§ Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Tuesday last by the Earl Cathcart—namely, That a humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
§ "Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."
§ 3.11 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Elton)
My Lords, on the first day of this debate, when most of us were fresh, and, thankfully, out of our robes, two of your Lordships remained in very splendid attire to start it off. I should like to add my own congratulations to my noble friends, Lord Cathcart and Lord Dundee, on the splendid way in which they did this. Their speeches were the opening flourishes of the trumpeters before the tournament. Their function was not to break any lances. Jousting began in earnest only 143 yesterday, and your Lordships were at it from three o'clock until after half-past ten. The lists were crowded and the splinters flew, but no bones, so far as I know, were broken.
Today is the middle day of the tournament and our subjects are Home and Social Affairs. It is my duty to place before your Lordships a number of topics—each of them the subject of legislation in the coming Session—over which your Lordships will then canter and wrangle until my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor comes delicately, but formidably, into the field, picking his way between the broken lances and the scattered plumes, with all the assurance of one who has assisted at the opening of, I believe, over 50 Parliamentary Sessions.
There will be some work for him to do, I am sure, because, as your Lordships know, Her Majesty's Government are convinced that the Greater London Council and the other metropolitan county councils are an unnecessary and wasteful tier of bureaucracy. The London borough councils and the metropolitan district councils are, we believe, both closer to the people are better able to meet their needs. We propose, therefore, that most of the functions of the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils should become the responsibility of the lower tier borough and district councils. A few services will be run by joint boards of borough or district councillors. These are the fire service in London, where the joint board will also have responsibility for civil defence, and the fire, police and public transport services in the metropolitan counties. We also propose that in inner London education should become the responsibility of a new, directly elected authority. I take this opportunity to say that the Home Secretary will retain the statutory duty of seeing that satisfactory fire cover is maintained. His permission will still be needed before a single fire station is closed or a single fire appliance dispensed with and he has no intention whatever, as some have suggested, of reducing that cover below the minimum standards which are nationally agreed and to which all fire brigades already work.
The Government are convinced that abolishing the upper tier of local government in these areas will mean a more economical and more effective local government, and better value for money for ratepayers and council tenants. May I remind your Lordships that many such tenants pay rates with their rent and so contribute to the GLC and other metropolitan councils, just like other householders. Legislation for the local authorities is the responsibility of the Department of the Environment and my noble friend Lord Avon will be bearing the heat and burden of that day.
Electoral matters, on the other hand, are for the home departments. We propose to introduce a Bill to implement the changes in electoral law which we set out in our White Paper on the Representation of the People Acts. This White Paper was based on recommendations of the Home Affairs Select Committee of another place and followed consultations with the political parties represented there. The Bill will make the first major changes in 144 electoral law since 1969, when voting age was lowered to 18.
Many British citizens living and working abroad have close connections with constituencies here and they ought to have the right to vote in our elections. But it would be wrong to give the vote to those who have been abroad for many years and may even have no intention of ever coming back. The Bill will give British citizens resident abroad the right to vote at parliamentary and European Parliament elections for up to seven years after they leave this country. This right will be subject to a requirement that they were registered as electors while they were resident here for the constituency in which they will vote—or, if they were too young to be registered, that they were at least resident in that constituency.
The Bill will also allow electors who are away on holiday on polling day to vote either by post or by proxy. There will be a slight extension of the election timetable to allow postal ballot papers to be sent outside the United Kingdom; and all absent voters will be able to vote by post or by proxy. Because of special difficulties in Northern Ireland we reluctantly take the view that the new arrangements should not, for the most part, apply there.
We propose to increase candidates' deposits at a parliamentary election from £150 to £1,000. The threshold for forfeiture would be reduced from one-eighth to one-twentieth of the total votes cast. We are quite clear that something must be done to reduce the large and increasing numbers of freak candidates standing at elections. The deposit is the only practicable means of doing this that we have at our disposal.
Your Lordships may feel some slight inhibition—at least if you do not sit on the Liberal Benches—from interfering too vigorously with another place on matters touching their election. You may feel fewer such inhibitions when it comes to discussing the Prosecution of Offenders Bill, which we hope to introduce shortly in your Lordships' House of Parliament. The main purpose of this Bill will be to establish a new prosecution service for England and Wales. This is part of the process of modernising and improving our criminal justice system which we began in the last Parliament.
This measure will be based on the Report of the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure. The commission recommended the establishment of a prosecution service independent of the police. They found our present arrangements defective in a number of ways. They thought that too many cases were coming before the courts which were unmeritorious and that timely intervention by a legally trained professional might have stopped them. They found greater variations in prosecution policy across the country than was justified by the need to reflect local circumstances. They suggested that it is destructive of public confidence in the fairness and equity of the system if someone accused of an offence in one area has to face trial while in another part of the country, for no apparent reason, the matter is dealt with, say, by a police caution. The commission also criticised the division of responsibilities for funding of prosecutions and for policy matters. In their view, and that of Her 145 Majesty's Government, this does not accord with accepted principles of sound management.
Reservations were earlier expressed in this House, which we shared, about the proposal that the service should be locally based and locally accountable. After extended deliberation and careful consultation, we decided that the new service should be nationally based, with the Director of Public Prosecutions at its head; that the Director of Public Prosecutions should, for this purpose, act under the superintendence of the Attorney General, and that the service should be accountable through him to Parliament.
A national service does not mean a centralised one. It is our firm intention to devolve decision-taking to the maximum extent possible to the local level. We propose that the Attorney General will lay down guidelines on the policy; but their application to individual cases will be left to officers who will be based locally, near the courts, and the police with whom they will have to work very closely. Local prosecutors will thus be able at the same time both to take account of relevant local circumstances and to be insulated from undue local influence. Indeed, by thus securing the independence of local officers, we will make it possible for some cases that at present are dealt with centrally to be devolved to the local level.
Our aim is to establish a service that, from the outset, will be efficient and effective in the sense that delays and cost will be kept to the minimum, consistent with the needs of justice. We hope to enhance consistency of decision taking and to weed out unmeritorious cases; and to do so by establishing a service that will be highly professional and willing to take important decisions impartially and with authority.
We shall also be introducing in this Bill a power for the Attorney General to refer Crown Court sentences for the opinion of the Court of Appeal. Very occasionally, sentences raise important issues of principle or give rise to public concern. The purpose of the provision is to enable the Court of Appeal to give a clear public statement of the correct sentencing principles to be followed. But the principle that these are matters for the courts will be preserved. The procedure, which we expect to be used only sparingly, would not affect the sentence imposed on the particular offender concerned, but it would be an opportunity for review in those exceptional cases which have given rise to genuine concern. We believe that it will help to enhance public confidence in the criminal justice system.
We intend to meet, within the Bill, our commitment to move towards a system of statutory time limits in criminal proceedings in England and Wales. The provision in the Bill will impinge most directly on the prosecution, but we hope they will have a generally beneficial effect on the system as a whole. We intend to mount several field trials to help in working up the scheme. Detailed implementation will be by means of regulations, which will be made when the trials have been concluded and in the light of the experience which they provide.
Finally, the Bill will introduce changes in the award of costs in criminal cases. Some of these changes will be required as a result of the establishment of an 146 independent prosecution service, and we shall take the opportunity to bring forward a number of other changes to remove inconsistencies in the present practice.
The next Bill I must refer to arises directly from a commitment given in your Lordships' House earlier this year by my noble friend the Leader of the House during debates on the Telecommunications Bill. This is the Interception of Communications Bill. For many years, successive Secretaries of State have been able to authorise interception of communications only under strict and rigorously applied procedures and for closely defined purposes in the public interest. The procedures for the authorisation and control of interception on behalf of the police, Customs and Excise, and security service in England and Wales are set out in the White Paper The Interception of Communications in Great Britain, which was published in April 1980. It was introduced to Parliament by my noble friend the Leader of the House while he was still a right honourable Member of another place. The operation of those procedures has, since 1980, been subject to continuous review by an independent judicial monitor. This was, first, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Diplock, and, latterly, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bridge of Harwich. Similar procedures, conditions and safeguards are observed in Northern Ireland, subject only to the overriding requirements for dealing with terrorism.
During discussion of the Telecommunications Bill your Lordships made it clear that you felt that these important matters, which raise fundamental questions of the balance between the needs of the state and the rights of the individual citizen, should be put on a clearer and more comprehensive statutory basis; hence my noble friend's undertaking.
Your Lordships' view was confirmed by the findings of the European Court of Human Rights on 2nd August in the Malone case, which concerned telephone interception on behalf of the police. The court acknowledged the existence of the detailed procedures set out in the 1980 White Paper and that interception, as currently practised, was lawful under our domestic law. But it found that the law was not sufficiently clear and precise about the scope and manner in which the power to authorise interception was to be exercised. It was for this reason that the court concluded that our legal framework did not satisfy Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
Interception is an important weapon to be used—but used sparingly—in the fight against terrorism, organised crime and drug smuggling, and for the safeguarding of our national security. Used in this way, it does not undermine the right of individuals; it protects them. In the wake of the Brighton bomb, I scarcely need to remind the House that the liberties we stand to lose without this carefully limited power fully justify the measures which are taken.
The Bill will create a new and comprehensive statutory framework to govern both postal and telecommunications interception. It will include all the matters covered by the clause on interception that was moved at the Committee stage of the Telecommunications Bill in your Lordships' House in 147 February. It will reinforce the safeguards against abuse of interception, and will bring the law in this country into accord with the requirements of the European Convention.
A significant element of our legislative programme is directed towards uncontroversial technical law reform. Of these reforms, many are inspired by Law Commission reports. Two such Bills—the Enduring Powers of Attorney Bill and the Land Registration and Law of Property Bill—will be introduced this Session.
My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor intends to promote a Bill containing a variety of miscellaneous items. Although its Short Title will be Administration of Justice Bill, it will include provisions to enable properly qualified non-solicitors to compete with solicitors for conveyancing work. The provisions will implement the main recommendations of the conveyancing committee's report, which was published in September. It is intended that a council be established to draw up the detailed rules needed to protect the consumer against incompetence, negligence and fraud and to issue licences to show those applicants who satisfy the requirements laid down. This council will be under a duty to ensure that the requirements it sets are no greater than are needed to provide adequate consumer protection.
It remains the Government's objective to enable financial and other organisations to employ solicitors (or licensed conveyancers) to provide a conveyancing service to their customers. But it is important to ensure that the consumer does not suffer through conflicts of interest or anti-competitive practices when the institutions provide that service. We are currently considering the responses to the consultation paper we issued inviting views on how those problems could best be overcome.
A Bill will also be introduced to enable two international conventions to be ratified by the United Kingdom to improve the prospects of recovering children taken abroad by a non-custodial parent. They are the European Convention on Child Custody and the Hague Convention on Child Abduction. The first is concerned with the recognition and enforcement of child custody orders made abroad, and the second with the return of a child who has been abducted by a parent from his home country. I am sure that your Lordships will welcome these measures.
The next item in our programme that I must mention is designed to meet considerable public concern about the treatment of members of occupational pension schemes who leave schemes before they are able to draw their pensions. There is at present no requirement for a deferred pension to be increased in the gap between leaving and pension age. That means that the real value of the pension can be considerabley eroded.
We issued a consultative document on the matter last November. After considering the responses we announced our intention to introduce legislation at the first available opportunity. A Bill will, accordingly, be introduced this Session which will include a requirement that anyone leaving an occupational pension scheme after the legislation takes effect will have to have their deferred pension increased. This measure 148 will ensure that early leavers get a fair deal. It will also ensure that occupational pension schemes do not serve as a barrier to job mobility.
The Bill will also give effect to the proposal on transfer rights contained in the consultative document we published last May. We recognise that the majority of schemes already give transfer rights. We shall now make them available to everyone. This will give members of such schemes greater freedom of choice about how they secure their pension rights. It is also our intention to remove the 26-year age limit from the preservation requirements of the Social Security Act 1973 and to take powers to require pension schemes to disclose information to their members.
Your Lordships will already have noticed a number of references to steps we plan to take to bring our statutes and practices into line with the requirements of European conventions and the European courts. A further such step is the Bill which we shall introduce to secure compliance with a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, in February 1982, that parents who hold a philosophical conviction against corporal punishment in schools are entitled to have that conviction respected.
Our intention is to allow parents to exempt their children from corporal punishment. Although there has been criticism of this course, we prefer it to the only practicable alternative, which would be to forbid the use of the sanction in schools altogether. Our proposals avoid this and to that extent help to sustain the right of schools to decide for themselves whether they need to retain this sanction.
Punishment is by no means a central, nor a dominating, theme in our education system. Your Lordships should not think that, because developments within the community have made this piece of legislation necessary, we give it any more weight than it justly deserves. The central aim of the Government's policies for education is more positive. It is to raise the standards which are achieved by our young people. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has announced plans to improve the training of teachers, to seek broad national agreement on the objectives of the school curriculum and to introduce changes in the examination system which will reinforce good and effective teaching in our schools. That is an ambitious programme, and we shall press ahead with it in the coming year.
Some of the pieces of legislation that I have so far mentioned relate only to England and Wales, but there will be activity North of the Border, too. The Government will be introducing two measures to achieve desirable reforms in the law of Scotland. The first, which should be brought before your Lordships shortly, is designed to implement the recommendations of the two reports of the Scottish Law Commission on matrimonial property and on aliment and financial provision on divorce, respectively. The second measure will contain a large number of miscellaneous provisions, including the implementation of three further reports from the commission on irritancies in leases, rectification on contractual and other documents and evidence in cases of rape and other sexual offences. This measure will also include provisions paving the way for the 149 introduction of a small claims scheme to enable certain consumer disputes to be settled in the sheriff court without the need for legal representation. We shall also take the opportunity to bring forward some useful amendments in such matters as criminal procedure and the administration of the courts.
A small matter for the record is that I notice an editorial change to my speech which suggests that the measures which I have attached to the second measure may, in fact, appear in the first.
Time and convention have meant that I have had to devote almost the whole of what I have said to our legislative programme for home and social affairs. It is a substantive programme, designed to achieve substantial results. It does not, of course, represent a half of what the Government intend to undertake and achieve in home and social affairs during the coming Session. Our legislative Acts are designed to amend and improve our framework of laws. Operating within that framework, the Government will also pursue their goals by executive and administrative means. They will seek to achieve, across the board, a more efficient use of our common resources, to get the taxpayer better value for his money and more services for the same money. That must, if the services are welcome, be welcome itself.
I have outlined a substantial programme. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and many other noble Lords across the Floor of the House are in duty bound to belittle it and to say that it is misdirected. I believe they are wrong. It is time for me to leave the lists to them and to leave to my noble and learned friend those who speak after me in this debate.
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, the House has been treated to the usual elegant speech from the noble Lord the Minister. He is quite an expert in the culinary art, and has managed to present what is a most skimpy meal prepared for a hungry nation as though it was a Tuesday evening dinner in your Lordships' House.
Looking for the moment at the Benches occupied by the right reverend Prelates, I wonder whether I may say in language which might be familiar to them that I do not intend to speak with the voice of an earthquake or the voice of the tempest—which is more suitable, I suppose, to some sort of political haranguing—but in the still small voice of reason, which is a little more appropriate to your Lordships' House. When trying to define the differences between us—the Front Bench here (and, of course, my noble friends who sit behind me) and the Front Bench opposite—it is as big a division as the the division created by this Government in our own people. May I say to the noble Lord the Minister that, it is a difference (to use a phrase that will not be unknown to your Lordships) in the language of priorities.
On this side of the House the priorities on home and social affairs are the care of the sick, the old, the deprived and the homeless. The priorities are equality of opportunity and sacrifice; and, above all, to see that there is one class of citizenship in this country, and that that is a first-class citizenship. The phrase "second-class citizenship" was used in the most sympathetic terms by one of the leaders of the 150 Confederation of British Industry only a day or so ago. He used that definition when he was referring (as I said, in sympathetic terms) to the over three million unemployed in this country. None of those priorities found its way into the gracious Speech; and at home what we have from this Government is a spirit of conflict and confrontation instead of what my noble friend and I would have preferred—concern and conciliation.
In that respect I could refer—but I do not think this afternoon's debate is the appropriate one for it—to the conflict and confrontation with the trade union movement. I would not necessarily have referred to trade union legislation. I would have referred to the contempt with which the trade union movement in this country was treated in the GCHQ matter, without the slightest consultation and in the most arrogant manner. I will move on, not to deal with that matter but to refer, if only for a fleeting moment, to something mentioned in the gracious Speech which is so important, and that is the abolition of the Greater London Council and the other municipal authorities to which the Minister referred. So important is this matter to the members of the Opposition that we have chosen to see to it that next Wednesday the whole of the debate, which is to be dealt with by my noble friends Lady Birk and Lord Underhill, is on the relationship between national and local government.
It is therefore inappropriate for me to seek to duplicate that debate in reverse, as it were, by dealing with that matter today, but I must refer to it, though briefly, because the noble Lord the Minister did. That Bill is going to be a bad Bill. It is going to be an undemocratic Bill; and it is going to be a Bill, as the Government well know, against the current opinion of all those affected. It will be a Bill expensive in money and expensive in the depletion of social services that will be entailed.
If your Lordships will forgive my reminiscing only for one moment, I must refer to the fact that the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, has done us the privilege of being in our midst this afternoon. It was precisely 30 years ago that I had the honour of being the chairman of the London County Council; and the noble Earl, who was kind enough to nod, remembers that he was the very much esteemed Minister of Housing and Local Government at that time. I enjoyed a co-operation with him which will remain with me in my political memories for the rest of my life.
Is a matter of only some years later that, with Sir Isaac Hayward, I led a delegation to the noble Earl when he was the Prime Minister. I addressed him at No. 10 Downing Street and he listened to me with all that patience and all that courtesy for which he is known. I dared to say to him then, quoting speeches that he had made in admiration of the London County Council when he was Minister of Housing and Local Government, that I did not know why he was trying to abolish it. I dared to say in that eminent presence that it seemed to us that it was a political attempt to do away with an authority that seemed consistently to have a Labour majority. The noble Earl, Mr Harold Macmillan as he then was, just looked at me. He did a cough I remember very well; he did a wink I remember very well; and he then said, "Tut, tut!" That I take as being on the record.I should not want to 151 mislead your Lordships by saying that he did not agree with my remarks.
It is so strange that some years later I sit in your Lordships' House and we are about to be faced with a Bill for the abolition now of the Greater London Council. I cannot help saying in the presence of the noble Earl that I wonder whether this, too, is not owing to the fact that Government circles want to get rid of a Labour authority, and other Labour authorities, without trusting to the right of the people to choose what they want. So there is confrontation with local authorities.
If I may, I shall move on to another type of confrontation and another type of failure to deal with the social problems of our time in any adequate way. I turn at once to youth. There is mention of youth in the gracious Speech; it is on the third page:My Government will continue to develop policies to raise educational standards".That appeared on 6th November, and on the very same day the following is the headline in The Times:Education 'in danger' as government cuts leave schools short of books".I must quote from some portions of the article following upon the report of the inspectors on educational provision and response in some Norfolk schools. At once may I say, because I believe in being fair, that the inspectors quite separately criticised Haringey, which happens to be a local authority, but on rather different lines.
In regard to Norfolk, this is what The Times reports:They say the Conservative-controlled county council is endangering education standards by cutting costs".I go on:The report on the county's schools is certain to reopen angry debates over education spending policies. The inspectors say that Norfolk's budgeting is so tight that any further cuts will prevent schools from 'maintaining' an acceptable quality of work".This is my last quotation:Recent spending limits have most seriously hit school equipment budgets, repairs and maintenance, meals, nursery schools and post-16 courses. Few primary schools had computers, none had a policy of buying calculators, and in one small primary school a cardboard box of untuned percussion instruments was the entire music stock".What hypocrisy for the gracious Speech to refer, as it does, to the whole issue of improving educational standards!
Having dealt with education, I go on to see what happens to youth thereafter. What happens to youth thereafter was in a Government document issued this October and giving figures of unemployment for July. As I understand it, that was the last document from the Government which dealt with those figures by separating the age groups. The figures are: under 18, 7.3 percent.; 18to 19, 15 per cent.; and 20 to 24, 26.7 per cent. That means that for all those in our country under the age of 25—for all of them—there is the lot of forming 50 per cent. of the unemployed 3 million odd in this country. What a lost generation! What a deprived generation! I am tempted to say, what profiteth a nation if it manages proudly to say that it has dropped some inflation percentages but has lost the souls of its young people?
152 Going on from education in regard to youth, I noticed, as I am sure other noble Lords will have done, that nothing has been said about one of the most worrying aspects of our youth today. It may have some relationship to escapism from anxiety and from unemployment—I am not going to dwell on that—and that is in connection with drug addiction. I raise the matter in the debate on the gracious Speech because I know of the great concern of the BMA in regard to this matter and over the fact that there is absolutely no guidance or leadership being given by the Government at this moment in regard to the real problems that affect drug addiction.
There is not the slightest doubt that much more money is needed at the drug addiction centres and there is much more need for specialist advice. But the Government must take a lead on what is eating into our national life in a way which is so destructive. A lead must be give by the Government in discussions and in consultation, too, as to what general practitioners have to face in the urban areas literally through physical attacks by drug addicts. I call for Government leadership in this matter and I regret there is no reference to it in the gracious Speech.
I must say something by way of welcome in regard to the gracious Speech, otherwise I shall be accused of being ungracious myself. I do at once say that one welcomes the Bill in regard to the national prosecution service. When we were dealing with the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill we on these Benches fought hard to protect the police and see that they had appropriate powers. We also thought it right to protect the rights of the citizen and to achieve a correct balance. One of the anxieties we had was that to the community at large it must seem wrong that the police are there to conduct criminal inquiries and that the same authority is in charge, in many cases, of deciding whether or not to prosecute and to carry out the prosecution itself. It is right that there should be a division of those duties.
I was glad to hear the noble Lord the Minister say that there would be a central authority, with the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney General—the Attorney General accountable to Parliament—and that there would be local autonomy. The noble Lord the Minister talked of guidelines. I am not sure what those guidelines are or what they are to be, but I hope that it therefore means that there will be consistency in parallel cases, where they exist, in the decisions as to whether or not to prosecute. The diversity of practice in the country at the present moment is causing the gravest anxiety, as it has done for many, many years. In one area of the country one has the police issuing cautions and in another area of the country apparently they have not heard of the ability to issue a caution and a prosecution is brought on exactly the same facts.
I also welcome the implementation of the Cork Report. We on these Benches have pressed for it for a long time. My noble friends and I hope that in the Bill to come before us two aspects will be covered. The first is the protection and help that ought to be given to the small, honourable trader who finds himself in a position of insolvency. On the other side one hopes that there will be real deterrences for those who use the limited company cover for fraudulent activities and 153 who, after a liquidation, seem to be able immediately to form other companies and carry on their iniquitous activities.
We also welcome the measure that is going to deal with the interception of communications. Indeed it was my noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones who, in a previous Session and in a most eloquent speech, moved for statutory control in regard to the interception of communications. I had the honour—only because my noble and learned friend happened to be absent—of moving the amendment to which the noble Lord the Minister referred—somewhat briefly, if I may say so, but understandably so. I moved the amendment back in February of this year. I am sure that was not one of the moments when the Leader of your Lordships' House felt annoyance—as he seemed to indicate there may be occasions when he feels annoyance—at the fact that your Lordships passed that amendment against the Government wish by 129 votes to 112. We shall now have the statutory measure, because the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, promised this House at the Report stage that, your Lordships having passed that amendment, there would be this legislation. As one would expect, that undertaking has been honoured. We thank the noble Viscount for it. I hope that your Lordships will not be deterred in this Session from acting likewise when your Lordships' consciences are aroused as they were on that occasion.
I end by saying this. The people of this country deserve a more caring Government in home and social affairs. I hope that your Lordships, in your wisdom and in your objectivity, will see that in the coming Session that lesson is taught to the Government.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ Lord Banks
My Lords, the House has listened with considerable interest to the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. I hope they will forgive me if I do not follow them through all the various issues that they have raised. I should like to concentrate on social security in general and pensions in particular. I am assured that today is the day to do that, though it is never entirely clear whether social security comes under the heading of Social Affairs or of the economy. Social security is designed to remove or alleviate social ills of a financial nature. But when we consider the fact that the cost of it in 1985 is anticipated to be somewhere in the region of £40 billion, taking some 30 per cent. of Government spending, then we realise the importance of its relation to the economy.
I should like to turn first to the reference in the gracious Speech to a pensions Bill, to which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred. Of course, strictly speaking, occupational schemes are not social security. However, they do supplement the State retirement pension, and in the case of contracted-out schemes they replace part of it. In talking about occupational schemes, I must declare an interest because I am an insurance broker specialising in life assurance and pensions.
The forthcoming Bill to which the noble Lord referred, as the noble Lord made clear, will have as its principal feature the proposal to assist future early 154 leavers—and it is important to realise that it is future early leavers and not those who have already left as early leavers—by compelling their former employers to increase their paid up pensions by 5 per cent. per annum to retirement. We on these Benches have made it clear that we support that, although we realise that it will involve extra cost. I imagine that the new Bill will not extend to portable pensions. The noble Lord said that it would extend to transferability but at the moment portable pensions is a matter still at the consultative document stage. However, I wonder whether we may expect legislation on that particular subject during the course of this Session.
The Government proposals for portable pensions are welcome as far as they go, but they are somewhat limited. They do not necessarily make anyone better off. They would provide a second alternative to the earnings related pension, the second part of the state pension. The first, which is available at the moment, is a guaranteed minimum pension within a contracted-out occupational scheme. If the Government's proposals were to go ahead, the second would be the option of a personal pension policy, an alternative to the earnings related pension which in itself of course is limited. I should like to see it made possible for someone not covered by an occupational scheme to improve his position over and above the state pension, if he chose to do so, by investing in a personal pension policy with a matching contribution, up to a fixed limit, from his employer. I have put forward a proposal to that end, envisaging that proposal in the context of the abolition of the earnings related pension.
That reminds me that the state scheme at the moment is faced with two severe problems. The first problem is the cost of the earnings related pension in the second and third decades of the next century—the alarming prospect at that time. The second is the gap opening up between the pension payable to the youngest and the oldest pensioners between now and 1998, with the oldest being the poorest until well into the next century. The Select Committee on the Social Services of the House of Commons and the Social Security Advisory Committee have both drawn attention to these two problems. With regard to the latter, they say that funds must be found to compensate those who have little or no earnings related pension.
Of course, cost has been the difficulty. I believe that both problems could be solved without any extra cost to the Government, if that was felt to be essential. It would be done in this way: first, by abolishing the earnings related pension; secondly, by ending contracting-out; thirdly, by removing the liability of an employer to provide a guaranteed minimum pension in formally contracted-out schemes—contracting-out is of course ended because there would be nothing to contract out of; and then by providing that employers and employees in formally contracted-out schemes pay full national insurance contributions. The extra revenue provided could in that way be used to increase the basic pension by 25 per cent.
Those are the rudiments of a proposal that I have put forward in greater detail to the Fowler inquiry. I hope that the Government will consider it carefully. It would, of course, involve some re-adjustments in the 155 relationship betwen the state and occupational schemes, but if the two problems that I have mentioned cannot be solved in any other way, then that may have to be faced. Government inquiries are going on into other aspects of the social security system. I hope that the opportunity will be taken to look at the social security system as a whole and to consider the impact of the taxation system upon it. The gracious Speech speaks offurther reform of the tax system".I believe that it is essential to consider tax reform and social security reform together, and the Alliance parties are committed to that.
There is some speculation at the moment as to whether further reform of the tax system will involve a change in the tax treatment of occupational pension schemes. If pensions are regarded as deferred pay they should surely be taxed on receipt, as now happens. If personal pensions are to be regarded as savings out of taxed income, the contributions and the build-up should not be exempt from tax but the proceeds should be available in capital sum, tax-free, at the time of receipt. It does not seem to me that there is very much point in changing from one of these systems to the other. Piecemeal tinkering, such as taxing the yield on pensions while leaving other tax reliefs the same as they are now, could lead to a very great increase in the cost to employers of their occupational schemes—an increase, it is suggested, in an informed calculation, of 66 per cent. if the rate of tax was only 15 per cent.
Under the present system the provision of a proportion of benefit at retirement in the form of a tax-free lump sum may seem anomalous. It is the only area where a real taxation advantage is available. But the Wilson Committee on the functioning of institutions under the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, had this to say about it:If this view of pensions as deferred pay is accepted, the chief anomaly lies in the tax-free nature of the lump sum. It is difficult to justify this on logical grounds. But it has become such an accepted part of the present arrangement that its removal could not be regarded as equitable in its effects".Payments of lump sums on retirement in 1979, the most recent year for which I have figures, amounted to £950 million. If we tax them at 30 per cent., that would produce £285 million, a very small drop in the ocean when compared with the £40 billion spent on social security. I do not believe that such a saving would be worth it if it led to a solution that could not be regarded as equitable in its effects.
To return to the reform of the whole social security system, the reasons why that is necessary are really well known. First, some of the benefits are inadequate in spite of the money that is spent. The Social Security Advisory Committee has expressed its view that supplementary benefit levels are not high enough. There is constant pressure for the improvement of various benefits—that, for example, the long-term unemployed should get the long-term supplementary benefit rate; that the earnings rule shoud be ended, which is, after all, something to which the Government are committed; that a disability income should be established—again, I believe the Government agree that that should be done some time; and that an adequate carer's allowance should be 156 provided. And so on. Incidentally, I hope that reports that the Government are going to break the link between prices and certain social security benefits is not true.
Then there is the factor of the whole system being made more complex by the introduction of housing benefit. There are the different sources from which benefit is derived—national insurance, contributory benefits, non-contributory benefits, supplementary benefits, family income supplement, housing benefit, statutory sick pay, child benefit—and the problem of overlapping benefits to which that gives rise. A great burden is now placed on supplementary benefit—a burden that it was never envisaged it would have to bear. There is also the impact of taxation, with some people on benefit paying tax. Clearly the Government feel themselves that there is a case for reform or they would not have set up the inquiries they have.
It seems that three main solutions are put forward. The first might be described as Beveridge-plus: improvement of the present scheme, trying to improve the benefits under the scheme as it is. But it seems to me, for the reasons that I have given, that the present scheme is too rickety a basis on which to try to build a new edifice. The second solution is that everything should be means tested, including retirement benefits. That is the view of the Institute of Fiscal Studies. It has some attraction. It means that more would be paid to those in need for the same cost. But it has many difficulties, not the least of which would be saying to people who at present draw benefits as of right, or who, because they have paid contributions over the years have been led to expect that they would receive benefits as of right, that they were now to have these benefits put on a means test basis. And, of course, to do it would be to go in the opposite direction to the Government's commitment with regard to the earnings rule.
Thirdly, there is the tax credit solution, the combination of income tax and benefit systems under which all income tax allowances and all social security benefits are turned into positive tax credits, as has already been done with child benefit, and all income over and above those is taxed. So far as an individual is concerned, you add up his credits on one side, his liability to tax on the other; if the credits are higher than the tax, then there is a payment out to the individual. If the liability to tax is higher than the credits, there is a payment to the Government.
Various methods are suggested as to how that principle might be applied. There is the national dividend scheme. Under that, the same credit is paid to everyone whether they are in work or not. Clearly that would have benefits with regard to easing movement in and out of work. It would not matter, so far as benefit is concerned, whether a person was unemployed or not. One could be unemployed and could earn something and pay tax on it under that system without endangering the benefit. That idea would help to cope with the kind of society, the leisure society, which some people think we are entering into with the very high rate of unemployment and the great changes which are taking place in the structure of industry. That system would also clearly help the poverty trap. 157 In this scheme which was drawn up for the Liberal Party by Philip Vince that simple scheme has been modified a little. In this new plan more is given to people unable to earn than to those in work and there is also a tapered low income credit. That modifies the effects I have just been describing, but it does not eliminate them. The plan would still help to deal with unemployment and the poverty trap as I was describing it a minute ago and as Mr. Rory Francis has shown in his pamphlet, Credit, Income Tax and Unemployment.
But the basic arguments for the tax credit system are that it would rationalise, unify and simplify the tax and social security systems; it would mitigate the poverty trap; it would restore supplementary benefit to its intended role of discretionary extra provision in a few special cases; and it would provide the means for a further redistribution of income in favour of the elderly, of children, and of those at present caught by the poverty trap. I hope that the Government, in pursuing, in the words of the gracious Speech, as reported at col. 3 of Hansard for 6th November,further reform of the tax system",will accept the need to consider tax and social security benefits together, in order to provide a simpler and more effective system.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, it is one of the agreeable aspects of our procedure that we begin the Session on a Motion for an Address to the Sovereign thanking her for the gracious Speech with which she opened it. It is agreeable because it reminds us of how lucky we are in this country in our institutions, in our Monarchy and in the occupant of the Throne; and this, particularly at a time when some people, like the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, are talking of divisions, is in fact a very unifying factor.
Before I pass to the main subject of the debate I hope your Lordships will allow me to say how much I personally welcomed the reference in the gracious Speech to the forthcoming state visit to this country of President Banda. I had the privilege of being entertained by him in his own country at the time of its independence, and I have seen a little of the superb job of work he has done in building up that lovely country. I am sure he will be very welcome here; and perhaps we can appreciate all the more the success of his rule in his own country when one reflects that Malawi is never in the newspapers.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, made one of his most adroit speeches, and that is putting it very high indeed. It was a most skilful performance, as one would expect of the noble Lord. But, if he will allow me to say so, there was one omission which no doubt his regard for the time of your Lordships' House caused him to make. He gave a most eloquent description of what he regarded as the priorities (he used that word): various good causes in the social sphere. That certainly touched a sympathetic chord in my mind in view of the fact that my noble friend Lord Stockton put me in charge of many of those services for quite a number of years.
But the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, having given those as his priorities, did not for one moment indicate 158 that he realised that all those good things, all those admirable things, could be paid for only on the basis of a strong and expanding economy, and that, failing that, it would simply not be possible to finance the relief of suffering, the provision for old age or an educational system of very high standard, and that everything—literally everything—turned on the capacity of this country to earn its living in the world. It is an extraordinarily dangerous illusion to think that the world owes us a good living because of our nice blue eyes.
The noble Lord went on very much along that line when he asked, in a burst of eloquence, what it should avail a nation if its young people are frustrated, even if it gets its inflation rate down. I wonder whether the noble Lord has ever reflected on the effect on young people in particular of the sort of inflation rate which we indeed had in this country at the time this Government came into office, and which they suffer from in such widely dispersed countries as the Argentine—perhaps they deserve it—and Israel. Nothing demoralises a country more quickly and effectively than the rapid erosion of the value of its currency, the complete discouragement of saving, the whole demoralising and wrecking effect of inflation; and to dismiss that, as the noble Lord did, as really being hardly a worthwhile contribution was, if I may say so, hardly worthy of the noble Lord.
One of the aspects of our affairs which I think troubles many of us, and which I hope my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will deal with when he comes to wind up, is the decline in respect for law from which we are suffering. I must say that the party opposite has a good deal of responsibility for that. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, will recall that at his party's recent conference a motion of support was carried for those local authorities who defied the law. It is well known that certain trades unions and their leaders are openly in contempt of court.
It simply is not good enough to say, "Oh, we don't obey Tory laws; we pick and choose those laws we will follow", because a regard, a reverence, for the law as the law is the framework of a civilised and demoratic society. Of course we are all enormously annoyed by certain laws that are passed, particularly when we are in opposition. We seek, and are perfectly entitled to seek, to repeal them; but while they are the law of the land it really is dangerously irresponsible to encourage people to disregard them.
That leads me to the other enormously distressing phenomenon which we can see any night we wish on our television screen; that is, the violence on the so-called picket lines. These are not picket lines; these are not pickets. Pickets, in our good old trades union practice and in our law, were a limited number of people who attended at the place where they would otherwise have been working to advise others coming to work of the strike and of the issues, but not physically to obstruct them and not to turn up in thousands to attempt by force to prevent their entry. This is not picketing. This is, in the language of the law, riotous assembly. I am a little surprised that those who organise these activities—I understand they are centrally organised from central headquarters—have not been proceeded against for procuring riotous assemblies, which is what they are. Again, I hope we 159 may hear whether consideration is being given to seeing that the law is not treated with such contempt.
It is not only on the so-called picket lines that we have violence today. As the noble Lord knows only too well, we have a great growth of ordinary crime—crimes of violence in particular. Your Lordships should be concerned—as I know the Government are concerned—to check this rising tide of violence and crime. There are two aspects of doing that which I would venture to commend to your Lordships.
One aspect involves unfaltering support for the police. I thought it most unfortunate that in another place there were those who saw fit to accuse the police, or some of the police, of racialist tendencies. The police have been under the greatest strain both at the pits and on the streets and they are entitled to the fullest confidence and support from the people of this country, regardless of party, creed or race. I hope that it will go forth from this House that we have the greatest admiration for the members of our police force and the way in which they are standing up at the moment to wholly unprecedented strains. They very rarely get any weekend leave, they are constantly being moved to places where there is trouble, and they have responded absolutely magnificently.
The other aspect is perhaps a more delicate one, and that is the question of the sentences imposed by the courts. Generally, the sentences are excellent, but I believe that their deterrent effect has been very much undermined by the system of parole and premature release. It is fairly well-known among sophisticated criminals that if a judge says he will send a criminal to prison for 14 years, he is unlikely, at the worst, to serve more than eight or nine years. I believe that we are eroding the deterrent effect of perfectly proper sentences by this habit of continually releasing pople on so-called parole or other grounds for release.
Recently there have been two cases which have drawn attention to this matter. One of the cases concerned a man who committed a second murder while on release from a life sentence imposed for a first, and the other case was one in regard to which your Lordships may have seen the press reports and to which Judge Argyle, a very distinguished judge at the Old Bailey, drew attention. It concerned a man who was supposed to be serving a five-year sentence for robbery, buggery and assault, and he was up before Judge Argyle for a second series of similar offences committed while still on release during the duration—or during what should have been the duration—of his first sentence. Judge Argyle commented—and I think that your Lordships will agree with him—that:It is a pity that much of the time of the police, as with this defendant, is taken up by recapturing dangerous criminals on home leave, remission, bail or parole".I think that it is for those who guide these matters in the Home Office to realise that, notwithstanding the pressure—of which we are all aware—on the prisons, to go on releasing really dangerous criminals before their sentences have fully expired is extremely dangerous. It also involves some breach of faith.
When capital punishment was abolished some years ago we were told that a life sentence would really mean 160 life. My Lords, does it? Certainly our experience is that people such as the murderer to whom I referred who are sentenced to life are, in fact, released before that time. The argument against capital punishment—which was very eloquently urged at one time—that a true life sentence was an even stronger deterrent, has simply been blown sky-high by this practice.
That leads me to one further reflection. Those of your Lordships who were in the House yesterday were both deeply impressed and somewhat worried by what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, about international terrorism when he spoke with such obvious knowledge of this exceedingly dangerous activity. Without reopening the general question of the application of capital punishment for terrorist offences—although in all frankness I think that that should be done—I wonder whether the Government have given consideration in cases of this type to invoking the Treason Acts where capital punishment, of course, remains the penalty. It is not for me, in the presence of the Lord Chancellor and a former Lord Chancellor, to offer a view on the law, but it would seem arguable that events such as the Brighton bombing could be described as an attempt to wage war against the Queen in her realm, which is the classical definition of "treason" under the Treason Acts, and it may well be that the proper procedure in any case where people are apprehended when committing this kind of appalling act is to indict them under the Treason Acts and that the consequences of conviction under the Treason Acts should follow. I leave that suggestion with your Lordships.
I wish to deal this afternoon with only one other point, and it is one that has already been touched upon by my noble friend on the Front Bench and by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. I refer to the reference in the gracious Speech to the Bill to abolish the Greater London Council and, though I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, mentioned it, the other metropolitan county councils as well—
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, if he did mention it, I apologise to him. However, the noble Lord's emphasis was on the GLC as, I confess, will be mine. I know that views are very strongly held both ways on this matter, but surely it is essential that we should get on with it quickly. Until it is settled, until the Bill is through and in operation, there will be a great deal of confusion as regards government in London and a great deal of extravagance and waste of money.
Speaking as a London ratepayer, I intensely resent money raised in rates paid by me being used to finance the GLC's most expensive propaganda campaign about its own merits. With remarkable insensitivity—remarkable, at any rate, anywhere else—they portray themselves as a most wonderful, wise, prudent, gentle, kindly and efficient body, brooding with wisdom over London. It is funny that they feel it necessary to advertise that and that—if it be true—people may not have apprehended it for themselves. However, when it comes to advertisements such as the full page advertisement that they put in the national press a few days ago, of an 161 entirely polemical party political character, it seems to me to be going too far in the use of the ratepayers' money. Your Lordships will recall that particular advertisement—and it really is quite funny—in which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is portrayed in mid-air, in hardly an aerodynamically stable position, and the rest of the page is devoted to what is, frankly, personal abuse of him. That is not, with respect, the way in which a respectable public body carries on such propaganda as it thinks fit.
If that is to go on, if they are to continue in that way, then the sooner they are abolished, the sooner, to put it crudely, their hands are taken out of the ratepayers' pockets, the better. I hope that I shall hear from one of my noble friends that steps are being taken to prevent the GLC from carrying out the scorched earth policy on finances which they have threatened. It is essential that from now on very strict control should be exercised over their financial dealings, and I very much hope that that will be insisted on by the Government.
The GLC's extravagance is, of course, extraordinary. The press carried a report the other day, which I have no doubt is true, that they decided to put the three initials "GLC" upon three notice boards outside the Brixton Leisure Centre and that that operation cost £13,000. The folly of it is all the more evident when one remembers that in a matter of 18 months or so those letters—GLC—will at any rate have to come down. Although it is a small matter, it is indicative of the frivolity and irresponsibility in financial matters of which they are guilty.
On the question of principle, I wonder whether your Lordships do not think that, anyhow, we are today at risk of being over-governed by local government, with two tiers of local government. Surely one tier is enough. Two tiers involve competing bureaucracies corresponding with each other and (which I think is dangerous) the senior one being able to precept on the lower one and therefore itself not having to face the ratepayers from whom it is demanding payment. It must be a temptation to extravagance when you know that someone else has to face the unpopularity of extracting the money which you wish to spend. I appreciate that this question of single-tier government goes further than the Greater London area and the municipal metropolitan counties, but I hope that the Government are giving consideration to the question whether, given the expense of local government today, we ought not to move steadily nationally to a single-tier system.
The gracious Speech is a very vigorous document emanating from a vigorous Government, and it will undoubtedly mean a vigorous Session of Parliament. For my part, I wish the measures contained in it good fortune and, after full debate, I hope and believe that they will adorn the statute book.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Lord Davies of Leek
My Lords, it is always fascinating to listen to the noble Lord who has just spoken. Nobody would doubt his ability, and I pay him this tribute from the ranks of Tuscany: that when he was a Minister he was one of the best Ministers in the 162 Ministry of Health and knew more than any who had been there before him. I pay him that tribute and recognise his ability; but I want to give him one little truth. There is only one thing that can prevent the hooliganism that is present in the world. If the noble Lord is so inspired to oratorical arpeggios, as he was at that moment, he should ensure that the education system of Britain gives the equality of opportunity for education that the ranks of noble Lords opposite possess from birth. We should open up the field of education, which is the greatest democratiser of all. In the end, that is where we can break down hooliganism and vulgarity, and get equality of opportunity within the nation.
However, instead of that being done I very much regret—and I shall have to be proved wrong—that Thatcherism is doing the very opposite as regards educational opportunities to that which the old Tory Party did, which introduced many reforms in the last century. It is a tragedy that modern Toryism is breaking down many of our liberties and changing the nature of British democracy.
It is also dangerous to prophesy. I read Mrs. Thatcher's messages every New Year. I have taken the trouble to collect them. In January 1980, in a beautiful voice, our Prime Minister said:Our country is on the way to economic prosperity".The number unemployed was 1,400,000. In January 1981 her message was:We are absolutely on the right track and people know and feel it".The number unemployed was 2,400,000. In January 1982 she said:This year 1982 has all the signs of being one of great opportunity for Britain if only we have the courage and determination to succeed".The number of unemployed was 2,800,000. In January 1983 Mrs. Thatcher's message was:1983 will begin to show the benefits which the British people are gaining from the government's resolute approach.The number of unemployed was 3,200,000. Come off it! Stop kidding the public and let us get down to the brass tacks of building an education system in Britain that will give an opportunity to dispense with hooliganism and enable people to live a decent life.
I regret that in discussing home and social affairs, and while welcoming the gracious Speech, major attention is not given to the longest strike in the history of British mining. The silence of the Prime Minister, officially, is marred by the obvious link with an Americanised Mr. MacGregor, the plastic bag carrier chairman of the Coal Board, whose record in the United States is one of ruthless consequences. Nobody can deny that if they know the history of MacGregorism in America.
We are told that the news of Mr. Windsor's visit to the Libyan leader, Muammer Gaddafi, was found by many to be embarrassing. Of course it was. But that was not the point. Roger Windsor is the union's chief executive officer. But little notice is taken of the years of contact that British businessmen, salesmen and politicians have developed with Libya. Little notice is taken of the Libyans who have been brought here to learn our business and manufacturing potentialities. Why, then, are we embarrassed by this situation?
163 Of course, the enfant terrible of the old Liberal Party was Churchill, and as far back as May 1908 (talk about lampooning the Tories!) the dear old gentleman said this:a party of great vested interests banded together in a formidable confederation … with sentiment by the bucketful, patriotism by the imperial pint; an open hand at the Public Exchequer, an open door at the public house; dear food for the million; cheap labour for the millionaire".That was the right honourable Winston Churchill.
§ Lord Davies of Leek
My Lords, I entirely agree. It was a terrible indictment of Toryism, and wrong. But he was often wrong as well as right. The Erebian darkness of the old Tory Party of those days must have been illuminated with rollicking laughter at their enfant terrible, the Liberal Churchill in the House. Alas! long ago the Valkyrie has guided him to Valhalla! And, alas! today the stodgy ranks of acquisitiveness sit and dominate the modern Tory Party. It is nothing like the Tory Party of Disraeli; it is nothing like the Tory Party of the 19th century that struggled for reform; and it lacks compassion.
All the talk about the leading light of the NUM visiting Libya is of little importance. What brought on this longest industrial strike in our history? The dribble back to the pits must be analysed, but how many of them who dribble back really cut coal? The National Coal Board's accounts and report justified many of the men's fears. The men are worried about their jobs. There are fears that coal mines that are so-called uneconomic will close and thus shed thousands of jobs. As much as anything, the chairman of the Coal Board is to be blamed for this feeling. Remember, the Coal Board announced on 6th March that the industry would reduce deep mined coal by 4 million tonnes. That would mean that 20 pits would close, thus putting 20,000 men out of work. That was the nub of the trouble. Indeed, the same would be done to our mines as Beeching did to our railways.
Despite all this, there is some division in the ranks among the miners. It was said that the strike was not legitimate, so thousands of striking miners turned to picket non-striking miners. So we divide the police, the pickets and the miners. While the miners on strike are going hungry, it is interesting to see what financial beneficence and emoluments members of the Coal Board enjoy. Some 13 members of the board were receiving between £500 and £55,000.
§ Lord Davies of Leek
My Lords, the noble Lord can interrupt with pleasure, because he has been mumbling all the time I have been speaking.
§ Lord Somers
My Lords, admittedly, I mumbled once. I should like to ask the noble Lord why it is that he does not apply for Libyan citizenship and go and stay there?
§ Lord Davies of Leek
My Lords, if that is the level of question from the ranks of Toryism, one understands why they are in a mess.
§ Lord Davies of Leek
Well, that is worse still. The impact of closing 20 pits, and the loss of 20,000 jobs is a greater vexatious factor in these days of massive unemployment than it would have been years ago when there was less unemployment. The level of national unemployment is part of the trouble that we have today. There is an outstanding and unanswered question, which is—and I do not know the answer; neither does anybody else at the moment—how do we define a marginal mine, and when are we to say that it is exhausted. If it can be afforded, the introduction of more expensive machinery can often make a marginal mine more productive. It is a problem which our engineers have difficulty in solving.
Trade unionism is now in a position that is not so easy as in times of full employment. The pitilessness of the employed for the long-term unemployed is summed up by the phrase, "Get on your bike and look for a job". Social relationships with that kind of language grow petulant, resentful, and rankled. Therefore, the bonds of class and loyalty to the union and other workers begin to flounder. The four freedoms—freedoms of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear—which Roosevelt once declared, are in danger, because the most important freedom of all that the working people need is the fifth freedom: freedom from contempt. We have not built up a system of society that brings to the semi-educated and the hard manual worker freedom from contempt. The noble Lord scoffs, but it is a truth of history.
The roaring current of change bewilders man, and we are in a dangerous period of history. The miners' strike dominates the situation. Yet hardly a word has been spoken about it in this House. Eleven proclamations have been made under emergency laws since 1920. The Act was originally rushed through both Houses because of a miners' strike then. Again in 1926 the Government proclaimed a state of emergency. Then the coal owners locked out the miners before the strike began. Twenty-three times since the war troops have intervened. Troops were used to stoke the boilers at Buckingham Palace. They were used in the dock strike. They were used under the Emergency Powers Act of 1964 and which made permanent a wartime measure.
The coal industry now asks what is its future? In 1982 the National Union of Mineworkers made public a secret document showing plans to close pits at twice the rate of the previous eight years. The document consisted of evidence to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, and the game was given away when a statistical analysis of colliery costs was shown. This was a sentence in that document:The attached table (this deals with a very sensitive area and is not for publication) illustrates very broadly in each year to 1990–1991 the financial effect of closing certain uneconomic collieries at the rate assumed—some 2 million tonnes capacity per annum in the Board's 10-year Development Plan".165 A conspiracy of silence was maintained here instead of taking the miners into their confidence. The stark question is: what does this mean? It contrasts with previous closure plans, because the community of non-miners in the villages where the pits exist may go into poverty for ever if those pits close.
Thus, in the years from March 1974 to March 1982, 29,000 lost their jobs at an average of 3,700 men a year. In the year 1981–82 employment fell by 12,000 to 212,800. Now the National Coal Board plan to close pits on the same scale as in 1981–82 for the next nine years. That would be a loss of 100,000 men. What would that mean? The entire Scottish, North-Eastern, Western and South Wales coal mining areas would pretty well shut down. They are already described in the board's report as "the peripheral areas" of the National Coal Board.
Miners once before have seen the desolation of massive unemployment. Their industry was halved in the decade between 1960 and 1970 from 602,000 men working in the pits to 287,000. If these are the blessings of "MacGregorism", then he has need to walk through the streets with a plastic bag on his face. The derelict areas know what this poverty means. When the miners are out the small shopkeepers, the small businessmen, suffer too.
All this talk and action by the coal board are not encouraging the great investment needed in Britain's greatest national asset. The coal is there for at least another 500 years. The Plan for Coal envisaged high investment. It is not taking place. Instead we have inherited "Beechingism" in the pits, "Serpellism" on the railways cutting then from 11,000 miles to 2,000 miles, and now "MacGregorism" in our pits. This should not be done to a body of great human beings who, in battle and in fight against all odds underground, have helped to save this country in two world wars. They deserve better attention from this House than it has so far given them.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Lord Ferrier
My Lords, I think it would be agreeable if I mentioned the pleasure it gives us to hear the well-known tenor voice of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek. Much as we may disagree with nearly everything that he said, we are glad to see him back, obviously very well recovered from his recent illness, and to hear his voice again. In the light of the speeches we have had hitherto, which were of some weight, I feel that my contribution to this debate is really somewhat minimal. It is going to be brief, which should be a pleasure to your Lordships. I have only three matters to raise, and two of them come within the ambit ofOther measures will be laid before you.The first suggestion I have to put forward, however, is of some urgency. It is in respect of road safety, especially as it applies to motor cycling. I do not think it need involve any great hole in the wide range of legislation which is obviously on the way. The problems of road casualties (especially among young people) arising out of carelessness, ignorance and the like in respect of motor cycles are such that something has to be done.
I feel confident that I am competent to approach the 166 matter because many years ago I was an enthusiastic motor cyclist. I still believe that motor cycling is a thrill almost akin to that of riding to hounds or steeple-chasing. I have bashed around Brooklands in my day, but things were very different then. Not only are motor cycles more powerful than they were but, despite improved road surfaces and other road developments, traffic densities are so great that the death toll among people involved in motor cycling is now approaching 2,000 a year, many of them young. It is not only the motor cyclist who suffers. Large numbers of other road users, including and especially pedestrians, are killed and injured.
My noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve has often urged that it should be obligatory for motor cylists to switch on their headlights whenever their machines are in motion. I have come to agree completely with her and this is my first suggestion. I have consulted a number of motorists and professional drivers and in general it seems that the time has come to introduce legislation to give effect to this. Something ought to be done, must be done, to improve the conditions for motor cyclists on the road.
My next point is another simple one, also connected with road safety and road casualities which are such a scourge. The obvious success of the safety belt law tends to indicate that the time is coming when safety belts on rear seats should be contemplated, especially for children. I do not propose to deal with the pros and cons of this now; but, without going into them, has not the time come when regulations should be introduced such as we introduced in 1964?—I refer to Regulation 121 relating to seat belts and anchorage points. This regulation says that every motor car registered after so-and-so must be provided with anchorage points designed to hold securely, et cetera. Looking ahead, I believe that something of the sort is due now against the day when, in addition to its being in accordance with the views of many individual motorists, the fitting of seat belts in rear seats may well become obligatory.
These two proposals may not involve complex legislation, but I appreciate that they will require careful discussion and consideration with and by the interests involved: the manufacturers of the apparatus, the agents, the police and traffic authorities. I have heard it suggested that some sort of slogan—shall we call it a Jimmy Saville type of stunt?—might sink into the minds of motor cyclists who appear to disregard all the dangers that arise from excessive speed.
Talking of road safety and what can be done by all of us encourages me again to inquire how it comes about that independent television has for some years given space for programmes urging the adoption of road and other safety measures. Why cannot the BBC do something of the sort? Is it that the BBC's dedication means that it is so obsessed with its passion for ratings that it tends to kid itself that it cannot afford the space? I believe the the television media could do more than they do in regard to road safety.
This brings me to my final point. My speech is necessarily brief because I put my name down before I had seen on the Paper that on 27th November we are to have a debate on broadcasting here, and much can be left to that. I urge the Government to be more conscious than they appear to be of the power of the 167 broadcast, whether by television or radio. Not only do these bodies broadcast but sometimes they distort and sometimes even censor news items and panel programmes. I know that the BBC is always ready to get on its high horse if it is criticised like this, but, as I see it, it is apt to disregard its privilege. I see that we are to debate television on the 27th of this month and there is little more for me to contribute today, but this morning in "from today's papers" the BBC began with a long extract from the Guardian intended and designed to debunk President Reagan, before giving the more restrained views of other papers. Last night in "Yesterday in Parliament" it did not even mention the fact that your Lordships' House had sat the day before and indeed did not mention the brilliant speeches that we had here with material proposals from two noble Earls. They devoted the programme to a long story of the opposition to Government in the other place.
I will not continue with that because we shall be discussing this subject on 27th November. Let the Government bear in mind the warnings such as Lord Chalfont gave in the defence debate on 9th December 1981 and the exchanges at Question Time only last week on 30th October, in columns 454 to 456, containing the contributions made by my noble friends Lord Kimberley and Lady Young. Why is it that the Observer and the Guardian are so often involved? What about the more moderate papers? I do not know what other measures can cope with problems of this sort but we shall see more about it in our debate on broadcasting.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
My Lords, I shall follow the noble Lord, as he put it, "bashing around Brooklands" only so far as to say that he has made a good point that 2,000 deaths for the young on motor cycles is far too many. In return for something done to stop that, I should like to control their noise, which is far too loud.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, made two comments which I wish to support very fully: one was the worry we who are concerned with education all have about the decline in the sale of books. This is the most disagreeable thing which is going on at the moment. It is very serious. Sales are falling in every direction: public library sales are down, the number of private buyers is down and prices are up. The whole matter needs careful examination but not now. The other point that the noble Lord made-I support very much what he asked the Government to do—is to pay more detailed attention to the whole question of drugs.
I shall not say more than that at this point because I want to turn to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, to whom I always listen with fascination, sometimes with surprise, sometimes with dismay. But today I was actually made nervous by the degree to which I agreed with what he said—which seemed to me needed looking at rather carefully. He gave me two leads into what I was going to say. The first was about law and order, to which I shall come back in a minute, and the second was about terrorism, which I shall come back to in another minute.
But, first, I must say that it was not until he suggested, with a perfectly straight face, that length of 168 sentence has some effect on deterrence, which anybody who has taken any trouble to study this subject knows backwards is rejected by every single thinking person, with the exception of the noble Lord—
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord would not wish to misrepresent me; he is too courteous. The passage in my speech about length of sentence, as I think the noble Lord will find when he reads Hansard, was in the part dealing with what one might call ordinary crime. In respect of terrorism, I suggested the invocation of the Treason Acts.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
My Lords, I agree with everything the noble Lord has said. I am criticising him in relation to ordinary crime, to what in Northern Ireland we used to call the "ODC", the ordinary decent criminals.
At the same time the noble Lord expressed a worry about parole. I assure the noble Lord that he need not be worried about the part of parole which involves releasing people before their time, because the statistics of success—that is to say, not offending again—are extremely good. We cannot go into this in detail. We have had many discussions of it at great length. As I say, it was not until the noble Lord revealed these thoughts that I felt a little better about agreeing with him on some of the others.
Perhaps I may now turn to the question of law and order. I have very little to add to what the noble Lord has said. A civil row such as a strike is a perfectly good thing, and one can take either side, and there is no objection to it. If one of the parties to a civil dispute of this kind is given a verdict of contempt and is fined, this is still, in my opinion, a civil offence and is not breaking the law in a way which is offensive. But if one reads the code of practice for picketing which the party opposite produced in their last Bill, one will see listed under the criminal offences—and, listed not as a code of practice, but as actual criminal offences—almost everything which, as the noble Lord has said, is done every day at the moment.
I agree with him that there comes a time when one may sympathise with passions which rise in these very intense disputes and one may certainly not have contempt (as the noble Lord, Lord Davies, suggested) for one side or the other. But one begins to feel that these activities are highly organised and could happen only with the most careful arrangement. And surely high organisation and careful arrangement to commit something which is known by everybody to be a criminal offence, is itself a criminal offence. I say no more. There are problems about dealing with this, I can see.
I would only say that up to date my friends in the Labour Party, particularly on the Front Bench in your Lordships' House, and their leaders outside have been quite firm in denouncing violence. They have not referred to the point which the noble Lord made, or the point that I have just made. I warn them that this is going to get more difficult. They will be pressurised more and more in the next months to take a position for which they would lose my respect, which at the moment they fully hold. I want to say no more than that about this very distressing dispute which is going 169 on and which is going some way towards ruining the country.
My Lords, the other point that I wanted to make was about terrorism. The difficulty which arises over terrorists is not how one deals with them; because they are mostly sentenced for life. There is no argument about that. I am not going to take up the capital punishment argument. It would be a great convenience, of course, if one could shoot terrorists on conviction—and, personally, I would not particularly object because I do not mind taking human life in the right circumstances—but I believe that it would be wholly counter-productive. It would produce a row of martys and one can defeat terrorism only by defeating the ordinary folk who are behind the terrorists in a half-hearted sort of way and who will give them shelter and all the rest of it. We know this from Northern Ireland. There is nobody in the security forces in Northern Ireland who wants capital punishment for terrorists.
What I am concerned about is a different factor. When there is the number of terrorists that we have in this country—I think it is 30 or 40 serving very long sentences and spread around the gaols—they make each gaol their footing, with more than one of them, at any rate, in an unbalanced state. No governor can feel happy when there are people of this kind in his prison; and the reason is perfectly clear. The ordinary, decent criminal can be hired as a gangster or a hit man to commit the most serious crimes; but he does not justify himself. He just says, "Why shouldn't I? I owe nothing to society, and I wanted the money". The terrorist, even though often he is, in fact, persuaded only by the misplaced patriotism of his employers, to believe that he is doing something good, is proud of what he has done. This means that he is entirely intractable in prison. He cannot be trusted for one moment and is unlike the ordinary, decent criminal who settles down to do his "bird" and keeps out of trouble until it is over, hoping for a good release period on parole.
So the prison service is up against an entirely new situation and the really tragic thing is that this is only just beginning. Terrorism originating from Northern Ireland is not going to stop in the next 10 years, and probably not in the next 20 years. And terrorism originating from everywhere else is growing every year. So there is going to be a very serious position. I am not going to say what ought to be done. I think I know what ought to be done, but I am not sure that it can be done. I think that no more than three long-sentence terrorists should be in any prison at one time and I think they should be isolated from everyone else. Now, my Lords, this is quite impossible to do at the moment, and I do not know how it is going to be done. But I think it is a very serious question and I should like to feel that the Government were looking at it really carefully.
I have one other point which I want to take up, which was not inspired by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. It concerns the news that we have just had that there is going to be a cut-off in the building of hostels for ex-prisoners. This sounds very small and uninteresting after the sort of things that we have been talking about. But, of course, the volume of crime in this country consists as to two-thirds of petty 170 recidivists committing crimes again and again. So if something is done to deal with the small man, then one does something to relieve the trouble in prisons and also to reduce the total quantity of crime.
Before going on, I want to say that the Home Secretary, in the last month or so, has done two or three very good things, one of the most important of which, I think, was to announce that he has accepted that there must be a time limit on remand without trial. I shall watch with hawk-like interest to see exactly how he achieves this. His announcement of that—with against him, I believe, certain people whom I shall not mention—is I think very important. Also, of course, the reduction of time on parole from 12 months to six months has already begun to reduce the prison population, and it is hoped to work up to a reduction of 2,500.
The point that I want to talk about is the problem of hostels. I had the honour to serve on a committee on residential provision for homeless discharged prisoners, which in ordinary English means hostels for people coming out of prison. This was presided over by that most remarkable woman Lady Reading, and under her ruthless guidance we produced an admirable report which argued that, as quite a large number of people coming out of prison had no home to go to, the provision of accommodation for them was an essential part of after-care.
The chances of their keeping out of trouble were much enhanced by properly run hostels for this purpose. We estimated that even if you took 10 per cent. of the 50,000 discharges, which was the figure at that time, as being homeless you would require something like 5,000 places in hostels; and at that time there were 20 hostels with 232 places. But 18 years later, there are now 3,000 places in 300 hostels and it is estimated, in a very careful survey done by the Association of Chief Probation Officers, that another 2,000 are required which makes our figure of 5,000 none too bad.
Nobody who has been concerned with petty crime in the courts is in any doubt about the value of hostels for petty offenders. I do not think that there are two opinions anywhere. I believe that every judge, every magistrate, every prison officer, the prison department itself, the probation service certainly and social workers in general all believe that, if there is somewhere where a man can go to be properly looked after at reasonable cost, you have a better chance of keeping him from offending—even if only for a month or two; and that is time saved—than if there is not. It seems to me perfectly obvious.
So here we have a system, which was analysed originally, has been built up carefully over 20 years, is working extremely effectively and is said by the people most concerned to demand a continual increase, suddenly cut off at the top. Of course, the existing hostels will remain, but the increase is being stopped. I know something about this as president of NACRO, because we run a number of hostels, and my information is not entirely second-hand. .The DoE has put up £4½ million towards, I think, 320 hostels in the coming year and they are being scrapped. There were plans for 460 and 480 hostels the year after and the year after that and they are being scrapped. The waste of time, the waste of expert planning and the waste of 171 preliminary money is quite large and, worst of all, the failure to carry out the promises made to the enthusiastic voluntary bodies who are doing these things is absolutely sickening and everybody is very upset about it.
It costs £ 11,000 to keep a man in prison and £ 1,000 to keep a man in a hostel, so this is something which pays. One would have thought that even the Treasury could recognise this, but they stick to their old slogan:Never buy today what you can pay more for tomorrow",and we are landed with this ridiculous situation. Here is something which is good, which is working and which needs development, but which is being cut off in its prime. I have spoken long enough. I hope very much that the noble Lord will persuade his Home Secretary and his colleagues to think again on this important point.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Phillips
My Lords, in many ways I will follow the noble Lord who has just spoken, but I wish that he would not refer to the ordinary, decent criminal. If we stopped using such euphemisms we would know precisely what we were talking about. It seems to me that if someone is a criminal he is neither ordinary nor decent. I, too, follow a great deal of what the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said—possibly for the first and only time when speaking in this House. Yesterday I had the pleasure of hearing the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, and I take his theme. As I recall, he ended his speech by saying that we must embark on a policy of preventive and pre-emptive action. He was, of course, speaking about security on the international scene. I should like to return to security on the home front.
The last published figures show that crime has increased, and particularly crimes of violence. During the summer months I had the privilege of attending and speaking at a number of conferences of women's organisations representing thousands of women. At each of those conferences there were speakers and resolutions expressing concern at the terrible attacks on the elderly and defenceless; at burglaries where intimidation, cruelty and criminal attack always accompany theft. These are now daily occurrences. There is the senseless vandalism in public places such as sports grounds and shopping centres; there are the attacks on workers such as bus conductors, teachers, social workers, shop assistants, and even doctors and nurses, who are going about their duties.
What is particularly disturbing is the now growing acceptance that this will happen. The suggestion is that it is the duty of the victim to have exercised such criminal prevention that this need not have occurred. Yesterday I heard the argument advanced, yet again: "You should not go into certain places at night". If you go to a new town you do not know which are the places that you should avoid at night. One is told "You should not leave your car in that street, because the car is too valuable and the street too dangerous". How are you to know this? Then, "You should arrange your shop so that you do not tempt people to take things". This I resist. But, of course, we want to involve everyone in crime prevention and this is what I hope the Government will put over more strongly.
172 Societies largely get the kind of law and order that they deserve. But equally every citizen has a right to go about his business or pleasure without hindrance, and this is what we have to pin our law and order on. So if we accept that crime prevention is our business, let us examine the possibilities that are offered.
Many of your Lordships will today have read the publication by the Adam Smith Institute of the Omega justice policy—I am going to buy a copy of this, because it sounds so fascinating—which advocates private enterprise supplying prisons, as is already happening in certain states in America. As we do not increase the number of prisons very substantially I am a little disturbed that the Government may yet privatise this service also. It also advocates more reliance on private investigation agencies, so I think that it behoves us to look at the existing position in the United Kingdom.
I take an advertisement from one of the trade journals which is headed:Who says crime doesn't pay?It continues:As the crime rate increases, so do the number of people aware of the need for crime prevention. That's where we fit in".They describe their product—an electric alarm.Prevention, you understand. So what have we done? Well to start off, we gave ourselves a bold new image. You can't fail to notice us now that our packs have been totally redesigned … We're also spending thousands on promotions".This is what we have to take on board.The security market is rapidly expanding and we intend to make the most of it.Security is very big business, and growing all the time. Hundreds of companies are offering all kinds of gadgets to protect one from crime. It is estimated that there are about a quarter of a million uniformed guards to protect one's property or person.
What qualifications are needed? Who tests the products? Who guards the guards? These are terrifyingly topical questions, coming after the violent assassination of the Prime Minister of one country and the attempted assassination of the Prime Minister of another country. It is significant that dictators are never assassinated. Assassinations take place only in democratic countries. I believe that this provides a lesson for us.
Most of these companies and their personnel are, I am sure, reputable. However, where there is no accountability there will be "cowboys". Therefore, in this Session of Parliament I shall yet again attempt to introduce a Private Member's Bill to create a licensing system. If a business has nothing to hide, it will welcome such a system. We need to control the vast increase in the number of private armies of security guards. May I repeat what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Willis, when he attempted to introduce a similar Bill in 1981:You cannot open a store in a street to sell fruit without a licence, but you can open a firm to sell security devices and services without any restriction whatsoever".This situation does not make sense.
Secondly, and linked to my previous point, may I ask the Government whether they intend to introduce the promised Bill relating to the law of trespass. I recall that such a Bill was promised by Her Majesty's 173 Government when the original Bill introduced by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, failed because of lack of time in the other place. Surely this Government, of all governments, care about the protection of the citizen and private property. I plead with them to show that they have a true interest in law and order.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, because I agree with many of the points which she made. I hope, however, that she will forgive me if I do not follow precisely her point of view. May I also join my noble friend Lord Ferrier in saying how great a pleasure it was to hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek. It was delivered with his old vigour. It was slightly frightening to see him speaking from the elder statesmen's Bench. I wondered whether his remarks might not be quite so vigorous as when he sat behind the Front Benchers of his own Party and bellowed down their necks. However, the noble Lord was in good form.
The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, and the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, took the Government severely to task on several points. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said that we on these Benches have different priorities and indicated that he believed that they were the wrong priorities. He referred to confrontation and to an uncaring attitude. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, referred to our lack of compassion. However, the Conservative Party is just as interested as the party opposite in ensuring better provision for the sick, the aged and those who are disadvantaged in any way.
I shall not refer to the details because that is not the point of our debate today, but the action of successive Secretaries of State for Health and Social Security during the past five years proves that in real terms this Government have spent more upon health and social security than the previous Government. We are certainly a caring Government. However, we can spend the right amount of money upon health and social security only if the country is truly competitive in world markets. That can be achieved only with a minimum of state control of productive industry and with cost-effectiveness in all activities. Hence, I welcome the intention expressed in the gracious Speech to expose state-owned businesses to competition, to increase competition in local bus services, and to transfer the National Bus Company to the private sector.
Apart from my concern about what I believe to be a misrepresentation of the Government's attitude on the part of certain noble Lords opposite, I am concerned about similar attacks upon the Government, alleging lack of compassion, and, by implication, upon my right honourable friend the Prime Minister by certain right reverend Prelates. I regret that I am unable to address my remarks to those right reverend Prelates, for they are not here. May I point out that I am not referring to the right reverend Prelates whom I expect to be present this evening.
If one seeks compassion, one does not have to seek it very far. There is ample evidence of compassion in the feelings of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. Most sensitive people find the public flaunting of such feelings to be distasteful. The attitude of those right reverend Prelates reminds me of the 174 parable of the Pharisee and the sinner. They seem to demand of my right honourable friend and her Cabinet that the Minister should behave both like the Pharisee and the sinner. Dare I say that the right reverend Prelates remind me especially of the Pharisee.
True compassion lies in making sure that inflation will never again rise to the level at which old people, the low paid and the sick suffer significant deprivation day by day. This point was made by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter in his splendid speech.
One of the difficulties which faces us as a nation is to persuade ourselves, and to be persuaded, that we must escape from the chains of the bottomless pit attitude. For most of the past 35 years, successive Governments, especially Labour Governments, encouraged people of all kinds, in particular individuals who were dependent upon central government and those connected with local government, to believe that for their particular needs Government resources were like a bottomless pit.
Notwithstanding the continuing encouragement since 1979 to people engaged in all kinds of activities to make their enterprises competitive and to become self-reliant, far too many people—for instance, doctors in the National Health Service—still believe that if they make their case strongly enough, or even if they strike or threaten to do so (as have the miners and British Leyland employees) the bottomless pit will, somehow, be opened for them. We all know that the bottomless pit is not there and never has been.
Thus it is essential that illusions should be dispelled for all time, but this can be done only by a Government who constantly hammer away at the need for everyone, but everyone, to balance their books and to take responsibiliity for their actions. If this appears to be hard-hearted to those who do not understand it, perhaps they might accept that it is none the less essential if the standards of welfare for the helpless and under-privileged are to survive and if equal opportunity, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, is to be created for all.
I now turn to and welcome the provision for the abolition of the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils. I regret that I shall be unable to take part in next week's debate. Therefore I shall mention the subject briefly on this occasion. I accept that when these large organisations were created a good theoretical argument could be made for the extra, super-layer of government. I fear that this took place in a period when management consultants were producing big ideas for big projects and when a great deal of theory was in the air. However, it would be fair to say that experience has shown that these large organisations add unnecessarily to the expense of local government. What is more important, they do not increase the exercise of democratic control over those activities which Parliament has delegated to local government.
Also, because these organisations are big, in terms of the number of electors for whom they are responsible, they are tempted to compete with central government rather than complement it—not only in matters which have been delegated by Parliament, but also in matters such as liaison with overseas-based terror movements 175 which have not been so delegated. Such competition for control of the affairs of this country is, to say the least, damaging to the well-being of every citizen. I suggest that time has moved on and that these large local authorities have been proven to be more of an embarrassment to the country than a help to effective local government.
To turn briefly to another point, I welcome also the electoral law to cover overseas citizens—especially those within the European Community and the Commonwealth. Over the years, many friends of mine, particularly businesmen—and I am speaking, in the case of the Commonwealth, of the days when I was in the Navy—have asked "Why is it that you have a vote at home when you are overseas for a couple of years and we do not?" I have always thought that that was very ridiculous. In the European Community it is now, in a sense, even worse because our overseas representatives, if one can call them that, or our overseas members of the Commision do not get a vote—let alone businessmen. I think it is splendid that that situation is to be put right. It is also helpful that holidaymakers should not feel deprived or that they may not need to adjust their holidays to suit an election.
Finally, much as I welcome practically every proposal in the gracious Speech, there is one, which was mentioned by my noble friend the Minister, whose wisdom, and indeed fairness, I question. It is the proposed right of the parents of children educated at public expense to exempt their children from corporal punishment. It is potentially unfair because some children may be beaten and others not for the same offence. It is unwise because such punishment is an ideal deterrent against certain types of offence.
I was partly state educated in that my parents paid only half of the fees of the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth. The last time I was beaten was after that basic education, when I was a midshipman aged 18 in the fleet flag ship. My sin was to fail to call the flag captain to meet a very senior Royal Marine officer who was coming on board for breakfast. The beating was sufficiently unpleasant to make sure that I took the necessary care not to repeat that sort of offence ever again. But it was over quickly and it did me no lasting harm—at least, I do not think it did!
I hope that the Government will think again about proceeding with a Bill about such a matter, which is very pompously described in the gracious Speech, but which seems scarcely to justify primary legislation and indeed might be thought to be a waste of your Lordships' valuable time and that of another place. I hope that my noble friends in the Government will think again about that rather extraordinary piece of proposed legislation. But having said that, I wish them very well with all the other proposed legislation that is before us.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, I, too, welcome the return of my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek. Sitting beside him during his speech, I felt the vigour and the bitterness of what he had to say. I recall that a colleague of mine in another place once said that he was converted to socialism during a long illness from which he had never fully recovered. That cannot 176 be the case with my noble friend. It is evident that he has recovered—so there must be some other explanation. I can only think that absence from the mellow influences of your Lordships' House has caused him to have a rather jaundiced view of life for the time being. Anyway, I am sure we are very glad to see him.
In his speech at the beginning of today's debate, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, gave a catalogue of the business we shall have to do during the coming Session. It was long. In some respects, it sounded tedious. It seemed to give unlimited opportunities for homework to those with a taste for it. All together, it seems as if we are likely to have a very hard time.
It appears to me that during the course of a Session of this kind occasions will arise when there will be differences of opinion between your Lordships' House and another place. In fact, we had the first indication of that from the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, who has already asked the Government to think again. No doubt there will be numerous occasions when the Government are asked to modify what they propose to do. It is with this in mind that I turn to the remarks made by the noble Viscount the Lord President of the Council on Tuesday afternoon, to which my noble friend Lord Mishcon made reference towards the end of his speech.
It is worthy of some notice that the noble Viscount felt we should be admonished, or at least warned with a hand in a velvet glove, that if we push our views too far and too often it could on occasion be resented by the elected Members of another place. To me, this seems to be a matter of some constitutional importance—especially in view of the prospects of the forthcoming Session. It seems to me that with the threat of abolition from the Labour Opposition in another place, and now indications of restiveness on the Government side in another place, we shall soon have no friends there at all. I ask myself this question: why do we continue to hold this vulnerable position in the structure of our parliamentary system? Why are we so constantly challenged as to our legitimacy, as to our authority, and as to our wisdom?
If we are still on sufferance some 73 years after the Parliament Act 1911, then somebody must be responsible for that. It surely must be because the elected Members of another place have failed to find an agreed basis for the reform or the future of your Lordships' House. If we can fix the responsibility—as we surely can—upon politics, politicians and the other House for our present tenuous hold on our place in the parliamentary system, we are entitled to feel a little resentment, too. A lot of hard work is done here, and there is a good deal more to come. Surely, within the limitations, which are severely drawn, of the powers and scope of our activities, we should be respected for the views that we hold and the decisions we take.
I sincerely hope that we are not going to have little homilies every now and again with the noble Viscount the Lord President of the Council saying, "Now be careful, your Lordships, not to arouse resentment in another place." I agree entirely with my noble friend that we have to conduct ourselves in our wisdom, and with a sense of propriety and integrity, to do our job as we think fit. The system permits of this. We are here to 177 do that, and if we are no longer desired to be doing that it is up to someone to do something about it.
I see no reason at all for lowering our standards of diligence or our integrity to placate those who have the power, but not the will, either to reform themselves or to change the arrangements in your Lordships' House. Moreover, I should add this. The more fundamental weakness in our Parliamentary system is surely an electoral system which fails to produce a representative House of Commons and a representative Government. In my opinion that really is the greatest weakness of our Parliamentary system today. Our institutions, which I have always regarded with great respect and from time to time have had concern about, are losing respect and authority because they are not representative in our democracy. Steps are not taken to adjust institutions to the needs of the times because of the vested interests of those who serve in them.
The other point I wish to raise is not of constitutional importance but is of some significance from the point of view of parliamentary procedure. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is in his place because I want to raise a matter relating to the use of Private Members' Bills for important measures which come to your Lordships' House under the discipline of a timetable and conditions which make it difficult to give them proper attention. I refer to the Warnock Report. I am not going to deal with the recommendations made but only with what I hope can be a clear understanding about procedure. Recently the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, in introducing the debate on the Warnock Report, referred to the Government's consideration, already in progress, of the recommendations that that report contains. He said that the Government were hopeful of reaching conclusions in a reasonable time and that they were giving to the end of the year for an opportunity for public debate and discussion before the Government moved to a firmer conclusion upon the recommendations of that report. But the noble Lord said nothing about legislation and still less did he say who would introduce it if it was needful.
When I look back on the process of legislation on these sensitive moral issues I see the extent to which Governments have stood aside, or have been willing to be pushed aside, from acting upon them themselves. Governments have been willing to leave it to the Private Member's Bill and sometimes, although they had the intention of legislating themselves, they have seized the opportunity of a Private Member's Bill that happened to come out of the ballot pretty high up on the list. From the Obscene Publications Act 1955 right through capital punishment, homosexuality, contraception, abortion, marriage and divorce, to video recordings (which was a form of censorship of pornography) we have had three previous Acts of Parliament relating to pornography, none of which was a Government Bill. Is Warnock going to be a Government Bill or are the Government willing, or even anxious, to leave it to Private Member's Bill procedures?
I do not expect for one moment that the Government contemplate legislating on the Warnock Report in the present Session. If they are not going to reach conclusions until the early part of next year it is unlikely that they wish, or will be able, to introduce a 178 Bill of acute difficulty, sensitivity and controversy late in the Session. What then is the programme on Warnock? What will happen if an honourable Member in another place comes out in the ballot and selects the whole, part or something to do with Warnock as a Private Member's Bill? Will the Government join in that, or will they insist that this is a matter on which the Government must retain legislative control? I should be glad to know what the answer is likely to be.
I want to mention just one or two absentees from the gracious Speech. I do not think I have heard anything about legislation on building societies in this Session. Is anything likely to come forward in this Session from the consideration that has been given to the future role and scope of activities of building societies? They are a very important part of national life today and of our financial institutions. It is important for us to know whether we need contemplate early, or rather later, attention being given to them.
Finally, your Lordships' House will be surprised if I do not draw attention to the fact that not a single word in the gracious Speech deals with the area and welfare of any species other than our own. This is an omission which in the past would have been no surprise whatever, but since animal care and protection has appeared in the manifestos of all the major political parties in the last two elections it is somewhat disappointing that nothing is said in the gracious Speech about work to be done in that particular field. At the very least the Government might have expressed a little regret that they have not yet been able to fulfil the pledge they made in 1979 to update the law on experiments on living animals
I am not complaining, because I know the reasons for the delay. European consideration of a convention in the Council of Europe has taken two years or more, and that is of considerable importance and has a bearing upon our own domestic position. But is there any certain assurance forthcoming that this legislation will be introduced in the 1985–86 Session, seven years after the pledge was given? I think that that is a reasonable time, even allowing for the Council of Europe to spend a long time on their own draft convention.
In some way I think I can repair the omission to any reference to animals in the gracious Speech by having a little one of my own. I propose on Tuesday to introduce a Bill to give added protection to badgers. This is a serious matter because the badger was made a protected animal in 1973 but immediately ran into tragic difficulties by being associated with bovine tuberculosis, and a process of extermination of the badger in some parts of the country has been going on ever since. But that is not all. Badger digging, badger baiting and the other horrible things done to animals are becoming a growing feature of life in the countryside. My Bill will be an attempt to give the badger a little more protection than it has already.
Finally, I refer to another aspect of animal welfare upon which action surely ought to begin, and that is slaughter. Behind the bloody curtain in the slaughterhouses probably some of the worst treatment of animals goes on. It is hidden from the public, but we have a report of the Farm Animal Welfare Council which surely is disturbing to all people who think that 179 our slaughter arrangements and the humane treatment of animals in slaughterhouses leave our conscience with no undue worries. There is a lot wrong, and many recommendations are made by the Farm Animal Welfare Council. When the council made recommendations about the treatment of poultry and other table birds at the place of slaughter, it took four years to get legislation through in this last Session. I sincerely hope that we shall not have to wait four years for legislation on the slaughter of red meat animals.
We are awaiting another report. It is not before us now, but it will have to be dealt with when we get it. We expect it next year. It is a report on the conditions of so-called ritual slaughter, which is a grievous and controversial matter. But we must face it. However, for the time being we must concentrate on the report of the Farm Animal Welfare Council on our traditional slaughterhouses.
I hope I can have an assurance from the Government that legislation will not this time take four years and that they will press on with it. All the time we are waiting for changes in animal protection, the suffering, agony and abuse of animals continues. I sincerely hope that we can as far as possible shorten this. It is no surprise, I think, that with the present conditions of a wider appreciation of the relationship between man and the animal kingdom Members of another place get more letters and other representations about animals than about any other single matter. I conclude by saying that animals are on their way into politics, and with humans on their side they can become dangerous.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Lord Wilson of Langside
My Lords, I resist the temptation to follow Lord Mottistone into a detailed description of the last occasion on which I myself was submitted to the indignity of corporal punishment—no doubt a well-deserved indignity. I resist the temptation not least because I do not think that I can assert with the same confidence as had he that none of my several idiosyncracies may not be attributable to this experience. I resist the temptation, too, to enter into the controversies which there have been between certain right reverend Prelates and members of Her Majesty's Government for rather different reasons.
I hope it is not just because I am getting older every day, but I feel that we have had a good debate. It has had its stimulating moments, more particularly when, not for the first time and not surprisingly, the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, joined issue with Lord Mishcon, to be followed by the dulcet tones which we all so much welcomed hearing again of Lord Davies of Leek. I thought myself, as I think my noble friend Lord Donaldson did, too, that Lord Boyd-Carpenter won on points. I am a little disappointed about that, because he always does, and I am always glad not to be speaking before him, I must confess.
The afternoon is wearing on, and it is difficult to find anything fresh to say or some new way of saying something which has already been said; but there is a matter on which, before I sit down, I should like to touch. I think it is of great importance, and it has been touched upon already. Your Lordships will remember 180 much better than I what George Macaulay Trevelyan said in his History of England. Significantly enough it was published just a month or so before the General Strike of 1926. Writing of the English Parliament—and he meant the English and not the British Parliament—he said that it had no one man for its maker; no man made it; it simply grew. He went on:It was the natural outcome, through long centuries, of the common sense and the good nature of the English people, who have usually preferred committees to dictators, elections to street fighting and 'talking shops' to revolutionary tribunals".Over these last 40 weeks throughout the coalfields of Britain common sense and good nature have gone out of the window a bit, have they not? Something faintly akin, and perhaps not radically different from, revolutionary tribunals have come to rule the roost. My point is this. There is not a single word in the gracious Speech about these circumstances, which have been discussed by others already. It is the social and political implications of the Government's approach to this dispute that I should like to touch upon.
It has often been said, of course, that the dispute is one of the most violent, divisive and costly catastrophes in our domestic scene for many years. It is a source of acute concern right across the nation. Indeed, press rumour has it—and, of course, I would not dream of discussing this matter—that Her Majesty herself is much concerned. There has also been the involvement of the leaders of various Churches, of course; yet there is not a word in the gracious Speech. I think the House is due a very careful explanation for this circumstance. There is not a word about how the Government propose to end this sorry business, or to try to end it; nor about how they propose to repair the damage to the social fabric of the nation.
The damage is attributable in large measure, if not indeed entirely, in my view—which not all of your Lordships will share—to what I see as the Governments incompetent handling of the matter. Why is there nothing said in the gracious Speech? Is there anything to hide? Are the Government afraid to tell us?
Up until recently the Government have made only one overt contribution to the issue. (I have said this before in this House, but I say it again because I feel like a famous Secretary of State for Scotland who was once asked to speak up in the House of Commons and who replied, "I am so sorry; I didn't know anyone was listening to me".) That contribution has been frequent ministerial rhetorical denunciations of mob rule. No one in his right mind would demur to the terms of these. But they become boring with repetition, and the Scargill-McGahey axis finds them utterly resistible. That is because Mr. Scargill and Mr. McGahey are accomplished demagogues and they are not unskilled in rhetorical denunciation, as Mr. Scargill's rapturous welcome at the Labour Party conference so graphically demonstrated—I am sure to the grave embarrassement of many of their Lordships on the Labour Front Bench of this House.
So while Ministers made speeches, Mr. MacGregor and the police carried the can. I share the admiration of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, for the way that the police have dealt with this situation. It must have been most distasteful to them, and it is becoming 181 more distasteful every day. What are the Government going to do to bring it to an end? I am not as well informed as some of your Lordships as to Mr. MacGregor's background, but I have some considerable sympathy with him and the situation in which the Government have left him, as it were, unsupported except by rhetorical speeches which are practically meaningless because they have been repeated so often.
In demanding, as I think there ought to have been long ago, a political initiative, I am not in any way suggesting that the Government should have compromised with Mr. Scargill. Appeasement can be a sensible policy, and so can compromise, too. But compromise makes sense only if the people with whom you are compromising are agreed with you on fundamentals and the Scargill-McGahey axis does not of course agree with parliamentary democracy. It is not concerned to promote stability in our political system: it is concerned to promote instability. I am not suggesting as a political initiative beer and buns with the boys at 10 Downing Street. But there have been opportunities for constructive political initiatives which have been missed. Why have they been missed? Why have they not been taken?
Someone said the other day that they thought that in some respects this was the worst Government that we have had since 1956.I must say that I felt that that was a bit unfair to the Government of 1956.I looked back through history to see whether I could stumble on a Government whose bungling (as I see it in this particular matter) bore some of the hallmarks of the present Government's handling of this affair. By chance—and I finish where I began—I found the answer in the work of George Macaulay Trevelyan. I am sure your Lordships remember so much better than I what he said about King John at the time of Magna Carta. After commenting on his unpleasant nature, he conceded that he showed,pertinacity and technical ingenuity in pursuit of his designs",but added in effect that he was utterly lacking in any broad political strategy, foresight or vision. I should think, judging from their handling of this matter, that it is a similar lack with which history will indeed indict this Government.
§ 6.4 p.m.
Lord Wallace of Coslany
My Lords, we all accept that the provisions of the gracious Speech appeared in the national press before it was made, and it was well publicised. But one omission from the gracious Speech surprised me very much. The National Health Service, now in severe difficulties as a result of Government policy, is completely ignored. Of course I must make the proviso that in point of fact there are in the gracious Speech the words,Other measures will be laid before you,but from previous parliamentary experience I have always held that that phrase has some sinister implication.
In the National Health Service, waiting lists continue to grow. In London the situation is acute, with waiting lists of 115,000 people facing long delays for treatment and for a bed, and in acute cases nearly 10,000 people are waiting. This is in London alone 182 and does not include Greater London and the South-East.
The main reason for this situation is lack of adequate finance. For far too long the South-East has been deprived of adequate finance in order to assist other areas. Hospital closures, at the same time, have not helped. Like many other people in this House and elsewhere, I had hoped that the welcome reorganisation of the National Health Service would provide economies in administration which would in turn advance patient treatment and care. But this has not happened.
I must, in passing, say that at least there are some pluses. Recently I was at the official opening of a large extension to my local maternity unit. As a result of the extension the average number of births there per annum of 2,000 will next year increase to 3,000. But while there has been this welcome addition to the maternity service, the well-loved mothers and babies hospital at Woolwich has been closed and, unfortunately, many expectant mothers will face great difficulty in getting public transport to reach the alternative hospital that will now provide care. So there is a plus in one case, but a very definite minus in the other.
Now the Government are exerting pressure for the privatisation—what a horrible word—of ancillary services such as cleaning, laundry and catering. Whether this will effect financial savings is open to doubt, but so far as domestic and catering services are concerned, patient care will suffer because domestic workers in hospitals are, to a great extent, auxiliary nurses. They are part of the hospital team, showing care and concern for patients. Those of us who have had experience in these matters know that there is certainly a degree of personal relationship as a result. I would say, without fear or favour, that contractors who take over these contracts have no intimate or personal relationship.
Recently I was speaking to a lady who has faithfully served the Health Service for 14 years and who has given great devotion to her duties in charge of domestics. Next year she faces redundancy and her job will be taken over by some unnamed contractor.
Housing is another omission from the gracious Speech. I think it is a glaring omission, for the situation is extremely serious, with so many thousands of substandard and derelict properties in need of modernisation standing empty. Stocks of houses have been depleted—particularly council houses—due to Government policy of sales and cuts in local authority building. I am not against home ownership, but for the newly married or those in inadequate accommodation the only answer is a mortgage on inflated property values, with high interest rates.
For families on low income or where the breadwinner is unemployed, it is indeed a prospect of despair. With so much unemployment and so much need existing, it is astonishing that the Government persist in the restriction of this vital field. Reducing the rate of inflation is a welcome and desirable objective of any government but not at the expense of the unemployed and those with social needs. That is the effect of the Government's monetary policy—the creation of two societies, the "haves" and the "have-nots".
183 On education, I note that the Government, apart from exemption of caning rights, propose to continue to raise educational standards. I am not aware that they have done so. My noble friend Lord Mishcon has already referred to the report of HM Inspector on standards of education in Norfolk, not a very progressive authority in the past, anyway. Lack of books, poor standards of accommodation and many other factors have been clearly stated as resulting from financial stringency. To make do financially, local authorities are compelled to close schools and to postpone maintenance, which in itself is not necessarily sound financial policy. The longer that you postpone maintenance, the greater the cost to public funds.
The falling birth rate is the normal excuse advanced for closure of schools and redundant teachers. This is an act of immediate expendiency, not necessarily with the future in mind. I give an example. In my area of Bexley, a primary and junior school has been closed and the land sold for private building. And somewhat expensive new houses are now emerging. Opposite the site is a children's home covering several acres which it is proposed should be closed and the land disposed of, no doubt for development. Within a measurable period of time, it is reasonable to assume that the extra private housing development will mean more young children needing a school in the very area where a school has been disposed of for private housing development. That seems to me to be utter nonsense and to show a lack of foresight for the future.
In many areas, valuable courses such as music have had to be curtailed or dropped. Teachers are frustrated beyond belief in striving to maintain standards in a situation of make do and mend and patching up the system. I know full well what that means because my daughter happens to be a deputy head. She is unmarried and lives at home, which means that we have the backlash of frustration when she gets home from school. So the Government have not raised educational standards. Their policies have, in fact, reduced them.
Youth training schemes for unemployed school leavers serve a useful purpose, particularly if jobs are available for the lads to go to afterwards. Surely, however, our educational system should be, and must be, geared to provide modern technical training for young people to leave school prepared and equipped to meet the needs of the new technology in industry. The provision of training courses is an expedient at the present time to reduce the number of people who are unemployed. It does not mean that after training they will get a job. It is the problem not only of training but also of the provision of new work that has to be faced.
To be concerned about unemployment is not enough. Action is very urgently needed. It so happens that I can speak very fully about what it means to be unemployed. I first experienced long-term unemployment in my late teenage years. The memory of that soul destroying experience, the feeling of despair and of, yes, degradation still remains like a scar. I made my maiden speech in another place, actually a few feet from where I am standing now, on 7th February 1946—nearly 40 years ago—on the Second Reading of the National Insurance Bill 184 introduced by a Government which was the most socially revolutionary of its kind and which set up a magnificent record of achievement now being rapidly undermined by this Government.
In that speech—I have a copy of it here—I referred to an experience I had of being asked by my local vicar to visit a young man whom he had helped a little financially. The young man had problems about rates and Heaven knows what else. I went to see him. He was newly married, buying a house on mortgage and furniture on the hire purchase system. The couple also had a young baby. When I saw him, he was just a trembling creature. His wife was obviously suffering from under-nourishment and the child was ill upstairs. He was a pitiful wreck. His self-confidence had been completely destroyed because he had no work. He had lost his job because of a financial crisis. He was redundant. That happened before the National Insurance system came into force. There is now some provision. But the moral effect on people, particularly young people, of unemployment is very serious. It affects their outlook and their life. It is something that we have to face.
That was the situation that I saw and experienced personally over 40 years ago. We are back to square one today. If anything, the situation is worse. We live in a modern technological age capable of advancing living standards and of creating wellbeing with increased leisure. Yet we have put the clock back. Sympathy is not enough; action is needed. Resources should be put at once into an extensive programme of public works: house building, new houses and the restoration of old properties, roads, schools, maintenance and improvements to the environment, parks and open spaces, communications by rail and road and many other fields. This is not a waste of public money; it is an investment—an investment in social values providing employment and enhancing family life. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, may smile. He is an astute businessman, very wise in the methods of investment, but he invests for cash return. I am talking about investment for social return and a better standard of life for people. It is an investment in social values, providing employment and enhancing family life. Make no mistake, you can pay lip service to the problem, but unemployment is threatening family life.
Family life today is not what it was some years ago, and the nation is lacking for it. Not only that, but it puts marriage under strain and, let us face it, leads to an increase in petty crime. A great many of the problems that we face today in that field are due to the fact that youths have nowhere to go and nothing to do. As for the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, no, Satan finds work for idle hands to do. That is a lesson that we have to bear in mind. This is a cancer in our society which calls for immediate and ruthless surgery.
In conclusion, I should like to say that I agree completely with my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby that this House faces great responsibility in the new Session and that we must, without fear or favour, play our part in giving close and impartial attention to the very important legislation coming before us. We face great responsibility; we must carry it out and, in so doing, justify the existence of this Chamber.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Lord Auckland
My Lords, in general I welcome the gracious Speech. It mentions some quite important measures other than those which have been referred to in your Lordships' House this afternoon and this evening. I refer to the proposals in the gracious Speech to deregulate the cinematograph industry. British films have earned a great deal of finance in the export market, and I think that these measures—of course, we can judge them only when we see the Bill concerned—will give a great deal of incentive to our film producers, technicians and actors, and hopefully will mean that some of our cinemas which have been closed will be reopened and, possibily, that new ones will be opened. These are measures to be welcomed.
The other measure which I welcome is the one on control of pesticides. This is very important for the environment. Crop spraying is, of course, essential, but in the wrong hands these substances can be very dangerous. We have all read of instances of this. I believe that the most important aspect of this measure, which I am very glad to see is going to be introduced first into your Lordships' House before going to the other place, is that dealing with the importation of crop sprays and other insecticides and substances which can be potentially lethal. I do not know how much is imported at present, and I do not think the debate on the gracious Speech is necessarily an occasion on which to query this; but it is an important factor. When this very important Bill comes up, no doubt this will be a vital debating point. Clearly there are instances where crop sprays and other ingredients which have been imported have not fulfilled the appropriate regulations. The other vitally important thing here is suitable and clear labelling, because if these substances get into the wrong hands they can be lethal.
Mention has been made of the proposals to abolish the Greater London Council. I consider that the enabling Bill—I must say this—was inadequately drawn until it was revised. Here I follow to some extent the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, with whom I seldom agree; and this relates particularly to his remarks about Private Members' Bills. But I believe this is a measure which will have to have the very closest scrutiny in your Lordships' House. I will say no more than that now because clearly it is going to have a very long passage through the other place. Again, we shall want to see not only the important parts of the Bill but also what is in the small print. This is a very important measure, a very controversial measure, and I hope that this time the Government will get the thing rather more right than, if I may say so, the enabling Bill, particularly in its early stages, sought to do.
There are two measures which I am sorry to see are not in the gracious Speech. The first concerns the construction industry—and I declare a small interest as a non-executive director of a civil engineering company. Small civil engineering and construction companies are having very difficult times indeed these days. Of course, we have to face market forces; if the orders are not there one cannot expect these companies to be in the situations in which we should like to see them. Without necessarily wishing to knock direct labour, I should like to say that I believe some 186 of the direct labour organisations are having a deleterious effect on some of the construction industry concerns. It is a very important industry in this country. We have some admirable people working in the industry. I am not necessarily asking the Government to provide financial aid—I do not think that is what is wanted—but it would be helpful if the PSA and other bodies could employ more construction companies, particularly the smaller ones.
I follow to some extent what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said about the health service. I do not agree with all his views, because I believe that this Government have spent a great deal on the health service and are continuing to do so. There is one question which I should like to put to the Government—and I know it is the subject of a Starred Question to be asked soon. The future of the Griffiths Report is a matter of great importance. This report has been in operation for a long time. The aspect of the managerial services in the health service is also very important.
There is a particular need for some of our long-stay hospitals to be improved. Much has been done, including a lot of rebuilding, but too many of our long-stay hospitals are rather soulless, with long corridors and a lack of any real communication with the patients. This is in no way a reflection on the staffs of these hospitals; that needs to be made absolutely clear. Again, without any extra money necessarily being provided, I believe the funds are there already for more to be done, particularly for the long-stay hospitals. People are in general hospitals for only a relatively short time, but long-stay hospitals are home for many people.
I believe, too, that the provision of more kidney machines is necessary. Again, this is an investment, because the more that people, particularly those who are working, can be put on a kidney machine the less time they are going to spend off work, depending, of course, on the extent of the infection to the kidney. Here, again, there is a most important issue at stake.
We are in for a very busy Session. There is much about the gracious Speech that is imaginative. There are omissions: but the final words in the gracious Speech may well repair that situation.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, I had intended to devote my ration of time to mental offenders, but there is a half sentence in the gracious Speech which I cannot pass over in total silence, although others have referred to it, and I am sure that my noble and learned Leader of the day—Lord Elwyn-Jones—will deal with it very comprehensively later. But in the gracious Speech there is a proposal:to enable the Attorney General to refer Crown Court sentences for the opinion of the Court of Appeal".That strikes a chill into the hearts of some of us who were under the impression that our sentences in this country were generally understood to be too long, especially sentences passed by the Crown Courts. That appeared to be the attitude of the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw—and I mentioned to his office today that I might be referring to him. Anyway, that would seem to have been his auitude in the past and he has 187 made attempts to persuade the judges to shorten sentences. However, that is the proposal and no doubt I and others will return to it later.
I must just quote what The Times had to say. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will soon put The Times right, but he cannot put me right altogether this time—
§ The Earl of Longford
—because I am only quoting The Times. The Times, on 7th November, said:The Government is to go ahead with legislation to enable the Attorney General to refer over-lenient sentences"—that is The Times' word, of course—to the Court of Appeal in spite of strong opposition from the judiciary".It then goes on to spell out the nature of that opposition. Therefore, so far as we can gather from The Times there is strong opposition from the judiciary to this proposal. But I am not going to deal with it further this afternoon because I know that my noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones will take it on.
When it comes to mental offenders, I would take as a text—it is rather a long text but still it is a text—a quotation from the report of the Inspector General of Prisons. The Inspector General's report said:Prison medical officers have frequently told us that managing mentally ill offenders was the hardest part of their duties. Many Governors expressed similar views. There may be room for argument over the number of such offenders who would be better cared for in a mental hospital"—now comes the punch line—but there can be no doubt that many"—that means many mentally ill offenders—are inappropriately confined to prison".If that is the view of the Inspector General, I am bound to ask the Government—and I realise that it is the province of Lord Elton's department, but the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will be replying—whether or not the Government agree with the Inspector General that many mentally ill offenders at the present time are "inappropriately confined to prison" and, if so, what steps are the Government taking to rectify this very unpleasant position? Those are two questions of which notice has been given.
The subject can be looked at in a number of ways. One can look at it in administrative terms or regard it as a human, psychological or ethical problem. But if we consider it in administrative terms, I recall that on 4th July I opened a debate in this House about the establishment of regional secure units. The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, who speaks with a kind of unique authority on this particular matter—as do one or two others—because he was involved in the setting up of the original Butler Committee on Mentally Abnormal Offenders, pointed out that this idea had been mooted as long ago as 1960 and that when the Butler Report came out in the 1970s the plan was to set up secure units to provide 2,000 beds. I gave notice to Lord Elton's office that I would like to know how far we have progressed. We are four months 188 further on from July, and we were told that things were happening then.
Therefore, I should like to ask the Government: how far have we now got in November, as compared with July, towards the target which was originally set of 2,000 beds? That, again, is a matter into which we should perhaps go at greater length on another occasion, but it is certainly a matter that must be raised.
The administrative question is hard enough in political and economic terms, but it is not intellectually a very difficult problem. What is difficult is to decide how a mental offender should be treated even if we have all the resources in the world, which of course we are not in the least likely to have. Mental offenders fall in various categories. I know one mental offender who was sent to Broadmoor. He has done wonderful work since then and he set up the Matthew Trust to help such people. In fact, he has in my eyes done more for mental health than anyone else within my acquaintance. That is one type of mental offender.
On the other hand, I shall concentrate by way of illustration—but I am not asking for a detailed reply about this individual case—on someone well known, by name, at any rate, to the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I am referring to someone whom I have visited for 15 years in various prisons and once a month during the last year. This prisoner has been in prison altogether for 19 years. He was convicted of horrific crimes and I am not in any way suggesting that he was wrongly convicted. The question is: what should be done with him now?
As long ago as 1971 the Home Office psychiatrist, the late Dr. Peter Scott, persuaded the late Mr. Reginald Maudling, then Home Secretary, that this particular man ought to go to Broadmoor or some such place. The Home Office tried desperately hard to get him to Broadmoor, but the Ministry of Health refused to have him. That was well understood at the time. More recently another Home Office psychiatrist came and examined him very thoroughly over a period of about two years. The Home Office were more liberal than usual and they were kind enough to let me see a copy of the report. There is no doubt about it that this particular Home Office psychiatrist once again said that this man ought to go to a special hospital. But there is no question of him being in a special hospital; he is still in prison and in a most frightful state.
Your Lordships do not have to take my word for it. There is an eminent man, whose name I could supply if necessary, who visited him for many years when he was in Wormwood Scrubs. When this eminent man saw him the other day in his present prison he was horrified and could not believe that he was the same man. His weight was down from 13 stone to 8 stone. He could hardly speak; indeed, he speaks with great difficulty. When I told him at the beginning of the interview that I would be taking up the matter with one of the Ministers in the near future, he had forgotten what I had said long before the end of the interview. That is the state in which he now finds himself.
Thirteen years ago that man was recommended for Broadmoor by the best psychiatrist that the Home 189 Office could find. I am not going to pursue that matter further except to quote one sentence from the letter which has been sent to this gentleman's solicitor, which runs as follows:The doctor"—I will not give the doctor's name but he is referring to the doctor in question—does not consider that this prisoner's mental illness is treatable within the terms of Section 47 of the Mental Health Act 1983 and, therefore, there is no power to transfer him to a special hospital".Again I shall not pursue that particular case now except to place the problem by this case before the House. Here we have a man in wretched health. We are told that there is nothing wrong with him organically, but he is in a most appalling state and the psychiatrists who really know about him and who have gone into his case thoroughly—the only two who have ever done so—have recommended Broadmoor. However, he is kept in prison and we are told that he could not be treated. Yet the view of the psychiatrists I have quoted was that he could be treated. So we have these problems which will exist whatever resources are made available. I think that the House should be aware of them because in my view they are some of the most difficult problems.
Indeed, there is no good my pretending that I think this case is in any way being well handled. However, I should like to put one question to the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, but I gave notice of it to Lord Elton's office. Is it the case that no prisoner can be transferred on mental grounds to a special hospital, or to one of the mental institutions, unless the hospital in question or the higher authorities in the Ministry of Health agree? Do the health authorities have a veto in this case? Even if the Home Office want to transfer a prisoner as happened once before, the department of health can stop them. I gave notice of that question and I hope that it can be answered. I have spoken for 10 minutes, which is as long as I meant to speak. This is a very grave and a very complicated question, and I shall return to it again in the near future.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Lord Kilmarnock
My Lords, there is no mention in the gracious Speech of social policy, and this is not perhaps surprising if there is no legislation in this field on the way, unless perhaps something is to come forward in the other measures. However, this does not excuse the Government for their lack of interest in what my noble and learned friend Lord Wilson of Langside has called the "social fabric". Indeed, the absence of concern for the grievous social problems facing the nation is what emerges so signally if one reads between the lines of the gracious Speech.
One understands, of course, that the word "social" is not popular with the Government. One recalls the resistance of the wartime coalition to Beveridge's proposed name for his scheme, which he wanted to call "social insurance"; the House of Commons jibbed at that so it became "national insurance". "National" has always been a more popular word than "social" in this country, but you cannot have a nation without social cohesion, and this is something that our nationalist and patriotic Government have failed to realise. They cannot wish away the social dimension 190 because it is all around them. Social security, to a considerable extent as a result of their own policies is running away with an increasing proportion of the budget, and now the Government have to contend with a Social Democratic Party with a real interest in deriving social benefits from a non-monopolistic market economy.
There are many social concerns which have very little to do with socialism, but the Government do not want to know about them. Yet even this Government would not deny that man lives in society—and that includes British Tories. In fact, some Tories not in the Government go further and state their fears about the disintegration of that society if current policies are pursued.
I do not want to make a long speech or a detailed speech, but I think it is fair to give the Government advance notice—because we are still a fair assembly, whatever our differences of opinion—of some of the main points on which we shall be pursuing them during the Session of Parliament inaugurated by this debate. Let me start with a few statistics and indicators. The most important are demographic. Over the 20-year period 1981 to 2001 the total population of this country is expected to rise by less than 4 per cent., but over the same period the proportion of young children will have risen by 17 per cent. and old people by 30 per cent. The latter figure masks a decline of those between the ages of 65 and 75, but a sharp rise of those over the age of 75 and, indeed, of those over 90.
Let us look first at the elderly end of the spectrum, with which I shall include the mentally ill and the mentally handicapped, because these three groups together form the priority groups identified in 1981 in the Government's paper on Care in the Community. Your Lordships will have heard me speak before about the direct conflict between the lip-service paid by the Government to the Care in the Community concept and the crippling effects of their policies towards local government on its implementation or, for that matter, on its feasibility at all.
I am not alone in my criticism of the Government in this field. Earlier this year the British Medical Association passed a motion, part of which read as follows:that this conference deplores the transfer of patients into the community without adequate planning and provision; it instructs the GMSC to negotiate additional resources for community care as a matter of urgency…I do not know what success the GMSC has had with the Government. Perhaps we shall hear something when the Government publish their Green Paper on primary care, and possibly not. Because when people are extruded from health service beds they are outwith the health authorities' reach, except where the hard-pressed community health service can reach them; yet in many cases they are not within the reach of the impoverished social service departments. The Government really must face the facts. They may talk of joint financing arrangements between the NHS and the social services departments, but they know perfectly well that even if NHS funds are available to start the ball rolling, rate-capping, or the fear of it, will deter many local authorities from entering into such commitments.
191 To what extent will National Health funds be available? Will the health authorities just hand over the proceeds of the sales of old hospitals when they naturally want to retain them in view of the cash and manpower limitations placed upon them? I very much doubt it. Therefore, will the Government not recognise that they will either have to compensate health authorities for that money or provide new money for community care, at any rate in the transitional period?
If Care in the Community is to have any hope of success, the role of the carer is crucial. According to the official census figures, 23 per cent. of our 10 million old-age pensioners are cared for by relatives or friends as against only 6 per cent. in institutional care. With the numbers of the elderly increasing by 2 per cent. per annum and the numbers of geriatric beds declining—10,000 beds have been lost since 1979—there will inevitably be more and more individual carers, often sacrificing their own careers and jobs, who at present receive virtually no back-up, yet who are saving the state between £90 and £200 per week in residential care or in the cost of a geriatric bed.
It really is time that the Government considered the idea of a carer's benefit, as proposed by my party and mentioned, I think, by my noble friend Lord Banks, or at the very least the wider provision of certain services which are not prohibitively expensive but which will make all the difference between a tolerable life for carers and sheer hell. I refer in particular to laundry services for incontinent patients living at home and temporary places in hospitals for such elderly folk in order to give their caring relatives a break from their year-in year-out commitment. What about the GP and community and cottage hospitals now being closed down at a rate of knots? Could they not fulfil this function?
Carers often soldier on because residential care on offer is below an acceptable standard for their loved ones, but that is where many of our elderly will end up. Yet the inspection of mushrooming private residential homes is totally inadequate, and there is mounting evidence that the sums paid out by the social service departments are not matched by quality or accountability. Will the noble and learned Lord not agree that the one-off £100 registration fee and the £10 annual fee per bed are quite inadequate to fund a proper inspection service? What will the Government do about this? We have no doctrinal antipathy to private services, but why should they be sacrosanct from inspection?
I turn to the mentally ill and handicapped. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, in particular, will recall the new responsibilities placed on social workers by the Mental Health Act among all their other statutory duties. The Act required an exam to be passed, but provided no funds to enable training. The exam was boycotted by NALGO, and as a result some social workers in this field are qualified and some are not. Can the noble and learned Lord tell us whether the Government are satisfied with the present position and, if not, what action they have in mind?
What about the regional secure units, only one of which I understand is fully operational? I hope that the 192 Government will be able to tell us that that programme will receive a further impetus as a result of the appalling revelation only the other day that a mentally defective arsonist was sentenced to life imprisonment for want of anywhere else to stow her away. This I think is a point analogous to those that have been made by the noble Earl, Lord Longford. Here I quote again from the BMA's recent conference motion:that this meeting deplores the continued inability of the mental health and social services to meet the needs of those disadvantaged patients who can obtain the shelter, care and treatment they require only from the penal system, and calls upon the DHSS for action to remedy this situation".Later on they say:that this meeting urges that the closure of large mental hospitals should not occur in the absence of adequate alternative facilities.What have the Government to say to that?
I had wanted to say something about children, but I do not want to abuse the patience of the House at this time of night so I shall restrict myself to two questions. In 1981–82 £370 million was spent by the social services department in the exercise of their responsibilities for children in care. Most of it was spent on residential homes, hostels and boarding out. Should not more be done to prevent the necessity of care in the first place? This is what was suggested by the Short Report, which was published in March 1984 and, in fact, the Government appear to agree with it. They say in paragraph 8 of their reply:The Government shares the committee's views on the importance of prevention and is giving particular attention to daycare for young children.But in Section 11 of their reply that is largely negated by the overriding importance which the Government attach to continuing restriction on public expenditure. On most recommendations here the Government have simply passed the buck to the local authorities, who they know will be unable to cope. Accepting recommendations and failing to provide resources is not a consistent stance. Will the Government come clean on this and say what action, if any, they propose to take in this Session of Parliament?
The next point on children concerns the under-fives. Recent research indicates the great importance of nursery education in run-down inner and city fringe areas. Playgroups and toddler groups may well be desirable developments in middle-class suburbs, but they are clearly not a solution for this problem across the country. Will the Government make a serious commitment to nursery education in the conurbations? If not, they will have a great body of very determined parents of young children to contend with. I know that because I have been to some of their meetings.
I have said nothing so far about the voluntary services, and I am not going to say much because the question had a good airing in the debate initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, on 22nd October. In that debate I asked the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, how we should interpret Section 3(9) of the Rates Act, which was introduced to alleviate the squeeze on local authority grants to genuine charities in the social services field.
The noble Lord undertook to write to me, and I have spoken to his office. He confirms that I shall be 193 hearing from the Department of the Environment. But I want to put on record again that this is a matter of real concern. In effect, the trigger mechanism, Section 3(9), works only if the local authority applies for redetermination to the Secretary of State, and this year, on my information, only one authority has made such an application. Therefore, this alleviating subsection which was introduced to help protect local authority grants to genuine charities seems to me to be most unlikely to work.
Probably the best thing is to watch this closely for the first year, and if it proves inoperable or ineffective some of us may want to promote an amending Bill to which we hope the Government might be sympathetic. It was certainly very much the mood of the House during the discussion on the Rates Bill that genuine voluntary organisations should be helped to continue to provide their services to the community.
Finally, if all this sounds like niggling special pleading for certain groups or interests I would remind your Lordships that these people—the elderly, the young, the sick, the disabled—make up half, if not more than half, of our society. Self-help is an admirable concept; nobody denies it. We are all individuals with huge capacities for facing adverse circumstances and improving on them, and for cultivating the most marvellous blossoms in the most unpromising soil. That is the essence of our humanity.
But in an advanced industrial society you cannot get round the fact that money, not barter, is the means of exchange, and that large, cohesive, self-sufficient families are no longer the basic units of the social system. When people are under age, over age, in poor health or out of work, it is virtually impossible for them to fend for themselves in the four-square Robinson Crusoe way that the present Government expect of them. If you live in a peasant sociey you may be able to go out and gather twigs for a fire. In central London you certainly cannot, so you have to pay the standing charges to the electricity and gas boards, with which (because you are no longer an earner) you may well need help.
We might go so far as accusing a Government which pride themselves on good housekeeping of bad housekeeping, because housekeepers, by definition, take care of all the members of the household. And we might go even further than that and accuse the Government of negligence where they neglect these responsibilities. If the noble and learned Lord replies that all this is beyond a government's competence, I hardly need to remind him of all people that the feudal system fell when the Crown became the champion of the people against the powerful vested interests of those times; and the powers of the Crown are now vested in Her Majesty's Government, whose duty is to the whole people. It is our duty in Parliament to ensure that they never forget this. I do not think that the noble and learned Lord will dissent from this, and I suspect that it is a view that he may from time to time urge on his colleagues in Cabinet. If he does, I only hope that it does not fall on deaf ears.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Lord Elwyn-Jones
My Lords, I should like to begin by expressing my personal pleasure, and I am sure that of the whole House, at having the presence here 194 throughout the debate today of the noble Earl, Lord Stockton. He honoured the House similarly in the debate yesterday on foreign affairs, and it is most gratifying to learn that he is to make his maiden speech in this House next Tuesday. We wait with impatience to hear him. It was my privilege to be on opposite sides of the House to the noble Earl over the course of many years when he was a Minister and I represented West Ham. His kindness at all times in talking about the problems of my constituents was, if I may say so, magnificent.
The debate that we have heard today—a serious and, I hope, valuable debate—arises from yet another flood of Bills and of legislation. I am quite sure that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor cannot be held personally responsible, because he has always fulminated against a lot of new legislation. But here it is, we face it again. We shall of course be examining all this legislation with the greatest care. We shall, when we think it right to do so, seek to amend and improve it, as we did effectively in the last Session—and often doing so right across party lines.
I feel sure that when on the first day of the debate on the Queen's Speech the noble Viscount said, as my noble friend Lord Houghton has reminded us,I feel that your Lordships will understand me when I say that the views of this House, if they are pushed too far and too often could on occasion be resented by the elected Members of another place", [Official Report; 6/11/84, col. 17.]he was in no way seeking to restrict the right of this House to scrutinise and to amend Government Bills if that should be the will of this House. That Members of another place might resent it, this we understand. We resented it when, in another place, we were at the receiving end.
The problem of dealing with the Queen's Speech is that it contains references to many Bills whose content we do not yet know. When he opened the home and social affairs debate on the Address on 28th June last year, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said at column 128 that he would suppose that,it is a wholesome and civilising practice … to have a general debate at the beginning of each new Session of Parliament on general topics contained … in the gracious Speech.How wholesome and civilising it is depends, I suppose, on the contents of the Queen's Speech.
Here we are moving to some extent in the unknown. For instance, we await with impatience, because it may affect the social scene in a great many ways, the outcome of the deliberations of the Star Chamber, of which the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, is the unlikely head. Perhaps I should warn him as to what happened last time when the Star Chamber overplayed its hand. He has been warned; but we await to hear the further and better particulars of a great deal of what is to be postponed before we can pass judgment upon it.
However, sins of omission are already all too apparent. In particular, it seems to us—and some of my noble friends have mentioned this already—that the proposals in the Speech give no sign of determination or commitment to deal with issues which are threatening, as I fear, the very stability of our society. The gravest is, as noble Lords have said, unemployment. That will be considered in detail in our debate on Wednesday; but it is a stark fact that the 195 unemployment level in this country now is the highest in our history, and, what is more disturbing, it seems certain to rise to still greater heights. It is a shaming condemnation of failure and, if I may say so, in particular of the failure of the Government.
I turn to unemployment in this debate this day because of its relevance to the problems of law and order, for unemployment is an important factor in the impact of crime and clearly cannot be dissociated from it. The incidence of the crime was stated in a powerful way by the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, when he told the House that this country has the highest overall crime rate in Europe for housebreaking, robbery and assault. My noble friend Lady Phillips elaborated the extent of crime that has to be faced.
One of the most striking omissions from the Queen's Speech is any reference to the challenge of crime or to the problems which its seriousness has created. It is true that there is a reference to the proposal that a national prosecution service, independent of the police, is to be introduced in England and Wales. My noble friend Lord Mishcon has broadly welcomed the proposal. So do I, but we shall have to reserve judgment on the detail of what is proposed.
Then, in the same sentence referring to that there is the reference to a Bill,to enable the Attorney General to refer Crown Court sentences for the opinion of the Court of Appeal".My noble friend Lord Longford drew attention to that. Is it the case that it is only sentences which are too lenient that are to be referred, or is it possible that sentences which are far too severe might also be referred for the Court's consideration?
§ The Lord Chancellor
My Lords, I shall almost certainly forget this point that the noble and learned Lord has made if I do not answer it now, briefly. He is, of course, aware that excessively severe sentences are already the subject of applications for leave to appeal and get legal aid. The Court of Appeal at the moment does not have the power to deal with too lenient sentences. He will know, as I know, that of, say, 20 complaints about sentencing that we receive in our morning post, probably more than 15 complain of excessive leniency. One must have consistency in sentencing and the absence of this power of reference without causing double jeopardy has caused both the Home Secretary and myself a good deal of anxiety.
§ Lord Elwyn-Jones
My Lords, I am most grateful for that intervention from the noble and learned Lord. What is important is that one should retain a sense of balance in the approach to this matter. The noble and learned Lord is quite correct that the facilities and availability of the Court of Appeal and, if I may say so, even occasionally of this noble House, come in usefully to rectify severity of sentence.
But the proposed Bill, prima facie at any rate, looks like containing an important change in the role of the prosecution in the field of sentencing. As my noble friend Lord Longford has indicated, it is significant that in the report on a seminar attended by 74 judges and recorders in January this year it is stated that there was a strong feeling against giving the prosecution the 196 right to appeal against sentences and against the Attorney-General having the power to refer sentences. In our system sentencing is the responsibility of the judge who has heard the evidence and is aware of the individual accused's circumstances. It would be a serious innovation to depart from that principle, often in the face of ill-informed clamour.
Therefore, while I noted with some satisfaction the assurances of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in his admirable canter through the forthcoming Bill at the beginning of the debate, I also noted, with some relief, that we shall examine its proposals with very great care because I think the tradition of the practice of the prosecution in regard to sentencing is a very fine one.
Frankly, I think there are far more pressing matters of concern in the penal scene than that. One is the condition of prisoners and the state of the prisons. One of our unenviable records is that we have more prisoners in prison per head of population than any country in Western Europe. That is not a proud record. Early this year there were 44,000 prisoners in our prisons. If I may say so to the noble Lord who spoke against parole (namely Lord Boyd-Carpenter), the Home Secretary very rightly extended the power of parole to short-term prisoners and since 1 st July that has resulted in the release of 2,000 prisoners. Parole is not something embarked upon lightly. There is a parole board report that goes carefully into this and makes as much judgment of this matter as any human ingenuity or knowledge can direct. There is nothing reckless about the parole process. As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, the effect generally has been wholly beneficial both to the prisoners themselves and in reducing the appalling pressure upon prisons.
On present trends I understand that there are likely to be about 47,000 prisoners by 1990. This, again, will mean overcrowding in bad prison conditions, even if, in the meantime (as we are glad to note to be the case) new prisons are to be built.
This state of affairs of the bad conditions in prisons is especially resented by remand prisoners, many of whom are held in custody in bad conditions while awaiting trial. About 40 per cent. of remand prisoners are later either acquitted or given a non-custodial sentence. The average time spent in custody awaiting trial is 12 weeks in England and Wales and four months in London. There are now 6,700 untried accused individuals and 1,450 convicted persons not yet sentenced. Home Office figures show that 50 have been in jail for over 18 months, 180 for a year to 18 months, and over 2,000 for three months to a year. A particularly cause for concern is the fact that still each year about 3,000 defendants under 17 are remanded to adult prisons and remand centres to await trial and sentence, even though no court can sentence an offender of that age to imprisonment in an adult penal establishment. Those remands are, I submit, an indefensible scandal. I hope that the suggestions that have already emanated from the Minister at the beginning of this debate may lead to hope that this situation will be ameliorated.
As to prison conditions, may I ask what has happened to the proposed creation of a code of standards for prisons which, at any rate, at one stage, if not promised by the Home Office, was certainly 197 contemplated? Has the commitment to produce such a code been abandoned? It was good to hear that there are proposals to impose a time limit, if I understood the noble Lord correctly, on the period during which accused persons may be kept in custody. As the House knows, in Scotland the law provides that once a prisoner has been committed for trial then, unless he is released from custody, he must, with one or two exceptions, be brought to trial within 110 days. That is a powerful constraint on prosecutors and, I submit, a valuable safeguard for accused persons. It may be that the noble and learned Lord is not immediately in a position to elaborate what is proposed in that field, but we shall await with impatience to hear what is proposed either this evening or perhaps on a later occasion.
On prison conditions themselves, we note that substantial new investment is to be put into the prison system; and, of course, we agree with that—about £250 million additional capital expenditure over previous plans and an increase in staff of about 5,500. But, as the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (of which the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, is the distinguished president) has pointed out, there is unfortunately no comparable expansion planned for any other part of the penal system. The probation service is expected to grow by only 3 per cent. with an additional 285 officers. The noble Lord in his moving speech has pointed to the most unfortunate decision of the Government, as I understand it, that there shall be no increase in the number of after-care hostel places beyond March 1985.
Before I leave this prison aspect, may I ask why the Government should still have to plan for a rise in the prison population of 10 per cent. by 1991? Why, as I have said, do we still imprison more people per head than most of our West European neighbours? We need a better balance in crime spending and, I hope, more day centres and more possibilities for more community service orders—and courts are limited in the use of those possibilities because of lack of facilities.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, opened the debate with a reference to the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. We shall be debating that in a full day's debate on Wednesday, but I feel that I should not leave it without at least some comment this evening in the light of what has been said in the course of this debate. Our submission on this side of the House is that these proposals have been motivated almost entirely by party political considerations. This became very clear in the unlamented Clauses 1 and 2 of the interim provisions Bill, which the House rejected with contumely because it was a piece of political gerrymandering being attempted that would put Tammany Hall to shame. Happily, the House gave them short shrift. Like so much in the proposed abolition Bill (which, of course, we have not seen) that Bill was brought forward with reckless haste, quite contrary to what happened before the Acts which set up the GLC and the metropolitan county councils initially—both preceded by detailed investigations and by Royal Commissions, with Parliament and the Government then in a position to deal with the matter after full and informed debate and consideration. The 198 new proposals have already been subjected to constant revision and I have no doubt that some are now still under way.
What is to be the shape of the new constitutional structure? I understand that the two-tier system is to be replaced by a kind of three-tier system: boroughs, quangos or joint boards and, of course, the central Government. In place of local democratic decision making, more power is to be given to the central Government and the non-elected, or indirectly elected, boards. London, if the Bill goes through, will be left as the only major city in Western Europe without a directly-elected, city-wide authority. It is a fantastic suggestion.
My next point links to some extent with the moving speech of the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, who, alas, has had to leave on other business—and I am expressing that only by way of regret and not of criticism, because I wanted to say that we appreciated his speech. There is grave concern among voluntary organisations in the social field about the consequences of the rate-capping legislation and the proposed abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. CABs are especially vulnerable and concerned, as are law centres; and I hope that it may be possible tonight for the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, whose personal sympathy for law centres I know full well, to give some confidence to them in their insecure position. They all survive on short-term grants. Most of them, incidentally, are the product of a social zeal and conscience by young people in the slum centres where many of them have arisen.
My understanding is that six have been saved from closure, I am happy to say, by temporary grants from the Lord Chancellor's Department; 20 will be hit by the abolition of the metropolitan counties, 26 are in rate-capped local authorities. I am informed by the Law Centres Federation that next year eight law centres may have to close if renewed urban aid is not forthcoming. In response to the Benson Commission, the Government expressed the view—and I think that the noble and learned Lord himself expressed it—that law centres should exist to supplement private practice where this suits local circumstances; but my Lords, no decision has yet been made about how law centres are to be financed. If the noble and learned Lord can give some encouragement and guidance about that this evening, I know that the hundreds of those who benefit from the law centres and the young people who run them will be deeply grateful.
Time is passing and I would not wish to overburden the patience of the House. I would have liked to make some observations about the education scene. We are very disappointed that only three lines of the gracious Speech are devoted to it—two of them mentioning the grotesque proposal in regard to corporal punishment which will produce nothing but injustice in the schools and which has been condemned by most bodies interested in the welfare and education of young people and, indeed, by natural justice. The Bill may save us from condemnation by the European Court. It can do nothing else of any benefit whatsoever, in our view. Unfortunately, I have no time to deal with the anxiety expressed in major reports from the University Grants Committee and the National Advisory Committee, both urging easier access to higher 199 education and a reform of outdated grants. No doubt we shall return to that theme very soon indeed.
I should have liked to have time to say something about housing, and to say it particularly in the presence of the noble Earl, Lord Stockton. I recollect the time when he forced through 300,000 houses in a year—marvellous! There were a lot built in West Ham. I wonder whether there is any hope of persuading she who must be obeyed to put him in the job of rebuilding the housing needs of this country. Perhaps it is too much to hope for. I end by indicating that we look forward to a period of earnest consideration of matters which can greatly affect the future of the people of this country.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ The Lord Chancellor
My Lords, the urbane and attractive speech to which we have listened rather took me by surprise. I was thinking that the noble and learned Lord was going to sum up the debate from his side. Instead, with perfect legitimacy, he embarked upon new fields and ventures which I do not think I can follow him in completely or it would occupy the greater part of the time which the House would be willing to give me.
There is only one thing which I would say about the new matter which he introduced, and that is this. Of course, from the very first time that I was Lord Chancellor in 1970, I have been particularly preoccupied with the problem of the remand prisoner, and from my point of view, the only way in which I could contribute to that has always been to reduce the period of time between committal and arraignment. I managed to halve that time between 1970 and 1974. I say this not in the least criticising the noble and learned Lord my successor, and predecessor in my present term of office, but by the time I took office again in 1979 the period had again gone exactly back to where it was in 1970.
Since then committals have gone up by 45 per cent. and I have still managed to reduce the time between committal and arraignment significantly. Therefore, I think he will do me the credit of admitting, if he can remember—and there is no reason why he should—the various speeches that we have interchanged at various times in our various careers, that I have again and again complained of the state of our prisons, as I think we heard him do tonight, and have again and again when in Opposition urged on the respective Ministers to improve the state.
We are, of course, facing—and I think this is something to which I may have to revert in another connection—demographic changes of a very curious character at the present time. The young male population is going up, and going up for a period of time which, of course, can be predicted almost exactly because the size and shape of our demography is already well known. One has to say this, because I have in fact said it before in response to a speech by the most reverend Primate. Crime of a serious kind is a malady, if that is the right word, peculiarly of the young male. Of the, I think, 45,000 people imprisoned at the present time, all but about 1,500 are male and most of them are young. One must view these things from a demographic point of view and I shall be 200 coming back to that again and again in connection with other points that I want to raise.
I suppose that I have been asked somewhere between 40 and 50 questions during the course of this debate. What I can hope to promise in relation to those who have asked them—and they were all perfectly legitimate questions—is that I will see that this debate is very carefully scrutinised. Those who have asked the questions will, I hope, where it is possible, receive answers either from me or from my noble friend Lord Elton or from some other Minister to give them the best answers of which we are capable, and if they want to get further publicity for the answers we will do our best to arrange the method and the occasion upon which that can be given. But I do not think that I ought to go further tonight, because I shall otherwise be taking up a very great deal of your Lordships' time.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, began his speech by saying that he was going to speak in a still, small voice. Having regard to the ownership of the still, small voice on the occasions to which he guardedly referred, I am not sure that perhaps he was not exaggerating even his influence. There were other voices which were probably not uttered at a shout. But I want to criticise one or two of the things that have been said in criticism of the Government.
The first was said on the first day by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, when she said that she thought we were running out of ideas. I was much more sympathetic to the criticism of the noble and learned Lord, which we heard at the beginning of his speech, that we have a very busy Session with a number of new and very controversial ideas. Of course the House will know perfectly well that I am not keen on manifestos, but, at the same time, one must remember that we are on the second Session of a five-year Parliament and that our election manifesto contained a number of these new ideas which we have not yet brought into effect. Of course, they will all have to be debated in this House. We shall await those debates with interest and we hope to give as good as we have got.
The role of the House is, of course, one which is beyond question. I know that my noble friend the Lord President of the Council did not mean in any way to depreciate the importance of this House's adopting an independent and scrutinising line when it comes to examine the details of Government legislation. But, speaking as one who has spent, I think, approximately half his career in this House and half in the other, I should just like to say this: I think there is a danger, with so many of us having spent so much of our lives in the House of Commons, of turning this House into a sort of mirror image of the House of Commons, and that is not really what we are meant for. We are independent counsellors of the Crown and we are not elected, and I know that my noble friend the Lord President of the Council was far from depreciating the importance of the role which this House can play when he said that perhaps there was a danger of lack of comity between the two bodies. The House of Commons is elected and we are not and the noble and learned Lord will know, because we exchanged many a salvo when I was sitting approximately where he is sitting now, that we did in the end, sometimes with reluctance, yield to the view of the then elected Chamber when our roles were reversed.
201 If one does not accept the view that we are running out of ideas, I am bound to say this. I think that some members of the parties in Opposition—I do not know whether I should call them two or three parties—have one idea which is manifestly wrong. I think this is the point at which the debate has really revolved, because I have never taken the view, and I do not take the view, that compassion and caring is shown and measured by the amount of money you spend. I cannot resist the idea that every constructive suggestion which has come from the Opposition during the course of this debate today or yesterday, except in the field of defence which we are debarred from discussing now, has been a request for the spending of more money.
That was replied to with force by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter and by my noble friend Lord Mottistone. One does not show compassion or caring by prescribing inefficacious remedies; nor, if you overspend, can you remedy the fault that you have committed by good intentions. In fact, a society which allows its currency to be debased, as it was being debased in 1979, is a demoralising society; demoralising of moral standards just as much as if people had set out to do harm to their fellow citizens. The essence of policy in all societies—dictatorial or democratic, which means Labour or Conservative Governments in this country—is the attempt to match unlimited requirements by woefully inadequate means. The proper method of approaching this problem, particularly in your Lordships' House, is a close analysis of the facts and a careful scrutiny of the kind of remedy for admitted evils which is likely to be efficacious. Viewing matters in that way, it would be fair to say that the Government have come fairly unscathed out of this debate.
May I make one other point to the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock? Obviously, in a sense, today's debate has about it an element of unreality because on the next day of our debate on the gracious Speech we are to discuss the economic situation. To discuss housing, health, education, social services and the various elements of policy without the context of the economic situation has about it an element of unreality which has constrained critics and will now constrain me in my answer. However, I start from a perhaps not dissimilar position from that which was put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock: that the state exists for the nation and not the nation for the state. It is our business to create a framework of conditions within which the nation (by which I mean the individual, the family, the regions and all the subordinate voluntary associations which are at once the glory, pride and justification of a free society) can pursue their own avocations and achieve their own types of excellence in an atmosphere of peace, harmony and prosperity, not infringing the rights of others or interfering with their legitimate activities but pursuing each their own different excellence.
The question is: exactly how do you mix the various ingredients? I must begin—this is fundamental to the difference between the Government and some of our critics—by repudiating completely the view of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition on the first day of our debate about the alleged dichotomy between North and South and rich and poor. Society has ceased to be like that. What would one say, for 202 instance, about the West Midlands? Everybody knows that the recession has hit manufacturing industries in the West Midlands just as hard as it has hit places further north. What would one say about Bristol and Lambeth, where there were riots? What is one to say—I am sure that the noble and learned Lord will agree with me about this—about West and East Ham, as it used to be called, or Docklands? The fact is that social deprivation is not peculiar to the North.
Secondly, I would assert without fear of contradiction, I believe, that this alleged contrast, leaving aside for the moment unemployment, between rich and poor—the gap which the Leader of the Opposition claimed to be increasing and growing—has no reality at all in a modern society. Newspapers are always reminding me that I am extremely old. Well, I am. I can remember the world before 1914. I can remember the world between the two world wars. I know what life was like then. But society has ceased to be the two nations of Disraeli's Sybil.
Society is an extremely complicated spectrum of people with different degrees of possessions. When I was very young, about 10 per cent of the population owned their own houses; 20 years ago it was about 40 per cent.; it is now about 60 per cent.; and in another 10 years it will be 80 per cent. Those houses contain consumer durables of a kind which the so-called poor in my youth would never have dreamed of possessing: refrigerators, and usually motor cars, either outside or in garages. Those houses contain every kind of appliance. As for the average wage, I remember that when I was leading this House 20 years ago a tremendous fuss was raised on the Labour Benches because Mr. Butler had said that he would double our standard of life within 20 years. Twenty years have passed and we have more than doubled our standard of life. There was a tremendous row at the time about surtax. But we are now living in a world where a miner can earn £164 a week if he is not on strike.
We are not living in a world where there is a gap between rich and poor. There is hardship, and hardship is caused by unemployment exactly as much as noble Lords have said. However, the idea that the kind of society with which we have to cope is like the kind of society in which the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, reminded us that he grew up is, I believe, a total mistake. If one wants a good example of it, I suggest that noble Lords should reflect upon the fate of Mr. Mondale, because poor Mr. Mondale was suffering from the same illusion as they. The reason why Mr. Reagan won the presidential election was because he had got this point right and Mr. Mondale had got it wrong. There are not two nations. We are one nation, and we must build up the unity of the nation as much as we can.
I feel that I ought to make one or two points in order to dispute the kind of picture which has been painted. Let me take health as an example. This year we are spending £ 13.5 billion in cash—more than double the cash that was spent in 1979, and in real terms more than 18 per cent. above inflation. There has been an increase in the number of patients of about 650,000, in the number of out-patients of 2½ million. The number of doctors and dentists is up by 12 per cent., and the direct care staff by 14 per cent.
203 Let me also deal with education, about which other points have been made. Of course we are faced with the demographic fact that there are fewer pupils in our schools. The bulge has gone up in terms of age. But expenditure per pupil in real terms is up, since 1978–79, by 16 per cent. in primary schools and by 8 per cent. in secondary schools. The pupil-teacher ratio is the best ever—17.8 to 1 against 19 to 1 in January 1979. How I wish that when I was Minister of Education in 1957 I had been able to boast of such a pupil-teacher ratio when I had to confess that I was grappling with classes of 50! The provision of new books rose sharply in real terms in 1982–83. Total expenditure upon education and science as a whole has risen, in cost terms—that is, in absolute terms—since 1979 by 1 per cent., despite a fall in the school population of about 12 per cent.
One can go on mentioning these facts again and again, but I beg of noble Lords opposite to recognise that over the whole range of expenditure, and in real terms, this Government are actually spending more on the caring services than they left us in 1979. At the same time—and I can give the figures if need be—we have managed to control inflation.
This is no mean achievement and we are not ashamed of it. What I do dispute (I will not say, resent) is the theory that because we are not spending still more—because we have had to grapple with a declining currency and started with inflation of something like 20 per cent., which went on like a runaway train for nearly three years—we do not care about other people's suffering. I feel that that is an unjust charge. It is unjust in fact and it is unjust in principle.
Time is getting on, my Lords, and there is a great deal more that I could say. Perhaps I had better not talk about the miners' strike in spite of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside. I will just say this. One does hope very much that the miners will resume control of their own affairs. What went wrong was that, against the terms of their union's own rules, the miners were denied a ballot. Where they did ballot, they voted overwhelmingly not to go on strike. The awful scenes of violence must have been organised by someone—against the criminal law, not against the legislation passed by this Government.
The more that one can encourage the miners to resume control of their own affairs, to return to enjoy the enormous prospects which the coal industry now possesses, and to take advantage of the vast investment which has been made in coal, the happier we shall be. I can give your Lordships a series of figures. In 1983, the United Kingdom's investment in coal was £697 million. In West Germany, investment was £280 million; in France, £63 million; in Belgium, £32 million. The chances for coal have never been so good, if people will only see that as true.
I will say just a few words about unemployment. I was a little disappointed when the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said that we were wrong to refer in the Queen's Speech to the fact that there are more people in work than there were this time last year. I think that was a very sensible thing to say. The noble Baroness said it was not quite good enough; of course it is not 204 quite good enough. But if one does not analyse the problem correctly, one will not be able to solve it. The fact is that 160,000 young people have come onto the labour market in the past 12 months. There has been a large number of persons gaining employment—both in the field of direct employment and among the self-employed. The problem consists in the fact that, although vacancies are rising and opportunities are rising, there has been a surge in the demographic population among younger people. We must do our best to solve it.
It must be said that we are doing our best to solve that problem. It is no good just treating as a palliative our training scheme. This year the Government are spending £2¼ billion on special employment and. training measures, currently helping 689,000 people. This is not the picture of the world in which the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, grew up—nor, for that matter, of the world in which I grew up. It is a world in which society has undertaken social responsibilities and is seeking to discharge them without destroying the stability of its currency. As I have said, we have achieved a very considerable measure of success in both since 1979.
I want to end by saying something which I hope is not controversial but which represents very much my feelings about the function of government in society. I ought to have remarked how much I appreciated what was said by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter about the rule of law, because that is vital if the fabric of society is not to be completely undermined. The fact is that one cannot pick and choose which laws one is going to obey or which laws one is going to enforce. The idea that one can choose is one which is ultimately disruptive of the whole basis of civilised life.
I do not want to quote Aristotle in this connection—I believe that he was the first ascertainable writer to have said this—but I am going to quote two other observations about the nature of society. A free society such as ours is, of course, one in which strongly-held opinions can be openly expressed when they diverge from one another. But freedom to differ is not the only thing that keeps society together. It needs cement to hold it together, if there is to be a free divergence of opinion. This quotation comes from the writings of Aristotle:Mutual affection is the greatest of all blessings in a state as it affords the best guarantee against civil strife".And so, from Cicero too:We have a natural propensity to love our fellow man, and that, after all, is the foundation of all law".The third reference is the one I will end with—because, as I have said, I have taken too much time. It comes from Toynbee's studies of history. He pointed out that if a society is to hold together it must possess a quality for which he said there was no equivalent English word, but he borrowed a label from the Arabic language. It was Casahiyyah: the quality of mutal allegiance and loyalty by which a nation can stick together. I, for want of a better expression, call it cement. That is a metaphor, but let us seek to create in our nation the quality and the institutions which those three writers can be found to have expressed—and let that be our aim in the future.
§ Baroness Trumpington
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Gowrie, I beg to move that this debate be adjourned until Tuesday next.
§ Moved, That the debate be adjourned until Tuesday next—(Baroness Trumpington.)206
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.
§ House adjourned at twelve minutes before eight o'clock.