§ 3.5 p.m.
§ Lord Molloy rose to call attention to the case for creating a sense of unity and purpose among all United Kingdom citizens; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I say immediately that I am a devout supporter of the principle of clash and clang in a free society of political debate, whether it be in Parliament or outside, because the clash and clang of political debate, political argument, is the life-blood of a free democratic society. There have been times in our past when this has been in danger, and I am of the opinion that while it is not in danger at this present moment the time will come when we shall have to devote our attention to certain issues that are taking place in this country of ours which are divisive, are giving grave concern and are taking the purpose out of the lives of millions of our fellow Britons.
§ Before the war, I was one of those who trudged daily to the queues for the dole. Sometimes it took us two-and-a-half to three hours in South Wales simply to sign our names to get a paltry few shillings in order to keep body and soul together. And yet, although there were our marchers and our demonstrations, there was no ugly violence. All that happened when the Welsh miners and steelworkers marched from South Wales was that Cwm Rhondda rolled down through Slough and right the way to this famous building. There was not one incident of violence that was recorded. Things are different today and we have to take full notice of that fact.
§ When there was an act of unity, it was because of the threat to our country. At that moment of threat to our nation in 1939–40, there was a remarkable unity which is unparalleled in world history. In a dreadful moment of stress and threat, this nation garnered itself together and was victorious not only for Great Britain but for millions of others in Europe and in other parts of the world.
§ Then came the famous 10 years of post-war history from 1945 to 1955. During that time ordinary people were really put on the agenda. We did not wait for any war to get rid of unemployment. We got useful measures under way, such as building hospitals, schools and technical colleges. That is how we got rid of the unemployment, and what a wonderful thing that was. That continued in a most remarkable manner for 10 years.
§ In that time this nation of ours created something that had never happened before in mankind's history. We created out of a mighty empire the famous British Commonwealth of Nations, and those who at one time had been subjected to a lack of freedom under British rule nevertheless had confidence in the new Britain to ask and want that our monarch should be their monarch as well. That is something of which we can be proud, because they recognised that in this country, irrespective of government, there was a massive sense of unity and purpose. I am very anxious that perhaps that sense of unity and purpose is diminishing.1034
§ It is diminishing because of a lack of attention to four particular areas of our national life: housing, health, law and order, and employment and unemployment. People are getting very angry at obvious unfairness and losing confidence in our political way of life. They read in the newspapers of the behaviour of all the oleaginous, shady-takeover City entrepreneurs, who in the language of ordinary people are getting away with murder. Millions of pounds are involved and those people are paid fabulous salaries; yet everyone can understand that what they have done must be illegal. Our people read that one day and they read the next that a woman who forgot to return her library book must go to gaol. The British people say that there must be something wrong in a society that allows that sort of behaviour.
§ We are an affluent nation and yet millions are trapped in unemployment. London and other cities in their inner hearts are experiencing a dramatic increase in crime and violence. Many of those acts of crime and violence are born out of poverty and unemployment. I ask the House to understand that unemployment is not simply concerned with the method of counting people who are out of work. We cannot be thrilled to bits if unemployment is only 3 million in one quarter of the year and 2⅔ million six months later. Unemployment means agony within a family. It means quarrelling within families and bitterness in the streets. It means an angry reaction in our nation. It means the threat and the fear of bills which pile up and which cannot be paid. It means agony of the spirit. That is what unemployment means.
§ Another aspect of the matter is education. Education cannot be an accident of death because then it is all over. But that is the only time that some people think that we get some form of compassionate attention, and try teaching us this. It may be a minority but it is there. What is appalling is that education can be an accident of where a child lives. If a child lives in a poor, overcrowded area of our nation, it will suffer from a dreadful teacher-pupil ratio. I believe that this sort of feeling threatens our national unity. The nation is accused of having double standards.
§ At one time we could see that religion and education were linked together in Scotland and Wales. That may have differed slightly in parts of England. But that linking was vital and I believe that it was a good thing. The centralisation of education is dangerous. We are told that there will be one Minister in charge of the lot. That reminds me of the ambitious Nazi equivalent of the Minister of Education, who stated that at 11 a.m. on every day from Monday to Friday the mass of German children under 11 years of age were on page so and so of the equivalent of the Oxford Reader. That was a centralised system of education. There have to be central contacts. However, I believe the freedom we have seen in our educational system is in danger of being undermined by the principle of centralisation. That is a principle which is alien to the British way of life and it helps to destroy both a sense of unity and a sense of purpose.
§ Our health service is probably one of the finest systems which mankind has ever seen. It became the envy of the world and it still is. Its creation was an act of decency which I believe is unparalleled. However, it 1035 is in some danger when the Royal College of Nursing and the Confederation of Health Service Employees are outraged to discover that every time they ask for something to meet a rise in the cost of living or to improve themselves they are told that they should concern themselves with their patients and not ask for more money—yet the managers of health authorities have had a rise far superior to that of any nurse, health visitor or midwife. Those managers seem to condemn the possibility of any increase, irrespective of what it is, for the ordinary nurse or doctor. Indeed, some of the managers of the health service are being looked upon as the death-watch beetle of the National Health Service.
§ When general practitionrs say that they need better general practice help, they do not want more money in their pockets. They are British doctors who simply want to give a much better service to their patients. What is wrong with that? I should have thought that it is something we should applaud. We have to appreciate that the salaries of nurses provide for only third-class accommodation. The British Medical Association has warned that there is a potential disaster ahead if we do not do something about overworked doctors. Patients are at risk. That is not the view of some loony-Left organisation; it is the view of the British Medical Association. I believe that Parliament should take note of what the BMA has said, just as it should take note of junior doctors who complain, as they have for many years, of the appallingly long hours they work.
§ The Health Education Council has given a warning, as we have all been reading, about the health divide. There is a health gap between the rich and the poor and it has widened. I should like to ask the noble Lord who will reply in this debate the following question. Did the new chairman of the Health Education Authority ban the press conference which was intended to explain what was happening? If that is so, that is very serious. That the equivalent of a civil servant can stop a press conference on this island of ours seems absolutely appalling to me and I hope we shall have a reply. The surgeons, doctors, nurses, therapists and health visitors all put their claims. What they are asking for is not connected with salaries and wages. They want to serve with unity and purpose the patients for whom they are responsible.
§ I wish to touch upon one other matter. All political parties suffer from time to time from banal and inane utterances made by those within the party. One such utterance which was made a few weeks ago caused great annoyance and hurt many people. It was stated by a Member in another place that you cannot be a Christian unless you are a Conservative. That annoyed members of the Conservative Party; it annoyed members of all the other parties; it also annoyed all the various religious denominations of this country. It did no good whatsoever. It was an argument, a split and a row which need not have happened. It was in no way political; it was simply vulgar and crude.
§ I believe that Britain could be drifting into a new and dangerous society. Inequality of income has risen dramatically since 1978 and so has poverty. I believe that such things are unhealthy for our country because they help to destroy a sense of unity. There are people who are at the bottom of the poverty scale who do not 1036 have much time for the nation in which they live. It hurts me desperately to have to say that. However, it has to be said. Love of liberty is the love of others; love of power is the love of ourselves. I am desperately anxious that we shall not witness the dangers of Gresham's Law, where the greedy evil can drive out the caring good.
§ I appreciate that my time is limited and I do not wish to exceed it by even one minute. However, if we in the United Kingdom can restore a sense of unity and purpose among our citizens, I believe that that will be exceptionally good for our United Kingdom, will be good for the British Commonwealth and will set a good example in this sad world.
§ In conclusion, perhaps I may say how grateful I am to your Lordships. You may not necessarily agree with what I have had to say but I thank you very much for your courtesy in listening to me. I sit down grateful for the civilised courtesy that the House has extended me. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ The Earl of Arran
My Lords, the tone and tenor of this debate introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, are such that he would have us believe that we are a nation wracked by social and economic disparities, a nation divided by class and by money, the poverty of the North for ever at odds with the affluence of the South, a nation stricken down by the ugliness of unemployment, envy warring with greed, a nation heading for ruin and ultimate disintegration. These really are rather emotive, provocative and in my opinion highly exaggerated sentiments. I would ask your Lordships to consider for a few minutes whether there is any validity whatsoever in the noble Lord's comments.
While much of the media in this country may make similar accusations, I think the House will agree that the media does not necessarily express the views of its audience. Instead, it imposes upon its audience its own views. The best barometers, the best interpreters of the political mood of the country, are the national opinion polls in which voting trends are recorded and published. It is important to realise and appreciate the fact that for the past eight years, ever since the Conservatives came to power in 1979, that party has been in the lead in all the opinion polls significantly more frequently than any other party. Moreover, for three consecutive years following the Falklands campaign it was never out of the lead. Not only is that very remarkable but at the same time it neither advances nor enhances the argument of the noble instigator of this debate. Indeed, in my opinion, it goes some way towards destroying it.
Top of the political pops for far more often than not over a period of eight years is no mean achievement, and it is even more remarkable when considering what the state of the nation was eight years ago, the background at that time, and what unpleasant medicine it has had to be given since then in order to start that long cure of all its ills. Do you remember, my Lords, eight years ago when inflation was more than 20 per cent? Do you remember the number of working days lost due to those ceaseless strikes? Do you remember the power of the unions, the restrictive practices?
1037 Do you rember the economic ills and the crises of the nation? Do you remember the low esteem and the sinking regard in which Great Britain was held at that time throughout the world? Do you remember when the boil burst and all hell was let loose during that famed winter of discontent? Is that the sort of unity on which the noble Lord now rests his case? Surely not, for under that previous Labour Administration downright division abounded and fiendish forces were at work. Something had to be done. It was done and is still not finished.
Such was the state of the country at that time that the remedies necessary to be imposed were bitter and, in many quarters, unpopular. Attitudes had to be changed, old habits had to die, overmanning had to be checked, management had to be able to manage, wages had to he linked to productivity, taxation had to be lowered and new industries had to rise. Above all else, we had to be able to pay our way in the world, our goods had to be competitive and we had to become an economically sound trading nation. We had to do all this at the same time as advances in technology were greater and faster than at any other time in our history. How many jobs have been lost as a result of the silicon chip and the computer? I have named but a few areas in which change had to be brought about. They are, nevertheless, some of the most important areas, for achieving the right results here would mean that the benefits thereof would eventually work their way through to the citizens of this country.
Through the leadership of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister—who at that time we remember well saying "There is no alternative"—and through her firm guidance, we have come a very long way on our journey of restoring this country's wealth and credibility. It has been a hard, long and controversial journey but it would either be a fool or a person smitten with political envy who did not admit that very considerable progress had been made, again reflected in the current state of the opinion polls, and increasingly so.
When leadership is strong an inevitable fall-out of those who are unable to keep up will occur. Those who are able to adjust less quickly will lag behind. It is those to whom we must give support and encouragement and help them to help themselves for it must always be the duty of any party in power to protect the weak. But in spite of those who protest at this strong leadership of the Conservative Party, I do not detect any undue or abnormal lack of unity or purpose among the many and varied people around the country whom I frequently meet. I can speak only for those. Many may not have liked the medicine but they now understand and appreciate why it was necessary. At the very worst they see no other political leader with any credible alternative.
Since the last war they have never seen any party leader who has had more courage or guts to take painful decisions in the interests of the long-term benefit of this country. Instead, they have grown accustomed to short-term gains at the expense of our long-term interests. As examples of outstanding acts of shoulder to shoulder solidarity among our citizens, first, in times of war, I point to our country's victory in the Falklands campaign as a victory against arrant 1038 territorial aggression; secondly, in times of internal strife, I point to that victory against the forces of evil as depicted in that tragic yet horrendous miners' strike. Courage to resist and conquer such wrongful acts quickly serve to combine and unite nations, particularly the people of this nation. Thirdly, in times of peace, I point to the recent visit to Moscow of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, a visit which I consider sets her aside from all other world leaders as now the most effective, courageous and respected leader on the world stage. What pride she has restored to this country, through this visit and many other besides! Contrast her visit with another recently made to the United States of America. With regard to our work force, I point to the state of comparative peace now prevailing and to the new-found pride of those who work in industries recently privatised, industries in which more than 80 per cent. of the labour force now own shares.
There is an institution in our kingdom which at all times, being above party politics, serves to unite this nation above all else. I refer of course to the Monarchy, to Her Majesty the Queen and other members of the Royal Family. Whatever part of this kingdom they visit, whatever foreign countries they travel to, they never cease to be the cause of fervent and infectious admiration, together with enormous respect. They toil unendingly to bring about peace, friendship and understanding. Her Majesty, as head of state, and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, as leader of the Conservative Party, serve to unite this country in such a way as to bring about a United Kingdom, strong in its resolve and purpose and respected for reason, freedom and good sense. My Lords, for long may this continue.
§ 3.29 p.m.
§ Lord Mayhew
My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, for putting this subject on our agenda, and no one is more grateful than my noble friends and I for this unexpected and welcome opportunity of reaffirming the message of the Liberal and Social Democratic Alliance, a message which is increasingly understood and accepted by the electors; namely, that the two major obstacles to unity in this country are the two class-based political parties.
The noble Lord, Lord Molloy, made a number of excellent points with which I am sure my noble friends and I would agree, but whether his speech was an appeal for unity, whether he was trying to build bridges with noble Lords opposite, was not apparent to me. Certainly judging from their faces if he was trying to build bridges he was failing.
The noble Earl, Lord Arran, made an eloquent speech with a number of good points, but one cannot pretend that that was a contribution to the unity of the nation. Let me say frankly to him that it does not help the unity of the nation to associate the monarchy too closely with one particular political party.
The noble Lord, Lord Molloy, spoke as though his party was the solution to the problem. But of course it is the problem; it is not the solution to the problem. The Labour Party has never denied that it is class-based. It acknowledges openly and officially that it is the political wing, just as the trade unions are the industrial wing, of the working-class movement. The 1039 party is financed by trade unions, and it allows them to dominate the decisions of its conferences by their block votes. In government and opposition it favours more power to the trade unions, an increased public sector, penalties on private education and health and tax changes to help the poor rather than the rich. As surveys have shown, it draws its votes disproportionately from the C2 and D social classes. It stereotypes its opponents—indeed, the noble Lord did so himself this afternoon—in class terms, as landlords, bankers, takeover bidders, and so on.
The Conservative Party earnestly denies that it is class-based, but in every respect it is the Labour Party's mirror image. It receives its money not from the unions but from the other side of industry. It calls for less power for the trade unions, for a smaller public sector, for help for private education and private health, and for tax changes which favour the rich rather than the poor. That party also stereotypes its opponents in class terms as work dodgers, welfare scroungers, Marxists, and so on.
This country has been divided and hamstrung for decades by the sterile confrontation between these two class-based parties. There was an example of that in another place last Monday during a debate on the same subject. Both Labour and Conservative speakers declared that their party had a single aim: one nation; yet speakers of both parties proved, with a wealth of documentation, with a mass of statistics that the opposite party was a menace to the unity of the nation. The speeches were emotional, ill-natured and often included personal attacks. As a contribution to national unity and a sense of common purpose they were wholly counter productive.
One can see how in some parts of the world, in South Africa, Northern Ireland or the Lebanon, political parties which are based on race or religion increase racial or religious prejudice and conflict. If one looks at British political history one sees how political parties based on class increase class prejudice and class conflict. There is no doubt that that is true, and in other countries that is accepted as a characteristic of British politics.
There is no evidence whatsoever that class-based parties are what the British people want. On the contrary, there is much evidence that they want the position changed. However, until now, that has been all that there has been on offer. Until now, it had seemed impossible that a third political force could emerge, drawing its voting strength from all classes in equal proportions, tied to no class-based source of money, neither for nor against the unions. It seemed impossible that such a force could become strong enough to be a credible challenger for power. In particular, it seemed impossible that such a third force could overcome the defensive barrier maintained against it by the class parties; namely, the preposterously undemocratic first-past-the-post electoral system.
Like the class parties themselves, that system might have been specially designed to divide the nation. It gives huge advantages to political parties whose support is polarised either in the North or in the South, or among the rich or among the poor, and penalises parties whose support is spread broadly over the 1040 regions and over the different classes. It is not surprising that those who believe in confrontation support the first-past-the-post electoral system.
Now all that is changing. A fresh wind is blowing. The British people no longer regard the confrontation of two class-based parties as immutable. Public opinion polls and by-elections increasingly show that the British people are supporting the new political force, the source of which is not based on class or on class-based sources of finance, but is capable of judging national issues on their merits and not from the point of view of special interest.
I know what will be said in objection. For instance, if I may anticipate the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, in one of the last speeches which I think he will make from that side of the gangway, I expect that he will say, using the propaganda of both parties, "These third-party surges are only a flash in the pan; we have had them before and they disappear". But if one takes the long view that cannot be maintained.
In 1955 at the election the Liberal Party polled 700,000 votes. In 1964 it polled 3 million. In the two elections in 1974 the Alliance polled 5 million and 6 million, and in 1983 it polled 8 million. Moreover in 1983 the Alliance went into the election with the public opinion polls showing them having around 22 per cent. instead of 30 per cent., as is the case now. That is the true picture of the new kind of politics coming to this country, of the British people getting rid of the old class confrontation between Labour and Conservative. So the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, need not despair. The Alliance warmly supports the aims of his Motion and will soon be in a position to start carrying them out.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Lord Denning
My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, for raising this important matter, though in my innocence I had not thought it would deteriorate into political debate.
There is a case for preserving and creating a spirit of unity and purpose among our people. It is the responsibility of all leaders of all political parties and of the media to do all that they can to create that spirit of unity and purpose. One should remember how we had to combine together in times of war. I remember during the First World War the finger of Lord Kitchener pointing to us: "Your King and country needs you"; and of course we all went. In the Second World War Winston Churchill created unity of the people. He said:Victory at all costs; victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival.That is how unity and purpose is created—by speeches and with leaders such as Winston Churchill.
We then had, as has already been referred to, the spirit of unity in regard to the Falklands. I go back to my Shakespeare:This England never did, nor never shall,Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror,But when it first did help to wound herself.Now these her princes are come home againCome the three corners of the world in armsAnd we shall shock them! Nought shall make us rueIf England to itself do rest but true!1041 That is in wartime, or under the threat of war. Now, in peacetime I expect,Nought shall make us rueIf England to itself do rest but true.We have wars on our hands in peacetime which must be tackled just as those in the past. Crime, violent crime, is increasing everywhere. Corruption, corroding corruption, is increasing everywhere. Noisesome pollution is increasing everywhere. Sin, disgraceful sin, is disgracing everywhere. There is the war. The call of all leaders, of all parties, should again be a sense of unity in combating crime—and I believe it is so—in preserving law and order and in defeating this menace to our society.
However, some branches of the media, and others, do us a disservice when they do not support the police. They accuse the police of brutality. They put pictures on the media against the police when it is the duty of every rightminded citizen to support the police in their most dangerous and difficult endeavours. Not only that, but the courts of law are being degraded with accusations made against them. All that is against the spirit of unity in the people. The war of law and order must be common to all political parties, and I believe it is.
There is in our people now, I fear, a moral and spiritual decay. How is that to be tackled? Sin is no longer condemned. Spiritual values are lost. Here again, the responsibility of our leaders is to education and religion. We must bring home to people the proper values which have made our country what it is.
We hear how, in some places and in some councils, the educationists are teaching people sin, and disgraceful sin. This applies in other fields as well, including the spiritual. Those are the dangers which must be tackled. They must be tackled by all the leaders of the country and by the media to give to us all a sense of proper values. Above all, we must maintain law and order, on which the whole of civilisation depends. We must ensure the maintenance of true religion, virtue and proper standards throughout all our people.
I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, has enabled us to consider this question. I put the issue above all political parties and call on the nation to uphold the standards of the past.
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ Baroness Phillips
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for introducing this debate and I offer to him my most humble apologies for not being here at the beginning of his speech, due to British Rail which did not get me here from Wales in time. I confess that listening to the speakers who followed my noble friend—the noble Earl and the noble Lord on the Alliance Benches—it seemed to me that they were doing anything but promoting unity. Surely you do not stir up the other side if you intend to promote unity; but perhaps I have misunderstood the nature of this debate.
I believe that too often we divide people unnaturally. It has become the habit now to refer to the old, but no one has defined when one is old. We refer to the middle-aged, the adolescents and the young mature adults. We refer to the working class, 1042 the middle class and the upper class. The only way to have unity is to recognise that people are people. The only difference is that there are males and females; and they are not all that different except for one very important biological difference.
The ultimate nonsense is in an advertisement which I now quote. It states that the advertiser is an equal opportunities employer—which it must be by law—and that it welcomes applications,irrespective of race, gender, age, sexual orientation or disability"—though the advertisers go on to state they do not have wheelchair access at present. To me, that advertisement is a total nonsense. If one is advertising for an individual one wants the best person to do the job. It is not necessary to include all the above. It is indicative of the kind of divisions which are artificial.
I look at the so-called advance movements from which we are all suffering, including the animal lobby which loves animals but obviously hates human beings and sprays all kinds of liquids which are damaging to people. There are the people who set up ethnic groups and stir up unreal divisions which never existed until they brought them up. Those people do a great disservice to humanity. I look at the matter simply, and I always have. All human beings want the same—security, achievement and love. Sadly, many people in every country do not get all three. Human beings such as ourselves are very fortunate.
I follow the noble and learned Lord in saying of security that we must abolish crime. I find as a Londoner that it is horrifying to have to admit that I will not go on the London Underground after six o'clock at night because of the horrible crimes one might encounter. I find it terrible that when my grandchildren go out for a cycle ride I have to ask them to telephone me when they arrive home because we do not know what might happen to them. That is not freedom. It is an encroachment on the liberty of ordinary citizens, of whom, thankfully, 99 per cent. are still good, honest and loving people. It is the 1 per cent. who are making life totally untenable.
We are always being told that crime is linked with certain aspects such as poverty and unemployment. Certainly there is a link, but it is not the link that some people would have us believe. I grew up in the 1930s when times were very hard. However, there was not the same high degree of crime because people were not so greedy. Somehow society is now stimulating human greed.
There is the terrible tragedy of the ship which capsized and which we are reading about today. What did that result from? It was greed. It resulted from taking on board too many people and making too many trips without observing all the proper precautions. That is the kind of situation which we must look at first.
When we talk of insecurity we have to consider health. However, we want positive health. Our hospitals are not part of a health service, but part of an ill-health service. They are temples of ill-health. Whatever happened to the wonderful centres we were going to have to promote positive health? That is what we want. People must be kept healthy and not have to be picked up because they are unhealthy. We want security for old people, the handicapped or anyone 1043 who somehow falls through the net. Whatever government are in power must see to all those things before they can say that they have unity of purpose.
Let us now consider achievement. Everyone needs a place in the world. Everybody wants to achieve and to be first at least once. One need only look at those degrading television shows where people go into ecstacies of emotion because they have won a coffee pot. It shows that for once they have achieved something—they are in front of the cameras. These wretched cameras are going to dominate our lives. That does not apply, of course, to the cameras here. It is an indication that every human being wants achievement. They have to have it. They have to have it through their paid work and through the other things they do for the community. They have to have it through being educated to be civilised individuals.
Everyone has talents—I tell you that, my Lords—but they are not always found. Every child needs education, not merely to be a forcing house for A-levels and 0-levels but to be exposed to all the beauties of life, to art, to the joys of painting, to the things that they can do—singing, speaking, writing poetry. All those things are part of life for every human being. They are all achievements. There is sport—not sport just for money, for heaven's sake, but sport in terms of the old Roman idea where sport was something that everybody took part in, and the leaders in the community often were the great sportsmen. Everyone has at least one talent, and that has to be discovered.
I make a plea for not such large conglomerations of industry. Small is beautiful. We demoralise and minimise people when they have to live in great housing units, work in great units, school in great units. Therefore I plead that industry will not become something that is there just solely, as the accountants would say, to give a good balance sheet.
Then we come to love. That word is used now in all the wrong connections, in my view. It still means that every human being demands it. The family—I go along entirely with my noble and learned friend Lord Denning—must be the basic unit. There are too many broken homes, too many split marriages. Some people do not even work at it. When I was very young, as a Catholic one was taught that one gave service to community because one was fortunate enough to be healthy and happy, and one had to give. We have to restore those kinds of things if we are to get unity.
A truly great society would abolish completely disease, ignorance, squalor, idleness and poverty. I am not laying the blame on any government. It is the people who have to provide unity of purpose.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, in anticipation of the debate I turned back to an interview that was given by the most reverend Primate Archbishop of Canterbury in The Times a year ago in which he said:People will wake up to the fact that this is no longer a decent society. They will not accept that greed and self-interest are the driving dynamic of the good society, and that is why I think that people will say, we can't allow this state of affairs to continue".He went on to say this: 1044I believe there is an opportunity at the present time in a highly polarised society to explore much more the middle ground".It was precisely that direction which took me from the Labour Benches to the Benches of the Alliance, because I believe that both the traditional parties, as my noble friend Lord Mayhew said, are prisoners of their history and their traditions.
The Labour Party is traditionally a class war party, supported and financed by the trade unions, and compelled accordingly to represent their interests to the exclusion of other interests in society. The Conservative Party in its turn represents private enterprise and big business, and if I may say so, in the current culture of economic affairs in this country has elevated greed and self-interest to a virtue. The great prophet of the present age is Mr. Ivan Boesky, who boasts in a book which he wrote of his activities as a great and successful financier that greed is a virtue. I believe that that kind of culture is becoming inculcated into some city affairs in the United Kingdom. It is becoming increasingly accepted in many people's minds that to make money is the major objective in life. Where that occurs, it is a sick society.
I want to analyse briefly just what are the reasons for the lack of unity. I think that one will get unity in any society where people believe that it is a fair society. But today's society is patently unfair. Let me quote one statistic. Between 1976 and 1984 the poorest, the bottom 5 per cent. of households, have seen their share of disposable income decline from 7 per cent. to 6.7 per cent., but the richest one-fifth in our society have improved their share from 38.1 per cent. to 39.7 per cent. In 1985 the numbers living near or below the poverty line, assessed by supplementary benefit, increased from 11 million in 1985 to 16.6 million. In a society in which it is said by government that we are making more money and becoming more prosperous, the poor are becoming poorer.
One can complain about a divided society, but so long as these conditions exist there will be a divided society. There will be resentment on the part of people who see the city slickers earning £300,000 per annum and doing insider dealing at the same time when so many millions of our people are living at the poverty level. That is what is destroying the unity of our nation. For people to feel a sense of unity of purpose they must believe in the democratic society; they must believe that the Government are fair. My noble friend Lord Mayhew has said a word about this.
In the last election the Conservatives got 42 per cent. of the vote—they did not even have a majority in this country—and collected 61 per cent. of the seats in the House of Commons. Labour, with 27 per cent., collected 32 per cent. of the seats in the House of Commons. The Alliance, with 25.3 per cent., got 3.5 per cent. of the seats in the House. That cannot be fair, and neither can it be democratic or contribute to a sense of unity in society.
Liverpool, Brent and Haringey would have escaped some of the problems of confrontation and divisive politics if there had been proportional representation on the local councils. The Alliance collected 20 per cent. of the votes for the European elections and got no seats to represent 20 per cent. of the electors. These are the things that create a sense of unfairness.
1045 I notice that the noble Earl, Lord Arran, was much concerned about opinion polls. Let me tell him a little about the situation in Scotland, since the division of our nation is more clearly marked between the prosperous South-East and the neglected North and Scotland. If one takes any of these standards of measurement, unemployment in the South is 8.1 per cent. and in the North 16.6 per cent. Taking weekly expenditure per household, the national average is £156; in the North it is £131 and in the South-East £186. There will never be unity of purpose so long as that great division in our society exists.
I draw the attention of the noble Earl, Lord Arran, who is concerned with the polls, to a very interesting fact in today's Glasgow Herald; the opinion polls record that the Conservative Party has now 18 per cent. of the total votes of the people of Scotland. There is the fact that the Government have cut back on regional aid from 1982 at £900 million to 1985–86 at £300 million, and this during a period when the division is becoming ever greater. The Government have cut back the measures which would enable us to have a fairer distribution of industry.
However much we may desire unity in this nation, these facts indicate that one cannot have unity of purpose where people feel neglected and overlooked. The noble Earl should go up to Scotland and see what is happening there. The people there feel that they are neglected. During the past few days we have debated at great length in this House the abolition of rates in Scotland and the imposition of a poll tax. What does that mean? It means that people who are living in a £100,000 house in the South-East of England will pay the same poll tax as the man who lives in one room with a kitchen in Glasgow. That is the intention of government policy. Such obvious lack of fairness causes the disunity in our society.
I have only two minutes left to end my speech, but let me say that so far as the Alliance is concerned we on these Benches are committed to the creation of a society that is not divided. We shall provide a fairer system of democracy and democratic government. We shall offer a greater degree of decentralisation. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, that one of the worst features of our society at the moment is the increasing centralisation of power, which makes people feel less involved and of little importance. That is damaging to the democratic system. The Alliance believes in decentralisation, a wider distribution of shares, employee participation, profit sharing and a tax benefit system which will shift the burden of taxation on to people who are more able to pay in order to assist people who are less fortunate. The Alliance believes in a fair society, and it is because of that belief and that conviction that the opinion polls are recording our success.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, we have listened to a number of eloquent speeches, including the last one. Although, naturally, I agree more easily with my colleagues, the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, I endorse much of what has been said today (and no doubt was also said 1046 yesterday) by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, when he spoke about the maldistribution of wealth; and I am sure all of us on these Benches would do likewise.
However, when he and my dear old friend the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, talk about the Labour Party being a class party, one wonders when they discovered that idea. The Labour Party is no different today from when they joined it about 50 years ago. It is the same party that they represented so efficiently. I remember when the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, was the darling of the late Ernest Bevin, who had the highest opinion of him—and rightly so. Earlier than that, he was my pupil. I shall not use the same expression of him but he was, anyway, the most promising pupil in the University of Oxford. He was, and still is, clean-limbed. I think he played rugger for the university occasionally. He jumped prodigious distances in both the long jump and the high jump and was a wonderful speaker at the union. I forecast—and I put it on paper—that one day he would be Prime Minister. He forecast a victory for the Alliance. That party may have all kinds of revolutionary ideas, so I suppose that the prospect is still open.
I should like to ask him and the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, when they came to the shattering discovery that in some sense or other the Labour Party was based on the working class. Although in these debates noble Lords do not like giving way, I am perfectly happy to do so if either of them can provide the answer to that question.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Earl how important is converting. Worse than people who see the truth are people who hang on to old ideas in which they have ceased to believe.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, the noble Lords in question hung on for a good many years but now they have joined what they believe to be the winning side. That is what we understood from their remarks.
§ The Earl of Longford
I am asked to come off it, my Lords, but if the noble Lord wants to interrupt perhaps he would rise in his place. I say that they have now joined what they tell us is the winning side and they have repudiated the side that they have represented with such zeal for so many years. But that is by the way and it was said just to enliven the debate a little.
Within reason I gladly support any Motion that is brought forward by the noble Lord, Lord Molloy. But on this occasion I might not have ventured to take part in so wide-ranging a debate if I had not recently been reading a remarkably interesting book, which I can recommend. It is in what I think is called a softback. It is written by the Reverend David Holloway, the vicar of an Anglican parish in the North-East, who is a very active member of the Church of England Synod. His general thesis is that England is still actually or potentially a Christian country and that all of us, clergymen and laymen alike, should be doing far more than we are at present to make that a reality. In the few minutes that I have to speak, I shall be speaking from that point of view.
1047 The question of whether or not England is a Christian country can be argued interminably. David Holloway points out that statistics from the best poll available suggest that 85 per cent. of those approached were ready to describe themselves as Christians. However, he admits that the figures for church-going make sad reading.
I myself was a member of the Church of England for 34 years—roughly for the same period during which I was a member of the Conservative Party, but that was coincidental—and as an adult I very seldom attended church. I have been a Roman Catholic for 47 years and have gone to church every Sunday ever since I became a Roman Catholic unless I had a plausible excuse for not going. I would make a bet that the great majority of your Lordships, whether present today or on other occasions, would describe yourselves as Christians. Another bet that I would make is that only a relatively small proportion of the Members of this House went to church last Sunday. If any noble Lord wants to take up that bet he may do so, but I think that that is likely to be the case.
No doubt the proportion of churchgoers in the House of Lords is larger than the national average but only a minority will go regularly to church. One should not equate the idea of whether or not one is a believing Christian with the idea of whether or not one goes to church. One could ask people whether they say their prayers, but perhaps that is carrying the matter into too intimate a sphere.
So we have to accept David Holloway's thesis—and I am accepting it—that England actually or potentially is a Christian country. If that is so, is it possible to unite its people on a Christian basis and to appeal in the name of Christianity? It should be done not only by clerics but by distinguished laymen—someone like the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, who I see is present. He is someone who preaches a Christian message in this House and achieves a good deal of response—probably more in this House than in most other places; so I should not like to say that Christianity is silent in this Chamber.
However, there is the problem that quite a number of very good people are Christians in practice but not in belief. There is no politician in this century whom I admire quite so much as Lord Attlee. But when Lord Attlee, whose conduct was impeccable, was asked toward the end of his life if he was a Christian, he replied, "Accept the Christian ethic; can't stand the mumbo-jumbo". He put that view, in his rather succinct manner. In some way that expresses the attitude of a good many people.
Today I am not pleading for a return to Christian belief. I hope that that will happen, but it is perhaps too hard to expect it all of a sudden to take place. I plead only for a reassertion of Christian values. In case any Jewish friends feel that that approach is narrow I should say that Holloway lays great emphasis on the Judeo-Christian tradition. He finishes his book with three quotations from the Old Testament. We can see that there is plenty of room for all within that Judeo-Christian tradition.
That is one way of unifying the nation. I do not think there is any other in peacetime. We are aware that a nation threatened by extinction will draw 1048 together in wartime in a way that we cannot expect in peacetime. In another context, Sir Winston Churchill said:Integral communities, like human beings, are dominated by the instinct of self-preservation".Patriotism, which is almost dormant in this country, is brought to the fore when we are faced with a threat such as that presented by Hitler. We cannot expect anything like that in peacetime.
We are about to have a general election. No one knows who will win it. The one certain thing is that there will be many differences of opinion and a great many acrimonious exchanges. That is part of democracy. No one would suggest that we wanted to pack that up and enter a stage of permanent coalition, although that is what we are confronted with.
The noble Earl, Lord Arran, in his own way speaks a well as his father but along rather different lines. His father specialised on homosexuals and badgers. The noble Earl is stronger on Mrs. Thatcher's merits. His father was a good speaker and so is he. If I may respectfully say so, the noble Earl is infatuated by the merits of that remarkable woman Mrs. Thatcher. No dispassionate observer could suggest that Thatcherism—we all know what is meant by that; the appeal above all to self-interest spilling over into selfishness—can be united with the Labour Party's traditional ideals. The Alliance must speak for itself through its newer or older members. They must express their own point of view.
No one can imagine that there will be a coming together of minds. Mr. Harold Macmillan, the former Conservative Prime Minister, by implication made plain his views about Mrs. Thatcher more than once in this House. Mr. Butler's views of Mr. Macmillan were made plain on many occasions. Mr. Edward Heath made plain his views on all those people on many occasions. With any of those gentlemen one could imagine a coming together. There was once something called "Butskellism", but those days are past. We cannot now expect anything very harmonious.
We must face the fact that sharp political conflicts will continue in the immediate future. I do not wish to imply that I disagree with everything for which Mrs. Thatcher stands. I agree with her on pornography. On that subject she is excellent. If it comes to that, she is better than some of my dear friends. On the subject of hanging of course she is abominable. One cannot agree with everybody on everything.
I want to say very sincerely that I think that when Mrs. Thatcher lit that candle in a church in Russia she struck a blow for religion which I hope will never be forgotten. I am bound to say that in all honesty. That does not mean that I think she is the right person to be re-elected. Whoever wins the election, we want someone who will unite the nation. I hope that it will be someone who can achieve, however imperfectly, the ideal expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Molloy.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Lord Granville of Eye
My Lords, we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, for his Motion and for his moving and sincere speech. I am sure many of us agree with him when he says that a sense of unity and purpose is vital. I should like to deal with another 1049 aspect of that topic. We are talking about consensus. The problem is how to achieve consensus except in a time of national crisis. There is a practical side. There is no doubt that one of the problems we face at present is the overwhelming power and importance of the media, particularly television, and the effect that it has on a large number of people. If one talks to people in the morning they will tell you what they saw on television the previous night. They will also tell the people who ask them how they will vote.
I want to be frank about this, because unfortunately we have recently witnessed what is called a process of character assassination. That has had a serious effect. It is not new. Mr. Harold Wilson suffered from it when he was Prime Minister. I think that it was Churchill who said that if we want to get rid of a government, we should not attack the whole. We must find the one loose brick and keep at it until we have destroyed the government. There are many people who think that that has been happening in respect of the present Prime Minister.
The media have tremendous power when there is an election coming. People read newspapers and see television every day. I may be exaggerating, but we must recognise that the BBC is the official opposition. It does not matter what we say here. It does not matter what they say in another place. I have listened to people who have studied this issue. There is no doubt that there has been an orchestrated campaign of character assassination. Although Parliament and constituency meetings are important, no one is as important as the programme-makers. They put over arguments which influence the public.
The orchestrated character assassination technique is the idea of some of the up-and-coming publicity boys, but it boomerangs. They think they are getting away with it and then they discover that it begins to boomerang. I think we are in the middle of a boomerang period now.
One other point has been referred to during this interesting debate. It arises from the problem of consensus. There are two parties. We nationalise; we denationalise. What is the effect of that upon the country's trade, industry and employment? We should go to some of the big industrial fairs abroad and hear what overseas buyers say. They ask where we stand. They say it is swings and roundabouts. They ask what they are to expect.
There is a great deal of talk about a hung Parliament. I went through a hung Parliament from 1929 to 1931. The Liberals had 59 seats. Mr. Ramsay MacDonald was Prime Minister when the Labour Party took over with a minority government. What happened? There was a financial crisis. Maggie Bondfield was Minister of Labour. We had 3 million unemployed people. The fund was bankrupt; the pound was running. We had to borrow from Pierre Laval and from America to save the pound. We woke up the next morning, not 12 months ahead in thinking it out and planning it.
I met Sir Herbert Samuel outside 10 Downing Street. He said, "Will you be my PPS?". I said, "Do you mean that there is a Labour Government?". He said, "They resigned 20 minutes ago". I met Sir 1050 Archibald Sinclair in his silk hat and frock coat. He was the Chief Whip of the 59 Liberal MPs. I asked him where he was going and he told me that he was going to Paris. He was Secretary of State for Scotland. That is how national governments are formed—not a year ahead. It ended in crisis unfortunately.
The Ottowa agreements reared their ugly head after the national government had been formed. Sir Herbert Samuel took half of the Liberal Party out of the Government, Sir John Simon took the others into the national government and it became the Liberal National Party. It lasted for 14 years.
I think that we must think back a little. I agree that we must achieve a sense of national unity. I was greatly interested in the noble Lord's speech, but I think that in trying to achieve this we must look back to see what happened in the past.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ Viscount Hanworth
My Lords, the essence of this Motion has been expressed many times in different ways by thinking people of all parties, because our nation is still divided—for example, by class—to a greater degree than many others in the West. Many of us hoped that as the division between the working man and the white-collared person became blurred, and the ownership of cars and other desired consumer products became more common, so would class differences largely disappear. Admittedly, the extreme manifestation of a privileged aristocracy is no more. However, the "them and us" syndrome remains.
Historically the battleground has been in industry. We are trying to improve matters in industry. For its efficiency it is absolutely vital that we should do so. Few people would disagree that a company should be a partnership among shareholders, management and workers. This is easy to say but hard to achieve in useful practical terms.
When I joined industry in 1958 management did not seem to realise that it could no longer wield a big stick over their blue-collared workers. The only alternative would have been what in Army terms is called "leadership"; in other words, inspiring the labour force with a sense of purpose and belonging to the firm. The result of this failure was that at a time when unions could have been persuaded to bring their thinking and procedures into the 20th century they turned in on themselves. They gained excessive power which, with honourable exceptions, was not used either in the nation's good or in their own members' long-term interests. Apart from unnecessary strikes, the crises in the London docks, demarcation in the shipbuilding industry and in British Leyland are just three obvious examples. I need hardly mention the miners.
We are of course to a great extent prisoners of our past. In days gone by the fighting between political parties may even have been amusing and in a less complicated age may have done no great harm. Today these antics are not appreciated by the public who believe that they are governed by Parliament. However, what is much more serious is the reversal of policy; for example, to nationalise, denationalise and renationalise steel. It is now manifest in a Labour defence policy.
1051 This, I submit, is the main reason for the formation of the Social Democratic Party. It is most certainly why I and others joined them. Whatever your Lordships may think of the merits and otherwise of proportional representation, it would certainly mean a greater consensus on important issues and avoid some of the bitterness felt by unrepresented electors. Surely one cannot rightly support local government councils when they push down their electors' throats extreme policies by a majority of one or two votes, regardless of the real wishes of their electors or of any minority interests. This is not democracy in any sensible meaning of the word.
I now turn to motivation, which is called "purpose" in the terms of this Motion. Before the First World War, but to a lesser extent between the two wars, there was a sense of national interest and pride engendered by our colonies and possessions overseas. Religion also gave a strong cohesive bond to many people. I remember every day while at Wellington College passing through an archway which carried the inscription: "The path of duty is the way to glory". Humbug and hypocrisy you may well say, but it had its effect to inspire one.
However, this has all been swept away. Today Britain is a second-rate power, surpassed in industrial muscle by several other nations, and we have lost our national objectives. A country needs objectives. Consequently there have grown up idealist groups—communists, humanists, anti-nuclear protagonists and a host of others—fragmented and pulling in different directions. The common merit is that the adherents usually put their cause before solely personal interests, but there is a danger that in doing so they often become fanatics.
If you look at our adversary politics it is hard to find those who put national interests before party or personal gain. The same applies in other areas, and the City cannot be excepted. But yet in so many of us there is an idealism which, if given a suitable cause, will regard it as more important than personal or party gain. To some extent Mrs. Thatcher has tapped this source, but without flexibility or apparently humanitarianism, and the sense of uniting the nation is lacking.
I still find it hard to understand how some on the Opposition Benches could square their consciences in supporting the miners' strike. I once asked this of a senior member of the Labour Party. The only real point that he made was that Mr. Scargill was democratically elected. So much for the idea of what democracy should mean. In the extreme, adversary politics pursued in a nation less stable than Britain leads to civil war.
I know that your Lordships may want me to suggest what should be done in more detail than the broad areas which I have indirectly mentioned. I am not going to do so for two reasons; first, because even now the priority must be to recognise and define the problem. That is why I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, on putting forward this Motion. Secondly, there are no obvious quick solutions, but I suggest that a start could be made in the Palace of Westminster—in the Conservative and present opposition parties.
1052 I think that my party has the merit of putting forward a different point of view where one is needed but of refraining from just opposing reasonable measures for the sake of doing so. In this context, just consider the Falklands issue. Four separate governments of different complexions concluded that there was only one solution: sovereignty to Argentina and a lease-back, like Hong Kong. Each time they were in opposition they stood out against this solution. In my view that was irresponsible, to say the least, and I think I hardly need say more.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Somers
My Lords, I am in wholehearted ageement with the terms of the Motion which we are discussing, although I am not absolutely certain that I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, said in the way of interpreting it.
Equality is what we need above everything else, but not equality which is a hypothetical status or is laid out on paper and which we do not necessarily live up to. We need the equality of opportunity which we can achieve for ourselves. We are not meant to be identical. The human race was not created like that. We are all individuals and we all have our individual talents, aspirations and ability. It is no use trying to destroy that fact by some magical Act of Parliament.
There is Biblical confirmation of that principle, as noble Lords may know, as St. Paul said that we are all members of one body and let not the arms say, "because I am not the eye I am not of the body". We are all individuals and we all belong to our own country, Great Britain. Let us work together and not in separate factions.
Education has been mentioned and is certainly a factor, though it is not quite as important as some noble Lords believe it to be. Far more important is the influence of the home in one's early life. I regret to say that such influence is not as good today as it should be. I am hoping that with a great deal of influence and campaigning that situation will improve.
The noble Earl, Lord Longford, mentioned religion. I wholeheartedly agree with him that religion is surely a matter which can bind us together more than anything else. However, there is one especially divisive quality today. Fortunately, to a great extent we have got rid of Victorian class distinction, and I am happy to see that happen. But in its place there is something which is even worse; namely, party politics.
Today everybody judges another by whether he supports Labour, Conservative, Liberal or another party. Some noble Lords may think that I am condemning party politics because I sit on these Benches. If so, that is quite the wrong way round. I sit on these Benches because I dislike party politics with my heart and soul. It is the most divisive policy which we could possibly have in the country today. Until we are all ready to work together to improve our country, we shall never achieve equality.
Finally, tolerance of other people's ideas and principles is also an important matter which can bring us together. Intolerance is an extremely divisive factor. We must educate ourselves to this fact. I am sure that noble lords who really wish to see the country flourish will do so.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
My Lords, first I must congratulate my noble friend Lord Molloy on winning the ballot today for short debates and indeed on the moving way in which he opened the debate. The subject which he chose for debate is one which I know has intrigued many noble Lords as to the exact course the debate was likely to take this afternoon. Noble Lords did not know when they came into the Chamber this afternoon what that course would be. We did not know for certain what was to be the main theme of the debate today.
My noble friend has highlighted the great divide between different sections of the community in a number of areas. It is certainly a unique occasion this afternoon in that the Government Chief Whip is about to make his first substantial speech since he became Government Chief Whip in 1979. Of course that is the period for which the present Government have been in power, and it has provided a useful starting point for us to discuss the Motion in the name of my noble friend.
As has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, a Motion in rather similar terms has coincidentally been debated in another place earlier this week. One is bound to ask why a sense of unity and purpose among all United Kingdom citizens needs to be called for. I suggest, as have other noble Lords, that it is the policies of the present Government which have been of such a divisive nature that this call has had to be made.
The noble Earl, Lord Arran, thought my noble friend had been provocative. Indeed, he told your Lordships that the opinion polls had consistently put the Conservative Party (the Government) at the top, ignoring the fact that opinion polls have consistently shown that the Conservative Government hold only a minority of the total votes cast in each opinion poll. The anti-Tory vote has exceeded the Tory vote consistently for many years.
I do not know why, but the noble Earl tried to bring the monarchy into the question of the sense of unity and purpose. He suggested it was the Queen and the Prime Minister who united the country. The problem is that they do not. The measures which the Prime Minister has sought to put through this House have not provided the unifying factor. They have been of a divisive nature, and indeed we have had the unique spectacle of the Government suffering over 100 defeats in your Lordships' House on a number of issues which have divided both sides of the House and on occasions have also divided the noble Lord the Chief Whip's own party.
The noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, lashed out at two class-based parties and at sterile confrontation between the two sides, and said that he saw a new wind of change in the Alliance. However, even he hinted that this might be a temporary phenomenon; and that is what we very much believe.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, spoke about the great unity of purpose which was achieved during the First and Second World Wars. He then went on to say that every rightminded person must support the police completely. I entirely agree with and support the general consensus of that point, but it must not be unblinkered support. Over the years we 1054 have suffered from unblinkered support here and we have now moved to a situation where we can quite sanely and without emotion examine complaints as they arise. That is something which has been of benefit.
Under the present Government we have seen the more prosperous sections of the community becoming more prosperous and the poorer sections becoming poorer. We have seen the quality of medical care improve for the most well off and become worse for the least well off. We have seen the richest 10 per cent. of the community improve their standard of living seven times faster than the 10 per cent. in the poorest section of the community. It is a classic case of private affluence and public squalor.
It is no wonder that we are two nations and no wonder that there is no unity of purpose. The Government's policies have increased the divide between North and South and the divide between rich and poor. If we are to achieve a sense of unity and purpose, which my noble friend Lord Molloy wants, the Government of the day must be seen to be acting for the whole nation and not for one privileged part of the nation.
The British people are much concerned and have a great deal of compassion and common sense. They are concerned about poverty, poor housing and injustice. Those are unifying factors throughout the whole nation and they transcend party differences. My noble friend Lady Phillips thought that unity would come through people providing the unifying factor because they want security and love. I am sure that there must be a great deal to be said for that.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, said that unity would only come about in a society which people believe is a fair society. I noted that he chose to relate his argument to the question of the unfairness of the electoral system and not, curiously enough, to the question of unfairness in salary levels which touches many corners of society. We have heard of telephone number salaries that are reported as being paid in the City to very young members of the community when at the same time those doing socially useful jobs are being denied a living wage.
My noble friend Lord Molloy mentioned that the Health Education Council report which was published last week came to the stark conclusion that the health of upper income families has improved much more readily than that of the families on low incomes. Thus again the health divide is strong.
My noble friend Lord Longford thought that unity would come through Christian values. Indeed, many of the matters about which we have spoken this afternoon are Christian values; for example, compassion and concern for others. Certainly as long as we can share those values we shall achieve unity through them.
My old friend Lord Granville of Eye spoke about consensus in a national crisis. I am sure that that is something about which we are very much aware. Analysis of the past can be useful but it is the future that we must look forward to. We must learn from the past, but if we are to achieve a greater unity of purpose we must look forward to a government who are concerned about the welfare of the whole community 1055 and are concerned to do something about unemployment, to lessen the inequalities in health and to improve the conditions in which we live. I support my noble friend's Motion.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Denham
My Lords, it was with some diffidence that I agreed to reply to a debate which had the potential of ranging so widely over so many areas of policy. But questions of unity and purpose are central to the function of Whips' Offices, so perhaps it is not so very inappropriate for the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and me to find ourselves winding up this afternoon.
It is 15 years since I last wound up a debate for the Government in your Lordships' House, and on that occasion, the Second Reading of a Private Member's Bill, I was furnished with a speech some 10 pages long which in effect said no more than that the Government welcomed the Bill and hoped that the House would give it a Second Reading. I therefore compressed it to just that:My Lords, Her Majesty's Government welcome this Bill and hope that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading".It is a record that I am rather proud of and I am not sure that it does not stand to this day, but as the sentiments of the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, are such that not one single Member of this House could disagree with them, I had hoped to be able to equal, or even beat, it this afternoon. The noble Lord, Lord Molloy, made such a statesmanlike and moderate speech that until the recent speech made so charmingly, if I may say so, by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, I still thought that I could get away with it. However, I am afraid that I cannot let go by default the suggestion that all the compassion in this regard lies with his side of the House and all the divisiveness with my noble friends' and mine. I therefore have no alternative but to demonstrate that neither of these hypotheses is correct.
In parenthesis the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, complained that neither the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, nor that of my noble friend Lord Arran did much to help the unity called for in the Motion in that they each attacked the other's party. I really cannot see how the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, who made the only other blatantly party political speech this afternoon, did better in this respect by attacking both the other parties. However, he did at least spare us the lecture on PR that we received from his allies the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, and the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, and perhaps we should be grateful for that.
There is nothing so divisive as what I would term "hate politics" and "spite politics", where the emphasis is on taking away from those who have rather than on being able to provide for those who need. There are of course divisions of income and wealth. Raising the standards from the bottom is surely a far more effective way of narrowing the gap than by artificially lowering them from the top. In Britain we have too long underrated the role and importance of wealth creation in general. Your Lordships' Select Committee on Overseas Trade drew attention to this fact and Her Majesty's Government 1056 agreed with it. But the Government have consistently placed great emphasis on developing an economic climate in which industry can flourish and they are trying, by creating opportunities for enterprise, to change the nation's attitude.
Her Majesty's Government want to see everyone have a stake in wealth creation. In our privatisation programme we have been determined to encourage the small investor. In 1979 about 17 per cent. of the adult population owned shares. Today it is 19.5 per cent.
Labour's rate of tax for top wage earners was as high as 83 per cent. Her Majesty's Government have reduced this to 60 per cent. and the population at large has benefited. Real take-home pay has risen substantially, right across the board, including the lowest incomes.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, and the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, that the real take-home pay of a married man with two children on half average earnings has risen by almost 18 per cent. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, has been very scathing about Thatcherism. If the record of Her Majesty's Government in this respect is an example of Thatcherism, I am a Thatcherite and I am proud of it.
Punitive taxation of the successful—the "make their pips squeak" philosophy—seldom does anything to reduce the divide between rich and poor. It is nothing more than a ritual killing of the goose that lays the golden egg.
There is also the so-called North-South divide. It is a sad fact of life that there are over 3 million unemployed in Britain today and that the worst concentrations of employment difficulties lie in the regions, the North in particular. But my noble friend Lord Young of Graffham has been constantly keeping your Lordships informed of the steps that Her Majesty's Government are taking in this regard, in particular the Youth Training Scheme and RESTART.
The South-East is undoubtedly better off than other regions but let us not disparage the fact. Let us rather use its wealth-creating capacity to help stimulate growth and jobs in other parts of the country and the Government, I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, are contributing to just this through our regional development grants and regional selective assistance. Unemployment is now falling in all parts of the country and, over the past 12 months, it has fallen fastest in Wales and the North.
The Government are also striving to overcome divisiveness in housing. The landlord has so often been regarded as the villain and the tenant as the victim, even in cases where the latter is richer and better placed than the former, and over-repressive measures to curb the landlord have over the years virtually dried up the supply of houses to let. I am pleased to say that it is now government policy to bring back a much greater degree of choice and variety to the rented sector and it is proposed to give local authorities power to give financial support to private sector bodies wishing to provide rented housing.
Even more strange, in society at large it seems to me, is the attitude over buying and selling of houses, where the seller has come to be looked on as someone who 1057 has to be watched and the buyer as someone who ought to he protected. For a seller to gazoomp—that is, to renege on a deal because someone else has later offered him a thousand or two more—is quite rightly regarded as outrageous. But for a buyer to renege because someone else has offered him a similar house for a thousand or two less almost passes unnoticed, although the result can be equally devastating in both cases. This difference of attitude to buyer and seller becomes even more ridiculous when you consider that today's virtuous buyer has to become tomorrow's wicked seller before he can become the day after's virtuous buyer again. But the record of Her Majesty's Government is notable in this connection in that our right-to-buy policy has resulted in nearly three quarters of a million new home owners, and the figure becomes over a million if sales by agreement are included too.
The rift between town and country is hardly likely to be healed by the party opposite's latest policy document on the countryside, two of the main planks of which involve the throwing open of the farmer's land for the purposes of recreation to everybody while, at the same time, the farmer's own traditional country sports are to be banned. In the late nineteen forties the Scott Henderson committee, set up by the Labour Government to look into field sports, found that these were generally acceptable subject to two or three minor recommendations, which were immediately implemented. In the late seventies a Labour Government Bill to ban competitive hare-coursing was dismissed by a Select Committee of your Lordships' House as a legal nonsense. If any future administration were to introduce such a Bill, without a further independent inquiry having first reversed, or at least substantially differed from the Scott Henderson findings, it would be nothing less than political bullying of the most divisive kind.
But, my Lords, perhaps the most divisive rift of all is the one that has been developing—and the noble Lord, Lord Somers, referred to it—over the past few years between the political parties themselves. I referred earlier to "hate politics" and "spite politics". Political hard-hitting is part of the necessary machinery of politics, but there is all the difference in the world between the encouragement of hatred and mistrust between the parties.
If I may say so, nothing of this sort happens in your Lordships' House, partly, I suppose, because the restrictions imposed on us by statute, by convention and by agreement over the years prevent us from deciding the main issues of party political controversy, but partly also because of the general temperament and traditions of the House. I really do believe that, at least over the whole field of politics, your Lordships' House makes a major contribution towards the objectives called for in the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, today.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, may I briefly say that it was not exactly my intention to provide the Chief Whips of both sides of this Chamber the opportunity to come to the Dispatch Box. As I do not at all believe in any form 1058 of privilege, I shall have to talk to them both privately about that later on.
I wish sincerely to thank everybody who has participated in this debate. I think that we can all at least agree with Goethe's dictum that divide and rule is a capital motto but unite and lead is a better one. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.