HL Deb 18 November 1986 vol 482 cc151-223

Debate resumed.

4.12 p.m.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, I hope your Lordships will now think that it is "up to feasibility" to return to the debate on the gracious Speech. I follow with pleasure the observations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, first in saying how much I look forward to the maiden speech of my noble and very old friend Lord Bonham-Carter. I follow him, secondly, in devoting most of my attention, as he did, to the profound questions of law and order that face us at this time and the issue of whether the Criminal Justice Bill will contribute materially, and if so in what direction, to the resolution of those questions. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, that the Criminal Justice Bill is certainly the most important feature of the new Parliament, apart perhaps from the likely date of dissolution.

In looking at the issues of law and order, I hope that your Lordships might agree that we are really looking at two quite separate matters. There are, first, the long term problems and, secondly, the short term problems or how we can deal as a matter of immediate legislation with the situation as it is today. That situation has been set out again only too clearly by the noble and learned Lord: a rise in crime and particularly in juvenile delinquency; a rise in violent crime; and a rise in mindless hooliganism. Those are features of our society today, and for one moment it is perhaps worth looking at long term solutions to those problems. That involves analysing the causes of the conditions which we face.

The first matter that I draw to your Lordships' attention is that we have very little evidence as to the cause of the recent rise in crime. There is a great deal of anecdotal information and very little more. There are those who talk about the decline in the authority of the family, the decline in discipline at our schools (when children are at school) or the decline in the influence of the Church. There are those who talk about the effects of showing violence on television and those who talk about the circumstances in which many youngsters have to spend their lives in squalor, in bad housing, in deprived inner cities and out of a job. There are those who talk about the effects of alcohol, and, more and more, about the ever-increasing effects of the vicious traffic in drugs. There are those who even talk about the example given to our young people by the fact that violence has apparently become an accepted part of our international relations.

These are all long term factors, some of which no doubt have some effect on crime as we see it in our society today. I should like to suggest for your Lordships' consideration that it might be worth a serious analysis of precisely what are the causes of crime and precisely what weight is to be attached to each of the factors. It may take a generation or more, but we can then settle down seriously to see how we can deal with and resolve those factors. That involves considerations far outside the scope of any observations I should think of making to your Lordships this afternoon.

I should perhaps very respectfully put forward a suggestion that there is material in this problem for the setting up of a Royal Commission that would consider for the first time exactly what the factors are with which we are dealing. If the Government were not willing to set up a Royal Commission, there would be material here for a Select Committee of your Lordships' House, which is very well qualified to deal with problems of this nature. I believe that it is possible, if we set about a serious analysis of these various factors, that we might go some way towards a long-term solution.

So far as short-term solutions are concerned, one looks immediately at the role of the police as the first factor. One must accept the platitude that if it were not for the police, our society would relapse into a state of violent anarchy very quickly indeed. This leads inevitably to the immediate conclusion that the police must be fully equipped with the latest modern technology to deal with crime. That does not necessarily mean taking them off the beat, where they can play a very useful role, but it means a scientific approach to their problems. It also means that once the Government are satisfied that the existing numbers of the police force are being deployed efficiently, they should listen sympathetically to requests by the commissioner and other senior police officers for an increase in the number of police officers. I believe that that is a top priority if we are to deal in the short term with crime, and particularly with crime taking place on our streets.

I also believe it is up to all of us to build up the position and status of the police in our society. I know perfectly well, as all your Lordships do, that there are far too many cases in which individual police officers fall below the standards which we expect of them. Where that happens, it is right that that should be exposed publicly and that those individual police officers should be dealt with with the full rigour of the law. However, that should take place, I suggest, with regret and not with rejoicing.

One of the features that I have found most appalling in recent years is that police bashing appears to have become a major growth industry. It can do nothing but harm. I believe it is up to all of us, in your Lordships' House and outside, who hold any position of the slightest influence or status in our society, to make quite sure that the role of the police is at all times made perfectly clear to all our friends and neighbours as being a dangerous role and one requiring the maximum of support from every decent-minded citizen of this country.

Other short-term measures apart from strengthening the role of the police can be considered. Some of them are contained in the Criminal Justice Bill. First, there is a question of whether we can improve our criminal process so as to make our methods of trial more efficient. There are many proposals to that end in the Bill. I think many of them will meet with widespread support, such as the proposals, for example, to deal in substance with major fraud cases. I am delighted that the Government have decided, for the time being at least, not to accept the proposal of the Roskill Commission that juries might be abolished in some of those major fraud cases. But that decision, which is perhaps a quite brave one in the circumstances, involves us all in supporting the Government where we can properly do so in such proposals as they are making to ensure that if fraud trials continue to be tried by jury those trials are made as simple and as intelligible as possible for the jury to deal with.

I find acceptable most of the proposals to simplify fraud trials but I have one major reservation, which is the proposal that the committal of a serious fraud case by the magistrates' court can be avoided altogether in the future on the say-so of a civil servant, be he the Director of Public Prosecutions or a commissioner of excise or of inland revenue, without any right of appeal to the courts. I hope very much that that proposal will not survive its passage through both Houses.

The Government are right, as the Roskill Commission was right, to stress the importance of effective pre-trial procedures, particularly in fraud cases. The proposal now is that the defence in the serious fraud cases should be required to give an outline of its case at that stage. That matter will have to be considered very seriously. It is possible that in a serious, complicated fraud case there is much to be said for that suggestion. After all, one ought to get beyond the stage at which serious fraud trials become a complicated game with their own little rules and procedures between the prosecution and the defence. There is something to be said for trying to get down, if we can, to the real issues so that a jury can fully understand them.

There are many proposals to make evidence, particularly documentary evidence, more easily obtainable, subject to proper safeguards. I have no doubt that that is acceptable. There is the interesting proposal, to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, referred, that the evidence of children might be taken live on video rather than have the child actually in the courtroom. Again, I can see no objection to that provided it is done live and provided of course, as I assume (though it is not entirely clear from the Bill) that the defence has an adequate and proper opportunity to cross-examine the witness.

There is the proposal, which again I think is designed to improve our trial process, that peremptory challenge by the defence should be abolished. Clearly, this will give rise to some trouble. I have no doubt that many people will feel that it is unfair that a right which has existed for so long, although it has been whittled down over and over again, should be abolished in this way. They will be able to put forward a practical argument to the effect that if it is abolished it will instead merely leave the defence to start challenging for cause, showing to the judge a cause why a particular juror should not serve, and that that may take a great deal of time and prove to be very expensive and inconvenient. There is bound to be opposition to the Government's proposal and I well understand it and sympathise with it.

For myself, I should marginally prefer a different approach. I accept that trial by jury involves as its essence nowadays trial by a random section of the population, and provided we can make sure that the jury is chosen on an entirely random basis it is not right that either the defence or the prosecution should proceed to tamper with the composition of the jury. I can understand the Government saying that the defence should lose its right, but I should be grateful if when the noble Lord comes to reply he can say why the prosecution should not also lose its right. We can then deal with it on a parity so that neither side has an advantage over the other.

At the present moment, the defence has the right to challenge up to three people; the prosecution has the right to challenge as many as it likes. It is not called peremptory challenge, but it comes to exactly the same thing. I should have thought that there is something to be said for abolishing the right on both sides and holding the scales equal in order to secure a balanced jury. That would have two desirable practical consequences. First, it would eliminate the extreme embarrassment which any juror must feel when he goes into a jury box and is promptly challenged out of it by either the prosecution or the defence as though he has some nasty contagious disease.

Secondly, I think it would avoid the present problem where, if a trial involves many defendants and therefore there might in theory be a very large number of challenges, literally several hundred jurors are required to come to court on the first day of the trial in order that there may be a pool available from which the 12 may in due course be chosen. That, again, seems to be a great waste and causes a great deal of inconvenience.

The other matter that I propose to raise just for a moment or two as regards the short-term way of dealing with crime is the question of sentence. I know there is a belief that the longer the sentence, the less crime there will be. I doubt very much whether that is supportable on the evidence. I know of course that the longer the sentence the greater the number of years that that particular defendant will be out of the way in prison and will not be able to commit further offences. That is self-evident. But I am doubtful whether it has any effect in reducing the overall volume of crime and I doubt very much whether any evidence has ever been produced to support it.

There are proposals in the Criminal Justice Bill relating to sentence. There are only two about which I shall venture to comment at the moment. One is the new power to confiscate the assets of criminals apart from drug traffickers. Again, the noble and learned Lord referred to this matter. Provided it is made quite clear that the onus of proof in those proceedings is on the prosecution and not on the defence, as it was in the Drug Trafficking Offences Act which we passed last Session, I think that would be a perfectly sensible course. But I add this thought. If one is going to set about tracing the proceeds of crime in the way and with the detail that is required in order to comply with this Bill, that in itself will involve very skilled work by a substantial number of police officers. That will increase the burden on the police force and is perhaps an added reason that the Government should be sympathetic to requests by senior police officers for an increase in their establishment.

The other matter that relates to sentence is the question of whether the prosecution should have a right of appeal against sentence. We fought that in your Lordships' House, and we won. I am glad to see that we have really seen the end of it, because although there is a suggestion in some of the comments that that power is being resuscitated in this Bill, I do not myself see it that way. The only effect of Clause 29, which deals with this matter, is to say that if it appears to the Attorney-General that a sentence passed by the Crown Court on a trial on indictment raises a question of public importance, he may, with the leave of the court, refer the case to them to obtain their opinion on the principles which should be observed in sentencing in similar cases in the future.

That is not giving anybody the right of appeal against sentence. I hope that that power can be operated without the pillorying of the judge who happened to pass a sentence which may differ from that which is thought otherwise appropriate. That would serve only to bring justice totally into disrepute. I know, too, that the Court of Appeal will recognise that every case differs on its merits and that it is quite impossible on one set of facts to say in terms that one sentence is wrong in that way.

Those are perhaps more than enough comments for this stage in a debate on the gracious Speech. We look forward to the passage of this Bill through another place and its arrival, no doubt late next July, in your Lordships' House. We hope then to make it into an implement which will help us to cope with the rising tide of crime in this country.

4.29 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Birmingham

My Lords, I thank those noble Lords who have already made distinguished contributions to this debate and I, too, should like to say how much I look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. I should like also to join the good wishes of those who sit on this Bench to those already expressed by noble Lords.

I should like now to invite your Lordships' attention to some matters that we have not yet considered this afternoon. These relate to family and personal matters and I wish to speak mostly from an ethical point of view. I warmly welcome the Government's decision further to reform family law in England and Wales. Naturally, the details of the Family Law Reform Bill, lately introduced into this House, need careful scrutiny and examination, but the idea of reform in this area is surely to be welcomed.

In matters of family law a nice balance must be kept. On the one hand, the family as an institution needs public support and strengthening by law, especially when it is subject to massive stresses and strains. On the other hand, we must see that justice is done to those people who, through no fault of their own, suffer from legal disadvantages such as those relating to illegitimacy. There is a vast increase in such children—an increase of all but 100 per cent. in 10 years. To me it is an astonishing thought that in these days of cheap or free contraception 126,000 children were born illegitimate last year—as the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, has already told us, all but one-in-five of all live births. Further, there is evidence to suggest that there is a growing number of couples in committed relationships who choose not to get married.

It seems unfair that the father of an illegitimate child should always be unable to share with the child's mother in parental rights and duties, including rights of custody and guardianship. It seems right, too, that he should be able to apply, if necessary, for legal custody or for access. Previously the father of an illegitimate child has been almost a non-person under the law, subject to affiliation proceedings but without rights in the care and upbringing of his own child. I welcome the chance to put that right. I also welcome the provisions that will give an illegitimate child similar rights of succession to property as has a child of married parents. The principle of putting the welfare of the child first is, surely, to be supported.

At the same time, I believe that is is important to affirm the overriding value of the family itself as an institution rather than to concentrate totally on the children. For this reason I regret that the Bill, despite the words used in its printed explanation, seems to be able to dispense with the distinction in law between legitimate and illegitimate children without substituting an alternative such as "marital" and "non-marital". To this extent, I fear that the Bill may actually weaken family life, as I fear that some recent measures may have done. I refer to the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act which seems to have increased the number of divorces among those recently married.

As I have said, I welcome this new Family Law Reform Bill in principle, but I hope that Her Majesty's Government might see fit to balance the Bill by taking some positive action to support the legitimate family. I refer to tax advantages for couples remaining unmarried. Only last week I heard of a couple with children who are not married because both partners, being unmarried, can claim mortgage relief on their house. If cohabiting couples can be denied welfare benefits, could not unmarried couples who are both employed have some tax benefits removed? If not, it looks like one law for the poor and another for the rest.

Consideration of the family leads me to consider an intimate matter which did not find a mention in the gracious Speech. I had hoped that it would include a reference to the promotion or protection of public health in this country. I was glad to hear about the maintenance of a subtantial aid programme overseas, but sorry not to hear of a substantial AIDS programme in this country—though naturally the committee chaired by the noble Viscount the Lord President of the Council will be warmly welcomed by all. I understand that this week there is to be a debate on this matter in another place, and that a Question will be asked on the subject in your Lordships' House tomorrow. I hope that we shall hear that sufficient resources are being devoted both to research and to widespread screening, as well as to publicity.

The Board for Social Responsibility for the Church of England will be publishing later this month some guidelines for the pastoral care of those who suffer from AIDS. However, I should like now to address myself not so much to care as to prevention, where Government action seems to be urgently needed. I am sure that I do not need to remind your Lordships of the catastrophe which AIDS is already causing on the continent where it originated—I mean in such African countries as Zaire and Zambia, where there are few facilities for sterilising needles for injection, inadequate medical care and little medical technology.

However, even in a country like the United States, with all its "safer sex" campaigns and its technological expertise, this illness, which is incurable, continues to spread alarmingly. There are 1.5 million people who are thought to be infected with the virus; 18,000 are expected to die by the end of this year, with 150,000 deaths within five years. Of course, we have no means whatever of knowing how many people already infected by this virus may later develop the illness. If they do, they will die from it. In this country the number is still small—just over 500 deaths to date compared with, say, 6,000 a year killed on our roads However, unless something is done we are going to have an AIDS explosion. We are now at the stage that the United States was five years ago.

The groups at risk from this killer disease show three different means of transmission: by blood to blood innoculation; by materno-foetal transmission and by sexual transmission, both homosexual and heterosexual. As regards blood innoculation, unless the virus mutates suffcient steps now seem to have been taken to protect both those receiving blood transfusions and haemophiliacs receiving factor 8 or factor 9.

Intravenous drug abusers who share needles and syringes contaminated by infected blood present special problems. A moral question arises over the provision of free sterilised needles. It seems to condone illegal acts and to encourage drug abuse. However, I do not think that is a valid moral objection. Only a person who is already hooked on drugs is likely to seek a free sterilised needle; and precisely because he or she is hooked, that is not increasing drug addiction but helping to save lives.

As for materno-foetal transmission, we must accept that, as for other sex related illnesses such as syphilis, AIDS can be transmitted in the womb and the only way to stop this is to prevent women from being infected by AIDS and, if that fails, to strongly discourage women who are so infected from having children.

AIDS is mostly transmitted sexually and, so far in this country, mostly through homosexual relations; although in Africa AIDS is predominantly a heterosexual illness and it might become so in this country, too. One of the problems to which the Government committee must address itself concerns explicit information about sexual transmission, homosexual or heterosexual. It is said that it offends against good taste. Good taste, we all agree, is a good thing, but it is not really a sufficient reason for dying.

It is said that there should be a campaign for safer sex with the provision of free condoms. It is not always realised that condoms are already obtainable free from family planning clinics by men and women, although some district health authorities restrict the numbers issued to an individual per month or at a time. General practitioners do not prescribe or issue sheaths and it seems undesirable that they should do so. Since condoms are already issued free, the question of whether it is ethical hardly arises. Such a practice should not be stopped, least of all at a time when we are faced with an AIDS epidemic.

What, however, is seldom stated, is that condoms are only 85 per cent. effective when used as a contraceptive and, similarly so, when used as a protective against AIDS. The huge increase in illegitimate births to which I have already alluded does not suggest that they are popular. In any case, the American campaign for safer sex has been a failure.

Compulsory screening for all and subsequent apartheid for those who have antibodies to the virus is unthinkable. The only safe way is personal chastity. I was sorry to hear that a Minister for Health had recently called that old-fashioned. Chastity is never old-fashioned, but always contemporary. In the words of my dictionary, to be chaste means to abstain from all immoral sexual intercourse. It applies before marriage, it applies within marriage; it applies outside marriage, and if homosexuals think it right, it applies to an exclusive and lifelong relationship with one partner.

AIDS is a killer disease. At the moment it is incurable and always ends in death. We hope that a cure will be found, but, if it is, it is at the least five years on. After all, antiviral chemotherapy is still in its infancy. If this country returned to biblical restraints on sexual behaviour, the mortal danger of AIDS would vanish overnight. The moral law is not true because it is found in the Bible; it is found in the Bible because it is true.

Human beings have evolved in such a way that pairing and bonding are part of our nature, and promiscuity is contrary to it. Unchastity is against the natural law and, because of that, we must expect that our bodies, no less than ourselves, are ill adapted to it, hence the doubling of rates of cervical cancer among young women in the past decade and hence the prospect of a catastrophic spread of AIDS. The Church has perhaps been too reticent in recent years about shouting loud for chastity. If so, fear of death may succeed where quiet moral persuasion has failed.

I am sorry, as I said, that matters of health did not appear in the gracious Speech from the Throne. I hope that nonetheless the Government, in their official warnings against AIDS, will make it crystal clear that there is one safe way and one safe way only of avoiding AIDS which holds good for all. It is through living chaste lives of sexual restraint, and exclusive loyalty to a single partner.

4.44 p.m.

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, I crave your indulgence and your Lordships' patience this evening on this the first occasion that I have had the opportunity to address this House. I say patience because I suspect that some of your Lordships may have reached that position of political development so well described by the late Lord Boothby when he said that he had reached the point in his political career in which the only speeches to which he could listen were his own. I ask your Lordships to be patient while I listen to myself.

I, on the other hand, have listened with attention, admiration and gratitude to the words which a series of noble Lords have addressed to us already. I must thank the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, whose courtesy and competence have aroused my admiration. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, whose sunny presence, humour and wisdom, of which we are the fortunate beneficiaries, are an asset to any assembly. I should also like to thank my noble old friend, if that is a possible expression—Lord Wigoder for his kind words of welcome and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham, who I hope will forgive me if on this occasion I do not follow his interesting and important discussion on AIDS, as I should like to do in other circumstances.

As has been said by many noble Lords, the most important element in the gracious Speech last week was the Criminal Justice Bill. Without commenting, as other noble Lords have, on the contents of that Bill, I should like to say that, no matter how admirable the principles underlying a Bill of this kind, the way in which the law administered and put into practice is just as important.

There is no section of the population of this country to which that general proposition applies with more acute importance than to the ethnic minority group. I say that because of the evidence collected in an important report published by the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, which confirms and adds to successive studies by PEP and the Policy Studies Institute. That report demonstrates that members of ethnic minority groups are arrested more frequently, bailed more rarely, and sentenced more heavily than the rest of the population.

In the light of the evidence collected, it is difficult to resist the conclusion that members of minority groups are the victims of discrimination and that the criminal justice system, taken as a whole, is not immune from discriminatory practices. That is hardly surprising. In every area of our society which has been examined, evidence of substantial racial discrimination has been discovered. The same now appears to be true of the criminal justice system. Moreover, that will be no surprise to members of the ethnic minority groups—the person wearing the shoe knows where it pinches. Of those surveyed, 38 per cent. of West Indians and 9 per cent. of Asians agreed, thought or believed that they were treated worse by the courts than whites.

Perceptions are important. The question to which the NACRO report addressed itself is whether those perceptions are true or false. Its findings may surprise some judges, some of our magistrates and some of our probation officers. The report states: The provision of fair and non-discriminatory treatment to black offenders and victims of crime appeared to be a low priority for most of the agencies for whom it should be a central concern—some did not even seem to be aware that it was an issue at all". Much of the evidence comes from the Prison Department, because, alone of those agencies, the prison service monitors its activities properly and can provide information about the numbers, length of sentence, ethnic origin and so on of the inmates of our prisons. Some of the figures published in June 1986 were that the total prison pupulation of young male offenders was 10,000, of whom 1,200 were from ethnic minorities. If the proportion of the prison population were the same for black and white the figures would be 590 and not 1,200. There was a total of 26,000 sentenced adult males, of whom 3,000 were from the minority groups. There was a total of 903 sentenced adult women, of whom 146 were from the minority groups.

The disproportion is even greater among those who have not been convicted and not sentenced—that is, those who have not been bailed. Sixteen per cent. of untried men under 21, 15 per cent, of untried males and 23 per cent. of untried women are from the ethnic minority groups and overwhelmingly from the African or Afro-Caribbean population.

Finally, the Prison Department gives the following information about sentencing and location. A higher proportion of black prisoners were serving long sentences—18 per cent. of those sentenced to four years or more compared to under 8 per cent. of those serving less than 18 months. The proportion of black women in Holloway is 27.5 per cent. These figures are formidable. They must be, it seems to me, a source of concern.

The figures draw attention to the extreme importance of monitoring. It is devoutly to be hoped that the other agencies within the criminal justice system will follow the Prison Department's example, so that at least we know what is happening.

Were there time, it would be interesting to speculate on the reasons and causes that led us into this situation. Meanwhile, the figures that I have quoted appear to reflect discriminatory decisions at every stage in the criminal justice process from arrest to sentencing.

There is another dimension to the whole matter that I do not think we can afford to neglect. That is the minorities as victims of crime. The Metropolitan Police collect information about the proportion of victims of crime who are from various ethnic groups. In 1984, 15.1 per cent. of victims of robbery and 16.5 per cent. of victims of assault were either Afro-Caribbean or Asian. In 1985, this percentage had increased to 18.1 per cent. Not only are these figures disproportionate to the percentage of the population as a whole but, perhaps more seriously, they are increasing.

The same is true of racial attacks, on which the Home Office undertook the first survey in 1981. The number of racial attacks reported to the police has increased from 1,276 cases in 1983 to 1,945 cases in 1985. Given these facts, it should not surprise anyone that the ethnic minorities have little respect for the criminal justice system, for those who enforce the law, and those who, as they see it, fail to protect them from assault, harassment and so on. The Home Office survey found that Asians were 50 times more likely and West Indians 36 times more likely to be victims of attack than white people. The frequency of these attacks and the concern that they inevitably and naturally generate is something that the report describes as not a matter of opinion but a matter of fact.

The PSI report of 1984 checked the Home Office figures and concluded that they were in no sense an exaggeration. In these circumstances, black people have developed a frightening lack of faith in the ability or the will of the police to protect them. Forty per cent. of West Indian men and 50 per cent. of West Indian women stated that it was definitely not true that the police could protect them from racialist violence. If attitudes and beliefs such as this become entrenched, it is exceedingly dangerous for the fabric of the whole of our society.

It is, of course, true to say, as the police constantly say, that they have to deal with the symptoms of profound social problems. It is of course true and it is of course desirable that we tackle those profound social problems, which are also profoundly intractable, as soon as we can. But we cannot wait until that day before we deal with the symptoms. The wounds have to be bound up. If you look through the recommendations in the NACRO report, whether they are directed at the courts, at the probation or social services, at the voluntary sector, or elsewhere, the same proposals come forward again and again: monitor your own performance as far as the ethnic minorities are concerned; adopt an open and public equal opportunities policy; and recruit more members of the minority groups into your service, whether it is the probation service, the prison service, or the Law Society. All involved in the criminal justice process should undergo some training in race relations.

Some progress is being made, most especially in the Prison Department. Not only, as we have seen, does it carry out a proper monitoring exercise, but Circular Instruction 32/1986, published recently, is a model of its kind. It includes a policy statement. It provides for monitoring and assessing race relations in all the establishments. It provides a check list for assisting in this process. And it sets out a chain of command within prisons for implementing the Prison Department's race relations policy.

I have tried to present your Lordships with a few crude facts—facts which cannot but cause us concern. The heart of democracy lies in the belief that, before the courts, all are treated equally whatever their class, race, sex or colour. I echo the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman: People say we should be confident that we have the best judges in the world, the fairest courts and legislation, and a good criminal law. None of that matters at all if we cannot retain public confidence in the rule of law, if we cannot regain public confidence in the police, the legal profession and the courts". I do not believe that in this situation, as in most political situations, there are easy answers or that there are any easy solutions. What I do believe is that we can handle this matter better and more humanely than we have done to date. This will require determination, patience and a willingness to listen and face up to the facts that confront us. It does not seem to me an immodest aim. It does not seem to me an aim inappropriate to politicians. It is one I commend to your Lordships.

4.58 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, it is indeed a privilege to someone born when the noble Lord's grandfather was Prime Minister to be the first to congratulate him on his speech. Remembering also the distinguished services of his mother, one might say that in his person the distinction in your Lordships' House between the hereditary and the life element is somewhat obscured. However, in the times in which we live, it may not be the distinction of the noble Lord's ancestry but the talents of the noble Lord's niece which are most likely to make the name of Bonham-Carter resound in the public ear. That said, it is difficult, even on an occasion like this, when congratulations are in order, to be totally certain that the noble Lord has kept in his maiden speech to the prescription that it should be non-controversial. Nevertheless, the House is, I believe, grateful to the noble Lord for taking the occasion of his maiden speech to give us his thoughts on a matter of great public importance on which he has more experience than most of your Lordships.

I would not follow him along that path except perhaps to make two points. First, while I think it is very important that there should be public confidence in the fairness of our judicial, police and penal systems, I am not sure that the statistics of differential conviction in themselves are evidence that this impartiality is absent. It could be—I do not say that it is—answered that if more people from a certain group are convicted of a certain offence it is because in that group that offence, for one reason or another, is more prevalent. If we are to talk about the lack of impartiality in our institutions, I think we must have evidence more cogent than that before we accept the widespread indictment which was contained in the speech of the noble Lord.

Secondly, I think that the noble Lord is undoubtedly right, and nothing is more shaming to this country, to emphasise the growth of attacks on racial minorities by others—called racial assaults in brief. That these exist is a shame. That their numbers are rising is a shame. But again we are dealing with difficult social situations in which it seems to me—indeed the noble Lord gave us some reason for believing that he also feels this—that one essential factor is that the ethnic minorities play a more active role in the various organisations and institutions concerned.

In particular—and I believe that experience in the United States would bear this out—until we have in the police force and in the services ancillary to the police a proper representation of the ethnic minorities, that confidence which we should like to see will not be captured easily. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, in another debate recently, asked why there are so few members of the ethnic minorities in the police force. One reason must surely be that some of the leaders, or the self-styled leaders, of the ethnic minorities, have condemned the police, have attacked the police, and have suggested that it would be very improper, almost a case of race treason, for a member of an ethnic minority to seek a career in the police force. One must take into account the activities of some people who—although they claim to have as their objective the bettering of the status of the racial minorities, an objective that we all share—are objectively making that situation worse.

There are very grave issues which the noble Lord has raised in this remarkable maiden speech. I think that the whole House would wish to congratulate him, and I hope not merely to utter the normal conventional phrase that we would hope to see him more than once, indeed often in the future, but also that occasions will arise, particularly in the course of a Session which does not seem to be legislatively overburdened, to discuss in greater detail with him the very important issues that he has raised for us this afternoon.

I was proposing to look at another aspect of some instruments of local government other than their contribution, or lack of contribution, to racial harmony. That is in connection with one Bill which will come before us which will make an important change in the methods by which the remuneration of teachers is fixed. It may seem a little remote from these great considerations. It is important because it is only a stage in a process by which the organisation of education in this country is being changed, and will be changed, possibly very radically indeed. It seems to me that there has been a notable failure on the part of some, although by no means all, local authorities to take seriously their obligations to education rather than to seek in their powers over education the possibility of pursuing other political or social ends.

We have heard from the right reverend Prelate his views about the dangers of AIDS. It is perhaps curious that at the same time there are some local education authorities who believe that the praising of homosexuality should be an important part of the educational process. There seems to be a contradiction here. One wonders whether the feelings in favour of the family as the basic social unit, which the right reverend Prelate has commended to us, are very much uppermost in the minds of some of those who have pursued this kind of propaganda.

However, I wish this afternoon to take a rather special point about educational reorganisation. It is I think the fact that education authorities have tended to meddle. The example I have given is an example only of meddling where schools are concerned. We shall have to look also at their role in higher education, particularly in relation to the polytechnics. Although these originally were largely the outcome of local initiative, they now play a national role and in many cases take students from as far and as wide as do the universities. Yet there are now very considerable complaints from the polytechnics of interference in their internal affairs by local authorities, which lead them to believe, as I myself do, that the time has probably come to emancipate the polytechnics, to give them charters, and to make them fully responsible, as are universities, for their own discipline and curricula and the monitoring of their own performance.

Some of the instances are as follows. There has been the unwillingness of a local authority to allow the disciplining of students who have taken part in actions against outside speakers. I do not know how this will be affected by the Act which we passed in the last Session. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, already knows this fact, but a number of polytechnics have been prevented from ordering certain newspapers for their libraries. There has been refusal to allow polytechnics to advertise vacancies on their staff in certain newspapers; the prohibiting of polytechnic libraries from acquiring books from countries whose regime this particular authority dislikes; and the going over the heads of the directors of polytechnics to deal directly with staff and students.

Not perhaps in this Session, over which hangs the spectre of a general election, but with an eye to action in the future—hopefully by agreement, because the performance of polytechnics is so vital to our industrial health that it should concern members of all political parties—here there seems to me to be a clear case for looking at whether this section of education can be preserved from meddling. If local authorities can also be persuaded not to meddle in matters of sex and race, so much the better.

5.10 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the last two speakers, not to mention their eloquent predecessors. When I was young and the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, was still younger, he was an ardent champion of Left wing causes, and I was a Conservative! At any rate, I think that over the years our contribution has been well-balanced. It was also a special pleasure to hear the wonderful maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. The trouble is that every maiden speech here is described as remarkable, so it is rather difficult to find the words which distinguish the noble Lord's speech from others. I at least venture to say that his mother, who I knew very well, and his grandfather, who I did not know but of course admired as a student of history, would have been proud of him this afternoon. Certainly the subject on which he spoke is one on which I venture to think he has done more work than anyone else in this House.

My noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones, dealt so thoroughly with the Criminal Justice Bill that it only needs me to add one further thought. I certainly welcome anything that is being foreshadowed to improve the treatment of the victims of crime; that is better late than never. I first introduced that subject to this House in 1962, and in 1978 the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, made an outstanding maiden speech. We were back debating the same subject the following year. Therefore do not let us become unduly eulogistic about the Government, but let us at least say that there is more joy over one sinner who repenteth than over all the rest. I know that the right reverend Prelate would agree, although he will correct my version of the quotation. We give credit to the Government to that extent.

The other day I was speaking in what I suppose would be called a penal discussion before the Cambridge Law Society. One of my colleagues on the panel was Mr. Bartell the chairman of the Prison Officers' Association, who was a very forceful speaker. Certainly my noble friends Lord Mishcon and Lord Graham, would know him exceptionally well. He came out unequivocally on his own behalf, and on behalf of the association, in favour of penal reform. Later on during the discussion a Conservative QC on our panel, an MP, with some connection with the Home Office, ironically remarked that it was surprising to say the least that the chairman of the Prison Officers' Association and an old-time penal reformer like myself should be saying the same sort of thing at a time when the public were moving away from that position. I suppose that this eminent Conservative thought that he had made some sort of debating point. That is what was said, and in a sense I want to dwell on that question this afternoon. I shall return to the question of public opinion before I close these few remarks.

I should like to dwell for a moment on the views of the Prison Officers' Association, which were not always so close to those of penal reformers. We are all familiar with the splendid work for penal reform done by bodies such as NACRO, which has as its chairman the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, and, going still further back, the Howard League, and others. The director of NACRO said in the NACRO annual report: The last twenty years have seen a slow, steady and relentless deterioration in prison conditions". A great deal of attention should be paid to that. The trouble about penal reform is that people are inclined to say, "They would say that, wouldn't they?"; one assumes that anyone to do with penal reform would say that kind of thing. However, as regards the prison officers, I beg the Minister to ask the Government to pay even more attention than when these longstanding prison reformers issued these grave warnings.

I should like to quote one or two sentences from the annual report of the Prison Officers' Association: Over the last 11 months there have been 1,700 reported incidents, 1,108 staff have been assaulted by prisoners and 631 prisoners have been assaulted by prisoners. This year alone 2 prisoners have been murdered … Last year 683 prisoners escaped or absconded". Still quoting from the annual report of the Prison Officers' Association, the point I want to bring home is that: The living conditions of prisoners create intolerable working conditions for prison officers". I should like to repeat that: The living conditions of prisoners create intolerable working conditions for prison officers". In the past some people have been inclined to think of there being some sort of conflict between the interest of prisoners and prison officers, but of course matters should never have been looked at in that light. Now there is no excuse for looking at it in that light. I am sorry to say that today prison officers are very sharp in their criticisms of what is called the Home Office. I regret that I must point out that the criticism must be levelled at Ministers. To some extent no doubt the Ministers are dependent on their officials but the responsibility is theirs. The prison officers also say that the Home Office answer to the enormous problems confronting prison staff is to tell prison officers that they are inefficient, manipulators of the taxpayers' purse and full of restrictive practices. The prison officers—who, after all, are ordinary average citizens engaged in this public work—are saying that the Home Office is being extremely unfair to them. Therefore, in addition to their criticism of conditions in the prisons, they are extremely critical of the Home Office and, by implication, of Home Office Ministers. I do not want to exacerbate this, but I am bound to say I can understand it. The Home Office are very much in the dock.

The prison officers reach a striking conclusion and they say that there needs to be "minimum enforceable standards for prisons". I am going to ask the Minister—and I have given him notice of this—whether he has anything to say on that particular point. Minimum enforceable standards have been demanded for a long time by the various penal reform organisations and by many others, and there is a widespread impression that those minimum standards were actually promised, or at any rate an undertaking was given to try to achieve them, some years ago, in the time in office of the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw. Therefore, I am going to ask the Minister explicitly, having given him notice, whether the Government are still trying to achieve these minimum enforceable standards. The prison officers say that if these basic minimum standards were legally enforceable it would prevent overcrowding, reduce tension, and create a climate in which the prisons can begin the task they are supposed to achieve—that a prisoner leaves a prison a better person than when he entered.

Those are the convictions of these gentlemen who devote their lives to the difficult task of controlling prisoners. They are not just the views of some old-fashioned penal reformer like myself. They coincide with my views, but I am not asking the noble Lord to accept them as coming from me.

What is the next conclusion? I am afraid there is only one conclusion that can be reached, and it is that there ought to be far fewer people in prisons. Fewer people should he sent to prison, and when they are sent there they should be kept there for a shorter period. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, has explained how poor our record is in this respect. Our record in this matter is disgraceful compared with those of other countries, and I need not repeat the facts he gave.

However, I am, in a sentence, asking the noble Lord to agree that if these standards are going to be enforced there is only one way of doing that, which is to reduce the number in prisons. In practice, that can only be done by the use of alternative remedies. There are plenty of us in this House who have advocated alternative remedies and spelt out that case in some detail, so I shall not dwell on it further now; but that is the inexorable logic. There is a terrible crisis in the prisons. There are far too many people in prisons, and the only way out is to reduce the number of prisoners. The only way of achieving that is by the much greater use than at present of alternative remedies.

Before I close I should like to deal with one aspect of this problem. It may be said, whether publicly or in conclave, that the public would not stand for it; that the public want more severe penalties not more humane treatment. That may be said. We know that that was the policy which was introduced by Mr. Leon Brittan when Home Secretary three years ago in response to what he thought was—and which may well have been—the attitude of the Conservative conference.

However, I ask noble Lords to just pause for a moment on this question of public opinion in regard to prisoners. Can we all agree that public opinion in regard to prisoners is very much influenced by the tabloid press? Can we all agree that the attitude of the tabloid press towards prisoners is quite deplorable? Once we agree with that, the question arises: how far are we going to pander to an opinion whipped up in that way and exploited for commercial reasons?

I shall take only one example, from the Daily Express last week. I suppose that there is hardly anybody in this House who has not at least on one occasion in his life enjoyed the Daily Express. If I say that, I suppose that that will be reported tomorrow, but what I am going to say now may not be reported. Particularly when it comes to dealing with well-known prisoners their attitude is totally without scruple. It is unbelievably vicious. That is what I say about the Daily Express, but you could say much worse things about the Sun if you were in the mood for it. That is how public opinion, at a time of great anxiety and a huge increase in crime, is exploited by the tabloid press. I ask the noble Lord and the Government how far they intend to pander to an opinion created in that lamentable fashion.

I do not envy the right honourable gentleman Mr. Hurd, his task. I remember what was said of President Wilson: He stood for human decency. He stood weakly for human decency, but he stood where it was an honour to stand". I hope and believe that it will be said of the right honourable gentleman Mr. Hurd. I certainly wish him well in the great struggle ahead of him.

5.25 p.m.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, in any debate which covers home affairs and the environment it is obvious that we must touch on a great many subjects, some seemingly of much greater importance than others. Having listened today to the speeches on the Criminal Justice Bill, on penal reform, and on law and order, I realise that what I want to talk about, although I shall be brief, may seem not as important to the public as those particular matters.

I should like first of all to say something about the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, saying that he would be acclaimed not for his ancestry but for himself, and I heard the noble Earl, Lord Longford, mention his mother. I should like to pay a tribute to Lady Violet Bonham-Carter. The moment I hear the words "Bonham-Carter" my mind goes back to her.

Going back over the years I can remember sitting and listening to her. She was witty, factual, and devastating. One listened with real joy, particularly because one was not only listening to a good woman speaker but really and truly to one of the best speakers in this country. If Lord Bonhan-Carter, good though he was today, is ever a patch on Lady Violet, we shall all think a great deal of him. I hope he will take that as a compliment, because it is meant as one.

I am going back to the opening remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, when he spoke on consumer protection, and when he mentioned the words "bargain offers". I have not got the dates in front of me, but it must be going back 15 to 20 years when we discussed the subject of bargain offers in this House. I remember, because the Labour Party were then the Government and I was not popular for the remarks that I had to make. I am not going to make any further remarks on the subject today, but wait for the Bill. I hope that this time we shall perhaps get somewhere on the matter of bargain offers.

Although it may not rank as importantly as the Criminal Justice Bill it is entirely a non-party matter, and I think that I shall carry the whole House with me, and obviously the Government, when I say that over the years it has become more and more obvious that recognition of consumer interests should be enhanced for the benefit of both consumer and industry alike. I say "enhanced" and not "recognised" because words of recognition have never been lacking. What has been lacking has been the implementation.

I felt that today particularly we might have a new threshold from which we could take off. Not only the gracious Speech but the British presidency of the European Community I think together present an opportunity to make real progress.

The House will recall the debate that we had on 10th October, initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, and spoken to by so many members experienced in European consumer affairs. Out of that debate there emerged for me one major factor. It was stated by the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, in her speech and emphasised time and time again in the report of the Select Committee dealing with consumer protection policy in the European Communities, which was chaired by the noble Baroness. I should like to say in passing that this report gave much valuable and appreciated information to consumer and industry alike.

If I may paraphrase and put into my own words this feeling, it was that progress had been all too slow; that consumer protection measures had been on the agenda for many years, being shelved repeatedly by the member states. Indeed, noble Lords will recall that on 30th July last year after much effort we in this House managed to extract a statement on the EEC directive dealing with product liability. This directive was adopted on 25th July 1985 and it took 10 years to achieve. On 23rd January this year we learned that the EEC directive on doorstep selling was adopted by the Council of Ministers on 20th December 1985. From a note in my files I was reminded that a draft directive on this matter was ready in 1978. I want to suggest that if we are serious, this is no way to continue. We have an opportunity to do something about it in these presidential six months. I want to suggest that a fundamental change of approach is necessary.

The Consumers' Consultative Committee, the officially recognised body for consumer consultation in the EEC, has been described as "an excellent idea working badly" or as "something of a disaster". Whichever is correct, it needs reforming and it needs strengthening. I want to know whether in these six months of European presidency the Government are really doing something about it because without such action consumer interests in the European Community will never be accorded adequate recognition and consideration. That is the first question I want to ask.

I come now nearer home. I have been in this House for 25 years. Much of that time has been spent on consumer affairs. I hope the House will note that I say "consumer affairs" and not "consumer protection". Progress has been very slow. Can the Government at last offer something better? In the gracious Speech mention is made of the fact that, Measures will be proposed to strengthen the law on consumer protection". Obviously this will be debated in due course—in fact in the near future. But what shall we find in the details and how much is the consumer really being offered?

I want to ask one question in advance which concerns the good faith of the Government. This question obviously precedes First Reading, which I believe is set down for tomorrow. The House may recall that on more than one occasion I have raised the matter of the resale of electricity by landlords. The Director General of Fair Trading in a report upheld complaints of considerable abuse by some landlords and recommended action. Almost a year ago, on 5th December, the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, told the House, at col. 1403 of Hansard: The Government expect to deal with the question of overcharging by landlords, not by making it a separate offence but as part of the proposed new legislation on misleading price indications announced … [on] 4th March to this House". On 27th February this year the Minister of State for Energy said in Standing Committee on the Gas Bill: It might be helpful if I describe the action that the Government propose to take over the recommendations of the Director General of Fair Trading on the resale of electricity. The Director General discovered clear evidence of abuse in overcharging for electricity. As a result an order requiring that the price charged for electricity by landlords should be clearly set out in an itemised statement and that the landlord must be responsible for stating the maximum price. Failure to comply with the order, or charging a different price from that shown on the statement, would give grounds for prosecution by a trading standards officer". On 11th June last, at col. 269 of Hansard the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, referred to a new consumer goods and service Bill. Such a Bill would provide additional enforcement on the resale of electricity should this become necessary. Over the years we have been put off or sidetracked many times when asking specific questions of the Government. That is why, in advance of any discussions on the measure proposed in the gracious Speech, I am asking for evidence of good faith. Does the proposed Bill include proposals to deal with this specific problem and when might we expect consumers to benefit from provisions made?

I have given notice to the Minister of the two questions raised today: namely, the position of the Consumers' Consultative Committee of the European Community (and what the Government propose to do about it) and the resale of electricity; so that the House might reasonably expect an answer I hope that the reply to both questions will provide evidence of good faith towards the consumer and indicate a real step forward in the area of consumer affairs.

5.36 p.m.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, although I was not born when the grandfather of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, was Prime Minister, and although I did not have the honour of knowing his very distinguished mother, I did know his brother in the far off days of our youth. I should therefore very much like to join other noble Lords in congratulating him on his maiden speech. I am not sure that I agreed with every word he said, but I admired the way he said it.

We have been presented with our annual menu of Bills, of which, as usual, some appear to be of great urgency and others less so. But one thing has not figured on that menu: something far too important to be one of the other measures to be laid before us. I refer to legislation to control embryo research, in vitro fertilisation, and so on, which was called for by the Warnock Committee whose report was published in July 1984. For the third year running we have waited in vain for mention of some such legislation, and every year we are told: "No, not this year". This is a far more important matter than many that Parliament has spent, and will spend, time on. It is perhaps the most important matter that we shall ever have to legislate about. It is literally a matter of life and death. It was already a matter of urgency when the Warnock Committee was set up in 1982. I know it is difficult—it is perhaps the most difficult thing that we shall ever have to legislate upon—but it will not get any easier by being pushed to the bottom of the Government's pending box. This bogeyman will not go away because we close our eyes and pretend that he is not there. The Government should get on with it before scientific developments overtake the Warnock Report and make it obsolete. This will happen quite soon. Indeed, it is already beginning to happen.

Among the more important Bills that we are promised—and one to which the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, did not actually refer—is one to repeal the Remuneration of Teachers Act 1965. I very much hope that it will introduce not only some form of central funding of education, but, at the same time, some form of broad-based national curriculum for schools, bearing in mind the recommendations of the CBI's Vision 2010 Committee (of which, incidentally, my son-in-law is chairman) as set forth in the interim report entitled Open to the Future which was presented at the CBI conference last week. This is extremely relevant in the context of unemployment among other things. At the same time, I hope, too, that very much tighter control will be kept over the moral content of sex education in schools. This is supposedly a Christian country. At least I suppose it to be and I believe that Christian standards should colour what is taught in our schools. Apart from the wickedness of corrupting the minds of children, whether deliberately or by default, the threat of an epidemic of AIDS makes this of vital importance. I was very glad to hear the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham speak out clearly on the subject because it, too, is a matter of life and death.

5.40 p.m.

Viscount Eccles

My Lords, I hope that I shall meet with your Lordships' approval if I talk about education, because this is the subject of which I have had some experience. Mr. Baker's proposal to pull out the concertina of the teachers' salaries and link pay with conditions of work is the best news that has come from the Department of Education for a very long time. Sad to say, the reputation of the maintained schools at this moment is very low and in contrast to those high hopes that we entertained at the time of the 1944 Education Act. At that time, we thought that everything was set fair and the main reason was that that measure was an all-party measure. Rab Butler and Chuter Ede had the full support of both Houses of Parliament. The first Ministers of Education, Ellen Wilkinson and George Tomlinson, put the Act into practice with no political bias. Florence Horsbrugh and I followed their example. We worked in complete partnership with the local authorities and the NUT. Sir William Alexander, as he was then, and Sir Ronald Gould, general secretary of the NUT, were our firm and constant allies.

We believed that within a generation it would be possible to raise the standards in the maintained schools to a level where, on academic grounds, parents would have little or no reason to send their children to private schools. Were I still Minister of Education, that would still be my aim. Good progress was made until the mid-1960s, when the all-party approach was abandoned. Then politics forced big changes in the structure of the secondary schools and began to infiltrate staffrooms and education committees. Inevitably, that aggravated the diffculties of adjusting what was going on in the schools to the great wave of permissive morals, to the influx of immigrant children and to the demands of a society in the grip of a technological revolution. Nothing like enough was done to improve teacher training or the old, out-of-date curriculum. Throwing together large masses of children of mixed ability, to be taught in many cases by inexperienced teachers, did great harm to the less able children. We know that there was some very good teaching in the top forms of the comprehensives, but what happened to the lower range of ability was a very high price to pay for a political experiment in social engineering.

All that is water over the dam. A child who has been bady educated cannot go back to school. Now, we have a Secretary of State who is not afraid to identify and deal with the major causes of the decline in standards. He gives me hope that the gap can be significantly narrowed between the poor results obtained in many maintained schools and the kind of education which the modern parent wants for his or her child. Every year, that gap worries more parents and they send their children to private schools. That is understandable, but not a development that one wishes to see as an alternative to raising the standards in the maintained schools.

Mr. Baker is going to give parents opportunities to advise teachers and I am sure they will co-operate, though I am bound to say that 30 years ago, when I called for more parent-teacher associations, the teachers objected loudly and strongly. Parents, they said, were a menace. They ought to be kept as far away as possible from the schools. My noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel tells me that the headmaster of Eton expressed exactly the same view. Anyway, I think that things have changed. More parents are taking a close and intelligent interest in their children's education and one hopes that men and women of all political and religious persuasions will come forward to serve on the governing bodies. The extra governors will be a great help but there is no getting round the fact that the major responsibility for the decline in standards rests with the teachers themselves, especially in the core subjects—not with all the teachers, not with half of the teachers, but with a sizeable fraction.

That this is the situation is borne out by some astonishing figures. When I first went to the Ministry of Education in 1954, 6,375,000 children were being taught by 235,000 teachers; that is, 27 children to one teacher. In 1984, 8,600,000 children were being taught by 415,000 teachers; that is, between 17 and 18 to one. What a difference between those two figures! And what have we got to show for it? I do not have comparable figures showing the numbers of those employed in the education departments of the local authorities but I have the figures for the expenditure on administration and inspection. The total for all the LEAs in England and Wales in 1955 was £16 million; for the year 1986–87, it is estimated to be £347 million.

The disappointing results implied by this great increase in staff lie at the root of the Secretary of State's problem. To give your Lordships one example, I was told not long ago that half the teachers in the primary schools who teach mathematics had not themselves got an O-level in that subject. How can 200,000 additional teachers and administrators have failed to produce a significant rise in standards? The answer is quite simple. It is a very old lesson which we have forgotten. It is this. A child learns more from one good teacher in a leaky shed than from two incompetent teachers in the best of classrooms.

The reaction of the NUT to Mr. Baker's proposals shows that they would like to put quantity in front of quality; that is, they go against the great lesson of education. They are always talking about class sizes when they ought to be talking about stricter conditions of entry and much better training. Fortunately, there are still many devoted teachers in the schools. The trouble is with the others. Their lack of skills and their unprofessional conduct dismay the public and deprive the children. Until a way is found to retrain or replace these incompetent teachers, a substantial rise in standards will be very difficult to achieve.

In a sense there is overmanning in schools today, but it does not mean that there are thousands and thousands of jobs that have to go for ever, as in coal or steel—quite the reverse. As the age of technology unfolds, teachers of high quality will be wanted in great numbers, provided of course that they really are up to the job. In the future, governments, no matter who they are, will have to select, train and reward these teachers to a standard a good deal higher than has been normal in the past 20 years. If that does not happen, not only will the children be poorly educated but the teachers themselves cannot expect to be recognised as a profession.

Mr. Baker is clearly aware of this danger. When he proposes to give head teachers better pay and more authority, he is taking a very important step towards an increased status for all teachers. I say that because a profession that does not have enough good-looking plums at the top of the tree is not going to keep highly qualified newcomers on the lower branches for very long. It is regrettable but it is not surprising that some unions are objecting to Mr. Baker's decision to pull the concertina of salaries out so far. They would like the money to be distributed more evenly to all the teachers on their books, competent or incompetent. To accede to that demand would perpetuate or increase the unsatisfactory performance in many schools. No one knows better than the experienced teachers themselves that throwing money at everybody will not raise standards.

I wonder whether the authorities and the unions realise how rapidly public concern is growing about the quality of British education; and so it should grow, for our schools, colleges and universities are the fundamental source of national well being. If our young people are not well taught how to use their hands and their brains, if they cannot acquire the knowledge to compete with their contemporaries in other countries, what place will Britain hold in the world and how are we going to earn enough to look after the elderly and our less fortunate citizens? When I say "compete in the rest of the world", I mean not just in industry but also in ideas, in art, in scholarship and in moral standards. We have come rather suddenly to realise how old-fashioned and under-equipped the education service is; that is, if we wish to keep abreast of our neighbours. A long-term plan is essential in order to make our schools as good as any on either side of the Atlantic.

My experience leads me to realise that major reforms in education take longer to plan, to put through Parliament and to carry out than the number of years for which any political party is likely to stay in office. It follows that, unless the government and opposition parties agree on the broad lines of advance, as we did in 1944, there can be no steady progress in the schools; and that is exactly what the schools want—steady progress.

This brings me to my final point, which is about the most controversial part of Mr. Baker's proposals. Whether they are accepted or imposed, the result will be some shift in the pattern of power in the education service. The local authorities and the unions will lose some power. They have brought that on themselvs by their failure to agree and by intolerable interference by some local authorities with the conduct of the schools.

On the other hand, teachers, governing bodies and the Secretary of State will gain some power. That shift is essential in the best interests of British education. If it is opposed there will be conflict. That conflict will be expressed by dislocation in schools. We cannot know who will come out of it the winners, but we do know for certain who will be the losers: the losers will be the children, as they have been in the past two years.

Parliament is therefore faced with a very serious and potentially damaging situation. I have no doubt that the right course is to put the children and their education in front of the interests of any one or more of the parties in this negotiation. My conclusion is that, if we want British education to underpin the future of our country, we have to do two things: first, take party politics out of education, and then put into education resources in personnel and money on a scale not yet contemplated. Therefore, Mr. Baker's proposals should have all-party support.

5.57 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I hope to speak very briefly in the debate on the gracious Speech partly because so much has already been said here, in another place and by skilled commentators in the newspapers, on radio and on television.

I think it is staggering that, at a time such as this, no reference is made in the Speech to unemployment, which is surely the most important among the many failings of the present Government. Sadly, however, I noticed a phrase in the Speech which said, firm monetary and fiscal policies will continue to restrain inflation and foster the conditions necessary for further sustained economic growth.". When I read that, as I said, I was saddened. I was slightly cheered by reading The Scotsman newspaper and its wry comment on this phrase. The leader said: This (statement) may be notably optimistic, but it is the same jolly message that the Tories have been sending out since 1979.". I can assure the House that in Scotland, where the policies have bitten deeper and harder, The Scotsman was really expressing the general national reaction to the gracious Speech and to the continual optimistic promises of the Government.

I believe the Government are seen, not just in Scotland but in the whole of Britain, to be a government concerned very largely, if not primarily, with the South-East of England. I do not want to develop this theme but I believe it is a gravely mistaken policy. Not only are we getting two parts of Britain—the North and the South—but within the South-East (as has been mentioned in some of the speeches we have had already today and notably in the maiden speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter) quite clearly the tensions in the South-East, because of so much population and so much strain, are beginning to show. I really believe that the Government in the gracious Speech show no sign that they are aware of the real state of the nation or, if they are aware, they have made no attempt to address the underlying problems.

I want to deal primarily with the Scottish aspects of the gracious Speech and since there is very little in it involving Scotland—though what is there is of some importance—I hope to be very brief. From the Scottish point of view, we have only a few Bills so far. The enforcement of debt reform is long overdue, but it is extremely complicated and will need to be treated very much as an all-party matter. We must get an all-party and a bi-partisan solution to this. Warrant sales are an appalling thing. The way the law works in Scotland at present is that if someone is unable to pay a debt ultimately the bottom line is that sheriffs' officers can go along to the house and actually pin notices outside and on the lamposts outside; they can go along to the house and put labels on the things in the house that can be sold off by auction in order to raise the money for the debt, with the family there, or standing outside, wondering whether they will have a house to go back into.

Over the years it has been a very difficult problem: the ultimate enforcement of a debt. I accept that; but over the years we have been able to say that certain items of furniture should not be removed from the house. Nevertheless, a pathetically small amount is raised by these sales, partly because the neighbours do not go. Everyone is horrified at the idea of being seen near such a appalling situation. Therefore it is the rather unscrupulous dealers who come along and offer ridiculously low sums for the furniture. So I hope that we can get some cohesion and understanding into this Bill to try to solve this dreadful human problem.

The Criminal Justice Bill, I believe, was a recommendation of the Law Commission and it is also something that we can welcome. The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, in his maiden speech referred to the fact that he was chairman of NACRO. Perhaps I should declare my interest and say that I am the chairman in Scotland of SACRO, which is the Scottish Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders. It is a much newer organisation than NACRO. It is also a much smaller organisation, not merely because of the size of Scotland as against England but also because of its relative newness and its structure.

In the past few weeks in Scotland we have had great problems, as your Lordships may have seen on television and read about in the newspapers. Over a long period we have really had a crisis, taken together. There have been the suicides at Glenochile prison for young offenders, where they are given short, sharp, shock treatment, which I hope people will not still believe is an answer to anything serious. There have been the problems in Edinburgh prison where there was the sit-in a fortnight ago, and of course there have been the problems at Peterhead, where we had another sit-in last week.

All this adds up to the fact that we are in a serious state in Scottish prisons. I think that is now generally recognised by prison officers, the police and everyone involved in the penal system. Unfortunately, there was no mention made in the gracious Speech referring to the problem of crime in Scotland. I am sorry to see that we almost head the European league in this respect. I think that only Turkey has a higher proportion of its population in gaol at any one time than we have in Scotland. No one in the field of criminal justice and in prison believes we have seen the worst of the problems in Scottish prisons. May I urge the Government even at this late stage—perhaps the real problem at Peterhead and at Edinburgh came too late for inclusion in the Speech—to make a serious attempt at a fundamental re-examination of the prison system. I believe this is absolutely vital.

The main legislation for Scotland contained in the gracious Speech, and one which we will be dealing with some time in the New Year, is the question of the community charge, or the "poll tax". It is worth mentioning that Scotland is being used as an experimental area. In many ways I do not object to that. I think we have a good size of population; we have our own law and our own administration, and there are many things Scotland could be used for. I am sad that this is one of the things it is going to be used for. I believe it is a Bill brought out because of the necessity for the Government to appear to be doing something and perhaps in order to reinforce some of what they believe to be their own areas in Scotland, which electorally are rapidly drifting away from them.

The "poll tax", as it will always be known, will be introduced in a fortnight, I believe, and I understand that the Ministers have assured us that a full Bill will be introduced. It will not be just an enabling Bill, which would be quite wrong. Of course we welcome the fact that we are to have a full Bill and we shall await its publication with considerable interest.

I should like to deal with the three main points that were mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, when he spoke about the Bill being designed for fairness, accountability and simplicity. I should like to look at those points as quickly as I can. As regards fairness, there can be no relationship in this Bill with the ability to pay, which I would have thought was one of the important measures of fairness. The poor will pay much more, and the better off will pay much less. I have lots and lots of figures that I could give your Lordships, but I am sure you would find them boring. I should just like to give a couple of examples from my own city of Glasgow. In Glasgow, out of 72 wards eight will pay less than at present, and they will pay less ranging from 7 per cent. less to a massive 29 per cent. less. A total of £4 million will be reduced from these eight wards alone. Your Lordships can imagine that these are the most comfortable wards in the city where, by and large, people live because they have enough money to take a bigger house than they specifically need. Therefore our present rating system, which is based on a notional rental, at present gives them a higher rateable value.

Then there are 44 wards in the city which will pay more. This ranges from 7 per cent. more to a quite incredible 48 per cent. more. Coming from one of the poorer wards, which happens to be in my old constituency, a total of £16 million will be taken from the poorest people in the community and a total of £4 million will be given to the better-off people in the community.

Then we come to the question of accountability. Superficially this is an appealing argument, until we examine it closely. I do not know how you can improve and strengthen local democracy when about 80 per cent. of the spending will be decided by central government—because the Government will decide on the commercial rates and they will put a limit on them for the whole of Scotland. So that will be taken out of the control of the local authority and any flexibility must be provided by the community charge. This will be the only charge available for the local authority to make its dispositions, particularly if there is the need to meet a shortfall in the rate support grant.

The Confederation of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA) have given some quite dramatic figures of what will happen if the increase in local government spending is to be met by the community charge. If the increase in any one year was 6 per cent., but rate support grant would support only 3 per cent. of that, the other 3 per cent. which would come from the community charge would be borne by only a very small section of the community, and the ratepayers would be paying something like 18 per cent. more to meet the 3 per cent. shortfall. That is because only ratepayers would be available for the community charge. How this can be called community accountability, or stretched to any definition of fairness, is beyond me.

My last point on accountability concerns the position of a family. Under the Bill, as we have been told so far, the husband and wife will be mutually liable for the payment of each other's community charge. I am quite aware that the language I am using may be unfamiliar to many of your Lordships. We in Scotland have been living with it slightly longer, but I assure noble Lords that by the end of next year we shall all be familiar with it. But we look forward to seeing how the Bill is handled and who will be responsible for the younger members of the family who refuse to pay. Shall we have warrant sales to force a young son to pay part of the community charge? If we do not get some change in the other Bill about which I was speaking, will someone have to decide what belongs to his father or to somebody else in the house? It is a Bill which bristles with difficulties, and accountability is not something which we shall get from it.

Finally, and most importantly, may I deal with the question of simplicity? One thing that this Bill is not is simple. The subject bristles with complications. As soon as the register is produced, there will be movement, as those of us who have fought in elections will know, and in any year 25 per cent. of people could move. People do not move merely from one street to another; they go out of the area. Many will even come south. Theoretically, young people may be living at home, but they may move down south for six or seven months' work. Would they need to prove that they had been away for so long, although their home was in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen or Dundee? This is a problem which will be very difficult to straighten out. There is also the other question of multiple occupancy which, speaking as someone who represented a seat with a great deal of multiple occupancy, I know is a real headache for anyone trying to make sense of the electoral register.

There is opposition, or very serious doubt, about this Bill from just about everyone concerned with Scottish local government. The Society of Chief Executives of Local Authorities, CoSLA, the Law Society of Scotland, the single homeless, the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations, the messengers at Arms—who will chase up the defaulters—and sheriffs' officers, the Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy and a whole lot more are concerned about it. I have a strong feeling that, although the Government have promised that this is a final Bill, this will be one of those Bills with which we in this House have become very familiar, in which amendments of a fundamental nature will be inserted at every stage right up until our Third Reading. It will be very largely legislation "on the hoof", because I do not believe that the Government have thought it out fully. It is born out of expediency, caused by the Government's cutback of grant to local authorities and by some of the anomalies which showed up after the last rating revaluation. I seriously believe that the Bill has not been thought out thoroughly and it will not do the job, as the Government hope, of strengthening their precarious hold on some of the constituencies in Scotland. But we look forward to its coming out in a fortnight and reaching your Lordships' House early in the New Year.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him if he would tell the House whether he thinks that the present rating system in Scotland should continue, or could continue, and whether the figures that he has given about the amounts that will have to be raised from different wards in Glasgow can possibly be known, until it is known what will be the level of rate support grant in a given year?

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, may I deal first with the second point of the noble Baroness? The assumption was made by local authorities—not just in Glasgow, but in Edinburgh as well—and they had to work on existing figures which would not vary a great deal. They assumed that roughly the same amount would be required to run the services as is being spent at present and they divided that by the population who would be liable to pay rates. It is a comparison. But I imagine, whether the amount is up or down, that it will be roughly the same ratio of the poor wards to the better-off wards.

On the other point, I am not sure that I like the idea of the rating system which we have discussed so fully. It is also important to know that the Government looked at the poll tax in, I think, 1983 and discarded it as being quite impossible and impracticable. That is why I believe that this Bill has come about through expediency, but one has to look much more closely at the subject. I have no easy solution, but one thing which has made the situation much worse is the quite horrific clawback that the Government have made in grants to Scottish local authorities.

6.17 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I should like to start by congratulating my noble friend Lord Bonham-Carter on his maiden speech and I assure him that his next speech will be followed with immense interest, if not with the same amount of acquiescence.

I should like to speak a little about Scotland. I was surprised that, when the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, said that Scotland was a very neat little entity with 5 million people and its own legal system, he did not mention that the answer to its problems is that is should run its own affairs. I thought that the Labour Party was keen on that, but they forgot about it very quickly. I should support them if they would produce in their projected Bill proportional representation. But that would not suit them, because the object of their exercise is to continue Labour dominance in Scotland.

It will be fascinating when we come to the question of rates, which is mentioned in the gracious Speech. Are we to do it on the electoral register? I have a crooked mind and I keep thinking of a family with three sons, all working and due to pay the community charge or the poll tax. They will certainly say to mum and dad, "We will pay you half of it to leave us off the register." There are all sorts of fiddles that could be worked and I should not be surprised if the poll tax resulted in fewer people paying towards local government. The subject bristles with difficulties. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, mentioned some of them, and all of us who have been candidates know the difficulties of the register. Or perhaps the Government are thinking of a King Herod-like census, with all the people in their homes on a particular day and a large group will go along and count them, so they will be liable on that day. On that day, I believe, the hills of Scotland will be covered with tents, whatever the weather.

If I may say so, I do think it is rubbish and what we should have is a local income tax. It is fair and it works in other countries. I cannot understand—or rather, I hope I do not understand—why the Government have discarded it, because as it stands what is proposed is certainly not just. As the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, has said, it will result in the better off paying less of some of the local taxes and the worse off paying more. I think it is a bad Bill. I did not believe that even this Government were capable of coming to such a wrong solution.

The other part of the gracious Speech which interests me is the further reform of the CAP. I understand that agriculture, if the Minister agrees, may come into our discussions today, because it is not considered altogether to belong under economic affairs. If he does not so consider, I shall still speak about it.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Skelmersdale)

My Lords, the noble Lord may consider that it is an industry.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I see. The reform of the CAP is enormously important and I know that obviously the Government play only a part—although it is a very important part, particularly during our presidency—in the reform which is so badly needed. If the advice of the EC Committee of this House had been followed seven years ago, then it is possible that a gradual policy might have worked. However, we are now in an incredible situation. Perhaps I may give a few figures. We have 1½ million-tonnes of butter. That is almost incredible. We have 1.1 million tonnes of milk powder; we have 650,000 tonnes of beef in store, and that is an intervention store and not the normal carry-over. We have a budget for support of products produced for export and so on of £13 billion and, if we go on at the present rate, according to the distinguished journalist, Brian Gardner, it could rise by another £8 billion per annum. There is an urgent need to do something. Even if VAT goes up from 1.4 to 1.6 per cent. of our contribution, it still will not be enough to handle the increase in surpluses which we have.

Consumers are not doing too badly, in that in 1980 it cost them 19.2p in every pound for food and in 1985 that was down to 16.3p in every pound of disposable income. One would think that that was working quite well, but the farmers' income has been dropping steadily in the last 10 years. Of course, everyone points to some farmer running about in a Rolls Royce, but there are rich farmers and there are poor farmers. I am in the poor farmer class. The fact is that income has been steadily dropping and, if one looks at the world scene, farmers are going bankrupt in enormous numbers in the United States. Looking at our own scene, on the east coast of Scotland last year, due to an appalling harvest, very heavy losses indeed were sustained in the arable areas. The temporary improvement this year will not overcome the appalling financial disasters of last year.

Something has to be done to keep the industry going and to keep that CAP going. Since the CAP started when we joined the Community, we have in fact raised production in agriculture so much in this country that we are saving £2 billion a year in imports. That is very important to us at a time when oil prices are falling and when our manufacturers are, for the first time in our history, in deficit as against imports. We must therefore do something to keep up agriculture and to keep up the environment and the countryside. I fear that we are talking a great deal about this but not a great deal is happening. The cost of storage and of export would provide an enormous sum to keep the population in the hills and to keep the countryside in general occupied. Farming must be the mainstay of any countryside as far as can be seen into the future.

The question then arises of how we shall do it. Certainly if prices are cut so savagely that half the farmers in the country go bust you would then get an eventual reduction in the amount produced. However, it would take a long time and I do think we must come to some scheme to set aside produce. The Government have produced a scheme, which I should like to hear more about, in which they would pay farmers who are growing grain on unsuitable land to stop for perhaps five years. They speak of figures of £76 an acre. I should like to see that set out in more detail because I think that is the sort of thing we ought to be doing. If one simply puts a quota on every farmer, then one gets a totally false structure and people on good land stop growing grain and other crops when they should be pursuing that efficiently while we use other land such as the Grade 3, Grade 4 and hill land for its proper job, which is probably the production of stock.

We are also talking about trees, and we have heard from the Government what a good thing the tree can be. I should like to hear from the Government about this, because we need a definite scheme. At the moment the whole of forestry planting in the private sector, which the Government are encouraging, is dependent on a tax advantage. It is true that a rich man who is paying 60 per cent. tax can along with the subsidies plant trees and grow them for about a quarter of the cost. Therefore that is encouraging for tree planting but it is very often done in very unsuitable areas and done to the detriment of the countryside. It certainly has not produced any rise in the population, because of its very nature, which means that all the work is done by mobile gangs. I think the Government must produce a scheme whereby farmers in the upland areas and the poorer land areas turn, like their Scandinavian counterparts, actually to planting and looking after trees.

The NFU have produced quite a good scheme with a simple basis. If we are going to save money (and it is a very large amount of money) which is spent on promoting cereals, then that should be spent on trees. One must give a generous planting grant and then, on the security of the trees, give the farmer a loan each year to give him an income. If he does not handle the trees well, then the Forestry Commission must step in and take over the security. That scheme needs a lot of working out but I think it is the only way we shall get the sort of social planting which makes a useful contribution.

We must take about 10 per cent. of the land out of production if we are going to get back to a stable position without incredible surpluses in this country. It must be used in some way. It must not be put into other simple agricultural crops; otherwise there will be a surplus in some other area. A serious attempt needs to be made to provide a basis for alternative crops and particularly for trees. We need trees. We import £4½ billion-worth every year and certainly 90 per cent. of our requirements. My noble kinsman will be more familiar than I am with these figures.

Let us take a look at the world position. There is no solution to surpluses there. In fact the position is made infinitely worse. There are large surpluses in the United States. They are being put on the world market at a price which makes it a tremendous temptation for any developing country, if it can, to pay, say, £40 a tonne for barley and neglect its own producers. This leads to great social ills in those countries. So there is no solution so far as I can see in trying to feed the hungry two-thirds of the world. They have to be helped to grow their own food, for both financial and social reasons.

We have to tackle the problem of surpluses. They will get worse, because our scientists are constantly producing new ideas. They are producing new wheats and new helps to beef and pig production. We shall have the same kind of multiplication of production we have had in the past 20 years in the next 20 years. We need bold and practical steps, and I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that the Government are serious in their attempts to control the very dangerous situation in agriculture.

6.32 p.m.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, in her most gracious Speech, Her Majesty announced that the Government will maintain firm control on public expenditure. This is an excellent objective. None of us likes to think that our rates and taxes are being squandered. However, I must express my feelings of despair and indeed of anger at the effects the present government policies have upon those who are dependent for their incomes on rates and taxes.

I know that I am not alone. The unemployed, the elderly, the sick, the low paid, those who work in the caring professions with such dedication, are all minority groups with little political muscle. They are now seeing the other side of those 1979 election promises of a return to Victorian values. Thrift has resulted in a fall in the inflation rate. Good; but what happens when thrift becomes meanness? We are now hearing a call for a return to Victorian sexual morality. The dictionary definition of "moral" is the distinction between right and wrong. Is it right that we should allow the lessons learnt from the great Victorian reformers to be pushed aside, that even the basic Christian concept of compassion should be rejected in our urge to worship Mammon?

Only the most insensitive of people can be blind and deaf to the effect the harsh words of some politicians have upon those who dedicate their lives to caring for others, to the callous disregard for those who cannot get on their bikes or stand on their own feet. Morale among the unemployed, and those who work in the medical, teaching and social services professions has never been lower. I am sorry that the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, is not here because I agreed with a great deal of what he had to say about education—not quite everything but most of it.

For the past four years I, together with the husbands and wives of several hundred members of the teaching profession, have had to watch at first hand the effects of this Government's policy on local authority expenditure and education. To see an experienced, highly qualified and able teacher, dedicated to the children he teaches no matter what their ability, broken is in itself heartbreaking. I have watched the screw steadily being turned into the wood, waited for it to crack the plank, and now must pick up the pieces. To know that their paymasters have no comprehension of the pressure under which teachers are expected to teach exasperates me.

We have, in recent months, heard a lot about conditions. What about filthy classrooms in rapidly deteriorating buildings? What about classrooms overcrowded with children who, through little fault of the teachers, have no motivation to learn? What about the social changes since we were at school? What of the proliferation of new training courses teachers have been expected to embrace with little time or thought given to training the teachers, and paltry sums offered for funding? No. my Lords, all we hear is that those activities to which teachers have willingly and voluntarily given their time for years past are to become terms of their contracts. It is hardly surprising that premature retirements from the profession have increased five-fold since 1979; that so few graduates want to become teachers and that young men and women are leaving the profession as soon as an alternative means of earning a living presents itself. Teachers have been sitting on a powder keg for years. Perhaps now it is time someone else took it over.

I shall now turn to the National Health Service. I have given the Minister prior warning of some of the points I wish to raise, and I look forward to his reply. I have always believed that one of the most important attributes of good government is credibility. The pronouncements of various members of this Government to the effect that the National Health Service is safe in their hands are barely credible to those who work in the service or are on waiting lists. A tight ship is an efficient ship, but it must be well equipped and well maintained and have a happy crew if it is to serve the purpose for which it was built.

When we read and hear of wards having to be closed, of hospitals having to share life-saving equipment, of staff shortages and low morale among the staff who remain in our hospitals, can we really say that the National Health Service is efficient? It has been seriously underfunded for several years. The figures produced by the DHSS and used by Ministers to prove that this Government are spending more on hospital and community services bear no relationship to the 0.8 per cent., nil, 0.1 per cent. and 0.4 per cent. real growth of the past four years. We have to accept that the NHS is labour-intensive and that staff must be paid.

In order to make a reasoned judgment of this Government's contribution to the growth of the service we must know the proportion of funding which goes towards wages and salaries, capital expenditure and price inflation. It has been calculated that a growth of at least 2 per cent. per annum over and above those items is necessary if the additional needs of an ageing population, advanced medical procedures and higher patient expectations are to be provided for. It is no good our boasting about the advances in open-heart surgery if we cannot cope with potentially disabling but less prestigious hernia and varicose vein operations; and why should elderly people suffer years of acute pain while they wait for hip replacements? We have rightly been proud of our ability to extend life, but what is the point if the quality of life is substandard?

I live in the catchment area of Worcester and District Health Authority. Worcester Royal Infirmary, the main hospital in the district, is split into three sites in different parts of the city. Two of the buildings are very old and require a lot of maintenance. Along with many other districts, it has for years been considered to be relatively efficient, and therefore is less able to make the savings demanded. Recent pay awards have made considerable inroads into its revenue budget, and as a result it has accumulated a deficit of £2½ million in the past three years.

District health authorities have been strongly urged to follow national and regional priorities for transferring mentally ill and mentally sub-normal patients to the community. The closure of a mental hospital in the district held the promise of some £350,000 per annum to be allocated to acute services, but this money has been withdrawn. Some capital has been made available to accommodate the mentally ill, but with no revenue allocation the services cannot be provided unless drastic cuts are made in the provision of acute services: medicines, surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology.

Last week I received a letter from an orthopaedic consultant based on this hospital. It says: Dear Sir/Madam I regret to inform you that because it is necessary to make financial savings in the Worcester district, elective orthopaedic surgery is no longer carried out. The limited facilities available to us are entirely devoted to accident cases and emergencies. It is unlikely that there will be any change in this situation in the foreseeable future. Should there be any deterioration in your condition please inform your GP who will have to contact me direct to discuss whether your case warrants emergency admission. However, the criteria for admission under this category is for seriously ill patients who have a life-threatening condition etc. I am very sorry to have to write to you in these terms, but this is a matter which is entirely beyond my control. If you wish to complain about this deplorable situation. I would be grateful if you could contact the Hospital Administration or your MP". I am fortunate in that I am able to speak here.

Two weeks ago in this House a Question was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, about the number of hip operations performed in recent years. The noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, asked the Minister, very pertinently, why in this age of computer technology the DHSS could provide figures only to 1984. Does the department know what is happening now in 1986? This consultant's waiting list in 1985 was 223 patients. It is now 300 patients—an increase of almost 30 per cent. in the past 12 months. Of the 300 patients, 49 are awaiting hip replacement surgery.

In the past ten years, admissions of elderly patients for fractured necks of femurs has doubled; and because they are frail and many live alone they are having to stay in hospital for relatively long periods. In the past they might have been discharged to a nursing home to convalesce, but since the DHSS has imposed a limit on the fees that they will pay this outlet is no longer available. In this consultant's ward lies a young lady who suffered serious head injuries in February. She has recovered physically, but because of brain damage incurred at the time of her accident she needs constant nursing care. She cannot go home. The nearest small hospital to her home is having to advertise abroad for staff and cannot take her; and local nursing homes will not take her because in their estimation the cost of caring for her would exceed the DHSS allowance. So there she lies, occupying a bed in an acute ward where the consultant has calculated that he could have done 25 hip operations if there had been somewhere for her to go.

There are no facilities for the young chronically sick in this part of the county, and I know of a number of cases where ageing parents are struggling with young, chronically sick patients against all the odds. The administrators and staff are having to make some extremely painful decisions. Do they change the two small hospitals in Evesham and Malvern, where at present 100 surgical operations a year are performed, to GP hospitals and thus extend the waiting list? Do they close the special clinic despite the theat of AIDS and the increased incidence of sexually transmitted diseases; or do they close the intensive therapy unit located in the same building as the casualty department and risk the lives of patients by transferring them across the city to the other branch with an intensive therapy unit?

In order to maintain the existing service in Worcester, an additional £2 million is required within the next few months. May I ask the Minister whether any of the £300 million allocated to the National Health Service in England by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Autumn Statement will find its way to this and other hospitals in a similar predicament; and if so, how much?

I recently received a distressing letter from a man aged 58 who suffers from ankylosing spondylitis—a disabling stiffening of the spine. He had been admitted to a Bristol hospital for major abdominal surgery. His operation was on a Thursday. He was discharged the following Saturday; that is, two days later. He lives alone and has to rely upon neighbours to help when he cannot get out. At the request of the neighbours his general practitioner called to see him on the Monday and gave him tranquillisers to make sure he stayed in bed. I had another letter from a London widower. His wife was suffering from a heart complaint. For four days her GP tried to get her admitted to hospital for treatment. This was in June, not in the middle of the winter epidemic season. She was taken to two different hospitals on separate occasions, only to be turned away because the bed had been taken. She died on the day she was eventually admitted.

I know from other correspondence that I have received that these are not isolated cases. Hospital staff are not to blame. They can only work within the guidelines issued and the funds available. How can these people feel safe in our hands? Perhaps I may ask the Minister whether the Government really mean, in their drive for efficiency, that people should be treated like that.

As a result of the economies in hospitals, general practitioners are having to cope with the brunt of ever-extending waiting lists, with premature discharge of patients from hospital, and with the mentally ill and the mentally disabled for whom no proper accommo- dation or back-up services have been provided. As well as that, they have to give moral support to the unemployed and badly housed who have no one else to whom they can turn.

It would be so refreshing if we could, just once in a while, hear someone in government say a heartfelt "thank you" and "I am sorry": a "thank you" to the teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers and policemen who, by their good will and dedication, keep their services going despite poor working conditions and financial stringency; a "sorry" to the low paid, the unemployed, the sick and the elderly for our failure to care for them as we should.

I often wonder why these people should be so criticised and cajoled when we never hear a word against the financiers and industrialists. For decades they have failed to invest in and modernise our manufacturing industry; failed in courage to back our inventors, scientists and engineers; and, worst of all, failed society in their personal quest for riches. Like it or not, this Government, together with all governments since the last war, have taken on many of the responsibilities of the immediate family, the extended family and the paternalist employer. There will always be people who need help to stand on their own feet, and others who never will be able to stand on their own feet. We collectively, through our Government, have a duty to ensure that those people have an acceptable standard of living and quality of life. They cannot afford the fees for independent schools, or BUPA, or to buy their own homes.

Finally, I ask the Minister whether there is anybody in this Government who takes an overall view of cause and result. Does nobody see that if the DHSS puts too low a figure on nursing home allowances, hospital beds will be occupied unnecessarily; that if people are made to live in substandard housing they will suffer more sickness; that if schools are not properly funded, children cannot learn? Does anyone work out the longterm cost to society from unemployment, lack of funding for maintenance of houses, roads and sewers; of a failure to educate a whole generation of children, or to keep the population occupied, healthy and well-nourished? What are those costs?

6.46 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, many people concerned with the lives of children will welcome the statement in the gracious Speech that family law reform is to be introduced. The noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack has shown his deep concern for children. Already children have been safeguarded by the Child Abduction and Custody Act which was passed in the last Parliamentary year. That Act was followed by the Family Law Act, part one, which also dealt with the custody of children. We have also passed the Law Reform (Parent and Child) (Scotland) Act which was introduced by my noble friend Lord Selkirk and accepted by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. Therefore, we know that the noble and learned Lord and his department have a deep interest in children.

The gracious Speech concluded with the words: Other measures will be laid before you. Can we hope that the setting up of family courts will fall into that category? There are 670,000 petitions and applications on domestic issues in any one year. They involve approximately 2 million people. One family court would replace the present three-tier system of High Court, county courts and magistrates' courts.

The Family Courts Campaign, of which I am privileged to be the chairman, has the support of 45 statutory and voluntary organisations. They are wide ranging and include such organisations as the Catholic Child Welfare Society, the Solicitors' Family Law Association, the Mothers' Union, the National Childrens Bureau, the Law Society, many individuals and those studying law at universities. The British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering has just published positive recommendations.

At the Conservative Party conference this year, the Women's National Committee, and others, under the chairmanship of Miss Emma Nicholson, by a large majority voted for the setting up of family courts. The Finer Committee, in a report 12 years ago, in 1974, recommended family courts. The present Lord Chancellor's department is to be congratulated for bringing out a departmental review on domestic jurisdiction. Alas, it was a disappointing document which (dare I say so?) misunderstood and bypassed the main issues and never dealt with the whole question of resources. Could it be that the Treasury was fearful of the expense? If they were accepted and implemented, the Family Courts Campaign recommendations would lead to savings of possibly £60 million. The conciliation service might save £40 million by preventing children going into care.

A family court would provide consistent justice for families, and by its emphasis on inquisitorial rather than adversarial methods facilitate the responsibility and involvement of families themselves in the solution of their problems.

Part of the family court concept, while being judicial, must encompass a conciliation and welfare service. A practice directive was issued by Registrar Tickle with the consensus of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the president of the Family Division. Solicitors are encouraged to use the conciliation service. There are already 30 to 40 units in the country. More are being set up. Their work needs to be standardised at a high professional level. That involves training and lectures and the issue of guidance. That is being done by the National Family Conciliation Service. The growth of the conciliation service is the envy of European countries but, alas, the Treasury through the Lord Chancellor's Department, has not seen its way clear to support the council adequately. I have two questions for my noble friend the Minister. I have given him notice of them. When can the country expect a Bill setting up the family courts?

Lord Elwyn-Jones

Hear, hear!

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I hoped that I would hear that. Secondly, would it not be a positive, generous and cost effective act to support the National Family Conciliation Service by giving it resources?

I started by saying that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has shown interest in and deep feeling for children. From all the speeches that have been made, I can say that if we were to think more carefully and have a better strategy for our children and families, many of the people who are in prison would not be there. I therefore press the Government to set up family courts.

6.53 p.m.

Lord Fitt

My Lords, many Members of the House consider that the major piece of legislation that we shall have to deal with in this Session will be the Criminal Justice Bill. I consider that to be so. I therefore think it appropriate once again to put on record my serious objections to what has happened under our criminal law in relation to the Maguire family, sentenced in 1976, and now free after spending many years in prison.

My honest belief, and that of many eminent persons, is that that family was completely innocent of the charges of which it was convicted. There have been many relevant television programmes since the last time I spoke in the House. In particular, there was one last Sunday evening on Channel 4 involving a panel of eminent judicial minds. They were all of one opinion—that there had been a grave miscarriage of justice in that case.

Since then, I have had occasion to go to the Library and find the report to the Government of the Select Committee on Home Affairs in the Session 1981–82 (Cmnd. No. 421). A Conservative Government were in power then. The committee had a Conservative majority. It considered cases where there had been a possible serious or non-serious, if there can be such a thing, miscarriage of justice.

The conclusions contained in that report lead me to believe that there is absolutely nothing to prevent the Home Secretary from having a further review of such cases which have caused so much concern throughout these islands. Paragraph 9 of the report states: Pressure and publicity. It is only natural that concern about the investigation of possible miscarriages of justice should be felt most deeply when the occasional notorious case is brought forcibly to the public attention by the newspapers, television or the publication of a book such as 10 Rillington Place'. Such publicity may in turn spring from the determination of a Member of Parliament or an organisation such as Justice to achieve the reversal of a judicial decision which their own examination of the evidence has shown to be open to question". In the 10 Rillington Place case, through the insistence of a Member of Parliament over a number of years, there were two judicial hearings and it was found that there had been a grave miscarriage of justice and that Timothy Evans had been wrongly hanged. He was posthumously found not guilty.

There is something wrong with our judicial system if it has to depend upon the persistence of a Member of Parliament, someone's whim to write a book or the whim of a television producer to take an interest in a case, before justice can be seen to be done. That happened in the Rillington Place case. It is now happening in the case of Annie Maguire and her family, who have wrongly served many years in prison.

Justice and the Criminal Bar Association gave evidence to the committee. Paragraph 10 of the report of that Tory-dominated committee states: Both Justice and the CBA suggested that the chances of a petition ultimately being 'successful' might sometimes depend less on its intrinsic merits than on the amount of external support and publicity that it was able to attract. 'In practice (the Home Office) decision to act may depend on the amount of pressure that is brought to bear on the Home Secretary by people of influence'. It is a sad commentary on our judicial system that someone must take an interest in a case and organise publicity before anything is done, and that there are no means of obtaining justice other than by the intervention of some of those well-intentioned people. That has happened again in the Maguire case. I repeat: 'In practice (the Home Office) decision to act may depend on the amount of pressure that is brought to bear on the Home Secretary by people of influence', What does "people of influence" mean?

I have repeatedly spoken about the Maguire case in this House and in another place. There are 210 Members of Parliament, many of them loyal Conservatives and Government supporters, who signed an Early-Day Motion during the last Session of Parliament. It has to be renewed in this Session. They range from Sir Edward du Cann and Winston Churchill to Former Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland who have shown an interest. Many of the most rabid, and I say that inoffensively, loyal, Right-wing Conservative suporters have signed their names to that Early-Day Motion asking for a review of this case.

In this House, my noble friends on the Front Bench and the eminent judicial figures of the noble and learned Lords, Lord Scarman and Lord Devlin, in letters to the press, have expressed their doubt about these convictions. A former Home Secretary, Mr. Roy Jenkins, and another who has held that post, Mr. Merlyn Rees, have both recently expressed grave and serious doubts about the validity of the convictions. So who does the Home Secretary regard as people of influence?

I did not have much association with the case of the Guildford bombing. But someone with whom I have only recently become acquainted, a man, I believe, of great patriotism and great integrity—I refer to Mr. Robert Kee—has researched and gone into every aspect of that case. He is totally convinced of the innocence of the Guildford bombers. So why do we persist with the stonewall attitude of the Home Secretary saying that the number of people of influence is insufficient, and that there is nothing for him to consider that had not been heard at the original court hearing or in the Court of Appeal?

I believe that the report of this committee indicates that if the Home Secretary has the will, there is nothing to prevent him, legally or otherwise, from looking into the case. If there is anything that prevents this happening—I do not believe that there is—serious consideration should be given to bringing forward legislation to enable the Home Secretary to take a different stand. In another place, an Early-Day Motion asks the Government to make some additional provision in the Criminal Justice Bill when all the legal processes, including the Court of Appeal, have been gone through. Paragraph 20 of the report to which I have referred says: The genuine desire of Home Office officials to detect and correct miscarriages of justice emerged very strongly from their evidence to us and was acknowledged by all our witnesses. We do feel however that they are hampered in carrying out this task both by the tradition of excessive secrecy within the Home Office and by the severe restrictions placed, by convention rather than law, on the Home Secretary's power to intervene where the normal judicial processes may have produced a wrong result". I agree, too, and feel that most noble Lords would also agree with the sentiments expressed in the next paragraph. Paragraph 21 states: We do not consider it tolerable that, where genuine unease continues to exist about the outcome of a particular case in spite of its dismissal by the Court of Appeal, an individual should be deprived of all further remedy". If no means exist under present legislation, then, as the Early-Day Motion in another place asks, the Government should seriously consider some other system whereby, when all the legal processes have been gone through, a review body, consisting perhaps of an eminent legal figure as chairman and lay assessors, would go into every aspect when it is clear that the public conscience is concerned over convictions.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Lord. Can he say, for the benefit of myself and others, what exactly the Home Secretary is saying about all this at the moment?

Lord Fitt

My Lords, the Home Secretary has said that he cannot interfere unless there is new evidence, unless there are further considerations of substance, and unless there are material new facts. It has been proved in previous cases that, sometimes, it is impossible to get further new facts. There were no new facts in respect of 10 Rillington Place, but it was only following the execution of Timothy Evans that the conscience of the country, following the coverage given to the case on radio and television and in newspaper articles, forced the Home Secretary at that time to set up a commission which eventually found that the hanged person was innocent.

In the Confait case, as a result of the diligence of my colleague Mr. Christopher Price, a Member of Parliament at the time, who threw all his resources into the inquiries, the Home Secretary eventually decided to set up a review body under Sir Henry Fisher. It was found that people had been wrongly convicted. So the Home Office will act when there is considerable public pressure by eminent people.

I do not believe that our judicial processes should stand or fall upon the interest or otherwise shown by people who are concerned about a particular case. It is a mercy to God that in 1974, 1975 and 1976 the death penalty was not still in existence in this country. I recall the state of hysteria that rightly existed in Ireland and in this country at that time as a result of the murderous campaign undertaken by the IRA. There were occasions when I felt hysterical in my opposition to the IRA. It was understandable that people in this country should also feel hysterical. However, if the death penalty had been available, there is no doubt in my mind that these people would have been hanged. We would not be talking about people who have served many years in prison, and about some who are still in prison; we would be talking about posthumous pardons. I have no doubt that in respect of the Maguire case, certainly, all those who have had their lives wrecked by serving so many years in prison will be found to have been not guilty.

I see the noble Lord, Lord Monson. I do not believe for a single second that the noble Lord has any doubts about his criticism or condemnation of IRA activities. Yet he, in this House only last week felt it right to express his doubt over these convictions. Noble Lords of all parties in this House and honourable Members of all parties in another place have now taken a stand. We gain additional names day by day and hour by hour in our attempts to force the Home Secretary to review the case. I have absolutely no doubt about the outcome.

I had never previously gone into all the aspects or circumstances of the Guildford case. But the events of Guildford are indelibly linked to the Maguire case. It was one of those convicted in respect of Guildford who mentioned the name of the innocent Annie Maguire in the first place. So those two cases can be reviewed in tandem. Many doubts have been expressed from another source about the Birmingham bombers. I have had no serious connection with inquiries into the Birmingham case. But, if I believe what I have read and seen on television, there is serious doubt attached also to that case.

I know that, if I were an Englishman, I should be asking who of those in gaol is guilty. It is strange now to be told that those sentenced for the Guildford bombing are innocent, that the Maguire family, who allegedly had nitro-glycerine on their hands, are innocent, and that those convicted of the Birmingham bombings are innocent. I can quite understand the doubts in the minds of people living in this country. I have had occasion, because of my unremitting opposition to the IRA, to associate with the police more than I should normally have done. One Special Branch officer with whom I was very friendly and whom I shall not name—he is a very patriotic, loyal police officer—asked me, "What happens if you find the Maguire family innocent? Don't think it will open up a whole can of worms?" That was his view, and that is the view of the establishment in this country.

The people who were in charge of the convictions, both in the Guildford case and in the subsequent case of Annie Maguire, were eminent judicial men. There are judicial reputations at stake. It would be very hard for those persons at this late stage to say, "We have been proven wrong in the attitude and the decisions which we took on those occasions". That should not prevent us from inquiring into this gross miscarriage of justice which has ensured that many people were wrongfully sent to prison. As I have already said, had it not been by the grace of God that we had abolished our death penalty we would be talking now about corpses.

During Question Time last week I said to the Minister who will be replying this evening that this is a case which will not go away, no matter how persistent and tenaciously the Home Secretary tries to make it go away. A grave injustice has been done, and until this miscarriage of justice—which was so blatant—is seen to be rectified, then the British people would have reason not to have the confidence in their own judicial system that normally they would expect to have.

7.11 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, knows me well enough not to mind if I do not follow him in his rather elaborate exposition of alleged miscarriages of justice. I have not studied any of them. I do not know whether he is right or wrong. Everybody is terrified of miscarriages of justice. I shall say only this to the noble Lord. I believe that we have less miscarriages of justice under our system than under most others. I think that his argument has been a very powerful one against capital punishment.

Having said that, I hope he will allow me to return to my main theme tonight, which is to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, my noble friend Lord Wigoder and the noble Earl, Lord Longford, on the question of law and order. I wish to deal with one particular element in law and order. It is not in any sense a party argument. The difficulty is that if one criticises what is happening one must in a sense criticise the government who are responsible for it. However, that is not my intention. My intention is to criticise what we have.

There are three factors in law and order. The first is the police job of detection and arrest; the second is the court's job of trial and sentence; and the third is the prison and probation officers' job of prison and subsequent release. It is about that that I want to talk. First, let me repeat, in I think slightly different terms, some of the figures which the noble and learned Lord gave. The increase in crime is regular, steady and frightening. It is also showing an element of more serious crime within it the whole time. In 1966–20 years ago—the indictable offences known to the police were just under 2 million. Last year—which is just on 20 years later—it was just over three and a half million. That is an increase in the order of 75 per cent. In the last ten years the number of people serving long sentences—that is, over ten years or life—has gone up from 1,618 in 1976 to 2,622 in 1985, which is very much the same proportional rise.

The law therefore has to deal with more people and also more dangerous people. Inevitably the whole apparatus of law and order is put under strain by this development. It is no good expecting the situation to get radically better. I think that on the police and the court side it has become slightly worse but is being held. But on the prison side, the prison arrangements have, quite frankly, failed to stand up to the pressures put upon them. That is what I want to look at for a few moments.

When I first began going round prisons—at the behest, I may say, of the noble Earl, Lord Longford—talking to prisoners, prison officers and governors, in 1959, I was especially shocked by one thing: the overcrowding. This seemed to lead directly or indirectly to all the other things which were wrong, of which there were plenty. In my opinion, until this problem is removed, there can be no progress in facing the difficult task of containing in a civilised way and for long periods discontented, bitter and often dangerous men. The problem has been getting worse year by year for 20 years and the figures leave no doubt about it.

In 1966 the average prison population was approximately 33,000, and the certified normal accommodation—that means the number of proper places within prison—was 31,274, which was 5 per cent. less. There was a factor of 5 per cent. overcrowding. It was that which I thought so distressing when I first went round the prisons. Now in 1985 the certified normal accommodation has been increased by something like 9,000 through new building but the prison population has increased to 46,000 and more, which gives an overcrowding factor of 14 per cent., nearly three times as much as 20 years ago. That is a dreadful situation, make no mistake about it. The fact that, in spite of quite a large prison building programme, overcrowding is three times as bad today is a very worrying matter.

The evils of overcrowding are particularly revealed through doubling up in cells in old-fashioned prisons. In 1966 there were 5,541 prisoners two or three to a cell. Twenty years later there were 17,148 two or three to a cell—again a three-times increase. In each case of course these cells were designed in Victorian times for a single person. The Minister made a comment after visiting Leeds Prison which he will not quickly be allowed to forget. I shall come to his assistance and agree that any governor will say that it is a useful to have some dormitory cells as some prisoners prefer company to privacy. But it must not be forgotten that almost all the doubling up takes place in the old Victorian local prisons, which have no integrated sanitation, so the use of the pot in the presence of others becomes a regular indignity. We were told this year by Sir Brian Cubban that the new building programme will not have eliminated "slopping out" by the time it is completed in 1991, and will leave between 10,000 and 20,000 prisoners still subject to this disgusting and degrading routine. Sir James Hennessy, the courageous and outspoken Chief Inspector of Prisons, in his 1984 report on one prison says the last word: The stench of urine and excrement pervades the prison … so awful is this procedure that many prisoners become constipated. This has not only been going on for 20 years and getting worse, but it is planned that it should continue for at least another ten years for nearly half those in prison. I do not see how we can accept this situation.

"Slopping out" is not the only evil associated with overcrowding. Overcrowding invariably involves staff shortages, staff overwork and staff-prisoner tensions. We see on the tape tonight that in the Scottish riots there was only one prison officer to four dangerous men in the prison; that is ridiculous. The Prison Reform Trust Paper on the recent riots makes this very clear.

Twenty years ago the way out of the cell was through the workshops for 30 hours a week; today that is down to 19 hours. Today in this country more people are locked up in the cells for 23 hours a day than there have ever been.

I shall not go on with this miserable story; I have only touched on the edge of the problem. However, I repeat, until we can deal with overcrowding, we can make no valid progress in dealing with the appalling difficulties which will remain and which could then be squarely tackled. It is not the fault of the noble Lord, the Home Secretary, the prison service or previous Home Secretaries. It is the fault of the British public, who would rather not know. I think it is time they were made to know. There are no votes in prison reform, but the time has come when we must really get together and try to put things right.

The overcrowding could be solved by a judicious mixture of sending fewer people to prison, giving shorter sentences in non-violent cases, and a careful but nonetheless bold exercise of executive release. Ministers are always frightened of treading on the toes of the judiciary, but I do not think most members of the judiciary know what they are condemning their customers to, and if they did I believe they would think twice. I think that most judges and many magistrates have a very perfunctory acquaintance with the realities of prison life, where drugs are rapidly replacing tobacco as the barons' stock-in-trade, and where something like a reverse morality holds sway. The most important, and probably the only, way to counter this is through good staff-inmate relations: overcrowding and staff shortages make those increasingly difficult to establish.

I believe that if the Home Secretary could present the judiciary with a well thought-out plan to eliminate overcrowding within three years, they would consent to some temporary abrogation of their splendid independence in order to achieve such an end. However, this has never been properly thought out. There has been no independent official inquiry since the May Report in 1979. The abolition by this Government of the Standing Advisory Commission on the Penal System means that there is no outside monitoring of what goes on.

I want to set the scene for an all-party assault on this murky area of our system of justice. I formally offer the Home Secretary the full support of the Alliance Parties, and I know that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, will say the same for Labour. I have no doubt that we can count on vigorous support from the Cross-Benches, including, I believe and hope, many of the learned judges. I beg the Home Secretary, to accept the advice of the Home Affairs Select Committee of 1981 and set up a national policy committee, or the advice of my noble friend Lord Wigoder and set up a Royal Commission or a Select Committee of this House, and as its first task ask it to find ways to end the overcrowding of the prison system within, say, three years. I ask no questions and I expect no answers tonight, though I hope to have a chance to debate the question later on this Session. The fact that I have been saying this for 25 years may bore my audience, but it has not reduced the strength of my case.

I do ask the noble Lord the Minister to try to persuade his right honourable friend to listen to my plea and to act accordingly.

7.25 p.m.

The Earl of Perth

My Lords, I have listened to many of the speakers in today's debate on the Queen's Speech and most of them, very properly, have within home affairs talked on such matters as law and order, health or education. I was particularly glad to hear the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, on education and his plea for an all-party approach, which seems to me a very right plea. I also heard the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, speaking about the need for legislation for the Warnock Report. I can only say that I fully support her.

However, I had expected the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, perhaps to speak on the environment. I was wrong. I recall that the debate tonight on the Queen's Speech is not only on home affairs but also takes in the word "environment". It is on this matter that I wish to speak for a short while. I particularly want to draw attention to the planning procedures which today are followed in regard to listed buildings, particularly Grade 1 or Grade 2 starred buildings. We should remember that these are some of the great and historic houses in the country.

As an example, I shall quote the story of St. John's Lodge, which, as many of your Lordships will know, is in Regent's Park, and the saga and in the end the failure to get planning permission for it to go ahead. I personally was deeply involved in the final stages of the saga on behalf of the Crown Estates, and I take the example because it really shows that something is wrong. As some of your Lordships will know, Mr. Frederick Koch is an American with great good will to this country. Indeed, he made the munificent gift a short while ago of setting up at Stratford-upon-Avon the new Shakespeare Theatre. Then he had the idea that he would like to set up a gallery and a library of the Victoriana which he has collected. He happened to wish to choose St. John's Lodge as the ideal location for this, and sought the necessary planning permission. For over two years, he and his architectural advisers tried to satisfy Westminster city planning authorities and their vociferous allies, the amenity societies, on the plans to restore and rearrange the interior of St. John's Lodge.

By the time I came into the battle its lines were clearly drawn. On the one side were the planning authorities, who were opposed to virtually any change of any kind. I think that they are developing, or have developed, a new doctrine in relation to conservation, which is that in relation to these listed buildings, the interiors are sacrosanct—there should be no change. They should show the history of the building, the whims and ideas of previous owners, and this is something which should be respected, whether what was done was good, bad, or indifferent.

In the case of St. John's Lodge, the Marquess of Bute, the great Victorian builder, had lived there for the last years of his life. He, in his wisdom—and it would not be allowed now—had removed the central staircase in the central hall, and his artist/decorator had, in its place, put some very mediocre paintings, except for the ceiling. Mr. Koch wished to put back a staircase where there had been one before, partly to help the circulation upstairs when visitors had gone through the magnificent rooms of Barry and Burton, which he was going to restore in a splendid way. After much further lobbying and debate, Westminster City Council finally gave their approval, in principle. However, the officials has the last word, for they said: "Yes, but nine different things will have to be fulfilled before we can give you the final word".

These nine things included detailed drawings, detailed new specifications, costing let us say another £150,000, and not being judged upon for another three to six months. Even then the officials could be persuaded. They had said that it would then be open to comment by the public on the latest plans, which of course meant the amenity societies. It looked as though Mr. Koch, at best, on the decision of Westminster Council would not know where he stood for nine months to a year. Remember, he has already been trying for two years.

Then the Royal Fine Arts Commission got into the act. They welcomed Mr. Koch's proposed generosity, but no, no staircase. Finally we come to English Heritage. English Heritage is made up of people who have real power under present planning legislation. They can say yes or no, and it is either yes or no. They have, as it were, the power of life and death. Their London committee—which is formed out of the rump (and I emphasise the word "rump") of the GLC—recommended to the full committee that Mr. Koch's plan should be turned down. Happily the full committee, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, decided otherwise. But there was a rider, just as there had been a rider in the case of Westminster Ciy Council. A delegation was to see Mr. Koch and his architects and try to persuade him even then not to make any changes in the decoration in the central hall.

I was present at that meeting, and I wish all your Lordships could have heard the long lecture that the officials gave to Mr. Koch. He had had enough, and after two years—nearly three—of striving he was at the end of his patience. It was not only a question of being at the end of his patience. There had been unwarranted attacks on him personally in the media, and false stories of what he planned to do, and there lay ahead, if all that had gone before was to happen, again public comment, again the prospect of vilification and misrepresentation.

I have gone into this in detail for one reason. I want to stress the point that the officials have power to spin things out in relation to planning procedures almost indefinitely. The Department of the Environment cannot intervene (and I in no way criticise them for that) because they are the final court of appeal if the person who is seeking planning permission has the stamina to go so far that in the end there is an appeal and an inquiry. As things stand today, the Department of the Environment cannot act.

Is there a way round? It is that which I want to develop. What changes can be made to short circuit these interminable procedures? I have talked to the Department of the Environment and they are looking into things, and for that I am grateful. In no way do I criticise them for what they have done. I criticise, and most strongly, the officials who enjoy such powers of delay whatever the wishes of their masters. I cannot help but recall the series "Yes Minister", which many of your Lordships will have seen on television. It is exactly the same thing in relation to planning. I am not alone in saying this. Let me quote an extact from Michael Manser's article in The Times. He said: The absolute authority of historic building officers to tell owners which buildings must be preserved and how and to what degree without regard to cost has to stop. Power without culpability is extremely dangerous and can and does breed tyrants. There are many other people who feel the same way. I am sure many of your Lordships will have read Bernard Levin two days ago in The Times when he told the story of the willow tree and how the house came down but the willow tree had to stand.

What do I suggest? I suggest that if the person who is seeking planning permission finds, after a reasonable time, that things really are intolerable, that he has been unfairly bogged down by red tape and so forth, then he should be able to refer the matter to an ombudsman, as in many other cases is allowed today. Whether it is the present ombudsman or an extension of his office I do not know; but never mind, it would be for the ombudsman at that time to look into the case and decide either that he will try to hurry things up or, if he judged that the whole thing was unfair, refer it immediately to the Department of the Environment for them to be able to take action and not have to wait for the appeal. I think that something along those lines might help a great deal.

It is clear that at the start we should have to feel our way, and perhaps what I am suggesting should apply only to the listed buildings of the first and second grades; but a start has to be made against this interminable delay, unfairness and unreasonableness. My story of St. John's Lodge may after all have a happy ending. As some of your Lordships will know, Mr. Koch has bought Sutton Place and he intends to put the great collection in Sutton Place for the enjoyment of visitors and scholars.

Let us remember that Sutton Place has been residential to date, and so inevitably, if it is open for visitors and the public to see, we shall find that planning permission is needed for certain changes. My only hope is that in this instance the planners will be more reasonable and no longer obstructive, and that a doctrine of no change, with everything being sacrosanct whether it is good or bad, in a house such as Sutton Place will no longer be persisted in, and that officials will treat things pragmatically. If, in addition, something like my suggestion for an ombudsman is accepted by the Government, then the story of St. John's Lodge will not have been in vain.

7.39 p.m.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I am also going to speak on the environment, but I am going to speak on the natural environment and not the architectural environment. Your Lordships may have read an article in the Telegraph, I think of last Thursday, which was called, "There is Money in Trees", and that I made a few observations in that article. But I want to speak on what to my mind is becoming a serious threat to the ecological system of various parts of Scotland. I refer to the blanket planting of the sitka spruce.

I have always been pro-trees and pro-Forestry Commission. I have done quite a bit of planting myself from an early age, and I have planted many thousands of trees with my own hands. But today we are affected by rather a phenomenon. I am not going to talk about the Forestry Commission, and I have nothing against the Forestry Commission, but we are now getting syndicates based on London. They are organised by chartered accountants and various people like that. There are one or two firms. There is one that I am not too happy about called Fountain Forestry. These syndicates approach people who know nothing about the land and have no interest in the land, but they have plenty of money. However, there is no harm in that. They are told by these syndicates that if they produce so many thousands of pounds, say £200,000 or £300,000, the syndicate will make them a fortune. That is quite right, but it is not good for Scotland. Fountain Forestry in particular, as I have experience of it, is backed by the Genesis pop group. I do not object to that although I am not a pop fan. They have bought up a large part of South Mull which is on my southern boundary.

They plant the land with sitka spruce which is a foreign tree brought into this country at the turn of the century. From the point of view of growing pulpwood it produces the heaviest crop of timber per acre on poor soil in a high rainfall area then any other tree in the United Kingdom. But when large masses of sitka are planted, they destroy the natural environment. All the rare birds go—the falcons, the eagles, the harriers, the birds of the moor and the open hill go. Nothing grows under sitka spruce because it is a densely growing tree especially when it is planted by man. The ground under sitka becomes bare earth.

People will say that four or five hundred years ago the majority of the highlands were afforested. But it was afforested by the indigenous timber of Scotland such as Scots pine, the oak, the ash, the birch and the alder which were good for the land. The Scots pine always has a good cover under it. The broad leafed trees were food for all the animals and birds. There were plently of birds living in the hardwood forests and in the Scots pine. That was quite different, but now the super abundance of sitka spruce that has been planted is destroying and will destroy some of the finest natural environment not only in Europe but I could almost say in the world.

As an example there are the blanket bog sites in Caithness and Sutherland. I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, is not here. I know he does not live in Caithness but perhaps he knows this, I do not know. The same thing is happening in the North West of Scotland on one or two sites.

What is unhealthy is that I doubt whether any of these people who put money into these syndicates have seen the land they own. They know nothing about the land and do not know the people. When we talk of absentee landlords, these are the worst types of absentee landlord that have ever existed in this country.

Another rather unsatisfactory point about this is rather embarrassing. I shall not give any names because I feel that parliamentary privilege is a privilege which one should not abuse. If a man were to invest, let us say, £150,000 in buying one of these plots which the forestry syndicate will plant for him, he will make money. It will not cost him £150,000 because of the subsidy. If he pays a 60 per cent. rate of tax, he will receive £70,000 back or he might get more. There is one lady, whom I will not name (I think she is a little muddled, but I shall come to that afterwards) who has bought an area of land through the syndicate and I understand she will receive about £500,000—half a million—through tax relief and subsidy on the land she is having planted for her. I do not think I am exaggerating. I do not know whether she has been to see her land or not. But what I cannot understand is that this same lady is the chairman of an organisation which is trying to cut down on public spending in this country. I cannot remember what the organisation is called. It seems an extraordinary thing to do, I think she has her priorities muddled up a little because on the one hand she is taking great advantage of the Inland Revenue, and on the other she is trying to save money for the Inland Revenue. I do not understand her reasoning.

Sitka spruce is the tree that does the most harm. It has to be grown in a high rainfall so it is grown a lot on the West coast of Scotland. A halt must be called to it somehow because if the process continues of this blanket planting of Sitka spruce the whole system will destroy the most beautiful part of Britain and one of the most beautiful parts of Europe.

The other problem relates to acidity. These trees are planted on acid land and in a high rainfall area. That produces acidity. If hills are planted above a river the acidity is increased in that river especially when it rains. After it has grown to about 20 feet the canopy is so thick that if the rainfall is say, 100 inches, only about 30 per cent. of that will get through, so the acidity will not be as bad. But if it is grown in an area where the rainfall is not so high—it is capable of growing in an area of low rainfall—it is then too dry and the rivers become dry also. That ruins the fishing and one is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea because it increases the acidity while it is young and once the canopy is full the acidity probably will not be so bad.

I have a salmon farm in the Isle of Mull. I do not own it; I am the landlord. There is a public company there which breeds salmon. The fish are reasonably free from acidity, for they come from a big loch which is surrounded by broad-leafed trees. But one has to be very careful over the acidity. There is one loch on the island, a very big loch, where trees have been planted on the north shore and all the fish have now left and have gone to the south shore where there is no planting. That shows that the sitka spruce produces acidity. But I shall not go on any longer about that, and I hope that I have not given your Lordships too much of a lecture on sitka spruce.

As to pop groups, one young man from "Genesis" went there for a day or two some four or five years ago. He seemed very pleasant, but he had not got a clue. I have nothing against pop groups, but I think that these people who put the money into these big syndicates do not really understand the harm they are doing to the environment. I only wish that someone would tell them about it. But it is not perhaps in the interests of their advisers (who presumably are in it to make as much money as possible and who do not care a damn about the environment) to do so.

I do not know what can be done about this. It is a problem. I do not know whether perhaps the grants should be reduced; but you cannot do that to certain people without doing it to others. And you cannot differentiate. But I should like to give the warning that if this blanket planting continues on the west coast the natural environment and everything that goes with it will be destroyed.

7.52 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, I rise to talk on a subject which I think is ignored in this country, and therefore I am not surprised that it did not form part of the gracious Speech. I think that it is not going to be ignored for much longer. I refer to the alarming increase in alcohol consumption among the young and the attendant social problems connected with it. Indeed, in my remarks I will cover increased consumption generally and the harm that that does, and shall produce some statistics in the hope that I shall not bore your Lordships too much. Really, it is the young which concern me because I think that this is a growing trend. We have seen it in other countries; it goes hand in hand with youth culture. The increased consumption of alcohol (with the health problems and the crime problems that that has brought) is something that has had to be dealt with in other Western European countries, where youth culture has developed over the past 20 years.

I think it is worth looking at some of the statistics before one examines what government have done and what government should be doing. The facts are that since the 1960s, which is not a long period of time, consumption overall has effectively doubled in this country and the real price of alcohol has halved; so that its availability and its price are such as to encourage drinking. The statistics show us that the people most harmed by this increase are those young people between the ages of 15 and 24.

In a recent BBC programme—where I could detect no bias—there were alarming instances of children much below this age group in deprived areas who were consuming alcohol with quite alarming results. In some cases there were children as young as nine years old and, certainly, from nine to 15 who were not only drinking alcohol which they were getting quite readily, but combining the consumption of alcohol with anything else they could lay their hands on to produce what is called, in current terminology, a state of being "bombed out". "Bombed out", in effect, means losing your sensibility. This is quite apart from the health effects on children, effects which are really quite drastic. Your Lordships will bear with me if I give you some of the health effects which have been reported in recent studies around the country.

Intoxication is the problem. I always thought, at the beginning of the 1960s, when I was young—and I am not all that old—that people who had alcohol-related illnesses had addictions and were to be pitied; and that this was something that one should beware of. But the nature of the harm has now moved with the shift to the young. It is not addiction that we are concerned with (as is the case with drugs) but with the immediate effects of intoxication, which is induced by increasing amounts of alcohol which are more readily available.

As the market grows—and the market has grown—the youth of this country and of other countries has been the target for all kinds of selling. It is a ready market and those who sell and those who purvey alcohol are naturally aiming towards these customers. Health is a great problem and in Scotland—where, perhaps, not surprisingly, they have paid more attention to the consumption of alcohol over the past 10 years following the liberalisation of their licensing laws—they tell us in studies that 80 per cent. of teenage drinkers have suffered serious adverse consequences as a result of excessive alcohol consumption. Over a one-year period in this country, 1,000 children under 15 were admitted to hospital with acute intoxication. They were admitted for emergency treatment and in some cases into intensive care. This is a terrifying figure: 1,000 children does not sound too many, but 1,000 children under 15 is an eye-opener.

Then awareness is a problem. In the future, I think we must address our minds to increasing this awareness. Awareness is something which I think was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, when speaking in your Lordships' House about the dangers of smoking. He then quoted a 14-year-old child who had said, "If it's dangerous, as you say, they would not be allowed to advertise it and promote sports events". That is the attitude towards smoking.

I think there is a similar situation with the public at large and with parents as regards drink. I have heard it myself with friends of mine who have children who have had drug problems. The parents have managed to steer them away from that but they say, rather gaily and airily, "He's not taking drugs but he's drinking a bit"—as though that were a kind of improvement of the situation, which, of course, it is not; for drink can be as damaging as drugs.

I was interested in the speech earlier by my noble friend Lord Wigoder. I thought it was an excellent speech. He drew attention to the rising crime rate and the need even for a Royal Commission to examine the rising crime rate among the young. I was glad to hear that he also mentioned alcohol as being possibly a contributory factor to the alarming rise in crime rates. He said also that your Lordships' House would be one of the best places in which to examine all the contributory factors to see what is producing the rising crime rate. I was interested that he should mention alcohol. If such an examination should take place, I hope that alcohol will be highlighted.

Criminal behaviour as a result of an excess of alcohol consumption among the young falls mainly into two categories, physical violence and criminal damage to property, both of which have escalated dramatically in the last five, indeed 10, years and are likely, without being pessimistic, to increase further. I am told that up to 40 per cent. of all young people in detention centres or youth custody centres are held for crimes where alcohol has been a significant factor in their conviction. In Scotland the figure goes up to 60 per cent. A total of 24 per cent. of drunk and disorderly cases as reported by the police involve the under-21 s. This is a doubling of the numbers that were recorded in the early 'sixties.

Forty-five per cent. of all road accidents to the young are alcohol-related. It is very interesting to note, however, that, when those road accidents are reported, very seldom is alcohol mentioned; only the dangerous driving or whatever aspect is mentioned. The alcohol component is often left out. Here again something influences the attitude and there is the reluctance to admit that alcohol, in the uncontrolled way that it is being sold and used by the young, is part of a dangerous social trend.

In 1984, of 1,500 drink and driving deaths, 50 per cent. were in the 20 to 24 age group. The statistics on crime and criminal happenings are significant. It is also interesting to consider the importance that we on these Benches attach to drugs. I recall an excellent speech by my noble friend Lord Harris in a debate on the subject. I think that we on these Benches have done a good deal to draw attention to drug abuse in this country.

It is gratifying to note an increase of Government expenditure in this respect. For every one person who dies as a result of drug abuse, 30 die from alcohol abuse. That may be a surprising figure—it surprised me. If one considers the deaths of people under the age of 24, for 71 that died as a result of the use of illicit drugs, 1,000 died from the abuse of alcohol. In this country health education is again badly deficient on alcohol as related to drugs. We must all surely agree that the efforts being made to stop drug addiction and to pursue those who push drugs are admirable. In regard to alcohol, however, it appears that there is a holding back, and the Government must be responsible to a great extent.

What have the Government done? I think that recently the Government have been rather airy-fairy about the situation. In a recent BBC programme, they showed a rather cavalier attitude. The Under-Secretary of the Department of Health and Social Security said, rather gaily: thank the good Lord for alcohol—this in a programme that was trying seriously to examine alcohol abuse

The Home Secretary made a rather odd comment and, although I do not like to take things out of context, I have been trying to puzzle it out. He said that the dead afternoon in Britain must be a thing of the past. I am not sure what the "dead afternoon" is. It is a curious vision of our country that we have dead afternoons. The political correspondent of The Times on the front page of today's issue tells us that there is a great move emanating from the Home Secretary to have a Bill promoted by a Conservative Back-Bencher to liberalise the drinking laws in this country. In the debate that follows such a Bill, it will be interesting to see how many dead afternoons we shall have to consider.

Another curious fact that I discovered in my researches is that in 1979 there was a think tank—indeed, some of your Lordships may even have been on it—on alcohol and the social effects of alcohol. I had heard about this, but could not find a copy of the report anywhere. Then I found that it was rejected. I eventually got hold of a rather dog-eared copy—they are as gold dust—printed illegally in Stockholm by the University of Stockholm. I would chance my arm on this and say that, if the conclusions of that report had been used, many lives in this country would have been saved. In fact, it was considered unsatisfactory and unhelpful. I read bits of it yesterday and, if I can obtain it, I intend to take it home and read it more carefully. It is curious that a government-promoted report is totally ignored when it contains figures and projections of the harm caused by an excess of alcohol consumption.

The rest of the world has already taken serious steps in this matter, although the social pattern of drinking is somewhat different. In France it has gone down recently by 20 per cent. We are talking about something different in this country; here it is intoxication, and its immediate effects. In some of the Latin countries one would be talking more of the effects of cumulative drinking and different kinds of drink. There has been a decrease in Italy. The USSR and Poland have had campaigns because alcoholism in those countries is a serious problem. In America, pretty generally in most of the states they have been taking serious action by raising the age limit aspect.

I think that the Government have not yet woken up—or maybe they have woken up but are rather shy about addressing the problem. This may be because of the drinks trade. The drinks trade profits from the increasing sale of drink. It is trying to balance social conscience with maximising its profits. This is only natural, and I do not criticise it. Indeed, I would do it myself if I were in the trade. It is interesting that, in a recent issue of the trade paper Campaign, we are told that Whitbread is moving into music sponsorship to attract the young to Heineken lager. It goes on further to say that young male pub-goers are the key consumers and, more specifically, the objective is to influence the social drinking found down at the local with the mates every evening where five or six pints per night are not unusual. This is a tremendous market. It is interesting also that one of the biggest purveyors of drinks in the country has spent £60,000 on a video of education material. However, if one considers that compared with the expenditure on promotion of its products, which amounts to approximately £2 million a year, one can see that the whole thing is out of balance.

To sum up, sooner or later we will be driven to face the situation on alcohol, and I think probably sooner than later. If the Government, through their Back-Benchers, are to produce a Bill for changing the licensing laws, we, the team in your Lordships' House, of which I am one—we regularly meet, usually whipped in, as it were, by the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, who will be overjoyed to read the news in today's issue of The Times—will have to consider all these matters.

I am for liberalising the licensing laws on the Scottish lines, but it is no good going along that road unless one is conscious of the effects of the increasing consumption of alcohol. Although in Scotland the statistics show that the level of alcohol-related crime has dropped—indeed, the level of road accidents has dropped—the consumption of alcohol has gone up, particularly among women. One could say that in Scotland the bad social effects of alcohol as regards immediate intoxication have changed. There has been a cultural change. The actual consumption and probably the long-term effects of alcohol consumption may be continuing apace and probably not improving. That is what we are going to be facing and so I would hope, and I am sure that other noble Lords throughout the whole House would agree, that if we are going to go down this road, then the control of consumption is going to be a serious factor. Education, particularly for the young, in assuming healthier life styles, and of course expenditure on helping people who are at a loose end to employ their time profitably, are important, as is, of course, the enforcement of the law. These three things are being done by every civilised western country in the world, and I would hope that the Government will follow suit.

8.11 p.m.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I should like to follow the noble Viscount in his argument, with much of which I agree, but I feel it is my duty to speak for a very short time and I am going to deal with one simple point which I will express as briefly as I possibly can.

I should like to see something in the gracious Speech to protect a group of people who have private rights which are being taken away for public purposes without compensation. I speak of those who try to go to the courts to pursue a diplomat. The rules about suing diplomats are absolutely necessary. It would be very difficult to have any kind of system of diplomacy without them. I am not on that subject at all—that is on the international side—but purely on the subject of what we can do among ourselves in this country.

If you have a garden and somebody wants to take the end of it off to make a road, that is a private property of yours which is taken away and you are entitled to compensation from the public. That is a simple case. These people have got a right. It is not a right to anything solid but it is a right to go to the court to sue in respect of a wrong they consider has been done to them. It is not as visible a right as part of your garden, but a right it is. It is not an easy right to assess because you cannot tell what would happen or what, if you came before the court, the court would decide. So it may be said that it would be difficult to assess what these people's right is.

There is an easy way to assess it, and that is to put it before a court. You cannot put the diplomat before the court, and indeed the right that the person had has in fact been transferred to the Crown, because the Crown has taken that right for public purposes. It is the Crown which ought to be put in front of the court. If it was possible for an individual, finding himself in the position that he could not sue a diplomat, to be able to sue the Crown in the name of the diplomat, then the case would be assessed, the value of what had been taken from him would be assessed and it would be possible (if matters could be thus arranged) for the Crown to compensate him.

This is a business which is affecting quite a large group of people now and is causing a great deal of public concern—so much so that I have been approached on this and the advice I have given is that this is what they should go for. If Her Majesty's Government are able to go along that road then everybody will be very pleased and it will cause a great deal of satisfaction. If they do not feel themselves able to go along that road, this group of people intend to take their wrongs to the European Court.

I am a British patriot. I want to see the British courts do what is right. I would loathe to see compensation given to these people by any courts other than our own. If Her Majesty's Government are able to go with this argument and give these people their rights in accordance with the method I have suggested or with any other method they can think of, I myself will be delighted and there will be many very pleased people in this country.

8.15 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, let me begin with a point on which I think there will be universal agreement, and that is to congratulate my noble friend Lord Bonham-Carter on a maiden speech of rare quality and excellence. I think he raised an issue of high public importance: the interface between the ethnic minorities and the criminal justice system. I hope, given his expertise in this area, that his words will he looked at extremely seriously by the Home Office and by the other departments involved.

I propose, speaking at this stage of the debate, to cover the areas of two government departments: first, the Home Office and, subsequently, the Department of the Environment. These are of course the principal departments involved in our debate today.

If I may, I will turn first to the contribution of the Home Office in respect of the gracious Speech. I would say at the outset how very much I regret the fact that there is once again no reference to the repeal of Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act, 1911. We have had debates on this issue in this House before. I think it is a common experience, wherever we may sit, that we find it quite clear that Ministers are becoming increasingly embarrassed at having to get up and make the sort of speeches which they do in order to defend a continued policy of inaction. Perhaps that is not surprising. Successive British governments over the past 20 years have declined to take any action but I think we are now in a very different situation, because after the Westland affair how can anyone seriously put forward an argument in favour of more prosecutions under Section 2 of the 1911 Act?

Here we had a case where senior Ministers worked together to leak a Law Officer's opinion to the press: something wholly unprecedented in the public affairs of this country. They worked together and they leaked it. In fact the Solicitor-General was set up by Mr. Brittan when he was Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and was quite deliberately asked to write this letter with the clear objective of leaking it to the press in order to put Mr. Heseltine at a disadvantage.

In view of the direct responsibility of Ministers in this matter, it is perhaps not surprising that none of the officials involved has been prosecuted; but I am quite sure that the Law Officers must be particularly embarrassed about this, given the fact that those same Law Officers agreed to the prosecution of a junior woman civil servant in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for leaking something (quite wrongly, I may say) where it was conceded by the prosecution that no question of national security was involved; and that girl was sent to prison.

I find humbug of this kind quite intolerable and I very much hope that soon after the next general election, whatever government there may be, we shall at last have a repeal of this wholly undesirable piece of legislation.

I think we have to accept the fact that our country has a reputation for almost obsessive secrecy, and often ineffectual secrecy. I believe that this is beginning to damage the quality of public administration in this country. It adds to the climate of suspicion about the motives of politicians and their double standards. If anyone continues to doubt that view of our obsessive secrecy, one has only to look at the most recent example of this in the extraordinary court case which is now being conducted in New South Wales to which the Government are a party. I cannot recall a piece of greater folly in recent years than for a government to set about launching this case.

I have no brief for ex-members of MI5 or MI6 who choose to enrich themselves by publishing books about their colleagues. But it seems to me that this is a clear example of gross overreaction by the Government, who have now sent the Cabinet Secretary to defend the position which Ministers have adopted. I cannot imagine any senior civil servant having in recent years been put in a more unenviable position than Sir Robert Armstrong.

So much for what is not in the speech. Let me now make some relatively brief references to three Home Office proposals that are within it. First, I very much welcome, as did my noble friend Lord Wigoder, the decision of the Government to implement most of the recommendations of the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Roskill. I think it is long overdue to take action in this important area and I join him in saying that, on balance, the Government are right not to move on the recommendation of that committee to dispense with juries in complex fraud cases.

I am bound to say that at first I was not sure what would be the right policy for the Government. But increasingly I came to the conclusion, having been rather neutral on this question, that it is quite impossible to decide to abolish the right to be tried by jury unless there is an overwhelming consensus in favour of that policy. It is quite obvious that there is no such consensus, and accordingly I believe that the Government are entirely right to have decided not to follow that recommendation.

Secondly, speaking for myself—because we have not yet had an opportunity of discussing this matter in any detail—like my noble friend Lord Wigoder I welcome the proposal to go after the assets of sophisticated criminals. We had a debate on this in the proceedings on the Drug Trafficking Offences Act and on that occasion I made my own position quite clear, that I very much hoped that we would not try to put a ring fence around drug trafficking and pretend that it was perfectly all right to take action in this area, but wholly wrong to take it in other areas of sophisticated crime.

Quite apart from anything else, drugs do not form an isolated area around which you can put a ring fence. Drugs are simply one of a group of serious criminal offences which are interrelated, where people who are involved in drug trafficking move easily in and out of counterfeit currencies, of armed robbery and of sophisticated fraud. That being so, it seems to me quite right to introduce this proposal in the Bill.

I should say that in the United States this is now regarded by most law enforcement agencies, both at federal level and in many of the great cities on the eastern seaboard, as one of the central questions which confront them. They believe it is just as important as the question of length of sentences. The United States have moved much further than we are intending to do. They have introduced a provision in federal law, whereby the assets so seized by the courts—which may include the houses of those concerned, aircraft, ships and jewellery—can be sold off as a result of an order by the court and can be used to provide additional resources for law enforcement agencies. Many big American police departments now receive substantial sums of money as a result of this policy. That is a very sensible idea and it is one which we should consider seriously over the next few years.

Thirdly, I should like, as my noble friend Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge did a few months ago, to come back to the question of prison numbers, which are now hovering around the level of 47,000 to 48,000. There is a need for something to be done, but I am bound to admit that all of us who understand the present political situation know perfectly well that there is unlikely to be any significant action between now and the date of the next general election, because Ministers arc inevitably trapped by some of their own rhetoric of the past.

But I should like to make two points. First, I believe that, given the gravity of the situation as described by my noble friend Lord Donaldson, the idea of finding some form of happy halfway house should be rejected. I am a born believer in trying to create a consensus in many areas. I think it was the late Evan Durbin, when looking at the problem in one area of criminal justice, the death penalty, who said that the British had such a talent for compromise that, in his view, they would eventually hang every other murderer, and under the Homicide Act a few years later that is precisely what we did.

I do not believe that a happy halfway house is a way in which we can approach this crisis of numbers. We have tried the compromise, and the compromise was to introduce parole at the lower end of sentences. We now have the situation that it matters not whether you get 10 months or 18 months in prison, because in reality, as the judges are quick to point out, you come out on exactly the same day. Therefore this particular move, which we supported and continue to support, given the fact that it is impossible to move away from it rapidly without making the current situation even worse, has not, I am afraid, succeeded.

I believe that the earlier and much bolder idea of the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, when he was Home Secretary and wanted to move to a situation where there would be automatic release from one-third of the lower end of sentences, without any parole process whatever and with those offenders being automatically supervised in the community by members of the probation service, would be far more satisfactory from that point of view and would have had a more significant effects on numbers. I do not believe it would create deep public anxiety and, given the concern of the judiciary at the moment, I find it hard to believe that it would now meet with their unremitting opposition. We shall come back to this issue on the Criminal Justice Bill, but I do not believe, as I have indicated, that we can drop the present policy immediately, because the effect on prison numbers would be very serious indeed.

Next we have to recognise the serious risks in our prison system if we continue the present degree of overcrowding. We have heard this referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael. We have had serious disturbances in recent weeks at Saughton prison in Edinburgh and more recently at Peterhead. We have also had in the last year a significant number of hostage-taking situations in prisons in England and Wales. We are dealing here with an explosive situation, and if action is not taken we can be quite certain that there will be serious repercussions in the prison system which could lead to people losing their lives. That is the reality of what we are now talking about—

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, if the noble Lord will give way, I thought that the hostage-taking situations were in Scotland.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, there was indeed a hostage-taking situation which took place at Peterhead. What I am saying is that in the last year there have been a number of hostage-taking situations where people were threatened in prisons in England and Wales. They have not had the degree of publicity that there was in Scotland, because the persons concerned were not generally members of the prison service. They were often other inmates, although I think in one or two cases a member of the prison service was in fact involved.

I now turn to the Department of the Environment. We are going to have a Bill dealing with local government contracts. The Bill to some extent reflects the Government's enthusiasm for the virtues of privatisation and also their frustration that they have been prevented from introducing privatisation in local government because they have lost power in so many local authorities in this country. They have also been frustrated because of the lack of enthusiasm of many Conservative-controlled councils for the policy.

Let me briefly set out our views. We reject in principle further moves to make the United Kingdom an even more centralised state. It was Douglas Jay, when he was a junior Minister in the post-war Labour Government, who used a phrase which I am sure he regretted subsequently. The phrase was: "The gentleman in Whitehall really does know best". The Conservative Party of that time pointed fingers of scorn at Mr. Jay but they have moved further and faster in this direction than any post-war government in the United Kingdom. It is indeed their central, guiding principle.

We believe in the right of local communities to make their own decisions. Sometimes it will certainly be right to privatise services. In a number of London boroughs, and no doubt elsewhere, some of the refuse collection services are grossly inefficient and extremely expensive. It is at least arguable that in some cases they would be more efficiently run by the private sector. However, in many other areas of this country the quality of the public service is certainly as good if not better than any potential alternative. It seems to me the height of absurdity to have this doctrinaire provision of privatisation at all costs, irrespective of the consequences. I think that it is deeply objectionable and I make that clear at the outset.

The real problem is that the balance of power in many local authorities often fails to reflect local opinion, and that, of course, is the responsibility of the electoral system favoured by the two Front Benches in this House. It is opposed, as we know, by a majority of this House, which is why the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Blake, on local government proportional representation was not opposed by the Government when it was introduced and went through all its stages in this House. If was eventually blocked by the Government in another place.

Perhaps I may illustrate the problem of dealing with some of the abuses which undoubtedly have occurred in this particular area. On 26th January 1983 (col. 348 of Hansard) my noble friend Lord Tordoff and I raised the question of the behaviour of Southwark Council in relation to contractors at Greenham Common. We pointed out that a resolution had been passed by Southwark Borough Council saying: (i) This Council supports the action of the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp in opposing the siting of the U.S. Cruise Missiles in Britain, and affirms its opposition to all nuclear weapons. (ii) This Council notes that construction of silos and support facilities is already being undertaken by British companies sub-contracted by Tarmac, which have been awarded the contract for all work on the missile site. (iii) Therefore, in line with this Council's nuclear-free policy, it is resolved not to employ in any future capacity, Tarmac or any of the Companies so engaged. (iv) This Council also undertakes to encourage other Councils to adopt this resolution, and support them in doing so". I believed at the time and I still do believe that that resolution was unlawful. However, if it had been challenged in a court by an individual ratepayer, as it could have been, the problem is that the ratepayer would have had to run the risk of being dragged through to the Court of Appeal, even if he won in the court of first instance, and eventually into the House of Lords itself. No ratepayer is going to take on a local authority in a matter of that sort.

I believe that resolutions of that kind and the policies that lie behind them are objectionable in principle. It is not for local authorities to debar contractors simply because they have worked for Her Majesty's Government. At the time, we complained to the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, and I may say that we did not get very far. He told us he would talk to the Office of Fair Trading about it. But they decided to do nothing. We pursued the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, about it, but he indicated a certain lack of enthusiasm for acting in what he described as an isolated case. That was in 1983. To some extent I suppose that we are gratified that, after three years, we are at least seeing some limited movement in this area.

However, if we had had an honest electoral system, the resolution would not have been passed in the first place because, in the elections in Southwark preceding the passage of that resolution, 43 per cent. of the electorate had voted for the majority Labour Party and 52.7 per cent. had voted either for the Alliance or for the Conservative Party. In those three years, therefore, first an unlawful policy was introduced and acted upon, and secondly we had a situation where other local authorities followed that example and did exactly the same thing. This has been done because minority groups of political enthusiasts who have had a temporary majority in the local authority are determined to drive through their policy, whatever the consequences may be. That is the position not only in Southwark but in many other local authority areas in this country.

I think local government has suffered severely from excesses of this sort. I believe that in the absence of local government proportional representation, which would in most (though not all) cases prevent extremist minorities from getting into power in the first place, what will happen is that more and more power will be transferred to the centre. All those, of whatever party they may be, who want a vigorous local government in this country must appreciate that without local electoral reform central government is bound to become more interventionist.

If I may, I shall end by quoting the views of the Audit Commission on this general question. The commission produced its Report and Accounts for the year ended 31st March 1986 this summer. In the course of that report it said: The Commission is concerned at the evidence of waste and inefficiency in inner London in particular. On almost all the measures available to the Commission, the standard of services delivered in a number of inner London authorities appears worse than in comparably deprived authorities outside the capital; and the costs are higher, even after taking account of London weighting. The chief executives of the authorities principally concerned usually acknowledge the facts; but they would claim that little can be done in the real world in which they have to operate—it is the cost, they consider, of local democracy. The Commission considers that other factors are at work as well. Relations between members of the authorities and their senior officers are not universally on a sound footing; senior appointments are not always made on the basis of ability to do the job; and salaries and conditions of service of senior officers often fail to attract people of the calibre needed for what are demanding jobs in some of the most deprived areas in the country". Summarising that report in rather more direct language, what the Audit Commission is saying—and I believe that anyone who knows what has been going on in inner London knows this to be true—is this. First, there are inefficient, high cost services, largely because of the dominant role of public sector unions in the boroughs concerned. Secondly, there are atrocious relations between many chief officers and elected members which have resulted in an exodus of able staff who are no longer prepared to put up with the situation. Thirdly, senior, and quite often other, appointments are made on the basis of political support for the majority party.

In other words, what we are seeing here are the politics of Tammany Hall in New York City now being relentlessly applied in London. That is the situation we now face in this country. If we do not move in favour of changing our electoral procedures which give rise to power being misused by militant minorities, there will be, as I have indicated, a further massive movement of power from local communities to central government. We on these Benches will fight that with all the power at our command.

8.40 p.m.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, perhaps at the outset I may express my most sincere appreciation for the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, and for the subject which he selected, the obvious detailed attention he gave to it and the sincere way in which he presented those points.

We welcome a number of the matters to which the noble Earl referred when he introduced this debate today. To save time I shall not go through them, save to say that when they arrive in the form of Bills we shall give them sincere attention even though we may welcome some of them only in principle. It will be strange not to have a normal type Transport Bill, which to my memory has been an annual occurrence ever since 1980. But we shall be monitoring very carefully the bus deregulation aspects of the Transport Act 1985 and we shall not hesitate to raise matters with Ministers, or even in your Lordships' House, should problems arise.

I think it is generally known that I have the honour of being president of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. We deeply regretted the fact that no Minister was present at the annual meeting of the association held at the end of October. This influential local authority association represents 19 million people in this country but no Minister was present. I mention this because it is indicative of one serious omission from the Queen's Speech. There is no reference to any proposal to build a better relationship between central and local government. In fact some of the proposed legislation will do just the opposite.

It appears that activity carried out on a public basis is anathema to this Government. The Government seem to have little confidence in elected local councillors. I remind noble Lords, especially the noble Lord, Lord Harris, that the Labour Party has 9,000 councillors and they do not all behave in the manner which is suggested. The Government seem to have little faith in elected representatives on local councils or in the generally dedicated local government officers.

My noble friend Lord Carmichael referred to the disparity between north and south. That was made glaringly obvious in Faith in the City, the report of the commission of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, on urban priority areas. We have had various recent surveys, including one carried out by the DHSS itself, which indicate a massive increase in the number of people now living below supplementary benefit level. The noble Earl referred to orders which will be produced for urban development corporations. In the light of my experience of 46 days sitting on the Select Committee dealing with the London Docklands Development Corporation, I hope that the Government will have serious prior consultations with the local authorities and local organisations concerned before any one of these orders is brought forward. That is vitally important.

There is not a word in the Queen's Speech about the National Health Service. Whatever one's views may be, no one could fail to be impressed by the speech of the noble Countess, Lady Mar, and by some of the points she made regarding the health service. From time to time we are given impressive figures by Ministers opposite which seem to suggest that everything is all right in the National Health Service. After listening to the noble Countess, I hope that Members may think otherwise. Everywhere one goes one hears complaints of hospital closures and of ward closures, either on a permanent basis or for periods such as weekends. A large hospital near me closed for a fortnight during the summer.

As recently as last week the BMA commented that the extra provision made in the Autumn Statement will not have the overall effect that the association hoped for in improving care for patients. There was also in the Autumn Statement a slight move towards appreciating the need for increased public spending. That was welcome after years of denial by the Government of the value of public spending, particularly on our infrastructure. But the proposals on housing are just tinkering with the problem. There is nothing in the proposed legislation to deal with the massive investment that is required. Four local authority associations have issued a joint report on the massive investment that is required in the repair and maintenance of public and private sector housing and for new homes. The Department of the Environment has itself produced a report which indicates the massive figure that is required.

I suggest to the Minister that the Government should consult with the building and construction employers and listen to what they want. I was with a number of them only last week. What the employers want for their industry, for their workers and for tackling the job for which they are equipped, is a planned, rolling programme. That is completely absent from the proposed legislation. When do the Government intend to allow local councils to use the substantial receipts they have from the sale of public assets? Surely this question must be answered when the Minister comes to reply.

On 30th April last year your Lordships debated the social effects of government policies. In the course of that debate I referred to Chapter 8 of Faith in the City which deplored the steady decline in central government support to local authorities. I remind noble Lords that in 1978–79 central government support to local authorities was 61 per cent. of their expenditure. In the current year it is down to 46.5 per cent. Since 1979–80 local councils have lost something in the region of £17 billion as a result of the cut in the central government grant. This is one reason why many councils have found it necessary to go for rate increases, regrettable as they may be.

The legislative programme refers to a measure, to improve the basis for the payment of rate support grant". Frankly, these words give cause for concern in the light of the Government's consistently appalling record on local government finances. The noble Earl said that the proposed Bill would cease the recycling of any annual grant money which is not used by certain authorities. This will go to the Treasury, not to local authorities. Again, this will present some local authorities with problems of finance.

My noble friend Lord Carmichael also dealt with the proposal to abolish domestic rating in Scotland. Presumably this will be in line with the Government's Green Paper Paying for Local Government. It must be emphasised that there is not the slightest doubt that this will be a preliminary run for similar legislation in future for England and Wales. We can only hope that there will be a general election and that a new Labour Government will stop that measure being introduced to cover England and Wales.

Meanwhile, I must ask—and I have asked this on previous occasions—what notice do the Government really take in response to consultation papers? On Green Paper after Green Paper responses have been generally opposed to some measures, but the Government have taken no notice. There is widespread opposition to the Green Paper proposals. That most influential body, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), in particular has given a quite reasoned rejection of the proposals.

I must refer to a letter dated 5th November which was sent to the Prime Minister, a copy of which I have, signed by the chairman of the Association of District Councils, the chairman of the Association of County Councils, the chairman of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. I shall quote just two paragraphs: Apart from the opposition of individual local authorities themselves and all our Associations—irrespective of political control—there is widespread opposition to the proposed community charge and the uniform business rate from professional bodies, the city, the trade unions and other sectors of the Community. The letter continues: As the next session of Parliament draws near, and with the likelihood of a Bill for Scotland being included in the Queen's Speech, we, the leaders of local government in Great Britain, earnestly ask you to meet us, with your Secretaries of State, to discuss ways of finding a system of local government finance that you and we can all live with. Noble Lords may remember that on a rating Bill, which seems years ago now, we urged that there should be a review of the whole question of local government finance. The Prime Minister has been engaged with other matters, but I hope the Minister will draw attention to the fact that it has been mentioned in your Lordships' House because it is an important suggestion—that there should be a careful review of local government finance and a system to be devised, as the letter says, with which we can all live.

The Scottish Office has admitted that the proposal for Scotland has met with the strongest rejection by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. That body is to unite with the other three local authority associations for England and Wales in opposing the Bill for Scotland. There will be opposition from all the local authority associations. In fact, the Scottish Office has stated that the responses from the most influential bodies—and some of them were listed by my noble friend Lord Carmichael—were three-to-one against a poll tax. No matter what individuals may try to argue, a poll tax and community charge will impose charges on every member of the community, irrespective of how poor they are.

Reference was made in one speech (not in your Lordships' House) to the fact that details of the Bill can be argued later, but that we should reflect on the fact that a millionaire living alone in a Scottish castle will pay only one-quarter of the community charge imposed on a family of four poorly-paid workers. Nobody can deny that that is what will happen. Reference was also made to the special register of ratepayers that will have to be compiled. Noble Lords will appreciate that I know a little about the compilation of electoral registers and about the problems they cause. I also know a little about their inaccuracy, as the Home Office will readily agree, and the difficulty of keeping electoral registers up to date. This is to he a separate register and one can imagine that the same problems will arise.

Before proceeding to two or three other matters, may I ask the Minister whether it is the Government's intention, under the provision of sweeping up other legislation, to introduce any further legislation to deal with local authority publicity or other proposals in the Widdicombe report. The Government must have made up their mind by now and it will be useful to have that information.

I was absolutely surprised that in the noble Earl's speech no reference at all was made to the proposal in the gracious Speech for the Remuneration of Teachers Act 1965 to be repealed. I recognise that the Secretary of State has still to make a Statement on the present negotiations but that is promised in the gracious Speech. It will mean disbanding the statutory Burnham Committee. We know that criticisms can be made about Burnham, but what is to take its place? The withdrawal of any provision for collective bargaining will he strongly resisted. It will be resisted by teachers and local authorities. Let us remember that at present it is the local authorities who are the employers, not central government. I hope there will be no suggestion that central government will employ teaching staff in future. Surely even this Government do not intend to take away negotiating rights from half a million workers; because that is the number involved in our teaching staff.

What is needed, as I think everyone will agree, is a return as quickly as possible to harmony in the classrooms for the benefit of the pupils, the teachers and parents. I am convinced—and I am certain that other noble Lords and, I hope, everyone will agree—that teachers want to be restored to their place of respect in society. Whatever may be said in favour of the Secretary of State's proposals, we must keep in mind that we have to find ways of attracting good young people at the lower level into the teaching profession. It is absolutely vital that that should be done. There must be no attempt by the Secretary of State to make an arbitrary decision, casting aside what has been achieved by the negotiating body at Nottingham—and everyone must agree that the negotiators, who were busy for a whole week, did a splendid job in managing to get as far as they did in the negotiations.

My final point deals with the proposed Bill on compulsory tendering for local authority services. Of course there must he value for money. Local councils want value for money because when services are cost-effective their limited resources, which are being cut and cut, can he spread on to other areas. As I have already said, these resources are already affected by the Government's various financial restrictions. All four local authority associations have rejected the Government's proposals for compulsory tendering. The county councils, the metropolitan authorities, the district councils and the Scottish local authorities are all united in condemning the Government's proposals. In fact, a statement issued by all four authorities has been sent to every Member of Parliament.

For many years local councils have had the power to contract out their services. About 84 per cent. of them however have generally found it better to keep their services in-house. Local councils resent compulsion in this matter. They want to he left to determine how best to handle their own services and to decide whether they should contract out some and keep some in-house. We should remember that they are accountable to the people who elect them. They come regularly before the electors to justify what they are doing. As Councillor Jack Layden of the AMA has said: Democracy is only to be tolerated if it gives the results the Government desires. The great mistake of local government is to dare to disagree". In many cases the contracting out experience of a number of local authorities and hospital bodies has been disastrous. The pay of some cleaning contractors' staff is appalling. When I was travelling to the House the other day I was listening to a programme presented by Mary Goldring which included two of our prominent and respected trade union leaders. I heard John Edmonds of the General. Municipal, Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union refer to the shocking pay of some contractors' staff. Some were receiving £1.40 an hour and some were receiving as little as £1 an hour.

When considering tendering under the London Regional Transport Bill, the Government resisted our attempts to include amendments laying down conditions of service. When the Transport Act 1985 was before the House we discussed a clause dealing with the tendering for subsidised bus services which expressly laid down that conditions of employment must not be included in any proposed contract. The omen for the compulosry contracting-out by local authorities is dark and dismal. Are contracts to have no concern for training and apprenticeships? Is there to be no reference to health and safety in them despite the legislation? Is there to be no reference to equal opportunities despite the legislation? Is there to be no reference to pension provisions or fair conditions of employment?

The noble Earl said that there should be fair competition. Fair competition means keeping the same decent pay standards that local authority workers now have. It will be disastrous for many of the workers employed by the firms to which services may be contracted out if the items to which I have referred are not included in their contracts.

I saw a report of a speech made by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Mr. Ridley, to the Carlton Club of all places. He said: It is open to local authorities to opt out of national agreements to pay their staff what they can afford, so that any local authority that wants to can take control of its payroll costs. I strongly advise them to do so. That is a blatant suggestion that there should be pay cuts for local authority staff. That will destroy morale in the town hall in the same way that the Government have destroyed the morale of the teaching staff. I hope that the Government will think seriously about the matter again. We approve of some of the proposed legislation, but some of it is disastrous and we shall oppose it as strongly as we can.

9.4 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, not for the first time, your Lordships have put me in a quandary—should I deliver a speech, answer noble Lords' questions or do a bit of both? Fortune favours the brave, so I shall attempt to tread the middle path. We have had a wide-ranging debate and inevitably I can cover only a few of the original points raised. Some of the points were not so original, but I shall leave that. I shall have to resort to writing to many noble Lords.

After a debate such as the one we have just had, it is easy to forget that we are debating that section of the gracious Speech which refers to home and environmental affairs. That is why I was grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, chose today to make his excellent maiden speech. I can assure him that I have reached that stage in my political career where I find it difficult to listen to myself. Judging by the number of noble Lords who came into the Chamber to listen to him, the House does not agree with his assessment of his political age. Whether the noble Lord is right or wrong, I hope that we shall hear from him again both soon and often.

The noble Lord spoke about a most important matter: that is, the treatment of ethnic minorities in the criminal justice system. He referred to a recent NACRO report on the subject. I am pleased to be able to tell your Lordships that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and my noble friend Lord Caithness recently met NACRO representatives for a useful discussion on the report. That shows we are not complacent. Much of the NACRO report reinforces existing government policy that everyone, whatever their ethnic background, should receive equal and fair treatment.

I know that the prison department in particular is doing much in that field and has introduced extensive ethnic monitoring. I was grateful to hear the noble Lord describe the recent instruction to prison governors on race relations as a model of its kind. I shall draw his request for the same to be done in the police service to the attention of my right honourable friend.

My noble friend Lord Caithness covered thoroughly proposals in the Criminal Justice Bill, so I shall deal with questions about it by what in planning terms is known as written representation. Much of the debate has been concerned with the relationship between the police and society, whether criminal or not. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, based his speech on the premise that we are facing the worst crime wave we have ever known. The level of recorded crime has increased, but it has been increasing at somewhere between 5 per cent. and 7 per cent. each year. not for seven but for 30 years, irrespective of what government were in power. That leads me to believe that there is no link such as he suggested.

The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, drew attention to the need to find out more about the reasons for crime. I am sure that the House will welcome any increase in our knowledge on that matter. Likewise, I hope that the House will agree with the support given by the noble Lord to the work of the police. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and, to some extent, the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, suggested that too many people are sent to prison. I should emphasise that this Government uphold the independence of the judiciary. However, we have a very wide range of noncustodial disposals for offenders of all ages. We have encouraged the greater use of cautioning by the police, particularly for young offenders and the elderly. We give priority to making more use of existing noncustodial disposals rather than increasing their range. The use of community service orders, for instance, has increased considerably.

As to prison overcrowding, we are pressing ahead with the biggest prison building programne this century. The Government's building and refurbishment programme includes a total of 20 new prisons and will provide some 17,000 additional places by 1995. The noble Lords, Lord Donaldson and Lord Harris of Greenwich, will appreciate (who better?) that no prisons at all were built in this country between 1918 and 1958. We have a tremendous backlog to catch up on.

I do not believe that it is profitable for me this evening to discuss the future of Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act. I know enough, however, to say that is is widely recognised to be out of date but that its replacement does not yet command respect.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, to whom I listened with growing interest, suggested that minimum prison standards were something that we should all aim for. The Government are not at present persuaded that the mere expression of certain standards as minima would of itself make a significant contribution to bringing about the improvements that are needed. Several noble Lords raised the subject of the prison population plus an increase in numbers of long-term sentence adult males. A fall in the reception of short-45,000 by the beginning of 1986. It has since risen again to 47,450 on 7th November. The increase this year is attributable mainly to a rise in the remand population plus an increase in numbers of long-term sentence adult males. A fall in the reception of short-term adults has been insufficient to set off these increases. All these matters are being looked into by the Home Affairs Select Committee of another place in the context of its general inquiry into prisons, penal reform and alternatives to custody. We await its report with interest and we shall be responding to it in the usual way.

I do not rejoice in the need, but I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, that successive Home Secretaries have made clear that applications from police authorities for increases in police establishments will be considered on the basis of the proven needs of the force in the light of advice from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. As part of this programme, my right honourable friend said that he was prepared to approve increases of 430 police posts for provincial forces in this financial year. As a first step, he approved increases of 179 of these posts in August and a further 111 in October. He will be considering shortly the possibility of allocating a further tranche on the basis that forces would begin recruitment in the closing months of the current financial year.

So far as concerns the Metropolitan Police, following a review to establish where there were specific needs for additional manpower, my right honourable friend has decided that the Metropolitan Police should receive an increase in its establishment of up to 1,200 over the next—

A noble Lord

Four years, my Lords.

Lord Skelmersdale

Four years. I am grateful to the noble Lord.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham asked me about the Family Law Reform Bill and asked particularly whether the Government should not also show their support for legitimate families by removing the tax benefit available to illegimate families. The Government recognise that there are circumstances where couples may be better off in a fiscal sense by virtue of being unmarried. The government Green Paper on the reform of personal taxation published by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in March this year suggests reforms to put an end to tax penalties on marriage. For example, with tax relief on mortgage interest, under the present system, a married couple are entitled to relief on a mortgage up to a value of £30,000, whereas two single people living together can claim relief on a mortgage up to £60,000. The Green Paper suggests that one approach might be to apply mortgage interest relief to residents rather than to individual taxpayers. In that way, two people would share relief whether married or not.

While still considering the law, I should like to respond to my noble friend Lady Faithful] on the subject of family courts. I observe that my noble friend's concern remains on this subject. That is why my right honourable friend the Home Secretary established an interdepartmental committee of officials to examine the feasibility of a unified court with exclusive jurisdiction in family matters in 1984. The committee identified three options for a family court. The Government have issued a consultation paper on them. That consultation period closed on 31st October and the responses are being analysed. Costings of the main options for a family court are also being carried out. The Government will take a decision as soon as possible once this work has been completed.

I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, that alcohol misuse is a growing problem worldwide which is fully recognised by the Government. The Department of Health and Social Security gave grants totalling well over £800,000 to voluntary bodies working in this field in 1985–86. The Health Education Council works closely and effectively with both the DHSS and the voluntary organisations. The 1979 CPRS report, to which the noble Lord alluded, recommended the publication of a consultative document to state government policy and advance discussion of the issues.

In 1981 the Government published Drinking Sensibly, which explained its position on the prevention of alcohol misuse and the provision of relevant services and was designed to encourage an informed debate on the sensible use of alcohol. I can assure the noble Lord that this is an issue of importance of which the Government are well aware and take seriously. An answer of course is education. Another, in the view of my noble friend Lord Montgomery, is liberalisation. With regard to that Bill, I can correct the noble Lord. The Government do not yet have a view.

It is easy for noble Lords south of the border to accuse my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland of rushing his local government finance reforms. However, I did not expect this view to come from the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael. They are being brought forward in Scotland earlier than in England and Wales because the Scottish experience of revaluation in 1985 made it clear that continuation of the present rating system was no longer an option. In 1985 the then Secretary of State made it clear that legislation will be introduced as soon as possible. The present Secretary of State is fulfilling that pledge and has stated his intention that the necessary Bill will receive its Second Reading in another place by Christmas.

There have been suggestions—most recently from the noble Lord, Lord Underhill—that the Government are rushing matters, or even worse, pulling a fast one. I must remind the noble Lord that proposals for the whole country were made during the 1974 election campaign and have been followed by no fewer than two Green Papers. What good would a further consultation exercise do? Now 12 years later this whole subject must qualify for the Guinness Book of Records, as the slowest "fast one" in parliamentary history.

Lord Underhill

Will the noble Lord give way? I was not complaining so much about the speed, but that there are consultation documents issued, there is overwhelming objection, and the Government just ignores it.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I do not accept that there was overwhelming objection. I agree that there was a balanced response. It is not the first time that governments have legislated on the subject of balanced responses. It is not the moment to debate the subject of dog licences with noble Lords, but that is a case in point.

It is not only north of the border that local government finance needs attention. This time, however, it is not so fundamental but a tidying up exercise. My noble friend Lord Caithness covered this fully when he spoke of the abolition of grant recycling.

However, he did not say that this ludicrous situation was roundly criticised by your Lordships earlier this year when you complained that government can provide estimates only of the likely amounts available from recycling at a date which is too late to ensure that authorities take extra grant into account when setting their budgets and rates. The Government's objective is to maximise grants by keeping spending down and so increase local authorities' accountability to their ratepayers. Grant entitlements will therefore depend more closely on authorities' spending decisions. Finally, the Bill will end the absolute nonsense whereby excessively high spending authorities attract their share of the recycled monies.

As my noble friend Lord Eccles recognised very clearly indeed one of the areas covered by local authority revenue spending is schools. This is funded partially by rates and partially by rate support grant. I recognise that teachers have seen their pay slipping back. How could we not, with all the upset the teachers have brought about to the total disbenefit of the very students who are in their care with all that has been done to damage children's future employment prospects? My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has intervened in the pay and conditions negotiations conducted by the local education authorities. We need a pay structure that will reward good teachers. Nobody disagrees with that. It must provide incentives to perform well and to seek responsibility. So far as concerns this year's settlement, there is not as yet a full signed agreement. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science is considering the draft agreement reached last Saturday by some of the parties against his own well published criteria. He will announce his conclusions as soon as possible.

I should just like to add that in 1979 teachers were 13 per cent. below the Houghton level, compared with the retail price index. By October 1987, under the Government's proposals, they will be over 10 per cent. above Houghton. The Government are looking for a settlement that is good for the children, good for the teachers and good for the country. In the words of my noble friend Lord Eccles, they want a good status all round. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, will agree that this would restore the teachers to their place in society.

As my noble friend Lord Beloff and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, recognised, the Government have therefore decided to introduce for the future a Remuneration of Teachers Bill. This legislation will repeal the Remuneration of Teachers Act 1965 and will introduce new arrangements to settle teachers' pay, salary structures and, most important to my mind, conditions of service. The Burnham arrangements will be replaced by an interim advisory committee.

My noble friend Lady Trumpington has asked me to express her regrets that she is unable to be present to listen to your Lordships' very relevant points on health and social security matters. My noble friend is sure that the House will understand that she is prevented from being here because she is fulfilling long-standing engagements visiting national health hospitals in the Manchester area.

The noble Countess, Lady Mar, referred to the National Health Service and the so-called cuts therein. The noble Countess said that she would like to hear someone in government say "Thank you" to nurses, teachers and other public sector workers. I have to say that my colleagues both in this House and in another place take every opportunity to express their appreciation of the efforts of these workers, and I am happy to take this opportunity to do so once again.

Let me turn to the noble Countess's comments on the state of the National Health Service. The Government do not deny that there are problems. It would be surprising if there were not points to criticise in a vast service employing about 1 million people, but the problems are being tackled. For instance, health authorities have developed plans to reduce waiting lists and waiting times, and £50 million over two years has been allocated to help them tackle this problem. Over the next two years £30 million has been allocated to help regions with less than average growth—principally the four Thames regions—to continue to make progress in improving services for priority groups and for patients who live outside the main cities.

The noble Countess raised a particular point in relation to orthopaedic services in Worcester. I think that it would be to the service of the House if I wrote to the noble Countess on that particular detailed point.

A subject that regularly concerns the House is hospital waiting lists and times, and the noble Countess, Lady Mar, raised it again today. Even though waiting lists have fallen since March 1979, the Government fully recognise the justifiable concern that patients should not wait excessively for necessary treatment. Progress has been made. Record levels of activity mean that more patients than ever before are being treated. Some 50 per cent. of patients are admitted to hospital immediately. Of those admitted from the waiting lists, 50 per cent. wait for seven weeks or less. We should be concerned with the other 50 per cent.

The Government recognise that unacceptable waits still occur in some areas. Detailed reports from the regions demonstrate that more effective use of existing resources can produce good results, but in order to make the most impact in some areas effective use can be made of additional funding. That is why we have recently announced the figure of £50 million. The waiting list fund will allow even the most difficult problems to be tackled.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham, like us, accepted that AIDS is the major public health problem facing the country and that urgent action is required. The right reverend Prelate welcomed the vigorous co-ordinated action that is being taken under the direction of a group of senior Ministers chaired by my noble friend the Lord President. If I may say so, the right reverend Prelate gave the best explanation of this terrifying virus that I have ever heard. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services has already announced that a major and continuing advertising campaign is being undertaken to inform everyone how to limit the spread of this disease. This will use all available media and will support a leaflet giving detailed advice which will be distributed to every household in the country (some 22 million) as soon as possible.

I agree with the right reverend Prelate that public information and education are our best hope at present in keeping this disease under control and stopping its spread. The implications of the disease for treatment services, counselling of victims and education and training of professional staff, are among the issues being urgently considered, and I am sure that further announcements will be made shortly.

The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, made a powerful speech on the subject of embryo research. As she will know there has been considerable debate on this important issue since the publication of the Warnock report in 1984. There are strongly and sincerely held views on both sides of the debate, and I shall draw the noble Lady's views to the attention of my noble friend Lady Trumpington.

In the closing moments of the debate there was a broadside, if I might call it such, from the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, on the subject of competition for local authority services. I shall, I suppose, eventually discover what terrors there are for local authorities in these particular services. All the proposed legislation does is to get value for money for the ratepayers by imposing fair competition between local authorities' own workforces and the private sector.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, has totally misunderstood the situation. Authorities will retain the responsibility for deciding what level of service to provide. If an authority can show that its own staff can provide the best and cheapest service, then of course they will continue to do so and have no cause for concern at all. But if the private sector can offer a better deal for the council's ratepayers and consumers of the service, then obviously that is the option that the council should choose. We know from experience that it works. To answer the noble Lord, Lord Harris, it is not privatisation by the back door, nor is it compelling local authorities to do anything but give value for money to their ratepayers.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, who makes the final judgment in these matters? Is it the district auditor, or who? What is the policing authority? Is the noble Lord implying that it is entirely a matter for the local authority to decide itself, or is there some pressure brought upon the authority in this matter?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I shall have to debate this matter with the noble Lord when we get the Bill in your Lordships' House; but there are many methods of deciding how and wish what relevance local authorities perform. There is the Government, the district auditor; and in certain circumstances, as the noble Lord will know, there are the courts.

Where authorities have done this voluntarily major savings have been made either by contracting out or by securing more efficient working methods where the in-house team wins the contract. Savings of 20 or 30 per cent. in contracted-out services, with the quality maintained or even improved, are commonplace.

The local authority's role is to administer the services that Parliament has decided that they should administer. It is not illegal in this country to trade with South Africa, nor for United Kingdom companies to own subsidiaries in South Africa. Nor is there any law requiring employers to recruit a set proportion of ethnic minority employees, for example. An increasing number of authorities are indulging in political posturing; for example, by banning contractors who have worked at nuclear missile sites or who have transported workers across picket lines. Others are doing all they can to make it harder for contractors to compete with direct labour organisations. They say what contractors must pay their staff, and they lay down other conditions of employment. They are not, my Lords, the courts.

These kinds of practices have nothing to do with a contractor's ability to carry out work or supply goods, or with an authority's duty to its ratepayers to obtain value for money. They are merely an attempt by authorities to impose their own social policies on firms who wish to do business with them. The Bill will therefore include measures to stop authorities abusing the contractual process.

I observe that I have already spoken for very much longer than I should have, and I shall therefore write to those noble Lords whose points I have missed. I would say one further thing especially to my noble friend Lord Beloff. There is no doubt in my mind that the gracious Speech presages a very full programme indeed in the coming months, although hopefully your Lordships will not suffer quite as much legislative indigestion as we have seen in this and previous years. Be that as it may, this debate shows us that our consideration of the Bills my noble friend and I have unveiled to the House today will be neither short nor sweet. To be forewarned, though, is to be forearmed, and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part, in whichever part of the House they sit. I look forward to many interesting debates on these and other subjects, lasting well into the summer.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, is he aware that each time he referred to a noble Baroness I hoped that he would reach me? I made a short speech in which I asked him two questions. They were very definite. I gave him previous notice. Will he please give me an answer?

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, my Lords, most certainly. The noble Baroness, Lady Burton, is a formidable force on the subject of consumer affairs. I do not think it would be right in a debate such as this to debate with her the difference between this and consumer protection. However, I can tell her that we intend to make regulations under Part III of the Consumer Protection Bill to require landlords who resell gas and electricity to give itemised bills to their tenants stating the number of units consumed and the statutory maximum price. These regulations will be made as soon as possible after the Bill receives Royal Assent. I expect to have the continued support of the noble Baroness on this matter.

So far as her point on the EC goes, at the Council of Consumer Ministers in Luxembourg on 29th October the council passed a resolution as a result of a UK proposal which includes a reference to the need for effective consumer representation. The resolution pointed to the need to ensure that appropriate conditions exist for the effective and duly representative consultation of consumers on matters affecting their interests so that consumers' priorities are adequately reflected in the work of the Community. The Council has not sought to dictate to the Commission about precisely how improvements should be made but it hopes to see a credible package of improvements emerging. The Commission is due to report back to the Council in a year's time. I hope the noble Baroness will find this to be some progress.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, why did the Minister not give me that information when it was there? Why has he had to have it dragged out of him-because if I had not asked him a question we should not have had the answer?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.

Moved, That this debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.—(Baroness Hooper.)

On Question, Motion agreed to and debate adjourned accordingly.