§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ Lord Grimond
My Lords, we are all very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, for introducing this Motion and for the interesting speech which he made in arguing for it. I am also delighted to follow the noble Lord. Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, who introduced into the debate a note of cheerful acerbity, for which he is well merited. I do not wish to take issue with him in his many stringent criticisms of the Government, because that is not my business, but I would make just one or two comments.
It seemed to me that towards the end he was slipping into what has become the normal language of politics, which is rather extreme. I do not think he went as far as some people, but, try as I may, I find it extremely difficult to see, for instance, the Leader of your Lordships' House, the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister, or the Minister for Industry as fascist beasts slavering to destroy democracy. I have tried my best, but so far I have failed to see them in that light, though I think they are open to all kinds of other criticisms.
Further, I do not think it is sound to equate the denial of freedom consequent upon unemployment with the kind of denial of freedom which takes place in, say, Siberia. They seem to me to be extremely different matters and, so long as the unemployed are paid at least something of a wage—they have all sorts of matters for complaint, so it is serious—it is not on the level of the major interferences of freedom which take place in fascist and communist states.
As for accountability, the main accountability in the private sector lies in competition and the need to raise money in the market on your own merits. For the consumer this has proved to be the most effective form of accountability, and a good deal more effective than accountability to parliamentary committees. But I am also in agreement with the noble Lord that there is far too great a disparity between ownership and income in our modern society.
I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, who said that there had been no great advances in social thought in this century, that I consider the whole train of thought which began with Asquith and Lloyd George, and continued through Keynes and Beveridge, as a very considerable advance. Although there have been difficulties, and although it requires reconsideration, certainly as a Liberal I should be very sorry to throw out the whole of that tradition and return to a kind of jungle warfare in which the strongest take all. So I do not think it is very useful to argue today the exact bounds of the mixed economy.
I quite agree that the present mix needs reconsideration, and I am a strong supporter of doing as much as can be done by a free market and individual ownership. But the fundamental point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, was surely that threats to 566 freedom throughout all history have tended to come either from the state or from overpowerful individuals and institutions, and that the main bulwark against them has been that ordinary people should have a certain amount of property on which they can rely, and from which they can resist the overweening pretensions of the state, and, indeed, the great landowners and institutions of various kinds.
The noble Lord broadened the Motion out from that to indicate, as is perfectly true, that individual enterprise has proved to be the best way to run an economy and that, if we wish to raise the material standards of the world, it is to that that we should look, and not to a socialist economy such as Russia, Eastern Europe, and the Far East. Surely we must all agree that whatever boundaries have to be drawn in a mixed economy, in that part of it which remains to be run by private enterprise, and which I consider to be a most important part, the greatest spread of property is highly desirable.
Where I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, was slightly over-fair towards the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, was when he stated that the noble Lord opposite was defending the Government. I myself thought that his defence was rather lukewarm. I do not feel that the Government are pursuing the kind of policies of which I suspect the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, might approve. On the contrary, since this Government came to power the difference between the very rich and the very poor has grown a great deal. Property, far from being diffused, has been concentrated. One has only to read the newspapers. One can read in the newspapers today that the directors of the Bank of Scotland have awarded themselves enormous increases in salary. At the same time, the teachers are being asked to take 4.5 per cent. This Government are not diffusing property and spreading it across all sections of the community, but are concentrating it.
I believe that the main reason we do not have a great diffusion of property is our system of taxation. I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, who is to follow me in this debate, will have a good deal to say on that subject. To my mind, there is no doubt that present taxation in this country deters the ordinary person from investing in equities and makes it comparatively difficult for him to enter a partnership, to start a small business, or indeed to own ordinary house property. The bias of taxation is in favour of such investments as pension funds. Pension funds remove from ordinary people the choice that is so desirable. The taxation system encourages people to put money into investments such as savings certificates but not into equity shares, and it makes it extremely difficult for the self-employed to continue with business.
One may compare that situation with the attitude in other countries, and I have before in this House drawn your Lordships' attention to the co-operatives in Mondragón in Spain, where there are now 20,000 people engaged in co-operatives. To join a co-operative there, one has to put down £2,000, and there is a long waiting list. If one asks, as I did, whether it is difficult for people to put down a £2,000 deposit, one receives the reply, "Of course not. Don't all working people put down money on motor cars or on television 567 sets? Of course they do. They put down a certain deposit and borrow the rest". That is what the workers of Mondrag¾n, who are less affluent than most workers in this country, are doing. The result is that they not only have a stake in their business, but they own it. This makes an enormous difference to efficiency and to the community. It means, for instance, that they are now in a position to run their own social services and their own schools. They do not like their schools run by the Catholic Church or by the Government. They were told that they could not have social benefits as high as they expected, and so they started their own scheme. These are not Right-wing fascists, but Left-wing Basque nationalists—and they are determined to keep out of the grip of Madrid.
One can compare their situation with that of our own people, about whom we have just heard. As I understand it they are expected to take the princely sum of £70-worth of free shares. It is perfectly true that they can subscribe to more shares, but the Statement seemed to indicate that the Government regard employee shares as being a fringe activity. The workers are not going to have any control over the privatised British Telecom. They are to be given a few very small perks on the extreme margins of the business. One has to make it worthwhile for people, if one wants them to increase their stake in the country, to take up equity shares. I have not considered the Statement in detail, but there is a good deal more to it than has so far appeared.
In my former constituency of Orkney and Shetland, there is now a very considerable amount of savings as a result of oil. What happens to them? They are put into either savings banks or building societies. Those savings are removed from the counties and out of industrial investment—and we are still heavily subsidised by central Government—while people will not use our own savings for the benefit of our own industry and services. There must be something wrong about this.
I return to what was quite rightly said by the noble Lord. Lord Cledwyn, when he objected to the centralisation that goes on in this country. Money is taken out of Wales and put into the City of London, and then subsidies are graciously paid back to Wales, to make good what the City has taken.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, if the noble Lord will give way, in the light of his comments about Mondrag…n. does he not agree with the idea of a co-operative development agency, which I know he supported in another place, as I did? Is it not rather sad that when the Government have an opportunity to strengthen the development of co-operatives through the Co-operative Development Agency and Industrial Development Bill, which will come before this House shortly, that there is a great contrast between what the Government say they want to do and what they actually do when it comes to legislation?
§ Lord Grimond
My Lords, I am wholly on the noble Lord's side. The Government have kept the Co-operative Development Agency in being, and what they are going to do now we do not know. I am wholly with the noble Lord that co-operatives are one way of 568 achieving that which the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, wants—and, I think, a very important way.
The country still believes that there are two ways to run our affairs. One is state possession, which has proved highly unsatisfactory for many reasons. The other is private monopoly in the hands of very large institutions and shareholders—and that is becoming worse. I believe that there is a third way, which may be called socialism without the state. The situation is becoming very serious, because as privatisation goes on, and as modern technology expands, more and more wealth and power will be concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. The only way to spread the advantages of modern technology is to widen its ownership. That has to be done through a much wider holding of shares.
I am not convinced that the so-called improvements in the City will achieve that. I am not convinced that the small shareholder will benefit from what we are told is going to happen in the City of London. I am not sure that he will get a fair deal from the amalgamation of the broker and principal. And I am not sure that the huge amalgamations of brokerage houses will be interested in his investment.
I very much hope that the Government will do more in the privatisation schemes to spread ownership and will reform the taxation system to give advantages to those who are prepared to invest their own money in equities. I hope that the Government will continue in other ways to encourage the small businessman, the self-employed, and those who want to own a reasonable amount of property for the very purposes which the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, began by telling us about.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Lord Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon
My Lords, I am sure that we are all very grateful to my noble friend Lord Beloff for initiating this debate. After listening to him and then to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, I am bound to say that I was not sure whether they were both speaking in the same debate on the same Motion. As the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, said, it is of course possible to define freedom in any number of different ways. Once one gets into the argument over what constitutes economic freedom, it is one that can go on interminably, without any satisfactory conclusion ever being arrived at. I want to limit what I have to say to certain kinds of property; visible property, tangible property—which I believe have a very close connection with freedom. Indeed, to me the question is not so much whether property confers freedom but whether there is at the moment enough freedom to acquire property.
I heard the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, say at one point that there was no way in which the council tenant who remains a council tenant was any less free than his next door neighbour who purchased his council house. With respect to the noble Lord, that is absolute nonsense. Of course the tenant who has bought his council house has achieved a degree of freedom which his tenant neighbour does not have and possibly never will achieve. The house owner has considerably more freedom to do what he likes with his house and garden, subject to planning controls: to extend his house and to relandscape his garden, and so 569 on. He now has the freedom to transmit it to his heirs and to his children. But above all it has given him the immense freedom of mobility which the council tenant lacks. A council tenant who wants to go somewhere else to find a job is, at the moment, thwarted by the difficulty of finding a council house in the place where the job is available, or arranging an exchange through the local council. However, after the initial period has expired, if he can sell his house he has an immensely better chance of getting a job in a new place.
To take a more obvious example where the connection between ownership of personal property and freedom is concerned, let us consider the revolution which the private ownership of motor cars has brought about in this country. Apart from giving the city dweller the freedom to get out of the city at weekends, it has created an absolute revolution in the countryside. Whereas with the decline in agricultural employment it used to be necessary for rural dwellers to crowd into the towns and cities in search of work, they are now able to commute 30 to 50 miles a day, sharing their cars between groups of workers. Their freedom to choose and obtain jobs has been immensely increased; quite apart from the other amenities which the motor car provides for them and their families. There does not seem to me to be the slightest doubt that that is true. Indeed, the ownership of some kind of personal property really is the mark, I suggest, of a free citizen. It gives him self-respect and an increased degree of economic freedom, however defined, and it gives him a wider freedom of choice in many respects.
The opportunities for acquiring tangible personal property are. of course, increased enormously for the younger generation. A generation or two ago a young couple getting married had to save for a long time to buy a house, if they were ever able to buy a house. They had to acquire their furniture bit by bit. Their marriage was often postponed for many years because they had not saved up enough to furnish and equip a home for marriage. This has all changed. The young couple of today at almost ever)' level expects to be able to get into the house and find it fully furnished with consumer durables of every' kind, and have a motor car, television set, washing machine, or whatever, on borrowed money. This has its dangers. The enourmous increase in the propensity to borrow does carry considerable social and economic dangers. However, that it has increased the freedom of choice and freedom in general for these people cannot, it seems to me, be doubted.
There is another respect in which freedom has been gradually spreading as a result of the acquisition of property. That, of course, is in the one-man or small private business, which is a method of accumulating property whether it be in the form of fixed assets, working capital or simply the goodwill of a business. It is possible for a single person, starting as a self-employed person, to work up a business which, if he is another Morris, could become one of the giants of the future. But it may also simply be that he is establishing a useful local small business which he can leave to his children. This provides a useful function and gives him a degree of independence which he cannot possibly achieve as an employee.
570 The enemy of this kind of freedom is, as the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, said, bureaucracy. It is the tax collector; it is the planning officer, and it is the bureaucrat of every kind. There are many planning authorities which seem to take a fiendish delight in spinning matters out over quite small details on planning applications for improvements, and so on. I am aware that the present Government have improved the position but there is still far too much time-wasting going on. There is also the bureaucracy of the Inland Revenue and the complexities of the tax system. I freely admit that this Government have done an enormous amount in providing tax concessions and incentives, grants, loans, and so on, for the starting up of businesses. But, as I have said before in your Lordships" House, it is in fact the sheer weight of controls and paperwork which is stifling so many of these new businesses in their infancy. The very sight of the tax tables—which are about two inches thick—is enough to stop a one-man business from taking on one extra employee. The wife is probably working every evening doing the VAT returns and she is not going to be able to cope with that as well as the book-keeping.
Again as I have said before, there is also this appalling habit of the Inland Revenue of forcibly reclassifying self-employed people as employees to the tune of many thousands a year. Of course there are certain cases—and we know that there are—in which the Revenue has reason for its decisions. There have been cases of frauds and fiddles through subcontracting of various kinds which has enabled some people either to evade tax or, at least, to pay their tax much later than under the PAYE system. But it is also a fact that the single self-employed man who may have only one client or customer is starting what might turn out to be a very much larger business; but if he is immediately forced to become the employee of his one customer he loses his opportunity to get a second customer, a third and a fourth and of gradually building up a useful small business. In my view the Inland Revenue has been far too officious, far too insensitive and far too bureaucratic about this. I very much hope that my noble friend, with his long experience of the Inland Revenue, will be able to give us some encouragement that the Government really are going to look at this.
A few weeks ago I read an article in a newspaper by a former colleague of mine in another place—Mr. Brian Walden—for whom I have a considerable admiration, first, as a politician, when he was, and now as a journalist and broadcaster. In the course of the article he said that in his view the ordinary British citizen did not want to be free; that he did not want the sort of freedom which this Government both advocate and are offering. He said that all that concerned the average British citizen was the security of his savings and that the British citizen would very much rather put his savings into a building society or a pension fund and be sure of their security than take the slightest risk which might be involved in investing through the Stock Exchange or other securities.
It is my view that, while that may be true of a considerable number of the population, Mr. Walden is already well out of date. I think that the situation among the younger generation is changing very considerably and the ambition to free oneself from the 571 ties of employment is spreading much faster and much wider than he thinks. Of course to free oneself from the ties of employment involves being able to set up without undue restrictions in one's own business and to acquire property as a standby to give one the greater freedom of choice which property of all kinds offers.
There is a connection between freedom and the ownership of private property. To my mind that is undoubted. What is needed is a much greater freedom from Government interference with the acquisition of private property and the encouragement of those who want to put property to good use.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, I should like to begin by thanking very warmly the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, for introducing this Motion, not simply because it is leading to a most interesting debate but because, in my view, British politics is greatly lacking in ideological debate and this kind of Motion is particularly apposite to this House, where we can debate ideologically and can add a valuable element to British politics.
There are two nouns contained in the Motion. The first is "freedom". Freedom is directly related to people and their feelings—to human beings. The second is "property". Property consists of inanimate objects. As I understand it, the noble Lord's proposition is that material goods—the inanimate objects— can create or sustain the human emotion of freedom. I beg to doubt that. I want to examine both the proposition and the alternative.
Historically there have been two general answers to this issue. The first is that possessions are necessary for freedom. This is the conventional Conservative attitude, although one should note that at times leaders of the Conservative Party, like Benjamin Disraeli, had a wider concept. Indeed, since the second world war there has been a certain modification of the boundaries set—the parameters accepted by the Conservative Party—between personal and social provision. The second answer to this general proposition is that freedom is possible only through membership of broadly like-minded communities, which is the general Socialist approach to the issue.
I should like to examine first the conventional Conservative philosophy. We have to ask: freedom for whom? Freedom surely comes through power, and in our modern world power very largely comes through wealth. My noble friend Lord Cledwyn gave one statistic concerning the distribution of wealth in this country in 1981, when the last figures were compiled. I want to add to his figures and take them a little further. It may assist noble Lords to understand the thread of my argument if I point out that, according to the Inland Revenue, 1 percent. of the adult population of this country on the 1981 figures own 23 per cent. of the marketable wealth of the country.
My noble friend Lord Cledwyn gave the 5 per cent. figure; I would go on to the 10 per cent. figure. Ten per cent. of the adult population own 60 per cent. of the marketable wealth of the country; 25 per cent. (one in four) own 84 per cent. of that marketable wealth. What does that mean in practice and in the terms of this Motion? Does it not mean that here we are talking 572 about freedom for the few—the minority; a large minority? If 25 percent, own 84 percent, of the wealth of this country, 7 5 per cent. own only 16 per cent. That hardly provides a basis of private property giving the wealth which gives the power through which freedom can be gained.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord has not overlooked a third noun in the Motion—"diffusion". If the word "diffusion" is looked at in the same way, the Motion does not defend the present distribution of private property. The Motion advocates its diffusion.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that intervention. It is a point on to which I was going to lead my argument. I accept completely that the wording of the Motion indeed supports the basic philosophy that I hope will follow from the enunciation of the form of Socialism which is the central part of my speech. But at the moment, as the noble Lord has by implication admitted, the wealth distribution of this country allows freedom for the few and denies freedom to the many. Once you get into the situation in which an elite has freedom, inevitably that is denying the same kind of freedom to the vast majority of the citizens of this county. This is the central thrust of my examination at least, not necessarily of the noble Lord's interpretation of the Conservative philosophy, but of the conventional Conservative philosophy.
This Government, and indeed the Government since 1979, have made that quite clear. In my submission, they have made it perfectly clear that their conception of freedom in this country is freedom for the few, and indeed freedom for the powerful. What is happening today so far as the freedom of the citizens of Britain is concerned? We have seen the undermining of the right to vote. Is the right to vote not an essential part of individual freedom? In parenthesis, I would warn this House, and I would particularly warn those who defend the continued existence of this House as it is at present constituted, that if it supports the concept of depriving people of the right to vote, it is committing hara-kiri. The people who have gained the right to vote in battles throughout the ages will not have a non-elected Assembly telling them that that right to vote can be withdrawn.
We have seen the attack on the trade unions and the increasing Government control over the trade unions and industrial relations that has followed. Have we so forgotten our concept of common standards that, when we see the restriction of free trade unions and the increase of Government control over industrial relations in Poland, we recognise that as an attack on freedom, whereas in our own country it is not admitted—on the other side of the House at least—that this is equally an attack on freedom and a restriction on the freedom of organised workers?
I hardly need to point out that there is no freedom for the man or woman who has no employment but particularly there is no freedom for the young men and young women who not only have no employment but see no prospect of employment and who may, as we know, through experiencing a period of three, four or five years after leaving school, not simply be denied 573 employment but be denied the power of taking up employment if the opportunity ever comes. I think the noble Lord would probably agree with me that there is a very great danger that those young people who leave our schools and who are not able to get a job in the first five years after leaving school may very well find themselves, at the end of that period, to be unemployable.
We have seen, and the noble Lord who preceded me, Lord Maude, was talking about, the use of motor cars in the rural areas. Oh yes, but what about the use of railways and bus services in the rural areas? Those of us who live in the rural areas know that the mobility of the inhabitants of rural areas has been drastically reduced over the past few years, through the removal of railways, through the curtailment of bus services.
§ Lord Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon
My Lords, does the noble Lord not realise that it is precisely the enormous increase in the ownership of motor cars in the rural areas that has made the bus and railway services so unprofitable that they have had to close down? I admit that it is of considerable inconvenience to those old people who do not have cars.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, I am not just talking about those who have cars. I am certainly not unaware of the fact that a lot more people in rural areas have cars now than, say, 10 years ago. But there are still a lot of people who do not have cars and who are leaving the rural areas because they find that they neither have mobility nor the elementary opportunity of just doing their ordinary shopping. When the test of the services, whether bus or rail, rests simply on the issue of profitability, then I suggest that we are penalising the old, the young and, indeed, a large number of middle-aged people in rural areas who do not have cars. We are driving them out of the rural areas and seeing particularly the young people being forced to go to the cities.
I would also take up another point that was raised, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, when he made an intervention in connection with health facilities in the United States in comparison with those in this country. I am sure that, like myself, the noble Lord has taught in the United States. Teaching in the universities in the United States, my experience has been that regularly students drop out every term. When you investigate this, they drop out because they have slight—and I emphasise slight—health problems. Those slight health problems cost them so much that they cannot afford to continue their university fees.
I remember not very long ago in the wealthy city of Houston in Texas that every night there was a radio broadcast appealing for people to give blood, to sell blood. To what? To the two charitable hospitals because there was no blood bank at either of them—in one of the wealthiest cities of the United States. Any American will tell you that one of the most drastic and heaviest burdens that they have to live with is the danger of being ill. Of course there are insurance schemes. But you talk to any of the poorer half of the United States, and particularly to the young and to the mothers, and I have no doubt whatever that they will confirm what I am saying.
574 Let me very quickly turn to the alternative philosophy raised by the noble Lord's Motion. Those of us who claim and have claimed to be socialists have a long history behind us. We need to remember it continually. It is frequently thought of as starting from the early Christians. I would go further back than that, to the early hunting and gathering of societies, where communal service and communal freedom were first established, but we have not time to go into that. I would just give this list: coming from the Peasant Revolt to the Levellers; to Robert Owen and his followers in the 19th century; to the Chartists; to the Social Democratic Federation of Hyndman; to the Independent Labour Party of Keir Hardie; to the Fabian Society and eventually to the Labour Party. There is a long-standing history. Of what?— particularly if you add on the social side the growth of the trade union movement since the Industrial Revolution, alongside the growth of the co-operative movement, very much on the lines that I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, describe as that now being practised by the Basques in Spain. This long list is a list of the pioneers, of those who have been battling from freedom, freedom for all against freedom for a small elite. It is freedom through membership of the community, giving security, which is essential to freedom, giving mutual protection, giving a common concern, and based upon a common form of ownership.
Let me say here again in parenthesis that nationalisation has not necessarily got anything to do with socialism. Bismarck nationalised the railways in Germany in the last century. That was nothing to do with socialism. I would say to members of my own party that we have to rethink this whole concept of nationalisation. We have to think much more in terms of common ownership than of the kind of state nationalisation which we have seen over the past 30 years or so. We must be clear that when we are talking about common ownership, we are not at any time excluding personal possessions. We are not suggesting that all goods should be commonly owned. Personal possessions, as has been said earlier in this debate, are an essential part of a healthy society.
Nor may I say to the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, would I accept the Soviet Union as an example of any kind of socialism that I would recognise. I do not believe that the Soviet Union is going along a socialist direction. I certainly do not believe that the Soviet Union has developed that basis of freedom for all which is an essential of the socialist message.
But this concept of freedom through the community is more relevant today than it ever has been since the growth of the nation state, since the increase of the power of the executive within that nation state; particularly today, as we see in our own country, with the bureaucracy which the nation state itself has created, with, perhaps even more important, the growth of the multinational corporations, often more powerful than the nation state; with the insidious effect of the mass media in all its aspects and its power to control minds or to direct minds. In these circumstances the individual has less power and less freedom of choice, less freedom of action, less freedom to develop an individual personality than perhaps at any time in modern history.
575 I should like to refer briefly to another point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. The noble Lord referred to the growth of freedom in the nineteenth century. That may have been the case as the mass of people in this country were demanding equal rights with all. It was certainly not the case for the vast majority of people in this world. The period of colonialism can hardly be described as a period of freedom. Europeans at this time were recognising, as they thought, the strength of a civilisation according to the number of possessions that that civilisation owned. They did not recognise the extent of individual freedom which was drawn in such societies from the co-operation of communities, including the freedom from the tyranny of materialism which is surely a lesson that we all can learn and that we all need learn in the latter part of the twentieth century.
I conclude by strengthening the argument that I have been following with the words of a man whom I, at least, consider a great poet. They are well known words from Alexander Pope's Essay on Man. I quote:So two consistent motions act the soul; And one regards itself, and one the whole. Thus God and Nature linked the general frame, And bade self-love and social be the same".
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, I, too, spotted that the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, had overlooked (dare I say characteristically?) the third noun "diffusion". I also noted that the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, when he opened his speech, talked about freedom as being through power, which is the last way I would have thought of it. I was tempted to take the points as they came, but that would be very boring. I think that it may be found that what I have to say is in remarkable contrast to what we have just heard. I suspect that if the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, sought to say it, he would say that it is disgraceful that we have over 10 per cent. unemployed. I would say that it is splendid that we have nearly 90 per cent. employed. The noble Lord might say, with great passion, that the number of unemployed should be reduced: I would say, also with great passion, I believe that the number in employment should be increased. There is a fundamental difference of approach, which I think will spread throughout my contrasting statements.
I feel great gratitude to my noble friend Lord Beloff for introducing this Motion and for the thoughtful manner in which he did so. My noble friend said that it would be a philosophical sort of debate. The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, called it an ideological sort of debate—an interesting contrast, and, again, a different approach to the same subject. I was rather frightened when I viewed the philosophical aspect of it. It is very fundamental. I trust that I shall not take too long, but I believe that the debate deserves proper treatment.
I found myself first trying to identify—the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, did the same—what is freedom for all within the law. I came out with six headings: to be free to earn one's living in an acceptable activity so as to enjoy one's freedom; to be free from excessive restraint by government, especially financial restraint—my noble friend Lord Maude touched upon the practical details—that hampers freedom of choice; to be free from restraints by well-meaning persons 576 seeking to impose theories of collective living on individuals; to be free to own property and personal possessions; to be free to indulge in any reasonable sporting or other activity of one's own choice; and to be free to contribute individually to the wellbeing of the community. There are no doubt other headings, but those that I have given seem to me to sum it up.
I wish to deal with what has been achieved in the way of freedom within the law. Like other noble Lords—for example, the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn—I would agree that until about 1939 freedom was limited for the majority of free world citizens. During the second world war a process of centralised control which had begun during and after the first world war was gradually increased in this country in order to ensure maximum collective effort. People accepted the sacrifice of much individual freedom to ensure a national capability for re-introducing and widely developing individual freedom when peace was achieved. The immediate post-war decade required a similar sacrifice while adjustments to peace were made. However, such of the centralised control, even when unnecessary and sometimes harmful, has been retained some 40 years later, partly because of theories of collective management not relevant to peace-time living—for example, central responsibility for major businesses (and dare I say that major businesses are Tawney's large property, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn)—and partly because people just got used to it.
Thanks to the threat of nuclear war, peace has been maintained. As a result, even in this country, from the 1960s freedom for the individual has become widely spread. My noble friend Lord Maude touched upon this. People of all sorts can, for example, own cars—and what better example can there be of freedom of mobility? All can indulge in sporting and other activities to a degree unimaginable at the beginning of the century. After another couple of decades, people are now looking to control their lives still further, like having the ability to purchase possessions of their own choice such as tape recorders—if one takes small possessions—or skis or boats—anything that anyone wishes to obtain. It covers any sport in which they wish to take part, without exception. Sometimes, with some support, if they are determined enough, they can do it; and it is splendid.
It also covers such matters as owning their own homes; having control of their own money, which means less taxation; and having a greater share in the ownership of businesses in which they work, rather than a very remotely indirect share through Auntie Government in a major and most inefficient business. This explains, for example, why share option schemes in private enterprise companies are starting to develop and why the selling of businesses to their own employees is so exciting. Some of the remarks of my noble friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster about British Telecom selling shares within the company were about something which is in itself exciting. The noble Lord, Lord Grimond, gave examples of the same sort of thing.
All these are new developments. I was sad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, whose views I greatly respect, talk as though the past was the thing to stress. 577 It is the future that is important, the new thinking that is coming along in the direction I am talking about, and this is how it is to develop. So long as we can keep the peace—that is the all-important point—the freedom can be developed and people can use their own abilities to achieve in their employing firm the competitiveness which enables their own individual freedoms to be guaranteed.
If there is one message which stands out from the experience of the past 40 years it is that the more individuals can see positive results from their own efforts, especially easily identified benefits to themselves, the more they will contribute to the success of any venture. This may be unpalatable to certain sorts of theorist, but it is true. It is also another way of expressing freedom, freedom to contribute. An interesting factor in this search for individual freedom is that it is obvious mainly in what people do, not in what they clamour for collectively. People get on with what activity they want, and this will include helping others individually or in small groups. They do not start great movements.
If one reflects, this is natural because they are using and seeking individual freedom. Perhaps it only reveals itself in the secret ballot. We are given the example by the results of the last election. Perhaps it explains the fear of Mr. Scargill to put his people to the vote. Perhaps it even explains why the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, thinks the right to vote is so important. Pehaps he could tell that to Mr. Scargill. The more widely property, and for that matter businesses, are diffused, the more scope there is for the freedoms that all are seeking.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down I should like to ask him if he would accept from me that certainly I would urge Mr. Scargill to hold a national ballot, but that does not mean that I will support the rejection or the withdrawal of the right of citizens in the metropolitan areas to elect their own councils rather than have them imposed by nominated representatives of central Government.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, on the first point made by the noble Lord, may I say that I am delighted; I hope he will get on with it. On the second point, perhaps he would delay his general contribution in that area until we debate the relevant Bill when it comes to the House.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Lord Harris of High Cross
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, for the wide terms of his Motion. It is true that it allowed the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, to give us his splendid, revivalist tirade against largely vanished abuses. His speciality seemed to be looking back through the mists of time to Tawney, whose own gaze in his day was directed largely to still remoter times. My central quarrel with the noble Lord, which we have rehearsed on other occasions, is that in post-war welfare policy he fails to distinguish between necessary support for the minority of poor and the quite different aim of imposing a comprehensive uniformity on everyone, to be financed by massive taxes that reduce the freedom of choice for the great majority.
578 I listened with close attention to the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, and was glad that he called for the clash of ideological disputation. As a quite modest offering in that spirit, I would say that he is one of the exponents of equality who invariably show how unattainable it is in practice by pinching more than their fair share of what no doubt he would call our communal time.
I want to argue that the link between private property and freedom works in both directions. I do not think it can be disputed, as the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said, that personal ownership does confer real independence and choice on individuals, where public ownership tends to concentrate power in the hands of politicians and their nominees, tending towards the diminution of general freedoms. In my view we may discern that in the coal mines, to which I will return in my concluding remarks.
If private property buttresses freedom, I would claim that it was equally self-evident that freedom in our economic arrangements hastens and widens the spread of private property among the great mass of the people. This proposition can be illustrated in two ways: first, by comparing countries with widely differing degrees of economic freedom to see the effect on ownership; secondly, we may contemplate the spectacular growth over a lifetime of private property in countries like Britain which enjoy a fair degree of economic freedom. The contrast between free and unfree economies is plain for all to see in the political divide between the West and the East.
Consider the enormous variety of property owned by most workers in Western Europe or America. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, touched on home ownership. There are also all kinds of savings, from post office to unit trusts and pension funds. There is a whole range of domestic equipment and personal belongings of almost bewildering variety. The latest include colour television, hi-fi, video recorders and home computers. Many who are judged to be below the official poverty line in this country are rich compared with the average inhabitants of the proletarianised ant-heaps of Eastern Europe and their African counterparts so admired by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby. One of the most telling statistics that I commend to the noble Lord is that per head of the population the ownership of cars is higher among blacks in South Africa than among the inmates of the "People's Paradise" of the USSR.
On my second test, the extent to which economic freedom helps the spread of private property more widely, can be seen in Britain over the century. Anyone brought up in a working-class family, as I was before the war, cannot fail to be impressed by the multiplication of private possessions and property among the mass of the people. The items include washing machines, fridges, freezers, central heating, garden equipment, cars, caravans, and, increasingly, even yachts. All these examples show how most commonplace personal possessions started as the indulgences of the rich, favoured minority whose contribution to popular prosperity is so under-rated by the levellers among us.
The rich paid dear in their time as pathfinders, exploring these new forms of consumption and domestic investment before private enterprise could 579 harness mass production to bring them within the reach of a mass market. It was the superior innovation and efficiency of the free economy which raised incomes and reduced prices so as to extend demand for these durable consumer goods. And it was the invention of hire-purchase by financiers, of whom many noble Lords on the Labour benches would thoroughly disapprove, which enabled the majority, with rising incomes but no capital, to invest in long-lasting domestic equipment. I must say that I believe none of this remarkable progress in spreading private property owes anything very much to socialism, which everywhere holds back the creation of new wealth and seeks to centralise property, always in the name of the state but with the power going to politicians and their apparatchiks.
Even when the transformation of popular capital-ism is noticed by socialists they invariably prefer to dwell on differences in ownership which they insist on labelling the "inequality of wealth". I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Bauer, was prevented by his absence in America from taking part in this debate. He has argued consistently that inequality is a loaded term implying an unnatural departure from some ideal state of equality, which, of course, is not only far from ideal, but would also be unattainable without repeated confiscation, and would anyway be inconsistent with economic prosperity or continued progress.
As regards the statistics which were given by the noble Lord. Lord Hatch of Lusby, I have only time to say that all those figures about 10 per cent. of the population owning 60 per cent. or 70 per cent. of personal wealth, are without foundation in reality and they give a totally false, backward-looking impression of a rapidly changing picture. They are drawn from the tiny minority of estates declared for death duties. They inevitably exaggerate the importance of fixed investments and completely ignore the widely diffused forms of private property that we have discussed in the Motion. Even if all incomes and inheritances were equal at birth, the average accumulation of wealth through lifetime savings would anyway lead to 10 per cent. of the population, mostly the elderly, owning about 30 per cent. of all the wealth.
Going on another tack, the Diamond Commission took figures for 1971 to show that the poorest 80 per cent. of the British people may have owned anything between 10 per cent. and 40 per cent. of all wealth, depending entirely upon what assumptions were made about, for example, pension rights and other possessions that are not counted for estate duty.
In conclusion, recent scholarly economic analysis has emphasised the central importance of private property rights not only in enlarging freedom, but as a direct incentive to effort, efficiency and enterprise. Following the line of thought of the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, it suggests a constructive way of resolving the unhappy political battle in the coalfields, that offers benefits for miners, consumers and not least taxpayers. Bearing in mind Mr. Scargill's not wholly misplaced faith in the future of the British coal industry, I suggest that Her Majesty's Government should offer to give all miners a share of the unencumbered assets of the mines to be operated in competition with alternative sources of fuel. On the 580 one hand, it seems to me that if Mr. Scargill urged the men to refuse, we would at least have called his bluff about the golden prospects for British coal. But if, on the other hand, the miners accepted this further diffusion of private property, I believe that there could be an economic and political transformation. Such is the motive power of personal ownership that it could enable miners to pay themselves higher wages out of greater efficiency, while reducing prices to customers and phasing out over a period the current subsidy of £870 million a year, paid mostly by poorer taxpayers. In terms of the Motion before us, such a diffusion of direct ownership to the miners would indeed bring them freedom—it would bring them, above all, freedom from their unhappy thraldom to the NUM.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I should like to say that if I had not been so eager to get into battle with the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, I would have asked to apologise to the House for the fact that, owing to a long-standing previous engagement, I shall not be able to stay to the end of the debate. I apologise to the noble Lords on the Front Benches who will be winding up. and in particular to my noble friend Lord Cockfield and my noble friend Lord Beloff.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Lord Raglan
My Lords, when I came to the House nearly 20 years ago I was impressed by the number of academics on the Labour side, and I am sure that it is good that the Convervatives have equipped themselves with an equal number. It is only with some reservations, to which I shall come later, that I welcome the noble Lord's invitation to discuss an interesting philosophical proposition.
I have often pondered what positive good professional philosophers (even at their best) have contributed to mankind in general. Let us take as an example the slogan, "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity", which was taken up by the French revolutionaries. It seems to me that France, with all its virtues, is still traditionally a less free and egalitarian society than this one. It is as if by repeating this stirring libertarian slogan it shows that their intentions or credentials are good, but it also relieves them from pressure for action.
On the other hand, there has been no lack of philosophers who, because of their ability to use words to make it appear as if they know what they are talking about, have been responsible for leading people into the most appalling circumstances. My least favourite in that category is Hegel, who was the chief publicist, perhaps the inventor, of the theory of historical determinism and, therefore, the main inspiration of nationalists and other authoritarians. He was appointed by the then King of Prussia as an apologist for the king's nasty régime. Over 100 years later Sir Karl Popper has condemned him as a charlatan, and it is better that he should be condemned late rather than never. But it was too late to prevent his contributing a large part of his thinking to Karl Marx. Marx may have been indignant at what was going on in the world outside his room, but he did not understand it and he caused a lot of misery by appearing to the gullible to be a lot cleverer than he was.
581 The Western liberal democracies are not the product of mystical structure-weaving philosophers. They appear to be the product of accidental development over centuries, and the outlook of most of their citizens—thank goodness!—is essentially pragmatic. They have become the engine of most of the world's technology and wealth, and at the same time have been developing the most agreeable civilisation yet known in history, having a form of government which gives the greatest scope yet known for individual freedom.
Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, I will not give a list of what I define as "individual freedoms" because it would take too long. However, I am nervous about analysing what makes our culture tick in case somebody announces that at last the elixir of liberal democracy has been discovered and it is declared that we should all rush out after it into the night. The noble Lord was, I think, inviting us to do just that over the next two or three parliaments. He says that to be free we must all go out and get some property. I do not think that he is right, but I will not try to come up with a counter proposition.
However, I think that he is right to encourage people to think about the question of freedom, immensely complicated though I believe it to be and even intangible; and to think about it not just as a counter to the totalitarian Hegelians and Marxists to the Right and Left, but so that some knowledge of liberal democracy and its associated wealth-making ability can be disseminated to the third world. They need to learn how to be relatively prosperous and free as we are in the West. The authors of the Brandt Report, for example, never addressed themselves to that matter at all, although perhaps that is where they should have started. But I do not think that they should have started with property.
I am reminded of my grandmother. She did not like living in the country. She and my grandfather let their house and estate—and they did not let it for much in those days of agricultural depression—and for the rest of their lives neither of them lived in the house which they owned. But it was not a matter of social fashion in those days to own your house, and it still is not the fashion in central London, although nowadays it may be financially prudent. I inherited the house and 1,000 acres, and until that time (as we are talking of statistics) 16.7 percent. of my family owned 100 percent. of the wealth. The 16.7 per cent. was my father, and there were six of us.
Before I inherited the property I began to manage the estate, and of course it has been a worry to me. But more than that, it has been a tie. I consider myself privileged to own such a nice place, and I am proud of it; but nice place it would not be if it were not for my constant attentions. I look after it because of my upbringing, because of duty, custom, inertia and above all, I suppose, sentiment. But my idea of freedom would be to sell up, live in a hotel and be waited on hand and foot—and I would also be better off financially.
In contrast, let us take the council tenant mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Maude. In return for rent, if the roof leaks all he does is to ring up the housing department. However, persuaded by tempting offers 582 from this Government he takes upon himself the responsibility and expense of property ownership and sinks himself up to the eyes in a mortgage, by which he is imprisoned for the rest of his working life. The only worthwhile reason for inflicting this handicap on himself is that, because of the absurdity of the tax laws, house-purchase is the only tax-free form of saving. What he should be doing with his money is not locking it up in a house but putting it into trade or industry. But house-owning is fashionable, whereas for generations people have looked down their noses at trade. All I can say is that I hope the price of houses does not go down.
The economic order of Western democracies appears to be interlinked with our personal freedoms, but I believe it suffers from being misnamed. Once again, I suppose it was Marx who gave wide currency to the term "capitalist system". It is scarcely a system because nobody seems to understand how it works, and capital is only part of it. I believe that the essential part is revenue. One can have revenue without capital, but capital does not materialise or increase without revenue, for capital is the surplus saved out of revenue. Capital—and that includes property, if one can sell it—does nothing productive if it does not create revenue, which is why so many gifts and loans to developing countries are wasted, as those countries do not know how to use the money effectively to make more, for the scheme of things is foreign to them. I am thinking of all those poverty-stricken millions living under unsavoury or incompetent regimes. It is attractive to suggest that they would all be freer if they had properties. But how will they acquire property? On the other hand, in Greece, where I believe the great majority of the population own their own houses, that did not prevent the coming of the colonels.
Perhaps I could look at the question from another angle. We look to Parliament as the defender of our freedoms. But, as I see it, the House of Commons came into existence to protect citizens from unfair or arbitrary taxation, meaning demands upon their revenues. Surely it is from that purpose that all its other functions derive, including the protection of property and the freedom to own it. For Hitler got elected, and at that time there must have been as many property owners in Germany as there were here. Why did not France, Britain and the United States of America go the way of Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal? I do not think that it had to do with property. I think it had to do with an anti-authoritarian tradition which, indeed, may often have been connected with the defence of money-making assets.
But surely there is more to it than that. There was that change in religious view in the seventeenth and eighteenth and centuries—nonconformism—to which Professor Tawney drew attention, when investment in manufacture and trade was encouraged instead of being discouraged; and, of course, business techniques were developed accordingly.
Then—and it seems to me that this was a major revolution—there came about that ethic of mutual trust and straight dealing without which business as we know it cannot flourish. I feel that this is where the third world fails, as well, of course, as communist 583 systems. The unfortunately-named "capitalist system" is often indicted as being corrupt or corrupting; but, in fact, it is really less corrupt than others. Like most human activities, it requires to be set within a framework of enforceable laws, but in its own interests, which includes that of the consumer, it needs to tend toward self-correction or it cannot work; whereas in a culture of bribes and backhanders, or where fraud or fear are the norm, business will not succeed because it thrives on confidence. If that is absent, the money does not go round—it is not spread about—and property is worth little.
There is one other interesting aspect of the culture of this country to which I should like to draw attention before I sit down, and that has been the custom of primogeniture, which has continually encouraged the concentration of wealth back into fewer hands rather than into more hands. Even so, that custom does not seem to have affected our liberties. It may have had the reverse effect, but I do not know. I have heard it advanced that primogeniture stimulated the Industrial Revolution in this country because younger sons, wishing to maintain their standard of living after leaving home, sought other means of income. They created wealth-making assets without a property base, and needed to defend those assets against depredation or loss as strongly as any property owner might.
This philosophy of individualistic enterprise—the desire for free trade—has always been inclined to oppose authoritarian government. Yet for this section of the community, this enormously important and powerful section of the population, property has traditionally been a manifestation of wealth and independence rather than its source. On the other hand, the French peasant, for example, locked into and pre-occupied with maintaining his divided-up parcel of land, free and envied though he may be in many ways, does not seem to me to have had the same effect upon the libertarian aspects of the French constitution, which had bourgeois origins.
Therefore, I draw a conclusion different from that of the noble Lord, and I think that the whole question is much more complex than he appears to assume. Though property has its importance—and, indeed, much of our legal system developed out of arguments over the possession of land at a time when that had a much greater productive value than it has now—property has no value and is a burden unless it produces wealth or there is a wealth-creating process to acquire and support it. The increase of wealth and its diffusion is desirable because it increases freedom of choice, though always with the reservation of the old saying that the only man of independent mind is the man of independent means.
However, the increasing of wealth, as we know it, in this unique Western civilisation appears only to be possible in a culture which values the individual, which authoritarian systems of Right and Left do not. From that point it will value his enterprise, subject to restrictions, and other freedoms, and encourage the freedom of choice, which includes the means to have freedom of choice. That freedom includes both the liberty to own property and the liberty to have none.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Beloff for giving us the opportunity to debate this subject today. It is an interesting title, and it is always worth listening to my noble friend Lord Beloff, who introduced the subject so clearly. My own comments are much more prosaic but I believe equally relevant to the subject, as I am convinced that the right to buy for council tenants has meant a great increase in freedom for the individual.
It has long been Conservative policy that Britain should be a property-owning democracy, and the sale of council houses to sitting tenants was encouraged. Many tenants who wished to buy their homes were not allowed to do so as the local authorities involved, for doctrinaire reasons, refused to allow their tenants to buy. It was only under the last Government that the right to buy came into force. Of the 676,000 public sector sales between April 1979 and December 1983 431,000 were under the right to buy. It is very significant that such a high proportion were under the right to buy.
Whether it be a private or a public sector home purchased, home ownership gives a great degree of freedom to the individual. When I was district housing chairman on the Greater London Council before housing was transferred to local councils, I had first-hand experience of the lack of freedom for the tenants. Tenants whose front doors were in windswept, rainsoaked positions applied to the council for the right to add—at their own expense, I might say—porches for protection. They were refused. Later, when those same occupiers owned those houses, they built those porches, and I am sure they are much more comfortable.
After one meeting to discuss with tenants whether or not garages should be built in their gardens, I was amazed to hear official comments that these people really should have no say in these matters—the best plans were made for them, and they should be grateful. That was the attitude. No thought was to be given even to the fact that these people loved their gardens and did not even own cars: plans had been drawn up 20 years earlier: those plans should be implemented. As home owners it is quite clear that people would have the choice whether to opt for their garden or their garage.
The noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, talked about power coming only through wealth, but that is not so. A great deal of power goes with the person who is able to allocate housing, and refuse or permit anything to a council tenant. I am pleased that the planning regulations have relaxed considerably and that houses in single-family occupation can now have an extension or modification in many cases as "permitted development"; this means that no lengthy and expensive planning permission is required for people to make their homes to suit themselves.
As you drive along a row of council-built houses you will know which ones have been bought. The owners like to have their front doors a different colour, or a gate of original design. People have this freedom of choice. Again, I found council officers thoroughly disapproving of these signs of independence. As the noble Lord, Lord Maude, mentioned in his speech, 585 owners have the freedom to sell and move.The one freedom they do not have is fredom from responsibility, and in this respect I found the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, most interesting. But I think that his view is rather different from the view of someone who is seeking to become a home owner for the first time.
A property owner must accept the duties and responsibilities that go with that ownership, but his own situation is very different from the situation of most people. The noble Lord mentioned the wealth concentration effect of primogeniture, but I would put the other case, that I think that many people now may be encouraged to diffuse wealth—and I hope with it property—through the capital transfer tax, which encourages one to spread the wealth rather than to keep it. I hope that that will apply to a wider home ownership.
I was also interested in the noble Lord's idea that if you were a council tenant and some little thing went wrong all you had to do was to get on the phone and someone would be round to fix it. I can tell the noble Lord that there are plenty of council tenants who would not take that view. I remember one lady, when I went to her door, saying to me, "I did apply to have this bath fixed. There is a crack in it". I said, "When did you apply?" She said, "Fifteen years ago". That was a fairly rare case. Apparently in the whole 15 years she had made no effort to follow it up. But there were many cases of years of delay, and whether it is a private owner or a council it is not easy to get repairs done.
§ Lord Raglan
My Lords, I was responsible for a housing department for many years, and I slightly go along with the noble Baroness on the difficulty of getting repairs done. However, I was drawing attention to the fact that the council tenant who is acquiring a property is acquiring responsibility and not freedom.
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, and I made exactly the same point myself: they are definitely acquiring responsibility. But many people are seeking that responsibility, because with responsibility comes the freedom of choice which they do not have when they remain a tenant.
I should like to give a business example. In this City of Westminster it is thought that there remains only one master baker; that is, a skilled baker producing his own bread on the premises. The business has been in existence since 1925 and the third generation of these master bakers is serving the local population today. The business is in rented premises, and over a period the rent reviews have seen the rent rise from under £4,000 a year to a current £25,000 a year. Next March the expected rent is anticipated to be £32,000 to £37,000, and the bakery will simply have to close and put people out of employment if they have no alterna-tive but to remain in those premises. Fortunately, they have managed to acquire the freehold of a small shop in the area. They still face the job of getting the necessary permission to bake, even though the premises were a bakery for over 100 years. But here is a clear case of a link between freedom and the ownership of private property. The bakers will now have stable costs and will have the freedom to continue in business, to be good employers, as they are, and the 586 local residents will have the freedom to continue to enjoy the best bread in Westminster.
Returning to the home subject, it is clear from the Building Societies Association survey published recently that my support for home ownership is not unusual. Seventy-eight per cent. of adults wish to, and expect to, become home owners; 62 per cent. of households are in owner occupation—a marked increase under the Conservative Government. In 1983 the building societies gave 958,000 loans—that is nearly a million—for home purchase. But the more significant figure is surely the 506,000 mortgages for first-time buyers. That is the highest ever in one year.
I am anxious to see a continuing supply of homes, and there is need, as more young people want to own their own home now, for a net increase of 150,000 homes a year. The circular issued by Westminster City Council just this week on the 1.6 acre site currently offered for sale clearly indicates that a condition will attach whereby the purchaser must undertake to provide a number of flats for sale to first-time buyers at current ceiling prices of £28,000, which by the standard of prices in the City of Westminster is reasonable and within the reach of many people. Similar schemes have worked very well in Westminster and usually the purchasers have vacated council flats to move into these properties.
But land in London is scarce, and it is getting scarce outside London. As a great believer in the Green Belt I am delighted that the Secretary of State for the Environment confirmed in March this year that the Green Belt will stay green. But he should certainly—and I believe that he is—look carefully at what the Green Belt is. We envisage and enjoy the wide green spaces that provide the breathing space and pleasant environment, and of course I am most familiar with the area around London. But my experience as a planning vice-chairman revealed to me that there are also classified as Green Belt scruffy little bits of derelict land, often hemmed in by housing all around, and frequently no joy to look at but rather a dumping spot, uncared for by anyone, frequently vandalised and a cause of anxiety to adjoining owners. These little patches would provide classic in-fill sites; and a well-designed, well-constructed, considerately sited house, with a well-cared-for garden, would be more pleasant for the area and would assist in providing the house building space which is so necessary. The House Builders' Federation states:The balance has swung too far in favour of those who are housed and wish to pull up the drawbridge against those who want to own their own homes.That is a very interesting view and is particularly relevant to the topic of this debate today. I unhesitatingly support the aim of the widest possible diffusion of private property, and I am convinced of the connection between that and freedom.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, I have to say that it is almost impossible, I should have thought, for anyone to be neutral about any of the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. Those of us who hold strong views within the democratic structure are always good for stimulation and examination. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, has certainly introduced those ingredients 587 into this Motion today. I am very grateful for that. Although our views are totally different, I have the suspicion that we come from a similar mould.
I expected to hear the kind of speech which was delivered by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, this afternoon, with its forthright attack on trade unionism. I regret I have to say that these days there are many people with a hatred of miners. I was born and bred in a mining community which has more Victoria Cross holders than any other part of Great Britain. When I hear some of the things said arising from the unpleasant events which are taking place at the present time involving the British coal miner, I am bound to get a little emotional and angry, and I hope your Lordships will understand my position. It pains me, in regard to the speech delivered by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross (and I am sorry he is not here) to have to draw a parallel with some of the statements we have heard from that other grand old "democrat" in Poland who also loves trade unionists and miners—General Jaruzelski. I have previously asked the noble Lord, Lord Harris—such an eminent economist—whether he can say who is to speak against the evils of the rich tax dodgers in our society and those who bolster up the black economy which costs our nation so much.
It is also regrettable to have to acknowledge that under this present Government—as one or two of your Lordships have said—the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. This is of itself not merely immoral, but also appallingly dangerous. The greedy rich who do not mind pulverising the poor are the finest recruiting sergeants for any form of communism. I should have thought that lesson had been learned, but that is apparently not so.
I was interested in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Maude. I used to be interested in what he had to say in another place, and it is always nice to hear him speaking in this House. I find it quite remarkable that his speech in support of capitalism seems to be a mile away from his Motion for a short debate to call attention to the need of Her Majesty's Government to press urgently for an effective free enterprise endeavour: a European Community scheme to enable large surpluses of foodstuffs to be distributed in areas overseas where there is widespread starvation and malnutrition. I say, "Hear, hear" to that. At least he has got to admit that he is not asking Marks and Spencer or ICI to do that; it has to be done not by the private entrepreneurs, but by democratic governments within the EEC. The quicker we recognise these truths, the better.
I should like to examine for a moment the observations regarding council houses made by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, and, to a much larger extent, by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes. Council houses suddenly became popular with the Tory Party (who built very few only) when they decided that they should be put up for sale. Why were they built? If the majority of Labour-controlled councils and a few enlightened Tory councils had not built those houses in the first place, they would not have been for sale to anybody—because they would not have existed. This House will remember that in the days just before and after the war, when there was a 588 massive amount of public housing under construction, among his great achievements Aneurin Bevan not only introduced the National Health Service, but also started a scheme of public housing which was enormous and successful. The Tory Party, in the words of the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, when he was Mr Harold Macmillan, said "We can do better; we will help these wicked Labour councils not to build a mere 290,000 houses, as they did under Aneurin Bevan; we will build 300,000 publicly-owned council houses for the poor every year."
Many houses built for that purpose, despite the enormous homelessness in this country, are being "flogged off' to those who have the most money to buy them. I do not mind people saving that is a good philosophy and that they want to do that. But I find it difficult to accept, when they boast about going to Church three times a day on Sundays and when they also hold such positions as chairmen of parochial church councils.
This is the kind of argument which is put to me—sometimes it is debated in our universities—and it concerns a great hypocrisy which exists in this nation. Just one such example is when the Conservatives claim they have freed people to buy their council houses. If the Conservative Party had their way, they would never have built those council houses in the first place. There was nothing to stop any private organisation of builders from building as many houses as they wanted. Builders obtained contracts from local authorities in order to play safe. The last thing they wanted was any spirit of adventure, in case they lost a few million pounds. That is why many private entrepreneurial builders were so glad when the local authorities decided they were going to rehouse the poor—because they could then build the houses and have the profits Whether those houses were built for private sale or for councils, the majority of the men who really constructed them were the quantity surveyors, electricians, carpenters, joiners, bricklayers, and those who laid down the sanitation and installed the telephones, gas and electricity. They were all working men of great skill, and this was never acknowledged. Let us take a moment to acknowledge them now.
When I hear of the magnificent successes which this Government are alleged to have had and continue to have—as we have heard from the Benches opposite—my socialist feelings compel me to say that I am sorry to disillusion them, because only a week ago today in the queen of the suburbs of London, the London Borough of Ealing, the Labour Party had a magnificent victory at a local election in a ward which is traditionally Conservative. I am hoping this kind of thing will continue.
It is difficult for people to realise that public ownership is not the preserve of the Labour Party. The Labour Party believed—and that is why I am a member of it—that it we could get the mine owners and steel owners off our backs, our nation would flourish; we would have full employment, which would give us a much greater degree of freedom and independence. That is what we have got to understand when we talk about the unemployed. They are not just a group of people with no work. I have said before in this House that I have seen families torn by 589 unemployment, faced with argument and sometimes abuse, and it is not pleasant for me to have to say that British capitalism did not respond to the agonies of the unemployed. The way they treated the coalminers in 1926 was absolutely disgusting. When a panel of eminent judges and eminent businessmen in the early 1930s examined the structure and what had to be done with the energy problems of Great Britain, vis-à-vis coal, the unaminous recommendation was that it must be brought into public ownership. That cannot be such a terrible thing as some people make out.
When, for example, under the Government of Mr. Ted Heath there came the collapse of the great British symbol, the Rolls-Royce engine and the Rolls-Royce car and the Rolls-Royce aeroplane, it took us in the House of Commons in those days less than 24 hours to nationalise Rolls-Royce, and it is still—thank God!— nationalised. We could have been in some difficulty if that massive invention had been allowed to drop away.
Something else that is a threat to our freedom, as has already been mentioned, and I mention briefly, is the fact that local authorities are now in danger of being liquidated. What an awful word to use in this House about freely elected local authorities. If the Tory Government persist, the local authorities could be liquidated.
I should like to say so many things, but I shall make just one remark. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said that people have to be involved in the free enterprise element before they can give of their best. Are we to say that about the police? Are we to say that about the task force on the Falkland Islands? Would it have been better if a private enterprise force had gone out, or were they not quite up to standard? In our nation, the Army, the Navy and the Air Force are publicly owned. Are we to say that about the firemen when the bells are clanging and they are rushing through the streets or the ambulance drivers who follow? There must clearly be a balance in what we are saying. When some of these debates are read by ordinary people outside they get a bit hot under the collar.
I make this point quickly that there are many industries and small businessmen who also believe strongly in the principle of public ownership when what they supply for the Central Electricity Generating Board or perhaps the National Coal Board or whatever it is guarantees them full work the year round.
Unlimited power is the fatal defect of the prevailing form of capitalism and state Communism. There is an awful similarity in my view and this can only be rendered nugatory via, again in my view, democratic Socialism. Barbarism as opposed to liberty is the result of power being released from the constraint of fair and just rules. Nowhere are the effects of irresponsible democracy more clearly shown than in the general increase in the power of central Government by the assumption of functions formerly performed by regional or local authorities.
We are moving towards massive central power. I find that a very distasteful way for my country to be moving. I have seen it happen in the United States of America, where private power now is so enormous. I wonder what the founding fathers of that great nation, 590 when they issued their declaration on 4th July 1776, would have said about some of the things that are happening in the United States. There is grinding and absolute poverty on one hand, and not in small measure, and ostentatious richness and vulgarity on the other. I am quite sure that it would turn the stomach of Thomas Jefferson if he were able to realise that all he believed in when he wrote the Consitution has now been ravaged not by Socialist greed, Communist greed or liberal greed, but by capitalist greed. That is what we must acknowledge.
Some economists try to depict the economic system for the layman as a machine. Raw materials are fed into it, workers turn the machine and the capitalist owns it. The state, the landlord, the capitalist and the workers share its product in an egregiously unequal way. I am one of those who does not believe that equality is the answer, but I believe that efficient equality should begin at the starting point in education so that at the end when the more apt scholar gets the palm it will not be because of privilege but simply because of the mysteries of vocation and the fact that the better person has won.
I was reminded in a statement made earlier by one of your Lordships of the fact that the multi-millionaire John D. Rockefeller once described the American Beauty rose as being "splendour in its fragrance", but this wonderful rose could only be grown by sacrificing the earlier buds which grew up around it. Years later, his descendant, Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller, warned the free world against the dangers of compassion. I do not mind people accepting that, but I hope we shall not have big shows over Easter, Christmas and all the big religious feasts and every Sunday evening those programmes, which I enjoy, of people singing hymns, while quietly by Monday morning saying that that load of compassion is an awful lot of conkers, that it is just a drug for the working classes, because people will no longer get away with that argument.
I believe that, whether one is Christian or not deeply religious, notwithstanding all the religious aspects, the Sermon on the Mount is a real doctrine which will help to dispense with and ultimately do away with all the other evils of greed and lack of compassion. It will do away with this sort of thing, for example. Between 1811 and 1820 the Countess of Sutherland and her husband the Marquess of Stafford cleared 15,000 Highlanders from their estate to make room for sheep. They used fire and dogs to kick the Highlanders out because it had been shown that sheep produced more revenue. That was not all that long ago. We must remember these things, because that will help to guide us towards a better future when we realise some of the evils that we have committed in the past.
The Government and Tory view does not enhance the idea of freedom, because the simple philosophy which we had from Lord Beloff, which was forthright and honest, seemed to indicate that the man is there because the clothes are there. We Socialists say, "No." The clothes come because the man is there. It is this simple philosophy which I believe in.
In a property-owning democracy the fundamentals of health, energy, transport and defence of our island must be owned by the property-owning democracy 591 and Parliament should be the watchdog and the director of that property-owning democracy.
During the last few years many of the arguments submitted by Lord Beloff have not really borne fruit. I do not think for one moment that he can agree that the views he outlined to us this afternoon, which I know he fervently believes in, have in any way been achieved by the present Administration. The facts are right against it. We have the highest level of bankruptcies we have ever had in Britain's history, and the sad aspect of that statement is that we have had the highest level of deaths caused through worry—in some cases death by one's own hand. This I believe is a serious situation. When these thoughts have entered families, the families of the bankrupt small business man, suicides have followed. The unemployment among our youth and the diminution of law and order are a denial of what the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said in his submission and are facts today. They certainly are reducing freedom and they will continue to do so unless they are arrested. Freedom flourishes with civilised behaviour and that behaviour, in my judgment (contrary to that of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, and of other noble Lords who have spoken) is always enhanced in a democratic Socialist society.
I can only speak from my own personal experience, having been brought up in a Welsh valley, very proud of the massive military achievements of our grandfathers and of our fathers in the defence of freedom—and this despite the fact of the crushing weight of the coal owners and the steel owners, who treated us like animals. We were not to blame our nation for that; and we did not do so.
We knew that one day we would break through and that the vehicle which would aid us would be the British Labour Party. And I am proud to say that, in the rise of the British Labour Party, in the introducing of real freedom, happy freedom, for millions of my fellow countrymen, not one of our fellow-Britons was deliberately slain in that grand march. I respect the views of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff; but I have not heard anything whatsoever, from my experience of life on this island and of service to this nation, to change my belief that it will be a better nation, a freer nation, a happy nation and one that will be an example to all mankind, when we have the return of a democratic Socialist Government.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, I should like to say a word or two following what my noble friend Lady Gardner called her more prosaic contribution. I should like to say a word about the specal importance of the subject of this debate to the future of the people of Scotland, particularly in relation to housing. I do not need to remind your Lordships that in Scotland we do not always behave, or, indeed, want to behave, in the same way as people behave south of the Border. Our history is different; our priorities are often different; the way we order our affairs is different; and social change often comes according to a different timetable.
Scots have always valued individual freedom and autonomy as highly as any race on earth—certainly, I 592 would suggest, as highly as any Englishman or Welshman. But the link between the ownership of house property and the safeguarding for oneself of some freedom of manoeuvre, and the link between lack of home ownership and diminished freedom—a matter which has been so high on the social agenda at least in the south of England for some time now—has not until very recently been such an important part of our consciousness in Scotand. In my view the reason for this is not far to seek. The first industrial revolution came to Scotland early. It transformed a largely rural scene to one of massive conurbations across the central belt of the country. It brought about some of the worst slums in Europe and the greatest social dependence of the many on the few.
The democratic will in Scotland, before and after the second world war, was to put massive energy into rectifying this. The slums were demolished and enormous public housing schemes were built, some in the centres of cities, more on greenfield sites outside. These houses were our national and local pride and joy. The success of local government councils and of central governments of all persuasions was largely measured in terms of the number of council houses built. It was the widespread wish of very many people to get high on the list for a new council house.
As a result, we now have in Scotland the highest proportion of any country this side of the Iron Curtain of people living in houses rented from public authorities. No less than 53 per cent. of the Scottish housing stock is in public authority hands as opposed to 29 per cent. in the United Kingdom as a whole. In Strathclyde Region (which is half Scotland) the proportion is 61 per cent., and in some areas of Strathclyde and elsewhere it is even higher than that. In Clydebank, 78 per cent. of the housing is in local authority ownership; in Motherwell, 80 per cent.; and so it goes on. I know of several schools in my own area where the catchment area of, say, 14,000 people has in it not a single owner-occupied house. Small wonder that in Scotland for a long time now it has been seen as an inescapable fact of life that only a minority—30 per cent. or so—were going to own their own homes, and in some areas far fewer than that! Many in Scotland have always been happy to rent council property. But happy about it or not, for the majority it has been TINA—there is no alternative.
This lack of choice would not be so important if there had not developed—unintentionally, perhaps, but in my own personal experience of larger schemes, and not so much the smaller schemes, without question—what amounts to a new form of urban feudalism which is frequently as limiting to individual freedom as was ever the rural feudalism of earlier days, one element of which has been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Molloy. It often happens, with the best will in the world, that in running their housing departments councils have to be fair. Fairness requires a system, and rules and criteria by which decisions are made. Supervision, red tape and administrative procedures necessarily abound, and sometimes, inevitably, the system is exploited or abused. Enthusiastic local councillors let it be known, "If your downpipe is blocked, give me a ring; I'll see it's fixed". They hold surgeries at which housing problems (many of which could be solved by people themselves, or 593 which people themselves should take to officials) become, again with the best will in the world, the building bricks of a local political base.
People begin to feel that they must not displease officials or get up against councillors or they will be in trouble when some kind of housing emergency occurs. So, often with the best intentions of all concerned, ordinary people find themselves being manipulated, trapped in a system out of which they cannot find a way; and, because one's home is so basic to life, puzzlement about what to do—and cynicism, too—spreads to one's attitude about other things. It somehow does not seem possible to have a say in the schooling in the local area, in the community centre or in the bus service.
The case must not be overstated, but in Scotland one cannot but notice, too, what happens when people in a given area buy their houses, or in an area where some houses have always been owner-occupied. As my noble friend Lady Gardner says, the houses look different: the brass door knockers are there, the door handles shine, and the gardens are planted. And when you visit, the talk is about showing the house off with pride, not showing the damp patch or the leaky radiator which no one will come to repair.
You might expect that the need to make it easier for the maximum number of people who aspire to do so to be able to buy their own homes would be clear by now to people in positions of influence who really care—people who want to help spring the trap in which so many families are caught, or feel themselves caught. But the conventional wisdom still remains the same. Caring officials continue to see their service to the public as the maintaining, as far as possible intact, of the stock of houses to let. Caring councillors still too often see their role not as helping and encouraging people to take advantage of the right to buy and using the proceeds to refurbish boarded-up family houses to replace and renew houses for older people and for disabled people which are increasingly needed. They see it as their job to maintain, so far as possible, the status quo.
Even in this House, Scottish elder statesmen on both Benches opposite are so anxious to keep discounts down that they voted the other day for it to be made more difficult to buy one's house in Scotland than it looks as though it is going to be in England. Also a right reverend Prelate said on the same occasion as he went to vote for lower discounts:I can't see that home ownership is all that important. I don't own my home and I find I don't mind that at all".In fact, in Scotland 3,500 people or so are buying their council homes every quarter, but they are doing it in spite of discouragement rather than because of encouragement from the people in charge and from those in positions of leadership.
Not everybody, of course, wants to buy a house: many will always freely choose to live all their lives in rented property. But the evidence in Scotland, South of the Border and elsewhere, is that massive undiluted areas of public housing, however caring those who run such areas try to be, at worst produce, and at best reinforce, a sense of lack of involvement, of frustration, of resignation, of a lack of freedom to manoeuvre and a sense of being at other people's 594 mercy, which is the very opposite of what the creators of the great housing schemes originally intended. In my view, we in Scotland have to think hard and fast. The legislation is in place. We need to make sure that people know how to take advantage of it, if and when they want to. For that reason, and for many other reasons, my Lords, I strongly support this Motion.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, I must first apologise for the fact that I have been very erratic in my attendance at this debate, for reasons which are almost entirely outside my own control. They relate to engagements which had been fixed before I knew the debate was taking place, and perhaps at this late hour I can best make amends by being as brief as possible.
It seems to me rather sad that this debate—what I have heard of it, at any rate—has turned largely into a party political wrangle, whereas the theme of freedom is, after all, one of the great themes of politics; and the pursuit and maintenance of freedom for men and women, when it has been partially achieved (and it has never been more than partially achieved) has to be one of the great purposes of politicans everywhere. To reduce it to the level of a party battle seems to me to be an inadequate way to approach a very great subject. I will limit my contribution to the party battle to pointing out that it was, after all, the reforming Liberal Government of 1906 which in fact initiated what is today the welfare state. And Beveridge, people seem to forget, was a Liberal Member of Parliament and a Liberal Peer. Having said that, I will leave the party issues on one side.
Surely the pursuit and maintenance of freedom is something far wider than the question of property. Of course, some degree of property is an element in freedom but Beveridge talked about freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom from ignorance and freedom from disease. Can anyone seriously think that those freedoms can be obtained except by a sensible collaboration between both public and private service and public and private effort? So surely the argument turns on what kind of public and private effort and what kind of public and private contribution should be made; how it should be done and what is the most appropriate means at any given time. There can be no doctrinaire answers. What is appropriate at one time is inappropriate at another. One of the things we are learning in our desire—and this, I think, has been common to all parties—to develop an effective welfare state is that we have made certain mistakes which it is necessary now to review and to correct.
There is no doubt that in many places the efforts of people who administer the welfare state are seen as highly bureaucratic and remote, and a resentment against certain aspects of the welfare state has in consequence built up which should never have developed, and which can I think be corrected. In my view, it is fortunate that there is a movement towards a much closer collaboration of both statutory and voluntary services to meet needs, and that there is a much greater determination to make provision at a far more local level than hitherto so that people who have need of the services can collaborate in the provision of services rather than feel that they are provided by 595 people whom they do not know, and to whom they attribute motives which are often totally incorrect but which nonetheless are widely believed to be true. I think that the movement at the present time towards closer statutory-voluntary, private-public collaboration is one of the most healthy developments in the welfare state.
The welfare society—Beveridge always insisted that what he wanted was a welfare society and not a welfare state—means, I believe, much greater collaboration at local levels between a variety of different providers and meeters of welfare needs of the society in which people happen to be living; and the greater emphasis on community service and neighbourhood service is something which is freedom enhancing rather than freedom limiting, it seems to me. So do not let us see this as a party political thing but as something we all believe in and that we all want to achieve. We none of us know the answers, and we know that the approach will be different in different places and at different times.
I do not deny, of course, that the ownership of property is an element in freedom but, as I see it, it is only a very small element if you look at the challenge to freedom, as outlined by Beveridge, by huge obstacles to the true freedom which he identified. But the ownership of property comes into the whole argument. Perhaps nobody else has quoted the old adage, a very useful and true one, that property, like muck, is no good unless it is spread thin. Nobody can say that the property is spread sufficiently "thin" at the present time; and we from these Benches would always wish to urge that we are not against property but very much in favour of it. The trouble is that far too few people have enough of it.
The way to spread the property thin is not only through home ownerships—I am not challenging the value of that because in fact I am totally and most uncomfortably involved in acquiring at long last some home ownership myself, and I am overwhelmed by the difficulties which beset one when one starts doing this, especially at the wrong end of life: but that is my personal problem. However, there are many other aspects of property ownership which do not just involve house ownership. I believe in a wide spread of property, and for a large number of people to own something—be it stocks and shares, or a house or some other resource which is their own—is important to freedom.
Far too many people in this country are entirely dependent on either the wage that their employer pays them or what they can draw from the state, and this limits people's ability to make choices. It restricts their ability to walk out on an employer with whom they disagree. It is a very sad aspect of politics today that so many politicians depend entirely on being paid, so that they cannot resign and they cannot cross the Floor, because they are afraid of losing their jobs. It is a sad thing that people are terrified of losing their jobs, because they have nothing to fall back on if they do. It is not a free society. I do not believe that you need to have a lot of money to have some degree of independence in making up your mind what you are going to do—but you must have some. One of our objectives should be to see that that element of property 596 ownership is far more widely spread than it is at the present time, and we are not moving very fast in that direction.
One group of people who illustrate this point very plainly are women. If we look back 100 years—I shall not digress long here, but it makes the point—we see that when a woman lost all her property to the man she married, she lost her freedom totally. If you want the extreme illustration to show how some ownership of property is important, you cannot do better than think of the position of the woman who had some property but lost it when she married and. having made a bad marriage, she could not recover her property and had no freedom whatsoever. We talk about the increase in the divorce rate. How many marriages were broken to smithereens, and yet people had to stay together because there was no property base on which they could separate?
To bring the illustration more up to date, I would say that the taxation of women's earnings is highly relevant to the ownership of property. Until we get to the point at which we are taxed as individuals, and not taxed on the basis of our marital status, we shall be denying the property rights which underline freedom to a good many women at the present time. I hope that the time will come when the whole approach to the earnings of women and their taxation is looked at very seriously and changed.
But there are sensible things which we could do and which we in this party have advocated for a very long time, so that property is more widely spread. We need a much more vigorous attack on monopoly, both public and private, and—we on these Benches have said it again and again, and we shall continue to say it—I see no virtue whatsoever in getting rid of a public monopoly in order to create a private monopoly. If we believe in spreading property and wealth through the opportunity for people to compete, to earn, and to establish businesses, then that attack on monopoly of all kinds needs to be more vigorously pursued, and we certainly do not want to increase private monopoly by the kind of changes which are taking place in some aspects of the privatisation programme.
Then, again, there is the question—this is a very hoary suggestion, but it never gets dealt with—of inheritance. Why is it so difficult to bring in changes in the inheritance laws which encourage the much wider distribution of property when people die, so that the taxation is adjusted according to how much a person had previously inherited, thereby encouraging people who are leaving their money to leave it to those who have not already accumulated a considerable amount of wealth? In a couple of generations such changes in estate duty would make a very considerable difference to the way in which wealth is distributed. That is surely something which we could get on with now without a very great deal of difficulty.
My noble friend Lord Grimond has already spoken about ownership in industry and a much greater extension of share ownership in industry. I wish it were the case that share ownership schemes and share option schemes were always available to all employees. The development of the kind of share option scheme which is limited to certain categories of management seems to me to be contrary to the kind of 597 distribution of wealth which we aim to see established. The Government have gone some way in encouraging wider share ownership, but the Conservative Party as a whole has had to be pushed and shoved for years to get action in this area.
It was a Labour Government—there was a fairly considerable battle at the time of the Lib-Lab pact to get them to do it—who made the changes in the Finance Act 1978 which gave some beginning to the encouragement of share ownership through changes in the taxation system. Surely we can go much further along those lines than we are doing at present. This has the double benefit of giving that degree of property spread thin, which is an essential basis for freedom. It also gives that other freedom of having a much greater say in what goes on in the place where you work, and a much greater sense that you are identified, because you share in the ownership of the concern in which you are employed.
These are traditional Liberal policies, but so little has been done to develop them that they bear repetition. These are great themes concerning freedom and how it can be maintained. They rise above party considerations. They are not matters that can be linked to any one change, such as a move in the direction of much greater private ownership—the kind of advocacy that we have heard this evening from the Government Benches. This is a multi-pronged approach to a vast problem to which none of us has the answers, but on which we want to see some progress made.
§ 6.57 p.m.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, it is always a very pleasant and enlightening experience to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, in almost any contribution she makes in your Lordships' House. I very much agreed with a large amount of what she said, but I particularly admired the way in which she enunciated controversial Liberal policies, emphatic Liberal policies, and reminisced on Liberal history, at the same time asserting that her observations were completely above all party politics. I find that a quality which is most engaging and most attractive.
We should also be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, for introducing this Motion. I observe that when he started he gave some explanation for introducing what he described as an abstract Motion and indicated his intention of standing back from legislative proposals. I had intended to follow his example and to conduct the argument on the very high and lofty plain upon which he ventured to embark. But I regret to say that a number of contributions made since then have brought back the whole matter to a rather more earthy, legislative and, if the noble Baroness will forgive me, party political controversy.
I do not intend in any way to burke the issue which is raised by the use in the Motion of the term "diffusion". As I understand it, the whole Motion is one that supports the proposition that the wider diffusion of property will in itself result in increasing the liberty of the subject. This presents some difficulties, because I wonder to which section of the population this ownership is to be diffused. I wonder how the diffusion to whatever section it is diffusible 598 will be carried out. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, has another engaging quality: that of standing on the validity of the statistics that support his own case but dismissing as entirely irrelevant and inaccurate any statistics that do not support his own case. After listening to him, I will venture to reiterate some of the matters which have already been raised in regard to the present state of the distribution of property.
It is a fact, despite the doubts of the noble Lord, Lord Harris, that some 80 per cent. of the population own approximately 23 per cent. of the country's marketable wealth. This means that about 20 per cent. of the population own some 77 per cent. of it. It is true also, I believe, that, so far as share ownership is concerned, 80 per cent. of the population own some 5 per cent. of the total shares held by individuals, and 20 per cent. of the population own 95 per cent. of the shares.
On the question of homes—including the land immediately surrounding those homes, as part of them—I understand that 80 per cent. of the population own some 42 per cent. of homes, whereas 20 per cent. own some 48 per cent. of them. There may be variations, but that is the broad and general picture. The first question I must ask is: to whom is the ownership going to be diffused? How is it going to be acquired? One can understand a certain movement of property among those who are included in that very fortunate 20 per cent.—some will have a little less and some will have a little more—but what about the 80 per cent., the great bulk of the population? What resources do they have?
We have certain clues because we do know, very approximately, that there are at present some 15 million of the population living below, at, or slightly above, subsistence level. They are the people who are within the 80 per cent. What resources do they have, to be able to acquire property? The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone—who, unfortunately, could not stay—made the assertion (rather remarkably, I thought) that anyone—and I believe he used the term "without exception"—could obtain resources "on tick", on credit, to enable them to acquire property. If the noble Lord were still here, I would possibly refer to that observation of his in slightly more austere terms, but his absence merely requires me to note it as being quite ridiculous.
Your Lordships may be aware of a feature that appeared in the Sunday Times as recently as 21st August 1983. This set out the results of a detailed MORI poll carried out in very careful circumstances which revealed the conditions under which millions of our fellow citizens at the bottom of the scale live. It described the facilities which millions are having to go without. Some 4.3 million did not have damp-free homes; 2.9 million could have a roast joint or a meat chop only once a week; 3.25 million were without heating, 3.4 million were not able to have new clothes as distinct from buying second-hand clothes; 2.9 million needed warm coats; 9.7 million had to go without a week's holiday away; 1.1 million were without a bath; 2.2 million were without facilities for a Christmas celebration.
How, then, is property going to be diffused among people with those resources? What bank is going to 599 advance them the money to acquire a property? How does their income level relate in any way to any reasonable ability to discharge a hire-purchase obligation of the kind they may need to acquire such a substantial asset as a motor car? There can be no real diffusion of property on any substantial scale in the direction which the noble Lord infers it ought to go, as distinct from among the top 20 per cent. of the population. So long as there remains in this country unemployment running at the level of between 3 million and 4 million, this cannot happen.
My noble friend Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos spoke very eloquently about the two different types of property, as originally put forward by Tawney. Nobody is objecting—in fact, everybody is affirming—that to be able to acquire property for one's own use and enjoyment would undoubtedly increase the sense of personal freedom, subject to a qualification that I shall make presently. But when it comes to real property in the sense of property which confers on its owners the right and the power to determine the lives of others, to decide where to invest and where not to invest, to decide where to export and where not to export, to decide where to compete and where not to compete, and to decide who to sack and who to engage, then there is no desire to diffuse that power—none whatsoever. In fact, ever since 1979 that power has been progressively increasing. The power of property consisting of the means of production and the means of employment is rapidly placing more and more power into fewer and fewer hands.
Far from there being any governmental policy to diffuse that power, the policy is to increase it. The policy is to increase the concentration of power; and even today some 80 per cent. of manufacturing production in this country is in the hands of 400 companies whose directors—and ultimately, one supposes, their shareholders—can dermine the fate of the people they employ.
I said I had a qualification about the acquisition of property. The most common way of acquiring property by people who are not in the top favoured 20 per cent. of the population—and perhaps even including them—but who are on the lower levels is, of course, by obtaining a mortgage loan or engaging in hire purchase transactions. Of course, that gives the illusion of freedom and the illusion of ownership. But in most cases the ownership itself is not completed in the purchaser's favour until after the mortgage is discharged. In times of high interest rates and high unemployment, mortgagor after mortgagor has the option given to him of either increasing the length of the term of the loan or paying the increased interest. There are thousands of alleged home owners in this country who will never, in fact, own their house during their lifetime and whose mortgage, in many cases, will not be paid off until after their death. However, it gives the illusion of ownership.
How does that enhance freedom? How does it enhance the freedom of the individual? There have been many definitions of freedom this evening, including two examples which I am pleased to support from the noble Baroness, Lady Seear: freedom from want and freedom from ignorance. There are many other illustrations of freedom because it can only be 600 stated in illustrative terms. Above all, freedom means freedom from fear. There are certain fears that are the inevitable consequence of being on earth itself. There is nothing very much that we can do about that. There is fear of death, fear of illness and of physical hurt, fear of bereavement, and so on. There are even fears for one's own future. Those are all common fears. However, there are certain fears that are not inevitable. People ought not to be afraid of the cost of dying. They ought not to be afraid of delays in the treatment of their health. They ought not to be afraid or deterred by its cost. They ought not to be afraid of unemployment. They ought not to be afraid of loss of material possessions arising from economic adversity. They ought not to be afraid of those things.
The ownership of property under mortgage conditions or the acquisition of property on hire purchase can often lessen freedom in the sense that it accentuates the worries that already exist. It is one of the reasons why, if I may introduce a slightly political note into the debate, the party opposite particularly loves those people who are working; loves them to be under obligation to the banks; loves them to be under obligation to the hire purchase companies, because it makes them more amenable when it comes to wage claims and to industrial disputes. The party opposite likes that. The ownership of property in those circumstances is a disadvantage rather than an advantage.
There are other freedoms, too, which have already been touched upon this afternoon. There is freedom of movement. It has been said that the ownership of one's own house increases one's mobility. I would say that that is a very debatable proposition. It is not possible in every case for a house to be easily sold. There are a large number of local authorities in the United Kingdom, of all political persuasions at the top, which have exchange arrangements whereby people who want to move from one local authority to another are able to do so. Not all owner-occupied property is readily saleable.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, gave some very illustrative arguments about the state of housing and the state of the repair of housing. The picture that she painted was that owner-occupied housing tended to be spick and span, easily repaired, in prime condition but, on the other hand, that the same care was not taken by occupiers of tenanted property to maintain it in a proper way. I sincerely hope that the noble Baroness did not pursue that argument with the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, in regard to Scotland, because the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, would have been compelled to say that in Scotland, at any rate, tenanted property is maintained spick and span, and very well indeed, in the local authorities of which she has some knowledge. May I remind the noble Baroness that of owner-occupied houses about 483,000 were unfit for human habitation as recently as 1981?
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
My Lords, I think that the noble Lord has my speech and that of my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour confused. I made no remarks of the type the noble Lord has mentioned, whereas my noble friend did say exactly what the noble Lord said she would not have said.
Lord Bruce of Donington
My Lords, we shall read what Hansard says, but the strictures of the noble Baroness about rented property, particularly rented property in local authorities, will be within the recollection of the House.
I do not think that the argument that the diffusion of property, if it ever occurred, somehow enlarges individual liberty will stand up to any kind of practical examination. Moreover, I feel that it would be very difficult to accomplish. We must look at the whole question in a different way. I am very much in accord with the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, who referred to co-operation between the public sector and the private sector in industry; and, indeed, between the whole of our public affairs and private affairs in so far as they fall within the sphere of economics.
There is all this talk about inefficiency of public enterprise, and the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, is at his best when it comes to uttering his favourite nostrums. However, I have observed that although public enterprises are supposed to be always failures, nevertheless, as soon as they become successful in the service and, indeed, other spheres, then, and not before then, they are privatised. Privatisation does not come in at the development stage. That is only thought of when the public enterprises themselves, through their own efforts and, in some cases, with the aid of Government as in Rolls-Royce, become successful. Particularly in the case of British Telecom, one wonders just what advantage there will be to the British taxpayer—who will provide the initial money—and the British consumer—the telephone subscriber—in return for the £400 million per annum which will be paid out by way of dividend to shareholders who will acquire an interest from the Government probably at a reduced price. It simply does not add up.
I believe that there should be this co-operation between public and private enterprise. What we should be thinking of is not so much ownership but use. We are all mortal. Very often we do not consider logically the results of the consciousness of our mortality. We are only tenants on the face of the earth—for four score years and ten for some of us and perhaps even longer for others, including the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell. We are not freeholders. This obsession with property as a means of gaining freedom is entirely obsolete.
Surely we have to look at the matter in a different way altogether. We should look at it not in the old way but in a far more modern way. Let us try to live our lives not for the acquisition of things but in order that we may work constructively with people. Let us live our lives as best we can in order that we may have such freedom as we can get to use our abilities constructively. Let us conduct ourselves in such a way that we do not use competitiveness in the rat-race for survival or in the acquisition of property. Let us have competition among people for the achievement of excellence whether in art, music, literature, sport or the normal social ambit within which we should move.
These are the objectives for which we should aim—the development of the human personality and the achievement, if it is possible and in so far as it is possible, of a degree of personal serenity which is the 602 indispensable adjunct of the development of moral values, not in the secular religious sense but in the more deeply and profound spiritual sense. These are the ways in which we should be directing our policies. In the words of Matthew Arnold, at the moment we are between two worlds: one dead and the other powerless to be born. I venture to suggest to your Lordships that the philosophy and policies that we shall follow inevitably, whatever the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, may think, and whatever the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, may dictate, will have more in common with the philosophies of the miner from Ebbw Vale than those of the daughter of the grocer from Grantham.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Lord Cockfield
My Lords, this is one of those rare and valuable occasions when we have the opportunity of debating philosophical issues untrammelled by the need to defend, or the temptation to attack, specific legislative proposals, although, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said, some of your Lordships did fall into temptation. In a very penetrating remark, the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, said that it was impossible to be neutral to the views expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. We are, therefore, all of us, greatly indebted to my noble friend Lord Beloff for initiating this debate and to all of your Lordships who have participated in it.
We are concerned, all of us, to discern the true path which leads mankind from Hobbes' "state of nature" when,The life of man [was] solitary, poore (sic), nasty, brutish, and short",to a society which offers freedom of mind and person alike, the opportunity of progress, the encouragement of development, tranquillity at home and peace abroad.
Progress is always lamentably slow. Mankind takes a step forward, and too often a step back. But if progress is to be made it must be two steps forward for every one step taken back, and that it has always proved to be; although to see it at times one must take a view that extends beyond the span of one's own lifetime.As [we] walk through the wilderness of this world",often it is the achievements of the past and the hopes for the future which must sustain the struggles of the present.Prosperity is not without many fears and distastes, and adversity is not without comforts and hopes".We need, therefore, to have a sense of history and a vision which transcends the problems of the hour if we are to understand the true nature of events and the evolution of our society.
Freedom is the key to progress. Empires rise and fall. Governments come and go. Institutions change. They are born, they evolve, they die. But as generation succeeds generation, as the centuries pass, we see an expansion of freedom and the march of progress. There are black spots in the world: there is hardship and repression. We tend perhaps too much to concentrate on this dark side of the moon to the exclusion of the side on which the sun falls. But the world is a much better place than it was in the Middle 603 Ages; this country a better place than it was then or, with respect to my noble friend, than it was in the nineteenth century.
Freedom requires a framework of law to sustain it. In this country over the years we have developed such a framework which is a model for the world. But a framework of law is not in itself sufficient. We need the right social and economic climate in which freedom will grow and be entrenched. It is in this area that my noble friend's Motion has particular relevance and the Government have a specific role to play.
Of course, none of us would argue that property ownership is the only factor relevant to freedom. Of course it is not, and nor does my noble friend's Motion suggest that it is. I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, that freedom is wider than the possession of property; but it is an important and indeed an indispensable element. In this I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, said, and I echo the thoughts expressed by my noble friend Lord Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon. I listened with great interest to the description of the six freedoms given by my noble friend Lord Mottistone.
The importance of private ownership of property lies in the independence it gives people: independence of mind, as well as of action. It protects them from not only many of the hazards of life but also oppression by the state, by large organisations, and indeed by their fellow citizens. The diffusion of property ownership is a diffusion of power. It is this greater equality of power which protects the individual from those who would oppress him.
I doubt whether there is any disagreement in your Lordships' House about the need for greater equality of wealth. Where the disagreement comes is in the fact that we would achieve this end by levelling up, by making property ownership easier and more attractive for the great mass of our people; while many noble Lords opposite would achieve this end by levelling down, by penalising the rich and indeed the not-so-rich, as well.
There are a number of specific areas of wider private ownership of property that I should like to touch on in more detail: first, home ownership; secondly, share ownership, particularly by employees and, thirdly, the contribution made by privatisation. In all these areas, our aim—and our achievement—is more widely spread ownership by the people themselves. This is the right way to achieve greater equality of wealth and the great benefits which go with it.
I start with home ownership, a matter dealt with in particular by my noble friends Lady Gardner of Parkes and Lady Carnegy of Lour. Sixty per cent. of householders now own their own homes. The figure has doubled in the last 30 years, and is still rising. Property ownership confers rights on people; that is why it is so important in a free society.
However much we do to improve the position of the council house tenant—and this Government have done a very great deal; let there be no question about it—there is, and there is bound to be, a big difference between the person who owns his house and the person who is a tenant. This point was made very forcefully and effectively by not only my noble friend Lord 604 Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon, but also my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour. The home owner enjoys freedoms which the tenant cannot have. The home owner has a stake in the community, a sense of security, and of responsibility for his home and his neighbourhood, which the tenant cannot enjoy to the same extent. The home owner can move more easily from one part of the country to another than can the tenant, and while the tenant has to go on paying rent in perpetuity, the home owner's mortgage payments go towards a valuable asset that will eventually be his.
Secondly, I come to share ownership. Share ownership also confers rights. The owner of a business or a shareholder has rights which an ordinary employee or customer does not have. True employee involvement in company affairs comes through share ownership. It is the most effective way that we can make employee consultation both effective and a reality. Instead of being just "consultation" between people who may regard themselves as on opposite sides, it becomes consultation between people who are truly on the same side.
The shareholder, moreover, is free to make his views known on the future direction of the company, its policy, and its management style. Every shareholder has a vote which he can use to approve or disapprove of the policy of the board and to support or reject the candidatures of directors coming up for re-election. In contrast, in a nationalised industry employees have no direct say because they cannot become shareholders. As employees become shareholders they see the need for profits and dividends and for the company to be strong and progressive. They begin to think of themselves as part owners as well as employees. This is what employee participation really means.
The ownership of property therefore encourages people to exercise new rights, spreads power in the community, and brings to people new responsibilities. The home owner has to repair his property. The employee shareholder has to think about the greater good of the company as a whole, as well as about his next pay claim.
Let me now turn to the part played by Government in these two areas. The Government have been outstandingly successful in encouraging more people to own their own home. We have done this, first, through the system of mortgage interest relief against income tax; secondly, by encouraging council house sales to tenants at a generous discount—over 600,000 public sector tenants have already bought their houses since we took office, and a further 175,000 are in process of buying; thirdly, by lowering the costs of purchase in the housing market—the Budget, for example, halved stamp duty and raised the threshold; fourthly, by securing the release of under-used land for housing, in particular within urban areas, or where it is held idle by public authorities; and, fifthly, by encouraging low-cost low-start mortgage schemes and part-equity schemes.
The development of a home-owning democracy has transformed the political process in the United Kingdom. Home ownership is now a reality for nearly two-thirds of the population, and we look forward to the day when it becomes a reality for three-quarters of the population.
605 In the field of share ownership the Government have taken a wide range of measures to encourage employee shareholdings. For example, there has been, first, relief in successive Budgets for employee shareholding schemes, which is now generous, and, secondly, the encouragement of management buy-outs in the public and private sectors. Thirdly, there has been the encouragement of employee shareholdings, when businesses are denationalised, through employee preference schemes, and, fourthly, there has been a range of measures in the tax field and elsewhere to help small businesses, as well as the enterprise allowance to encourage people to set up on their own.
We want to encourage not only employee shareholdings, but also wider share ownership generally. At present so much individual savings and wealth is channelled through institutions such as pension funds and insurance companies. These have proved to be an extremely valuable medium for building up individual property rights. But they do have their disadvantages. In particular, there is no direct nexus between the individual and the companies in which his money is invested.
The fiscal system has been slanted in a way which has favoured investment and savings through institutions and penalised direct investment by the individual himself. My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken the first steps towards establishing a more fiscally neutral system. Life insurance relief is being withdrawn, thus reducing the bias in favour of institutional saving, and the investment income surcharge is also being abolished, thus reducing the bias against personal investment.
Thirdly, I come to privatisation. This is the third element in our policy for promoting wider ownership of property. Nationalisation as conceived in the 1940s sprang from the best of motives. It was felt that the industries concerned would be "owned by the people"—that this would encourage efficiency, competitiveness and good labour relations. These high hopes have been disappointed. I know that there are exceptions and distinguished exceptions, but in general the nationalised industries have been characterised by inefficiency, uncompetitiveness, overmanning and poor labour relations. Far from the people feeling that they owned these enterprises, the general public reaction has been one of antagonism. People in their day-to-day capacity as consumers have often felt that they have been oppressed by these vast bureaucratic organisations. Only by returning these industries to private ownership can we really ensure that they are owned by the people themselves. This we are now doing on an ever-increasing scale.
Additionally, in British Aerospace, Cable and Wireless, Amersham International, Britoil and Associated British Ports, special arrangements have been made for employees to become shareholders on preferential terms. As my right honourable friend has announced today, we shall be doing the same in British Telecom. The noble Lord, Lord Grimond, suggested that the arrangements were somewhat meagre. I am afraid that the speed with which the Statement had to be read no doubt deceived the ear of the noble Lord for, in addition to the £70 to which he specifically referred, there is also a matching issue of £200 for every £100 purchased. In addition, the special 606 discount of 10 per cent. for employees will extend to £2,000-worth of shares. The arrangements therefore can be described as generous.
Ultimately in this field, we have the same objective as the noble Lord of ensuring that as many as possible of the employees of these organisations become shareholders. On that point, it may interest your Lordships to know that, on flotation, 74 per cent. of the workforce in British Aerospace became shareholders. In Cable and Wireless, the figure was 99 per cent.; in Amersham International, 99 per cent. of the United Kingdom work force; in Britoil, 72 per cent.; and in Associated British Ports, 91 per cent.
My noble friend, Lord Maude of Stratford-upon-Avon referred to the question of self-employment. I entirely agree with him that the growth of self-employment that has occurred in recent years is an important, welcome and healthy development. My noble friend referred to certain difficulties that he said were created by the Inland Revenue. If he has any particular case in mind, perhaps he will let me know. But, in the end, the Inland Revenue administers the rules that are laid down by Parliament, although, since the intervention of the Liberal Party in the form of the late Mr. Lloyd George, as he then was, your Lordships' House no longer plays any part in those particular deliberations.
Helped by all these measures, there is a much greater diffusion of wealth in this country than most people imagine. One only has to look around one to see the abundant evidence of this wider dispersion of wealth. Sixty per cent. of homes are now owner-occupied, and this figure is growing steadily. No less than 12¼5 million people are home owners and 11 million are in occupational pension schemes. Twenty million people have building society shares or deposits. Two million own shares in companies. Ten million have National Savings accounts. Our objective surely must be to encourage these numbers to grow.
The noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, and the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, both quoted certain important but carefully selected figures relating to the ownership of wealth in this country. Those of us who are or have been professional statisticians owe a great debt to the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, for the work that he did when he was chairman of the Royal Commission on the Distribution of Income and Wealth. That commission produced a very great deal of information of the utmost value and the path that he blazed has been continued since. The best single measure of the dispersion of wealth is the Gini co-efficient, which I explained to your Lordships on an earlier occasion in connection with the distribution of income. The Gini co-efficient is also calculated for the distribution of wealth. The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, will find the figures at the bottom of the table from which he quoted. In the last 10 years—
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, yes. The figures are there. They show a rising Gini co-efficient during the lifetime of the present Government.
§ Lord Cockfield
My Lords, perhaps I may complete what I was going to say. I said right at the beginning of my speech that one needs to look at these developments over a period of time, that we do have 607 short-term fluctuations. Now the position is this. In the last 10 years for which figures are available—that is, from 1971 to 1981—the Gini co-efficient for the distribution of personal wealth including pension rights—and this is a crucial point—has declined from 59 per cent. to 45 per cent. The lower the co-efficient, of course, the more equal is the distribution of wealth.
There are two main factors that have contributed to this. One is the spread of personal pension rights, a very important factor. The other is the increase in home ownership and the increase in the value of homes. So home ownership, about which the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, seemed to have some reservations, has been one of the major factors in producing greater equality in the distribution of wealth. If one looks over any reasonable period of time, there is no question whatever but that the distribution of wealth in this country is much more equal than it used to be.
There are two quite different ways to approach the constitution of society. As the modern state has grown in numbers, in wealth and in power, there has grown, too, the temptation to regard authority, power and influence as extending downwards from the state to the great institutions whether quasi-governmental or private, whether trading companies, industries or trade unions, and then only as a residue to individuals, who are regarded often contemptuously simply as workers in these organisations. This is the Marxist-Leninist approach, the Socialist-Syndicalist approach, and at times our own society has been tainted by it.
In contrast, we ourselves believe that authority, and the power and influence which stem from it, has its foundation in the individual and is only delegated upwards to the organisations, the institutions and ultimately to the state itself. Freedom is not something which is delegated to the individual by the state. It is his inalienable inheritance. We all of us accept the need for a framework of law within which we live: that there are services which need to be provided communally; and that there are some things better done and which possibly can only be done through government. But the state must be our servant, not our master. We have great responsibilities to our fellow men. But these responsibilities must be shouldered by us as free men, not as the automatons of a state society.
The very concept of freedom requires that where we can do so we shoulder our own burdens and accept our own responsibilities. We cannot offload our personal responsibilities on to the state. Equally, we must not allow the state to pre-empt those things we should and can and want to do ourselves. At times there may be marital necessity in the state providing particular services, but there is no merit in the state owning property as such—only if it needs to do so as ancillary to its main purpose, strictly defined.
Therefore, if we value our freedom, if we are determined to protect our freedom, we must protect it from encroachment by the state at home as much as from enemies abroad. It is in the growing army of people who own their own homes, who own property of every sort and description, that the best defence of our freedom and the most certain guarantee of our future are to be found. Therefore, I commend to your Lordships the spirit, the sentiment and the substance reflected in my noble friend's Motion.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, it is customary for the mover of such a Motion to end the proceedings on a happy note by thanking all those who have taken part in the debate; and I do so without reservation. However, my own joy is somewhat alloyed by the fact that to some extent the experiment of facing this House with a general proposition has, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, pointed out, not altogether succeeded. Certainly it was not my intention, as the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, suggested, to make a speech in defence of all the policies of Her Majesty's present Ministers. Were I a Minister that would be my duty, but the Prime Minister has not thought fit to include me in her administration.
Since that was not my purpose, equally it was not my purpose to attack the Labour Party. I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, was so certain I was going to do this that he had prepared a defence of the Labour Government of 1945, to which he attaches an importance which perhaps only the rewriting of a couple of famous lines in English poetry would illustrate:Behind us stretched eternal night; Attlee came and all was light".I think it would be only fair of him if he were to agree that he somewhat telescoped the way in which the appalling conditions of many people in this country at the turn of the nineteenth century, to which he referred in moving terms, were altered. They were altered in part, as the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, reminded us, by the Liberal administrations before 1914. But the ending of the Poor Law, to which he referred particularly, and all that went with it was largely the work of a somewhat neglected statesman, Mr. Neville Chamberlain, as Minister of Health in the 1920s. What was built up by the Labour Government after the war was largely pursuing policies which had been developed—in some cases rapidly developed—for a more humane society in the inter-war years. If we are to have these debates we must respect our facts and our authorities.
I would assure the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, with whom I seem to cross swords fairly frequently, that he may not quote the Levellers among the ancestors of modern socialism. I am quite sure that if this proposition had been put to the Putney debates of Cromwell's army the Levellers, to a man, would have voted for it because they believed in the importance of the diffusion of property as a safeguard of freedom.
My Lords, if I were to ask for Papers, clearly I would be getting documents ranging from the Sermon on the Mount through Hegel to the collected works of R. H. Tawney. That would be a lot to ask for, and therefore I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.