§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, I should like to agree with one point made by the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, and the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon; that is, how much we welcome the prospect of the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mellish. The noble Lord had a distinguished career in the House of Commons and since then he has been particularly active with the London Docklands Development Corporation which has done some remarkable work in docklands and illustrates, if I may say so, how much advantage is to be gained from having a constructive relationship between the public and private sectors.
While on the subject of forthcoming speeches, I should like to refer to one speech which will be made a little later in the week; that is the speech which we shall be looking forward to hearing from the noble Earl, Lord Stockton. Our appetite for his speech has been whetted as a result of the many—to say critical observations, would be to understate the case—abusive attacks made on the noble Earl by a number of Conservative newspapers. Attacks have already been made on the noble Earl from a wide range of journalistic opinion extending from Mr. Paul Johnson to Sir John Junor. In my view it is perhaps wise for the critics of some Members of this House to be a little mort restrained. Exactly the same technique 171 was used a few weeks ago when we had a report from the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, and his colleagues, which was savagely attacked in the press even before the report itself was published. I think that the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, can look after himself, but all that such action guarantees is that there will be even more public attention focused on what the noble Earl will say to us on Thursday.
Having made those preliminary observations, I now turn to the questions involved in the debate today; namely, the area of responsibility of the Home Office and the Department of the Environment. The noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, referred to one particular Bill which the Government have already introduced in the House of Commons although, strangely enough, there is no reference to that Bill in the gracious Speech itself. I am referring to the Bill based on the interim report of the Widdicombe Committee dealing with the problem—and it is a problem—of propaganda on the rates. Undoubtedly there is an abuse of power in this connection. We have had CND propaganda on the rates; we have had thinly-disguised party newpapers on the rates; sometimes nominaly independent newspapers have received support through ratepayers' money with, in my view, serious consequences.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred to one such example when he spoke on, I think, the last day of our proceedings on the Bill to abolish the Greater London Council and the metropolitan authorities. He mentioned what I may refer to as the "Islington Gazette affair". It involved a decision taken by the local authority in Islington to try to put the Islington Gazette out of business because it had published a number of articles which it did not like. It decided to sponsor a free sheet and made substantial sums of money available for that purpose.
In July 1983 my noble friend Lord Kilmarnock and I raised this question during the Third Reading of the Local Authorities (Expenditure Powers) Bill. We pointed out that a large sum of public money was going to be committed for what were clearly political purposes and that that money could only be spent if the Bill—the Government Bill—was passed in its then form. My noble friend and I put down an amendment which would have prevented the Islington local authority from behaving in that way. What happened? The Government voted against that proposal. I have looked through the list of noble Lords opposite who voted against it. The noble Lord, Lord Denham, was a teller for the "No's". The noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, and the noble Lord, Lord Beloff—a well known hammer of the Left—went into the Lobby against an amendment which would have prevented £ 100,000 of public money from being spent for those particular purposes. Your Lordships may ask, what happened to the newspaper? Within a few months it went bankrupt.
I must say to noble Lords opposite that I hope that when they criticise Left-wing councils in the future they will use slightly more restrained language, bearing in mind that this particular item of expenditure was committed only because of votes by noble Lords in this House.
We are now to have the Bill which the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, has foreshadowed. Obviously, I do 172 not intend to discuss its precise contents today because it is being introduced in the House of Commons and, therefore, we shall have plenty of opportunity later to debate its content here. The Bill is directed at a growing abuse of power by a limited number of local authorities. It will inevitably give rise to an almost endless series of legal challenges. I have absolutely no doubt about that, having already looked at the contents of the Bill. Many of us believe that firmer action in this particular respect is indeed required. However, at the same time, we on these Benches recoil from the increasing interventionism in the affairs of local government, of which rate capping, with all its tortuous procedures, is yet another example.
But of course the central problem to which the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, referred—and I believe he was right—is created by what, 30 or 40 local authorities? These are dominated by the hard Left, as in Liverpool and in Lambeth, or where more moderate councillors weakly play to the gallery in order to achieve reselection by their ward parties. But these local authorities, although they talk as though they have a mighty mandate from the electorate, rarely do so.
Not only does only a fraction of the electorate vote, but the majority parties on these authorities normally represent only a minority of that minority. Let me take just three examples: Lambeth, Liverpool, and another local authority which has earned the censure of Ministers, Edinburgh. In Lambeth Mr. Ted Knight, who tried, as we all recall, to do a Liverpool and was forestalled by only one vote, had the support of just 33 per cent. of those who voted at the last local elections, yet he has an absolute majority on that council. In Liverpool, Mr. Hatton has an overwhelming majority on the council, yet in not one of the last three years has he secured a majority of the votes. In Edinburgh the majority party secured the support of just over 38 per cent. of those who voted, yet it obtained 54 per cent. of the seats.
None of these authorities has a real mandate for anything, yet this does not prevent them indulging in unending and remorseless confrontation with central Government. In Liverpool we are now seeing the inevitable results of a local authority which has deliberately attempted to secure its own bankruptcy. Yet the majority on all these authorities is kept there only because we have an electoral system in local government which ensures their own gross over-representation.
In the last Session I believe that the House recognised this by passing the Bill sponsored by the noble Lord, Lord Blake, to deal with this problem. It was blocked in the House of Commons, as we knew it would be, because of the agreement there between the Government and Opposition Front Benches. Yet I believe that we shall see the introduction of PR in local government in the political lifetime of many in this House today: not only because it is a fair and honest system but also because, without it, we are likely to get central Government taking more and more powers away from local government. That is the real issue before us and there is no way at all in which we can disguise the truth of that.
Now may I turn to legislation involving the Home Office. I should like to say at the outset that I do not propose to become involved in the argument about 173 Sunday trading laws. This is pre-eminently a matter for Private Members, and on this I agreed with what the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said. It is a pity that the Government have apparently decided in the House of Commons to impose some sort of Whip on that Bill.
I should like to discuss briefly the remainder of the Home Office legislation including, as it does, a new and important public order Bill and a Bill relating to drugs. Perhaps I could say by way of introduction that I hope that Parliament is going to be able to discuss these grave issues without involving itself in the shrill party point scoring which has so far characterised debate on this issue outside Parliament. I do not believe that debate of this character in any way helps the police, who have to rely on a spirit of co-operation and tolerance from the public, when central issues of law and order become the playthings of party politics.
Mr. Enoch Powell, a gentleman with whom I rarely find myself in agreement, said some wise words on this matter only this weekend. He said:I do not believe that a political party, or government, or Parliament can appreciably alter those very deep-seated factors which cause the fluctuations in public tranquility and public disorder.I believe that to be absolutely right. Of course Governments, and for that matter Oppositions, can, and often should, be criticised for their policies relating to the criminal law, or the police, or indeed the prison system. But to suggest that the return at an election of one party rather than another will lead to a massive increase, or a massive reduction, in the level of crime is palpable nonsense, and we all know that to be a fact.
Having said that, I should like to turn to two issues of importance that I want to raise. They are to some extent interrelated: they are the steadily worsening position so far as drugs are concerned, on which we are going to have a Government Bill, and secondly, the current problems facing the police service.
First, the drug situation. I believe it is the gravest single problem we are facing in the whole area of criminal justice policy. It is getting worse, and rapidly worse. We have now at least 60,000 addicts in this country, and the number is increasing the whole time.
Earlier this year, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will recall, we had a debate, and we passed a Motion on that occasion calling on the Government to take more urgent steps to deal with this situation. Certainly with the serious problem that we face I think that the Government are right to introduce this Bill involving, as it does, some of the issues thrown up by the Operation Julie case.
As Members of the House will recall this was a major lsd criminal conspiracy for which, after some distinguished work done by a number of police officers of different forces, a number of dangerous criminals were brought to book and convicted. However, as a result of the decision in your Lordships' Appeal Committee in the case of R. v. Cuthbertson, it proved impossible to forfeit the assets of those involved. The sums involved were formidable. I was told by the police at the time that probably some £6 million to £7 million were involved in that conspiracy, and clearly in a situation of the sort with which we are now confronted it is right to introduce legislation, as the Government are going to do.
174 However, I should like to ask two specific questions particularly relating to the laundering of money. First, will the banks be compelled to inform the Bank of England when very large sums of money are passed over the counter in normal trading hours? As the Government will be aware, this is the position in the United States. Any bank which receives more than 10,000 United States dollars has to inform the Inland Revenue service, the Federal Reserve system, and various other Federal agencies. In the United States this is regarded by the authorities as a most important protection. Are we going to get it in this Bill or not? Secondly, given the increasing concern as to v. hat is going on in the Channel Islands, will this Bill cover the Channel Islands, or not? Certainly it should, but no doubt we can be told whether that will be done.
Next, there is the question of resources for the law enforcement agencies. I take the Customs and Excise as an example. In the lifetime of the present Government, as I reminded the noble Lord. Lord Elton, when we had this debate earlier this year, the Government have slashed the number of officers in the Customs and Excise. They have taken great credit for this. They say that they are making major efforts to reduce the number of public servants. In some areas that may be justified, but carrying through this doctrinaire objective so far as the Customs and Excise are concerned is deeply damaging. Twenty five per cent. of uniformed Customs officers have been cut in the lifetime of this Government. Certainly there has been an increase of somewhere in the region of 250 in the plain clothes investigation branch of Customs and Excise, but there has been a major net reduction in the size of the Customs. I think that is a grave error of judgment and I hope it will be rectified.
In August, after a visit to Heathrow, the Prime Minister announced that the Customs would be given all the resources they needed. This prompted a vigorously critical editorial in the Daily Telegraph which asked: why, in that case, had they been denied the resources in the past and, in particular, why had there been this cut in the size of the Customs and Excise? Can we be told? Will the Prime Minister's words at London Airport lead to a rethinking of Government policy on this question?
Then there is the inter-related problem of the police. The last Home Secretary announced that 200 more officers would be seconded to work in regional crime squads, but what is the position in the police forces where the drug problem is at its most acute? In particular, what will be done for the Metropolitan Police? The Comissioner, Sir Kenneth Newman has made it quite clear that he needs 3,000 more officers. Again, I ask the question put by my noble friend Lord Diamond a few minutes ago: what will be done as far as the Prime Minister's pledge at the Conservative Party conference is concerned on police resources? Will the Commissioner get these resources or not? The question is important.
I do not argue that every police force in the country must have its establishment reviewed. Of course not. Every police officer costs about £20,000 or more. It would be quite irresponsible, at a time like that, to suggest that that would be the right way in which to proceed. But in London the problem is extremely serious. There are major public order commitments, 175 large-scale demonstrations that lead to divisions in the outskirts of London being stripped of their resources so that those large demonstrations can be policed. We have the constant problem of IRA and Middle East terrorism. Today, we have had yet another example of this at Chelsea Barracks: again manpower-intensive in the highest degree for the Metropolitan Police.
Then there is the diplomatic protection group and the need to defend foreign embassies in London. Again, that is a major commitment for resources. Then there is jury protection duty. Attempts have been made to tamper with juries at the Central Criminal Court. Some juries have to be protected. Each time, 72 Metropolitan Police officers are involved in protecting the jury. It is a major call on resources. Then there is the demand for more policemen in the streets. There is also the manpower implications of the passage of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act which will lead to heavy additional burdens on the police; and, finally, there is the drugs situation itself. I hope that we shall have an early unequivocal statement from the Government that there is to be a review of the Metropolitan Police establishment.
Finally, there is the very serious problem which has been alluded to already: the inner city disturbances that we have had in Brixton, Handsworth and subsequently in Tottenham, which put many people in the communities concerned in fear of their lives. Let me say at the outset that I accept at once that there are some racially prejudiced policemen. Of course there are. I also have no doubt that in some cases they misuse their authority to the disadvantage of members of ethnic minorities. I believe that exactly the same criticism can be directed at some teachers, some social workers, some local government housing administrators and, yes, some politicians as well. This does not in any way whatever make the position of the racialist policeman any more justifiable. We have to accept, however, that we live in a society that remains, tragically, significantly prejudiced. We have to recognise that reality. That is why this House thought it right to write into the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, at the prompting of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, a requirement that any such conduct of a police officer would constitute a disciplinary offence.
However, having said that, I must make it equally clear that I do not accept that every time the cry goes up that the police are guilty of harassment, that that charge is justified. In some cases allegations of just such a character are made by professional criminals, particularly those involved in the trafficking of cocaine and heroin, when the police succeed in interfering with their operations. I hope that those who are most anxious, as are all on these Benches and in the rest of the House too, I am sure, to ensure better relations between the ethnic minorities and the police, will maintain at least some element of scepticism when this charge is made.
I now turn to my final point. I do not intend today to discuss at any length the conduct of Mr. Bernie Grant and his statement after the death of a police officer and the serious injury to many others, that the police have received a "bloody good hiding". The 176 feelings of the people of Tottenham were made clear when 1,000 local government workers went on strike in protest at this statement. But this incident was, unhappily, not an isolated episode. We have had a campaign of denigration financed with public money by a network of so-called police monitoring groups and police support units, which support the police in much the same way that a rope does a hanging man. We also had that video financed by Mr. Paul Boateng and the Greater London Council. I saw it. It was a vicious piece of propaganda directed at proving that the police were for the rich and against the poor, and for the whites and against the blacks. Surely we must recognise the consequences of this flood of poisonous propaganda. If it continues at its present pace and is directed, as it is, at the ethnic minorities in our cities and the youth in our youth clubs, it will only succeed in worsening the tensions that already exist.
Surely it is the aim of all of us who cherish our democratic institutions and the liberal values of our society to do everything we can to bring to an end this destructive campaign. We must surely have one central objective: to maintain the cohesion of our society. If we fail, the price that our children will pay will be high indeed.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Lord Mellish
My Lords, this will be the second time that I have made a maiden speech in this House. The first was so lousy that this can only be an improvement.
I am proud to say that in the past four years I have been associated with the regeneration of a vast city area and have learnt a number of lessons. I want to pass them on, because we can learn from what has already been achieved. Mistakes have been made, I have no doubt, but what we have done is to the credit of the present Government and the results are there for the world to see. If there is anyone here who thinks that the story I am about to tell is just a lot of propaganda and all the rest, I beg your Lordships to come down and see for yourselves. We can certainly lay on the necessary transport so that your Lordships can come back.
Having said that, I should say that the regeneration of London docklands came about because of the decline in the London dock industry and is all part and parcel of the results of the last war. It is also part of the economic problems of our country. We have to face the fact that though Hitler bombed us fairly often, he did not bomb us all that well. When the war was over, most of our equipment was still there. Our quays were still there. Much of everything that took place in dockland was still around. A perfect example is Tooley Street, which I know so well. When it was built many years ago, it was built for one horse and cart; and here we were in the 20th century, after the war, dealing with juggernauts and trying to load and discharge ships.
The Port of London Authority in those days saw quite vividly that docklands in London, as they then were, could not compete with the outside world. It spent vast sums of money, I think some £22 million, on building up the new port at Tilbury, because of the new system that was introduced, called contain erisation. The result was that area after area of dockland fell desolate. I was an MP at the time. I had 177 been the MP for the local area for some 34 years. I felt sick at heart, because I am a Londoner and I could see not only that this dock industry was being destroyed but also that there was no future for it and that we would never return to the days when large ships came into our London ports.
Therefore, what should be done about the lands? I argued then that we should have a development corporation that would develop the whole of the entity of docklands that had fallen into disuse. That was the London docks, St. Katharine's Docks, Surrey docks and the upper pool, and later of course the Millwall docks. Coincidentally, that speech was well received. The Conservative Party, who were in power, said that that was fine. The Labour Party, who were as ever in opposition, said it was fine, too. Left and right said it was fine. Then of course the Government of the day introduced a Royal Commission. If one wants something to be stopped dead in its tracks, introduce a Royal Commission. It took three years. Perhaps I may tell your Lordships that one of the proposals it made was that the whole of the area should be a safari park. What about that from the Royal Commission?—they took years to do it! I said at the time that it was not good enough and that there were enough wild elephants where I came from without creating the need for nature conservancy.
However, they finally brought in a docklands joint committee. The committee, which was representative of the boroughs, did a fair job of work. I do not deny that; I have always said it publicly. However, it had no money and it had no real planning powers. Then Michael Heseltine brought in the London Docklands Development Corporation. It is there that I come into the picture, as it were. He offered me the vice-chairmanship. I do not know why he did that. I suppose there was a political implication, but he knew I was very keen on docklands. I took the vice-chairmanship. It was sneered at, jeered at and all the rest. However, I speak here to people I know are anxious to listen. It seemed to me that we had long passed the day of resolution-passing; we have long passed that day. People judge one for what one does. Anyone can pass a resolution; it is the easiest thing in the world. However, I was determined to get inside and try to make things happen, try to do a job of work. That is why I went in.
By the way, it came before your Lordships' House. You had a hybridity committee, as I think it is called. Lord Cross was the chairman and my noble friend Lord Underhill was a member. It took months and months to consider all the democratic objections—I suppose they were democratic. Anyway, after the committee had heard everything, it unanimously resolved that the Docklands Development Corporation should be established. It was approved in this House and in the House of Commons. I was appointed deputy chairman. From that moment onwards there was bitterness by some because I had done what I did. I had actually joined what was called the enemy. I had joined the enemy because I wanted to do a job of work. I wanted to do things inside and not pass resolutions outside. In the result, I took this job.
Let me put it to your Lordships that the first thing I was determined to do was to take control of housing. Having been an MP for 37 years, I knew that there was 178 a burning desire among people I then represented to own their own houses. Why in heaven's name we have not made that part of the Labour Party programme I shall never know. Just under the surface, the people are crying out to buy their own homes, provided that the amount they pay for the houses is reasonable and that they can obtain a 100 per cent. mortage. I came from an area where there was 97 per cent. of borough council housing. There cannot be much more than that, can there? The young couples in the borough had no hope at all, other than going on a waiting list I am making a maiden speech so I shall say nothing about the local authority except that there is no house building of any kind that is private, for people to buy. So I decided to introduce this policy of building homes for sale.
I have to say to your Lordships that I have never known a policy to be so successful. We started in Beckton, and people queued up to buy. We insisted—I personally insisted—that houses should be built at a price of not more than £40,000 and that a 100 per cent. mortgage should be available where possible. I shall give one illustration. In Rotherhithe, the area from which I came—many of your Lordships will know it is a very deprived area—there was a site for 60 houses to be built below £40,000. The builders were instructed that for the first month priority for sale should be given to local people. If people produced a borough council rent book, that would be the entree for them to buy their own homes. The builders jumped the gun. They actually put an advertisement in the newspaper saying that they were going to build these houses. They did not have any house; all they had was a mobile on the site. That advertisement was in the local press on a Friday. They said to borough council tenants on Friday night, "If you come on Saturday morning with your rent book, and if you wish to have one of the houses that we are to build months ahead, then your name will be recorded". That was on Friday, and they said, "Come tomorrow morning, on Saturday". On the Friday evening I had a telephone call from the police. They said, "You had better come down to the site. There is a lot of trouble down there". I said, "What kind of trouble?" I got into my car and went. About 380 families had queued up all night to buy their own homes in their own borough. What about that? Are we turning our back on that? This is the key, this is what our people want. I pushed forward with that policy with everything that I had.
Today I have to tell the House with some pride that we have built over 7,000 homes. The vast majority have been built for sale and have been bought. With everything that we have built, we have tried desperately hard to ensure that the price is right. That is the key. I read in the press, including another article in the Guardian this morning, about penthouses for £100,000 in dockland. That is far out of the range of ordinary people who live there. Of course there are one or two penthouses there, but we did not build them; they have nothing to do with us. The press know that and the BBC know it. They have never troubled to ask us. Oh no; they went to the entrepreneurs who had the land themselves and built their own places. They went there but they never came to us to find out that the vast majority of housing that we have built is, as I say, under £40,000. That really is the key. Thus, over 7,000 houses have been built.
179 Remember what we inherited, my Lords. We bought it from the PLA because after all we are good democrats: we do not confiscate, we compensate. We took over this property. I can tell your Lordships that this was the magnitude of the task. There were 8½ square miles of desolation and 52 miles of river. There were no roads, no sewers, no electricity and no gas of any kind. We had the guts to face up and do it. After years and years, all people had ever done was to pass resolutions.
Thus we can say this today with a little pride. We paid vast sums of money, Government money which we used in the first instance—and I pay public tribute to Michael Heseltine for the fact that he made sure that we had the money to start it off. We have spent something in the region of £140 million of Government money in making this land possible for redevelopment. However, you know what private enterprise has done. It has spent, eight, nine or 10 times that amount of its money. Here is the key. If you open the door with Government money, you make private enterprise spend its own cash and produce the very state of society for which we are crying out.
I live in a world where resolutions, as I say, have been the key in the past. However, I have always tried for years to be sensible and say that the fact is that we live in a mixed economy. There are two sectors: the public sector and the private sector. The most important sector of all, whether we like it or not, is the private sector. If it fails, then Britain fails. If it fails, we do not get any taxes from which we can pay the dole, social welfare benefits and the rest. One taxes their profits, and one has a measure of control over them.
Thus from the very beginning I saw that Docklands could be the place where private enterprise could develop in such a form that private enterprise would gain from it, and so would the nation. And now we are gaining. Land values have gone up five, six, seven times. What was £58,000 an acre is now £380,000 an acre and private enterprise firms are paying it. They are paying it willingly and gladly. It has a big impact, of course, on our rent position for the houses that are built; but one can say that it was determined and I had no trouble at all, for the board readily agreed to the proposal that we should plough the profits that we had made out of the sale of land back into the public housing. It is very simple; there is nothing very difficult about it. All you do is to give an interest-free loan up to £10,000 on the sale of a house, which is not repayable until the house is resold, so, in the case of a £40,000 house, for instance, its sale value is £50,000 and you let the customers have £10,000 on loan and do not ask for that back unless they sell. You have given them that £10,000 out of your profit. So you see what you can do! And they are cute enough to take advantage of it.
Leverage is the point that I want to stres—the leverage of Government money being spent to make private enterprise spend its money. On housing, something in the region of £5 millions of private-enterprise money is being spent for every £1 million that the Government have spent. On the commercial front, it is between £10 million and £14 million. For every £1 million that we have spent, private firms have spent £14 million or £15 million of their money. I can 180 only say that from that we have got a sports arena and the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, a Member of this distinguished House, is the chairman of the body that set it up. It is going to be the finest sports arena in the whole of Europe. We have a light railway that is going to come from every Underground station into the heart of Docklands.
We have—though this is outside my ambit; I am no longer there; I left them in June—the £l½ million scheme of the Canary Wharf. What have we learned from this story? What are the Government going to do to continue stories of this kind? This is surely the right way to spend money: to spend money to encourage private enterprise to spend their money and eventually you make a profit out of private enterprise in the land that you sell them in the increased prices. So I ask the House to ensure that in whatever deliberations we may have—and I am certainly not making a party political speech here—
§ Lord Mellish
Well, my Lords, I am not. Believe it or not, I am not. If I wanted to make a party political speech, you watch me go! And not necessarily the same party, either.
I say to your Lordships that, of course, there have been mistakes made. We are accused often that we do not have the relationship with the local people, the people who live there, that we might have had. We set up a liaison office and a liaison team and we have spent a great deal of money ensuring that these people are in daily contact with the Church leaders, with the community associations and the like; and it is working.
The people who get the publicity, of course, are those people you cannot satisfy anyway. Whatever you do, they sneer and jeer at you. They are called professionals. I would not buy their goods! They are professional moaners and groaners, the people who pass resolutions. If you want an increase in the old age pension, ask that lot! They will get it for you overnight simply by moving it, seconding it and agreeing it—finished! The fact is that if you say to them, "Where are you going to get the money from to do it", they reply, "There he goes. He's a right-wing fascist".
I say to your Lordships that we have learned from what we have experienced and there is much to be done. I beg those of your Lordships who do not believe this story that I have told of what is going on there to believe it to be the jewel in the crown not only of this Government but of future governments. If we can get our control, get our hands, on the Royal Docks, as I think we shall, then that will be an even bigger jewel. And if this stupid Treasury does not make it possible quickly for the London Docklands Development Corporation to take it over lock, stock and barrel, they are even sillier than I give them credit for. So I end on this note and thank your Lordships for being so kind as to have listened to me.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
My Lords, I have nobody jealous of me this afternoon, for I think I have the most difficult job of all in endeavouring adequately to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, on his 181 fascinating speech. I congratulate him on this because I happen to know, and recently have been to, the area that he has been telling us about. I should like to congratulate him not only on his imagination as the vice-chairman of the London Docklands Development Corporation but also on the sound common sense of his speech this afternoon, I should like perhaps to encourage any noble Lord who has not been down to Docklands to go to see for himself what is happening because it is now a different world altogether. I was enormously impressed when I took my grandson there last summer to go windsurfing on one of those stretches of water. I hope that we shall hear from the noble Lord many' times in the future.
I should like also to congratulate my noble friends Lord Middleton and Lady Lane-Fox on their speeches on the gracious Speech. Perhaps they will forgive me if I do not elaborate because we have a long list of speakers this afternoon and I want to say only a few words. The gracious Speech I welcome almost in its entirety. I will not, as I should have liked to do, speak about law and order or about drugs, although, as perhaps some noble Lords will know, those subjects are rather dear to me.
However, I should like to refer to two other subjects which were briefly mentioned in the gracious Speech—unemployment and housing. This is because I maintain that these two subjects are very closely related. I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Young on the efforts that he is making and has made in the past on training for young people and now, as we hear in his statement today, for the older people, efforts which in the future will lead to better unemployment figures.
The gracious Speech talked about creating new jobs which, of course, we would all welcome; but we must fill the present vacancies. In answer to a supplementary question of mine, the noble Lord told us that only one-third of the job vacancies are advertised in the Jobcentres. This is where young people normally go to try to find employment. If only one-third of the vacancies are advertised in the Jobcentres, then how are they to find, other than perhaps through the local press, the remainder of the job vacancies? I am hoping that the noble Lord will use his persuasion on employers to advertise their future vacancies at the Jobcentres.
We hear that young people do not want jobs and do not want to work. If the media say that often enough, the young people will believe that it is true. It is not true. But my fear is that many young people today will never have the satisfaction of working and earning money; and the habit of being unemployed will, unfortunately, be part of their lives. I have three illustrations to give to your Lordships and I hope that I shall not take long; but within the last fortnight, I have heard of them and know of them personally. The first concerns an area of high employment where some specialised people were required to work in a factory. They could not be recruited so the employers advertised in the north. Many people came down for the few vacancies that were available. The employers welcomed them with open arms and almost signed their contacts. But the people concerned went to try to find somewhere to live; and there was nowhere at all to live. Therefore they had to go back to the north 182 without jobs, and back on to the unemployment register. One involved a family with two small children.
The second case concerned a man who until recently—six weeks ago to be exact—had been in custody in one of Her Majesty's prisons, and had been released in the north. He had of course been given a small amount of money to tide him over, but he was a rolling stone. He had been married and divorced; he had no parents and had never stayed long in any particular part of the country; and so he came south to try to find work. He was given a job at once—this is a man of 47—with a very good salary. It was very good work although he had very little experience in that particular type of work. He then went to try to find somewhere to live, and he could not. He could not find anywhere at all; and so he had to tell the employer that there was nowhere available in the vicinity.
The third example concerns two young people who came down two nights ago from the north, hoping to find work. They had very little money; they were not able to go on supplementary benefit; and they are of course living in very, very temporary and not very nice accommodation. They cannot get work because they have no fixed abode.
The two last cases do not qualify for supplementary benefit at all. Both are caught in the single homeless trap, because without a job or money they cannot secure accommodation. Money is demanded in advance for accommodation and payment for work, as we all know, is made in arrears. Supplementary benefit is not enough, and I think I must say that advisedly. It is not really enough to keep young people, and certainly not older people, in any kind of living such as perhaps most of your Lordships know. The average paid by the state is £5 per day for bed and breakfast. The average for living expenses is £4.50. Living expenses have to cover all food except a very "mingy" breakfast. What happens when they have to go to the launderette, or when they need a new pair of shoes? What happens when, occasionally, they need to get a warmer coat for the winter? They have to save up out of the £4.50 a day.
The accommodation that is offered varies enormously from so-called hotels—and how people have the nerve to call them hotels, I do not know—hostels, bed-and-breakfast accommodation to dosshouses. The great variety of cleanliness has to be seen to be believed, apart from often having to share accommodation with strangers. One has to agree, I think, that sometimes a cardboard box underneath a station arch is at least your own and it is private.
However, I should like to congratulate the Government on encouraging home ownership, as the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, has reminded us. That is right thinking and it is everybody's dream; but our world at this present time is not Utopia. My noble friend Lord Glenarthur told us that 870,000 council homes have been sold since 1979. But local authorities can keep only 20 per cent. of the purchase price. I should like to see that 20 per cent. kept by the local authorities, with a proviso that it should be used for housing. There are 376,000 single people on the council waiting lists, and many boroughs have restrictions against single people. Only 26 authorities have purpose-built accomodation for young single people, or indeed for single people of any age. Of those 183 needing homes, 20 per cent. need rented accommodation for various reasons. Although Utopia might well be owning your own house, people need rented accommodation because they are changing their jobs or trying to find a job and, unless the job is secure surely nobody is going in for a mortgage. Therefore rented accommodation is what is needed. In my view, the Rent Act needs revision because it does not seem to be working adequately and it is often unfair to both landlord and tenant.
Some noble Lords may know that I have a particular interest in the voluntary side of trying to help those who have no homes. I should like to pay a very sincere tribute to so many of the agencies in our inner cities, and certainly in London, who go out of their way voluntarily to help those who are without homes. Those of us who try in this field were enormously heartened and encouraged when we learned that His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales has been on, I gather, a clandestine visit to some parts and some of the agencies who look after these people. His encouragement and interest will, I know, be of enormous benefit to those who are working in this field and also to those who have the benefit of their help. There are so many of them that I will mention only the Piccadilly Advice Centre, Shelter and CHAR. That is just a few.
I should like to close by saying that in my view—and I hope that perhaps my noble friend the Minister will agree with me—unemployment is related to housing and that the jobless are prepared to get on their bikes if adequate housing in available. I hope the Government will see that there is a rapid improvement in the effort to meet this vital need.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of London
My Lords, I am very glad to be able to add my congratulations to those of the noble Baroness to the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, for his maiden speech. Other have already spoken of the experience that he brings to your Lordships' House. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, I have seen at first hand something of what he has achieved in the docklands area; and it is very remarkable. His speech today has shown that the House will benefit greatly from that experience, and will enjoy doing so. We shall listen to his wisdom, and may I say his enthusiasm, with attention and respect on future occasions, which I hope will be frequent.
I should like to have been able to speak today about housing needs, the urgency of which is borne in upon me every day. But I must confine myself this evening to speaking briefly on one matter: namely, the intention of the Government, as stated in the gracious Speech, to introduce a Bill to remove statutory restrictions on shop opening hours. As your Lordships know, that innocuous-sounding phrase covers action on a very controversial subject of great common concern not merely to Christians but to society as a whole: namely, Sunday trading.
I do not propose today to go into detail. The time for that will come when the Bill is before us. I want to say something at this stage about the kind of legislation which is proposed and the background against which 184 it will take place. I take it for granted that the Bill will follow the recommendations of the Auld Committee. That body was set up,to consider what changes are needed in the Shops Act.However, instead of proposed changes which would improve the law, the committee recommended the abolition of all restrictions on trading hours—Sunday trading included.
No one would, I believe, dispute the need for the present law to be amended. It is ambiguous, illogical and at times ridiculous; as for example when it allows a Cathedral shop to open on Sunday but not to sell a Bible. It is often stated that it is widely broken, but I would question whether the facts bear that out. A survey of 12,000 shops in 44 town and city centres revealed that only 8 per cent. were open on Sunday mornings and of those only 2.1 per cent. were open to sell items not permitted by the law. I do not think that can be called evidence of widespread infringement or failure of enforcement.
It is the judgment of many, which I share, that the evidence submitted to the committee did not warrant its recommendation of total abolition. The examination of other possibilities was not adequately considered. In 10 countries there is legislation restricting Sunday trading where it is demonstrably shown that such legislation is possible, can be enacted and enforced. The main argument against a reform of the law seems to be that it would be complex. The administration and enforcement of, say, VAT or income tax is complex; but I have not heard of any proposal of this Government to abolish either of them on those grounds.
It is the proposal for total abolition which is particularly disturbing and against which the great majority of opposition is directed. A leader in a newspaper last Sunday referred to opposition by Sabbatarians and trade unionists. I am not a Sabbatarian and I am not a trade unionist. The opposition is not confined to them. The list of those who oppose total abolition—and I want to emphasise that it is the total abolition of all restrictions which I am opposing—is impressive. Why?
It covers a large cross-section of society. Within the churches, as your Lordships might expect, there is a remarkable degree of unanimity on this matter. There is the British Council of Churches, the British Evangelical Council and the Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. The Church of England, by an almost unanimous vote—miraculous, I suppose—has stated its opposition to total abolition. Then there is the Evangelical Alliance, the Free Church Federal Council and the Salvation Army. Those bodies cover the widest spectrum of Christian opinion in this country.
I shall not bore your Lordships by reading out the whole list of bodies which have opposed total abolition, but some of them are: the Retail Consortium, the National Chamber of Trade, the Association of Independent Retailers, the co-operative movement, the John Lewis Partnership, Marks and Spencer, the House of Fraser, Boots, Spar and Bejam. One could go on. These are not irresponsible, small concerns. I believe that the list of those who oppose this proposal is impressive.
185 Those who support the proposals often seek to discount the opposition by saying that it represents doctrinaire or vested interests, to which I reply, first, that such a charge is not made against those who are pressing for the change. It is difficult to discern just where the pressure comes from, but it seems that the greatest pressure comes from out-of-town, super-store traders who cannot themselves be regarded as disinterested. They are not doing it for the fun of it. Secondly, I would say that an interest gives a right to speak. If those who have no interest seek to intervene, they will properly be told that they do not possess the experience or expertise to do so.
As I say, my main concern is the proposal for total abolition which would, I believe, have a profound, far-reaching and irreversible effect upon our society. As I have said on other occasions in this House, the effect of liberalising legislation is seldom, if ever, what its initiators imagine it will be or desire. For example, one has only to look at the legislation on divorce.
Those introducing the Bill have professed the most laudable intentions, such as to encourage the stability of marriage, only to lament after some years, as some have done to me personally, at the result which the legislation has, in fact, had. In that case it has resulted, in effect, in divorce by post on demand; a steep rise in the divorce rate; the unnecessary break-up of many marriages and untold misery to thousands of children. The way in which the abortion law has come to be used is another example. Liberalising legislation is often necessary, but a little at a time is the best policy so that its effects can be assessed and mistakes avoided, and I believe that that is the right solution in this case.
When the Minister spoke of freedoms, I could only reflect on the truth that one person's freedom often involves another person's oppression. I believe that great care is needed in this matter to consider the way in which the rights—the proper rights—of people would be infringed by freedom being given in particular respects to others.
Members of the Government have spoken about the need to restore and retain values and standards over the years. The Prime Minister herself, in her foreword to the Conservative Party manifesto in 1983, said:How to defend our traditional liberties and distinctive way of life is the most vital decision that faces the people at this election".Frankly, my Lords, some of us do not feel that those words are matched by this proposed legislation. I believe that its effect would be incalculable and cannot be wholly foreseen.
As a Christian, I believe, of course, that Sunday should be preserved as a distinctive and special day. It is not right for Christians to seek to impose their views on others who do not share their belief—that is not God's way—but when they believe that a Christian position embodies something which reflects a fundamental need for men and women, and for society, they have a duty to try to persuade others.
I believe that, in addition to its Christian meaning and significance, the observance of Sunday as a day different from the rest reflects a basic need for individuals and society to have a rhythm of fife, a rhythm which is corporately recognised by a day primarily set apart for rest, recreation, leisure and worship—a day set apart for reflection and the deepening of personal 186 relationships within families. To abolish that rhythm would, I believe, be but another step in the process of replacing the traditional Judaeo-Christian world view, which has undergirded our civilisation, by one which is essentially materialistic.
I hope that the debate on this matter may serve to emphasise that the Christian understanding of Sunday is traditionally positive and life-affirming, and is not to be identified with a negative and restricted Sabbatarianism—an attitude which I might also add, as I know from my Jewish friends, does not reflect the Jewish view of the Sabbath.
There are many sound reasons against total deregulation which I shall want to develop at the appropriate time: theological, economic, social and ideological. There are also practical reasons which, I believe, have not yet been appreciated. Yesterday, for example, I was talking to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. We were discussing his problems of resources and staffing. I should like very much to support what the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, said a few moments ago about the needs of the Metropolitan Police. The Commissioner said to me—I asked if I might repeat these words today—that Sunday gives him valuable relief in the use of his resources and staff, enabling them to be used more effectively during the rest of the week. It is relief that would no longer be available if Sunday were to become like any other day. There are practical issues such as this which, I believe, have not yet been considered.
The noble Lord, the Minister, argued from Scotland's experience in favour of total deregulation. But he has, on his own admission, accepted, by and large, the Auld report. I would remind him that the Auld Committee states that Scotland is an unreliable guide for illustrating what may happen here. There are, I believe, viable alternatives to total abolition. These might include a turnover ceiling such as operates for VAT to limit the size of businesses which can open on a Sunday, a revised list of exempt goods, simpler and more effective enforcement procedures, the retention of special provision for holiday resorts and an extension of the provision for ethnic minorities. I do not believe that those have been adequately or properly considered.
I understand that the Bill is likely to be introduced into this House. I much hope that the Government will not make it a party issue subject to the Whips, and I would wish to endorse most warmly what the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said in that respect. I hope that your Lordships will be able to debate the Bill on its merits and judge what is in the best interests of our country as a whole.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, I join in the tributes paid to the noble Lord, Lord Mellish. He has rendered immense service to the Labour Party in past years, whatever the angle from which he now approaches politics. He is sitting in a fairly equivocal position this afternoon, in a seat usually occupied by the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell. So there is plenty of hope for him yet.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, whatever the angle from which the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, approaches matters, he will always be revered in the Labour Party in view of all that he has done for the party and, may I add, within his own religious communion, although it will perhaps not help him if I say too much about that. Certainly, he has delighted everyone this afternoon.
I should like to support the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London in what he said about Sunday trading. It was an immensely weighty speech, intended to reach far and wide. I am sure that it will be studied very carefully. In the absence of any direct instructions from the Pope, which are perhaps not very likely, I feel free to follow my own conscience. My conscience will lead me into any Lobby that is, on this occasion, promoted by the right reverend Prelate.
I should like to deal with certain penal matters, following up what was said very cogently, as so often, by my noble friend Lord Mishcon. We are told that the Conservative Party hopes to make a great deal of play with the law and order issue. That party's opponents do not hesitate to point out that the words should stick in its mouth as, in the last six years, under Conservative rule, crime has increased by 40 per cent. I shall, however, leave over those debating issues for the moment, and look at matters with the perspective of someone who has been involved with prisoners for close on 50 years.
There are two points that I should make in advance. I agree entirely with what was said by my noble friend Lord Mishcon, by the Minister, by Lord Harris, and, really, by everyone, that we must all be behind the police. I hope that that is taken for granted. In case, however, anyone has any doubts about whether you can be friendly or sympathetic towards convicted persons and also a firm supporter of the police, I want to disabuse them of the idea that there could be such a conflict.
I should also like to call the attention of noble Lords, more for the record than for anything else, to the fact that Home Office research has proved beyond question that long sentences are not an effective deterrent. They are no more an effective deterrent than short sentences. I hope therefore that when we talk about law and order, we shall not begin to say that, in view of increased crime, all we have to do is to increase sentences. That has been the policy, I am afraid, promulgated by the last Home Secretary, Mr. Leon Brittan. And look where that has got us. Let us look at the last two years of that policy. I am not saying that it is post hoc propter hoc but, at any rate, you have had stiffer sentences and you have an unprecedented increase in crime.
About 25 years ago, I wrote a small book about the idea of punishment. I shall not weary your Lordships by repeating any of it, except to say that I distinguished the well-known elements in a just sentence—deterrence, prevention, which people now call containment, reform and retribution. That is all very well in an academic kind of way. Since then—in the last 25 years—we have seen important developments. On the one hand, criminology in this country has expanded out of all recognition. If I remember rightly, at the time of my book, or just before then, there were only three criminologists in this country, all of them, 188 as it happens, refugees. Now you can hardly move a yard in any university without running into a criminologist, and possibly more than one. I hope that we have benefited from their wisdom.
There has been a great development in the attempt to understand the criminal mind. I would think that Christians, with their traditional approach to love of their neighbour, will have benefited from those discoveries. At the same time, however, crime has more than doubled, and public hostility towards criminals has undoubtedly and understandably expanded. No one can deny that; it is a fact. The press, or, at any rate, certain elements in the popular press, have exploited that potential hostility among the public in a most evil fashion. I do not think that anything can be said that is too nasty and too censorious about the behaviour of certain elements of the press in discussing these matters.
However, be that as it may, we have now a new Home Secretary. He has a very grim task. I heard him speak the other day when he gave the annual lecture to the New Bridge for Ex-Prisoners, the association of which my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs is chairman and I am president. He made a very able speech. His speech was so able that I thought he must be a Wykehamist. I looked up the details and found that he was at Eton. I speak as a lapsed old Etonian who sent four sons elsewhere. He is a scholar, of course, but still an old Etonian. What impressed me even more was that he won the highest academic distinction that one can win at Eton—the Newcastle Scholaship which, among public men, is a feat only achieved, I believe, by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. At any rate, there he is—a very distinguished old Etonian facing this herculean task. I was very much impressed.
What is it reasonable to expect of him? He is surely well aware of all the familiar arguments which have been deployed many times in this House, not least by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and also by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, sitting so close to me at the moment. The arguments have been deployed for making far less use of imprisonment and far more use of alternative remedies which are far more economic, far more humane and far more constructive. The United Kingdom has sent more people to prison this year, both in absolute numbers and relative to population, than has any other major west European country. Our readiness to gaol offenders has increased over the past decade, and keeping someone in prison for three weeks costs more than supervising him on probation or community service for a whole year. In fact, it costs around £12,000 to keep a person in prison for one year.
Points of that kind have been made often in this House but they have so far fallen on deaf ears. The two very able ministers who have the task of replying to debates on this subject—the noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Glenarthur—never have been able to refute such contentions. They do the best they can, however, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will do so again today. In fact, the Government are pursuing the opposite policy. Dependence on the prison service in real terms will be nearly 7 per cent. more in 1986–87 than it was three years ago. Dependence on the probation service will be less in real terms by 1.2 per cent. Thus we are expanding expenditure on prison 189 building and cutting down in real terms expenditure on the probation service. If one is to go in for alternative remedies of any kind, it means work in the community under supervision, which in turn requires expansion of this probation service. I submit that the Government are pursuing exactly the wrong course and have been doing so for some years. That is the situation which the new Home Secretary finds in front of him.
I hope and pray that the Home Secretary, with his fine intellect and integrity, will say to himself, "We're moving along the wrong lines". Of course he will not say anything as blunt as that or reverse the engines as quickly as one might wish. However, I hope that during his tenure of office, which may last two years or so, he will go down in history as someone who, at the eleventh hour, saw the wisdom of reversing the policy of his immediate predecessors.
The right honourable gentleman the Home Secretary, in a fine speech the other day in another place, pointed to the long-term answer: an improvement in public morals and particularly a strengthening of the family and a greater sense of self-discipline. With those sentiments I entirely agree, and I am sure that, coming from him, they are the genuine aspirations of the Government. However, whatever may happen in the future, this Government will remain in power for a further two or three years. In that time, they must either decide whether they will pursue the appalling course which they have been pursuing hitherto or realise that there can be no justification for treating thousands of human beings as they are being treated at the present time in our prison system.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, I too will begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, on a typical speech. It was practical—not modest, but very much to the point. I am certain that we will hear very much more from him. I liked his speech. The broad grins on the faces of noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite showed that they were paying particular attention to the noble Lord's praise for private enterprise. We on these Benches shared in their appreciation of those remarks, but I must point out that the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, was praising co operation between the Government and private enterprise in a mixed economy. The Government may slowly be learning a lesson. I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Young, is to give an extra few million pounds to the tourist industry to prime the pump, which is something he steadfastly refused to do when asked by me in a debate some time ago. Perhaps the Government are improving; goodness knows, they have plenty of room for improvement.
I was a little worried by the description of today's debate on the gracious Speech as, home and environmental affairs: I was told that agriculture comes into that category. It may well do so. I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is here, because he has seen my farm and therefore knows what good farming is like. However, I hope that the Government do not intend to write off agriculture as an environmental matter. In this country, agriculture still produces 70 per cent. of our food and has saved Britain, since we 190 joined the Common Market, some £2,000 million a year in imports. Agriculture is very much an economic matter.
I know that we are now producing too much in the EC, but agriculture is still not an industry to write off as an environmental matter. It is of enormous importance to the economy, and together with its directly-related industries, employs more than 1 million people. It makes a big contribution to the economy. I hope that agriculture will not be regarded as an industry which, without any encouragement, can produce the food required and therefore be thought of as an environmental body to improve the whole of the countryside, not for economic benefit but for the enjoyment of people from the towns—though that is of course a factor in the countryside and it is a role that farming welcomes and always has done.
A large part of the Government's work during this Session will be concerned with improving the CAP. It was highly significant that in his excellent maiden speech the noble Lord, Lord Forres, who came to your Lordships' House all the way from Australia, described the harm which the export of surpluses is causing to Australia. It is doing even more harm to New Zealand, which is much more dependent upon agriculture. When we joined the Community, we were careful to give assurances of entry into this country of certain tonnages of butter from New Zealand, and that has been continued. The same is true of lamb.
However, we told New Zealand at the time that it should go away and find fresh markets in all the growing communities throughout the world, and it has done so. But we in the CAP are now undermining those markets. New Zealand has a free economy and there can be no subsidy to agriculture in New Zealand, which is a major exporter. We are now undermining the efforts which New Zealand made at our behest when we joined the EC. This is a serious situation and it is one that we should do more about.
In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Forres, the Minister said that the Government believed it was wrong for agriculture to swallow more than 70 per cent. of the fund and that they had been working to reduce costs and surpluses. The Government will have to work a great deal harder to do so and to win more sympathy from the other countries in the EC. Our major preoccupation—and we fought like a tiger, or tigress, for it—has been to reduce our contribution. That has been the main aim of this Government over the past four or five years. However, the aim should really be at co-operation and at pointing out to the farming populations and farming ministers in the other countries of the Community that if they continue filling the stalls with grain and butter that no one wants, and then exporting it and ruining other people's markets, both the costs and the storage of those surpluses will bust the whole system and may well bust the EC itself.
We need to make a much greater effort than that which we have put in to try to achieve a solution to this problem. And, for goodness sake, let it not be a quota solution. I know that my noble friend Lord Walston, who happily is not in his place, is for quotas, but the lesson of quotas can surely be seen in the milk quotas which we have just now. They have so depressed 191 production in this country that the import of German cheddar has risen by 40 per cent. since quotas were introduced. Factories belonging to the Milk Marketing Board are lying empty or are under-used because not enough milk is being produced. There is no question but that a sensible price policy is what the Government must strive to achieve. It cannot be done all at once, and certainly the subsidies must continue for a while. They may even get worse, with a certain amount of price reduction; but if we do strive for a price policy then at least we shall have a sensible agricultural industry instead of an ossified system, which is what one has with quotas. On our present experience quotas do great harm to the ancillary industries and to the take-up of food on our home market.
The Government's main task—because the CAP is what matters most to agriculture—is to introduce a Bill to make agriculture pay for advice and for research, and to make the industry pay for the bulk, or a large part, of the money spent. I have no objection to that. I do not think anyone in the industry has any objection. I am glad to see that in the Bill the Government say that a charge for advice may, or may not, be made. However, I believe that we must end the uncertainty; so I am glad the Bill has been brought forward.
The Government must consider what they are to do in the upland areas. If the surpluses make us take out of production 20 per cent. of the land—that is the possible figure—then one must do something with it. If one lets it become a desert then the environment suffers. One must consider the people for whom the countryside is enjoyable. Most people who think about it are agreed that we must give extra help to the less favoured areas. The places where farmers must have advice and research are the less favoured areas.
If one takes a body like the North of Scotland College of Agriculture—indeed, the East and the West colleges; all three colleges which are concerned with advice in the Highlands—then the present uncertainty and feeling of malaise is doing enormous harm. The professor of agriculture at Aberdeen is going to another job. I know that two or three good people in the East of Scotland College have gone into commerce. The sooner we realise that advice and research is essential, and that long-term advice and research is essential, the better. I believe that the report of the Agricultural Research Council has done a great deal of good; and we cannot let things go on being ossified in research, as in anything else. The Government must make up their mind on what to do and should inform people of their future so as to end the uncertainty.
We talk about paying for improving the environment and giving grants of, for example, 30 per cent. for building stone walls, planting shelter belts and hedges, and up to 50 per cent. or 60 per cent. in the less favoured areas. If you want to get anything done in a poverty-stricken agricultural area in the Highlands—which I mention because it is the area I know best—it is no good reducing commercial income and paying a third of the cost of building a stone wall. What you need to do is what the Crofters Commission does and pay 99.9 per cent. You will then get environmental improvement. You cannot expect a man with 192 a small income to spend two-thirds of his own money on improving the environment.
As regards forestry, at present the Treasury loses a great deal of money by encouraging people who pay a lot of tax to plant trees. They plant trees, but not in the best possible way. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, is not in his place so I can say that I do not think that the Economic Forestry Group is, for example, as good for the countryside as it could be. A lot of planting has been done and it is good at it, but why should only rich men in large groups plant trees? They do so in order to avoid tax, and it is a good thing for the country that we have trees; but surely we should be encouraging the farmers in those areas to plant the trees which we desperately need. After all, we are shorter of wood than we are of any of our imports.
The Forestry Commission grants are enormously helpful but they do not provide any income. It should be possible to work out some form of loan scheme so that a small farmer planting trees and looking after them could have an income. The Government would have the security of the trees. That sort of scheme is needed to give a positive, not a negative, incentive, if one is to get the hard-hit farmers in the upland areas or the less favoured areas to assist in improving and maintaining the environment.
There are many other agricultural factors which will come up in this Session, but I think that the main tasks are to see that we obtain a practical improvement in the CAP, to ensure that the CAP lasts and does not blow up, and that we have a much more practical approach to environmental planting and improvement by the farming community.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Lord Mancroft
My Lords, time marches on and there are 27 names on the list of speakers so I shall be brief and confine myself to one subject only; that is, the proposed Bill to prohibit outrageous fortunes being made on the profits from drugs and their associated evils. I was glad to hear my noble friend Lord Glenarthur touch upon this subject in such positive terms when introducing the debate today. I also congratulate the Government on the vigour with which they have been trying to cope with this problem during the past years.
Five years ago it would have been unthinkable to hear drugs mentioned in the gracious Speech; but this has now trickled into an enormous danger, one of which the Government and the public are becoming fully aware. It is a Bill which would be very well introduced into your Lordships' House where the subject is all too painfully familiar. To say that one welcomes such a horrible subject is a misuse in terms, but it is obviously time that we tackled it as strongly as we possibly can.
I congratulate the Government on what they have already done. I do not think they have been given full credit. The work done by the police, Customs, the coastguard service and Interpol (it is an international matter), the airlines and, most of all, the public—because it is something with which the public are concerned—has been considerable. Some of the successes have been spectacular. Unfortunately, we are always told that this is only the tip of the iceberg. 193 If we have greater success and a greater tip of the iceberg it is inevitable that the iceberg is getting bigger. That, alas, is the case; hence the need for this Bill.
We have only a rough idea of what the Bill will contain but it will require very careful drafting. I hope that my noble friend and his colleagues will realise the trouble that other countries have run into in trying to deal with this problem. As I said, it is an international problem. I know that Government Ministers and their advisers have been abroad and studied the problem elsewhere. I hope they will continue that good work and study the trouble which other countries have met. For example, in America the Mafia has driven a coach and horses through similar legislation. We have heard the word "laundering" mentioned. It is the easiest thing possible, once you realise the police are on your trail, for your evil money to be laundered, passed down the line until it gets into the hands of Uncle Tom Cobbleigh, who is harmless, and then to some foreign offshore island.
We shall hear more complaints, too, about the shifting of the burden of proof and that a man has to prove that he has come by his money innocently before the state proves that he came by it guiltily. That is stiff talking but it has been done in other legislation, and in other countries. We have survived to tell the tale. I hope that my noble friend and his colleagues will not be put off. We have been told also that these are draconian measures. I wish that people who talk about draconian measures would have a look at what the unspeakable Draco did in Athens in 612 BC. He makes our own beloved Judge Jeffreys look like a sloppy do-gooder. Pretty well everything he introduced was followed by the death penalty.
I am not one of those who propose that that should be the case—I observe that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has left his place but I am certain that he would join me in that sentiment—but we do require what are called draconian measures. We have become a little anxious about some of the odd things that juries have been doing of late; we have become anxious about some of the very slack sentences that appear to have been given and the ease with which people get off on appeal. The public are getting worried about this and the Government are well aware of it. I am not suggesting that we should in any way upset the jury system, in which I have great belief, but people are becoming a little worried.
Your Lordships will have noticed the sentences meted out by Judge Argyll in the recent horrible case involving the Henry J. Bean public house in the King's Road. I regard with slightly mixed feelings the fact that the back door of that public house is next door to my own back door—but the sentences meted out by Judge Argyll would have been greeted with a howl of abuse some 5 years ago, whereas now they have received almost complete and universal approval.
The next point that I hope the noble Lord will look at abroad is the damage which may be done to people who are eventually found innocent after perhaps a year's investigation and who then find that during the course of that year they have not won many friends, nor influenced many people and that their career is ruined. That is the price you have to pay if you move in this world—perhaps I should not say "you" but "one"—because you are judged nowadays not just by 194 the company you keep but by the company you keep away from. I think that is something which those who wish to get mixed up in this hideous market should remember. So I welcome this Bill.
I ask your Lordships to remember that there is another completely different side to the problem, which is the police side, and that there is also the remedial and rehabilitation side. Here we have some confusion because there are two government departments concerned: one is the Home Office and the other is the DHSS. They have taken this matter very seriously. I hope that they will continue to do so and that they will look at what other countries are doing.
Your Lordships will notice that I do not use the word "cure". One must not use the word "cure" for this dreadful evil of drugs. People are helped to live with it and are pointed in the right direction, but the word "cure" is not used. I am very glad that the Minister in charge of co-ordinating the work in both departments, Mr. Mellor, who I think has done an excellent job of work, has been abroad and looked at what has been done there. I ask your Lordships to send him abroad again quickly because he is doing a valuable job.
There has been a great deal of activity since we last debated this question some months ago on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Pitt. Hospitals now are much more prepared to deal with the problem of drug addiction and rehabilitation centres are being set up. Every police station you enter has instructions on where you can refer someone who is in trouble. The social services have been improved and so have schools and education. Most of all, the public have started to realise that they have a part to play. There is a part to play in comforting families who are suddenly faced with this problem, which shakes them to the core, ruins the family and about which they had no knowledge until it hit them.
I leave to the last one person who has not hitherto worried me, and that is the GP, the family doctor, who has probably had no contact with drugs since he was a student. Too often in the past he has said, "Look, I have 24 hours in the day and only two hands. I am trying to help Mrs. Smith who has been run over by a bus and to help Mr. Brown who suffers from multiple sclerosis. Why should I waste time in trying to help somebody who is suffering from a self-inflicted wound?" A self-inflicted wound it may be; that is easy to say but not of much help. Alcohol addiction is also a self-inflicted wound and so is nicotine. I drink a gin and tonic now and then and I smoke a pipe. They are self-inflicted wounds, I suppose. The trouble with heroin and drugs is that the wound goes deeper, it hurts more people and it takes far longer to cure. I am glad to see that doctors are beginning to realise this.
To conclude, there are two points to consider: we hope that this Bill will bring about the discouragement and the punishment of villains who are succeeding in making their fortunes from this hideous and appalling crime; and there is the question of rehabilitation, which I regard as of equal importance. If we give these two measures serious support, we shall chip further away at the tip of the iceberg and, with luck, one day we shall eventually reach its base. I hope to live to see that day.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Lord Allen of Abbeydale
My Lords, as tends to happen on such an occasion, we are having a very wide-ranging debate, to which it must be extraordinarily difficult to reply. Today we have been fortunate enough to have had our debate illuminated by an outstanding maiden speech.
For my part, I should like to spend a short time on a topic which was not covered in the gracious Speech but about which we are likely to hear quite a lot in the coming Session; that is, the European Convention on Human Rights. Though it may seem slightly odd to introduce Strasbourg into a debate on home affairs, the functioning of the Court of Human Rights is having an impact on our domestic affairs which is increasing in importance rather than diminishing.
Tucked away in the Answers to Questions for Written Answer on the 24th October, at col. 1373, the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, in reply to a Question from the noble Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, stated that:The Government have decided to renew, for a period of five years from January 1986, their acceptance of the right of individual petition to the European Commission of Human Rights and the jurisdiction of the European Court".That seems to me to be a remarkable statement, for the following reason: as long ago as 1966 we accepted the right of individual petition and the compulsory jurisdiction of the court, in the first instance for five years. Since then this acceptance has been renewed from time to time for various periods, the last of them being due to run out in January next; but, so far as I can ascertain, that Written Answer was the very first time that information of any kind was given to this House about acceptance or renewal, other than the laying of the original formal declarations of acceptance, and in neither House has this issue ever been debated.
This is rather striking, given that decisions by the court have led to fresh legislation here, new statutory instruments and various changes in administrative practices. I recognise that it may well have been unacceptable to have brought to an end this right of individual petition. We are probably too far down the road for this. All the same, I think that with some advantage we might have discussed some of the considerations involved. However, the decision has been taken and we shall have to live with it. Yet I think it means that we shall not be able to excape a related issue, which is whether the convention to which we are now so fully committed should be made part of our domestic law.
This is a topic which we have debated in the past and from all that one hears we are likely to be debating it again before very long. It certainly seems regrettable that this country, the cradle of individual freedom, the home of Magna Carta, the originator of habeus corpus, should, on a number of occasions, be found to have gone counter to the convention. At first sight it is an attractive proposition that instead of making the Strasbourg court the court of first instance, as it were, for our aggrieved citizens, the convention should be made part of our law so that it will be possible first to look to our courts for remedies. That proposition is argued and will continue to be argued in Parliament, in the press and elsewhere with very much greater eloquence that I can ever aspire to.
196 But it seems to me that the issue is not entirely a straightforward one, and I thought it worth while to put on record today, as it were, before we get embroiled in further discussions, that there is indeed another point of view. If the noble Lord the Minister in winding up were able to give some indication of the Government's present view, that would be an extra bonus, but I shall quite understand if he feels unable to say anything on the point today.
This is certainly not an occasion for a detailed review of all the arguments. Suffice it to say that we are up against the problem that to embody the convention in our law would mean superimposing declarations of principle drawn in the most general terms on top of our existing domestic law, which from Magna Carta on has consisted of detailed and specific provisions. Our tradition, to over-simplify a little, is that on the whole the citizen can do anything he likes unless Parliament has passed a law saying he cannot. The convention starts the other way round by laying down general rights to which it then attaches limitations; and the role of the Strasbourg judges is to assess whether what we have done in a particular case falls short of those general provisions. If they do so decide, they do not tell us how to put things right. That is for us. Sometimes we do it well and sometimes not so well. We seem to have particular problems about decisions concerning corporal punishment when one thinks of the Isle of Man and the schools. But that is by the way.
Some of these judicial decisions must be difficult enough in all conscience for the judges from Iceland, Turkey, Italy, Malta, France and elsewhere who make up the court and sometimes find themselves having to balance principles of a semi-political nature; and who sometimes, incidentally, find acceptable action taken in other countries which we certainly would not find acceptable here.
Be that as it may, their role is essentially different from that which would fall to our courts if the convention were part of our domestic law. In that event it would fall to the judges and not to Parliament to decide on the accident of the cases coming before them just what impact those general principles about the right of life, freedom of expression and all the rest would have on the previously existing law. There would be bound at the very least to be uncertainty, since for a time no one would know whether the judges were or were not going to alter what had previously been accepted as the law over a whole range of activities from compulsory purchase orders to race relations and from bail to defamation.
Just to take one short example, Article 8 of the convention makes it legitimate for a public authority to interfere with the right to respect for private life if, among other things, that is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of the economic well-being of the country. I suspect that we might have to wait for more than one decision of the courts before we know just what the judicial interpretation of that provision amounts to. Nor would the decisions of our courts necessarily be final. The case could still go to Strasbourg after they had pronounced here.
I am not arguing that the decision on embodiment in our law is clear-cut either way. What I am trying to say is that not all the arguments point clearly to 197 embodiment and that there is a real dilemma for this country. We are parties to a Council of Europe agreement drafted in a way which runs counter to our own traditions (even though we had a hand in drafting it) and we are in difficulties whichever way we go. If we embody the convention, we shall be up against the sort of questions that I touched on a few moments ago. If we do not, we may well have more embarrassing decisions against us at Strasbourg and more problems in conforming to the rulings of the judges there. I myself would still on balance go for the second course and leave things as they are. But either way it is a pretty uncomfortable position to be in.
The only gleam of comfort that I can see is that in the end the importance of this decision is not quite so great as is sometimes represented. Even more important to my mind is the depth of society's commitment to human rights and values and the vigilance of Parliament, the press and the courts in protecting those rights. A society which is contemptuous of them will not be made virtuous merely by legislation. After all, the Americans did not find the splendid provisions of their classic Bill of Rights all that much of a protection against MacCarthyism. My real concern, I am bound to confess, is not whether we should gain by embodying the convention in our law but rather whether our modern society is beginning to forget some of the traditions of compassion and tolerance of which this country has hitherto been proud.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Lord Soper
My Lords, I add my congratulations to those that have already been offered to the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, on his maiden speech. I think he will understand me if I say that, knowing him, I am not at all surprised that it was such a very good one.
I propose to say something in detail on the question of Sunday observance and particularly in relation to shops and their opening. I have two reasons. The first is that it gives me great pleasure to support my right reverend friend the Bishop of London. He is high church and I am high chapel, but we are together in our distaste of this measure as it is promulgated. There is perhaps even a rather better reason. After all, this is not the most vital question to which your Lordships have addressed your thoughts this afternoon. There are the questions of law and order, of the degradation of our society (to which the Lord Chancellor made reference, I thought quite truly, last night) and the increasing evidence of a kind of nihilism which I think is unprecedented and which demands that such problems should take priority. But at the same time I think it is significant that to approach the question of the deregulating of shop opening hours raises issues which belong to all those other matters, and it is on that proposition that I would venture to detain your Lordships for a short time.
I have one thing in common with the Prime Minister. We were both reared in a Sabbatarian atmosphere. I have often pondered on what would have been the result had she not forsaken the Methodist Church. Had she remained within it, I am quite sure that she would have appreciated the reasons why today we are heartily in support of those who oppose this measure as being dangerous, quite 198 unnecessary and in many cases an affront to that Christian faith to which we are committed. At the same time, it is a Christian faith to which you, my Lords, are also committed in your loyalty in the defence of the faith. Under such a deregulation of shopping hours I believe that there are many who will be prevented from exercising their religious rites and ceremonies by the very fact that the more freedom is offerred for the shops to open, the more people (and many of them Christians) will be required to work on Sunday and prevented thereby from going to church.
But I would not deploy religious arguments in front of your Lordships. I think there are two other arguments which are quite sufficient. The first is that there is an increasing disposition on the part of those who have their ears to the ground and know what is going on that the conformity and regularity of behaviour patterns which are possible and as advertised in the modern world are a very dangerous precedent. I reflect that when the French Revolution decided to abolish the seventh day of the week, they got into an awful mess and had to bring it back quite soon. Your Lordships who have read the evidence will know that the Russians endeavoured to abolish Sunday, or the one day of the week which could be regarded as different, but they very soon discovered that it is necessary.
I believe in the rhythm of life, which is a very different thing from the cultivation of every day of the week as if it is the same kind of day and as if one does exactly the same kind of thing as on any other day, or refrains from doing those things. I believe that this is wrong. The accumulated evidence seems to me to be that unless one can take the rhythmic basis of life and reflect on that one day, periodically, upon what one is doing on the rest of the days, one is failing to recognise not necessarily a religious conviction but one of the supportable laws about the kind of world in which we live.
I believe very heartily that if there is no day upon which there is a marked difference in atmosphere there will be a deterioration, even more rapid than at present, in the ideas of what belongs to the nature and substance of our human life. I hope I do not say that pompously. I certainly say it out of a great deal of experience, recognising as I do that the conduct on Sunday, or on any other day of the week, for that matter—provided that it becomes regular and rhythmic—is something which demands standing back a title & the heat and noise and endeavouring to survey what it is all about.
From an experience which is now long if not profound, it is interesting to me that if one stands about in open spaces and talks about religion one will find the extent to which people today are inquiring about matters of which they apparently have no background of knowledge and no accumulation of doctrine or of teaching. It is a sufficient argument, in my judgment, for the retention of that difference on Sunday that it should not be recognised necessarily as the invitation or the requirement of people to go to church—because a lot of them will not go, anyhow—but the recognition that unless one can pulse one's life one is failing to understand its meaning and one is likely to make a mess of its procedures.
199 I believe that one of the supreme reasons for the breakdown of the right kind of law and order—and there is an inclination towards nihilism—is the breakdown of family life. Perhaps your Lordships will permit a personal reference. I would have cherished the opportunity on Sunday of meeting with my children, of having fellowship with my wife, and going together to places of worship, and enjoying games as well. That has been denied me because, whatever I do on other days of the week, I work on Sundays. It is no good telling me that I can have Tuesday as a day off, because the kids are at school or at work. That is not necessarily the same thing. But it is the kind of realisation which I believe makes a great deal of difference to my own appreciation of the fact that unless one is aware of the binding and cumulative effect of family devotion and family life one is missing one of the most imperishable of all the virtues that belong to our society. There is no doubt at all that to make Sunday a day on which one can take the kids to the local fair or the local shop, and do the very same things that one does on other days of the week, is no compliment to those who want to feel that they belong to a community and are not merely privatised in a world in which the community is regularly, and I think desparingly, neglecting that fact.
If people are not convinced by those arguments, then let me refer briefly to the Auld Report. It was Martin Luther who described one of the epistles in the New Testament as the "thing of straw". I think that had he known about this report he would have been equally condemnatory of it. It is a very bad report indeed. It contradicts itself. The evidence the report produces is in contradiction to the conclusion to which it comes. The report is almost comic in some of the comments it makes. For instance, it talks about the virtues of the deregulation of hours in Scotland and goes on to say that the House of Fraser is now witnessing a large-scale dislike of the new provisions whereby they have to work on Sundays. The report talks about the consumer committee and mentions—here once again with bravura, but not with conviction—the evidence that only one out of ten of those who were canvassed as to whether they would like to see Sunday opening for the sake of the opportunities for shopping on Sunday said that they would not.
Having read the report I would confidently, though I hope not arrogantly, commend it to your Lordships as a waste of time. If the Government are prepared to venture their Bill on the deliverances of that report they are in for a very great deal of difficulty. Contrary to what I believe to be a sensible attitude to Sunday observance and the general resetting of a world on Sunday, I think that they would be very wise to recognise that the evidence of the Auld Report does not support their case in any degree.
I am well aware of the fact that there are anomalies. I am not impressed by the fact that one cannot buy a bible on Sunday. Any number of people would give you one quite gladly. I am not at all impressed by the fact that one can buy some items but cannot buy others on Sunday. I know very well that the idea that one can produce a logical world out of the booming, bustling confusion of our modern life is a ridiculous 200 fallacy. I know that more people than I could count, and certainly those with whom I have had quite continuous contact—and not only very pious people—are quite sure that we had better leave this business alone for the time being.
We are at the moment in a state of ecclesiastical flux, to say nothing of spiritual flux. In those regards I think that the situation is very dangerous, because decreasing numbers of people are committed to the kind of faith in which I was reared. That faith can be called in dispute, but I do not think it is. I am committed to that which I find in the New Testament. I am committed to the church of the Kingdom of God, not for a privatisation of society, but for the community. I believe that that Kingdom of God is very far from the general tenor of this Government's programme. That is hardly mentioned. I therefore would offer this comment to the Government. One of the ways in which I believe they can retrench in this matter, and come to a clearer understanding of what is the purpose of government is not to release the individual but to bind the individual in that true liberty which is orderly restraint and to give him the opportunity of living in a community in which he understands what it is all about and by the grace of God can make his own contribution to the fulfilment of those purposes. It is for that reason that I hope the Government, whatever else they do, will not go forward with this enterprise.
§ Baroness Burton of Coventry
My Lords, I drew considerable comfort from a remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, when he said that we were having a wide-ranging debate, because I would not have wished to find myself unreasonably outside the mainstream of speakers. What I want to say today could have been said equally under either home or economic affairs. It is something on which I have been trying to make headway ever since 1950 in another place, and progress has been slow. During the past five years it has seemed impossible to obtain a definite answer from ministers. I have reached the conclusion that either I must have explained matters most inadequately or the Government just do not wish to know.
We have in the nationalised industries a series of monopolies which are often in control of essential services that people cannot do without. The prices charged are a crucial part of everyone's budget and there is no choice of taking our custom elsewhere. No Government have yet succeeded in creating a system whereby consumers can influence public policy continuously: first, where it begins; then, as it develops; and finally, at the top where it becomes law. I hope that the House will be, as it has been on previous occasions, most patient and will bear with me again today.
Obviously I am concerned about consumer affairs which seem to me to be an entirely non-party subject and one affecting every home in the country. I was very glad that my noble friend—and I shall call him my noble friend—Lord Soper, touched on the consumers in the remarks which he has just made. Apart from anything else, the proposed privatisation of the gas industry opens up my problem in a way which must force an answer from the Government.
201 In the past, those of us interested in consumer affairs have tried to find out whether or not Ministers wish consumer councils really to be effective in nationalised industries and outside industry. However, now in the gracious Speech we have reached the problem of what is to be their position when these nationalised industries are privatised, especially where the industry concerned—public or private—is a monopoly.
I shall return to the subject of gas later in my remarks because I think that it is here that the Government will have to be definite. However, before doing so I should like to try once more to explain to the Government why in the consumer world we are sceptical about any protestations coming from Ministers about their attitude to consumers in general and to consumer councils in nationalised industry.
At one time it appeared that a little progress might be made. The Department of Trade and Industry put forward proposals for reform of the consumer councils in nationalised industry. I recall the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on 23rd May (at col. 404 of Hansard) speaking of the 1982 Strategy for Reform paper, saying:The Government will continue to seek a suitable opportunity to implement those outstanding proposals which require primary legislation".Those of us in Parliament and outside who had studied closely the efforts of the Department of Trade and Industry, were afraid that their proposals would be abandoned following the decision by the Government not to proceed with general nationalised industry legislation in the 1985–86 Session. This was announced by Mr. Peter Rees, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, on 9th May (at col. 474 of Commons Hansard) by means of a Written Answer.
The House will recall that those Treasury proposals made to the chairmen of nationalised industries on 20th December 1984, had been fiercely opposed by them because they feared that those proposals would increase enormously the powers of the Treasury over their industries. As a matter of fact, those consultative proposals sent by the Treasury were kept very quiet and were slipped through on 20th December last, by means of a Written Answer—yes, my Lords, another one—in another place. As that House rose on 21st December for the Christmas Recess, it would mean that that particular Hansard did not appear until 21st December which was of course a most convenient timing for the Government as it avoided any questioning. Members of another place knew nothing about it until Mr. Jeff Rooker discovered it in the Library and raised the matter by means of a Question for Written Answer on 11th February. The chairmen of the consumer councils knew nothing about it until Mr. Rooker raised the matter and they then asked for the consultative proposals to be sent to them. As these proposals raised the whole matter of the future position of consumer councils in nationalised industry, surely the paper should have gone also to their chairmen?
On 18th April I raised the matter with the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, and told him that it seemed incredible that the Government did not realise that we found it difficult to believe that they really wished to give authority to the consumer councils if they persisted in ignoring them in this way. I asked him what the Government intended to do.
202 I was not the only one worried about this matter and in discussion with the relevant consumer groups I found concern that the proposals for reform of the consumer councils—to which I have already referred as the 1982 Strategy for Reform paper—might be lost in view of the strong and stormy opposition to the Treasury proposals and any consequent legislation. We wondered if there was any possibility that the proposals of the Department of Trade and Industry could be dealt with separately. Pursuing that line of inquiry as best I could, it seemed worthwhile approaching the department with such a suggestion. Then—alas!—the blow fell. As I said a moment ago, the Treasury announced the death of the Treasury proposals on 9th May.
I believe that the Department of Trade and Industry were taken by surprise as much as anyone else, and I also believe that had they been able to attach their own proposals for reform, which required primary legislation, to another parliamentary "vehicle", they would have done so. But that did not appear to them to be possible.
So, my Lords, where have we reached? I have three specific questions to put to the Government today. The first concerns the nationalised industry consumer councils. Ever since October 1983, as the House well knows, I have been pursuing the Government on their original draft guidelines as well as the subsequent proposals sent by the Department of Trade and Industry to these councils on 22nd February this year. On 17th October last, which noble Lords may remember—two years from the first Question—I was still trying to find out how far we had got and what action the Government now propose to take. And I still do not know. Can we be told whether the Government propose any action at all, legislative or otherwise, arising from these matters, or are we to drift on for another two years engulfed in bureaucracy?
The second specific question which I put to the Government is this: do they not understand that treating consumer councils in this way makes the councils, their members and the general public believe that really and truly consumers do not rate very high with this Government? Important proposals were sent out from the Treasury surreptitiously to chairmen of nationalised industries. Although these concerned consumer council matters in these industries and chairmen were asked for their opinions on them, nothing went to the people concerned—the chairmen of the consumer councils—until, by accident, they learned that such proposals were even in existence. Then, upon demand, the Treasury proposals were sent to them.
Following that deliberate slight—because it could be nothing else—we then had this delay of two years on the suggestions from the Department of Trade and Industry. Yet still we are nowhere. Do the Government really not understand that consumers feel that they and their affairs are always relegated to the back of the queue except—and I repeat the word "except"—for paying price increases justified not by necessity but politically?
That brings me to my third question. What is to be the position of the consumer councils in nationalised industry when industries are privatised? We shall have 203 full opportunity for discussing that when we come to the matter of the gas industry; but perhaps I could try once more to explain to the Government what consumers feel in this respect.
Some 18 months ago the chiefs of the gas and electricity industries complained that the Treasury was forcing them to raise their prices higher than was necessary, which of course had the same effect as raising taxes, but with less political embarrassment.
We all know the story of water, or at least some of us do, and this brings me to the field of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, the field of environment. We recall how Mr. Roy Watts fought a vigorous campaign and refused to increase Thames Water charges beyond 3 per cent. without an order from Parliament. On 7th February Parliament ordered him to do so.
Just before he was ordered to make these increases I remember Mr. Watts saying that the current cost convention and other arguments used by the Government were a smokescreen for the real intention, which was to raise money for non-water purposes from water customers. Mr. Watts went on to say if that was what the Government wanted, it should be overt and not covert. Mr. Watts may have lost the battle, but he certainly won the argument. After all, who could quarrel with his statement that the Thames Water Authority would generate at its proposed charges—and here I quote actual words—good and possibly excessive profits. We want to give customers the benefit of it.In the issue dated 19th October the Economist published an article headed, Industry is no Tax Collector, stating underneath:Britain's state energy suppliers need to be profitable and private—not secret tax collectors for the Government.The article went on to say:Like any indirect tax on sales, higher gas prices are regressive: they hit the poorer harder than the richer. If the Chancellor is in favour of raising more indirect tax, he should do so openly, not in this covert way.I have taken gas, my Lords, because there is a feeling that to ensure a successful flotation of British Gas the Government are considering a large rise in gas prices; and, furthermore, that electricity prices also will probably have to rise, for competitive reasons. All of us, and most homes in this country (certainly all those who use gas or electricity) wonder how long we shall have to wait for Government reaction to such fears. My concern is, where will consumers be when they do?
On 2nd July, at col. 1044, the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, said, referring to gas:It is the Government's firm intention that the regulatory arrangements to be established will adequately protect the consumer as regards prices and the terms and conditions of supply.We have heard it many times. Ministers are always firm in their statements about protecting the consumer, but less than firm about doing so. I would put it to the House: if the Government will not take any notice of what is said by the chairmen of the gas, water and electricity industries concerning prices and value for money, are we really expected to believe that consumer councils in public or private industries, as at present constituted, will count for anything? My answer is that of course they will not. So what are the Government proposing to do?
204 Will the National Gas Consumers' Council, for example, continue as at present? If so, will its powers be strengthened so that, to quote the noble Lord, Lord Gray, the consumer will be adequately protected as regards prices? If it is not so strengthened then even the Government must admit that something will either have to replace it or exist alongside it.
It would seem to me that some regulatory body must be set up; furthermore, that this must be independent both of the gas industry and of the Government. It should be accountable both to the public and to Parliament. Obviously it must have the power to monitor what is going on in the industry, to make such information public and, above all, be seen to take action on the consumers' behalf.
If we look at the past 18 months, my Lords, I would have expected any such genuine regulatory body, taking account of the public outcry, to have investigated the price increases forced by the Government on the gas, electricity and water industries and to have found these to be unacceptable, and to have so reported to Parliament. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Elton, do the Government intend to give such powers to any regulatory body? I would advise him that, from the consumer point of view, nothing less will do.
Although I have spoken of the gas industry, what I say covers all the nationalised industries upon privatisation, all the nationalised industries prior to privatisation, all consumer councils connected with industry and also, I should like to stress, those which are not—for example, the Citizen's Advice Bureaux and the National Consumer Council.
In short, my Lords, I raise tonight the whole attitude of the Government towards consumers in general. I want to know if they really care. Do they care enough to do something about it? I can assure the Minister that all households will await with much anxiety the answers to the questions that I have put today; questions which are simple but which affect their future and their fears concerning the prices which are coming to every household in the country arising from the changes in nationalised industries.
§ 7.17 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of Manchester
My Lords, I am glad to have been able to come down from Manchester today to attend this debate, and not least for hearing the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, which I greatly enjoyed, as did the rest of your Lordships. I have problems in getting back tonight, and I crave the indulgence of your Lordships, and particularly the noble Lord the Minister who will reply, if I am not present at the end of this long debate.
I have appreciated greatly hearing my right reverend friend the Bishop of London, and also the noble Lord, Lord Soper, explaining to the House the reasons for the opposition of the Churches to the proposed deregulation of Sunday. We have difficulties among the leadership of the Churches in taking a stand on this issue, as your Lordships will readily appreciate.
We lay ourselves open to a paraphrase of the famous reply by, I believe, Mandy Rice-Davies, "They would, wouldn't they?" That presumably is what some would say we were paid for, but the quality of those speeches 205 has shown your Lordships that the opposition is not in any sense on a narrow self-interest on the part of the Churches which have achieved a remarkable unanimity, although there may be some sections of the Churches which are primarily concerned with church attendance or which take a narrow Sabbatarian view. They are much more concerned with quality of life. I hope that as time goes on all those concerned—hopefully with a free vote in front of them—will listen to what is said in the debate and take account of this argument about the great dangers to the quality of life in this country if we abandon one of the things which gives it shape.
We all recognise that some people have to work on Sunday, that is readily agreed, but it ought to be as few as possible and the emphasis ought to be put on recreation, leisure, and worship in the ways described. I noticed that in opening this debate the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, spoke about customs and ideals which have stood the test of time. It would be a sad matter if this Government were to push through against a very considerable degree of opposition a measure of this kind which will profoundly affect life in this country.
As the noble Lord, Lord Soper, pointed out, there are more important matters facing us, and I want to spend a moment or two speaking about the law and order side of things, which has been a main feature of this wide-ranging debate. All of us realise that with the dangerous situation which faces us on a number of fronts, and particularly over drugs, tough measures are necessary. But warning lights always flash in my mind when I hear made in the debate a reference to drug traffickers as "thoroughly evil".
This raises problems for those of us brought up in the Christian tradition, because we are taught to distinguish between the sin and the sinner. While it is legitimate to refer in the strongest possible terms to the actual evil of trafficking in drugs, when one speaks about the men involved it becomes more complex, because within the Christian tradition good and evil are mixed up in individuals in ways in which it is quite inappropriate to refer to people as "wholly evil" in that way. I readily recognise that there are cases in history which give us great and terrible problems when one considers the psychopathic behaviour of people who have been in positions of great power over others. But the point is that we must combat the sin and the evil in society and at the same time retain a sense of compassion and attempt to understand those who fall into these great evils and very sinful actions.
The Christian tradition in recent years has been under attack from two sides. On the one hand, there are those who maintain that people are wholly conditioned in what they do by their character, the way in which their genes have come to them and so they are not responsible at all. There are others who maintain that they are not responsible because of the environment in which they have been brought up and who lay all the emphasis on our terrible social conditions which would deny any free will to the people who are tempted to crime. This simply will not do. There must be an element of free will always in the way in which we consider people who fall into crime and into sin. But how large is that area of free will? That is a much more difficult question, and those 206 brought up in a religious tradition would say that the amount of free will which people have to behave in the way that they do, to choose good rather than evil, is something which is known only to God.
This becomes an important question. The way we consider law and order becomes important when seen in this light, particularly at times of mass disorder such as we have seen recently in our inner cities or, as during the miners' strike when passions ran high. Speaking on behalf of the diocese of Manchester as I am today, I should say how distressed I was, along with everybody else, at the quite appalling behaviour displayed by a crowd of students at Manchester University when a Government Minister was assaulted recently. It was impossible for him to continue his speech. I was also very concerned at the reported police conduct in a similar incident some weeks before. These are matters of deep and grave concern in our society.
It is a puzzle why people often behave so much worse in the mass than they do as individuals. This is something with which we constantly have to grapple. However of one thing I am convinced: we have to realise the enormous pressures on young people today, particularly in our inner cities, or urban priority areas as they are called. It does not help to have Government spokesmen (or anyone else for that matter) saying that when terrible things take place in these areas it is sheer wickedness and that social conditions, unemployment and bad housing have nothing to do with it. That does not help at all. I cannot seriously believe that those who take that view do not, deep down in their hearts, recognise the pressures which are on people in those areas. They are major factors in the resultant behaviour. This is not in any way to excuse that behaviour, but to point to how it must be seen in context.
We have heard some talk recently about the weakening of moral restraints in society. This is an area in which the Churches are quite obviously deeply and intimately concerned. We have to accept that there has been a weakening of moral restraints. The Churches and other religious bodies are not as influential as they once were. It is interesting to hear leaders from ethnic minorities in our country now bemoaning the fact that the cultural norms which have shaped the behaviour of their young people are now beginning to be loosened. But the Churches and other religious bodies continue to be at work with individuals in trying to encourage good standards of behaviour, even in difficult inner city and urban priority areas.
I was told, sadly, by one of our priests working in one such inner city area the other day that he knew well that small numbers of young people who come to his church are engaged in the same kinds of criminal activity as go on in other areas; the stealing of cars, the theft of handbags or whatever it may be, all kinds of crime. He said the only difference between those who come to church and those who do not come near the church is that those who attend have something of a guilty conscience about it. Your Lordships may consider that to be an advance and it helps to show that in some way this struggle about individual behaviour is being fought at that level by religious bodies in these difficult circumstances in our society today.
207 But this is not enough. There is another side, apart from individual behaviour. It is no good simply relying on the police with whatever resources they can be given, however important that is; there is also the context in which crime flourishes. Proper attention must continue to be given to social conditions.
What also comes from this is that thinking of the mixture of good and bad in any individual brings us straight to the point made earlier by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that punishment and imprisonment, necessary though they may be, must also be seen from a reformative angle as well. It is one of the sadnesses of my life that almost daily I drive past that great grim 19th century building, Strangeways prison in Manchester. I go in there from time to time and I have seen empty workshops and nothing going on such as would help people in those conditions, because of the pressures on the prison system, such as overcrowding and other factors of that kind. Whatever law and order measures are proposed, I hope that the Government and all of us concerned will always bear in mind the importance of the reformative element and not make it simply a punitive exercise. If it were seen from that point of view our society would be heading for even graver difficulties than we are in today.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, I join with the right reverend Prelate in congratulating my old friend and colleague Lord Mellish on his maiden speech. For a few moments I should like to refer to part of that speech and what it was about. For my part I have no fond memories of what the past Secretary of State, Mr. Heseltine, has done for housing in parts of the country other than the London docklands. In my opinion all that has happened was that it was a good policy and well worth trying, but where did this money come from? The other major cities in the hinterland, the Midlands, the North and also the London boroughs have seen their housing resources savagely cut, ruptured beyond belief. The sums of money that were made available to the London Development Agency for its exercise is but a small pittance from that money taken in a global sense.
During my period in local government in Manchester I was one of those privileged to lead probably the largest slum clearance drive in a city outside London. We set about the task of clearing 82,000 slums. By the time I left, with the support of my colleagues, we were almost out of the tunnel and talking about developing a housing policy other than clearing slums. However under the present Government the tunnel has been bricked up and there is no light showing through because municipal housing featured as a development has come almost to a stop. While it might have been good for London docklands, the removal of the financial subsidies from cities such as Manchester and Leeds has been an unmitigated disaster.
I listened with absolute disbelief to part of the Prime Minister's speech last night in the cosy atmosphere of the installation of the new Lord Mayor of London. It may well be that her speech was well received by an audience that I should think was packed with people 208 who follow her political philosophy. However, that is where the Government are making an appalling blunder because it is not the world outisde. It is not only myself and my political party who are saying it but I have to remind Peers that there has been a succession of non-political organisations, all with an expertise second to none on the question of housing, which have declared on this subject. It began 12 months ago with the Institute for Policy Studies, which I think quoted figures of spending over the next 10 years of £3½ billion a year in order to prevent the serious and dangerous deterioration in our housing and public building stock.
That was shortly followed by a report from NEDO on behalf of NEDDY which underlined this picture. I was quite fortunate in that I managed to raise a debate in your Lordships' House in which I quoted all these figures. I am sorry to say that the reply that I received from the Government on that occasion was such a misuse of figures that it was quite openly challenged by people in the building industry on whom the Government can normally count as some of their most avid supporters.
However, since the NEDDY report, there have been other bodies that have also declared on this matter. I think the next one was the Audit Commission on Local Government, which found the same—that there was a serious deterioration in the nation's housing stock, mostly in the public sector, which had reached a dangerous level. We have also received representations, or it has been made known from other organisations such as the Building Employers Confederation and the Institute of Maintenance and Building and Management, which are agencies which deal with housing stock in a general sense, that that is the position.
However, what was the Government's response under their previous Minister of Housing, Mr. Gow? He did not want to believe independent organisations that had no political axe to grind, albeit the CBI, the Institute of Directors (who of course normally support the Government), followed by the TUC and the Building Workers Trade Union, came to the same conclusion: that with 400,000 people on the dole who could be gainfully used in the interest of retaining or improving our social fabric, it is nonsense for the policies that the Government are presently pursuing to be earned through.
What was the Government's answer to all this? What was Mr. Gow's answer? I think he made only a blocking move. He called for a report for the Ministry itself. I understand that the report was placed on the Minister's desk almost at the time of the change of portfolios when he left the office. I understand that this report calls for an expansion or a spending of £20 billion to deal with the situation in a reasonable manner. That is not taking account of the monstrosities that, with industrialised housing, were foisted on local authorities in approximately 20 years, between 1950 and 1970. Nobody has yet quantified what that will cost but I think there has been a conservative (with a small "c") figure arrived at of at least £5 billion. People better advised than I are now talking in terms of a global sum of £30 billion being required to deal with the housing stock.
209 What has been the Government's answer? With two of our major cities with which I have had associations, Manchester and Leeds, the position was this. Manchester asked for a housing investment programme allocation of £90 million for the current year. It received £36 million. Leeds was more modest: it asked for £60 million and received £24 million. I can tell your Lordships from my personal knowledge that those bids were by no means extravagant, bearing in mind the job that the people controlling those cities were trying to do.
I know statistics on housing have been bandied about but I think it is as well to remind people of some of the statistics when the Prime Minister starts talking as though everything is all right and suggesting that in the inner cities it is merely a case of needing to deal with lawbreakers by means of better laws and more police. Maybe that is part of it but I can tell your Lordships that unless something is done about the inner cities, in the sense of providing an increasingly better environment, no Government will win the battle—I am not talking in terms of a physical battle, I do not believe in that—but no Government will win the battle to create the kind of society that we want.
For a moment I shall digress and give some of the present figures in an era when the Prime Minister appears completely satisfied with her own Government's housing performance. The only successes about which we have heard so far are in the area of the sale of council houses. That has halved within the last 12 months, as some of us said it would, because the best houses have now been sold off and people will not buy the second best or third best. They are not interested in them, even at almost give-away prices.
The figure for new starts in the current year is 27,900—a third of that for 1979–80. It is the lowest figure for over 50 years. Waiting lists have now increased to 1million. There are 1,207,000 dwellings classed as unfit. There are 994,000 houses lacking one or more of the basic amenities. It is calculated that five million people live in unfit homes. Four million houses in England alone require reports costing over £2,500. It is calculated that over 1¼ million families live in overcrowded or shared accommodation.
I do not intent to speak for too long because it is not that kind of debate. I think housing such as it is is such a vital subject that it demands a better case than I can make in 10 or 11 minutes. However, I say this. Housing patterns are also changing. One of the best things we were able to do in a local sense was to start building and adapting for disabled and underprivileged people. The signs are now that that is no longer an option. It is coming to an end because there are no finances with which to do it.
We have a Prime Minister, as I said, indulging in the cosy atmosphere of the Guildhall in self-congratulation among her own supporters while this is going on in the provinces. The noble Lord, Lord Mellish, talked about the Dockland being a desert' when he went there. I can assure him that if the Government carry on with their present policy, the areas of the inner cities that I know and was brought up in will very quickly become the deserts of the future.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Viscount Thurso
My Lords, I hope that I may be allowed to add my congratulations and thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, on a truly magnificent maiden speech. I think if all of us were allowed to make two, the standard of debate in your Lordships' House would rise enormously if that is a measure of making a second maiden speech in this Chamber.
I shall not detain your Lordships for long tonight. I wish simply to take this opportunity of sincerely and unreservedly congratulating the Government on having the courage at last to bring forward legislation to modernise and restructure the management of the Scottish salmon fishing industry. I offer them my congratulations unreservedly although I feel that they must have been helped a little bythe amount of pressure that has been kept on them over some quarter of a century by all those in Scotland interested in the salmon industry, and in particular the organisation of which I have the honour and privilege to be president, the Association of Scottish District Salmon Fishery Boards.
As long as I can remember being on the council of that organisation, we have been in constant discussion with St. Andrew's House and in constant discussion with the department of agriculture and fisheries for Scotland pressing for modernisation of the legislation which controlled us. I have taken part in debates in your Lordships' House on Green Papers, on White Papers and on every sort and kind of proposal to try to bring foward some kind of action on this question. Now at last we have it promised.
I hope that when the Government take the plunge they will not find the waters too cold or too stormy. I shall certainly try not to muddy them for the Government in their task. However, just because somebody is going to do something at long last about a subject which needs reform does not mean to say that each individual is necessarily in a position to accept everything that they propose. Although I offer the Government every support in getting a measure through, I do not guarantee that I shall not make attempts as it comes before your Lordships' House to modify their proposals.
The difficulty with the gracious Speech is to try to read the true meaning into the words used. We have first of all the expression, "to modify". I think that the expression,to modify…the management structure of salmon fisheriesmeans that the district fishery boards are going to be changed. They are going to be changed, I would imagine, by the inclusion of new persons in their number. I sincerely hope that this is true, and I hope that what is going to happen is that the interests of anglers will be directly represented on district salmon fishery boards. I hope that this is what is meant by this expression.
If indeed the Government are proposing to include the voice of anglers in the deliberations on the management of Scottish salmon rivers, then I hope that they will try to ensure that those anglers whom they choose to represent interests in any district will be the anglers who know that district and not merely representatives of national or other bodies. I feel that one of the great strengths of the district fishery boards' 211 system in the past—which, after all, has kept the salmon fishing industry both as a sport fishery and as a sea fishery going for 100 or more years against great odds but with considerable success—has been the local interest which has been involved, the local knowledge which has been involved, in their deliberations. I sincerely hope that in bringing anglers into the position of the management of rivers, they make certain that these are people who have local knowledge and local interests.
Then they go on to say that theyintend to extend the management structure of the salmon fisheries".By that, I am guessing—totally guessing, as one always has to in dealing with matters in the gracious Speech—that extension means that we shall lose the principle of the individual river having its individual district fishery board and that we shall end up with larger districts, with several rivers represented in these larger districts, and that we shall now see more area boards than actual river boards.
This of course I have to welcome because one of the weaknesses of the present situation is that some rivers are too small to be able to carry a viable district fishery board. But again I hope that when the legislation comes before us these boards will be small enough to be truly local to the area and will be at least within day-to-day travelling distance of the officers who have to administer them. One of the lessons which I think we must have all learned from local government reorganisation is that it is hopeless to set up too big an area where the higher officials can never travel to the other end of their district and back in one day and do a day's work at the same time. I hope that we shall avoid this mistake.
The final thing which I want to mention, in my wondering about what is in the mind of the Government, is the phrase:including further measures to combat illegal salmon fishing throughout Great Britain".I do not think that the illegal salmon fishing is nearly as harmful as the legal salmon fishing. Certainly from the Scottish point of view the Northumberland drift-net fishery is the biggest poacher of Scottish salmon in the whole wide world, including the Danish fisheries and everybody else. Practically the whole of the catch of the Northumberland drift-net fishery, certainly the whole of the increase in the catch of the Northumberland drift-net fishery, comes out of the Tweed, which is classed as a Scottish river. And a good deal of it comes from rivers up the East coast. So I hope that this phrase includes grasping this nettle.
I know that I have colleagues who heartily disagree with me about this. My honourable friend in another place who represents Berwick-upon-Tweed would slay me for my views on what the Northumberland drift-net fishery does. But I think that the whole of the salmon industry would be on my side and would agree that this is really the biggest menace to the Scottish salmon fisheries.
Furthermore, I fear that this phrase may include the tagging of salmon. I urge upon the Government to beware of tagging as a panacea. We thought at one time of tagging venison. I am very glad that that 212 measure never went ahead. I think that they might look at the venison Acts and consider the licensing of dealers as being a better measure to go for, and perhaps with the wise counsels that they have now on their Front Bench this possibility may have been thought of. These are all the thoughts which I have on the salmon proposals at the moment. I shall look forward with enormous interest to seeing the Bill when it comes before your Lordships in this House.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords, after Scottish salmon fishing, I am very happy indeed to widen the debate still further by referring to affairs in Northern Ireland. In the fog that we have today of rumour, speculation and apprehension about the British-Irish talks and the search for a positive agreement, I should just like to describe two very encouraging developments of which I have personal experience. Here I follow on from what I said in your Lordships' House on 8th July in attempting to give just one or two items of good news. I think it is very important that we should discuss Northern Ireland in a general debate and not give the impression that it is a strange place, far away and full of extraordinary people whose affairs can be discussed only by specialists and experts.
It is well known that terrorism and political violence have resulted in over 2,500 deaths in Northern Ireland since 1969, as well as many injuries. I suggest that the really remarkable thing is the absence of bitterness among many of those who have suffered personal injury or the loss of close friends or family. The distinguished Belfast journalist, Mr. Alf McCreery, some years ago was among the first people to draw attention to this in The Survivors, a book based on interviews with people who had lived through bombings and shootings. A friend of mine is among those. During the worst of the troubles he was blinded by a shotgun, fired directly into his face. Instead of yielding to hatred or the desire for revenge, he has devoted himself to very constructive community work. Although blind, he took up photography as a hobby, to such good effect that his work has been exhibited here in London.
For the bereaved, the initiative of one women led to the forming of a special organisation which brings together those who have lost relatives or friends, and they come together from all sides of the political and sectarian divide. They find themselves able to share their grief, to support each other and to return to normal living, free from incurable bitterness and hate. This is an important way in which the impact of violence and terror is blunted. It is one for which I think we can only express admiration and deep gratitude.
Of equal, and possibly of even greater, importance is the move away from violence by a number of people who were once deeply involved in terrorism and paramilitary activity. I mentioned this in your Lordships' House on 3rd April and I make no apology for coming back to the subject which by now has been recorded in at least two published books and is thus becoming fairly widely known. Many of the men and women I refer to have turned against killing under the influence of the gospel and because they have found personal faith in Jesus Christ. As in the previous 213 example, they come from both sides of the divided community and they make common cause in their new life. Some experienced a change of heart while in prison, some after release; and others have broken with violence without passing through any prison doors.
Such is the genius for organisation and mutual help in Northern Ireland that there is now a specific group whose members include those people and are all ex-paramilitaries. Those who have rejected violence as a way forward may perhaps not yet have discovered what their precise contribution will be towards a better future. I believe, however, that they are cutting the ground away from underneath terrorism and counter-terrorism. They and the bereaved are giving a powerful example to all in Britain and Ireland, and are teaching us to recognise the evils and injustices of the past. They are encouraging us to accept responsibility and to abandon our personal and party prejudices and partial affections.
This is the widespread new start that is needed. This is how fear, mistrust and hatred will in the end be overcome. Let us not imagine, however, that this will be at all easy; 16 years of violence coming at the end of four centuries of embittered history should be enough warning. "Reconciliation" is a word that sometimes comes all too easily to the lips; yet in Northern Ireland it is to some extent an overworked word. The reason is that there can be little compromise between those who want a united Ireland and those who seek to integrate Ulster and Great Britain. On the religious plane, there can be little accord between those who say, "Outside the Roman Catholic Church there is no salvation" or, on the other hand, "We are the only ones to possess complete biblical truth".
I do not advocate the minimising of real differences or the fudging of divisive issues. On the contrary, I think that all of us, whether we are politicians, churchmen, or both, have to change our minds and admit that we have sometimes been wrong and that the other tradition does have some portion of truth and goodness, which is worthy of respect. We could, I think, recall what Cromwell wrote in 1650:I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken".Each tradition could become more aware that it has produced its own caricature—a false image obscuring the real common ground which does exist and which is seen when former opponents begin to work together for common purposes, however limited those may be.
Next year is the 70th anniversary of the 1916 Easter rising in Dublin. Such anniversaries can be deeply symbolic and deeply divisive. Let us therefore try to see, as the Scandinavians and other west Europeans have seen in recent years, that there are higher loyalties than mere nationalism. Can we not recognise that the republicans were wrong to grasp by violence what could have been obtained by agreement, just as we British were wrong to take reprisals on prisoners taken in open fight? That would represent a first small step in mutual forgiveness—a change of mind and heart that would accept our interdependence and help to build common ground both between Britain and Ireland and within Northern Ireland itself.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords. I will not follow the noble Lord who has just spoken into the question of Northern Ireland, in spite of the fact that my family had over 400 years of experience on both sides of the border. Of course, in those days it was one country. In my early years I was brought up there, but I will not go further than that.
I should like just to mention a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. I thought he was lather unfair to the Government and to the Tory Party generally when he appeared to blame them for the present crime wave. Perhaps I have misunderstood him, but I thought he blamed the Conservative Party. I had always thought that when it comes to liberalism the Socialist Party was far more inclined in that direction than the Conservative Party. I think one must blame some of the great rise in crime on the party opposite, because certainly some of the crime must be due to a great extension of liberalism. I am all for liberalism, provided it does not cause crime, but the party opposite must be somewhat to blame, through too much liberalism, for a great increase in crime. However, when it comes to prisons, I rather agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Viscount will forgive my interruption, which is not to conduct an argument, I promise him. but merely to explain what I was trying to say. In at least one Conservative manifesto, but possibly two, credit has been taken for the reduction in crime as a result of their policy. I was merely saying what the present figures are and how false, unfortunately, that forecast appears to have been.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, I am glad to hear that. I think the noble Lord also said that 42 per cent. of male children born in 1953 have committed some crime by the age of 28. That may be correct, but it is an astounding figure. I do not agree that unemployment is the cause of crime though it has a certain effect. According to a TV programme, which I did not myself see, the most burgled village is my village down in Kent. That may or may not be true; what is seen on TV is not always right. It is true that there was a gang there which has now been apprehended and dealt with, but those people were not at all unemployed and were, in fact, in very good jobs. Where unemployment may in some measure be a slight cause of crime is where unemployed youths today are mobile and have enough money to buy motor-bicycles. In the old days, the local bobby could have dealt with them, because they were not mobile.
As an amateur biologist, I know that there is no doubt that overpopulation leads to crime. We in this country are about 90 per cent. urban and are one of the most highly populated countries per acre or per hectare in the world. Apart from Belgium, we are the most highly populated country in Europe. If you take away the Scottish Highlands, where there are only 270,000 people, although they are two-thirds of the land mass of Scotland, we are by far the most highly populated—far higher than India and most other countries in the East. I am not sure about Japan, but we are running very close to their figure.
215 There is no doubt that overpopulation in an urban society causes crime. If you experiment with rats and overcrowd them, they tend to attack each other and become unpleasant. When I was a boy, the population of the United Kingdom was only 37 million; today it is about 56 million. That has a great bearing on unemployment, as the Government have to keep on finding more and more jobs for an increasing population, without necessarily decreasing the number of unemployed.
I should now like to congratulate the Government on the Queen's Speech and on the new Bill dealing with animal welfare. I am sure that that will have a great bearing, not only on vivisection but on all other aspects of animal welfare, and will lead to far better treatment of live animals. In relation to their use in producing cosmetics for beautifying women, I should like to see experiments on animals stopped. I am all for beautiful women, but to experiment on animals in order to test cosmetics, whether lipstick or eye lotion, is extremely immoral. In regard to thalidomide, the experiments were done on rabbits and look what happened! The answer is that animal vivisection is not always the way to find out how to prevent disease and so on.
I should like for a moment to turn to the land, because everything comes from the land and I have a lot to do with the land. As I have said before, I am getting increasingly worried about certain of the more beautiful and remote areas. I am all for tourists going to see beautiful country, but there must be some control. For example, there are some small islands off the north of Mull called The Treshnish, which are an absolute paradise for birds such as puffins in the nesting season. A lot of motor boats now go out there with tourists and they land on the islands causing a lot of the birds to fly away. Puffins, in particular, come in with their bills full of fish in order to feed their young, and when they see the tourists, presumably they say "Good heavens!" and fly out to sea again, dropping all the fish and their young starve. There will have to be some form of control over tourists when they come in their thousands, so as to not to drive away the wild life nor to destroy the plant life. Tourists do not realise that they are doing this and they cannot be blamed, but there must be some control exercised.
Another matter that I am worried about is the over-planting of Sitka spruce. There is a firm in Scotland—there may be one or two others—called Fountain Forestry. There are quite a few of these big forestry syndicates. They find some very rich man or men, such as an industrialist, or a "pop" group. They are extremely keen on finding "pop" groups, because they have a lot of money. If you plant a lot of spruce, you avoid a good deal of tax. For example, Fountain Forestry have planted a whole area of the Rossal estate, on the southern boundary opposite my estate, with Sitka spruce. It is a large area, amounting to thousands of acres. They have destroyed all the wildlife and have increased the acidity so much that the river in the valley is now pretty well dead and useless, so that it cannot be fished by tourists.
When these big forestry syndicates buy estates, the local people do not have a land owner who takes an interest in them. For example, I understand that the 216 Genesis "pop" group who own this large estate have never been there, though I think they have had it for six years. That is extremely bad for the local people. It is an unfortunate way of life that we have got into.
My Lords, I have spoken for too long. I should, however, like to welcome the fact, although I do not believe it is contained in the Queen's Speech, that we are to have a Bill on the Norfolk Broads. At one time, I knew the Norfolk Broads quite well. This will be a very important Bill dealing with a unique part of Britain. It is one of the biggest wetlands in Europe. It is enjoyed greatly by 250,000 tourists who go there each year for boating and sailing. However, again, there is need for some stronger controls than now exist.
Since my youth, the Norfolk Broads have deteriorated appallingly. I believe that of the 52 Broads only four are now really as they were. I hope therefore that the Bill will appear soon. If the Broads are to be saved, they must come under one authority. It is amazing to realise that the reed beds are now down to only 8 per cent. of the area they once occupied. The banks have been washed away by motorboats. It is therefore very important to save the Broads before it is too late. I am sorry, my Lords, to have spoken for so long.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Lord Pitt of Hampstead
My Lords, I must apologise for keeping the House for a while, but I wish to comment on a few items in the gracious Speech. It contains a promise to amend the law on sex discrimination in employment but there is no mention of amending the Race Relations Act. I know that amendments to the Act have been requested by the Commission for Racial Equality. These are aimed at strengthening the enforcement powers and generally at making the present Act work better.
The need for effective legislation to promote racial equality is perhaps greater now than when the Race Relations Act was passed in 1976. The degree of racial discrimination and racial disadvantage that exists in society is well known and has been well documented. Racial discrimination is a cancer that undermines the fabric of society. If allowed to grow and flourish, it can destroy the society. Every effort must be made to control it and turn back the tide.
In this effort, the Government have a very important role to play. Supporting the Commission for Racial Equality, which is entrusted with the task of enforcing the Act, is one of those roles. But they also need to set a good example themselves. An important way in which the Government can set that example is by making their own activities subject to the ambit of the legislation and also by being an equal opportunities employer and ensuring that other agencies over which they have some control do likewise. Those are all things that the Government can and should be doing.
It is particularly important that a community should see that the Government are prepared to be bound by the same rules as the rest of the community. I say this because one of the amendments recommended by the commission is related to the exemptions that exist in the Act for Government activities. It may well be that these amendments to the Race Relations Act are being actively considered with a view to early legislation. If so, I hope that the Minister will reassure us on the point.
217 The gracious Speech has also promised legislation to improve the management of schools and to promote the professional effectiveness of teachers. The Swann Committee, in its report entitled Education for All, said this:The response of schools both multi-racial and all-white to cultural diversity has to be seen as a central feature of the current debate on the balance and breadth of the school curriculum. The Secretary of State should focus on this issue when considering responses to DES circular 8/83 and in further statements that he may make and any agreements that he may seek about the curriculum".I would be grateful if the Minister, in his reply, can focus on this matter and indicate to what extent the recommendations of the Swann Committee in Education for All are incorporated in the programme of the Secretary of State in his endeavours to improve education standards. This is an issue of the utmost importance. I hope that the Government will give it the greatest attention.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, as this is a matter that has always interested me very much, does my noble friend believe that, in the case of the ethnic minorities, special steps have to be taken in view of the fact that the culture of this country does not come so naturally to them?
§ Lord Pitt of Hampstead
Yes, my Lords. If my noble friend had read Education for All he would see that the Swann Committee came to the conclusion that the concentration should be on all the children who are being educated, that they should be educated to live in a multi-cultural society and that this should be part of the curriculum. The stress should be on all the children understanding how all the children live and the culture of all the children. This is the point that I was making. My hope is that the Secretary of State, who I know is busily concerned with trying to improve the curriculum, should take into account the standard of education and the value and substance of education. It is on that matter that I hope the Minister will give me some reassurance.
The gracious Speech also promises measures to strengthen the power of the police in combating disorder. One issue occasioning great concern at present is racial harassment. The Home Office report on racial harassment pointed out that, proportionately, the incidence of victimisation for Asians was 50 times higher than that for white people, and that for Afro-Caribbeans it was over 36 times higher. Although the police are frequently criticised on this issue, I know that they are very concerned about it. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner has indicated that it is one of the priority issues. Since we will be amending the Public Order Act, it seems to me that careful consideration should be given to the creation of an offence which will cover that particular activity and so help the police to eradicate this evil. I do not expect the Minister to give an answer tonight but I hope that he will draw the attention of his right honourable friend to my comments and that this matter will receive careful consideration. Indeed, it should receive very careful consideration.
I shall devote the rest of my speech to the subject of housing. I am the chairman of Shelter, the national campaign for the homeless. That organisation is 218 alarmed at the continuing rise in homelessness and the deterioration of our housing stock. More than 4500 households, the majority of them families, were accepted as homeless by local authorities in England in the first six months of 1985. That is equivalent to an increase of 70 per cent. compared with 1978, which was the year in which the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act came into force.
Shelter estimates that in Britain—that is, including Scotland and Wales—the official number of homeless will this year top 100,000 households for the first time. This is a serious matter. Most single people and childless couples are not covered by the homeless persons Act. Government statistics indicate that more than 50,000 homeless people will be turned away by local authorities this year with only advice and assistance—and that often means merely the provison of a list of local bed-and breakfast hotels.
Families accepted by local authorities under the homeless persons Act are increasingly being placed in temporary accommodation; that is, hostels or bed and-breakfast hotels. More than 8,200 families were in temporary accommodation at the end of June 1985; that is more than double the figure for June 1978. Bed-and-breakfast hotels can be overcrowded and insanitary, and they are often fire risks. Thus they place at risk the health and sometimes the lives of the homeless families housed in them. For children, education can be disrupted and their emotional and psychological development retarded.
The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, has dealt effectively with the state of the housing stock and so I do not need to cover that aspect. All I need say is that I hope the Government will take this particular issue seriously, too. I will deal with the need for more homes. There is said to be a crude surplus of homes in Britain. That means that there are more houses than households when a simple count of the two is made. However, such a calculation makes no allowance for houses which are derelict, for second homes or for houses which are empty while being repaired or renovated. Nor does it allow for the fact that some households consist of two families doubling up together.
Shelter has calculated, on the basis of statistics provided by the census, that in 1981 we suffered from a real shortage of 800,000 homes. Growing homelessness is one sign of that shortage. Another is overcrowding. The census showed that more than 600,000 people in England and Wales were living at a density of more than 1.5 persons to a room, and that a further 2.8 million were living with more than one person to a room. The number of households continues to rise. The Government estimate that the number of households in England will rise by 2.3 million between 1981 and 2001. That is an increase of 14 per cent. It has been estimated also that 200,000 new homes are needed each year to cope with the increase in the population alone. Yet since 1979 house construction in Britain has only once exceeded that figure; that was in 1983. On the basis of half-year figures, Shelter estimates that housebuilding will fall below that level in 1985 as well.
The figure of 200,000 new homes a year would only deal with the population increase. The last Labour Government estimated in 1977 that, to allow for the 219 relief of overcrowding and poor housing conditions, around 300,000 new homes a year would be required, of which 120,000 should be in the public sector. However, in 1979 public sector starts fell below 100,000 for the first time since the Second World War. Since then, the figure has on average been only one-third of the number needed. The noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, mentioned a figure of 30,000 new homes this year.
What are the Government doing? To understand that we need to consider their housing proposals in the gracious Speech together with the decisions on public housing expenditure taken by the Cabinet the day after. According to newspaper reports, councils in England will be allowed to spend an extra £300 million in housing investment next year, compared with previous plans. However, they will be expected to raise £100 million themselves by selling more houses and land. Thus the amount they can borrow has been raised by only £200 million. I wrote my speech before hearing the Statement repeated earlier today, in which the Minister indicated that councils will be allowed to borrow £220 million. Therefore they now have £20 million more.
Following the long series of cuts made in previous years, any increase in the resources available for building new homes and for repairing and building old ones must be welcome. Certainly I welcome that increase. However, we must ask ourselves what it really amounts to. According to the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, the new money does not represent an increase but rather a small cut. The association says that next year councils will be allowed to borrow £1,820 million compared with £1,853 million this year. I culled that information from the Guardian of 8th November. If I add the extra £20 million which the Minister mentioned today, the sum will be £1,840 million rather than £1,820 million which will still be less than last year's figure of £1,853 million.
The figure of £300 million gained compares with the £600 million for which the Secretary of State for the Environment is reported to have asked. Had he received that, it would have been an increase. The figure must also be compared with the size of the problem and with previous cuts. The Department of the Environment has recently received a report putting the bill for council house repairs alone at £20 billion. It must be remembered that housing investment budgets have been cut by over 40 per cent. in real terms since 1979. The housing investment budget is the budget which has received the largest cuts during the past six years. Shelter estimates that the housing investment programme would have to be increased by £2,000 million to bring it back to the level it was at in 1979–80.
The gracious Speech made promises of further incentives for public sector tenants to purchase their homes under the right to buy, and that they would encourage councils to sell estates to private developers, usually for refurbishment. Frankly, I do not know just to what extent the Government think they can go on with these incentives in order to sell council houses. I am particularly alarmed at the suggestion that people in council houses will be allowed to take their 220 discounts and buy houses on the open market, using the money they have received. That is blatantly unfair. It will mean that someone in a council house will have money which he can invest in a new home, whereas someone else who might be living just across the road in a privately-rented dwelling, probably in worse condition, will not have it. Clearly that is blatantly unfair. Therefore I do not know to what extent the Government think they can go on with these financial incentives in order to sell houses.
I am also a little concerned about the grants available to private landlords who buy council homes. The councils are being severely limited in the funds available for carrying out repairs, but these landlords, through the urban development grant scheme, can obtain the same money that the councils are being denied in order that they may develop the properties after they have purchased them. The noble Lord, Lord Young, this afternoon explained to some extent how the Government see this; that is, he thought that the councils had used the money badly in the past and that it was therefore preferable that someone who could use the money better should have it, if I understood correctly the noble Lord's reply to the question put to him. Well, there may be something in that, but I am still not convinced that it is the right approach.
I am worried that in fact the Government are subsidising by these means the transfer of homes from the public sector to home ownership. Many people who are homeless or living in overcrowded or poor conditions are unable to afford home ownership. Therefore the result of this transfer is to help those who can afford to buy a home at the expense of those who cannot. The loss of local authority housing stock is particularly worrying as councils are mainly dependent on the use of their own homes for rehousing families accepted as homeless under the homeless persons Act.
I have spoken for so long that I shall not go on to other points. I merely point out that the gracious Speech could have expressed the Government's determination to reduce the number of homeless and to improve housing conditions in Britain. It was not in the gracious Speech, but that of course does not prevent the Government from doing that and I sincerely hope they will.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ The Countess of Mar
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, has already quoted the paragraph from the gracious Speech which dealt with education. Perhaps I may say that I heartily endorse his words. I found it interesting that the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, dwelt for some time in his opening speech on the Government's proposals for animal experiments but made no mention of the proposals for schools and teachers. Despite the noble Lord's apology, is the omission warranted or is the subject too contentious at this time?
I have an interest to the extent that I am the wife of a teacher who is employed by a local authority and I am a parent governor of an independent school. There must be thousands of husbands and wives who, though not directly involved in the profession, are inextricably bound up in it and are most anxious that the present difficulties should be resolved. Your Lordships will no 221 doubt be pleased to hear that I have no intention of leading myself on to the thorny ground of the politics of the present dispute.
There has never been in recent years such a high demand for places for children within the independent school sector. During the summer term I was asked to interview a number of children whose parents had put them in for the few scholarships provided by the school of which I am a governor. These 15 children had attained the best marks in tests for mathematics and English in competition with more than 200 other 10-year-olds. They came from independent preparatory schools and from state junior schools, with the majority of applicants coming from the state system.
It was a revelation to me. Both groups of children obviously came from families whose parents cared about them and who had done quite a lot to prepare them for the interview. The children from prep schools were altogether more self-assured and articulate than their rivals. They had obviously read the books they said they had read and they had a wide range of outside school activities and interests. Almost without exception the children educated in state schools said they either watched television or played computer games in their spare time. Their lack of general knowledge was most marked. Only one took part in any sporting activity.
I know that this was only a small sample but it prompted me to inquire further. I have discovered that there are many parents who, unhappy with the state schools, are stinting themselves to provide an independent school education for their children. Others, who cannot find the means, try to force their children to obtain scholarships and bursaries. These parents are not the rich who have traditionally sent their children to independent schools. They seem to be parents who themselves had a grammar school background and wish for their children a broadly based, traditional education which inculcates a sense of civic pride and responsibility, as was provided by the grammar schools until the 1970s. I do not hanker after the return of grammar schools, for the comprehensive schools are now well established in most local authority areas and it would be absurd to create yet another upheaval.
When the system was first set up I understood that the objective was to provide a high standard of education for all children, to give them all the same opportunities to become high achievers without the divisive competition at 11-plus. I think all parents would approve of those objectives but something seems to have gone terribly wrong. At the root of the trouble must be the lack of funding. This has affected the building and maintenance of premises, the provision of teaching materials, the range of subjects which can be taught, the support for extra curricula activities as well as the salaries of teachers. The recent reports of Her Majesty's Inspectors confirm that many of the deficiencies exist, though their severity varies between local authority areas.
In addition to these difficulties the children are different. Many are no longer brought up by their parents to respect authority—whether that authority be parent, policeman, doctor, parson or teacher; and I wrote this speech before I heard the right honourable lady the Prime Minister's speech last night. The 222 gradual increase in the school-leaving age has kept those young people, who have little academic aptitude and who have a great antipathy to the school environment in the classroom, and to all intents and purposes they are expected to stay in full-time education until they are 18 unless they can get a job.
Falling rolls there are; an overall improvement in pupil-teacher ratios there may well be; but the figures need to be looked at more closely. They are calculated on the basis of the total number of pupils in a local authority area divided by the number of teachers in that area. What is not taken into account is that one teacher of a basic subject such as English or mathematics may be teaching 35 children, while in the next room another teaching, say, Latin, has only four children in his class. It is hardly surprising that, given these circumstances, few men and women of the calibre that we would wish of our teachers enter the profession, and that 60 per cent. of those in it now would leave if they could find a suitable alternative job.
H. G. Wells wrote in 1920 that:human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe".This man, who left school at the age of 14 with a very sketchy education, pulled himself up by his own bootlaces. He won a scholarship and obtained a degree from London University by the time he was 22. He was obviously exceptional, but he saw the value of education and tried to impart his knowledge to others, both as a writer and a teacher. Education was the gateway to a better job and thus to a position in society.
It was also a means of broadening the mind and of making life more rewarding. When I was young I remember meeting many men and women whose schooling had stopped when they were 12 but they had such a thirst for knowledge—whether inspired by parents, teachers or both I know not—that even in old age they never stopped in their quest for it. I meet and talk with quite a number of young people, and rarely do I find much enthusiasm for school or for further education. They see no future in it. This may be the fault of some teachers. Certainly it is the fault of many parents. My generation and that which followed mine must be held responsible for abnegating our duty to instil moral values in our children. We are too busy with our own lives to talk with our children and to teach them such things as simple courtesy, respect for people and their property and the myriads of other little things such as those which I learned from my parents.
We have handed that responsibility over to the teachers and we are the first to criticise them when things go wrong. "Standards" and "discipline" are almost dirty words nowadays, but without them children and young people can be all too easily manipulated. Mammon is our god. Those with a vocation who are prepared to accept a lower salary for the service which they provide to the community are no longer respected. Every one of us feels the need to be appreciated and to feel that what we do is of some worth. Teachers used to be respected and valued members of society. The fact that this is no longer so may be partly their own fault, but we also have a responsibility for the deterioration in their status. How 223 can a teacher who is on pay scale 2 with a wife at home with two young children and who must claim Family Income Supplement to make ends meet, feel that he is of value to the community? I know such a teacher. Is this really the way to treat a professional person? Can we expect him to maintain professional standards when he ranks among the lower paid?
What are the solutions? Nothing can be done overnight. I know that. We cannot provide instant jobs to give young people the incentive to learn, but we can try to ensure that their waking hours are used more fruitfully than they seem to be now. If we have a mind to, we can put right the most glaring deficiencies. The environment in which a child learns and the teacher teaches is important. Buildings, if not inspiring, should be at least clean and well maintained. There should be an adequate supply of books and other learning materials. Computers have their place but they are not the be-all and end-all of learning. Many children will probably never touch a computer after they have left school.
The terms and conditions of employment of teachers must be improved to encourage cultured men and women of wide knowledge and education as well as vocation to enter the profession. These need to be recruited in numbers sufficient to give children a broad base of learning so that they can face the world with flexible and inventive minds which are easily adapted to rapidly changing circumstances. There is plenty of time for them to specialise after school. Parents should be involved in the running of their children's schools as part of the community; though as a parent-governor myself I would strongly resist their involvement in day-to-day teaching matters. I think that these are best left to the professionals. I hope that the Government will bear these factors in mind when they draft the proposed Bill. I also most sincerely hope that it will be done in an atmosphere of consultation away from the attitude of confrontation which presently prevails.
I know that it all comes down to money—money for building, money for books and equipment, money for salaries. This year Her Majesty's Government expect to spend £18,000 million on defence; on education they expect to spend only £13,000 million. In 1978–79 the gap was only £39 million; now it is £5,000 million. I believe that we should defend our nation from foes who may or may not attack us at some time in the future. But what about the foes of ignorance and want, which are attacking the very heart of our nation? They provide, at the very least, a breeding-ground for the vandal and the drug abuser, the bigot and the subversive, and at worst the material for violent revolution.
A good education will not prevent all these crimes but I am convinced that it will go a long way towards it. H. G. Wells had the uncanny knack of being right in so many of his theories. Must we go down in history as the generation which created the conditions which enable catastrophe to triumph over education? I wonder whether the Minister in his reply would briefly summarise the objectives of his party's education policy, or, if there is no time, perhaps he would write to me?
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
My Lords, I hope that the noble Baroness will forgive me if I do not follow up in detail her very interesting speech about education, though I shall be interested to hear later on the elucidation of the Government's policy at some length. In this House I have answered for education for some time but, as I have never believed that anybody knows anything about it at all except that the one thing you want for education is good teachers and no one knows how to train them, I had better say no more on the subject.
My noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich said that crime and everything to do with crime should be treated as a non-party issue. That seems to me to be absolutely clear and I shall do exactly that in what I shall say tonight. The noble Lord, Lord Mellish, made a brilliant speech, but as he is not here I need not go on about it. In fact I shall refer to him later on because what he has been doing in the docks area is something that is not altogether dissimilar to what I am going to talk about, which is going on in America. I thought it was a particularly brilliant speech. We have one ex-Labour Chief Whip on our Benches and we should actually welcome another.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London started me thinking about Sunday trading. My first view is the liberal view: who the hell cares, and anyway why should people not do what they want to do? He suggested that there were deeper reasons and I shall follow this very carefully in the debate when the Bill comes forward. I found some of the anti-liberal arguments rather old-fashioned and the sort of thing which was used in the 18th and 19th centuries against hanging, but perhaps that is unfair. I do not believe that my hero, Samuel Butler, would have agreed with the right reverend Prelate, so I reserve my vote for when the time comes.
Lastly on the debate, I want to thank my noble friend Lady Burton for a splendid philippic in favour of the consumer. I must say that the poor Minister will have a rough job if he is to answer one third of the unanswerable questions that she asked. As a one-time chairman of the Consumer Council, which was destroyed by the Tory Government and within two years had to be recreated, I just want to say that I do not know what we would do without my noble friend.
To turn to what I wanted to say, I think that the most important issue in this debate on home affairs is riots: how they happen, how we control them and how we can stop them happening. I shall spend what little time I have on that subject. As to controlling them, what I wanted to say was said by my noble friend Lord Harris. He was strong in his support of the police and in stating what he believed to be the Government's duty and I totally support his views. Most people in this House and certainly all members of the Alliance parties accept that every British citizen must and shall have equal rights and duties irrespective of race or colour or sex. Those rights include protection by the full strength of the law of one's home and person from attack whether the attack be on Asians by blacks, on blacks by whites, on working miners by striking miners, or any other combination.
The duties include support of the police in difficult situations and especially exclude the throwing of 225 bricks or petrol bombs at them. Anyone who has a brick thrown at him which can seriously injure or kill him is entitled to hit back good and hard, still more against the petrol bomb—so cheap and easy to make and so potentially cruel in its effects. Unless the police throw the first brick—and there is no instance of that having happened in any of the riots and rows that we have seen—the police are to be absolutely excused for responding sometimes rather violently. CS gas and plastic bullets are not too strong an answer to attacks of that kind and they are at least better than live rounds. Those facts are not altered by the further fact that there is irrefutable evidence that some individual police in some cases have behaved very badly indeed. We employ the police to protect us and we have to give them the weapons, even if they sometimes exceed what is required.
It must not be thought that the people who support the Government in their determination to reinforce the police and equip them to deal with any level of rioting (which I have shown that I do, and my noble friend Lord Harris has shown that he does) are in any way opposed to putting right the wrongs which have led to the unrest. We must not let a false party rhetoric suggest that the Government are committed to law and order and are not interested in the underlying causes; or that the Opposition who tend to concentrate on the underlying causes are not interested in strengthening the police. The two things must go together.
There was a particularly half-baked letter in The Times last week by a gentleman whose name I have conveniently forgotten, asking:Will the criminal minority who cause the inner-city riots become reformed characters? Petrol-bombers are not ideal self help material … Misguided compassion will not alleviate the quasi-revolutionary festering and may well exacerbate it".It is that attitude in particular which I want to attack and attack in some detail from current experience in the United States of America.
I want to ask the Government to look very carefully at what has happened there over the past 20 years. Their problem was on a larger and more dangerous scale than ours and they seem to have dealt with it effectively. I shall quote only one example. Watts is a suburb of Los Angeles much like our inner-city areas. It is 80 per cent. black, unattractive and 20 years ago it was a proper slum. Noble Lords will remember the Watts riots in 1965, the first and perhaps the worst black riots in the States. The whole place was burnt out—devasted. But it has since been transformed by the inhabitants themselves into a place in which they are proud and happy to live.
A powerful leader showed up and gathered people round him to get something done. He began with a few fellow trade unionists in 1965 with the determination to change the area into a place where anyone of any background or life style would want to live, and the intention of kindling the fire of pride and self-respect in its people. The association began with five people and five dollars and has grown to a staff of 120. It is called the Watts Labour Community Action Committee and its founder and leader, who is a most remarkable black American called Ted Watkins, told me last week in this House something about his achievements.
I cannot go into too much detail—and here we begin to remember what the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, was 226 telling us in entirely different English circumstances—but, roughly, they persuaded several unions to club together and put up about 2 million dollars. They bought local land, and on the security they borrowed money to build themselves modest houses for Watts people to rent with the unusual guarantee—again referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Mellish—of ownership after 20 years, the rent covering the mortgage payments. It is almost an exact copy of what the noble Lord was telling us. They have now built a splendid hospital on their land and developed a number of successful enterprises—a grocery store, several petrol stations, a poultry ranch, work training schemes, remedial education, counselling activities and so on. They have organised the young into maintenance groups to keep the place tidy, do local repairs and keep order.
What Mr. Watkins stressed is their independence. They do everything themselves. Blacks from the area are always ploughing back any surpluses into the community purse. That again is exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, said. The state paid for 36,000 trees, all of which they planted themselves. That would please my noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie! It illustrates their invariable approach to any improvement.
Next to independence, Mr. Watkins stressed flexibility of funding. They have been able to mix state and federal funds with craft union support and other sources in a way which, I am afraid, our officialdom would find very hard to countenance. But, as a result, their housing schemes not only provide homes but also train Watts youngsters in carpentry, plastering and bricklaying and, above all, generate local employment, unlike outside contractors, who spend their earnings elsewhere.
The city police co-operate in a way that I am sure our police would be happy to join in. The young local residents, mostly black, are employed as a security force, unarmed, but patrolling housing schemes and shopping precincts, and they are able to call up police help on their personal radios. Thus those young people become part of the solution and not part of the problem. By careful management and by doing things themselves they now have a number of successful enterprises, and these are growing all the time.
All that sounds too good to be true, but Mrs. Hoodless, who is the Director of Community Service Volunteers in England was actually there on the streets of Watts in 1981 after our Brixton riots and saw for herself what had been achieved. She saw the blacks who had rioted and thrown petrol bombs active in their restoration work, and she saw the new generation of young blacks growing up not to throw bricks at the police but formed, as I have just said, into a residential security force, unarmed, but in touch with the police at any time necessary.
As a result of her visit Mr. Watkins came over here at the end of 1981 and a London base of his Watts committee was established at the headquarters of CSV in the Pentonville Road with the help of the GLC and (I say this to the Minister) the Department of the Environment. Advice and help have already been forthcoming from that London base for projects in Brent, Hammersmith, Islington, Haringey and Hackney. The Government know all about that, but I 227 thought that most noble Lords would not and that it deserved an airing. Such a scheme seems to me to be the right and practical way to put money into these ghetto-like areas, giving the people languishing in them exciting and constructive work to put their own home ground in order. Ted Watkins went to look round Handsworth a couple of weeks ago and noticed that the restoration work seemed to be done by large firms and not locals, and he saw no blacks at the work, for what it is worth.
Mr. Watkins has seen the Secretary of State, and I expect that the right honourable gentleman will have been as impressed with him as I was. I beg the Government to channel at least a substantial part of the increased help that they are promising in this sort of direction.
In discussion Mr. Watkins agreed that our conditions are very different from those in the United States. To begin with he said that our blacks are 20 years behind the American blacks socially, economically and educationally. He said that proportionately we may not have as many multimillionaires but that he thought we had as many millionaires, which was rather an interesting thing to hear. It may have been exaggerated. He thought that our unions would be a harder touch than theirs had proved, and of that I am quite certain. He thought that we had a special problem over lessening distrust of the police because we had so few black police, and while the tension remained it would obviously be difficult to recruit them. He made what seemed to me an interesting suggestion—that we should ask for help from our old Commonwealth, where there are many trained black police who could not be accused of being disloyal to their community and could quickly establish good relations with the public. I pass that on for what it is worth.
I want to back up this—to me—exciting story of the Watts achievement with evidence from home. NACRO, the organisation for helping offenders of which I am proud to be the president, has for 10 years been involved in what it calls neighbourhood approaches to crime prevention, work which brings it into close touch not only with potential and actual offenders but also with the surrounding community. It is involved in no less than 60 housing estates in 30 different local authorities all over England and Wales. The NACRO analysis of inner city problems tallies very closely with the Watts experience but so far their involvement has been on too small a scale to show comparable results. Once again, the Government know all about this. Our premises were burnt down in Handsworth and we are producing Response to the Handsworth Disturbances, a document which I hope the Government will study very carefully when we send it to them, but we have not yet done so because it is not quite agreed.
Watts has shown that its methods can work. We in NACRO, with other social work organisations, have begun here. What is required is a determined act of co-ordination, area by area, to see that different estates are properly, flexibly and generously funded, never forgetting the cardinal rule that they must be persuaded to do things for themselves and to be independent. I believe that we have to try to follow the 228 Watts initiative of self-help in each deprived housing estate and I believe that in this way we can remove the underlying causes of riots. I do not believe that we can do it in any other way.
Perhaps I may end by quoting a very moving speech made in 1971 in your Lordships' House by a much loved colleague. He said:The West Indian is different from any other colonial in the world … In essence he is a black Englishman, because when slavery took the African into the West Indies the owners destroyed everything that was Africa. They have not got original names. My grandfather was a Nigerian, but I am named Constan tine. That name was collected in the West Indies".He said that he was brought up to use English pots and pans, to an English school curriculum, to English games—and paused to point out that pupils sometimes defeated the teacher. He knew no other language and no other customs than English. He said:It was very easy for me to come and live in England".It has not proved so easy for some of his fellow blacks from the West Indies. Nor will it until they can be proud to live where they live and can show by helping themselves that they really belong to this country.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Baroness Nicol
My Lords, I too offer the Minister sympathy in advance because I am about to introduce yet another facet although I have tried not to put my remarks in the form of questions, so he may get away with not spending too long on my speech.
Those of us who are concerned with environmental matters have every reason to look closely at the proposals in the gracious Speech. We have the recent example of the Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) Act in which vitally needed measures—which the Government apparently supported in principle—were included in the last Session only by virtue of a Private Member's Bill introduced by my honourable friend Dr. David Clark in another place. We have the current conflict over the Okehampton by-pass, where the Government are prepared even to override the recommendation of a Joint Select Committee in their determination to drive a motorway through a national park. We have a Bill pending to try to rationalise the management of the Broads—the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, was very eloquent on this—to ensure the survival of one of our most important remaining wetlands, and although there seemed to be Government support at the beginning, rumour has it that that support is now wavering. I hope that this is not true. Perhaps I could make that the single question that I put to the Minister. Are the Government still supporting this Bill?
We have encountered stiff resistance to our efforts to persuade the Government that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Forestry Commission should have a greater responsibility to further conservation in all their activities. Again, the noble Viscount drew our attention to the problems of absentee landlords and to the fact that the Forestry Commission has been and is being persuaded to sell off parcels of forestry to private ownership. That some of these parcels of forestry are being taken up in the way the noble Viscount said must give us all cause for concern.
229 We are enduring long delays in negotiations on the establishment of marine reserves. So far as I know, none has yet been established and we are now into our third—possibly our fourth—year. We have observed Government resistance to EC directives on certain aspects of pollution control. None of these examples gives us any confidence that the Government are responsive to the growing public awareness and concern over conservation methods.
On a slightly brighter note, the proposals for environmentally-sensitive areas in the forthcoming Agriculture Bill are welcome and will go some way to meet criticism from environmental groups and from Members of both Houses. In line with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, the new grant arrangements to farmers in ESAs could pave the way for more widespread future support for environmentally-sensitive farming, especially when there is a growing EC concern for over production.
Now is not the time for a detailed examination of that Bill, but I take this opportunity to ask the Government to look again at the desirability of placing a duty on agricultural Ministers to balance the needs of food production and forestry with those of conservation. I am very delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has appeared. He knows this song very well. There was wide support for this approach during the debates on the wildlife Bill and I take this opportunity of reminding the Government of that.
The opportunity could also be taken to examine more ways of realigning agricultural support to assist environmental policy. Again the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, made some common sense suggestions which I think could well be taken up. The Council for the Protection of Rural England, the Council for National Parks, and the World Wildlife Fund have produced an excellent report which I recommend to the Minister if he has not already read it. The ESA provisions could be extended and used experimentally in varying areas of countryside. Is the Minister aware that the Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council have a preliminary short list of 46 appropriate ESA areas in England and Wales? We shall return to all those issues during the passage of the Agriculture Bill. However, meanwhile I urge the Government to take the initiative and to make imaginative use of this opportunity.
I turn now to the proposal to "improve the planning systems", which is also mentioned in the gracious Speech. The details are contained in the White Paper entitled Lifting the Burden and they refer to the fairly sweeping changes which are proposed in planning procedures. It is encouraging to find a commitment to green belt protection and to the preservation of our historic buildings and the rural landscape. It seems to me that there may well be a contradiction between those particular commitments and what comes afterwards. Nevertheless, we welcome them.
The indiscriminate sweeping away of controls proposed for certain urban areas gives cause for concern. There is room to improve procedures. I think that there has been considerable improvement over the last few years in the time taken to agree planning applications, and that is to be welcomed. We all want to make planning departments more efficient. 230 However, the removal of safeguards against undesirable developments cannot be welcomed The content of paragraph 3.8 of Lifting the Burden is particularly worrying and I shall quote it in order to give your Lordships the flavour of the chapter. It says:Where serious environmental problems may be expected, it may still be possible for permission to be given but subject to suitable conditions to protect the environment. Where it is less certain that there will be problems the development should normally be allowed to proceed without onerous conditions. If subsequently there are shown to be serious environmental problems, the local authority could take action against nuisance under the public health and control of pollution legislation".I shall not weary your Lordships by reading any more, but the whole of that particular chapter is couched in those terms and it is, indeed, very worrying. It reveals an antagonism towards existing planning procedures which is not justified by the results. In general, we have enjoyed a degree of protection from exploitation which should not lightly be dismissed. Long before we may reach the expensive stage of having to apply public health and all the other safeguards, local residents will have suffered a considerable degree of nuisance, annoyance and possibly loss of property values. I do not think that that is a road along which the Government should go, and I ask the Minister to look carefully at the proposals and to listen to the many objections which I am sure he has already received along these lines. For all the reasons which I have given, we can only view the Government's environment proposals generally with caution and with some anxiety.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Lord Auckland
My Lords, although the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, is not in his place, I should like to associate myself with the congratulations which have been expressed to him on his notable maiden speech. I do so for one particular reason; that is, I happen to be an associate director of a company situated in Rotherhithe and I have seen it grow considerably over the few years in which the noble Lord, Lord Mellish—who once so admirably represented that part of London in the other place—has been responsible for it.
As always, the gracious Speech is a formidable mixed grill of legislation. Any Minister who has to wind up a gracious Speech debate has a formidable task ahead of him. I wish to refer briefly to that part of the gracious Speech which deals with the reorganisation of our social services. Whatever views may be held on the proposed legislation, the Government are to be congratulated on at last grasping the nettle and reorganising something which was first set up as far back as 1944 under the aegis of that very distinguished reformer Sir William Beveridge. We must of course await the legislation before we can comment in any detail on the matter. However, we are now faced with a substantially larger population than in 1944. Therefore the task facing any Government when they come to administering the social services equitably and to those who really need help from the social services becomes increasingly formidable.
I hope, as I am sure the House does, that particular attention will be paid to those who are on pension. Your Lordships' attention will have been drawn to the alarming plight of a number of members of our armed services who have been injured in recent affrays; and I 231 think particularly of the Regent's Park bombing outrage. I hope that in a general review not only of the social services but of pensions as a whole, those matters will be looked into.
I realise of course that looking into specific matters is the prerequisite of Members of the other place, but I believe that the general, as opposed to the particular, needs consideration. Therefore the whole aegis of social services, particularly the increased training of social workers, is important. We have read of some particularly disturbing cases of ill-treatment of children living in very substandard conditions. I hope that the Government, when they review the social services, will look into the need for retraining, or increasing the training, of social workers. A lot of juvenile crime today is not so much the result of unemployment but the result of ill-treatment when young. They become embittered and they turn to crime. This is a field which needs looking into.
I want to say just a word about the Sunday trading laws. Again of course we have not seen the legislation, but there is undoubtedly strong feeling on this matter. I urge the Government to think twice about whipping too hard on this. Obviously we cannot give directions to the other place, but this is a matter which provokes consciences. I believe that the Government are to be commended on at last bringing in legislation of some kind. Whatever else may be said, the present laws are a complete anomaly. Instance after instance can be given of certain things that can or cannot be purchased in a chemist's shop—toothbrushes but not toothpaste, or vice versa. Obviously all this kind of thing in 1985 needs looking into carefully.
There is a genuine desire among many people to preserve Sunday as a special day, and it is open to question whether there is a real need for the general opening of shops. Of course it can be said that garages and public houses open, so why not shops? I hope that before the legislation is finally framed there will be a far more comprehensive examination of whether there is a real need for a general directive to be given for shops to open as is envisaged by the Auld committee.
My final word is about education legislation. Of course the present teachers' dispute is regretted by everyone. This is not the occasion to make detailed comments on this dispute, but I hope that any legislation envisaged with regard to the teaching profession looks carefully into the general salary structure for school teachers. There are obvious anomalies here, and I speak as one whose elder daughter went to training college up in Nottingham and taught for some years before having a family of her own, but who is now likely to return to supply teaching. She feels strongly about this, though she would never strike. A close look into the whole question of teachers' pay and the conditions of employment is necessary.
My noble friend the Minister already has a formidable task ahead of him. I do not propose to add to his burden because, due to the exigencies of British Rail, I may have to leave before his winding-up speech. But one thing is quite certain: we have a very challenging Session ahead.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Lord Crawshaw of Aintree
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, will forgive me if I do not follow his theme. As a person associated with Toxteth for 27 years and having had the honour of representing it in the other place for 19 of those years, I wish to take the opportunity of making a contribution concerned with inner city troubles. One thing that has concerned me during this debate is the assumption that people are either for the police or against them. What do we mean by are we for the police? As a person who has been a member of the Bar for 37 years it is unlikely that I should be against the police, but if being for the police means that one is never entitled to be critical of them, I am afraid that your Lordships must count me out from the word "go". I have not found a political party I have belonged to that I have not been critical of. I have been critical of my Church but I hope constructively. What I shall say today I hope will be constructive even though it bears criticism.
Of course I support the police. I wish to say here and now that rioting on our streets is not justified in any circumstances in a democracy. Those who riot must accept the punishment which is meted out. But there are certain causes for riots. Not all people who take part in riots are criminals in the accepted sense of the word. Desperation can drive people on. If that were not accepted it seems most peculiar that the Government are going to give their name to certain sanctions in the future if apartheid is not dismantled in South Africa. But those people we are seeking to help in South Africa have themselves been rioting on the streets and killing police. But we say in that case they are not in a democratic state. Of course they are not in a democratic state, but people in a democratic state can reach a level of frustration which can bring about riots. We have heard about black people rioting on the streets.
Much of what I shall say today I said in the other place in July 1981 in the week following the Toxteth riots when everybody thought it was most convenient to say that it was a black riot. The police knew that it was not a black riot on the first night: it was a black and white riot. I had to say that because it was only fair to say it. Following that riot, I was asked on the following Sunday to address the congregation at a local church after the service. When I got there they had moved into the hall. There were between 120 and 140 people there, probably about a dozen to 20 faces among them were black and all the rest were white. I said "I have not come here to speak to you, I want you to speak to me", hoping against hope that they would change my mind on some of the things that I had learned during the 27 years that I had been there. After the church service, one white parishioner after another said, "If you were subjected to some of the things to which we are subjected, you might be tempted to do the same".
What kind of matters are we talking about? It was very easy to be critical. I support the police to the extent that if a riot starts they must be in a position to protect themselves. I can never understand the argument that they must not have certain weapons. Anybody sitting in this Chamber or in the comfort of his own lounge can pontificate on these matters. 233 However when one has spent three nights behind the police line, with petrol bombs flying all over the place and shields on fire, saying that they should not be adequately protected is not living in a world of reality. I say here and now that they deserve that protection and I, for one, should insist that they have that protection.
As has been said today, of course there are bad apples in barrels, and there are bad apples in the police force. That does not make them all bad apples. However, because we know that they are there, and they merely reflect the kind of prejudices that any other organisation or profession projects, we have to be doubly careful when we put weapons into their hands and that when we say that they must be used only in extreme circumstances, they are not used at the first opportunity.
One of the criticisms I have and where I believe things have gone wrong, is the lack of discipline. There is not sufficient supervision over the individual officers. I do not know anything about the Brixton riots, but I do not know whether any of your Lordships saw a programme called The Human Factor a week or so ago, when seven Church of England clergymen from Brixton were interviewed and each one talked about the matter of being out of touch and the "over-force" that was being used. These are unpleasant things for a person who is a Member of the Bar to have to say; but if I cannot say them here, and if I am not prepared to say them, I should not be here. I am saying them because these are the facts that I have found over the years.
What is the reason for the breakdown? Perhaps I may tell you what an ex-police officer, who held a very high rank, said to me a matter of only four nights ago. he said, "When I was a constable, I was sent to patrol a crossing near a school. The children used to fight to hold my hand to go across the road. They would give me their sweets when they were going into school because they could not take them in, and when they came out they collected them. I knew them by name. I saw them grow up. When I saw they were doing things wrong when they were in their teens, I would tell them and they took it from me like a father because they knew and respected me". I do not know whether I dare ask whether anyone in this House knows the name of the local policeman. I have asked several whether they can put a name to a policeman. They would not know him if they fell over him! Then we wonder why there has been a breakdown in relations between the police and the civilian population. In Toxteth, the only time we see them is when a Land Rover draws up and a sergeant and three officers jump out.
I shall not tell your Lordships what I have seen; it does not take the matter any further. However, I can understand why, after that church service, those people were telling me that if I had to put up with it I might be rioting as well.
I do not make a criticism unless I try to make a positive suggestion. I made a positive suggestion to the Home Office a number of years ago. It did not seem to have any effect. I was chairman of the Committee on the Police Complaints Board Bill. I was so concerned at the loopholes in it that if I had been a person making a complaint under it, I should not have had the 234 slightest confidence in it. The answer that I received was that the police would not wear what I wanted to do. Anyway, we now have another one. I shall not say anything about that. Anyway, it is probably about eight years too late. I hope that this one will work. In the legal profession there is a well-known saying that justice must be seen to be done. If we operate in a system in which people make complaints and where the people who are being investigated are the ones who have to produce the evidence, is there any satisfaction for the person who is making those complaints? I would not have it, and I do not blame anybody else who says the same.
So how do we set about rectifying this situation? I think that this breakdown in relationships amounts in many cases to one particular thing which the police have put on them and on which they cannot win. 1 am talking about motoring offences. I do not know whether your Lordships saw a letter from the Chief Constable of Liverpool in The Times about three days ago. He was seeking to put figures on searching into their proper perspective; and quite rightly so because a report said that on Merseyside last year there were 167,000 incidents of stop and search. He rightly pointed out in his letter that 74,000 of these involved stopping people that the police thought were criminals. All right; I am not making any complaint about that at all. Another 40,500 were of people who were spoken to in order to find witnesses to accidents and so on. I am not making any complaints about that.
But an ordinary citizen who does 35 miles an hour in a 30 m.p.h. area is not a criminal in the accepted sense in which you and I talk about criminals Of course, he comes under the criminal law, but if 52.000 people are stopped by Merseyside police in the course of a year, how often do those people get spoken to perhaps in a way in which you and I have heard officers speak to other people? This is what is causing the breakdown. They cannot win on that particular situation.
That was one of the suggestions that I made some eight or ten years ago. It does not matter what we think of a traffic warden or of any other organisation that is not the police force; but it is vital that we have a respect for the police force. It is vital that we have that association with one another. I know the difficulty: the police will not wear it. But I thought that we and the other House made the legislation for this country. There is another branch which looks after the regulations in so far as heavy goods vehicles are concerned. Why could it not be put on to another department that was not the police force so that when people come into contact with the police they did not come into contact with them in these adverse circumstances? I say this to your Lordships. I know members of the legal profession and doctors and other people who, because of these encounters in a position where the police cannot win, have said, "If they want my help in the future, they've had it".
I was discussing this matter the other day with a lady Member of Parliament. She said, "I was spoken to in a most abusive way a couple of weeks ago when I was coming out of Hyde Park in a car". No, she was not one of these red women from the other Chamber. She was a Conservative Member of the other House. These are the things which have got to be said. I do not 235 believe that we put the police in a situation which is fair to them when we are expecting them to see the ordinary citizen, who is not a criminal in the accepted sense of the word, in those circumstances. I ask the Minister, even eight years later, to consider whether this job could be done by somebody else.
The other thing I want to see, of course, is the policeman brought back on to his beat and kept on his beat so that people get to know him. There is also the matter of black police. People talk about making special privileges for the black people. They do not want privileges: they want to be treated the same as you or I are treated, not given privileges. So far as black police are concerned, I have heard people say: "Why not just have black policemen patrolling the black areas?" Nothing could be more counter productive. But if, in that Land Rover I have seen flying round with policemen jumping out and going into a crowd of youngsters playing on a street corner—doing the things that I did when I was a kid—there was a black policeman with them, it would have a salutary effect on the other three white ones. In our society we normally try to consider other people's feelings. If you are in a Catholic gathering you do not start making jokes about them. In the same way, if a black policeman was in that group, they would think twice before they started heavy-handed treatment of anybody, whether black or white.
I am sorry I have had to say this. I am not a police "basher". I believe that the police force in this country can show many in the world what a police force ought to be. But, as in any other aspect of life, there are people who overstep the mark, and when that happens we antagonise a community so that they do not wish to co-operate. We ask why there is so much crime. In a country area they know the local bobby. Where does he get his information about crime?—probably from having a sly drink at the back of the pub at night.
When I last spoke on this issue in the other Chamber, I said that while it may be against police regulations, I should like to feel that every policeman in Toxteth could knock on a door and say, "Are you thinking of brewing up? It's blooming cold out here". That is the sort of relationship we want between the public and the police; and when we hear that in Liverpool a police officer was removed from community policing because people called him by his first name, does it not make one wonder where we are going?
These are the things that have cause the trouble. The black community in Toxteth live in terror in case these things break out again. On the second night of the riots four years ago, of course, as when riots break out anywhere, the criminals got hold of it. It is odd: of the shops which were broken into all had television sets in, and so on. But what must it have been like for the black community in the Lodge Lane area, where they lived in flats above the shops and they saw the fire coming along that road, and they dared not go out because of the violence outside?
What is it like for the black community living in those circumstances? It is not all one way: but it is important that we call a spade "a spade" and not make party points about whether you are for or against the 236 police. I am for peace; peace in our cities. I hope everybody else in this House is for peace in our cities, but we do not get it by being unduly critical of people who raise objections to certain things. We ought to discuss them.
There is so much that can be done; there is so much I could have said, but I have already spoken for too long. We talk about the militants who are now commanding the Town Hall in Liverpool. After the first riot they issued leaflets to the public saying, "Demand the release of the people who have been arrested". To the credit of the people of Toxteth, they told them to get lost—and I think they got lost in the Town Hall at Liverpool, but we keep hearing about them every so often. It is not the militants who will destroy our society; it is not the fascists and it is not the communists. What will destroy our society is if people in this Chamber, or in the other Chamber, sit down and think that they should not say anything, because it is not done. I hope that what I have said may make some noble Lords realise that there is another side to this coin.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ Lord Hughes
My Lords, I do not feel it necessary to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw of Aintree, for not following him, though I found what he had to say both interesting and informative. But coming as I do from a small community far off in Scotland where if during the summer we saw a black man or a yellow man our thought would be that the holidaymakers are coming from far away this year, I could not talk with any knowledge at all on that subject.
I have only one main subject on which to speak, but before getting on to it I want to refer to one point which the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, made in his opening remarks when he was talking about Sunday trading. He is a young man, and he was talking about a reform of legislation which came into being at a time when, I am quite certain, he had no interest at all in politics; and because of that he may well have unwittingly misled the House. There have been a number of occasions in recent years when legislation for England and Wales has been patterned on legislation which was already in operation in Scotland, on the basis that it had worked there and therefore the Government were prepared to try it south of the border.
If he has given the impression that Parliament is now being asked, once again, to follow a good Scottish example on legislation, that is not the case. When the legislation was passed for England—I think that Wales was also included—the people of Scotland would never have dreamt of having shops open on Sunday, they would never have dreamt of having football matches played on Sundays and they even looked with a considerable amount of disfavour on those who played golf on Sundays. So it would then have been regarded as an insult to Scotland to impose on them restrictions against doing something that they had no intention of doing. The Minister pointed out that since that legislation was passed there have been considerable changes in public attitudes, and because restrictions were not considered to be necessary in Scotland all those years ago it was so easy for Scotland 237 to change with the times. So you are not getting back to what we have done; you are trying to get back to where you were before.
My main subject tonight is drugs, drug abuse and drug trafficking. A few weeks ago this matter was raised in the House and I asked a supplementary question, to which the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, replied that perhaps I should wait and see the legislation. I now accept that that was useful information and was absolutely correct, because I listened with real enthusiasm to what he had to say about action to deal with drug traffickers.
As some of your Lordships know, for nearly 10 years I have been one of the British delegates to the Council of Europe and for nearly four years I have been chairman of its social health committee. It is a committee which is very much involved with matters of this kind, and it is because of that that I intervene tonight. I have in my hand a copy of a recommendation which was passed by the parliamentary assembly in September last year. It gave unanimous approval to a document which had been prepared in my committee in June and July of that year. It is recommendation No. 989 on the fight against drug abuse and trafficking. Of course the Bill which will be coming before us in due course deals with trafficking. I shall therefore not make other than passing reference to other parts of the document that would be more appropriate on another occasion when we perhaps get down to the aspect of seeking to deal with the abuse of drugs by people who may or may not want to be helped to get rid of them.
In the Council of Europe, we have a procedure of doing first what is called the considerings and then the action. The document starts off in typical fashion by saying:Considering with dismay that the use of drugs, both narcotics and psychotropic substances, is still on the increase in the majority of member countries;Noting that in the member states of the Council of Europe over the last few years there has been a major rise in the sale of cocaine, wider availability of heroin, the price of which has fallen, and an unprecedented increase in the use of cannabis which has benefited from the laxity of public opinion in some countries"—even, for instance, in Holland, where the sale of it is legal—alarmed by the fact that the average age of users is continuing to fall and ranges often from 13 to 16".I am sure that most of us thought that it was only in the United States that this position had been reached. It is, in fact, becoming quite common in Europe.
There are some paragraphs that I shall omit. If, however, Ministers are not aware of the document, I will be happy to have copies made available for them. I think that they must know about it, in view of a remark that I shall make later. The document continues:Considering that the Committee of Ministers' decision of 1980 to integrate the 'Pompidou Group' (Co-operation Group to combat drug abuse and illicit trafficking in drugs)—set up in 1971 to enable close multidisciplinary co-operation—into the Council of Europe, as the Assembly had asked in Recommendation 843I would mention that the present chairman of the Pompidou Group is Mr. David Mellor, one of the Ministers at the Home Office. I had the pleasure of meeting him this afternoon. On the unanimous decision of my committee, I invited him to come to 238 either Paris or Strasbourg to talk to the committee about the legislation that the Government are proposing.
The document goes on:Welcoming the final declaration of the 7th Ministerial Conference of the Pompidou Group Ministers and its positive outcome;Noting with satisfaction the recent decision of the Spanish Government to join in the Pompidou Group, thus bringing up the number of members to fourteen"—that is, out of 21 members in the Council of Europe—Recommends that the Committee of Ministers draw up. as part of its medium-term plan, a consistent multidisciplinary strategy for the fight against drug abuse and trafficking, using all the resources of the Council of Europe and paying particular attention to the following proposalsI shall confine myself to those dealing with trafficking:To reaffirm that it should be a punishable offence to traffic in both 'hard' and 'soft' drugs, seeing that whilst the former certainly have a more devastating effect, the latter, because they are easier to obtain and to use, considerably increase the number of users and lower their average age, thus adding a quantitative dimension to the problem; each country's legislation should differentiate between both types of trafficking and provide for the punishment of the offenders in both cases;To step up measures to combat large-scale drug trafficking, in particular:by stressing the international dimension of this trafficking and the proven links with the networks of arms trafficking and terrorism and, being extremely concerned by the evidence that large sums of money made by selling drugs illegally are being used to finance international terrorism, by taking steps to encourage strong international efforts to stop the destabilising effects of this traffic; by intensifying the co-operation between the national authorities by improving the exchange of information on the How of international capital associated with drugs and, more generally, on detecting, freezing and confiscating drug traffickers' financial assets".On that point, I wish to draw attention to the fact that what the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, had to say goes even further than we had asked. The noble Lord spoke about confiscating their assets, not, as we have said, their financial assets. I believe that the Government are right to extend this over the whole range.
In conclusion, I should like to impress upon the Government that they should follow up the activities of their colleague Mr. Mellor in the Pompidou Group and take a leading part. I regret to say that to do so is rather unusual for this Government in the Council of Europe. We tend far too often to be following rather than leading the council. However, this seems to be a case where pre-eminently the Government are in a position to take a lead in what is taking place in Europe and to use any power which they have to persuade others to do the same. No matter how effective the legislation may be in this country, it will be only partly effective if it is just a small minority who are taking action. Action by the whole of Europe is needed.
I said earlier that I did not believe the Government would be unaware of the recommendations. After I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, had to say when he opened this debate, and having refreshed my memory by re-reading the recommendations, I almost thought that we had given our document the wrong heading and that instead of calling them recommendations we should have entitled them. "A I White Paper for the production of legislation". If the 239 Government had written a White Paper on this matter in September last year, it would not have differed very much from the recommendations.
The noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, rather generalised when he said the noble Lords on his side of the House were being helpful, whereas those on this side were acting only to find fault and to oppose. I am sorry therefore if in agreeing so wholeheartedly with the noble Lord the Minister I have disapointed him in one respect.
240 I do not expect the noble Lord, Lord Elton, to say anything to me. Of course if he does not wish to say anything to anybody else, that is their business. At the beginning of my remarks I omitted to say, as a number of other noble Lords did, that I would not add to his difficulties. When I sat on the Front Bench and had to do what the noble Lord must do tonight, I always welcomed the remark, "I will not add to the Minister's difficulties". However, I so often found that by the time the speaker finished, he had. I hope that I have not done so.
§ 9.53 p.m.
§ Lord Wigoder
My Lords, every year this debate covers a vast range of topics. So far as I can see, half of them are chosen because they have been mentioned in the gracious Speech and are therefore worthy of comment. The other half are chosen because they have not been mentioned in the gracious Speech but are equally worthy of comment. If there is any general theme underlying many of the contributions that your Lordships have made this afternoon and this evening, each speaking with his or her own particular expertise on a specific topic, it is a deep concern with the lack of cohesion in our society.
That is nothing new. I suppose that 10, 15 or 20 years ago speeches would have been made in your Lordships' House on that same theme but blaming the class basis of our society as the cause of all our troubles. One hears very little about class distinction these days, though no doubt it still exists. Instead, we hear about, as the cause of the gradual fracturing of our society, the distinctions and differences between those who work and those who are out of work; between those who are racially disadvantaged and those who are not; and between those who suffer from inner city deprivation and those who do not. They have taken over as the major causes of the turmoil in our society.
Some years ago, it would not have needed a particularly wise man to point out that it would be unlikely, with some 3 million unemployed, that any society would be able to live indefinitely in a state where it was both democratic and peaceful. In some ways, it is remarkable that our society has survived for so long despite the fact that it has had that number of unemployed in its midst. I suppose that is due to the level of social security now as against in the 1920s and 1930s, which many of your Lordships will remember, when there were also periods of high unemployment. I have no doubt that those are the fundamental causes of the disorders that we have seen in our society in recent years and recent months.
I accept at once that there are in our cities a number of people who are criminal by nature and who are only too happy to take advantage of any disturbance once it starts; but I think the Government are deceiving themselves if they believe it is that criminal fraternity which is responsible for starting the civil disorders. Action clearly must be taken on this, apart from a public order Bill which itself, in a sense, is only playing at the fringes.
Something must be done about the problem, particularly of unemployment. I know of course that it would be boastful for any political party to claim that it had a complete cure but something must be done to persuade those 3 million people that some action can be taken, that some money can be spent without being unduly inflationary, that some public works on the infrastructure can be begun to give work to some people. That, at least, would give them some hope.
I believe in even more reform than that. The Government must somehow get over to those 3 million people that they do care about the problem. I find this the most extraordinary phenomenon of 242 recent years. There are sitting on the Government Front Bench at this moment—or there were until a moment ago—three noble Lords who care just as passionately about the problems of the unemployed as any other Members of your Lordships' House and who are deeply aware of the frustrations, the squalor, the despondency and the hopelessness to which long term unemployment gives cause.
They are not alone. I believe that that is the feeling of the overwhelming majority of the members of the Government, and it may well be of every member of the Government. However, in some extraordinary way although the Government have had the advantage—I suppose it is an advantage—of a favourable press over the years that they have been in office the impression has been allowed to grow in this country that not only can the Government not do anything about unemployment but that they do not want to do anything about unemployment. They appear to have given the impression that they revel in wearing a hair shirt, a hair blouse, or whatever the appropriate garment is.
I do not suppose for a moment that that is the true state of their feelings, but it is the impression gained by the great British public as a result of the words and the actions of the Government as reported in the media. If the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham, makes any substantial contribution in the short run to the problem of unemployment, as I am sure he will it is not only in producing the kind of measures that he produced in your Lordships' House a little earlier this afternoon; it is even more in gradually being able to create the impression that he is a member of a Government which really do care about the problems of the unemployed. I believe that would do much to rid our inner city areas in particular of the disillusion which has given rise to the recent troubles.
In looking at the problems of public order we await with interest of course the Government's proposals. I do not think we can await them with any particular optimism and I say that for a very simple reason. I believe that almost every single form of public misbehaviour which ought to be a criminal offence is in fact already a criminal offence. You can change the names of some of the more obsolete forms of criminal offences: riots, routs, unlawful assemblies and so forth; perhaps you can look at the problem particularly of processions that insist on marching through areas where they will cause the maximum provocation. There are these borderline areas, but I myself do not believe that a public order Bill will do much more than tidy up a number of loose ends. Certainly it will not cure the fundamental, underlying problem of the civil disorders that we have seen in recent months.
I welcome the fact, and I remind the Government of it, that they undertook that, when the public order legislation was considered, we should have a chance of looking again at the football ground legislation which we passed in the last Session, because I must confess that I still feel that much of it was very mistaken. I still feel that in concentrating on the amount of drinking that took place inside the grounds instead of the amount of drinking that took place outside the grounds, the Government did nothing to attack the 243 real causes of disorder at football matches and simply struck a very substantial financial blow at our leading football clubs.
If the Government did that, then the football authorities appear to have followed with a will, because I am bound to say—though it has nothing to do with the Government—that the recent absurdities of the discussions between them and the television authorities appear to create the impression that both the Government and the football authorities are determined to destroy our leading football clubs.
Having mentioned the question of disorder both during inner city riots and at football grounds, perhaps just one word will be permitted on the subject of the police, about whom we have heard so much during today. I agree entirely with what has been said by the noble Lords, Lord Mishcon and Lord Harris of Greenwich. I believe it is the duty of every responsible citizen to seek openly and publicly to support the police on every possible occasion. By that, I do not mean that we should deliberately overlook those cases where the police err, but I do mean that we should not go nit-picking or get involved in anecdotal evidence such as, "I knew someone who knew someone whose sister was stopped for speeding and the policeman was not very polite", or whatever nonsense it may be.
I believe that when we talk about "the police" we should realise it is not an amorphous expression. In fact "the police" almost invariably means a very young policeman on the beat, perhaps without the advantages of the education which many in your Lordships' House have had, who is constantly faced with a series of extremely difficult decisions in circumstances of very great danger and has to make those decisions in a split second. I do not believe it is right, appropriate or sensible that in those circumstances people should criticise too closely the actions of an individual police officer. I believe that out of this debate there will go a message of great support to the police for what they are doing to carry out their very, very dangerous task.
They are of course one arm for the enforcement of the law. The second arm is obviously the courts, and, if I may, I want again to support what the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said about one aspect of our courts in the future. When increased powers were given to the police recently in the Prosecution of Offences Bill and the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill—they went together—it was really done on the basis that at the same time there would be set up a powerful, independent prosecuting authority. I am bound to say that at the moment I think the Government are failing in their duty in achieving that. They are not offering appropriate salary scales to persuade prosecuting solicitors of real ability to enter the new service as a career, and I believe that, unless they very quickly look again at their total lack of generosity in this matter, the result will be that the attempt to establish a really independent, weighty, impartial Crown prosecuting service will fall flat on its face before it starts.
The very last matter that I shall mention this evening relates to the Crown Prosecuting Service. It has been mentioned in another place recently that to 244 that service will be given the task of looking at the question of jury selection and whether the right of the defence to peremptory challenge, which was recently reduced from seven to three jurors, should now be removed altogether. I speak personally on this. I do not think that it is a matter of party policy in any way. I believe entirely in trial by randomly selected jury; and I believe that, provided the panel is selected at random and not from one area, one street or one neighbourhood, and provided that from the panel the individuals are then selected at random, it is difficult to make out a case for giving any defending counsel the right to challenge without cause any of the individuals who are called into the jury box.
However, I stress that if that is right for the defence, it is right for the prosecution. The prosecution at the moment has a right of peremptory challenge—it is not called that but that is what it comes to—which is unlimited in number. The prosecution is entitled to object just as much as the defence because it does not like a person's face, the newspaper that he is carrying or whatever it may be. I should think that there is a great deal to be said for abolishing the right of peremptory challenge by the defence and abolishing the right for the Crown to stand by jurors indefinitely, and saying to both sides, "If you want to challenge a juror, you give your reasons and the judge will decide whether the juror should serve".
I think that perhaps on a somewhat lengthy evening those are more than enough comments about some of the issues that have been raised during the discussions in this debate. When I look at the home affairs legislation that is promised, it seems to me, if I may say so, to be very weighty; I am not absolutely sure that it is very nutritious. If we on these Benches can assist during the course of that legislation in improving it so that we can unite our society and make it more cohesive, we shall be happy to do so.
§ 10.7 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, my first pleasant duty is to congratulate my noble friend Lord Mellish on his maiden speech. I think that we all welcomed the enthusiasm with which he spoke about his work with the docklands corporation. He has asked me to apologise to your Lordships. He has been called away urgently and could not stay. I believe that he has conveyed that apology to the Minister.
This has been a wide-ranging debate, and many noble Lords would have liked to cover a number of other subjects. I should have liked to follow the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, on Northern Ireland. But I content myself by saying that we welcome the continued efforts at co-operation with the Republic of Ireland in the discussions on Northern Ireland, and express the hope that there will be no injudicious remarks by anyone which may imperil the possibility of progress towards, not necessarily a settlement but movement in Northern Ireland.
My noble friend Lord Mishcon, who a long time ago opened the debate from this Despatch Box, said that I should deal with a number of matters concerning the environment and transport, and we said that we 245 should leave the social security matters in the gracious Speech for the debate on 20th November. That debate will also cover the National Health Service, and it is with deep regret that I find that there is not a single reference to it in the gracious Speech. I do not know whether that means that the Government have no proposals at all to deal with the problems that are prevalent in the NHS in all parts of the country. Perhaps the Minister can tell us.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, rightly said that observations are often made about items not in the gracious Speech. That is one. There is also no reference to rates. 1 hope that that means that the Government have dropped some of the foolish ideas mooted on the subject.
Nor is there anything in the gracious Speech referring to any steps to improve the relationships between central and local government. That is a matter to which the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, referred, and I think there is general concern in the House about this tension between central and local government. There are still complaints of inadequacy concerning real consultations.
The Association of Metropolitan Authorities stated only recently that the local authority association views at the consultative council on local government finance are regarded with little respect by Government. We are aware that the rate support grant—the block grant—has been drastically reduced from 1980–81 when the figure was 61 per cent. to around 49 per cent. in the current year. I have not yet heard the figure for the following year but I believe that there may be a further reduction. This will not assist in the work of local government. Local government cannot do the job which is expected of it with all the tensions and the penalties unless it has the necessary finance.
One measure not mentioned in the gracious Speech has already been laid before the other House. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, referred to the local government legislation. That Bill is presumably based upon the Widdicombe Report. I believe that we must be extremely careful when this Bill comes to this House, to watch it with considerable care and interest. It seeks to introduce controls over what local authorities can say publicly about their activities. We must remember that members of local authorities are subject to accountability by facing democratic election. They are part of the political process. A local authority must have the right to voice criticism of central Government policies which it thinks adversely affects its area and its community. We must be aware that there is nothing in this Bill that will make such comments illegal.
From a review of the Government proposals in the Bill which has been published already it would appear that they go far beyond the recommendations made by the Widdicombe Committee in its interim report, published only on 31st July. We believe that some of the measures proposed in the Bill will go far beyond the recommendations of the Widdicombe Report and could be a blow to local democracy. The Widdicombe Report considered that it is right for local authorities to be able to explain their views on controversial 246 matters affecting them, and it says quite clearly in paragraph 221 that this includes abolition and rate capping. Those are items which the Widdicombe Report says are quite appropriate for a local authority to comment upon and give publicity about. I would go further. With regard to the recent debates that we had on buses, these are surely matters upon which local authorities should be able to pass their comments, to publicise them and get support for their views, if they believe that central Government policy would be harmful to their area and to their own people.
The only distinction is that which may be issued in the interests of a local authority itself and that which is issued in furtherance of a political party. At present it is unlawful to use local authority funds to promote the cause of a political party, and there would appear to be no need for a new law to deal with that matter. The Widdicombe Committee's view is that statements on contentious issues are likely to heighten public awareness and contribute to informed democratic debate. The Bill seeks changes which go far beyond, or cut across, or misinterpret the Widdicombe interim report. The final report is still to come out, and I believe is expected in the spring.
I am pleased to note that there are to be consultations with the local authority associations on the question of presentation of publicity material. That may be helpful. However, the Bill seeks that local authorities shall engage in publicity activities relating only to their specific statutory function. That contradicts the recommendation of the Widdicombe Report.
As the noble Lord, Lord Harris, commented, apart from the principles in the Bill, which I think we must watch very carefully, the drafting at present—and I am not a legal man and must rely upon my legal friends and others—so far as I can see will create a veritable legal nightmare. When, if it still continues, the Bill comes from the other place, I hope that we shall watch out not only for the principles but for the actual drafting, because otherwise there will be created a glorious paradise for the legal profession.
As regards education, the gracious Speech refers only to improving the management of schools and the promotion of professional effectiveness of teachers. Naturally we shall await those proposals with interest. I hope that we can see improving relationships with our teachers without which our education system will be in some peril. There has been an atmosphere of confrontation and provocation from the Secretary of State. There is low morale and the teachers feel that they are getting an unfair deal. Frankly, that situation cannot continue. There is nothing about that matter in the gracious Speech, but I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about it because there needs to be a settlement which commands the confidence of both the teaching profession and also the public
The noble Countess, Lady Mar, referred to the 1984 report of HM Inspectorate of Schools. What are the Government proposing to do about some of the strong criticisms made in that report? Only 11 of the 97 education authorities satisfy all the criteria of the inspectors. I shall not go into all the other details, but the report of the inspectors has been backed up 247 recently by the report of the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations which refers particularly to the fact that in four or five secondary schools pupils have to share text books, and 58 per cent. of those schools require that parents help to purchase learning materials.
The Building Employers' Confederation estimates that the modernisation of pre-war schools will cost at least £1.5 billion. That is supported by the Audit Commission which says that local education authorities already have a backlog of £500 million as regards school repairs. There is no reference to that matter in the gracious Speech, but maybe the Minister can tell us what is to be done.
The reference to housing is also limited. Naturally we shall await with interest the proposals on the two points mentioned in the gracious Speech. I was pleased that my noble friend Lady Nicol brought in some of the environmental considerations because they will be of importance. We shall want to know exactly what are the planning changes and the other points contained in the gracious Speech.
My noble friend Lord Dean and other noble Lords dealt in some detail with the figures in respect of the building construction industry and the problems which it faces, the seriousness of the housing problem and the degree of action needed. They referred to report after report. I hope noble Lords have read with some interest in particular the reports of the Building Employers' Confederation, which has sent out some excellent material. I shall not go through all the figures again because other noble Lords have stressed them, but they are frightening figures. The Audit Commission referred to the backlog on routine maintenance at the rate of £900 million per annum. Also, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities has issued two reports, the last of which estimated that something like £62 billion is required to bring our housing stock—both public and private—up to a satisfactory standard.
The Building Employers' Confederation emphasised on capital allocations that for every £100 allocated in 1977–78, there is now, in the year 1985–86, only £32 allocated in real terns. Yet there is the problem of lack of maintenance, lack of adequate housing, to which these reports draw our attention. The British Employers' Confederation also states—and this is serious—that the United Kingdom expenditure on residential construction is the lowest percentage of GDP of all the EC countries, and that that position is still falling.
The statements made in these reports have not been challenged previously by Ministers. If they are to be challenged tonight then we shall be able to take up the matter with the organisations concerned. As other noble Lords have stated, we await with interest the report of the DoE which, various political commentators have said, will show that there is a need for £20 billion for urgent local authority housing.
The noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham, seemed a little cynical in referring to the fact that 75 per cent. of the housing stock is local authority, and what is the use of giving them further money in the light of the fact that we have all this backlog of maintenance? May I 248 refer to an observation of the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, in referring to one authority in the Docklands area—Tower Hamlets—which has over 90 per cent. public housing. The only way that one could eradicate the slums in the past 20, 30, 40 years has been by public housing. In no other way would Tower Hamlets have got rid of the frightful slums in that area.
The AMA report not only refers in its figure of £62 billion to public housing but it refers to the £22 billion which is required if we are to bring all private housing up to the standard that is desirable. We note again that there is reference in the employers' confederation report to the fact that 2.2 million private owners are on housing benefit and finding great difficulty in keeping their housing property up to the standard desired.
Interlocking with tomorrow's debate, I want to refer to the question of the British Airports Authority and the proposal in the gracious Speech referring to local authority airports. One continually gets Ministers referring to the extension of wider share ownership. I have complained before, and I complain again, that the Government have stolen my share in quite a number of important public industries in which I, as a taxpayer, was a shareholder.
My noble friend Lord Cledwyn referred again from these Benches to our belief in a mixed economy. I reiterate that tonight. I make the challenge tonight, which I have made before and to which I have never had an answer: do the Government believe in a mixed economy? If they do, where do they draw the parameters of privatisation? They seek privatisation irrespective of the merits of a particular industry, but just where they can possibly get money in order to carry through with other tax relief policies.
Many of the publicly-owned industries which have been privatised were among some of the most efficient industries in this country. Could anybody deny that of British Telecom? Could anybody deny that of Cable and Wireless? Could anybody deny that of British Oil? Gas will undoubtedly feature in the debate tomorrow. Would anybody deny that of the gas industry? I am old enough to remember the state that the gas industry was in before it was brought into public ownership. Only one word can describe it and that is a "mess". We must remember that some of the big commercial companies collapsed under private ownership, such as British Leyland and Rolls-Royce, only helped by public intervention; and now there is even talk about disposing of those also.
Some of the best examples of integrated transport systems in the public transport authorities are in danger as a result of the Transport Act which we passed only a few weeks ago. The National Bus Company is generally regarded as an efficient undertaking. That is to be carved up and disposed of. Concerning the British Airports Authority the gracious Speech states that a Bill will be proposed,to introduce private capital".I wish the Government would be honest because Michael Spicer, the Minister for Aviation, was more honest. In a press notice of 4th November, No. 496 from the Department of Transport, he makes it clear:We aim to sell all the shares in the British Airports Authority to the private sector.249 There is no question just of the introduction of private capital. The intention is to dispose of all the shares.
In another press notice, No. 503 of 6th November, it is stated that reporting accountants have been appointed (again I use the words of the document):in connection with the proposed privatisation of the British Airports Authority".We already have a very interesting document, the Grieveson Grant company's Investment Research report on the British Airports Authority. Before they have their own accountants' report I hope the Government will read that as well because what do I find? First, on the buses side the Government are going into uncharted territory. They are going into deregulation which they admit no other industrial nation has attempted. Grieveson Grant states that when the British Airports Authority is privatised it will become the only privately-run international airport system in the world. I quote again:The British Airports Authority will be the world's only privately run airport system".I quote again from Grieveson Grant, not from a Labour Party document:The British Airports Authority is one of the most successful of nationalised industries. In the 19 years since its formation, profits have risen on all but three occasions. In that time the authority has financed massive investment almost entirely from its own resources".Again we find that Grieveson Grant states:Airports around the world are generally owned and operated by public authorities".Why are the Government interfering with that kind of successful undertaking? Not on merit; it can only be on political dogma or desire to assist their tax relief plans.
Not content with that, the Government are prepared to deal also with the largest local authority airports. I saw what I thought was a disgraceful comment the other day where it was stated that this would enable these airports possibly to secure better managers. That is an insult to those running the Manchester and the Birmingham airports particularly—leaving out the others—which are regarded as successful airports.
We await with interest to hear what the Government's proposals are for the local authority airports. There are 50 of them. All of them have municipal pride, and many of them are fast becoming areas to which we hope more and more routes will be allocated. The Government are reflecting in this policy a typical dogmatic attitude, irrespective of the merits of the industry.
§ 10.29 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Elton)
My Lords, I have an impossible task. I have to reply to 25 speeches, stretching over 7½ hours, and your Lordships expect me to do it in 25 minutes. What is more, you have been led by my noble friend to believe that I shall do it without effort and with total success. That is a Government promise which will be broken very quickly.
§ Lord Elton
I should like to start by adding my congratulations to those of the rest of your Lordships to the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, on a most—I shall not say "provocative" because that will put him in the wrong, but a most stimulating and interesting maiden speech. I look forward to hearing much more from him in similar vein in future.
It is a great pleasure to be debating again with the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. It is like old times. Your Lordships will know that this Dispatch-Box is more exposed than that in another place because here one answers for all departments of Government. Therefore, it was particularly kind of the noble Lord to start off with one of those very rare matters to which I can give the comfortable answer that it has nothing whatever to do with me. Whipping on the Shops Bill is entirely a matter for the Chief Whip and convention forbids me to say anything else whatsoever.
While we are on the subject of such matters, I should mention that there is a similar consideration with the Broads Bill. I can tell the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, that the Speaker's Council has ruled that it is not suitable for a private Bill, but I understand that the promotors are examining ways of making it acceptable as such, and we must await the result.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, posed me something of a problem by opening his case by saying that everything hinges upon levels of unemployment and that of course is a subject reserved for tomorrow's debate, as also are the matters of economics and employment that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, spoke of in part of his speech. I shall commend those parts of those speeches to my noble friend Lord Young of Graffham, who no doubt, if he has more time than I to wind up, will take them into his cognizance when he replies.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, went on to refer to the Crown Prosecution Service. With my right honourable friend the Solicitor General, I can say that we agree that we all want an independent prosecution service which will operate upon terms and conditions that will attract, retain and motivate people of the high quality that is needed. He said this in another place yesterday and went on to say,I note the expressions of anxiety … I shall be seeing the trade union group again tomorrow". [Official Report, Commons, 11/11/85; col. 207.]I believe therefore that the matters with which the noble Lord is concerned are in progress. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said in his speech that he would like to see fewer people in prison, as indeed would the noble Earl, Lord Longford, the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and many others, including the whole of Her Majesty's Government. The noble Lords in question will not forget the reduction of the minimum qualifying period for parole which we implemented for this purpose. I gratefully acknowledge the help of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, in actually making the power available in statute at a rather earlier stage in our Parliamentary proceedings. Nor will they forget our promotion of intermediate treatment as an alternative to custody. That is cheaper than a custodial treatment, as the noble Earl, Lord Longford, knows, and we provided an extra £15 million for it over the years 1983–85 and £6 million for this year alone.
251 The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, went on to say that he would wish that those who are in prison should be in better, less crowded conditions. So of course do we. He could usefully have added to his quotations from the media a comment on the fact that the Government have launched and are carrying through a programme of prison modernisation and building that is by far the biggest of this century.
As to the net number of prisoners, I should only add this. I certainly accept that unemployment, poverty and bad housing—upon all of which I shall have more to say—have a bearing on crime. But let us start by being clear, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, himself made clear, that there must be a framework of law under which we live if we are to live in peace.
The noble Lord, Lord Soper, in another context, referred to binding the individual into his true liberty, which is ordered restraint. He will know exactly what I am talking about, and it chimes in, I believe, with the thoughts of the noble Countess, Lady Mar, about the basis of all education. I refer her for the rather sweeping comments on education that she required beyond that to the White Paper, Better Schools; and where that does not cover her remit, I shall try to arrange to write to the noble Countess. But I believe we are at one in thinking that the whole of society and the basis of society, the whole of education, does depend on having a recognised framework of acceptable conduct which, in adult life, is sustained by the law.
Any breach of such a framework will always be a crime. It is true that Secretaries of State of any party have discretion over all cases of parole. They may have opinions about guilt and about the proper length of sentences, but decisions about guilt and decisions about sentences are, under any Government, for the courts; and the decision to commit a crime rests neither with government nor with the courts but, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester reminded us. with the offender himself. And that is what attracts punishment. Those whom the noble Lord, Lord Harris, rightly accused of actually persuading people that it is right to commit serious crimes against the police and incite disorder carry a very heavy burden of responsibility.
The part of the framework of law that most interested the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London is that part which says what can and what cannot be bought and sold on a Sunday. In a trenchant speech, he listed a formidable body of opposition to the Shops Bill. I noted with great care his repeated statement that this opposition was not to all change but to the wholesale change proposed in the Bill. That suggests that there will be extensive and informative debate on the Bill itself when it is introduced into your Lordships' House.
I also noted the great weight that he placed on preserving the accustomed rhythm of the seven-day cycle of work and rest. Again, I must not anticipate debate, but I want to ask him something in spite of the Auld Report, and indeed in the light of the information given by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, who is older than my noble friend and older than me. I learnt much in opposition listening to how he struggled on elegantly at this Box when in difficulty, as he knew I 252 would be eventually. I ask him, in the light of those considerations, to see the effect of the present state of the Scottish law upon the Scots. In Scotland, the first day of the week is different from the others.
A framework of law is essential in every part of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, suggests a route to reconciliation there at an interesting time. We must all respect those who take real risks for reconciliation, just as we honour those who take real risks in upholding the law. Since we are on the subject of human rights, perhaps I may say that the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, raised a matter which is outside the gracious Speech and kindly said that I may write to him; and so I shall. Had the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, given me a little notice I could have done more than assure her, as I unreservedly do, that the failure of communication with the consumer councils to which she referred was entirely accidental and carried no signals or intention of discourtesy. I have no general answer on denationalised industries, since they must be taken case by case, other than that we believe in continuing the system of consultations. On other specific matters, my noble friend will write to her direct. The issues raised by my noble friend Lord Auckland on the social services will be debated, I hope with the benefit of his contribution, next week; and he will forgive me if I simply say that I will draw them to my right honourable friend's attention.
I now come to that one of your Lordships—I forget which it was—who said, half-way through his speech, what it was I was intending to say. I welcome your Lordships' growing interest in the countryside and ecological matters generally. It chimes in with a perception which this party has held for over a hundred years, ever since a Conservative Government brought in the first Act to control environmental pollution in 1875. It is always, as a party, well supplied with enlightened members such as my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard. But, my Lords, we live in an island. Dry land is for us very obviously a finite resource. The Government have a duty to conserve it and we are aware that the rural countryside in particular is an essential part of that resource. But we are also a manufacturing and a commercial nation, whose population continues to increase. That means that we also have a duty to promote the development of land both to give work to our people and to provide the homes that the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, in an outstanding maiden speech, made it so clear that they are desperate to live in and to own, and the economic need for which was so clearly demonstrated by my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve.
These two priorities—to conserve land and to develop resources—are, it is true, often in competition, as the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, has pointed out. But not always. It is possible to minimise the pressure of development on greenfield sites. That is why we have increased the Derelict Land Programme from £23 million a year, as it was when we came to office, to £82 million this year. Derelict land grant is now reclaiming 1,300 hectares of land a year. All that land would otherwise have had to be found from the agricultural fields in the rural landscape. The interesting policy proposals for those fields made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, are proper 253 reading matter for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, and I hope that he, having shown me not only the inside of his farm but the inside of his whisky glass, will not feel I am short changing him with that answer. I tell him that the comments will be read with care and I assure the noble Lord only that we will continue to press for price restraint, for which he has a marked enthusiasm.
In spite of the derelict land grant, far too much public sector land is still lying idle for no good reason. My right honourable friend is therefore now making increased use of his powers under the Land Register system to require public sector landowners to dispose of unused land. No matter how successful he is, though, there will always be a need for substantial new developments of greenfield sites. These must be chosen and their extent must be decided upon up-to-date criteria, and I have reminded planning authorities that old structure plans, based upon information that was old even when they were agreed, must not be regarded as immutable. But our object in adjusting the planning system is not to unleash the bulldozers on to the countryside: it is to ensure that where development is desirable and permissible, it is permitted more swiftly than at present. I hope that will reassure the noble Baroness.
However, it is with the cities that your Lordships have been chiefly concerned. Perhaps I may start by dismissing as misleading and harmful stories that your Lordships may have seen about some sort of rivalry between my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and my noble friend Lord Young of Graffham which achieved the front page of one newspaper. The true facts are doubtless disappointing for journalists, but they ought to be recorded. The final public expenditure survey allocation was made as a team decision, and my noble and right honourable friends faced this problem in the inner cities, as any other, as a team; and not in any sense as rivals.
The riots earlier this year focused our attention on the inner cities, tragically. They were not a simple phenomenon. The popular stereotype has, I think, largely been exploded this evening already. It is of large numbers of blacks committing mayhem and doing so because they were unemployed. Many of those charged with offences were in fact white, and many who disapproved most strongly of the outbreaks were in fact black. I acknowledge the pungent contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw of Aintree, in that context. Many of those charged with offences, I would add, were also in work. The causes of law breaking are, as the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said, many and complex. That is true of these disorders. I am not aware that any member of Her Majesty's Government has ever said that this was not so.
Drug trafficking was, for instance, an element in the circumstances that led up to major disturbances. Having seen, with an increase of both rage and pity, the horrific things that drugs can do to young people, your Lordships will, I am sure, welcome, as did my noble friend Lord Mancroft in a powerful and well-informed speech, our proposal to take from convicted drug traffickers not merely their liberty, but the proceeds of their filthy trade. They are not wholly evil, but I must tell the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of 254 Manchester that their trade most certainly seems to us to be wholly evil and we have to try to stop it.
I must remind the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, that there is, in fact, a deliberate switching away from static to mobile tactics in dealing with this threat. The number of specialist drugs investigators has more than doubled since 1979 and we shall appoint a further 150 customs officer specialists next year. I will pass the commendation of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, to my honourable friend David Mellor. I myself think it is very justly earned.
These riots were not, I repeat, born simply or indeed chiefly, of drug abuse, of bad housing or of poor education. There was a complex web of causation and some, no doubt, who had a motive to exploit it. On the tactical aspects of the matter, I return briefly to the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, to say that the Government did, in fact, undertake, in their response to the Swann Report, that they would consult with the local authorities on the inclusion of a new priority area on ethnic diversity.
I shall not comment on the stony road, as I have been invited to do, down which the teachers' unions have decided to take themselves and their pupils from now to Christmas. But I would just, thinking of education, wonder how the noble Lord, lord Underhill, in his thoughts about the propriety of advertising or information paid for out of the rates, would have felt if his local borough had been plastered with anti-abolition propaganda by Conservative authorities when his Government were abolishing the grammar schools. I daresay he would have had a different view then.
I come now to the central theme of finance in local government. First, let us be clear that, though the proportions of Government and local authority funding have changed over the years, there has been no shift in the share of rate support grant that has gone to the inner cities. Secondly, grant calculations recognise their greater needs. In London, for instance, GREs, excluding education for the inner boroughs, are almost double those for the outer. Or take the individual services level. The GRE for personal social services averages out across the country at about £50 per head. In inner London, it is over double that at £ 111 per head, and in Hackney it is the highest in England at £142 per head. So the grant system does respond to local need, and no Government of whatever party can leave the total of local authority expenditure completely unrestrained without grave risks to the economy. We are talking of capital expenditure of £5 billion and current expenditure of £35 billion a year, and that has an effect on the economy.
Some authorities, regrettably, have not recognised this duty of Government and have ignored our attempts to rein back expenditure, to their great loss and that of their ratepayers. If the levels that we set were really so unreasonable, as has been suggested, how is it that Birmingham, a city where inner city needs are greater in scale than in any other local authority in England, could budget right through to the present financial year at a level that incurred no grant hold-back whatever? Birmingham made sensible economies. They maintained the standard of services while cutting costs. They used public expenditure to lever substantial additional investment from the 255 private sector while the voluntary sector is making an important contribution. Unmet need does still exist. The Government and my department are fully committed to a substantial effort to help the city tackle those needs.
Your Lordships are interested in capital as well as current expenditure. I looked carefully at your Lordships' faces to make sure that you are. I think that it is a paragraph I cannot drop. Certainly, local authority capital spending has reduced. The deepest cuts, I would remind your Lordships, took place in the 1970s under an Administration I will not name. Gross capital spending this year is likely to be roughly the same in real terms as in 1981–82. Provision for local authority gross capital expenditure in England this year is just over £4,000 million—no small figure.
Like the mechanism for grant-related expenditure assessment, the distribution of housing capital expenditure recognises the particular needs of the inner city authorities. Housing conditions have certainly featured as contributing factors to inner city tensions. I note the view of the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, on Tory housing policy. We do not in fact need help in finding out the condition of local authority housing stock because we have commissioned our own inquiry to see how local authorities of all parties, under Governments of all parties, have looked after that stock. The answer—and it is an answer to the noble Lord, Lord Underhill—is that over 30 years or so, since the main building boom of the 1950s, a backlog of some £19 billion has built up. That is an all-party legacy. I ask your Lordships generally to compare the £220 million net increase in the year's programme with the 46 per cent. real terms cut which the Labour Party achieved between 1974 and 1979.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, I am grateful that the noble Lord gives way. He has brought me back into the debate. Is it not a fact that, in real terms, the total money spent on housing in the public sector by the Government this year is less than one-third of what the last Labour Government spent in 1979? Where does he get his arithmetic from?
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I got my arithmetic from the published statistics which I commend to the noble Lord. He was right, I think, to intervene. We have tried not to be too provocative to each other in political terms, but he was a little provocative himself and I rose to his bait.
The four objectives of our urban policy are to generate economic activity and jobs in inner city areas, to deal with the problems of dereliction and decay left behind by economic change, to relieve housing stress, and to strengthen the social fabric, please note! They involve many departments. They go far beyond the urban programme and add up to a national attack on inner city problems to which the Government collectively give a high priority.
Out of this collective commitment were born the city action teams set up earlier this year that co ordinate and target Government programmes in the 256 partnership areas. They relate national programmes to local needs and see that opportunities for joint action are exploited vigorously.
The Department of Employment and the Manpower Services Commission are spending some £ 140 million in the partnership areas on programmes of training, on the encouragement of enterprise through the enterprise allowance schemes, and on help for the long-term unemployed through the community programme. The social departments are becoming increasingly involved in the work of the city action teams, as is the Home Office with its programmes of support for the voluntary sector and for ethnic minorities.
The urban programme is a programme of support for local government spending, but the voluntary sector is involved in many projects, and accounts for some £78 million this year alone. Since 1978–79, the programme has more than trebled in cash terms. In that time, more than £1,900 million has been allocated in support of local authorities' programmes for urban renewal within the programme, and measures specially targeted at ethnic minorities have risen from £6 million in 1980–81 to £39 million in 1985–6, an increase of over six-fold.
Urban development grant—derived, I should tell the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, from American experience, as indeed were the priority estates projects and community refurbishment schemes—provides a lever for getting additional private sector investment to difficult inner city sites. In England as a whole, by the end of last month 165 urban development grant schemes had been approved. They involved grant offers of £74 million and private sector investment of no less than £325 million. About £60 million of the approved grants will enable industrial and commercial projects creating 16,000 jobs to go ahead. The remainder is concentrated on housing development, leading to the provision of nearly 4,000 homes.
The two docklands development corporations have also proved outstandingly successful as a means of stimulating private investment and buying land forward for development. Both corporations have been outstandingly effective in tackling disused and severely derelict land. In London docklands the public sector investment so far has attracted £860 million of private investment. By 1990,9,750 private houses will have been built in the docklands where there was previously very little opportunity for home ownership at all. Greater housing choice and more opportunities for low-cost home ownership are also being promoted by the urban housing renewal unit.
There are one or two other matters on which I had intended to speak but I shall instead write to noble Lords. I will conclude by saying that your Lordships are a judicial House and occasionally you judge us. Your interest this evening, rightly, has been largely focused on the inner cities. Your Lordships will wish to share in this judgment. I have tried to show in small compass that the mechanism by which Government funds local authorities is responsive to need, but it must be finite; that within the finite amount, inner cities have a marked priority; that we are rapidly developing new methods to get departments to work effectively together, that we are increasingly bringing in private investment to support 257 the public effort; that we are increasingly involving public sector tenants in the management of their own affairs; that we are sharpening the focus of our efforts to where it matters most; that we have involved very large sums of private money and cut a great deal of red tape. The work is not finished but it is begun, and it is well begun. The case rests.
§ Lord Pitt of Hampstead
My Lords, before the noble Lord the Minister sits down, may I remind him that I asked two questions which were of some importance to me. The first was: what is the Government's attitude towards the recommendations from the Commission for Racial Equality concerning amendments to the Race Relations Act? Secondly, I asked the Minister whether he would request his right honourable friend carefully to consider introducing the offence of racial harassment when dealing with the amendments to the Public Order Act. I am sorry to have delayed the House, but I regard these as important matters.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, the noble Lord has braved the wrath of his Chief Whip. My Chief Whip is not here, so I am quite safe in answering his questions. The answer to his first question is that an amendment is at the moment under consideration by the Secretary of State. In answer to the noble Lord's second question, I certainly will draw the point to the attention of my right honourable friend.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Young of Graffham, I beg to move that this debate be adjourned until tomorrow.
§ Moved, That this debate be adjourned until tomorrow.—(Lord Skelmersdale.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.