Members of your Lordships' House in so many different spheres of life could be expressed here. I also agreed entirely with his reflection that there was no mention of Her Majesty's prisons or other places in the gracious Speech and I think that we want to devote a great deal of time to this whole question of penal policy. I do not think it allows of a simple proposition, as is so often made. I think that we have to reconsider what are the essentials of penal policy in this country and how best we can equip our society to carry them out. We just cannot carry on building more and more prisons. I agree entirely with the point made from the Social Democratic Benches that some of the modern prisons are very impressive and reassuring in many ways. When one considers how few of them there are, however, one wonders where society is getting to. I think that we need a good deal of direct action to reduce prison sentences, including legislative action.
We heard in the course of the debate a number of points made on the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill and, in particular, a very valuable contribution. I thought, made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, giving his views on the provisions of the Bill. It seems to me that the Government have been right to reconsider the Bill; that is, that the Home Secretary is right to take great care in the presentation of the Bill because what we are concerned with, surely, is this. With the development of international terrorism and international trafficking in drugs, it would be stupid for a society like our own not to provide adequate powers for the police to deal with that kind of situation.
Yet we all know that there is certainly a very small minority of police officers, particularly in certain areas of the country, who take advantage of any provision of additonal powers and misuse them. I will give an example. I have recently been on a series of cases where I came across the most impeccable police behaviour. There were interviews in murder cases where contemporaneous notes had been taken of every 222 interview and the police had behaved absolutely impeccably. I wondered why this could not be done in every part of the country. I went to another police authority and there police officers had interviewed people of perfectly good character on relatively trivial matters and had kept some of them, including women, in custody in what I thought were degrading conditions and the reason suggested as to why they had been subjected to them was that they had not co-operated: that is, that they had not confessed.
This kind of improper pressure that one comes across—and that is a very mild example—is just the thing against which we must safeguard ourselves. It is, therefore, important that this House in particular gives very considerable thought to how to solve this dilemma. It would be stupid, as I say, not to provide the police with adequate powers to meet the kind of demands that internationally organised crime makes on them. Yet it would be very foolish of this House not to build into the Act proper safeguards to ensure that these powers are not misused.
I want to say one or two words about the comments on education. There were a number of very interesting speeches in particular on the education system. It seems to me that, in our approach to the education system or when we look critically at it, we should not be inhibited by preconceived notions. At the same time, there is, I think, a tendency in the country at the moment to blame all the shortcomings of our state education system on the fact that the schools are largely comprehensive. I do not accept that criticism. I know of many, many comprehensive schools which are very successful. We have to provide adequate facilities and surely the concern of this House and of Parliament should be to provide an adequate and sensible state education system that will educate the vast bulk of the population. We are not concerned with private education in this House or elsewhere. Surely, we have nothing against people spending their own resources on education, if they want to do so. But the duty of Government is to ensure that the state education system is adequate and of a very high standard.
I should like to make some observations on one or two other points that were raised in the debate. First, on the question of the provision of rural telephones, if the Telecommunications Bill is passed through Parliament, what will happen to them? Who will provide the service which is now provided by the rural telephone kiosk, or even telephones to private houses in rural areas? For example, how can one summon the ambulance, the police and so on if a telephone is not provided? And, of course, it is useless to think that such a telephone would be self-supporting, because of the very nature of its location.
In conclusion, I should like to say that we have heard two very interesting maiden speeches. I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Ogmore on his maiden speech. His father was a very great friend of mine and he would have been very proud of that speech here today. We heard a charming and interesting speech from the noble Lord, Lord Quinton, and we look forward to hearing him again in this House. May I leave him with this reflection? I wonder whether when he used the words "the consumer 223 society", that was, in itself, a euphemism for the acquisitive society. Perhaps it is a more acceptable term, but nevertheless there is the same deep motivation. And is not one of our problems in society today, and the basis of my criticism of this Government, that they resort too much to a society activated only by greed?
§ 10.12 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, may I first say how much I appreciated a great many of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, particularly his apprehensions about the type of society into which the present Government may lead this country. With less finesse than the noble Lord, I would say there is a danger of building still further the "I'm all right, Jack" society. It is not my intention to roam over all the subjects covered by this debate, and I want to concentrate on just a few. But there are a number of details of the proposals in the gracious Speech of which we heard nothing, and I am assuming that it was the time factor alone which prevented the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor from departing from his post-election analysis to give us details of some of the Government's proposed legislation.
It seems that the Government are likely to proceed further with cuts in public spending, and I note with regret that the Conservatives do not yet seem to have learned that if you cut public spending you cut orders for the private sector. If you have constructive public spending, you give much needed orders to the public sector: and that applies just as much to cuts in local government expenditure as to any other expenditure.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor dismissed in just a few words the question of proposed rate increases on a selective basis. That proposal will ride roughshod over the democratic and constitutional right of local councils. The Government are to take away the right of a local council to fix its rate. In effect, central Government will determine the council's level of spending: that is, its level of services. This is yet another example, such as we have seen in Bill after Bill, of the Government interfering with local government and placing so much power in the hands of the central authority and the Secretary of State. The Government ignore the right of electors to decide their level of local services.
There has been a lot of talk about a mandate, but councils also have a mandate, and in many cases it is an annual one. Manny of the non-metropolitan councils have annual elections and all of the metropolitan councils have them. Therefore, they have a mandate which is more regular than that of the Government. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, seemed to cast doubt on the validity of these mandates of annual elections because of the low percentage poll. But once we start to do that we are saying. "Give all power to central Government because they know best".
The Government are really saying that the electors of an area are not capable of deciding what they want, yet during the recent election campaign the former 224 Secretary of State for the Environment, Mr. Heseltine, had the audacity to talk of Labour being on the road to centralism—this from a Secretary of State who has done far more than any other Secretary of State for very many years to bring about central control of local government. Therefore, it is very interesting to note the comments of Mr. Ian McCallum, the Conservative leader of the Association of District Councils, who strongly criticised the Government's proposals in these words:To aim to limit a local authority's right to decide its own local rate and spending levels will be another big step towards central government control and has grave constitutional implications. Such powers would directly undermine a local authority's responsibilities and accountability to the local electorate and susbtitute the judgment of Whitehall for that of the local town hall".The Association of Metropolitan Authorities, of which I have the honour to be president, has also strongly criticised the Government's proposals. My noble friend Lord Pitt of Hampstead said that the proposals have far-reaching constitutional implications. I would add that they are ill-conceived and ill-considered and have been decided in great haste by the Government. What consultation has there been with the local authority associations? What consultation will there be, not just about carrying out the Government's proposals but about whether or not this is the right way to do what the Government intend to try to achieve? Also, what are the criteria by which the Secretary of State will exercise his interference? During the election campaign it seemed as though there could be three alternative criteria. We know nothing about them. It appears that an arbitrary decision will be taken by the Secretary of State.
Other words in the gracious Speech imply that the Government will proceed with their manifesto proposal to compel local councils to consult local industry and commerce before setting their rates, yet this Government made it absolutely clear in their election manifesto that they are opposed to the mandatory provision of consultation with employees. This comes from a Government which in Europe have strongly opposed the Vredeling draft directive to make this mandatory for multi-nationals employing at least 1,000 employees. There is a contradiction somewhere.
Although the gracious Speech says that there will be legislation to set up a Greater London regional transport authority, we have heard nothing about it in the course of this debate. There is to be only the preparation of proposals for the abolition of the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils. In my view, these two issues cannot possibly be separated. As my noble friend Lord Pitt of Hampstead said, it was a Conservative Government which set up the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils. It seems that the decision to abolish both the GLC and the metropolitan county councils was a very hasty decision. I do not believe that the Government are yet certain about how to deal with the promise in their manifesto and what now appears in the gracious Speech. They have not thought out where this fits in with local government reorganisation, if such reorganisation is desired, or with the proposal to set up quangos or joint boards to handle services in a wider area than the boroughs or districts, as the case may be. 225 It was stated by Mr. Alan Greengross, the GLC Conservative leader, on 24th May, that:As far as I am concerned. I do not believe in more and more centralisation, nor do I see the idea of a series of appointed quangos as an acceptable solution".He added also that there should be a democratically elected body to provide an effective and financially disciplined voice for the job that must be done for London as a whole. I find further that this section of the Conservative Party manifesto was said to be, and I quote:Fraudulent, ignorant and deeply insulting".That was not the statement of Mr. Ken Livingstone; that was a statement by a Conservative Member of the GLC. Mr. Bernard Brook-Partridge, who strongly objects to his party's manifesto proposing local government functions to non-elected bodies. I would ask: is there another capital city anywhere that does not have a local authority governing the whole of its area? That is what will be proposed if the Government have their own way.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, said that there was a mandate. One has to be very careful when talking about mandates. I do not know whether my party agrees with me on this, but merely because a party puts two lines in a manifesto which nobody ever reads, that is not to say that they have the wholehearted support of the people. The noble Baroness said that the public had demanded the abolition of the GLC. Has it? Merely because a few words are put into the Conservative manifesto?—which the average elector never reads, any more than he read the 100 items in our own manifesto. One has to be very careful when one talks about mandates being given.
The joint boards, which Conservatives themselves have criticised, would reduce local democratic control. They would remove direct accountability to an elected authority, and they must inevitably entail the diffusion of responsibility to the separate parent councils.
With the proposed abolition of the metropolitan counties, how will public transport in those six conurbations be handled? There has not been a word about that. The operating body is the passenger transport executive, which is accountable at the moment to the elected county council, acting as the passenger transport authority. How is that to be run if the Government get their own way and abolish the metropolitan county councils? Their manifesto states, and I quote:We shall encourage the creation of smaller units in place of the monolithic public transport organisation which we have inherited from the socialist past and encourage more flexible forms of public transport".Just what does that mean? Perhaps the noble Lord the Minister can tell us whether the PTEs will continue? Will there be something in the form of a PTA? Will transport matters be related to other local government services? Is it the intention to bring in more private operators? If so, I suggest that the Government Ministers should carefully read the evidence that has been brought before the House of Commons' Select Committee on Transport, which has been giving very careful consideration to the whole question of bus subsidies. When they read the evidence, they will 226 realise that that is not the way out for public transport anywhere, never mind in these conurbations.
In Greater London, The London Transport Executive is responsible to the GLC. Very little has been said about transport in Greater London; no one has referred to the proposed Greater London Transport Authority which the Government propose to set up. We know that the new scheme was introduced on 22nd May, with new travel cards introducing integration between Underground and bus services. Yet the day after the newspapers carried the London Transport announcement of this new scheme and integration, there was the publication of the Conservative Party manifesto commitment to abolish the GLC and set up the new regional transport authorities. One just cannot consider London's transport apart from the other local government services: they must be considered together. It is clear that that has not yet been thought of by the Government.
We do not know how the members of the transport authority will be appointed, and we do not know to whom they will be responsible. We do not know how a precept will be arranged. We do not know how public revenue support will be arranged. All this is a mystery and we know nothing about it at all. What we do know is that, again, the Conservative Party manifesto, referring to the proposed new regional transport board, states:This will provide the opportunity to split the different types of transport into separate operating bodies".What a tragedy, just when the London Transport is proceeding with its integration of London buses and Underground in its fares structure, which I can assure your Lordships is welcomed by people in London to whom I speak. The Times of 24th June said:The new scheme for transport may be fixed and settled while the frame in which it is to be set remains hazy and undefined".That is the impression one has at the moment, a hasty decision by the Government, along with its rate position which has not been considered. I hope the Minister may be able to tell us something today.
May I briefly refer to the position of what is called proportional representation. This was raised by a number of noble Lords. I do not rule out for myself—I am not speaking for my party—that it might be desirable to have some objective review of the situation arising from the last election. But I would say quite clearly, whatever one's views might be about reforming the electoral system, that one cannot do it unless one gives consideration also to its effect on the political system. That seems to have been totally disregarded by some noble Lords today who have been emphasising the need for a change in our electoral system. The question must be asked, is it strict proportionality we want? Then of course we should adopt the Swedish system: 51 per cent. of the votes, 51 per cent. of the seats. That is not what is being suggested. We know what that would mean. the list system. As one who was a national agent of the Labour Party, may I say what lovely bureaucratic power it would have given to the central authority! Whether I would have liked it is another matter: but what power it would have given us. Although the noble Lord, Lord Banks. seemed to question the position of the single constituency representation a little, there is not the slightest 227 doubt that a list system, or larger constituencies with single transferable vote, would mean a break with the MP's representative capacity to a body of electors in that particular constituency. That point cannot possibly be disregarded.
I would challenge also whether the single transferable vote is really a proportional representation system. It may be considered to be a fairer system, but it is certainly not a proportional representation system. How can one possibly justify a system which gives lower preference votes at the end of the day the same value as first preferences? We could have a situation where second or other subsequent preference votes, allocated from, say, an eliminated extremist candidate, could determine the position of a person who on a straightforward vote would be among those to be elected for that particular electoral area. Candidates would inevitably tend to aim to secure maximum second preferences. That must blur the issues that have to be placed before the electors. Whatever criticism there might be of our present system, the winner always is the candidate for whom most of the electors have voted.
Under the single transferable vote system the candidate wanted as first preference by most of the electors could be displaced by a candidate who was the first choice of less electors. I want somebody to justify that on democratic grounds. I find it very difficult. A form of proportional representation could give considerable power and disproportionate influence to a small party, the cynical attitude of the Free Democrats in Germany, who change from one to the other. It is a strange form of democracy.
I notice in a recent article that Dr. David Owen says we should not be afraid of coalitions. But we have examples of countries with permanent coalitions and with parties continually bargaining and horse trading. As one noble Lord said, let us keep in mind the situation in Italy and how that is to work out yet again.
In conclusion, as some noble Lords have referred to the position of trade unions, may I say a few words about the proposed Government legislation on this subject. In my view there is too much unfortunate talk of trade union bosses. Even the Prime Minister recently referred to the "bully boys". General secretaries and presidents of trade unions are responsible to elected committees, and eventually are accountable to their delegate conference—as the former general secretary to the NUR found out to his cost. The unions have rule books and they are jealous of them. A number of unions have special rules revision conferences. Even the Green Paper published by the Government acknowledged that unions have different methods of electing main officials. It said that the variety and complexity of electoral arrangements are often based in history. But these are to be set aside for a national pattern to be laid down by the Conservative Government.
We have Mr. Norman Tebbit saying, "Give the unions back to their members". Just what does that mean? There is procedure in all the rule books for the rules to be changed. Any member may go to his branch meeting and propose such an amendment. I want to issue a challenge. Will any Government 228 Minister show me any union where the rules will not permit any member, if he so desires, to raise the question of the amendment of its rules to lay down a different method of election? If members prefer not to go to branch meetings to propose such an amendment why should we rely on Parliament to do that job for them? I am sure that is an important question.
I should like to refer to the strike ballots, but I shall not do so. Let me make just one final point on the political levy. As has been emphasised time and again in your Lordships' House, there is a very strict procedure to be followed by any trade union which wishes to engage in political activities, and that is a far stricter procedure than applies to any company which decides to do that. Again, any union member has the opportunity to propose a resolution to change the nature of the union's political activities if he so desires. He can propose at his branch meeting that the political fund be discontinued. He can propose that there should no longer be affiliation to the Labour Party, if he wants to do that. Moreover, we all know that every member has the opportunity to contract out of the political levy, so much so that the central office of the Conservative Party has an annual campaign to that effect. There is also provision for complaints to the certification officer.
I emphasise, as we have done time and again from these Benches, that it is a travesty of democracy to endeavour to lay down that a person who agrees with a majority decision must sign a form to say. "Please, I want to agree with the majority decision." The only democratic way is that a person has the right to disagree with a decision taken by the majority. This and other legislation which I have not had time to deal with will. I am certain, be closely scrutinised in this House. I hope that noble Lords will look at every piece of legislation because there is much in the gracious Speech which could damage the fabric of our society if we let it go in the form in which I am certain some noble Lords would like to see it.
§ 10.33 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Elton)
My Lords, there is, as my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor said some seven and a half hours ago, a wide degree of agreement throughout this House on the proper aims of Government policy. All of us want to see a country that is free and safe. All of us want to see a society that is healthy and wealthy. All of us wish to assist its least fortunate members; to chasten wrongdoers: and to advance the causes of knowledge, which is one thing, and wisdom, which is quite another. These are all unexceptionable and they are generally agreed. It is when we come to consider how best to pursue them that we fall into controversy.
My noble and learned friend took a long view of history. He pointed out from the standpoint of experience how silly it is to liken our recent economic difficulties in any way to the traumatic deprivation which was commonplace earlier in the century. That is not to belittle the difficulties; it is to put them in perspective. By comparison both with our forebears and, indeed, with the inhabitants of the greater 229 number of countries in this world, we are by any standards a very rich nation indeed. We should, I think, remember that in considering the ways in which we have successfully mitigated the effects of world recession on our own community and as we resume our progress towards greater and more general wealth during the present Parliament.
The means by which that progress is being resumed are of course the proper subject for debate tomorrow and not today. Today we are concerned not with the economics of recovery but with the fabric of the society in which it is being generated. At the heart of that fabric lies a balance which is differently struck in the constitution of every country in the world and which provides the key to each country's character. I mean of course the balance between private freedom and public interest.
That is a subject of eternal fascination for philosophers, but it is also of acute practical interest to politicians. It was the proper concern of my noble friend Lord Quinton in both capacities in an exellent maiden speech. I recall, as he moved into a number of analogies, including physiotherapy and, I think, surgery, that which I found most compelling was the existence of an animating liquid. If he would feel able to treat me to a sample or two of this later this evening I should not object.
Politicians around the world have struck this vital balance at a whole spectrum of different positions and locked up a number of deserving philosophers in the process. Where they have given the interest of the state absolute precedence, individual liberty is snuffed out in totalitarian darkness. Where the interest of individuals is paramount, on the other hand, the state is likely to be consumed in a blaze of fratricidal greed in a matter of months. In this country we have believed, at least since the accession of the House of Orange, that the preservation of individual liberty is one of the principal interests of the state itself, and to that we owe much of the strength of our society. The principle does not change but the circumstances in which it must be applied change, and the law in which it is expressed must therefore change as well. That is why it is necessary to bring before Parliament two measures which are closely concerned with this essential balance between the rights of society and our own rights as the individuals of whom society is composed.
The first of these will be a relatively simple measure: it is the Prevention of Terrorism Bill. It will deal with that form of criminality which srikes most blatantly and viciously at the very survival of our society. To contend with this, measures are required—and clearly justified—which trespass further on individual freedom than almost any others. My noble friend Lord Jellicoe rehearsed this need admirably in his review of the 1976 Act. He held that the special powers conferred by the Act should continue; but that they should be embodied in new legislation whose life should be limited to five years and which should, like the 1976 Act, be subject to annual renewal. The Government have accepted these recommendations and they will be embodied in the new Bill which will, we hope, receive the Royal Assent in time to avoid a further renewal of the 1976 Act. The Bill will incorporate the modifications recommended by my noble 230 friend Lord Jellicoe to the existing powers of exclusion, arrest and detention given to the Home Secretary and the police. Perhaps most notably, it will extend the special powers of arrest and detention to international terrorists, as well as those concerned with the affairs of Northern Ireland.
The second such measure will be one of which your Lordships heard the somewhat clamorous progress in another place, brought to an end before it came to us by the Dissolution. This is the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, was the first of your Lordships to draw our attention to it. Your Lordships will recall that this measure contained provisions to modernise and clarify the powers that may need to be exercised by the police in the investigation of crime; to improve the police complaints procedure; to effect various modest but useful reforms of the law of criminal evidence; and to underpin arrangements for consultation between the police and the local community.
In a measure of this kind it is of course difficult, but of the highest importance, to strike a proper balance of the kind referred to by the noble Lord. Lord Hunt, between the interests of society, in seeing offenders brought to justice, and the rights of the individual who may be suspected of crime. The Bill received a thorough and constructive examination in another place after its introduction last November. This identified various respects in which that balance needed adjustment, and the Government will obviously want to take account of those debates when bringing forward the new Bill.
But the debates also showed how badly the law governing the investigation of crime is in need of modernisation and reform. It has developed piecemeal over a number of years. It does not give the police the powers that they need to carry out the duties which society expects of them, and it is riddled with anomalies and gaps. I should like to take one extraordinary but illuminating example, which was not quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Gifford. A policeman can, under the present law, stop and search you for a protected bird's egg, but he cannot stop and search you for an offensive weapon. There are no powers to obtain a search warrant for a murder weapon or for other evidence of the most serious crimes. There are no powers to arrest for indecent assault or for kidnapping. There are no powers even to take finger-prints for the purposes of a criminal investigation. Plainly the law needs to be brought up to date in these respects. Plainly it must affect police efficiency, which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, and others rightly wish.
It is also clearly difficult to square this set of circumstances with the unusual. and I think misdirected, attack made on the Bill by the noble Lord, Lord Gifford; but I accept, as I am sure must he, that at the same time we must look at the other side of this balance, bacause the law also contains quite inadequate safeguards for the individual who may be suspected of crime and, above all, for the suspect detained at a police station. The Government's proposals, based on the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure, will remedy both these defects.
231 One of the most inaccurate and mischievous of the many inaccurate criticisms made of the last Session's Bill was that it adopted the additional powers recommended by the Royal Commission and omitted, or diluted, the safeguards. That is in fact the opposite of true. The Government refused to accept some of the recommendations for new powers, and in other areas we went further than the safeguards proposed by the Commission. Our proposals will continue to strive for a fair and workable balance. and I hope that your Lorships' House will make an important contribution to striking it.
So far as the police complaints procedure is concerned, the new arrangements that we propose will be those endorsed by the Select Committee on Home Affairs. They will allow relatively minor matters to be dealt with locally by informal resolution. More substantial complaints will be investigated as at present, and the most serious complaints will be subject to investigation by a senior police officer under the supervision of an independent assessor. The introduction of the assessor is an important development, and will provide further reassurance to the public that everything possible is done to arrive at the truth of allegations. The assessor's function will be to ensure that the investigations carried out under his supervision are conducted expeditiously, thoroughly, and impartially; and he will have the necessary powers for this purpose.
I will note with care the comments made on the Bill by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones. I think that my noble and learned friend Lord Rawlinson of Ewell was right to point out how unfairly my right honourable friend—who is now my noble friend—was treated in this respect when he was Home Secretary.
The constructive reception given to the Bill by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London is welcome. I shall not now elaborate upon it, since he is not present; but I was indeed glad to receive his support. I think that I ought to put one gloss on what he said in regard to the question of the availability of police for policing London. The task of policing the capital city is a very different proposition in the 1980s from what it was in the earlier part of this century, to which the right reverend Prelate referred.
In an increasingly sophisticated and technological society the police have had to adjust their response, their tactics, and their deployment of manpower to meet new situations and undertake new tasks. But it has been the policy of successive commissioners supported by the Home Secretary of the day and his predecessors to increase the number of police officers available for street duties. In recent years, as a result of the review of the force structure, almost 1,000 officers have been redeployed to street duties. The commissioner has indicated that he proposes to make available by savings in other areas of operation a further 650 officers for this purpose. I shall be asking your Lordships' support for this measure in due course.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, the Government regard alternatives to custody as an important contribution to the system, and we did indeed extend 232 them during the last Parliament. We also share his view of the importance of preventive measures and look with the greatest interest on developments in intermediate treatment. The noble Lord was not alone in his regard for the probation service, to which I shall return in a moment.
Looking at criminal justice, one has to take up the question of prisons. The difficulties that affect the prison system are well known and have been frequently and thoroughly debated by your Lordships. They have been made known not only by this means, but also by deliberate acts of policy under the last Government and the leadership of my noble friend the Leader of this House in making the system more open to the media and the public. The system is overcrowded. The condition of many of the buildings is very poor. Scarcely one stone was put on another in building secure accommodation between 1918 and 1952. Since then, maintenance has been tragically neglected. As a result, the staff work under considerable pressure to keep the system operational. This affects them as well as the inmates.
These are long-standing problems with no immediate solution. But a programme was initiated by my noble friend in 1979, well ahead of this year's Queen's Speech. As a result, four new prisons are under construction and six more are at various stages of design. Equally important, existing establishments are being extended and brought up to date. In this financial year there is provision for expenditure of £20 million on new prisons, a further £33 million on new construction at existing establishments, and another £22 million on repairs and maintenance. That amounts to £75 million in all. The numbers of staff have also been increased. The number of prison officers in post will have increased by 15 per cent. to 18,064 in 1984.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, asked about progress in developing a code of standards for prisons on the lines discussed during proceedings on the Criminal Justice Bill last year, particularly on 22nd June and 1st July. Work has continued on this subject in the course of preparing the return to be made this year to the Council of Europe on implementation of the Council's standard minimum rules. I would not, however, wish to commit my right honourable and learned friend to a position until he has had an opportunity to consider this interesting but difficult matter in the context of the many other interesting and difficult matters now freshly before him.
That must, I think—I say this with genuine regret—also be my reply to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, who asked about the minimum qualifying period for parole. The noble Lord knows already the issues that we have under consideration. My right honourable and learned friend must have time to consider them himself.
As to the overflow into police and magistrates' court cells, the fact is that there is a grave shortage of accommodation countrywide. The state and the actual fabric of buildings in London is probably the worst concentration or shortcoming. We could either have continued in these appalling conditions or done something about it. We did, in fact, do something 233 about it. As a result, 450 places are at present simply not available at Wormwood Scrubs while A wing and the hospital are rebuilt. The result of this and other such moves, which I believe it was imperative to take, has been an unacceptable number of prisoners in this sort of accommodation. On 27th June there were in fact 318 prisoners so held.
Before I leave the criminal justice system, let me refer briefly to capital punishment. The Government are aware of the widespread concern about this issue, and my right honourable and learned friend the Home Secretary announced on 23rd June in another place that the Government would provide time for a full debate there at an early opportunity. Traditionally this issue is left for Members of another place to decide on a free vote. To the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, and others, I would suggest that we might be wise to await the result of that occasion before considering what we ourselves ought to do.
I think that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, was anxious about signing Protocol 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Signature would bind Parliament by its existence. It is an undertaking never to reintroduce capital punishment. Neither Government nor, indeed, Parliament itself can bind its successors and, therefore, signature would not be appropriate.
My noble and learned friend Lord Rawlinson referred to the need to give priority to law reform and measures to improve the administration of justice. He mentioned a number of specific points which fall within the remit of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. I can assure him that my noble and learned friend will give full and careful consideration to the various matters which he raised and I have this evening to comment on only one or two of the matters to which he referred.
My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor is fully committed to the work of the Law Commission in promoting law reform. The Family Law Bill, referred to in the gracious Speech, will give effect to three Law Commission reports. The Occupiers' Liability Bill, already introduced, is designed to give effect to another Law Commission report and the Lord Chancellor hopes to introduce other legislation to give effect to Law Commission proposals for reform as well as a number of consolidation Bills.
My noble and learned friend referred to the need for more courts. We have in fact reduced the delays in the crown court despite the substantial increase in the number of cases. Many new court buildings have been opened and the number of courtrooms available for the Crown Court has been increased from about 340 at the beginning of 1980 to about 380. As mentioned in the manifesto, the programme for new court building will continue.
My noble and learned friend referred also to the division of responsibility between the Lord Chancellor and the Home Secretary. Without entering into these difficult waters, I should perhaps point out that the Lord Chancellor now has responsibility for all areas of legal aid, both criminal and civil, following the acceptance of one of the recommendations by the Royal Commission on Legal Services. My noble and learned friend also made a number of points on legal aid, 234 including the desirability of extending legal aid to tribunals. The present Government have been mindful of the significant increase in legal aid expenditure and have accordingly sought to ensure that the legal aid scheme provides value for money. The scheme has at the same time been extended in priority areas, to applicants to mental health review tribunals and parents whose children are involved in care proceedings. Extension to other areas, including tribunals, must be considered in the context of the financial implications thereof.
On a related note, the Government are firmly committed to extending the grounds that disqualify those with criminal records from serving on juries. We attach the highest importance to the preservation of the integrity of the jury service and the maintenance of public confidence in our criminal justice system. We believe that the people of this country do not want a situation to persist in which those with quite serious criminal records might be entitled to sit in judgement upon their fellow citizens. Changes in the law to exclude such people from juries will be made at the earliest suitable legislative opportunity, but I am not yet in a position to say when this is likely to be.
I promised to refer again to the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, or rather to the probation service, which is very nearly synonymous in this context. The noble Lord has a close personal interest in the service and therefore demands respect from it and from this House. He drew your Lordships' attention to an issue of real and natural concern in the probation service, and one which I did discuss briefly with both him and them shortly before I handed my ministerial interest in the service to my honourable friend. Therefore, I have some direct knowledge of the matter about which he complains with such engaging and admirable passion.
We do not suggest that students of any profession receive extravagant sums, but even probation students at the bottom of the revised scale will receive £3,500, which is significantly more than, for example, the basic grant paid to a student teacher, and the mature student will be at a rate of salary almost entirely unchanged at £5,382 per annum. The reduction affects new students only. It does not affect those who are already on their courses, and it has, of course, nothing whatever to do with the salaries of serving probation officers.
We have the highest regard for the probation service, which is a vital and constructive element in the criminal justice system and the part most directly focused on dealing with offenders in the community. The Government have not been swept unsuspecting into a different view; nor have they failed to listen to the noble Lords and others on the subject, though they have not been persuaded by them. They have seen the need to concentrate their resources on reinforcing the most essential parts of the service, and that cannot include offering to students, before they even become probation officers, terms of service designed to attract applicants at a time when they were very reluctant to come forward.
I return to the measures to which I earlier referred. The third of these I have already introduced in this House and some of your Lordships have become almost too familiar with it. The Data Protection Bill 235 had passed all its stages here when the last Parliament was dissolved. That Bill, too, I would remind your Lordships, has to be concerned with balance, in this case between the interests of the individual and those of organisations, in the private sector as well as in the public sector, which automatically process information about individuals. I am tempted to say more about it, but there will be an early opportunity and I shall forgo the pleasure.
Some noble Lords, led by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, suggested that there were signs that we were going to undermine the welfare state, the principal features of which I think I am right in saying were set up by a coalition Government. On this issue, we stated our position quite clearly in our manifesto. It was resoundingly endorsed by the electorate on 9th June. The electorate does read manifestos. I jolly well took care that the electorate read the manifesto of noble Lords opposite; I found it relieved me of the necessity of making any speeches at all!
In our manifesto, which the noble Lord prudently did not use in the same way, we said that Conservatives believe strongly in the duty of Government to help those who are least able to help themselves. We have more than carried out our pledges to protect pensioners against price rises and to maintain standards in the National Health Service. We are determined that all public services shall provide the best possible value, both for the people they seek to help and for the taxpayer who pays the bill. That statement encapsulates the sum of our achievements since 1979 and equally our objectives over the next five years. By no stretch of the imagination does it constitute an attack on or an undermining of the welfare state.
The noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, mentioned capital expenditure on the National Health Service in this context. I can tell him that during the last Parliament the Government secured a 17 per cent. real terms increase in capital spending in the National Health Service. Planned capital spending now stands at £1,100 million, with 140 major new hospital projects being designed or under construction in England alone.
§ Lord Pitt of Hampstead
My Lords, the noble Lord gives me this nice propaganda, but that is not the issue I raised at all. I raised the question of central funding of certain National Health services, and that is what I was concerned about.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me to resume, that is a matter to which I think we might return on another occasion. I have the task of replying to 32 speeches in nominally 25 minutes; I think that 32 minutes would not be excessive. I shall endeavour not to go beyond, because I shall incur wrath from all sides. As the noble Lord wants me to pick up particular issues, on the issue of renal services, in 1982 there were more than 1,000 kidney transplants in the United Kingdom, which was a record. There is certainly still a waiting list of over 2,250, but the noble Lord should realise that the problem is not lack of money, but lack of donor organs.
236 The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, asked about outstanding proposals for reforming the Industrial Injuries Scheme. The Government were able to give effect from the beginning of April to those proposals for reforming the Industrial Injuries Scheme which were compatible with the new statutory sick pay scheme introduced at that time. Implementation of the remaining proposals outlined in the White Paper will require further legislation and it is the Government's intention to legislate upon them as soon as the parliamentary timetable will allow. They have certainly not been abandoned.
We are resolute in our commitment to shift the balance of available resources away from those with slight injuries and small earnings losses in favour of those with severe disablement who have little or no capacity to earn, and to remove duplication of benefit cover with the main national insurance schemes. The noble Lord raised two other matters which, if he will forgive me, I will write to him about.
The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, was the first speaker to raise education in the debate, and showed in an admirable maiden speech a proper concern, shared by my noble friend Lord Beloff, with standards and particularly with standards of teachers, a subject which my noble friend Lady Cox's lucid speech showed to be of paramount importance. These standards spring from the training of teachers. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State attaches great importance to improving the quality of the teacher training system. Policies to that end were set out in the White Paper Teacher Quality, which was published in March, and action on implementation is now in hand. The White Paper also dealt with management issues. Action on that front is being pursued in concert with local authority employers. My right honourable friend introduced earlier this year a scheme to encourage in-service training of teachers—and that is important—in certain priority areas, and has commissioned Bristol University to undertake development work on the augmented training of head teachers and senior staff.
As the noble Lord rightly implied this is a remit similar to that of the Scarman Committee in England and Wales and I take on board that there may be lessons to learn from it. I can reassure my noble friend Lord O'Neill of the Maine on the matter of Londonderry Bridge that it is almost finished, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will be responsible to the Public Accounts Committee in the usual way.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, made some welcome observations about the Londonderry police liaison committee. I can tell him that the police authority for Northern Ireland has been working jointly with the RUC to consider the experience of operating this and other liaison committees throughout the Province. Final recommendations have yet to be made, but the purpose of any new committee will be to foster good relations between the police and the public and to obtain public support in relation to a wide range of matters of local concern including public order, crime prevention, and community relations.
A burning issue—almost the last—raised by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and also the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, was that of the rate limitation and reform. 237 We have been concerned as a Government by the excessive and irresponsible rate increases imposed by some high spending councils on local householders and businesses. A minority of authorities remain determined to defy the Government's spending targets and to charge high levels of rates for services which are often wasteful and inefficient.
If the 18 most excessive overspending authorities had this year spent at the target set for them there would have been on average no rate increase in England this year. This is not a partisan targeting of politically hostile authorities; it is a necessary reaction to profligate and irresponsible spending. We shall therefore introduce a Bill in the new year to control the rate set by selected high-spending authorities from the 1st April 1985, and we can discuss the details of that when we get to it.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes. With her we have come to the regretful conclusion that the Greater London Council and the Metropolitan County Councils are a superfluous and costly tier of local government. They are remote from the people. They have struggled unsuccessfully to justify their existence, and they arc among the biggest of these overspenders. We will therefore abolish these authorities and transfer their functions to their boroughs and districts where possible. Services which need to be provided over a wider area will be run by joint boards, boroughs, or district representatives. Local democracy will be strengthened by this new local government structure, which will be more economical, efficient and effective than the present one.
My right honourable friend will be bringing forward proposals and consulting local government and others about the implementation of these proposals which the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, would then be able to examine in more detail. We shall maintain the strong commitment to the inner cities which was developed over the last four years and is underlined in our election manifesto.
The progress of this nation out of recession into a renewed prosperity, the formulation of new laws, the encounter with unforeseen crises—all that I have dealt with so far in my speech—will be done under the watchful and constructive eye of Parliament. The Commons House of that Parliament is elected by a system long favoured in this country and with manifest advantages over any other that has yet been proposed for it. It keeps constituency Members closest, as the noble Lord. Lord Underhill, said—and how glad I am to agree with him on something—to constituency electors and to constituency problems. It produces in the House of Commons a simple confrontation between the ins and the outs. That may be noisy at times, but it is clearly understood by the electorate and is reflected even in the shape of the building.
We elect a Government and an Opposition. Two phalanxes of benches face each other at the historically safe distance—rather more than a sword's length. Foreign countries with fancy franchises elect members to form a Government and they send them not to face each other, but to sit in a semicircle so that groups can shift and slide into alliances with each other at which voters can only guess and whose eventual policies they 238 cannot predict, with all the ills which my noble friend Lord Beloff so eloquently fears and all the unfairness my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls so eloquently described.
I was not surprised by the thesis of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, that the rules under which his party was defeated were unfair. It is no surprise on the field of any recent battle to find the defeated picking over the auguries in search of intimations of future victory. The noble Lord, Lord Banks, said that his allies were complaining about the rules after losing the match and says that no such stigma attaches to his party which has complained of the system before countless elections. It has to be said that his party has been losing elections for very much longer than that of the noble Lord. Lord Kennet. Thus, the same applies to them.
I can, however, comfort the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, in one respect. The Government are sympathetic to the idea that the franchise should be extended to our citizens living abroad. Our evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs reflected this view. We are currently considering our response to the Select Committee. We also accept that British citizens living in European Community countries should be able to vote at elections to the European Parliament. We are currently considering the complex issues which would have to be decided before legislation could be introduced.
I could go on at length on the subject, but I will satisfy myself with one further observation only. Much has been made of polls on the subject of a fairer system. Whether the questions explained in what way it would be fairer, I am not certain. What is certain is that when a party went to the only poll that actually counts and advocated proportional representation 70 per cent. of those who did vote chose to vote against it.
I can elaborate on no further issues. To reply to 32 speeches in 32 minutes was beyond me. I can only thank my noble friends who have contributed. I shall not even read out the list of encomia which I have written to mollify those whose names do not appear, I regret, in my speech.
Inextricably, I must conclude.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, inevitably, I must conclude. I hope I have made it clear to your Lordships that the programme that we have prepared to meet the exigencies ahead of us is a full one. It is also a responsible one. Some may be surprised, some may be even disappointed, but there has been no dramatic swing to the political right. This is the programme of the whole Conservative party, not a mere fraction of it. It seeks the good of the whole nation, not a mere section of it and it is based on the only manifesto we have—the one we published. The humble Address we have before us in response to the gracious Speech therefore seems to me a thoroughly appropriate one which deserves your Lordships wholehearted support.
§ The Chancellor of The Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Cockfield)
My Lords, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.
§ Moved, that the debate be now tomorrow.—(Lord Cockfield.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed adjourned accordingly.