§ Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Thursday last by the Baroness Young—namely, That a humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
§ "Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament".
§ 3.4 p.m.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, I re-open the debate this afternoon concentrating on home affairs and the environment. May I first congratulate my noble friends Lady Young and Lord Strathclyde who so ably moved and seconded the Motion following the gracious Speech last week.
I look forward with interest to the contributions of your Lordships from all sides of the House. Indeed, it is a strong and distinguished list today. In the limited time available to me I shall attempt to outline the Government's programme for the coming Session on home and environmental affairs and I apologise if I am unable to cover everything. However, I know that my noble friend Lord Belstead will answer as many as possible of the points raised by your Lordships during the course of our debate.
I will start by mentioning a Bill which is already familiar to me and to many of your Lordships, the Criminal Justice Bill which had its First Reading yesterday and will be published tomorrow. It is, of course, a near relation to the Bill which your Lordships granted a Second Reading on 27th April, 129 but most of which fell at the dissolution. Its main themes are the same: strengthening courts' powers to deal with serious crime; greater emphasis on compensation for the victim and the overhauling of court procedures.
In particular, we shall be pressing ahead with the revision of our out-dated extradition laws. The Bill provides a statutory right to compensation for criminal injuries, and takes other steps to help the victims of crime. It allows child witnesses to give evidence through a live video link and thereby be spared the ordeal of a court appearance. And there are also important proposals on confiscation of offenders' assets, and on the admissibility of documentary evidence and on juries.
Like its predecessor, the Bill will contain a provision allowing the Attorney-General to refer Crown Court sentences for the opinion of the Court of Appeal. In our debate in April when the earlier Bill received a Second Reading several noble Lords, including the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice, and my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway argued that it should be possible for an unduly lenient sentence referred to the Court of Appeal to be increased by the court. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is giving active consideration to that possibility, and I shall make his conclusions known during the Bill's passage through your Lordships' House. My Lords, it will not therefore surprise you that the provision in the Bill when it is published may therefore not be our last word on the subject. Nevertheless we remain clear that there must be some means by which unduly lenient sentences, which can do such damage to public confidence, can be referred to the Court of Appeal.
I have only touched on a few of the provisions in the Bill. It is a large and complex measure, and I am sure that it will benefit from your Lordships' close scrutiny in the debates to come.
Another measure which the Government will bring forward is a Bill to reinforce the system of firm but fair immigration control. This will close a number of loopholes which have developed in the 1971 Immigration Act and improve the effectiveness of the control. The Bill will emphasise that people from abroad who claim to be British citizens with the right of abode here must establish that claim before arriving at our ports.
The Bill will also repeal Section 1(5) of the 1971 Act which preserved the pre-1973 position of Commonwealth citizens who were settled here when the 1971 Act came into force, their wives and children. It will also ensure that men can bring only one wife to live in this country. Although polygamy is not a common immigration problem, the Government believe that its practice is not acceptable to most people in this country. Indeed, the House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs recommended that the law should be amended. The Bill will also strengthen the provisions for enforcing the control by making it a continuing offence to overstay leave to be in this country.
130 The great majority of people in this country drink sensibly but we recognise that there are some who abuse alcohol. We do not believe that restrictions on opening hours in the afternoons inhibit such abuse and experience in Scotland tends to confirm our belief. It is our intention, however, to take steps to identify and co-ordinate measures that will be effective in this area and it is in this context that we shall present a Bill to effect some relaxation in the licensing hours.
The Bill will enable licensed premises to open for any part, or all, of the period between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. but this will not extend to Sundays where the law on opening hours will remain unchanged. Also, the courts will be empowered to restrict the opening hours of individual premises where this is necessary in the interests of public order, public safety and amenity.
As was made clear in the Queen's Speech, the Government will carry out their plans to increase the resources available to the police.
On 20th May last year my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced manpower increases in the establishment of provincial forces in England and Wales of the order of 2,000 police officers over the next few years. Over the same period he expected increases of about 1,350 civilian staff, resulting in the release of at least 650 further police officers to operational duties. He also announced increases of up to 1,200 in the police officer establishment of the Metropolitan Police over four years, together with increases of up to 600 in the civilian staff ceiling. The extra civil staff are expected to lead to the release of at least 400 officers to operational duties.
The Government have given and will continue to give a high priority to crime prevention. The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, mentioned violence against the person. It is important to remember that violent crime accounts for less than 5 per cent. of the total of recorded crime and that less than one-third of 1 per cent. of crime involves violence endangering life, rape or armed robbery. Under the Labour Government, it grew at an annual rate 50 per cent. faster than under the present Government. Although the trend is better, it is still clearly far from satisfactory.
Crime prevention is now far broader in scope than many would have thought possible a year or so ago. The crime prevention partnership has embodiment at national level through the Ministerial Group on Crime Prevention and the Standing Conference on Crime Prevention. It is important that the growing range of activity and commitment at local level is also linked in an effective way. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary will now begin consultations with interested parties about the establishment of a national body for crime prevention.
The main aims and objectives of this body would be to co-ordinate, stimulate and support local crime prevention activity. It could provide an umbrella organisation for neighbourhood watch schemes and crime prevention panels and a means of developing links between these, the work progressing under the community programme crime prevention initiative 131 and the many excellent activities related to crime prevention supported by voluntary sector agencies. The association might also take the lead in disseminating good practice in local crime prevention initiatives. We are determined to tackle the problems of crime and, in conjunction with the other government initiatives aimed at rejuvinating the inner cities, we shall be giving priority to preventing crime in such areas.
My noble friend Lady Young stressed the importance of education in her excellent speech. A principal task of this first Session of the new Parliament will be to revitalise our schools. We must take the best that we have and infuse the whole system with that quality. That means making our education institutions more responsive, more purposeful and more accountable to those they serve. In that process and by that process we shall raise standards.
We intend to legislate to give governing bodies and head teachers of all secondary schools and the larger primary schools control over their own budgets. We need to push down decision-making to the level where the choices really matter—in the schools themselves.
We shall require local education authorities to allocate resources to their schools on a basis which puts the emphasis on pupil numbers. Schools must have incentives to recruit and respond effectively to parents' needs. Good schools must not be penalised financially. We intend to prevent local education authorities putting artificial limits on admissions to popular schools in order to prop up the less successful. The Bill will also enable maintained schools to opt out of local authority control where parents and governing bodies wish to run their schools. Such schools will attract 100 per cent. grant for their recurrent expenditure from the Department of Education at a level of funding equal to what they would have obtained as a local authority school.
We shall secure the basis of a network of city technology colleges to provide greater choice to parents and high quality education in inner-city areas. We shall also reform the structure of education in inner London by giving local choice to inner London Boroughs to opt out of ILEA so as to make the service more accessible and more responsive to parents. We shall also legislate for a national curriculum for all pupils during the period of compulsory schooling from ages five to 16. Our aim is to enshrine best practice for all our children.
The Government's record on the National Health Service speaks for itself. There has been more spending—up by 31 per cent. in real terms since 1978–79, from £7.7 billion to £20.6 billion. More patients have been treated—an extra million in-patient cases a year since the Government first came to power. We have more front-line staff. There are now over 13,000 extra doctors and dentists and nearly 65,000 extra hospital and community nursing and midwifery staff. There are many more new hospital building schemes. Nearly 200 schemes, each worth more than a million pounds, have been started and completed in England alone. More than 450 132 others are currently being planned, designed and built. This is indeed a record of which we are proud.
We attach a great deal of importance to the problem of dealing with poverty in this country. The Government believe that the most effective way of combating poverty lies in developing a competitive and thriving economy, reducing the burden of taxation on the low-paid, protecting the value of incomes through the control of inflation and targeting help on those in need.
Poorer families with children are a primary target of concern. We have therefore raised in real terms the supplementary benefit children's rates which help families not in full-time work, and we have restructured and improved family income supplement (FIS) which goes to low-income working families. Since we came to office we have increased FIS prescribed amounts by up to 20 per cent. in real terms and have restructured the benefit to ensure that families with older children get more help.
I turn now to a subject mentioned by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. A merchant shipping Bill is to be introduced which will contain measures to assist our shipping industry and update law on ship registration. Three initiatives to help the industry were announced last December. These were the establishment of a merchant navy reserve, assistance with training of seafarers and help with costs incurred in crew reliefs in distant waters. The Bill will also revise law on ship registration. In the interests of maritime safety, it will provide for controls on shipping registers of the dependent territories.
The next step in the privatisation programme—the privatisation of BAA plc (formerly the British Airports Authority)—will take place in July. This provides a further opportunity for wider share ownership and for employees to take a stake in the company for which they work.
The Government have already proposed new grants of some £4 million in each year to encourage the development of on-farm diversification of business enterprise. This was set out in detail on 15th May 1987 when the Government published a consultation document entitled Farm Diversification Scheme. These imaginative proposals suggest capital and marketing grants for a wide range of on-farm activities including on-farm tourism, recreation and sporting facilities, food processing and farm shops.
The Bill to be introduced by agriculture Ministers will allow us to complete the implementation of the package of new measures for farming and the rural economy announced earlier this year. In particular we shall be seeking powers for a farm woodland scheme providing for new annual payments to farmers who plant woodlands on part of their holdings. The Bill will also give us the power to make grants to farmers and farming groups who decide to diversify into certain non-agricultural businesses towards the cost of feasibility studies, market research and the marketing of their products.
The Government are also intending to legislate to give effect to the proposals outlined in the White Paper on legal aid which was published in March. Legal aid provides an important service; it ensures 133 that legal services are available to those who could not otherwise afford them. It is also a growing service. Some £450 million will be spent on legal aid in the current financial year compared with £100 million in 1979–80.
The Government are determined to ensure that the legal aid scheme is operated as efficiently and effectively as possible and that it provides the best possible value for money. The measures to be proposed in the Legal Aid Bill will make a significant contribution to that aim. Central to the Bill will be the provisions for the establishment of a new Legal Aid Board which will take over the administration of legal aid in England and Wales. This will provide a completely new framework for the administration of legal aid and enable a more co-ordinated strategy to be developed for the future of the service.
My noble friend Lord Belstead will deal in more detail with environmental matters when he comes to sum up. However, I think it is right that your Lordships should be told at this stage what we propose. We shall introduce a Bill later this Session to prepare the way for the utility functions of the water authorities—that is, water supply and sewerage—to be privatised. We intend that the regulatory functions such as pollution control and resource planning, land drainage and flood defence will be entrusted to a new national rivers authority. We shall be publishing a policy and consultation paper about these proposals in the next few weeks. Our forthcoming Bill will also provide for compulsory trials of water metering. Metering simply means paying for what you get, and paying for what you get is no more than good common sense. It has always been accepted for gas and electricity, and the arguments for water are no different.
We shall introduce a Bill to increase the financial limits for urban development corporations and we shall take steps to make the UDC machinery more flexible. Our older cities need a single-minded attack on the legacy of dereliction and loss of jobs which have been caused by the decline of our older industries. Urban development corporations are a vital instrument to bring back business confidence and stimulate new jobs.
We will take steps to improve housing standards and widen housing choice. We believe it is right that people who want to own their own homes should have that chance. We will maintain the right to buy and mortgage interest tax relief, and we will ensure that home improvement grants are directed where they are most needed. We also believe that we must revitalise the private rented sector and we will not forget the council tenants. They too have a right to wider choice.
Efficiency and accountability in local government will be improved. Seven years ago, we introduced competition in local authorities' construction and maintenance work. This forced their direct labour organisations to become more efficient. Since then, the more enterprising councils have extended the same principle to many of their other services too. Many authorities have found that they can make savings of 20 or 30 per cent. by contracting out services. Our Local Government Bill, which we 134 introduced in another place last Friday, will extend this discipline to all councils for a new range of services. We are convinced that competition could yield savings amounting to hundreds of millions of pounds every year.
We will also improve accountability and fairness by abolishing the domestic rates and replacing them with the community charge. The community charge will spread the burden of payment more widely, giving voters a direct financial stake in the decisions of their councils.
We will also end the system under which local businesses—which have no say—pay half the cost of any increase of local spending. We will simplify the rate support grant system. These changes will ensure that in future good stewardship is recognised and rewarded, while irresponsibility and profligacy are exposed.
I hope that what I have said will give your Lordships the flavour of the Government's programme and the initiatives we plan to take in the coming months in order to continue the strategy on which this Government have embarked. I look forward to listening to what I am sure will be an interesting debate.
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, I should like my first words to welcome back the noble Earl to the responsibilities which he shouldered with great distinction in the last Parliament. I should also like to congratulate him on dealing in his introductory speech with one of the major issues we face as a nation, that of law and order, with the seriousness which it undoubtedly deserves, even if in the content of that speech he dealt in our view inadequately with the size of the problem and the steps that need to be taken.
Again, one would not have thought—as we on these Benches most certainly do—that a crisis point had been reached in the level of crime in this country by reading in the latter part of the gracious Speech the short, indeterminate and colourless paragraph which says:My Government remain determined to tackle the problems of crime. They will carry out their plans to increase the resources available to the police, and will establish a national organisation to promote crime prevention. A Bill will be introduced to improve the working of criminal justice".We are entitled to ask: what do the Government think is wrong with our social fabric? What kind of generation are we producing to face our national future? Where have we as a nation gone wrong when, for example, our rate of burglaries and car thefts is by far the worst in Europe and our football rioters are a byword overseas? An article in The Times of yesterday stated that in 1984 (the latest year for which comparative figures are available) there were 635 car thefts per 100,000 of population in Britain compared with 118 per 100,000 in Germany.
I should also like to quote from the second report of the Commons Education, Science and Arts Committee for the Session 1986–87 on prison education, printed on 6th May last—just over a 135 month ago. I quote from paragraph 12 at page 10, which states:The number of offences notified to the police continues to rise. In 1983 it was 3,247,000: in 1984, 3,499,100; in 1985, 3,611,900; in 1986, 3,847,400. Average annual rates of increase from 1980 to 1985 were 6 per cent. per annum: indeed 6 per cent. has been the average long term annual rate since 1955. The 1986 figures were 7 per cent. above those for the previous year. The rate of increase in the more serious and worrying offences such as violence against the person, burglary and robbery, is fully up to average. In 1985, 1,911,300 offenders were sentenced in the Courts; 444,300 for indictable offences, 413,400 for summary offences excluding motoring offences, and 1,053,700 for summary motoring offences".I quote the last sentence with some emphasis and a great deal of sorrow:A statistical survey conducted two years ago by Home Office statisticians found that of all men born in 1953 almost one third had by then been convicted for a 'standard list' offence before the age of 28In case noble Lords wonder what a standard list offence is, it is defined as follows:used as the basis for estimating conviction rates includes all indictable offences plus some summary offences … but excludes most summary motoring offences and minor offences such as drunkeness and prostitution".Yesterday The Times—with typical Times understatement —in an article by its political editor, stated:Mrs. Thatcher and her Cabinet are aware that law and order issues were not to the automatic advantage of the Conservative Party in the 1987 general election, which they had proved previously, and they fear that the electorate will not take them on trust again, in spite of increased spending on the police and the return of more officers to the beat".One says amen to that.
Have we to admit that instead of being known as a nation of shopkeepers we are to be famed for having the highest rate of housebreakers and also that one of the few European championships we have won recently is to be that of the number of burglaries and car thefts in our country? Hopefully crime prevention can keep these monumental figures down.
What are the fundamental causes of this growth industry of crime? Have we destroyed respect for law and order because our present society has such a great divide between the deprived and the haves? Has our education system failed to instil that respect? Have such grave figures of unemployment among our youth turned them against a society in which they feel they have no part and thereby contributed towards crime figures which are quite alarming? Have parents fallen down on their duties? Has the erosion of religious roots, whatever be the denomination, without a substitute in their place led to a generation battered by the winds of change but left without an anchorage?
Has the frightful insecurity of an atomic age, when civilisation and law and order could be blasted into eternity in a minute, led our youth to have no faith in the future or the standards of the past which have produced such an era? Has the disintegration of family life played its part? Is nobody able, or to be asked, to diagnose or inquire into the causes of this national or, if you like, universal disease? Have the Government no contribution to make towards finding the principal causes of the critical stage of the ailment and effecting its reduction other than by 136 crime prevention, more police and stiffer sentences in already massively overcrowded prisons? Has this great national assembly of Parliament nothing more to say in this debate than that this is a great cancer in our body politic, that it is incurable and that all we can do is to try to keep the cancer's growth from growing to even larger proportions?
I now move from diagnosis of causes to deal with effects. Of course we on these Benches welcome a national crime prevention policy and agency; it was part of our policy. But we went much further. I ask the Government this. Will they, apart from setting up regional agencies and calling for more crime prevention measures, offer grants to house owners to make their homes safer? In high crime areas will they make available free or cheap security equipment for the elderly and others on social security? Will they be funding local councils to enable them to supply resident caretakers or receptionists? Will they start regular patrols by caretakers or other council employees and set up carefully located and supervised play areas for children? Will the Government by grants enable councils to invest in better lighting of streets, corridors and walkways, stronger front doors, frames, locks and windows and, where useful, phone entry systems and closed circuit television surveillance? Are they going to encourage car manufacturers to introduce standard design changes such as steering column locks, electronic locking and alarms?
Apart from making some attempt to diagnose and at least trying to cure some causes of the completely unacceptable national crime figures and attempting to prevent crime by worthwhile and practical crime prevention measures and with more policemen on the beat, what are we doing to try to persuade those convicted of crimes not to repeat them? Is our rehabilitation programme sufficient? What hopes have we got that it will be in some measure successful?
Let me turn again, if your Lordships will allow me to that second report of the Commons Education, Science and Arts Committee on prison education and see what it has to say in this report printed, as I say, last month. Under the heading of "Recividism", paragraph 14 on page 10 states:We find it disturbing that it would appear that society is now the victim of a spiral where a rise in the number of offences is followed by a rise in the prison population which is followed by a rise in the number of offences. One of the compounding factors in the process is undoubtedly recividism. In 1985, of 43,467 adult males committed to prison, no information is available on the previous convictions of 8,500 but of the remaining 34,967 13,832 (39.6 per cent.) had 11 or more previous offences; 9,842 (28.0 per cent.) had between 6 and 10 previous convictions; 6,247 (17.9 per cent.) had between 3 and 5 previous convictions; and 3,366 (9.6 per cent.) had either one or two previous convictions. Only 1,680 (4.8 per cent.) had no previous convictions".The report continues:It is vital to exploit any means available which might tend to reduce this continuing criminality".Forgive me if I venture upon your Lordships' patience by quoting yet one other paragraph or so from this report but it is vital that I do so. It is paragraph 19 on page 12:Prison is not a neutral experience: life is not suspended when a man or woman enters prison, to restart when he or she is released. Imprisonment is a very intense experience. The degrading conditions 137 in which many prisoners find themselves cannot but have an effect. In this inquiry, as in the previous inquiry, a number of witnesses, in particular the Prison Governors Branch of the Civil and Public Services Association, NACRO, and the Prison Officers Association have drawn attention to the corrupting effects of such circumstances. Such a weight of authoritative opinion can hardly be ignored. A witness representing the Prison Officers Association told us that '… if you lock prisoners up twenty hours a day in their cells they will become their own universities … they are already planning their next crime before they go out.' Later in his evidence the same witness described how, especially in remand units, more hardened criminals will corrupt men newer to criminal life, sometimes through drug trafficking. A representative of NACRO said that 'anyone who has ever served a prison sentence will say, that what they did not know about crime when they went into prison they [certainly] knew by the time they came out'".My last quotation is the conclusion of this report on page 13, which says:Undoubtedly the importance of improving the physical conditions in which many prisoners are kept can hardly be overstressed".Then, right at the end of the paragraph, in dealing with the need for work, industry and education in prisons in a way which just cannot be carried out in the present dreadful state of our overcrowded prisons, in advocating all these steps to be taken the report states:Not least it should enable those who have drifted into criminality through educational or social inadequacy to obtain the skills they lack and the opportunity to escape from a life of crime".What are the Government going to do about the recommendations in that report, which might at least have some contribution to make towards reversing the tide of recidivism? What will be done about the refurbishing of the present prisons, quite apart from this new building programme which I certainly do not decry? The current position (I need not quote again from the Home Affairs Committee report on the state and use of prisons which was quoted in a recent debate in your Lordships' House) is—and I merely use one phrase—disgraceful, disgusting, uncivilised, to paraphrase exactly what the report said.
To sum up, I find the portion of the gracious Speech dealing with the crisis of law and order and the Minister's introductory speech to this debate inadequate in the extreme, completely lacking as they are in the imagination and determination for which this crisis facing us as a nation calls. We on these Benches register the disappointment, indeed the disillusionment, which we feel will be the reaction of the public at the party which in 1979 proudly called itself the party of law and order and which has presided over increasing lawlessness and disorder each and every year during which it has been in government.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Lord Ritchie of Dundee
My Lords, I too from these Benches would like to extend a warm welcome to the noble Earl who is back in his former place. I am sure that both sides of the House greatly appreciate his conscientiousness and courtesy.
I should like to speak, although not at great length, on the subject of education and the Government's plans therein. As expressed in the gracious Speech, those are basically to raise standards throughout education and to extend parental choice. I should like to take first the second aim—the extension of choice. I take that to mean chiefly the opportunity to 138 be offered to parents and governing bodies to remove themselves and their school from the control of the local education authority. Presumably that will apply chiefly in urban areas. I cannot imagine problems of this size arising in rural areas such as mine. It is likely to become a point of issue in urban areas, which is where the small minority of local education authorities sometimes misbehave themselves.
If I were a resident of Haringey I should be extremely worried at the local education authority's proposals to discourage what it is pleased to call heterosexism and to promote a positive image of homosexuality. Surely it is not necessary to take such drastic measures to cope with such a situation. Someone has described it as taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. In the last Session, your Lordships made a worthy attempt to deal with that situation. Unfortunately it was killed in the other place when the election was announced.
In the main, we on these Benches find the Government's opting-out proposals objectionable for two reasons. First, we think that they will increase centralism. We as good Liberals are opposed to that. We think that it constitutes an erosion of devolved authority. A school will merely change its authority from the town hall to Whitehall, which we do not think will be an improvement. Secondly, the proposal is likely to be socially divisive. That is not just a term of rhetoric. I can produce some evidence in this red book. I shall not read it all. I shall give your Lordships an idea of it.
It is a report from the Northern Ireland Centre for Educational Research which has only just been published. There is still a system of selective education in Northern Ireland: grammar school, secondary school, 11-plus—the lot. It will not last much longer. The researchers took a sample of 484 what were called "M grade" children. M grade children are children who are on the borderline of pass or failure at 11-plus. They took that sample of children because they wanted to see what would happen to them.
An M grade child may be accepted by a grammar school if the parents apply and if the school can offer a place. That seems to be parallel to the situation that might arise over the opted-out schools. I should stress that those so-called M grade children are of roughly equal academic ability at the time they have to make a choice between grammar and secondary school.
Some interesting discoveries were made. First, among middle class parents a much higher proportion than among working class parents wanted grammar school places. Secondly, 85 per cent. of middle class parents wanting grammar school places obtained them, whereas only 58 per cent. of working class parents were successful. I should ask your Lordships to bear in mind that those children were of roughly equal ability. Thirdly, it was found that those who went to secondary school averaged 3.8 subject passes at O-level while their peers at grammar school passed on average 5.6 subjects. Fourthly, by the third year nearly three-quarters of M grade grammar school children expected to enter middle class occupations against fewer than one-third of secondary school children. I 139 shall not bore the House with any more statistics. Those are some of the basic ones contained in the report.
There could not be more precise evidence to show that when a choice is offered it is seized by the upwardly mobile sections of society and rejected by others who perhaps really need it more; that separation widens and deepens with time; and that social divisions are thus perpetuated, succeeding generations doing what their parents did. I believe that if the opting-out scheme comes into existence it will tend to have that effect.
I think too that if all the more highly motivated (much the same as saying the most able and gifted) children are creamed off, on the assisted places scheme, to opted-out schools, to the "best" schools within the maintained sector, or to the city technology colleges, those who are left will suffer.
That point of view was expressed most forcefully by a group of 30 distinguished educationists, including eight professors, who signed a letter published by the Independent on the eve of the election. They said:Since all the evidence suggests that the intellectual balance of a school has an effect on its pupils' attainments, a poorer intellectual balance will depress existing levels of attainment in probably the majority of comprehensive schools".I do not believe that the Government's plans will affect the country's real educational problem, which to my mind is what we call the bottom 40 per cent.—the problem that produces 3 million-plus adults whose literacy and numeracy skills are not adequate for modern life. They are the people who cannot read a serious newspaper, cannot write a letter, cannot fill in a form, and who for those reasons are highly likely to be unemployed and remain unemployed. It does not seem to me that that problem is likely to be tackled by the Government's plans. It is rather as though instead of saying, "We shall do something about the bottom 40 per cent. by improving our schools throughout", they are saying to the top 40 per cent., "If you do not like the system, here are some ways of getting out of it".
I should like now to turn to the proposed national curriculum. I shall quote from the Government White Paper Better Schools (Cmnd. 9469) published in March 1985 under the direction of the former Secretary of State. The first sentence of paragraph 37, which deals with the curriculum, states:The establishment of broadly agreed objectives would not mean that the curricular policies of the Secretaries of State, the LEA and the school should relate to each other in a nationally uniform way. In the Government's view such diversity is healthy, accords well with the English and Welsh tradition of school education and makes for liveliness and innovation".The last sentence of the same paragraph says:The Government does not propose to introduce legislation affecting the powers of the Secretaries of State in relation to the curriculum".I shall be interested to know why the Government appear to have changed their mind. Is one to understand that the subjects to be taught in all schools are to be inscribed on the table of the law and that schools are to be prosecuted if they do not comply? I should like to ask the Minister for information. Are we to understand that, if new ideas in the 140 field of educational research suggest that an old subject should be dropped in favour of a new one, a new law has to be passed? Can that really be true? If so, what chances are there for curricular development and for experimentation and innovation? What happens, for example, with regard to the exciting new ideas being researched into the secondary schools of Sheffield where the straitjacket of a subject-bound curriculum is being loosened?
One is very concerned to know what consultation the Government plan. It is to be hoped that decisions in this regard will not be made chiefly in Whitehall with perhaps an input from industrial and commercial interests and without adequate consultation with those who are trained and experienced and actually working in the front line of education—the educationists and teachers. What consideration will be given to innovative ideas in proposing areas of study?
I am getting on my hobby-horse briefly when I mention one great system of education which has had an indirect influence on our primary education since the war; namely, the system of Rudolf Steiner. He believed that a child's education should pay regard to a child's threefold nature, and that the needs of the body fulfilled in activity and the needs of the imagination fulfilled in creativity should be given equal weight with pure intellectual activity, on which I believe we lay too much stress. He believed that the educational experience should be a spiritual one.
Many educationists are most concerned at the plans for attainment tests at the ages of seven, 11, 14 and 16. This is perfectly acceptable if the results are used purely for diagnostic purposes—purely to discover where and why a particular child, a particular teacher or a particular school is failing. However, if children should get the idea that these results represent pass or failure, we shall be back in the 11-plus era and untold damage will be done to our education system.
That leads me back to the comprehensive idea, which one fears the Government are stealthily undermining. Perhaps the Minister can reassure me on the matter. It is wrong. I know that there are arguments in favour of selection, but I think that there are stronger ones in favour of comprehension. I will not say "comprehensivisation"; which is, the kind of word that educationists invent and which I abominate. Children need to be together—the clever and the not so clever and, yes, the handicapped—in accordance with the Warnock principles. I have seen how in one class the good work of two or three children will draw up the standard of the rest of the class. If one removes those two or three children one can see the collapse of morale in the rest who feel that they are the rejected ones. We have enough social and economic divisions in society at present without adding another; namely, a brain division.
Adults concerned with education need to learn to leave children as far as possible in their own innocence and refrain from adulterating true education with their own values of materialism and competitiveness. True education requires (dare I say it?) educationists, not politicians of the Right, the Left, the centre or the fringes. The aim of true 141 education is to kindle in a child a genuine inner enthusiasm for learning. True education, as someone very wisely said, is what is left when you have forgotten everything you were taught.
I make a plea to Her Majesty's Government that they should weigh these considerations in mind when deciding on the next step.
§ 3.55 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of Rochester
My Lords, before the debate was adjourned on Thursday the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said how much the Members of the parties in Alliance on the other side of the Chamber will miss the not so sotto voce asides and witticisms of the noble and learned Lord who until recently sat upon the Woolsack. As the first speaker from these Benches this Session, I should like to say that those of us who sat as near to him on this side of the House share that sense of bereavement even if occasionally he dealt with us a little more roughly. We shall miss our proximity to the noble and learned Lord, but we shall not expect to be immune from his regular chastening. We wish him well among the watchdogs on the Privy Council Benches. We join in the warm welcome accorded to his successor on the Woolsack.
Those who speak from these Benches do so knowing that we sometimes feel amateurs among professionals, but we presume to go on trying to do what our predecessors as Lords Spiritual have done down the centuries because we have the care of souls and the oversight of devoted priests and deacons, men and women, at work in the inner cities, in the rural areas and, indeed, over every square yard of England. We also feel that, until this House revises its membership, we have on occasion the responsibility of speaking for our colleagues in the active ministry of the Roman Catholic Church and of the churches associated in the British Council of Churches. Some of them would have us be more bold and more forthright than sometimes is the case.
On the important matter of housing legislation, about which the gracious Speech indicates there is to be a major reform in the present Session, the Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church in this country highlighted the profound choices to be made when their conference stated:Housing is more than economics, it is a matter of humanity and morality as well … Those of us who have must be prepared for policies which require sacrifice for those who have not. It is the manifestation of such a willingness which will persuade and empower a Government to release and direct necessary resources.Such thoughts as those have been echoed by the Methodist Conference, by the Archbishop's Commission on Urban Priority Areas and, more recently, at the launching of the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless by the Secretary-General of the United Nations. We on these Benches warmly welcome the promise of a national crusade on housing announced by the new Minister of Housing and Planning, Mr. William Waldegrave, at the annual meeting of the Institute of Housing on 19th June.
If the Government's proposals ultimately do allow people to obtain houses more easily, do diminish the number of people who are homeless and do give 142 people more control over how and where they live, then those proposals are to be most warmly welcomed. There are many agencies at work in the housing field, voluntary as well as statutory. The legislation proposed will be of the greatest importance to them, especially those provisions that will affect the rented sector.
I hope that even at this early stage the Minister will be willing to answer two questions. First, given that rents under new schemes may not be constrained by fair rent regulations but allowed to achieve market levels, will the housing prospects of low income households be improved? If, as I hope, they will be, then, may we assume that there will be a commitment to increased housing benefit not only for the payment of rates but also to meet increased rents?
My second question, put very briefly, is to ask who is going to be responsible for providing accommodation for homeless families if housing functions are removed from local authorities. This duty surely cannot be allowed to lapse. When my right reverend friend the Bishop of Southwark moves a resolution in the General Synod of the Church of England next month welcoming the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless he will also be asking the Synod to urge Her Majesty's Government to increase the stock of low-cost rented accommodation and to widen the obligations of local authorities towards homeless people. I know that he will be greatly helped in his task if the Minister can answer the questions I have raised.
I have the honour and the great responsibility to be the current chairman of the National Old Peoples' Welfare Council, better known now as Age Concern England. Like all other charitable bodies, Age Concern has looked carefully at the Green Paper, Paying For Local Government, and at the provisions of the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act 1987, to discover whether charitable rating relief is likely to continue in England, and what will be the consequences for residential homes, both registered and unregistered, and for day centres.
I should like to ask the Minister when he replies to give the House an assurance that rating relief will continue under the new system for premises occupied for charitable purposes. I hope that he may also be able to give an assurance that the Government will fulfil their intention clearly stated in the Green Paper topreserve the benefits of existing rate relief arrangements for charities in the form of a discount from collective community charges".Age Concern England responded positively to the previous Green Paper of December 1981 because it had long wanted changes in a domestic rating system which placed an unfair burden upon that third of all pensioners who live on their own. In 1981 Age Concern inclined to the option of a local income tax, collected nationally and with different rates, as the fairest of the various options then under discussion. The current proposals will not prove, in our judgment, the most equitable for single pensioners and for those with the lowest incomes.
But Age Concern's greatest objection to the proposals in the Green Paper is centred on the combined effect of the planned social security 143 reforms and the community charge proposals. Even if the implementation of the Government's policy will share local taxation among a more representative section of the population, our fear is that it will also spread the worry of debt and financial uncertainty throughout the ranks of the retired. I ask the Minister to take account of these fears and to do everything within his power to see that they are proved groundless.
As the Government settle down to their third term of office I hope that we may see a greater readiness to listen to the views expressed on all sides of this House. If the spokesmen on all our Benches had been listened to last year there could well have been a Shops Act 1986 to general advantage. No less than five alternatives to complete deregulation were put forward. If one or other of those had been accepted, the Government would have been saved from defeat by their own supporters on the night that Libya was attacked. I hope therefore that the Government will be more ready in this Session to listen to the views expressed in this Chamber on such matters as housing, education, rates and licensing, all matters on which we in this House ought to be able to achieve a consensus of opinion. I, for one, steadfastly refuse to regard consensus as a dirty word. I covet for this House the role of reconciliation as well as of revision. I believe that we are at our best when we avoid confrontation and when, in the words of the prayer we say every day, welay aside all private interests, prejudices and partial affectionsso thatthe result of all our counsels may be to the public wealth, peace and tranquillity of the Realm".
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Viscount Eccles
My Lords, it is no surprise that education figures so prominently in the gracious Speech. Great changes are very overdue. How are our children to be taught? What are they to be taught? I do not know how many noble Lords were present when Mr. R. A. Butler moved the Second Reading of the 1944 Act. It was an occasion that I shall never forget, and our hopes then were very high. But by the end of the 1950s or the beginning of the 1960s the Act was already faltering and very soon after that, large parts of it were a dead letter.
We now have to ask the question again. How should responsibility be shared between local authorities, teachers, parents and the Secretary of State? For my part I fully support Mr. Kenneth Baker's structural proposals, hoping that the opting-out provision will prove to be more of a threat than a reality. However, I must say that I do not know any better way to deal with the minority of local authorities who persist in disregarding parents' wishes.
I am anxious about the teachers. I am uneasy about their morale, the competence of some of them, and their scales of pay and allowances. To keep our place in the world today we shall depend upon them more than at any time in our history. Ministers may give power to head teachers and parents. They may provide the money for the best buildings and 144 equipment. They may insist on a sound curriculum. These are all very desirable objectives, but they are all in vain if there are not enough teachers and if those that there are are not up to the job.
We have no time to lose. We are in a desperate hurry to raise standards in an increasingly competitive world. We must ask whether enough resources are being provided to train teachers before and in service to the highest standards. Then we must ask whether the rates of pay and allowances have been set at the right level to attract and keep men and women with the necessary qualifications. What about the teachers' unions, especially the NUT? No doubt almost all its members are competent and committed to their careers, but too often their leaders seem to be less interested in the children's education than in inter-union rivalry and politics.
The Secretary of State has to get his relations right with the teachers. If he does not he will be baulked when he comes to carry out the excellent provisions of his Bill. He has to persuade rival, sometimes politically motivated, groups to co-operate. I suppose I am very out of date and very old-fashioned because it is such a long time since I was Minister of Education, but experience in similar situations has shown me that there is only one way to get sulky rivals to work together. One must be able to offer enough money to hold out the exciting prospect of raising the level of the whole system.
I want to ask your Lordships to consider why this is essential today and how we should proceed to do it. After the collapse of the Burnham Committee the teachers were given a £600 million increase in salary. That was a very welcome step forward, but I am not sure it is enough to be certain that subjects such as maths, science and engineering will be really well taught in all the appropriate schools.
I also think there are not enough teachers who know how to show children how to do things as well as how to look at pictures showing somebody else doing them on television. I am very doubtful whether the present salary scales fit the great reforms that the Government propose to make.
Recently I had lots of fun electioneering in my old constituency. Lo and behold, Mr. Kenneth Baker descended upon us in a helicopter to visit a school in Chippenham. While he was trying to distract the attention of children playing games on computers I had a talk with a mathematics master. He was a young man and well qualified. He liked teaching. At the end of the term he was leaving. Industry had offered him a very big advance on his teaching salary. He could not resist the money, and I could not blame him. This is no isolated case. As the economy picks up it will happen again and again.
I shall be told that to find enough money to revitalise the whole of British education will be very difficult unless the economy keeps growing. But how can the economy keep on growing unless education provides young people with the knowledge and the skills for which industry is looking? That is a very serious dilemma and it has to be resolved within the framework of the policies decided on at the election.
Conservative and Alliance supporters rejected Mr. Hattersley's dolled-up socialism and his call for 145 higher taxation and bigger borrowing. Instead they voted for prudent finance and private enterprise. Certainly that is the best way to create wealth without inflation, but then social problems arise because free markets are bound to create wealth unevenly. The rich get richer much faster than those at the other end of the scale. One only has to look across the Atlantic to see that during the time of Mr. Reagan's Presidency there has been an explosion in consumption, but agricultural and industrial workers and blacks are really no better off while the number of millionaires has shot past 100,000. In Britain, one-half of the population is leaving the other half further and further behind. The election results show how unevenly private enterprise spreads wealth.
The Government won a splendid majority and with it a mandate to put the less prosperous half of the country in a position to earn a bigger share of continuing growth. Of all the actions contemplated in the areas of high unemployment to achieve that result, education is the first and basic necessity. How will it be done? In the first place, many highly qualified teachers must be persuaded to work in areas where the background is not always congenial and discipline is often poor, not to mention the erractic behaviour of some local authorities. How are these teachers to be persuaded to go there? Obviously the special allowances will have to be adequate, but even that will not be enough. The whole community will have to share in the effort to make their schools as good as any in the country.
Then where is the money to come from? Nobody on this side of the House wants to raise taxes. Taxes such as Labour proposed would once again put to sleep the enterprising goose that lays the golden egg. Therefore other sources of revenue have to be found. Many companies and individuals are doing very well out of the prosperity created by private enterprise. Surely they have a duty to help redress the disparities between the North and the South. I agree with what the right reverend Prelate has just said on that subject. He reminded me that it was, I think, Joseph Chamberlain (a Tory radical if you want to find one) who asked what sacrifices were the property owners prepared to make to keep their property. We might ask how much is the prosperous half of the country prepared to contribute to raise the standards of education in the other half, if only to keep the economy moving forward.
I am told that some Conservatives believe that the money could be found by privatising the maintained schools. I suppose parents would be given a voucher or some sort of credit which they could cash at the school of their choice. Given the present distribution of wealth, this proposal would be unfair in any part of the country and unworkable in the depressed areas. The division between the two halves, already stretched by economic forces, would be extended and deepened. Any of my friends who think that privatising the maintained schools would do anything to help the North and Wales cannot have learnt the lesson of the election.
In conclusion, we all talk of a united nation. We do not always act to bring it about. A large increase in unity would soon be achieved if the strong accepted the responsibility to help the weak. In the field of 146 education there are literally millions of men, women and young people who are manifestly weak. They are disabled by their lack of knowledge and skills. Anyone who wants to help them should first insist that the whole system of education, from nursery schools right through to universities, is adequately funded and then do whatever he or she can to contribute to that end.
Therefore when Mr. Baker's Bill comes to this House I ask your Lordships to debate it in the knowledge that broad agreement between the political parties on how our children should be educated is essential to the future of this country. Such agreement will be a wonderful thing in itself but it will not get us very far if the system is not adequately funded.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ Lord Stewart of Fulham
My Lords, I was deeply sorry when I heard the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, use the words "in conclusion", because it seemed to me that we had just reached the really important and interesting point of what he was going to tell us. It has shown us beyond doubt that the present distribution of wealth in this country is seriously at fault in some respects. One important aspect of that is the inadequate education which some receive compared with the opportunities open to others. As the noble Viscount put it, the strong ought to help the weak. I was anxiously waiting to see how that was to be done. It could, I suppose, be done by taxation, but that was exactly what the noble Viscount had ruled out. We shall have to wait until he next addresses the House for the further instalment of what has been a most stimulating and impressive speech.
The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, spoke of the need to revitalise education. That suggests that it is, to say the least, moribund. I hope we are not going to run away with that idea. It is an idea that propagandists in various fields are trying to put about—that our education is in a desperately sorry state and that drastic measures are needed to put it right. It is true that one can always make improvements and that the demands of technology for the production of wealth make the problem of providing adequate education for everybody a larger and inescapably more expensive job. But let us not run away with the idea that the great majority of our schools are falling down on their job.
I want to draw attention to a very simple set of statistics that were provided not long ago in a Written Answer in the other House. They show that the proportion of school-leavers obtaining five or more high grade passes at O-level or CSE over the past 20 years has risen steadily year after year. This has gone along steady with a moderate and not widely excessive increase in the amount of money spent on education—which confirmed the view most commonsense people had, that if you want education to be better it will cost you a little more.
We have heard over and over again the statement that you do not cure a problem by throwing money at it. This statement is used as an excuse for not spending enough money on essential public services. In fact the improvement in pupils' examination 147 performances has gone hand in hand with a moderate but steady increase in the amount of money spent per pupil, with a reduction in the ratio of pupils per teacher and, interestingly enough, with a steady decline in the number of grammar schools compared with comprehensive schools during the period of about 20 years. Actual experience contradicts the idea that our education system has been unnecessarily expensive and has not produced the results, and it contradicts the idea that the spread of comprehensive education has been attended by a fall in academic standards.
The other fallacy that is spread about—no, not fallacy. If one speaks on education one must be precise in the use of words. A fallacy is an error in logic. What I am referring to is an error on matters of fact. The other error is that our schools are nests of indiscipline and bad behaviour. What do Her Majesty's inspectors of schools have to say? They have after all considerable opportunities for looking at this kind of thing. The report of the inspectorate says that,the overwhelming majority of schools are orderly communities in which there are good standards of behaviour and discipline: poor behaviour is unusual, and serious indiscipline a rare occurrence".That is not to say that it does not occur at all, and where it occurs it is often given considerable publicity. But it is not true that our schools as a whole are indisciplined.
Many years ago the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, put me on a committee to deal with the problem of litter in public parks. One of the things we discovered was that it is quite an illusion to suppose that it is school children who litter our parks. It is invariably adults, who seem to have slipped into bad behaviour after they have left school. While they were at school they were still well behaved. So let us not start with the idea what our schools are all down at heel and that we have a desperate problem on our hands. We have a serious problem, admittedly, of trying to meet the demands that modern technology makes on the kind of education that our children need.
How are we going to do it? What worries me about the Government's approach is, first, that they are too much inclined to start by making the elementary error of thinking that our education is very bad. Then they make the further error of putting forward proposals which do not appear to have been thought through at all. One of the chief remedies proposed is increased parental choice. It is not realised the extent to which parental choice determines which school a child goes to. The great majority of parents get their child into the school of their first, or at the very least their second, choice.
Since there can be no law of nature that the number of children whose parents want them to get into a particular school will always equal the number of places in that school, some parents and children are bound to be disappointed. If you say that children ought to go to the school of their parents' choice, it should be noticed that the one area in which this quite definitely does not occur is that of church schools, where in the end the head teacher and governors have the right to decide whether the child shall go into that school. Is it the Government's intention to alter that?
148 They have not said so. If they intend to alter it, have they entered into any discussions with the religious denominations? They will find that quite a long task.
The point I am making is that the Government throw out the idea that there ought to be more parental choice without apparently considering what will be involved in that. If you come to the point where the number of children whose parents want to get them in to a particular school is greater than the number of places in the school, what do you do then? It was at this stage during the election that the Prime Minister came forward with the bright idea that possibly the schools might charge fees. This unhappy kite was briskly shot down by Mr. Kenneth Baker, or perhaps one should say that this cat was put back into the bag from which it had been so imprudently liberated too early in the proceedings.
We have had comment since on the fact that schools charge fees for certain rather specialised services. Therefore the argument was that if they do it for some why not for others. Could we have a clear statement from the Government that they do not propose to alter the law as to what things schools may charge for and what they may not? If they give us a clear statement on that we should be relieved of the anxieties that started when the Prime Minister first raised this matter.
Alternatively, if you have more children trying to get into a school than there is room for and you want to show as much regard as you can for parental choice, some say that the schools must adopt some method of selection or, to put it bluntly, that they must go back to the 11-plus. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, put the case powerfully against the old 11-plus selection. To what he said on that I need only add that the essence of the 11-plus was the idea that, by having some kind of test when the children were about 11 years old, you could decide what kind of education they should have thereafter and what kind of job they would be fit to take up in their adult life.
That was always a most dangerous and misleading proposal and we were glad to get rid of it. But now we find this is particularly liable to be dangerous in areas where there is a large proportion of recent immigrant population, because the child of the recent immigrant is obviously at a disadvantage with regard to achievement when it is about 11. It simply will not have had time to get over the difficulties of coming into a country where there is a new language to be learnt and all kinds of new problems to be faced.
Any selective process therefore is liable to work particularly heavily against immigrants. I am sorry to say of course that one of the arguments in the minds of some people for the 11-plus examination was that it could so easily be used for the purposes of social and racial discrimination. The Government would be very ill advised indeed if in their pursuit of parental choice they allowed themselves to be drawn to anything like the old 11-plus system.
I may be told that I am raising unnecessary alarm; that they have no intention of doing any such thing. If they have no intention of doing any such thing I hope they will make that plain at the earliest possible moment, because the word "selection" has been 149 thrown about in a way that makes one believe that this might be in the minds of some of them.
There is one other question I should like to ask. We were told when we were debating, I think, the last education Bill but one that parental choice is particularly important in recruiting the governors of schools; that the proportion of governors who represented parents ought to be increased so that the parents' voice should be more powerful. Why is it then that in the proposed new city technology colleges there is no mention whatever of any representation of parents on the governing bodies? I waited on those occasions when the Government made their pronouncements about city technical colleges to see whether the parents were ever going to get a word in on the governing body. Apparently they are not. Why not? What have the Government really in mind in this talk about parental choice?
With regard to schools that can opt out, if they have opted out once can they opt back again into the local authority system if they want to? If they cannot, that means that their status is determined permanently by the parents of the children who were in the school some three or four years earlier. Inevitably the governors represent the parents of children at the school at a given time. Is that judgment made by those parents to be permanently binding on the fate of the school or can a school once having opted out opt back? One would have expected the Government to have thought as far as that but they are again silent.
There is one image that comes to mind, that of a school in a fairly prosperous urban area—as the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, pointed out this is not a problem that will arise greatly in rural areas—with parents of rather above average income, who have got themselves well represented on the board of governors and have opted out. That is the kind of school where the parents are expected to make gifts to the school.
Sometimes the gifts are of things that are not essential to education but are a help to it. Sometimes—and we find that this is now happening—the parents are expected to help supply the school with books and with necessary equipment. They are bound, when they are using their power to choose which child shall come to this school and which not, to ask the question, "Will the parents of this child be able to make generous contributions to the various school funds we are raising?".
If that happens it will mean that parental choice will inevitably thrust further and further apart the schools where the parents are mainly rich, or at any rate comfortably off, and those where the parents are mainly poor and cannot subsidise the school's necessities by contributing to school funds, fêtes and the various other ways of supplementing the necessary income for the school.
This would surely be a disaster. It would mean that the 40 per cent. who do not do too well out of our education system would be thrust still further and further away from the chance of the education that they need. I ask the Government therefore if they are going on this tack at all to please think out a little further what is involved in their proposal.
150 At present they appear to be starting from a wrong premise—from a belief that our education system is in a desperately bad way and that one must do something about it—and going from there to say, "Well, at any rate let us do something, but don't let us bother to think out too much in advance what it is". That will mean that the people with prejudice, the people with axes to grind, the people who want to reintroduce selection at 11-plus and every kind of discrimination, will more and more have their way. This is a disaster that we ought at all costs to avoid.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Lord Grimond
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, speaks with great authority on education, and it is indeed a subject of wide interest to your Lordships. I must therefore apologise for turning to an entirely different subject, and that is Scotland. I do not believe that we could consider the Government's programme for the forthcoming 14 months or so without paying some attention to what happened at the general election in Scotland. At a time when the Conservatives won a striking victory over most of Britain they won exactly 10 seats in Scotland as against 62 won by the Opposition. The Labour Party won 50 seats, the Alliance nine, and the SNP three.
This must be a matter of concern to us all. It can be brushed aside only if you think that representation is unimportant—Liberals have suffered for a long time from being under-represented but I think that no-one who takes part in parliamentary procedure can say that the representation of Scotland does not merit close consideration—or you consider that the Scots are not a nation. That seems to me to be very near to what is sometimes said.
The Prime Minister said in an interview that the Tories can claim to represent all Britain because the Labour Party got fewer votes in some regions than the Conservative Party did in Scotland. But the Scots do not think of themselves as a region. Furthermore, the whole of the proceedings of the Scottish Grand Committee contradict the view that Scotland is a region. If that is the Government's view, it is a very dangerous one.
It seems to me that the situation in Scotland, not only during the election, clearly points to the need for devolution. Seventy-five per cent. of Scots are in favour of it. It is only 12 years since the Secretary of State for Scotland himself came down quite unequivocally on the side of devolution. Therefore, to my mind, it must be considered. Some of the arguments surrounding this matter seem to me to be totally invalid. It has been argued, I understand, that the Government have been very generous to Scotland. I do not dispute that. It is said that the Scots should be very pleased with the sort of philosophy associated with the name of the Prime Minister. That may be so; but the fact is that by asking for devolution, the Scots are not asking for more help. On the contrary, they are asking for the right to help themselves—rather sympathetic to the Government's view, some of them think. They are asking for the right to run their own affairs and—I emphasise this—for any devolution to be accompanied by the right and duty—of a Scottish parliament to raise taxation.
151 It is said the Scots have taken a great part in running Britain. Indeed it is said they may have been over-represented in Parliament, exercising more influence than their numbers would warrant. That again may be true; but again this is not a plea for more influence over England. On the contrary, it is a plea that the Scots should be freer to devise ways of running their own affairs and therefore leave the English, the Welsh and the Northern Irish freer to run theirs.
To my mind, any serious devolution must mean that the Scots withdraw to a great extent from direct influence on English, Welsh and Northern Irish affairs. But of course there will be matters such as macro-economic planning, defence, foreign affairs and so on, which will certainly be a matter for Britain. There are probably others, too, that will remain the concern of the British Parliament as a whole.
It is wrong to fear that if we grant some devolution throughout Britain this is going to lead to the breakup of Great Britain. All experience shows that it is by refusing reasonable reforms in time that we get into a situation, as we have in Ireland, where the demand for total separation grows too strong to resist. Therefore, I make a plea that the Government and Parliament should consider devolution. It is a difficult subject. But your Lordships' House is a very suitable arena in which to consider the various difficulties and to come up with some suggestions before the Scots are driven further into what may become a rather ugly mood.
Certain problems in Scotland are rather different from those in England. Many parts of England and Wales suffer from unemployment. But the decline of heavy industry has been particularly serious in the central belt of Scotland. The new industries which have been introduced—I pay tribute to the fact that a lot of new industries have indeed been introduced—are mostly not controlled by Scots. One of the most serious aspects of the Scottish economy is the lack of decision-making within Scotland. This means the drift of top people away from Scotland with serious effects on social life, on ancillary industries and so forth.
My next point is that the inner-city problem in Scotland is rather different. In Scotland there is no question of the loony Left which has been made so much of. On the contrary, the Strathclyde authority, as most people admit, is very well administered. The problem in Scotland has as much to do with abandoned villages and smaller towns as it has with the inner cities.
As to agriculture in Scotland, a serious situation is developing for small farms. These are of great importance over a large area of Scotland. One alternative put forward is forestry. Forestry is arousing considerable antagonism because of what it does to the countryside and because it involves absentee landlordism. I am not saying that forestry should not be encouraged. On the contrary, I think that it should. But it is being encouraged to a great extent by large subventions from the taxpayer when, in fact, there is no great evidence of a very large market—at present at any rate—for Scottish timber. Large areas of Scotland are being covered with fir 152 trees. This, in the view of many people, does not represent the best type of landscape. We want consideration within Scotland, from our own point of view, of a problem which is not confined to Scotland but which is certainly important in our country.
The rundown of oil will have serious effects in Aberdeen and other parts of the north of Scotland. I should like to know whether the Government are doing any planning. So far they appear to have treated oil as revenue when it should have been treated as capital and its revenues invested rather than simply being made to support the public service borrowing requirement. Some local authorities, like my own in Orkney and Shetland, have shown considerably more wisdom in dealing with our oil revenues. One must hope that the Government have some plans for dealing with the rundown.
Next, there is the question of nuclear waste disposal. Three sites, I think, were selected by experts for the burying of nuclear waste in England. When it was discovered that all were in Tory-held constituencies the proposal was thrown out. And, of course, the leading "thrower-out" was the Chief Whip. I do not blame him; but I warn the Government that if they hope now to dump this nuclear waste in Scotland they are going to be in very serious trouble indeed. It would be taken as a sure sign that the most extreme criticisms of their treatment of Scotland—that they think of it as a rather unimportant colony—will have some truth. I do not believe those criticisms have much truth, but they are certainly being made.
Another factor which has led to those criticisms being made is the poll tax. I would have thought that the poll tax should be withdrawn. But if it is not going to be withdrawn, it must be inflicted upon the English. I hear rumours that the English are in revolt. I hope that if there is any weakening on this, at least two or three Ministers in this House will resign, because they are committed up to the hilt. They promise us that the Scots are not going to be used as guinea pigs and that the English will suffer just as much as anyone else. I do not wish the English any particular ill, but I wish them to be fellow-sufferers. And then, I believe, we shall get rid of the tax.
Warnings have already been given about treating Scotland sensitively. I cannot say that anything I have read in the newspapers shows that these warnings have so far been heeded by the Government. I cannot say that the gracious Speech, which makes reference in three lines to Scotland, shows any appreciation of Scotland's real problems.
I finish by saying this. I do not think that Scotland is in anything like the same position as Ireland. But, in the middle of the last century, Ireland could well have been set upon a perfectly peaceful course within a United Kingdom if only some imagination, sympathy and knowledge had been applied to its problems. The throwing-out of Irish home rule by the Conservatives and some—I must say it—renegade Liberals was the greatest domestic disaster of the last 150 years. Do not let us repeat it. Let us get down to studying the political aspect—it is a political feeling in Scotland—and see how the legitimate desires of what is a separate nation can be met within the United Kingdom as a whole.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ The Earl of Perth
My Lords, I am very glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, on the subject of Scotland. That is partly because he having decided to speak in the home affairs debate, which was also my instinct, shows that I was right to do that rather than to put my speech within a foreign affairs context. One says that because the outcome of the election really seemed to show that we in Scotland and some of the North as well are, or want to be, in a degree foreign to the rest of the country. It is quite clear from the election results that Scotland is extremely unhappy over what has been happening in the past eight years. This afternoon I aim first to develop the reasons for that situation, and secondly to suggest an immediate remedy which could help a great deal.
First, I address the question of why there were such dismal—I can use no other word—election results. There is no one answer to that. It is a combination of many factors. There is a feeling among the Scots that they have had enough of English and Whitehall domination with what they feel is the Government's disregard for Scotland. There can be no better illustration of that than what happened as regards the poll tax. Why should Scotland be the guinea pig? I do not say that it was the only reason why Scotland voted against the Conservatives, but it was certainly one of the things that the Scots did not understand. Why was there such a rush, and why did it have to be tried out in Scotland? When the Government took office, they promised that this measure would be brought in in England. Why not do it all at once? Whatever may be said, we in Scotland had the feeling that the Government did not care.
I am quite clear and I know that the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, and many others of your Lordships' House are also clear in our belief that Scotland can best run its own affairs. I shall develop that point later when I come to the question of devolution. At this stage I want to give one or two illustrations of why we feel that the Government and Whitehall are hostile to the Scots. Let us take the case of the Scottish Development Agency which has a successful record of encouraging industry in Scotland. It invests money in various industries where it feels that there is a chance of something new happening and business being built up. A couple of years ago Whitehall said that it should look into the Scottish Development Agency and see whether its activities were proper. The sequel was a long battle in which Whitehall tried to interfere and dictate to the Scottish Development Agency some of the activities that it should undertake, not leaving the agency to get on with its job. Happily in the end the Scottish Development Agency won.
Another example concerns the body called "Locate in Scotland" whose purpose is to sell to the outside world the advantages to industry of locating in Scotland. It is run jointly by the Scottish Office and the Scottish Development Agency and does a splendid job. It has representatives abroad, particularly in the United States, who have been immensely successful in attracting industry to Scotland. My Lords, what happened? A year or two ago Whitehall said, "We must look into this. This will not do. 154 Scotland cannot have representation on its own. Let us scrap it and have United Kingdom representation".
Again a long battle was fought and happily Locate in Scotland was accepted and it was allowed to continue its own representation. It was, however, a hard battle. It is not uninteresting to note as a sequel that when a poll was taken in the United States on the question of which of all such bodies, be they Irish, English or any other, operated best to encourage outsiders to come into their countries, Locate in Scotland won the vote hands down. It was a near thing that we were able to go on doing that job at all.
I can give further examples: for instance, the row over Guinness and Distillers. The Government may say that it had nothing to do with them, but the fact of the matter is that London gave a written promise that a Scot would be at the head of the unified body and that the headquarters would be in Edinburgh. There was a great fuss about it. Scottish institutions decided that, having obtained that promise, everything would be all right. They were wrong. They were tricked. The bad feeling remains. Why did the Government not insist that the City's word should be kept?
Turning to the question of devolution, since the election many commentators have rightly said that devolution must come about. The noble Lord, Lord Grimond, has explained why he feels that that is right and I go along entirely with him. I have for long advocated a form of devolution. I could not agree more with the noble Lord when he suggests that the Government should take steps to study the whole question very carefully. However, I am anxious that that study should be conducted in a good atmosphere and not in a hostile one. There is no doubt that at the moment there is hostility between Whitehall and the Government and the Scots.
What happens when devolution is mentioned? Immediately Whitehall takes on its propagandist role saying, "Oh, you know what will happen: you have a block grant which is too large anyhow by such and such a proportion. We shall cut that if you want to have devolution". I find that move intolerable. I think about all the Scottish oil that is used for the benefit of the whole country and I think of the great disadvantage under which Scotland operates in that the central industrial belt is 400 miles away from the Channel Tunnel. I think of the Scottish wool industry and the salmon raising industry which are very much farther. Given all the circumstances, I should not expect anybody who talks about a United Kingdom begrudging the idea that we should not have some small advantage.
I come to what I believe are the steps that the Government should take now to restore to some extent the belief in Scotland that the Government do care and want to help. I have in mind that the Government should announce very soon that they can assure the people of Scotland that what I call the Hunterston-Ravenscraig complex will continue. To this they may answer that it has nothing to do with them and that it is a matter for the British Steel Corporation to handle. That is a facile way of getting out of the matter. It has to do with the Government 155 and it is for them to decide whether or not Ravenscraig and the Hunterston complex should continue.
Let us make no mistake. There are great advantages to be gained, quite apart from the fact that the people of Scotland know how to work in heavy industry. Hunterston has perhaps a uniquely deep water harbour in Britain. There one can see the oil tankers and the coal and oil carriers unloading, and the development of a steel industry which could have the world as its oyster. So I hope very much that the Government will consider doing this and not leave it to the British Steel Corporation to make a judgment.
I say that for this reason. The British Steel Corporation will say "If we close Ravenscraig we can turn its quotas into the English and Welsh plants and they will be more profitable". I can answer just as well. If they close one of the plants in England and Wales, Ravenscraig and others will be more profitable. It must be a matter in which the Government take an interest and give the right answer.
I recall that a little while ago my noble friend Lord Home and I visited Sir Ian MacGregor when he was chairman of the British Steel Corporation, because we were even then very anxious about the outlook for Ravenscraig. He told me and my noble friend Lord Home that he was working on a scheme which would ensure that Ravenscraig would continue until such time as the great modern complex at Hunterston could get going. Unhappily that scheme did not succeed for various reasons. However, he told me only yesterday that the present head of the steel corporation is working on something similar. I can only say that I am sure that all your Lordships will wish him success in trying to bring it off.
Although this is a debate on home affairs and the environment, I shall not talk about the environment except to say that I believe, and I think that all your Lordships will also believe, that there is no finer environment in the United Kingdom and indeed in Europe than there is in Scotland.
I hope that my speech will not be interpreted as being hostile to England. That is not my purpose. But I think it would not be doing the English or anybody else a service not to say that there are many actions which have been taken by Whitehall over these last years which could easily be so interpreted. That is what I have endeavoured to show in the examples that I have given.
Also I am totally clear that at some moment devolution must come in and I hope that it comes in sooner rather than later, otherwise I shall be dead. So long has it already gone on that the Government should set up a study group over the next years, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Grimond. If that can be done in an atmosphere of goodwill—and goodwill can come about with the announcement that the Hunterston-Ravenscraig complex will go on—I for one will feel that something has been done which is right for Scotland and right for the United Kingdom.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Lord Ferrier
My Lords, I shall not conceal from your Lordships that I am taken by surprise at finding myself following my noble friend Lord Perth in a home affairs debate in a speech which was devoted so importantly to matters of Scotland. I am a fervent Scot. I believe that devolution is the wrong word for what is being bandied about today by the SNP. So far as I am concerned, devolution started when my noble friend Lord Home was made Minister of State for Scotland back in the late 1940s and it has continued ever since; so that Scotland is in a way well represented.
But I would not dare to go ahead with a debate on Scotland at this moment, because I am not in favour of a Parliament for Scotland. Much as I respect the opinions of my noble friends Lord Perth and Lord Grimond, I am reminded of Kipling's phrase:If you can trust yourself when others doubt you,Yet make allowance for their doubting, too".They may be right, but I shall not conceal from your Lordships that I think they are wrong. The idea of Ravenscraig being closed down is absolutely incredible to me. To my way of thinking, no Conservative would support any suggestion that it should be closed down. It must stay. Also Hunterston is beyond belief in the facilities which my noble friend Lord Perth described.
But I must turn to the speech that I have prepared in respect of the matter under debate. In doing so, I want to confine my remarks to the paragraph in the gracious Speech which reads:My Government will maintain and improve the health and social services",etc. Your Lordships will recall that during the election campaign much of the weight of the Opposition's criticism of the Government's performance was directed to playing down the health service, regardless of the figures which were made available to all—reductions in the waiting lists, increased numbers of doctors and nurses, increased numbers of patients treated, increased hip replacements and so on. Despite all this, the Government were returned to power with a substantial majority. I am reminded of a line of Burns:Facts are chiels, that winna ding",which perhaps I ought to translate as:Facts are toughs that cannot be escaped".I am tempted to repeat what I have suggested before; namely, to ask whether the time has come completely to divide the two departments of health and social security; to separate them entirely as they once were. I feel that it must come some day and that the longer the delay the more complex will be the operation of disentanglement. The Government are to be congratulated on the fact that now, under one Secretary of State, there are two Ministers, one for health and one for social security. That is a step in the right direction. Would the complete separation which I have in mind be an economy? I am not able to say, but this must be considered by the Government as time goes on.
I shall now turn to the Department of Health. Much has been done and enormous strides have been made over the last few years. At the same time, all 157 agree that much remains to be done. Of course it does. It is a vast and growing subject and the possibilities are enormous. For instance, the necessary improvement in nurses' conditions is overdue and must be tackled if the drain, if such exists—and I believe it does—is to be dammed. In other words, the share of the nation's expenditure on health and social services, which is already large, is likely to be vastly increased. Why is it likely to be increased? It is because of the high cost of medication, the increased burden of advanced surgery and the new problems of AIDS treatment and prevention. Some solution has to be found. I need not mention the distractions involved today in the child abuse problem, which must be an important matter in the hands of the Minister for Health.
I have mentioned my next suggestion before. It is that in any case every possible economy must be pursued. We cannot just say, "Oh, of course the expenditure is just going to increase. It must go on and on". Nevertheless we must watch every penny and see that it is properly spent. To that end my view is that outlay could be conserved if greater recognition was given to alternative medicine. If we accept that politics is the art of the possible, we must admit that of all the available alternatives pride of place must go to manipulative therapy, chiropractic and osteopathy. In my belief the savings offered in a step of that nature can be substantial, not only in the relief of suffering and incapacity but in reducing the costs of current therapy in respect of back pain and all that that implies—sciatica, lumbago and lameness. I trust that that matter will be considered by the Government as time goes on.
If I turn to social security, the gracious Speech says that the Government:will complete the introduction of the reformed social security system.That is good but one item as regards the care of the aged and infirm next winter may well be worth pursuing. It is many years now since I succeeded in having purchase tax removed from night store heaters. Since those days the technology of the use of off-peak tariffs has advanced and I urge that before next winter more compact heaters and simpler switch-gear may be available so that the current programme of house insulation, draught prevention, double-glazing and the like may be augmented by the use of off-peak electricity. I refer to its further use because of course it has its place at the moment in our tariffs structure, but that is not in my opinion of any importance. However, I believe that existing rates could be reduced, but that is a subject for tomorrow's debate.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
My Lords, I shall be speaking on a topic that has not perhaps been raised so far in what has been a very interesting debate. I shall concentrate my remarks on housing and the inner cities. The housing crisis is portrayed by the Government as some inner-city aberration that can best be solved by ending the democratic rule of Labour local authorities. In respect of housing the Government take on the role of the goodies and designate the local authority as the baddies.
158 It is true to say that they have acquired the role of the goodies from the right to buy campaign. I am not criticising that campaign but it is important for us all to realise that the right to buy arose from the fact that the people involved were on a housing register and were allocated their properties originally on housing need when they reached the top of the housing list. Therefore their housing was provided initially by the local authority. It is also important for us to realise and remember that it was the local authorities that made the first provision for homes for the elderly. That can be seen by the bungalows that were built by all the large local authorities.
The needs of the handicapped, whether they were physically or mentally handicapped, were met by local authorities. Latterly sheltered housing has been provided by local authorities. That scheme has proved so good that private enterprise is now providing that form of sheltered accommodation for a different class of people and is taking a leaf from the local authorities' books. But all the agencies which the Government are recommending for the privatisation schemes have one purpose only and that is to negate local democracy. The schemes will not be met with satisfaction and I feel sure that at some stage the Government will have to rethink. The schemes will not be met with satisfaction because they will not work if local people are not involved. It is important for us to remember that local authority councillors, especially those who are working in the large cities, work extremely hard on behalf of the people they represent and they see clearly around them the deprivation and the need for housing accommodation.
Therefore the Government will have to realise whether they like it or not, that local authorities through their local representatives will have to play in a genuine partnership with the Government if any new housing schemes are to be forthcoming. However, one of the Government's suggestions to resolve the housing crisis is to sell off parts of council housing estates. When they are sold off the Government will bring in what they call the active young home owners of the future who may help to upgrade the whole of an area. That will mean, of course, that the problems are pushed elsewhere.
If the Government are considering that form of ownership it will really mean that they are transferring the ownership of perfectly decent houses to another organisation. That scheme will not rehouse one family from the housing register. It will not provide one house for the homeless but it will make council rented accommodation carry the stigma of poverty and disadvantage.
The proposals in the Government's manifesto as regards local government state that they will reform the structure of local authority accounts and that they will stop transfers between the rate fund and the housing account. To refresh noble Lords' memories, the running costs of council housing are met in three ways: first, by rents; secondly, by government subsidy; and, thirdly, by subsidy from the rates. Most councils no longer receive any government subsidy. Those subsidies have now been abolished for a couple of years. Nearly all councils provide some subsidy from the rates. It is usually small in the case of some 159 authorities but it is larger in the large cities. Of course very large subsidies are provided in the London area, where as we all know housing conditions and homelessness are perhaps worse than anywhere else in the country.
Will the restructure take into account the higher rents that will be necessary to make up the shortfall? The extra money necessary for England and Wales has been estimated to be approximately £575 million. That will be the shortfall if the rate subsidy is taken away. As I have already said, the government subsidy has been removed. Do the Government intend that all that amount of money should be found by the tenants, on top of what will happen in the future when we have the poll tax?
We are told that market forces are a most effective mechanism. We are told that constantly by the Government. Why is it that those who are worse off—and sometimes only those who are worse off—are those to whom that must be applied? If one were cynical, it could be argued that the still higher rents that local authorities will have to charge in the future will pave the way for the private landlord and for private speculation. That would give them the opportunity to convince tenants that it would be cheaper to relinquish local authority control.
There are 200 tenants' groups in Birmingham and I have been privileged to be in contact with several of them. I can state quite categorically that there is no enthusiasm at all for a sell-out to anyone of the properties in which they are living. It may be that the tenants prefer the devil they know, even if it is the local authority, to the newer agencies and the absent landlord syndrome. Perhaps they know full well what is meant by the words "security of tenure", which is what a local authority tenure guarantees.
The phrases that tripped off the tongue during the general election included "widen the choice", "liberate people from the straitjacket of the local authority" and "choose your landlord in the future". Those were wonderful phrases and I really enjoyed the television broadcasts, which were comedies in their own right. I used to laugh at seeing people walking round the city of Birmingham in their straitjackets, wanting to throw them away! But now 76 per cent. of council tenants in Birmingham receive some form of housing benefit. What choice will they have?
It is a statutory obligation of the local authority to rehouse the homeless. Will these new agencies suggested by the Government take their share in providing for such families? It is generally understood that only the specialised housing associations offer accommodation to such groups. It is left to the local authority to pick up the responsibility for homelessness. Is the business community and private enterprise equipped for the social responsibility of housing the handicapped, the elderly, the deprived and the homeless, or will the bottom line on the balance sheet be more important?
Nothing appeared in the Queen's Speech which would make any impact on or reverse the ever-low new public housing starts of past years. So there is a bleak future for those on local authority waiting lists, 160 for the homeless, for one-parent families and, as my noble friend Lord Stallard reminds us so often, the cardboard city inhabitants in London.
Perhaps I may now direct my remarks towards the inner-city partnership. I speak with some knowledge of Handsworth in Birmingham. I wish to emphasise to your Lordships that Handsworth was represented not many years ago by the late Lord Boyle. Handsworth is not, in the true sense of the word, an inner-city slum area. It was a Conservative constituency for many years. Local councillors representing wards in the Handsworth division got a seat on the city council, as my noble friend Lord Underhill will know. It was called a very safe seat. Therefore the area is not to be compared with some inner-city areas. However, it is now part of the inner-city partnership in Birmingham. To be successful, there is a need for statutory bodies and many voluntary organisations to work together for the complete rejuvenation of the area.
The local population were called together in many meetings to make them aware of the proposals which had been suggested. As a result of their contributions at those meetings, they were able to put flesh on the bones of those proposals. The outcome has been commendable. Under the aegis of Birmingham City Council, working with private developers on the rehabilitation of property, changes are taking place. I think it is here that the Government need to align job training schemes and YTS schemes with the areas of deprivation and work more closely with the private companies who are likely to be awarded redevelopment contracts. The training thus created would be more realistic and would lead in the long run to what is called in the Midlands a proper job. This concept has already been started in the Handsworth area.
The Government must see that all the people benefit from the strength of the economy, in the phrase which was constantly used recently. The unemployed who form part of the inner-city population have contributed to that strength by being the victims of takeover bids and the shedding of labour on grounds of greater efficiency. Therefore let us give them the opportunities to be gained in the schemes for environmental improvement.
When one looks at the inner cities, and particularly at the inner city as I know it in Handsworth, the redevelopment of buildings is not the only problem. There are the many problems of the people living in the area. The statutory bodies, the police, the probation service, the education and health authorities, the social services, the transport services and the housing associations catering for special needs have moved in and are working as a cohesive group. Examples of that are school holiday schemes which are being run in the local park, a play bus provided by Rotary, and Dr. Barnardo's (I see the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, in her place) running a very well-established small residential unit for children suffering from serious family problems. There are women's refuges in the area and the churches are involved in many schemes.
There has been a nurturing of the voluntary organisations in the area who have been given 161 practical support by Birmingham Voluntary Service Council. They are given guidance, for example, on how to set up creches, on how to run after-school clubs and how to set up a club for elderly persons. We often do not realise that people from ethnic minorities have a need for clubs for the elderly. However, when such people see them flourishing for local people, they also wish to set them up. There is a need to train people to run such organisations. One sees that the pooling of resources from the various statutory authorities and support from the local authority through the urban aid grant has made the whole concept possible.
The task force is working in the area but in a much tighter financial setting. Concern has been expressed in many quarters about the task force moneys and the rigidity of its allocations. Recent press reports have shown us a major underspending on task forces. In the areas of deprivation, I most humbly advise that the Government discontinue the use of the phrase "throwing money at the problem". If resources are not found you do not throw solutions. There is a need for a genuine partnership in the inner cities, with the Government providing necessary—I underline the word "necessary"—resources; local authorities having good, well thought out schemes, and the private developer working alongside to satisfy the known needs of the residents. To do that would mean the solution had been accomplished to a certain extent.
However, I am aware that the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Employment and the Department of the Environment are all haggling for the glory of the success of inner-city regeneration. No doubt heads will be banged by the Prime Minister to present the right image when she visits the inner cities during the recess.
This afternoon I have said that progress is being made in Handsworth as I know it. It is a slow process, it is working, but miracles do not happen overnight. The progress is further encouraged by the visits and support of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. I should like to quote the words of the first parliamentary counsel, Engle, in 1983 when he said:The preparation of legislation is seldom as straightforward as it might appear to be".I ask the Government to play straight towards the people who live in areas of deprivation, and to give such people the opportunities to provide homes for themselves in a reasonable environment.
I heard only last week on the radio a London docklands spokesman, who said:What we are doing in London docklands is to give opportunities to the residents to live, work and play in the area".Those are exactly the sentiments of the people in the inner cities.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, will not expect me to follow her speech, which dealt with matters upon which she is an acknowledged authority and which was given to us with her usual combination of hard-headed facts and generous emotion. Housing is a grave and important subject but it must be for others 162 from this side of the House to take up the points made by the noble Baroness.
Taking the liberty that we have in the debate on the humble Address I wish to refer not only to matters in the gracious Speech but also to its omissions, particularly since I was delighted with one omission. There is no mention of a Bill to alter the financing of higher education.
I say this because it is of the utmost importance that the Government, the Secretary of State and others should devote themselves to rebuilding as soon as possible relations of confidence between the Government and the universities which have so sadly been lacking in recent years. It is essential for the health of this country as a major industrial nation and a leader in many scientific and cultural enterprises that its universities should flourish. I believe that the Government accept that view but they have not always shown themselves able to see how it can best be made effective.
There is a new opportunity offered on the side of universities. The Sunday papers, in particular the Sunday Telegraph, reported the first press conference given by Sir Mark Richmond, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester, as new Chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals. In that press conference he pointed out that, although universities had undoubtedly suffered from the cuts in financing of the last few years, the effect had not been wholly disadvantageous. They had now come to a situation in which they could look at their position and take a fresh look at where matters now stood. Nevertheless, there is not much point in an olive branch from the universities unless the Government are prepared to take it up. I fear that those of us who have been concerned with higher education are extremely worried about this matter.
In the debate in your Lordships' House on the Croham Report, and indeed in this beautiful book, the so-called White Paper (which is mainly pictures), Higher Education: Meeting the Challenge, we understood that the Croham recommendations were to reconstruct the system of central financing, with a different structure for the new funding council. However, the intention was basically to give the universities the maximum autonomy, and in particular the financial horizons, they need in order to plan their interlocking responsibilities for research and teaching.
Since then there have been circulated to universities two documents which were intended (or apparently intended) to make plainer the Government's point of view as set out in the White Paper. One of the documents is called Universities Funding Council and the other Contracts Between the Funding Bodies and Higher Education Institutions. I do not know how many of your Lordships have seen these documents—presumably only noble Lords who have some university connections, as they have not been generally published. On reading them I was enormously depressed. Here were documents coming from the Department of Education and Science which gave no impression that their authors had ever seriously considered or understood what universities are about, how they function and how they carry out 163 or propose to carry out their intentions. The only analogy I can think of is a treatise on oceanic navigation written by someone who had never been nearer the sea than a half-day excursion to Southend.
Noble Lords may say that I am accustomed in this House to state matters with a certain brevity and perhaps brutality. Therefore, I propose to do what I very rarely do; namely to read a long quotation. It is as follows:Having considered these further documents we do not understand the statement that the Government accepts 'the broad thrust' of the Croham recommendations. Specifically and crucially, Croham defined the 'principle responsibility' of the University Grants Council as being 'to construct a national strategy for the investment of public funds', supporting strengths in the universities, responding to their initiatives, and providing co-ordination, and to seek funds from Government to implement that strategy; and of the three main objectives in reshaping the U.G.C., the first-named was to secure its independence. We look in vain in the later papers for any reaffirmation of these points. We find instead many reasons for fearing that these fundamental principles of the Croham report … have been quickly and quietly abandoned … We now foresee increasingly direct intervention by Government in the affairs of the universities and we greatly fear that short-term considerations will more and more determine the way in which universities are run. We do not think that we have read too much between the lines in supposing that the Government believes that, given additional flexibility by the removal of 'tenure', university faculties will be seen as a method of production which can be switched on or off as the 'market' may dictate—the market being assessed by a central view of what society, or rather the economy, needs. Our anxieties are not removed by the passing references in the papers to the 'advancement of learning' and 'areas of learning and scholarship which at most have an indirect relationship to the world of work'. The longstanding tradition, emphatically endorsed by Lord Croham's report, of a strong and independent body, standing between the Government and the universities, appears to have been overturned".I apologise for the long quotation but it is the official reply of the University of Oxford to these two discussion papers, or rather an extract from the official reply which is printed in the Oxford University Gazette. It is not, I think, everyone's bedside reading and therefore I thought it desirable that these paragraphs at least should be printed in Hansard.
The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals met on Friday for the first time, I think, since these documents were published. I do not know whether other universities feel as worried as the University of Oxford, but I know that the University of Manchester has serious worries.
It seems to me that this demands a serious rethinking by the Secretary of State. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said earlier this afternoon that you get nowhere in school education without the teachers; so clearly you can get nowhere in higher education without the universities. Either there must be collaboration between the Government and the universities or in a system in which public finance is bound to be overwhelmingly important there will be decline.
Again, in this morning's papers we read of another report from the Royal Society about the brain drain in some of the major scientific disciplines. I do not know, and it would not be for me or indeed for the universities to say, what is the proportion of public expenditure that should go on higher education. That is a matter which could be reasonably debated and reasonable men might come to different conclusions. There are other important calls. There are calls for 164 housing, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, referred. Whatever the amount of money that the Government see proper to allocate to universities, that money must be spent in ways which enable the universities to fulfil their proper functions. It is impossible to do this in a series of short-term expedients.
The idea that you can contract with universities in the way in which one business contracts with another for a supply of widgets is an absurdity which could only have emanated from the deepest recesses of bureaucratic Whitehall. I have been trying to imagine the kind of contracts which universities might enter into. One occurs to me which might have been suitable for the University of Cambridge. The Department of Education and Science proposes to supply certain equipment; to wit, one apple tree, Grannie Smith for preference. The University of Cambridge in return undertakes that within a period of 18 months more or less, making allowances for statutory holidays, a member of its staff, one Mr. Newton, will invent gravitation. Is that the kind of contract which is thought of in Whitehall as an appropriate method of financing universities?
It seems to me that there is a total misconception of the way in which knowledge is forwarded and teaching is illuminated by the forwarding of knowledge. It is impossible to do it in the form of cut and dried targets. You can have a target for the number of places on a particular course, you can have a target for the number of staff, but you cannot have a target for what knowledge or learning is going to be in a given number of years. If those of us—and my university experience goes back over half a century—who remember what was considered important and vital in universities of the 1930s had, like Rip Van Winkle, been asleep in the interim, we should hardly understand the language which is now used to describe what is vital.
If we are too poor a country to have 45 universities we may have to have fewer. If we are too poor a country to have more than a few universities of international rank, we may have to accept that. But one thing we cannot do is to pretend that we can have universities which are not universities. Therefore, it seems to me admirable that there is no mention of higher education in the gracious Speech. This means that pleas—and I am sure they will be from more powerful quarters than mine—will now come to the Secretary of State seriously to take account of what Sir Mark Richmond said and seriously to look for a genuine concordat with the universities. We hope that this may actually happen.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, there is still a very long list of noble Lords who wish to speak and I feel that in their interests I must be very brief.
I am not sure that this kind of debate is as fruitful as it should be, but that is how we have arranged our affairs in the past and we are very slow to adopt innovations in our method of working. Quite honestly, I think that the gracious Speech from the Throne should be abolished. I cannot believe that it is appropriate, for example, for young teenagers on unemployment benefit to learn of the adverse change 165 to be made in their conditions from the lips of Her Majesty in person in this House, surrounded by her family and noble Lords in robes and ermine, with all the signs of power and wealth and with the Prime Minister and her colleagues, who were the source of it all, standing at the Bar as silent onlookers.
That is not the way in which we ought to be doing it. I do not think that we should continue putting in the mouth of Her Majesty the programmme of mistakes and follies, as well as wisdom, of her Majesty's Government when setting out the agenda, in their words and not hers, for the benefit of the country and Parliament.
On three occasions I was on the Cabinet Committee on the drafting of the Queen's Speech and we had the inevitable difficulties which I am sure occur today. One difficulty is its length and the other is the language to be used. What I failed to do was to get some informality into the language of the Speech from the Throne; but tradition triumphed over a Labour Government, as it nearly always did.
However, I shall leave that matter. I really do not know how near I can get to proposing an amendment to the Royal Prerogative without being out of order, but it is one of the matters that ought to be considered. Here we are, urging the whole country to review its institutions, ourselves putting some of the long-standing institutions through the mincer of Parliament, and yet we are slow to adapt to changing conditions.
How does one explain to the young people coming on that although Parliament has wrenched power from the Crown we still keep all the traditions and the embroidery of the Monarchy and its role in society as if we had not done any such thing? I must not go on. The longer one sits through a debate of this kind, the more one stumbles upon the subject that we should speak about in preference to the chosen topic that one thought of outside the Chamber.
My noble friend Lord Mishcon started his contribution, by referring to crime. In sepulchral tones he convinced us before he had finished that the Kingdom of Heaven is not yet. I thought of the day when I first entered a Labour Government in 1964 and we thought of our legislative programme and what we would put in the Queen's Speech. We had put in our hands a booklet containing a report of an informal committee of great talent presided over by my noble friend Lord Longford entitled Crime—A Challenge to us all. That was 23 years ago; we are still talking about it; and there has been a Labour Government in between.
We are dealing with one of the most ineradicable problems of mankind. It is necessary to bear in mind the depth and extent of original sin. There is no solution to it. One can only try to cope with it, try to provide the conditions under which it will not flourish and the education which may reduce its incidence in society.
I should like to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, on the subject of teachers, but that too is where I came in. I was chairman of the committee on teachers' pay. We gave them the highest proportionate increase in their salaries they have ever had, before or since. The noble Viscount said that 166 teachers measure public esteem in terms of money rewards. Of course they do. All public servants measure public esteem in terms of money. The trouble is that they all claim parity of esteem. When we give something to one of them, the others think that they should have it.
What happened to the over 30 per cent. that I gave to the teachers? What happened to the restoration of their esteem in the public mind? For one reason or another, which I cannot account for, they frittered it all away. They ignored the exhortation and the inspiration that I wrote in the chairman's preface to the report. They went straight to the appendices to see how much was involved. When they got it, they thought that it was enough to be going on with and that they would be modest for a little time. They let that position slip. Now the trouble in the teaching profession is largely that the teachers have fallen so far behind that it becomes politically, if not economically, impossible for them adequately to catch up. That is the old, old story.
Now I come to Scotland. I was a member of the Royal Commission on the Constitution which was appointed in the name of the Monarch on the recommendation of the then Home Secretary, Sir James Callaghan, but for no reason of inspiration, either behind the Government or anyone else, for separate government or devolution for Scotland. It was caused by Mrs. Winifred Ewing who won a by-election for the Scottish National Party in Scotland which put the wind up the Labour Government and all Scottish Labour Members who thought, "My God, if we do not stop this in its tracks, we shall all be out." So they set up the Royal Commission on the Constitution, largely for the benefit of Scotland.
I was the strongest Scottish Nationalist on that commission. What did we do? We recommended an elaborate scheme of devolution. We then of course had Northern Ireland for at least part of the time as our model. We leaned heavily on the success of the devolution of government in Northern Ireland, until it was blown up by bombs. Then we had to think of something different.
When the Government changed in 1970, we sent our chairman to see the Prime Minister, Mr. Heath, to ask him whether he was still interested in the work of the Royal Commission on the Constitution. He dismissed it as one of Harold Wilson's gimmicks and said that if we could produce a quick report on regional government in England and Wales he would be more interested. We could not do it in the time, but we did finish the job on Scotland.
Now we must obviously begin all over again. I nominate my noble friend Lord Ross as the first Governor-General. One who was the longest serving Secretary of State is eminently equipped to be the first Governor-General of Scotland. Seriously, it seems as if the problem of this Parliament will be the insurrection of Scotland. Are we now replacing Ireland by Scotland in the troubles of the United Kingdom? I cannot be sure.
I have spoken for nine minutes, and I have not yet dealt with the matter that I originally wished to raise. I shall do that in the next couple of minutes because my theme is something that no one else is likely to 167 raise. It is about animals. That will not surprise any of your Lordships. There are many noble Lords and Members of Parliament who can talk endlessly about the human condition but there are so few who can talk about what human beings do to animals.
My particular interest at the moment is that there is nothing in the gracious Speech about animals. I noticed that some women writing in the weekend newspapers said that there was nothing in it about women either. They said that in 1983 there were lines and lines about animals but only two lines about women; and in 1987 there were no lines about women or animals. As I have already said, we cannot put everything into the Queen's Speech.
Dog control—fancy coming down to dogs—farm animal welfare and the review of the Protection of Animals Act 1911 are all worthy causes. I shall finish on this note. I believe that cruelty is the greatest evil of mankind. If only we could get rid of cruelty to children and to animals. Such cruelty comes from the same innate wickedness of the human species. There are those who say that people must come first. I say that kindness should come first. It is the most ennobling intellectual and spiritual condition that man can possess and so frequently does not possess. That is because nature has endowed us with the innate need to survive, and to survive in nature one frequently has to be extremely cruel.
I urge the Government to persevere with the good work on animals that they have already started and to take care on two counts especially. Do not let the pressure of farm incomes, which I fear we are likely to have, be taken out on farm animals. The danger is that the welfare of farm animals may become economically less acceptable to the industry in times of stringency than in prosperity.
With regard to the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, I have already notified the Minister that I am anxious that the Government pursue the search for alternatives to laboratories. The 1986 Act will be tested in terms of public opinion by the reduction in the numbers of animals used. To reduce the numbers, it will be necessary to find alternatives in physical terms and in terms of new technology for information retrieval, data banks, avoidance of duplication and avoidance of unnecessary use of animals where the information required already exists. That is my message.
§ 6 p.m.
My Lords, I count myself extremely fortunate to live in a beautiful area in the country on the Wiltshire/Dorset borders, so I welcome specifically the Government's stated intention to help farmers to improve the environment with the planting of more broadleaved trees. I have only 53 acres, half of which consists of sadly neglected woodlands and the remainder of wide valleys of permanent pasture crossed by public footpaths; but the future now looks brighter, at any rate for generations for many years to come. Planting the many species of trees that are available to all of us if we so choose will give me personally tremendous pleasure in the knowledge that I am enhacing the countryside.
168 I am well aware of the many organisations available to give advice and financial assistance. Can my noble friend tell us when he replies whether the thinning and felling licences are being dealt with as expeditiously as possible? I understand that in some cases the process is very lengthy, which seems a pity. It obviously follows that the grants for replanting or new planting will not be slow in coming. I seek that assurance.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Lord Morton of Shuna
My Lords, I wish to speak about the Scottish question following the general election result. We have heard two able speeches today, by the noble Earl, Lord Perth, and by the noble Lord, Lord Grimond. I agree with much of what they said. I should like to congratulate the new Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson of Bowden. I hope that he will have a happy time in his new office, though I rather doubt it.
The question of what to do about the Scottish position will not go away during this Parliament. It will certainly not go away with the Government asserting the constitutional right that they undoubtedly have to govern by their United Kingdom majority or stating that there have been Labour Governments without a majority of English seats. There never was any United Kingdom Government who held one-seventh of the seats in England. There never was a United Kingdom Government who had less than 25 per cent. of the English vote. However, if one applies this to the Scottish position, that is the situation.
Part of the difficulty undoubtedly lies in perceptions. We Scots tend to regard ourselves as Scots first and therefore British. It appears to us that the English regard the words "English" and "British" as co-terminous. The Scots regard the Act of Union as a marriage of partners. The English seem to regard Scotland as a colony which they regret they have not quite absorbed.
We in the Labour Party in Scotland—at least at this time—do not want a divorce; neither, as I understand it, does the Alliance. Those who are not Scots must appreciate that since the 1978 devolution Act the strength of feeling in Scotland that power must be devolved has increased greatly both in the Labour Party in Scotland and in Scotland as a whole. As far as I can tell, it exists still in considerable proportion in what remains of the Conservative Party in Scotland. This movement in strength of will could well increase and, if ignored, it could lead to a desire for separation.
The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, mentioned the analogy with Ireland last century. We would not wish to see that happen in Scotland, but it is a potential danger if the problem is treated wrongly.
It is not my wish—nor is it within my ability—to attempt to analyse why the Conservatives did so badly in Scotland. Part of the reason is quite clear: it was regarded as an English party representing an English Government, headed by an English Prime Minister speaking for England and not for the United Kingdom—certainly not for Scotland. The Conservative Party lost seats to all the other three 169 parties. This reduction in its vote—in one of the 1950s elections the Conservative Party had over 50 per cent. of the vote in Scotland, and the figure is now down to 24 per cent.—represents a massive rejection by the Scots of the whole philosophy of the Government.
The other important factor to bear in mind is that the Labour Party won in Scotland where it obviously did not elsewhere. It won not only against the Conservative Party but against all parties. The Labour Party won one seat from the Alliance, who won two seats from the Conservatives, although the Alliance vote went down in Scotland. The Labour Party won two seats from the Scottish Nationalist Party, who in turn won three seats from the Conservatives. The Labour Party won six seats from the Conservatives and lost none. That is the arithmetic whereby the Labour Party has 50 out of the 72 Scottish seats.
This success is not to be explained by saying that Scotland is a vast council housing scheme with everyone living in the past and on state handouts. It is not to be explained by saying that the alleged economic miracle that the Conservatives claim to have achieved has not yet reached Scotland.
Mr. Taylor, the Member of Parliament for Southend, was a Member of Parliament for the Cathcart seat in Glasgow until 1979. In the Guardian he wrote recently about a visit he had paid to his old constituency. He pointed out that since he left it, as a result of readjustments half a large council housing scheme had been moved out of the constituency and there had been transferred into it what he described as,a lovely high grade commuter suburb".This is the present seat of Glasgow—Cathcart. He also pointed out that in the owner-occupied middle class areas there were no Tory posters to be seen, only Labour posters. The result was a Labour majority of 11,000. If one transferred that sort of constituency to the South of England, one would expect at least a Tory majority of a similar figure. The vote is not simply because of unemployment but because of a method of treatment that the Scots consider to be wholly inadequate.
Why is the Labour Party in Scotland regarded—in Mr. Taylor's description—as "decent, respectable and patriotic"? Why is socialism so well regarded in Scotland? Do the Scots read different newspapers? To a certain extent they do, but the same television is broadcast to both areas. I cannot give other than a personal view, based on having been an active member of the Labour Party for over 40 years, first in Glasgow and then in Edinburgh. It will perhaps be said that I am not representative because I am too Right-wing of the loony-Left which the Tories seem intent on portraying as the Labour Party. All I can say is that for the last three years running I have been elected by the Labour Party in Lothian to be its chairman, and Lothian is supposed to be the "baddie" in the Scottish regional areas.
Why is socialism regarded as such a sin by the Conservatives? Why does Mr. Steel repeatedly demand a left-of-centre non-socialist party? I cannot understand their idea of socialism which they rarely try to define. For me, socialism is based on the idea 170 of equality of opportunity, of fairness in meeting the needs of the less fortunate, and of an attitude to property which involves an element that property is held in trust for society.
It may be that these ideas are accepted in Scotland because Scotland is a more cohesive society and less individualistic than England. That may be unfortunate for England. It is not only in socialism that one finds these ideas; they go back much further than 2,000 years. But for me, and I suspect for most Scots, the point of the parable of the Good Samaritan is not that he had the money—as has been suggested—but that he treated others as he would have wished to be treated himself.
These are the ideas which make those of us in the Labour Party support comprehensive education rather than selective education. The speech that the House heard from the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, was very much on the same lines and we should pay attention to that. We are confirmed in our view that comprehensive education is right by research presented to the American Educational Research Association in April, which showed that comprehensive schools in Scotland—where, as I understand it, they are more widespread than in England and Wales—have raised standards generally, improved examination results, widened opportunities for the children and reduced inequalities. Are these developments all bad? That is one of the reasons why people in Scotland support comprehensive education and do not want selective education.
Of course we in Scotland want more money to be spent on education. The key to the future development of wealth in any country is that the population is properly educated. It seems appalling that this Government have spent so little on providing adequate resources for education. For these reasons we regard selection and opting out as both dangerously divisive and wrong in principle. It is because of the desire for fairness that Scotland clearly rejected the poll tax. One can hardly think of a better example of a totally unfair tax that has nothing to do with ability to pay.
We believe that the National Health Service must be adequately funded even if that means higher taxation. It seems to us ridiculous that a new kidney unit in Edinburgh cannot be used and that patients have to be sent to Dundee because of inability to pay for the nursing staff. That seems a kind of idiocy. Equally, in England, it seems to me tragic to see, as I did yesterday, a young lady who had been assaulted and had a terrible scar across her face and who had had to go for private hospital treatment because three years after the attack she was still on the waiting list and not receiving treatment. We think that that is wrong.
We have seen no evidence that a reduction in levels of taxation on the rich has done anything to improve the society in which we live. These ideas are the basis of socialism for me and, I think, for the majority of the Labour Party in Scotland. Any idea that the works of Mr. Trotsky are totally acceptable in the Labour Party is so out of date that it does not need to be looked at. If noble Lords disagree I wish that on occasions they would come up to Scotland.
171 The other difficulty that it talked about is ownership of businesses: state control. It may be that the Liberals do not like this, and that this is what they mean by a non-socialist approach. I had the impression—I may be wrong—that the Alliance certainly opposed gas privatisation, or spent some time debating it. However, like them, we see no advantage in changing a public monopoly into a private monopoly. We see great danger in regarding profit as the only measure of success. There must be some form of social control and social responsibility imposed on companies which are controlled not by their shareholders, who hold shares as investments, but by their managers, an increasingly small group.
I regret that I have taken so much time. It appears to me that the philosophy is that we must develop some form of social control over companies. It is ridiculous that there should be a risk over Ravenscraig. But if the philosophy is profit and nothing but profit, Ravenscraig will close. That must be wrong. We do not believe in pure market forces. The Clearances are only one example where pure market forces were allowed to work and they did not create happiness.
I revert to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, about democracy and the need for devolution. The main demand by Scotland is for some real say in its own affairs, in running its local areas. The Government say that they will improve housing but they have prevented local authorities in Scotland doing precisely that for years. The Government are refusing to devolve power to Scotland. It is useless to drool and drivel about power to the people. Apparently, from the gracious Speech, this entails altering school councils in Scotland, which is not a very major scheme. The Government emasculated locally elected bodies and refuse to allow Scotland to choose the type of local government it wishes. If one believes in giving power to the people, that must mean devolving power down to the local authorities and to Scotland.
§ 6.20 p.m.
My Lords, I had wished to make two points this afternoon, but I am constrained to make a third. I shall put the third first. It is to refer to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. I found it a fascinating speech, one which I both enjoyed and respected. With his customary intellectual clarity the noble Lord asked a number of very pertinent questions on why crime is as it is and why the state of our society is as it is. The questions that he asked ranged from matters of religion to problems of the nuclear age and of family life.
With each question the noble Lord put his finger on a very sensitive button and the conscience pricked. I do not think that it is for me to seek to answer those questions—nor indeed did he seek to do so—other than to say that I wonder whether in part at least it is due to the fact that the values of family life and the ability to bring up children in the broadest sense of those terms have not become slightly topsy-turvy. I hope that the noble Lord's inquisitive mind will not cease to ask these questions, to seek the answers and to stimulate others to do so.
172 I was glad to see in the gracious Speech the intention of the Government to improve housing. Housing is always a sensitive subject. I suppose I should declare an interest in that I am a landlord and a tenant. In the past it was the desire to assert the right to buy. Now the change is to assert the right to rent, both in the towns and in the country. This new right to rent implies an ability to rent. Renting was always the first rung of the housing ladder for young people. It enabled mobility. When seeking work, it is essential to be mobile and that is never more important than now. Indeed I remember that my first home was a rented home. It had three rooms. The bathroom, which we used once a week, was upstairs in the landlady's place and the lavatory was up the garden path. It cost £3 a week and it was a delighful house to have.
For 30 years the national conscience has been directed, understandably, to protecting the tenant. The natural balance between the landlord and tenant—it is a balance and it is a good system—has got out of kilter. The low levels of rent, while being advantageous to the tenant, have been an active disincentive for landlords to repair properties. That is bad for the tenant, it is bad for the landlord and it is bad for the housing stock. The security of tenure has resulted in owners being deterred from spending proper and correct sums on housing because the property frequently is lost for the foreseeable future and is frequently let at an inadequate rent.
These two factors—the level of rent and security of tenure, which have both been prescribed quite correctly in the interests of the tenant—have frequently operated against his interests. Not only had the quality of housing deteriorated but the owner has in many cases sold a rentable property to a would-be owner-occupier. As a result there have been fewer houses to rent other than council houses, which have been an essential part of the system.
I have a horrible feeling that what has been done frequently in the interests of tenants has often worked against their interests. That is another example of what I once had the temerity to call "Ferrers's law" which says that everything has the reverse effect to that intended. I welcome the fact that the Government intend to see that there will be more houses to rent.
My second point is that I was delighted to see in the Queen's Speech that the Government intend to support agriculture and to encourage forestry. I suppose I should declare an interest in so far as I am involved with agriculture and I am a director of a forestry company. But it is no secret that the agricultural community faces the future with considerable concern. It cannot see the way ahead. To know that the Government intend to support it in this new existence, whatever that may be, is of great comfort. Everyone, including the Government, is rightly concerned about surpluses and the huge cost of the common agricultural policy. I applaud the Government's determination to take a lead and to try to bring these under control. It is easy to blame the common agricultural policy. It is easy to blame agriculture for the surpluses, but agriculture both here and in the Community has correctly taken advantage of the new advances which science and 173 research have produced. It is quite wrong for any industry to turn its back and to operate without the new advances produced by research and science.
Now is not the time for detailed consideration of these matters, but I should like to put forward these thoughts. First, to deal with surpluses, cutting the price is not the answer. That stimulates production to overcome the effect of the price cut and often has the reverse effect of that intended. Pursued to its ultimate it will bankrupt people. A prosperous countryside is essential. The converse, a derelict countryside, is quite unthinkable. Too many businesses other than farms depend on the countryside—for example, those who supply into agriculture, those who trade in and on and manufacture its products. One has only to look at the agricultural engineering industry to see what happens to an industry when the squeeze is put on agriculture. Because of the nature of agriculture, the effects of adversity are slow in showing. Because not many farmers have yet gone bankrupt, it would not be right to think that agriculture is not undergoing severe strain.
I believe that the correct answer is to prevent surpluses by paying people not to grow the crops. That is far cheaper than paying for the storage and for the subsidised sale of crops which have been produced and which are not wanted. That is where the cost goes. It does not necessarily go to the agricultural community.
Alternatively, in my view there should be a tax on nitrogen, which is the greatest stimulator of growth both in crops and grass. It is applied only because it is economical to do so. Once it is made uneconomical it will not be applied and yields and surpluses will be reduced. Everyone says that it cannot be done. I remember my noble friend Lord Belstead saying that when he operated on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture. I have no doubt that he will say the same thing now that he speaks on behalf of the Department of the Environment. I can never see why it is not possible. It merely means the application of a simple tax which would be imposed throughout the whole Community, and I believe the results will be considerable.
The last point I wish to make is to urge the Government to ensure that there is an agricultural policy. That is not meant to be platitudinous or even impertinent, but because of surpluses agriculture is becoming almost apologetic for its existence. The buzz word is "conservation". Conservation is important. There are very few people who do not believe strongly in conservation. But a policy for conservation is not an alternative to an agricultural policy; it is complementary to it. A policy for conservation on its own is not a rural policy, though it is an essential part of it. We cannot afford to see, and nor would it be right to aim for, the countryside become the equivalent of a national wildlife park. The infrastructure, the social life, the prosperity and the earning capacity of the countryside require more than that. Most people in the countryside want to aim for a proper balance. I wish the Government, and particularly the new Minister of Agriculture, the president of whose association I have the honour of being, the greatest of success in tackling a very difficult task.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, the House will perhaps be relieved to hear that for once I do not intend to deal with penal matters. I must make one reference because the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, referred to a committee of which I was chairman in the 1960s. I think I am entitled to speak on behalf of the octogenarians of this House although there has not been an election. We look upon the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, with great envy and admiration. We see him as our senior prefect and we were very proud of him this afternoon. We hope that as time goes on we ourselves will reach that standard.
Since the noble Lord mentioned that committee, perhaps I may say that there were various good outcomes. Noble Lords opposite may be aware that the parole system was recommended by that committee and was introduced by the following Government. The abolition of hanging, which I think would have happened anyway, was recommended by our committee—and seeing the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, reminds me that his famous ancestor was hanged with a silken cord. I am against hanging whether or not a silken cord is used. It probably does not make the operation any less painful. If only the measures recommended by our committee had been in force in the days of the noble Earl's ancestor, he would not have been hanged at all, with a silken cord or whatever.
My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Earl because I did not think that he was going to get on to that subject. I would merely say to him that although I admire greatly his courtesy and generosity towards my forebear he will understand that I take a view contrary to him on the subject which he has raised.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, we cannot choose our ancestors but I gather that the noble Earl was at any rate pleased with the fate that befell his distinguished forebear. I was about to say that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, dealt with these matters thoroughly in the short time available, and I endorse what he said. I also endorse the warm tribute he paid to the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who we are glad to see is carrying on at the Home Office.
The division of subjects, according to the custom of the House, into foreign affairs, defence, home affairs and economics works pretty well on the whole. Before I get on to my subject of home affairs in general I must say a few words about defence policy. Mr. Hattersley, the deputy leader of my party, wrote an arresting book not long ago in which he laid it down that you can be a good Socialist without having any particular views on foreign or defence policy. Anyone who knows the history of my party will be aware that that must be so. When I became a member of the Labour Party, 50 or more years ago, the pacifist, George Lansbury, had just been supplanted by a gallant soldier, Major Attlee. We can be Socialists without, as Mr. Hattersley will explain, taking up any particular position. We all have our positions on foreign affairs and defence.
The Conservatives have often been sharply divided on defence policy. Older Members of the House will 175 be well aware that before the war they were split from top to bottom between appeasers and non-appeasers. It has always been understood that Conservative Central Office at one moment was trying to extrude Sir Winston Churchill, then in opposition, from his seat. So this difference of opinion in foreign policy is not confined to one party.
I shall add only one more word on this subject. I do not believe that the Labour Party will ever come to power unless it produces a defence policy more convincing than the one it produced on the last occasion at the election. That is my personal view, shared I should think by a great many others in the House and elsewhere. I cannot forget that it was the Labour Government of Clem Attlee and Ernest Bevin, of which I was a very minor member, who laid the foundations of the foreign policy of this country which has been followed from that day to this.
However, I turn now to home affairs. The question I am asking the House this afternoon—and I shall speak briefly—can be put very crudely. Why did many more British citizens vote for the Conservative Party than for the Labour Party at the last election? Why was it? If one were writing a history of this period, what would be one's analysis? Some will say that the campaign came into it. It is my view that on balance it did not come into it one way or the other. Mr. Kinnock fought a wonderful campaign and I am proud to think that he will be leader of my party long after I have passed from the scene. I hope the same will be true of our Labour leader in this House, even if he is somewhat older. At any rate those personalities were established and we can all be grateful for the lead given to us by our leaders during the election.
On the other hand, I am bound to say that on taxation it was very hard for the ordinary elector to know exactly where he stood. To put it mildly our taxation policy was not presented in a coherent way. So taking the campaign as a whole I agree with what I think I heard somebody say at some point earlier—it seems a long time ago—that perhaps the result would have been just the same if the election had been held on the day it was called as it was when voting finally took place.
We have to look a little beyond that if we want the answer to that question. Even if the Conservatives have won three elections running one cannot dismiss the British public as total morons. When one loses an election one is often inclined to take a rather jaundiced view of the electorate, but one cannot see matters in that way. I want to ask the question and provide the most general kind of answer.
The most general answer is that more people thought that their material interests would benefit under a Conservative Government than under a Labour Government. That was no doubt the reason. I am not saying that everyone votes entirely according to his material interests. There are 150,000 charities in this country. I would say that public spirit is as high today as ever it was and perhaps higher. I am sorry that the bishops are not here today otherwise I would have congratulated them on the stand they took—or a number of them took—which 176 came as near to taking our side as was compatible with an episcopal role. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham was particularly helpful; and as neither he nor the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, is present I shall not pursue their argument. However, we ought to have some very good exchanges between that distinguished pair as time goes on.
I return to the fact that more people voted for the Conservatives. In the past week I happened to meet two gentlemen who were previously Labour voters but who voted this time for Mrs. Thatcher. One of them had bought British Telecom shares and told me—I do not know whether it was quite accurate—that his shares had trebled in value. He said, "You won't be surprised that I voted for the government that produced from my point of view a very satisfactory result". The other one had been enabled under Conservative legislation to buy his council house. He said he bought it for £20,000. He reckons that it is now worth £50,000. Here you have a couple of typical gentlemen who had switched under these material inducements. Those stories were told to me after the election by people who had switched accordingly. We have to weigh up these matters from the electoral point of view and the moral point of view. I am not saying that because you win votes by some course of action that is necessarily the right thing, but in the Labour Party we have to ask ourselves how far—and this is my crucial question—our traditions, what is fundamental and what makes us join and stay in the Labour Party, are compatible with the sort of development which has occurred in the Church the laity of which in this country is presided over by the noble Duke opposite, the Catholic Church.
For instance, take Vatican 2. Who would have thought when I joined the Catholic Church in 1940 that you could have anything like Vatican 2? The changes have been tremendous. I think they are called developments, but they are changes in ordinary language. To put it bluntly, what the Labour Party needs is a Vatican 2. I put it in the simplest way possible.
The question is: what is fundamental and what is ephemeral, transitory, to be discarded with changing circumstances? Fundamentally—and this seems to me to be at least as true as when I joined the Labour Party—what distinguishes us as a party is our belief that all human beings who come into this world are of equal and infinite significance in the sight of God and ought to be treated in that way by human government. That is the fundamental approach of all of us in the Labour Party. When I say "all" I mean all, black, white, yellow or brown. That cannot be changed. If that had been changed the Labour Party would have gone out of business. That is fundamental.
The question is—and I am not going to answer it but just place it before your Lordships—in the light of the examples I gave, how far is it going to be possible in the years ahead for the Labour Party, compatible with its beliefs and its honour, to win over the electorate?
177 There was a poet called Crosland—I believe no connection with the famous Anthony Crosland—who once wrote these lines:I trod the road to Hell.But there were things I might have sold and did not sell.The Labour Party have not exactly gone over to Hell but they are still a long way from Heaven.
My submission to everybody—and of course particularly to my colleagues here and outside—is that we have to be quite sure that we do not betray our birthright, and I do not think there is any question of that. But if we want to be something more than a party of protest in the years ahead, in my time and after my time, then we have to ask ourselves in the changed circumstances of today, and in view of the changed requirements of the British people, what we can do to adapt our historic party.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Viscount Simon
My Lords, I want to hold up the House for only a few minutes to discuss matters arising out of one proposition in the gracious Speech; that is:Legislation will be introduced to enable the water and sewerage functions of the water authorities in England and Wales to be privatised".This matter was explained by the noble Earl who started the debate today. I am grateful to him because he indicated that we should in due course have a White Paper describing how the Government approach this matter; and so at this stage we cannot discuss any detail.
I interpreted the wording of the Queen's Speech that there will be legislation to enable this to be done not to mean that during this Session of Parliament privatisation will come along. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, when he comes to reply, can confirm that. Perhaps it does not make much difference because if it is a two-stage project then presumably the first stage, which is enabling, really subsumes agreement on the ultimate aim; otherwise you would not produce the enabling legislation.
My own view—and I think this is shared by my noble friends here—is that any proposal to transfer responsibility for any undertaking from the public sector to the private sector, or indeed from the private sector to the public sector, ought to be examined, considered and decided eventually on its merits.
I recognise that during a general election all issues are presented to the voters in a very truncated form; you might almost say in a very dogmatic form. I think this is true of the proposal to privatise—to use that horrible word—the water and sewerage functions of the water authorities. But when Parliament meets and has to consider these matters then we must try to get rid of that attitude and get down to the facts of each individual case and how it ought to be dealt with.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in his very acceptable speech seconding the Motion for the humble Address on 25th June used these words at col. 14 of the Official Report:it has always been my view that the private sector provides better management, a more loyal workforce, greater quality for the consumer and an efficient industry".178 With great respect to the noble Lord—and I have mentioned this matter to him—I think that in saying those words he expressed his prejudices rather than the result of any careful study of the facts.
I think we all of us have prejudices. I certainly have. The important thing when we come to decide on issues and the crunch comes is that we know that our prejudices are prejudices and really get down to the facts. I would only say one thing more on that subject and that is that this week we have all been enjoying—at least I think we have—the euphoria arising from the great success of the privatised British Airways. I am delighted to read and hear of it. But it should not be forgotten that the success of British Airways in its first year as a private company is almost entirely due to work done in previous years when it was not a private company but in public ownership and management. Incidentally, it was under the same distinguished chairman, my noble friend Lord King of Wartnaby.
As regards denationalisation, or privatisation, of water facilities with the water authorities, or those parts to be privatised according to the Government's plan, my noble friends and I—perhaps it is prejudice—do not think that it is a good idea. One of the advantages—and there are advantages on both sides—of privatising these public authorities is that an element of competition can be brought in, but that does not seem to apply in this particular case.
We may have a multiplicity of water companies supplying water in different areas, but presumably in any particular area it will be one company providing the water. There will be no possibility of the householder saying, "I don't want your water; I want water from that friend of yours over there". This would be quite impracticable. Obviously the same applies to the collection, treatment and disposal of sewage, so that this is not going to introduce a competitive element into the operation at all.
For those reasons, as I have frankly admitted, my prejudice, if you like, is that we should not support this operation. But as we have been told that we are going to hear more about it, and as in due course definite proposals will be put before us, I hope that we can refrain from discussing the details of the matter any further at this stage.
There was one other matter referred to in the gracious Speech that I thought of mentioning. That concerns the proposed help to the shipping industry. I have an interest here because I spent two-thirds of my working life in the shipping industry and I know how difficult life has been for that industry over many years now, going back before the present Government.
The outline given by the noble Earl of the ways in which some help was going to be given did not strike me immediately as enormously important, though I am sure that every little helps. Here again, when the issue comes forward we shall be able to have a much fuller discussion. I know that many noble Lords in all parts of the House think that we ought to have a discussion about the position of the British shipbuilding industry and the way in which it has diminished.
179 It is rather interesting that when the matter is occasionally raised at Question Time, the Answers are usually given by the noble Lord who represents the Ministry of Defence, as though the only thing that was important was that the British shipping available to us here was sufficient to support the military operations that are likely to arise. The Falklands action is often quoted as an example of having sufficient ships to support the operation.
I had the privilege of working in the Ministry of War Transport during the whole of the last war, and of course the vast majority of the shipping which we had to organise and use was not engaged in supporting the military operations but was engaged in feeding and supplying this country. The shipping required for that is much greater than that for supporting particular military operations anywhere. I hope that when we come to discuss in more detail the future prosperity of the shipping industry, that will be borne in mind.
Thanks to the noble Earl's introduction and help, I think I can cut my speech down to no more minutes than those I have taken.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Baroness Cox
My Lords, I wish to use my brief contribution to this debate on the gracious Speech to welcome and endorse very strongly the proposed legislation concerning education. The leader of The Times on the 26th June hailed the gracious Speech as "A Speech of Liberation". Nowhere is this more true than in the plans to liberate the parents in their choice of schools, to give schools the opportunity of liberation from meddlesome local authorities, to give local authorities in London the chance to liberate themselves from ILEA and, in higher education, to liberate polytechnics and certain other colleges from local authority control.
Of course, storm clouds of resistance to these liberating proposals are gathering: some of them in evidence here today. I therefore wish to explain why I believe that these proposals are principled, necessary and urgent and why I do not believe that there is a strong case against them.
First, the case for extending parental choice: the 1980 Education Act increased parental choice both in principle and in practice so that now many parents do indeed have the satisfaction of seeing their children accepted in the school of their first choice. But for far too many parents this is not the case, and they are often desperate. And it is particularly galling for them when they know that there are vacancies in their chosen school but they are forced to send their children to a school that they do not like in order to keep that school viable. This is of course because a large number of good schools have been forced by their authorities to cut back on their intakes, even when they have the space and the staff to accommodate more pupils. Now, with the proposals for open enrolment, those schools will be able to take applicants up to their full capacity.
Of course there is an immediate outcry that this will lead to the creation of "sink schools" for those who are left behind in the less popular schools. But that is a non sequitur for two reasons. First, too many 180 pupils and teachers are already trapped now in schools which are educational disaster areas. Why should others be forced to join them? Does spreading the misery make it better?
Secondly, as my noble friend the Minister pointed out in his opening speech, if more pupils are allowed to go to schools which their parents believe are good that will create an incentive for those less popular schools to be more responsive to their parents' wishes. I would suggest that that is no bad thing. I would rather trust the parents than the bureaucrats.
This is likely to be a very popular measure and it is not an act of centralism, as the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, indicated. It is rather a true devolution of power to the people. Indeed, I have already been asked by parents how soon this provision is likely to come into effect. I would be most grateful if my noble friend the Minister could give me an answer to that question, if not today then perhaps in a letter subsequent to this debate.
The second liberation will allow schools to free themselves from local education authorities. This is perhaps the most radical of all the proposals and would make this legislation the most significant since the 1984 Education Act. No school has to opt out from local authority control: there is no coercion here. But the kinds of schools which might eagerly embrace this freedom include, for example, those good comprehensives which are desperately trying to retain their sixth forms against local authority threats to remove them and to send their sixth-formers to tertiary colleges; or schools where teachers "walk in fear", as one head recently described it, of victimisation for infringing the political commitments of their local authority, such as those teachers in Brent who are now subjected to surveillance by what are known locally as "race spies", of whom 50 of the proposed 177 have already been appointed at vast public expense. These teachers also have the memory of the treatment that was meted out to Miss McGoldrick; and they are talking of the relief that opting out would bring.
This option of opting out may also appeal to schools where parents are frantically worried about ideological teaching in the classroom, and particularly about the promotion of so-called "positive images" of homosexuality with young children. It is perhaps no coincidence that reports are coming in that already seven schools in Haringey are getting ready to opt out from their authority.
Some opponents try to frighten those who are thinking of opting out by asserting that it would be impracticable. But there are plenty of precedents for autonomous schools funded by direct per capita government grants. I am sure that your Lordships will remember those excellent direct grant schools which were so tragically abolished by Labour in 1976.
I should like to take this opportunity to raise a related issue. There are now a growing number of new schools being established up and down the country by parents and teachers who are so desperate and dismayed by the poor academic moral and spiritual education in their local schools that they are prepared to make great sacrifices to set up their own alternatives—which are, incidentally, proving very successful.
181 I have recently had both the pleasure and the privilege of visiting two such new schools in very different locations. One is a new Christian school, the King's School in Witney, near Oxford, set up by local house churches. I understand that there are now about 40 similar new Christian schools which have sprung up in different parts of the country. The other school was the splendid John Loughborough School set up by the West Indian community in the inner city area of Tottenham. I shall never forget one of the parent governors of John Loughborough School saying to me that the local state comprehensive schools were so inadequate academically and in terms of moral and spiritual education that he used to have to send his children back to Jamaica to get a good old-fashioned British Christian education, but that was no longer necessary now that John Loughborough School had opened in Tottenham.
What an indictment of our education system! How we have failed parents and pupils! They are not wealthy people and the sacrifices that they have had to make lead me to ask my noble friend the Minister whether he would ask his right honourable friend the Secretary of State to consider taking the proposed legislation a little further than just opting out and also to consider the possibility of allowing some of those new schools to opt in to direct-grant funding.
Briefly, my third example of proposed liberation will allow local education authorities in London to opt out of ILEA. I know that ILEA, in its former guise as the old LCC, rightly earned the respect and affection of countless people, but tragically it has changed in many ways. It is now a battleground for political dispute, militant disruption and ideological interference, and of course it is the pupils who suffer. Although ILEA devours massively disproportionate resources—£2,275 per secondary school pupil is vastly more than that which goes to other deprived areas such as Bradford and Manchester—despite generous funding the level of attainment achieved in its schools compares very badly with the rest of the country. Perhaps that is partly because resources are spent on ideological distractions such as "anti-racist maths" and anti-heterosexism" which, according to the latest issue of ILEA-funded GEN now permeate down to day nurseries.
Resources have also been squandered on unacceptable teaching materials such as the notorious Auschwitz pack which caused such offence that eventually it had to be withdrawn. So perhaps it is not surprising that some local authorities believe that they can provide better education with autonomy, apart from ILEA. Such local authorities include not only Conservative-controlled Kensington, Wandsworth and Westminster, but also, according to the Sunday Times, Alliance-controlled Tower Hamlets and the independent City of London. If they so wish, those authorities should be granted autonomy as a matter of urgency.
Finally, there is the proposal to give autonomy to polytechnics and certain other colleges and take them away from LEA control. This must also be welcomed for reasons similar to those which pertain for schools. However, I should like to make one further plea for an additional freedom which has not been mentioned but which I and many others would like to see in this 182 Bill of liberation. I refer to the freedom for students in higher education not to have to join the closed shop of the students' union. There is a strong case for voluntary membership of student unions. I shall not make it now but I hope that I shall have an opportunity to do so when this truly radical Education Bill comes before your Lordships' House.
I conclude by reiterating how much I commend and support the Government for putting forward this charter for freedom on behalf of those who are most vulnerable: the young. So much is at stake not only, though of course most importantly, for them but also for all of us as a nation.
§ 7.4 p.m.
Lord Wallace of Coslany
My Lords, I cannot be expected to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. Quite frankly it would be very bad for my blood pressure, because her views and the views of many of her colleagues in a document that has been published recently are reactionary in the extreme. Her remarks come badly at a time when we all know that our education system has been deprived of money, books and essential equipment. The standard of education had been dictated by the amount of money allowed to our schools to such an extent that parents have had to buy books for their children. Naturally all decent parents want a fair chance for their children, some of whom are slow developers.
To me basically it all smells of snob appeal. I believe that if these proposals are carried through the whole education system of Britain will find itself in chaos. One fact that emerges quite clearly from the gracious Speech is that further attacks will be made on local government. Local authorities will be made increasingly subject to dictation from Whitehall and local democracy will fade in the face of government autocracy. I can assure your Lordships that there is considerable concern about the situation in local government circles, including those with Conservative majorities.
Councillor Newton, the leader of my local authority, the London Borough of Bexley, has warned of the inroads that Whitehall is making into local government and of its financial effects. Those of us whose public service began in local councils and those members of all parties who still serve bitterly regret the weakening and undermining of a service which for many years has been the foundation stone of Britain's democratic system. The abolition of domestic rates, the introduction of a poll tax and consequent new arrangements for local government finance to a great extent will remove the power of local electors and councils to decide what is best for local interests and needs. The local authorities with elected members from the population that they serve know best what is needed for their district.
An even worse situation is that local authority housing services now face almost complete abolition. At the moment as a result of government policy the only way that some people, especially the young newly married, can obtain a home is to purchase it. With house prices rising to ridiculous levels, especially in the South-East, a mortgage can become a millstone which may even wreck a marriage. In 183 many areas old but well built Victorian houses are being demolished in order to make way for expensive one-bedroomed flats for sale. Some are being converted to flats for disposal at high prices or high rents. In my area a one-bedroomed flat can in some cases fetch £40,000. New housing is being developed near my home on land that once harboured a very well known children's home which had plenty of open space and trees around it. Houses are now being built there that have handkerchief-sized gardens and cost upwards of £134,000 for three-bedroomed accommodation. In this area as elsewhere council housing stocks have been depleted owing to the success of the Government's selling campaign.
No opportunity has been given to local authorities to maintain their stock of housing for letting, which is essential. It so happens that during my days in another place for a long and happy period I represented the City of Norwich, which is a very large housing authority and a go-ahead city. The Stationery Office wanted to move out of London and Norwich wanted the Stationery Office, so houses were made available for key personnel and essential staff and the Stationery Office moved to its own advantage and that of the people of Norwich. That was due to the fact that the local authority was progressive and also had a stock of council houses available and was building others.
I am all for home ownership and freedom of choice. If I said otherwise I would be a hypocrite, because now in the end I own my own house. It has taken a long time but at least I have it now. But there must be a quota of rented accommodation made available for those who are unable to afford a mortgage and for mobile labour. For the poorer paid there must be a quota of subsidised accommodation.
There may be a shortage of skilled labour in the South-East, but there is no attraction for an unemployed skilled worker in the North to sell his house at the lower prices obtaining there and to buy—that is the only option—another house in the South-East at the grossly inflated prices now prevailing. At the moment at least there is no chance to rent. That is the problem facing mobility of labour. A certain Minister once said, "Get on your bike", but it is no darned good getting on your bike if there is no house to live in at the end of the journey.
There is not only the problem of skilled labour. My local hospital is seriously short of nurses and midwives, with only agency staff available, which is neither economic nor desirable. Advertisements have been placed in provincial newspapers all over the country but have not achieved any results. The fact is—and this applies to many areas in the South-East and to London in particular—that nursing staff simply cannot afford to buy houses at inflated prices and they have no alternative. So you cannot get the nurses and in the case of industry you cannot get the skilled labour.
Let me add—and this is significant in view of the remarks of the noble Baroness—that this also applies to teachers. Rented accommodation is still in short supply. I know the Government say that they will do something about the position, but it seems to me that 184 they are more concerned to give better hopes to landlords and not so much to tenants. But the Government must meet the need by direct action and encouragement.
I very much regret that there is no mention in the gracious Speech of the need for consolidation and revision of allotment garden legislation. I am sure that the noble Lord would expect me to bring that in. There is also no mention of the implementation of the Thorpe Report (Cmnd. 4166) of October 1969. That puts blame on Labour governments as well as on Conservative governments. The House is well aware of my frustrated effort. But I am still willing to help the Government should their minds become a little more receptive. I chatted at the State Opening with one junior Minister who was very interested and who promised to get a copy of the Thorpe Report. But I shall not mention the name and shall keep it to myself for the time being.
There is another bee in my bonnet for which I make no apology. Too many houses are being built today with the minimum of garden space. Inner cities cry out for development and government intentions in this regard are very welcome. I hope that with the maximum co-operation with local authorities, Members of this House and elsewhere action can be taken on the right lines. Here is a great opportunity to improve the environment with adequate open spaces, trees and the provision of plots of land to grow our own flowers, fruit and vegetables.
Unfortunately, vandalism and crime continue to grow due to homelessness, unemployment and the crumbling decay of inner-city areas with the consequent despair. Young people have just got fed up. The trouble is that they have taken the wrong road and that is why there are so many problems today. Family life is often lacking—very much so today—but family life depends on a home, decent surroundings and adequate social amenities.
Finally—I may be a little controversial here—the Government obtained their majority mainly from the prosperous South and South-East. There is no doubt that much prosperity exists in those areas for some people, but to a great extent it is prosperity founded on mortgages, credit cards and share deals. Personal debt, as we all know, is increasing rapidly and could have a serious effect in the course of time not only politically but on family life and the welfare of the nation as a whole.
In conclusion, I repeat that Britain needs a return to the values of the home and closely knit family life. The Government have a responsibility to set the lead for the people to follow, but I am sorry that the proposals in the gracious Speech do not seem to go very far to meet that ideal. I wish that they did, but I cannot at this time see that being achieved.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Lord Alport
My Lords, the recent election proved once again that Britain or at any rate England is a very conservative country. I often recall the leader in The Times at the end of 1945 when it said that it was unlikely that there would be another Tory administration before the end of the 20th century. By 185 contrast there have been Conservative governments during about 25 of the last 40 years including 13 consecutive years between 1951 and 1964.
I think it worth recalling that during that period there was a significant almost unparalleled increase in the standard of living. It was then that the foundations were laid for the development of the North Sea oil industry by the Government in partnership with private enterprise upon the success of which our present prosperity is largely based. It is also worth remembering that it has been the development of industries under public ownership which has enabled them to be sold off at immense profit during the last few years thus enabling the Government to reduce the burden of direct taxation. This in no way seeks to diminish the success of many aspects of the current Government's policy, but credit should be given where credit is due and every government of all parties are entitled to some recognition for the contribution that they have made to the greatly improved prospects which we are told lie ahead of Britain today.
It has been basic to the political philosophy of the Tory Party long before the Earl of Beaconsfield's speech of 1872 that it should seek to maintain our institutions. The personalities who lead us come and go, economic theories and practice change with almost every decade under the influence of forces over which the Government have only very limited control. Social problems and codes of public and personal morality tend to alter from one generation to the next. But the stability of this country and ultimately its continuing prosperity and strength depend upon the maintenance of those institutions which time and the wisdom of successive generations have evolved to ensure the good government, the unity and the freedoms of the nation. The first of these major institutions is the monarchy; the second is the high court of Parliament; and the third is the system of local government, older than Parliament and almost as long descended as the monarchy itself.
I cannot resist adding that my own town of Colchester is the oldest recorded borough in the country. It was a town when London itself was simply a village on the swampy margins of the Thames. Colchester has a had a local administration going back for at least 792 years.
If I understand the pronouncements of the Prime Minister correctly we have now in power in this country not a Conservative Government but a radical government. Radical conservatism is a contradiction in terms. It was clear in the last Parliament—and this is carried further by the proposals in the gracious Speech—that, owing to the financial irresponsibility on the part of a few local councils, the social criteria adopted by others and the inability (for a variety of local reasons) of others still to meet the educational standards adopted by the Government, the powers previously exercised by local authorities everywhere will be increasingly centralised in Whitehall.
I fought my first election against the dogma of the then Labour Government that the "Men in Whitehall know best". I did not believe that then and although those men have changed, I do not believe it 186 now. I fear that the new found radicalism of what was once a Conservative party will destroy confidence in and the ability to recruit able men and women to serve us in local government throughout Great Britian and will undermine the whole system.
The Parliament which will govern this country during the next three or four years will be concerned with a mass of legislation designed to reduce the powers and responsibilities of local authorities great and small over finance, development, education, housing and the various consumer services which over the years county councils and district councils and civic corporations had responsibility to provide. Why is that? It is because in certain areas, London and Liverpool for instance, local authorities have been elected to power that consist of representatives whose policies are unacceptable to the Government of Westminster.
I strongly support the policies set out in the gracious Speech that a special effort should be made to tackle the problems of inner cities. If I have reservations it is because I doubt whether the encouragement of small-scale enterprise will solve the social and environmental problems of, let us say, Toxteth or Brixton and that the building of Canary Wharf will solve the problems of Tower Hamlets or that the development of the Liverpool docks will make much impact on the problems of Croxteth. What I find difficult to accept is the justification of arguing from the particular to the general. That because some local authorities have been financially irresponsible, all local authorities should be penalised; that because the Government do not like certain of the attitudes of the ILEA towards education for instance, control of education should be centralised increasingly in Whitehall and that the ILEA should be eventually abolished.
I am not the first of those who have spoken in this House and in another place to warn the Government that the institution of the poll tax instead of rates on property is administratively impracticable and socially and morally unjustifiable. Up to now there has been a balance between the powers of central government and local government and noble Lords on the other side of the House will remember that that was particularly true when the Labour Government were in power. Now that balance will be upset. The result will be that, so far from the average elector becoming more actively involved in the many matters which directly concern his living standards, he will find that he is farther away from the real centres of power which can influence them for the better. For instance, if a private contractor fails to clear his rubbish, a complaint to his councillor will in future apparently get the reply that he should write to his Member of Parliament.
Local councillors with diminished responsibilities and powers will gradually lose heart and will be replaced by others with lesser abilities and perhaps lower standards of public service. Whatever may be the weaknesses of locally-based public administration, and no one denies that there are such weaknesses, its virtue is that it is local. A system which may or may not be more efficient but which is remote and impersonal removes that cardinal virtue and will ultimately breed alienation and discontent.
187 We criticise our councils and those who serve them. We grumble, but a local councillor who can be of help is only a telephone call or a bus ride away. Despite our grumbles I must emphasise that there is a sense of pride in and an identification with familiar institutions which cannot be replaced by the theoretical advantages which centralisation in Whitehall may produce.
A couple of weeks ago Mr. Peregrine Worsthorne wrote a leader in the Sunday Telegraph. His theme was that when a Conservative government shed their conservatism and adopt a radical approach to issues and institutions there is nothing left to protect the public from the damage that such policies may have for the long-term interests and stability of the country. To this perhaps I might be allowed to add, except the House of Lords.
That is a role which within the constitution we do not have the powers adequately to perform. But in the course of this Parliament I hope that we shall be able to mitigate the emasculation of local government in Britain as outlined in the policies of the gracious Speech. In so doing we shall be rendering a service to the country as a whole and we on these Benches will at least have the satisfaction of knowing that we have done something to maintain the real traditions and principles of the party to which we belong.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Lord Trafford
My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord would not expect me to follow him into the realms of local government reform. I wish to make two brief comments in the field of higher education. Before making such comments, I should perhaps declare an interest in that I am privileged to be a pro-chancellor and chairman of council of a university.
I listened with very great interest to the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, earlier today when he commented that a new dialogue between government and universities was necessary and desirable. I agree with that but I think that part of the necessity has arisen because the adaptation that many people had hoped to see in the direction of universities has not been entirely fulfilled. Adaptation even in such ancient institutions as Oxford, whose reply was quoted this afternoon, is desirable and necessary. We had a lecture from the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, on a number of changes which we should make in this House itself and I see no reason why the universities should be in any way exempt from that. Nor indeed is there any real evidence that they would wish to be.
One of the main reasons why certain areas of the dialogue between government and universities have been bitter is that the instruments to the hand of government are blunt; that is to say that when applied they do not necessarily achieve the objects for which they were originally intended. Thus the 1981 changes instituted through the financial constraints operated by the University Grants Committee are a very blunt instrument to produce any change in universities.
The Government presumably desire some form of restructuring. They believe, as do many people and as 188 is widely thought in industry, that the universities needed to change and adapt to prepare themselves and those they educate for the next decade and beyond.
The problem, as a result of using such an instrument, was that many of the changes were adverse; that is to say that in various ways and by various means the cutting down of certain departments led to the departure of the wrong people or the wrong departments in the wrong university. I repeat that I believe that that was because the instruments were blunt. I share the noble Lord's view that it is unlikely that the reconstruction of a university funding council of itself would make very much difference to such developments from that which pertains today under the University Grants Committee.
But where I disagree with the noble Lord is in his dismissal of one of the most fundamental necessities for restructuring, which is to take up the question of tenure. The problem lies in the fact that the most equitable course is to say that only new appointments will be affected in that way. The difficulty is that it would take 30 years to achieve any change. That, by any standards, is quite a long time.
The second possibility would be to look at the problem in terms of tenure and promotion. That would indeed shorten the period in which restructuring could take place, but only by something of the order of 10 or 15 years, which brings us into the next century. I believe that we must look at the more radical solution of tenure as a whole with appropriate, reasonable and equitable safeguards. Then, when the University Grants Committee or its successor is asked to look at questions of contracts, arrangements or university grants, it will look with a very different approach at where selectivity and building on the strengths of various universities can take place.
I must confess that I shudder slightly when I hear people talking about cutting down the number of universities and when they speak, as the noble Lord, Lord Blake, did in our recent debate in this House on higher education, about the bottom 15 universities not doing research. What is a university if it does no research? Is it truly a university then? I begin to wonder. I am therefore anxious on that score. I believe that if there is a possibility of restructuring within the system in the way in which I have mentioned, then the universities can not only protect themselves but can, in the long term, protect the interests of the public which they also have to serve.
My second point is a much more parochial one in the sense that there should also be a better governance of universities. I use that term advisedly because I do not want to confuse government and the control or running of universities. I hope that I do not incur the immediate and violent wrath of the noble Lord, Lord Alport, if I say that one of my feelings on this matter is that we should reduce the representation on governing councils of members of local authorities. I say that for a specific reason. Although it is perfectly possible that all such representatives are excellent people, well motivated, interested and knowledgeable in university affairs or the affairs of 189 education, unfortunately that does not always happen. For far too many people it turns out to be yet another committee.
As one who is deeply interested in the governance of universities, I very much want to see properly motivated and useful people on the councils and governing bodies of universities. Those are the people who can help to improve the dialogue which is necessary and who can bring into universities the outside money, the outside research interest, the connections with industry and the continuing education programmes which are going to be so vital in this field in the coming years.
These two steps which I have mentioned briefly tonight and which I hope to raise again on another occasion seem to me to be difficult to tackle. But it is necessary to tackle them if we are to achieve again a better relationship not only between government and university but also between whatever committee is put in place of the University Grants Committee and the universities themselves.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Lord Blease
My Lords, this has been a wide-ranging, interesting and challenging debate. I hope I will be forgiven if I deal with one matter in the gracious Speech which has not yet been mentioned—the subject of Northern Ireland. I have perused the references to Northern Ireland in eight Queen's Speeches as reported in the official records of this House over the past 10 years. I have found very little change in the text of the separate references. The gracious Speech we are debating today follows that set pattern of phraseology.
Perhaps the unchanged framework of words sadly reflects the nature of the basic political situation in Northern Ireland. It is a situation where the scope for constructive consensus for change is becoming politically fossilised. Some measure of responsibility for the present entrenched political position and for the consequential stunted economic outlook must be directed towards the elected representatives and other public leaders at all levels in the Province.
At the same time, it must surely be the overriding duty of the sovereign Parliament and the elected Government to make certain that suitable measures are designed and effectively implemented to ensure that the lives, the safety and the wellbeing of all law-abiding citizens are adequately protected and upheld.
Today, many people in Northern Ireland are earnestly striving for changed and realistic political attitudes. That new thinking and efforts at constructive consultations are taking place at many levels—in churches, in commercial and industrial undertakings, in the public services, in trade union organisations and especially among many of the voluntary community bodies. Surely it is not too much to expect the Government earnestly to commit every possible resource and support for the encouragement of full community participation in the parliamentary constitution processes. Encouragement is needed which actively seeks a constructive dialogue and a more open political campaign of explanation about relevant security matters and about the provision of equality of citizenship rights.
190 The building of confidence in the parliamentary processes and the defeat of terrorism involve much more than policing, security provisions and prisons, although these are necessary and the people who provide such services do a magnificent and heroic job. There is also the battle for the hearts, the minds and the commitment of the people and especially of the young. I do not wish to decry the considerable efforts made by various United Kingdom administrations during the past 20 years to build peace and to prevent the continuing and unnecessary toll of human misery and suffering in Northern Ireland.
Some of the most heartfelt moments for me in this House during the past nine years have been the occasions when noble Lords from all sides of the House have risen to express their genuine concern, their compassion and their support for Ministers of the Conservative Administration and of the previous Labour Government as they, in their ministerial offices, honestly strove to tackle some of the tragic and deepseated problems of the Province. I am glad to be able to say that while there is no formal bipartisan arrangement in Irish affairs, I have been impressed by, and grateful for, the sympathetic understanding and trust that is so readily extended from these Opposition Benches and from all parts of the House to Government Ministers, both here and in another place, who shoulder the difficult, demanding and dangerous burdens of the Northern Ireland Office. I am confident that the same approach and spirit of active understanding will prevail in the challenging days ahead.
Many parts of the Queen's Speech are of major importance to the people of Northern Ireland, as they are to those in other regions of the United Kingdom. The 49 words that directly concern the province mention a three-fold commitment. The commitment is to seek an agreed basis on which greater responsibility can be devolved to representatives of the people, to work unremittingly for the defeat of terrorism, and to build upon the constructive relations established with the Republic of Ireland in security and other matters.
Before attempting to deal with those three issues, I wish to mention my concern about the omission from the gracious Speech of a vital commitment given on previous occasions. The omission is the commitment to promote the social and economic welfare of the Province. Far-reaching proposals for development have been announced inviting the help and encouragement of public and private investment and the active co-operation of employers' organisations, trade unions, local authorities and community organisations. Those proposals include imaginative developments for Belfast and for urban and rural areas; for energy resources and for the construction industry; for concerted efforts by the Department of Economic Development to stimulate new technologically-based enterprises; for measures to promote production, employment in agriculture, in textiles and manufacturing industries; also the commitment to Harland and Wolff shipbuilding and to Shorts aircraft production. Surely in the light of these provincial commitments the omission from the gracious Speech of this usual brief reference is an unfortunate oversight. Perhaps when winding-up the 191 Minister can give a reasoned explanation and an assurance of the Government's commitment to these matters.
I wish to welcome the three-fold commitment by the Government as stated in the gracious Speech. The commitment deals with a devolved administration for Northern Ireland; the defeat of terrorism; and the existence of the Anglo-Irish agreement. Noble Lords who are acquainted with Irish affairs need hardly to be told that these are highly emotional issues which have become intricately welded together by the complex political stances.
The successful pursuit of the commitment is largely dependent upon the establishment of a framework for real constructive political dialogue between the United Kingdom Government and the representatives of the main constitutional parties in Northern Ireland. It will be evident to all concerned that the success of such round table talks will require sympathetic understanding and considerable political skill, together with utter frankness and honesty. The initial approaches should be deemed as consultative and exploratory rather than negotiating positions.
A recent election for the United Kingdom Parliament was something of a watershed in Ulster politics. Gone is the blanket negative intransigence. There are widespread impressions of a new willingness to explore the possibility of a constructive way forward. Already some of the younger party political activists are publicly indicating their views which give a ring of hope for constructive change. One such statement, while not exclusively relevant because it was written by a prominent member of the Ulster Political Research Group Mr. John McMichael, is worthy of earnest consideration. The statement reads:Whilst we have no doubt that compromise and accommodation can be reached between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, it is impossible to compromise on the existence of Northern Ireland itself—it either exists or it doesn't. At present it exists and is a part of the United Kingdom. This situation may not be the whole-hearted wish of everyone in the province but must be recognised to be the wish of most. Surely then this is the logical place to make a beginning.It is our firm conviction that the vast majority of both religious communities long for peace, reconciliation and the chance to create a better future for their children. But longing is not enough; there must be a mechanism created to harness the love, generosity, courage and integrity of Ulster people in both religious communities and direct its great power towards the light of a new beginning.In the pamphlet Mr. McMichael goes on to suggest a mechanism which includes a devolved legislative government in Northern Ireland, a written constitution and a Bill of Rights. He concludes this particular statement with the following words which are worth putting on the record:There is no section of this divided Ulster community which is totally innocent or indeed totally guilty, totally right or totally wrong. We all share the responsibility for creating the situation either by deed or by acquiescence. Therefore we must share the responsibility for finding a settlement and then share the responsibility of maintaining good government.Another such statement was issued by the Northern Ireland Women's Rights Movement some five weeks ago, and was widely reported. Part of the statement said:As women in working class areas who bear the brunt of the poverty, and the violence, we are no longer prepared to sit back and 192 say nothing, as we know that over the past 20 years our children have seen nothing but violence and we live in a community of hatred.Our families and especially our young people have experienced violence first hand, sectarian beatings and killings. We can assure you that such things are most terrifying and of course most people think that these things only happen to other people and not to themselves. Whose child will be next?Our young people are very much at risk and we have youths who are crippled, in body and mind. We reject methods like knee-capping as a form of punishment. These children need more help—after all they learn from the godfathers.We demand that the murderous attacks stop immediately, whether it be on civilians, police, soldiers or victims of plastic bullets. As such we are prisoners in our own communities, not able to move about the city freely for fear of attacks, this is especially true for young people.As women's groups in the community, some of us have overcome this situation and we do now meet in each other's areas. But still this is only the beginning and we want other women to join in with this kind of activity, so that communities are not afraid of each other.We believe that some of these politicians who say that they represent us are as guilty as the gunmen, in that they do nothing to try to bring the people together. Almost none of the politicians try to bring Protestant and Catholic together, in fact we think that the division of the people benefits the politicians.I have read that statement because the women of Northern Ireland have set down a challenge to us all and especially to many of our politicians.
The Irish Congresss of Trade Unions and its Northern Ireland Committee have a proud record of promoting reasoned co-operation by workers and management in the maintenance of peace. Various attempts have been made to escalate the violence and disruption by murder, intimidation, sectarianism and by discrimination in and at the work place. The Committee and its trade union affiliates are working closely with the Northern Ireland Office on a "Guide to Manpower Policies and Practice".
At the annual conference of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions being held this week in the city of Cork in the Irish Republic, Mr. Billy Wallace, a Belfast trade union official, will seek the adoption of a policy document which commits the trade unions in Ireland to equality of opportunities for all. I should like to quote the conclusion from the 10-page document, which states:Whilst the Northern Ireland Committee's record on seeking equality in employment has been consistent and progressive throughout the last two decades, the Committee is not complacent about what needs to be done. Whilst the Committee believes that progress would be greatly assisted by the rapid development of new job opportunities, it specifically rejects the view which is sometimes put forward that progress is impossible in the meantime. Change can be effected by a combination of clear objectives, proper procedures and programmes, and the application of a political will by all those involved, especially Government, employers, the FEA, [Fair Employment Agency] Unions and their members, employees and communituy organisations.In the long run it may be argued that the economic situation has more serious implications for the people of Northern Ireland than the political situation. This could be an obvious reason for the all out onslaught by terrorists to bring about industrial instability.
One of the important bodies in Northern Ireland representative of workers, managers and the universities, is the Northern Ireland Economic Council. This body has worked unceasingly to influence community attitudes and public thinking, as well as government decisions to stimulate radical improvements in Northern Ireland's economic performance and industrial development. The 193 chairman of the Council, Sir Charles Carter—an economist of considerable international standing—on the 11th June stated:Ulster must develop a leadership for the settlement of its own problems: presenting the British Government with an agreed package which that Government could not possibly turn down. You will say that this is impossible, given the personalities of the political leaders and their problems with their own parties. But, if it is impossible, things will not just go on as at present: they will get worse, and the Province will slide into a situation in which it is derelict and ungovernable. So, I am not prepared to accept 'impossible' for an answer. I recognise the extreme delicacy of any negotiations which might take place between Ulster leaders, and the need not only for confidentiality but for proper preparation and for mediation. Private funds could, I know, be found to support such an effort".Sir Charles Carter calls upon the Government and other organisations to join in a campaign of this nature in Northern Ireland.
As the one speaker in this debate who lives in Northern Ireland I thank your Lordships for your patience, and perhaps I can plead for your indulgence in getting down these comments in black and white. I end with these words. There can be no doubt that a commitment to Northern Ireland by the Government is going to be difficult to fulfil. I have tried in my speech to indicate that there are positive signs of change and hope. From this side of the House we wish the Government success in the stated aims concerning Northern Ireland.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords, I am very happy indeed to follow the noble Lord, Lord Blease, with his unrivalled knowledge of Northern Ireland—a place with which of course the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, was at one time also quite familiar.
This may be an appropriate moment to welcome the new Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office, Mr. John Stanley, and at the same time to pay a tribute to his predecessor, Mr. Nicholas Scott. I think I speak for many people both in Parliament and outside in expressing our thanks and admiration for the long and dedicated service he put in.
The noble Lord, Lord Blease, mentioned the results of the election in Northern Ireland. These to my mind show a major victory for moderation in spite of the crudities and distortions of the first-past-the-post method. The SDLP, I am glad to say, polled two-and-a-half times as many votes as Provisional Sinn Fein. Even the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, which has sometimes been dismissed as an ineffective and bourgeois body, secured more votes than the Provisionals. I welcome the increased representation in the other place for the SDLP, which is the non-violent nationalist party. I hope that its popular vote will soon be better reflected on the Benches of your Lordships' House. I trust that the election results will encourage all those in Northern Ireland who have been working long, hard and patiently for peace. May it give new strength to those who are prepared to negotiate and may it reinforce those who value the needs of the present day and the future more than ancient feuds and past grievances.
There is a periodical published in Belfast called Fortnight. It in fact appears monthly and it has 194 received an award from the Ewart-Biggs Memorial Trust for its balanced contributions to dialogue and to constructive political thought. Its recent interviews of Mr. Harry West and Mr. Austin Currie were, I think, hopeful straws in the wind. These two men, one of whom is an Official Unionist and the other a founder member of the SDLP, are both former Ministers and have been members of most of the recent elected bodies in Northern Ireland. They both saw integration with Great Britain on the one hand or a unitary Irish state on the other as equally impossible. Both men argued for negotiations concerning real issues with a view to devolution. Both accepted the Anglo-Irish Agreement as an incentive to negotiate. A certain amount has been said today in your Lordships' House about Scottish devolution and that may perhaps be not inappropriate in the Irish context and just a little incentive to get things moving.
I turn now to more parochial issues and first of all to the Divis Flats in West Central Belfast. This notorious post-war complex has already been partially demolished and I understand that approval has already been given for demolishing the remaining high-rise blocks. The urgency of this has again been underlined by the Evason-Blackman Report on physical and mental health in Divis. So I ask whether today the process of moving tenants out of these flats has already begun and when demolition will be completed.
The Crescent Arts Centre, just north of Queen's University and opposite the offices of the Corrymeela community, is my next point of concern. I have an unusual interest to declare in this centre. In 1979 I put in two or three days' hard manual labour preparing the building for modernisation and improvement. This centre is Belfast's only voluntary arts centre, with some 900 members, and it caters for all ages and tastes. It has provided a base for drama, dance, visual and photographic arts as well as music. It has been a showplace both for local talent and for visiting artists and companies. About 20 full-time jobs are linked with the centre. The building serves as a very special nursery and seed-bed for a wide range of voluntary and amateur groups who would have the greatest difficulties finding alternative accommodation.
The Crescent centre is partly funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and by Belfast City Council but, curiously enough, the owner of the whole complex is the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment. The DoE has found that the site is not now required for a road scheme and that it would need considerable expenditure in order to comply with modern regulations. It has declared the building to be surplus to its requirements. The DoE is thus in a position to sell the building on the open market and has already asked the arts centre to vacate. This decision caused much public concern. Mr. Richard Needham, MP, the Minister in question, very kindly wrote to me enclosing a copy of a letter dated 23rd June from his office to the manager of the arts centre. It is clear that the Minister is sympathetic and wishes to do all he can to help the centre find alternative accommodation, and I am grateful to him for that.
195 I should like to take this opportunity of urging the Minister to consult his colleague at the Department of Education in Northern Ireland who has direct responsibility for the arts and for adult education to see whether together they cannot work out a joint solution. It is essential to have a continuing centre for the arts located in the middle of Belfast where all-comers can feel safe and where two deeply divided traditions and communities can meet on neutral ground to explore their common interests. It would be a disaster if the Crescent centre became homeless or were to be plagued by prolonged uncertainty as to its future. I hope it will not be said that the old museum in College Square North can replace the Crescent. That building already has its own users and should be seen as complementary and not as an alternative to the Crescent.
In conclusion, I refer to the report entitled Improving Community Relations published last year by Hugh Fraser and Mari Fitzduff. This was commissioned by the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights and was discussed at a conference at Stranmillis College last April. The commission will, I gather, be having further talks with Her Majesty's Government. The matter is, however, far too important to be allowed to rest there. In my view it is essential, whatever the difficulties, that the Secretary of State and his departmental Ministers should consult together and come to a common mind about the importance of positive community relations and how these may be best fostered. There should perhaps be a community relations unit within the Civil Service directly responsible to the Secretary of State, because the way in which departments, boards and district councils fulfil their normal functions and duties has a direct bearing on community perceptions and relationships.
Within the voluntary sector, the action for community employment scheme is most significant. I hope to return to that subject when we discuss the Appropriation Order. It would be helpful if there could be a single point of reference, possibly independent of government, to which the many voluntary bodies concerned with matters such as community education, community development and inter-community relations could all relate. I commend that thought to your Lordships and to the Government.
§ 8 p.m.
§ Baroness Nicol
My Lords, I wish to deal briefly with two subjects which have not had a great deal of attention so far. One is water privatisation about which we heard from the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and the other is environmental protection. It is interesting to compare the two sentences of the gracious Speech which refer to these items. One states:Measures will be introduced to promote further competition in the provision of local authorities' services".The next sentence states:Legislation will be introduced to enable the water and sewerage functions of the water authorities in England and Wales to be privatised".That is the next attack—for that is what it is—in the war to remove local democracy. Here I must pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alport, and to my 196 noble friend Lady Fisher of Rednal, who both outlined clearly what is happening to local government. I wish that I had made the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alport. He has left me little to say, and I will not enlarge on it. There is a war. There is an intention to remove local democracy.
In the privatisation of local authority services there is at the moment at least the excuse of competition. We will leave aside for the moment the fact that local authority competitors have to operate with their hands tied. At least there is a thin cloak of respectability to draw over these dubious exercises. But not even the excuse of competition can be used in the case of water privatisation. What competition can there be in a service that is essential to life, which has only one source and which is at the moment a monopoly? It can only be a private monopoly as against a public monopoly. Even in the United States of America they have not attempted to make the water supply the subject of private profit.
The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who introduced the debate—it seems a long time ago now—told us that a necessary preliminary to privatisation will be the metering of water supplies. As a justification for that, he said that people were used to metering as they had metered electricity and gas. If he can say that, and if that is official thinking, it shows how little thought and understanding is going into the measure. Of course it is not the same. We have alternative methods of heating our house. We even have alternative methods of lighting a house. If one lights a room, it does not matter how many members of the family are there. The lighting is adequate for one member or six members. The same applies to heating. The heat that is adequate for one person will serve six. But water consumption goes upper capita. It is absolutely unavoidable.
Families with small children, with invalids or with an aged, incontinent relative use correspondingly more water. There is no way around that. Those are the families which will suffer if water is metered, unless special provision is made for them. The proposal to privatise the water industry is not unexpected. We debated it at some length last year. We now expect in this as in everything else that Tory dogma will be pursued whatever the circumstances of each case and however unsuitable the current candidate may be by any rational standards.
What is surprising in this case is that despite the wide-ranging discussions last year and the weight of opinions expressed by and on this vital industry, these proposals, which are new and different from the one discussed last year, have not been put to those most involved. For example, the proposal to abandon the much praised arrangement of integrated river basin management will need to be justified, and it has not been discussed with the industry. When even the chairman of Thames Water protests, the Government should surely stop and think. After all, the sell-off was his idea.
The gracious Speech makes poor reading for those of us who are concerned about environmental protection. The need to be positive in the control of atmospheric pollution grows ever more pressing, as does the need to be firm in protecting our threatened countryside.
197 To add to our anxieties, we have seen a Minister whom we had come to regard as having a real care for the natural environment moved to a different responsibility. I mean no disrespect to his successor, but he has still to prove himself in his new role. We have grown used to him in a different and sometimes opposite activity. It may be appropriate if I wish him well in his new responsibility. I hope that he will bring to it the sensitivity and imagination which he showed in his old role. I know he will not misunderstand if I mourn the passing of Mr. Waldegrave. I look to him to fill the vacant chair.
What now is to happen—I hope the Minister can answer; it is fortunate that he is here—to efforts to encourage the use of lead-free petrol with its consequent spin-off in the use of catalytic converters? What will happen to the impetus to clean up our existing power stations? Are we to continue unchecked in our growing use of CFC Chlorofluoro carbons, which I always find difficult to say? Are we determined to maintain our reputation as the dirtiest, least environmentally sensitive member of the European Community? Nothing in the gracious Speech points otherwise. We can only nourish our faint hopes with the words of the final sentence, and pray that somewhere in those,other measures to be laid before youthere will be some concession to values which cannot be bought with cash.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Lord Forbes
My Lords, I hope that the noble Baroness will forgive me if I do not follow her line of thought. I wish to return to the Scottish scene for a moment. I welcome the programme of legislation for Scotland as outlined in the gracious Speech. It is only right that other aspects of the Scottish scene should come under scrutiny, because today there is obviously a lack of confidence in Scotland, especially when it is compared with the South of England where there is notable confidence.
One reason for the lack of confidence is apprehension about the new community charge which is not understood by the majority of people. Another is that the Scottish Office has failed to be vigorous enough in making known the real progress made in Scotland in recent years. A fundamental reason is the lack of understanding in some government circles of certain Scottish characteristics. I shall return to that point.
I wish to deal briefly with matters which I believe are of considerable importance to the wellbeing of Scotland. There is the big problem of the North-South divide, which affects Scotland. Scotland is at the top, or at the bottom, of the divide, whichever way one looks at it. All the ingenuity possible must be harnessed to try to solve that problem. It is a question of getting light industry to move to the north. That said, it would be putting the cart before the horse to try to get industry first and then see about the infrastructure. This, unfortunately, is what happened when oil exploration began off the North-East of Scotland. The infrastructure had to be hastily created after the arrival of the people and the oil industry. People will not move away from the overcrowded 198 south unless the correct infrastructure exists in the area to which they are to move.
I believe that enterprise zones are working well and are attracting new industries; so I advocate more small enterprise zones. However, there is a possible pitfall connected with getting industry by offering a carrot. It is this. The hooking of a big company is nearly always hailed as a magnificent success. In fact, it can end in disaster because the big company is often part of a multinational conglomerate. Multinational companies are by necessity very mobile in thought and action. The departure of a large company can do untold damage. Not only does the departure leave a large gap but in its wake it probably leads to the closure of a number of ancillary firms. In the long run, therefore, it is far better to land a number of small indigenous companies rather than go for the big fish.
It would also ease the North-South divide if some sections of Whitehall departments moved to other parts of the country. For instance, there is a good case for the oil section of the Department of Energy moving to Aberdeen. That really would make sense because it would be taken as a sign of government confidence, which in itself would be a great moral booster to the oil industry in Scotland.
There are of course particular problems for those parts of Scotland where the oil industry is based. About two years ago the price of oil plummeted and, unfortunately, the North-East of Scotland talked itself into near recession. However, the tide is now beginning to run the other way with the result that confidence is slowly returning. In this respect, great credit must be given to the Aberdeen Beyond 2,000 group, set up by leaders of industry in the North-East and members of local authorities to see how prosperity can be ensured for the area into the 21st century. This bold and imaginative initiative of self-help, which has the backing of the Scottish Development Agency, demonstrates forcibly that people are prepared to influence their own economic future. As such it should be an example to other parts of the country. The work of the group is, I am sure, to be applauded and encouraged.
Then there are the problems of the central belt, to which I will not refer as they have been very accurately dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Grimond.
In the late 1950s at the Scottish Office we recognised that the three Fs were the solid base for the rural areas—farming, forestry and fishing. At that time also, we began to give special encouragement to tourism. I have little doubt that what was right then is right today. Of course, other influences may crop up in rural areas, but they probably come and go. The solid base of the three Fs along with tourism must continue. There is, however, a need for more light industry in the rural areas to obtain a better balance. Encouragement must be given to all these industries if rural areas, which form the vast land mass of Scotland, are to thrive and hold a viable population into the 21st century. All these measures are necessary if the North-South divide is to be tackled.
199 What, then, is the way ahead for Scotland? Certain Scottish chacteristics must be understood. I believe it is not fully appreciated that many Scots, especially those coming from the remoter areas, tend to be individualistic and somewhat inward-looking with the result that they dwell more on local problems than people living in the densely populated parts of England. I shall always remember that after church one day, a lady came up to me and said, "Lord Forbes, now that you are in the Scottish Office, I hope you will see the horse trough in the village is repaired". That sort of thing has to be respected. Any government must recognise that this inward-looking Scottish feature exists and that strong feelings on local issues are held by many people in Scotland.
Hence, it is not just a question of doing what makes economic sense. As an example of this, I have little doubt that it made economic sense for the Ministry of Defence to close the infantry barracks in Aberdeen. But it was a disastrous blow to morale in the North-East of Scotland where so many Gordon Highlanders have been born and now live. The result is that the North-East has lost its great tie with the regular army, and this loss cannot be quantified in cash.
Many Scots living in the remoter areas have never travelled south of the Border. I heard the other day of a farmer in Aberdeenshire who went to Aberdeen for the first time. He was asked by a friend why he did not visit more often. His answer was, "Every day away from the farm is a day wasted". Attitudes such as these exist and, although not conforming to those in the South of England, have to be respected.
Many Scots, I believe, are convinced that the grass is greener the other side of the Border. I suspect that television has a lot to do with this. Imagine the crofter in the Highlands sitting down with his wife, their meal cooking over a peat fire, and seeing on television evening after evening modern houses with fully equipped kitchens. It must be rather like sitting in front of the television seeing the Folies Bergère and knowing that you cannot get to Paris. When you get there, you probably find it is not quite what you expected, but that is another matter.
Distance alone—over 500 miles between Aberdeen and London—is a natural barrier and that is not helped by the high cost of air fares. The return air fare from Aberdeen to London is £162, the same as it costs to cross the Atlantic and back. High internal air fares do not help make one nation; they do the opposite. As I have said, Scotland is lacking in self-confidence today. To overcome this, the Scottish Office has to blow its trumpet louder and with more vigour to explain the many achievements that have been made in Scotland.
However, above everything else, anyone who has any interest in Scotland must remember that the Scots, who are fiercely proud of their ancient traditions, often place great importance on local issues. Economic considerations therefore should not always be judged the most important criteria when making decisions. If this point is borne in mind the Government will receive the co-operation of the people in Scotland, resulting in Scotland and the United Kingdom reaping the reward. On the other 200 hand, if this point falls on deaf ears in Whitehall or elsewhere, I am afraid that all will suffer because real success comes only with unity of purpose.
The Scots have been renowned throughout the ages for their spirit of enterprise, self-reliance and self-help. It is this spirit which must be harnessed to government effort in order to bring prosperity to the north if the North-South divide is to be a thing of the past.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, I should like to begin by adding my own good wishes to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, in his new role. Those of us involved in agriculture are very sorry to lose him but we are delighted that we now have a Minister responsible for the environment who is aware of the cares and concerns of farmers in that regard.
We have heard a great deal about the North-South divide. The previous speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, referred to it. Although on this side of the House we hold the Government largely responsible for many of the problems that are encapsulated in the phrase "the North-South divide", it would be wrong to say that any government are entirely responsible. There are movements of history—the decline of the smoke-stack industries, and the movement of population from the inner cities to the suburbs—that are also involved.
However, there is another divide in our society which is the direct result of policies of successive governments. I refer to the gulf in the quality of life and expectations between people with disabilities and the rest of society. I would describe this as the "disabled divide". It has been estimated that there are 3 million people with disabilities. There are 29 per cent. of households with at least one disabled member. The shameful and central fact is that two-thirds of disabled people are either living in poverty or on the margins of poverty.
In the gracious Speech there are a number of items of legislation dealing with housing, education, rates and privatisation, all of which will affect disabled people in particular ways. I would urge the Government as the legislation goes through—or perhaps in the case of this House, if the legislation goes through—to consider throughout the effect of legislation on disabled people.
In this Session we shall also have the detailed regulations on the operation of the Social Security Act and of course the Social Fund will be coming into operation in April next year. In the time that is allowed me I should like to take two examples of the effects of proposed legislation on education and rates reform on people with disabilities. In education there are plans for a national core curriculum. There are particular implications in this for children with special educational needs. The House of Commons Education, Science, and Arts Committee dealt with this when they said:The proposal for defining levels of attainment including testing attainment levels, may present problems about the interpretation of individual results. A major question arises about the prospective relationship between the inability to reach the standards set and the identity of special needs as defined by the Act. The Department will need to pay close attention to the implications of these proposals for special needs".201 In the case of opting out schools will tend to become more selective and to be judged more and more on their academic record. Catering for special educational needs could adversely affect a school's record, at least on paper. One can hear head-teachers, perhaps receiving subtle pressure from parents and governors, saying to themselves when considering opting out, "Who wants problems?" If they feel that by taking in children with special educational needs they will be increasing those problems, there could be a real deficiency in that respect.
Again, will schools which opt out have the expertise to deal with the special needs of handicapped children? These have been very much a local authority responsibility. When it comes to the control of school budgets, aids and adaptations for handicapped children all cost money. There may be a temptation to economise either by finding reasons not to admit children with disabilities or by skimping on the aids and adaptations which handicapped children require in order to control the budget.
On rates reform I had the feeling when I read the Sunday press that the sound of reversing gears of this measure was quite deafening. The poll tax will have a particular effect on disabled people. They have complicated patterns of movement between different sets of relatives in different areas, between ordinary and adapted housing, hospitals, nursing homes, short-term hostels, half-way houses and respite care. Are all these moves to be tracked down and registered? If the legislation for England and Wales is similar for that proposed for Scotland it could prove a nightmare for carers and disabled people alike to keep track of if, where and for how much disabled people are liable.
I referred to the Social Security Act. I have a question for the Minister. When will the survey of the needs of disabled people which is being conducted by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys be available? If that survey which has been promised by the Government reveals areas of real need and deprivation—which I am sure it will—will the Government undertake to act?
I have time only to deal with two aspects of the Social Security Act. The first is the technical matter of transitional protection. I can tell the Minister that this is causing very great concern to large numbers of disabled people. The Government have promised to protect the levels of cash benefit which is currently paid to disabled people. Nobody now receiving benefit should receive any less after 1st April, 1988, unless there is a "change of circumstances". This has still to be defined. The disabled and their organisations are very worried about the definition of a change in circumstances. For example, if a disabled man with a wife and child is receiving the appropriate levels of benefit, and the child were to reach 16 or 18 years, is that a change of circumstance? Will that affect the benefit to the disabled person? There are other aspects of transitional protection. Will the protected level of benefit which has been promised be frozen at the level of April 1988 or will it be uprated for inflation?
The measure is required to prevent a reduction of benefit levels for those who are now receiving them. 202 But what about the newly disabled? I give one example. A severely disabled man who is now receiving £88 a week in additional payments, which enables him to employ two carers, under the new rules would drop to £52.50 a week—a reduction of £35.50 in his income or 40 per cent. That is without transitional protection. But the new and lower rate to which I have referred would apply to that man if he were newly disabled and not receiving the level of benefit now. I can tell the Minister that people with disabilities are convinced that the new income support scheme will mean reduced benefit for the newly disabled and frozen benefits for those who are now receiving benefit.
The introduction of the social fund means that a regulated entitlement to benefit as of right will be replaced by a discretionary system of loans and grant. There will be a subjective and unreliable definition of need. Disabled people will have the degrading requirement to prove both poverty and disability. The fund will be operated by social fund officers. The draft manual of guidance for SFOs is in the Library.
I do not have the time to point out all the many examples of bureaucratic insensitivity enshrined in the manual. I give just one example. Social fund officers are told to consider the availability of help to applicants via credit and store cards. These, as your Lordships will know, have a true interest rate between 25 and 30 per cent. per annum. In fact the manual is advising people on income support to rely on usury. I am surprised that pawnbrokers were not also mentioned as a source of help.
There is another puzzling aspect of the social fund on which I shall be interested to receive an answer. Is it to be cash limited or not? The noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, told the House on 15th July last year:We have decided, however, that the fund will not at first be subject to a formal cash limit on its introduction".Yet the draft guidance manual says quite clearly:It is the responsibility of each local office to keep within its budget".In heavy type it emphasises:The total cost of payments made by any local office must not exceed its budget for the financial year".SFOs are clearly instructed to,consult the system to be aware of the budget position before making payments".It seems that a cash limit by any other name will squeeze just as hard.
How does all this injustice and anomaly come about? How can a government justify refusing £150 million to implement the Clarke Act and the representation of the disabled on the grounds of lack of resources and then spend £164 million on advertising and fees for the privatisation of British Gas? Do Ministers and the civil servants advising them really sit down to devise a benefit system that will mean that a severely disabled man who now receives £88 per week in additional payments, would receive only £52.50 per week if he were newly disabled? I think I know how it comes about. Here I should declare an interest as a parent of two children born with congenital handicaps. I am all too familiar with the well-meaning mixture of insensitivity, incomprehension and inefficiency which is the daily 203 experience of disabled people and which lies behind much of the muddle and injustice of government policy. There is an inbuilt attitude that disabled people somehow have to prove their worthiness to be helped.
I was struck by a revealing remark in the election campaign made by the Prime Minister when she was asked to give her philosophy. We heard that she wanted a family man to be able to support his family, buy his house, buy some shares, pay for his healthcare if he wanted to and even to pay for his children's education if he wanted to. Then, almost in a throw away line, he could, if he had a surplus, give some to charity to help others.
That attitude lies at the bottom of many of the problems affecting disabled people. As it was put to me by somebody in the disabled world, so much of the policy seems to be telling a one-legged man to stand on his own two feet. People with disabilities want a proper income as of right with due allowance for the extra costs of disability. Only when they achieve that shall we have closed, I hope forever, the "disabled divide" to which I referred at the beginning of my speech.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Baroness Faithfull
My Lords, in the gracious Speech it is stated:my Government will have special regard to the … inner cities".As Her Majesty's Government are to target their interest on finding a solution to the problems of the inner cities of this country, perhaps I may make the plea that the focal point of social development should be centred on the maintenance of the family unit and indeed on the extended family. There is not the time to develop this theme.
My noble friend Lord Ferrers referred to the golden value of family life when he was speaking about the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon.
I focus my speech on three aspects of deep concern to families and to broken families. It is well known that one in three marriages breaks down. The first of these aspects is family courts; secondly the National Family Conciliation Council and thirdly—bearing in mind the statement in the gracious SpeechMy Government remain determined to tackle the problems of crime"—the juvenile justice system in England and Wales compared with the panel system in Scotland.
I shall first deal with family courts. I ask my noble friend the Minister who is to reply to this long debate—it must seem very long to him—what is the position of Her Majesty's Government with regard to the setting up of family courts? In paragraph 113 of the Green Paper published in 1986 it is stated that a review of civil justice, which will include family courts, is to be carried out by the Lord Chancellor's department. Her Majesty's Government will be issuing the findings of that review by December 1987. Yet in The Times of 17th June 1987 it is stated that the Treasury has indefinitely shelved proposals for setting up family courts in England and Wales, despite wide support from all sectors of the legal profession, except perhaps one. Support comes from Womens Institutes, the Conservative Women's 204 Policy Unit, the probation and social services, the local authority associations—and I could go on.
It would appear that there are two objections. One sector of the legal profession and one only—the Bar Association—objects, so I am told. Are the extraordinary discrepancies between courts in the same area in their policy and practice in custody cases fully appreciated? From the point of view of the families themselves a single unified family court would be less confusing than the present system of different courts—magistrates' courts, the county courts and the High Court. I believe that family courts could offer a more effective service than is given at present.
The second objection I imagine must be that family courts would prove too costly. I support Her Majesty's Government in seeking to be economic in public expenditure. But the present system is not economic overall. Public expenditure resembles a coat of many colours and many pockets. I submit that the Treasury looks only at each pocket separately instead of the coat overall. Family courts could prevent children from coming into public care. Children in public care are very costly, both economically and in terms of happiness. Family courts could assist separated parents to make wise decisions. From the point of view of the wellbeing of separated parents and the children of a marriage the cost in emotional terms is incalculable as it would be in fiscal terms.
Then there is the conciliation service, which solicitors up and down the country find of inestimable value, particularly at the point of the breakdown of the marriage. It is cause for concern that the Treasury through the Lord Chancellor's Department has not seen fit to help with the training of the National Family Conciliation Service. There is a need for interdisciplinary training of solicitors, judges and magistrates so that they rely less on their personal opinions, against, for instance, joint custody, and more on empirically based research.
My third point concerns the juvenile justice system. As chairman of a committee, New Approach to Juvenile Crime, we have looked at, visited and researched the juvenile justice system throughout the United Kingdom. Based on both personal experience and research, the committee, consisting of all those statutory and voluntary sectors dealing with juvenile delinquents, believes that the panel system now well developed in Scotland, with the reporters as clerks to the panels, offers the best service both to justice and to an effective method of dealing with juvenile delinquents and particularly of helping their families.
It would be inadvisable of me to touch in detail on the present situation which has arisen in Cleveland, and in any case the matter is sub judice. I say only this. Had we in England and Wales adopted the panel system with its reporter, there would not have been the need for the different legal actions to take place nor the welter of subjective emotions to be indulged in. The Cleveland affair provides a classic example of the legal gaps in our system—the place of safety order before the magistrates' court, the appeal to the High Court under wardship proceedings and finally the proper intervention of Lord Justice Watkins, the senior presiding judge in the High Court. In Scotland the reporter would objectively have dealt with the 205 submissions of the medical profession, of the social services department, of the police; and as I said earlier there would not have been the welter of subjective emotions. Most important of all, the children and families would have been dealt with in a manner more dignified and humane than has been the case.
Perhaps I may ask my noble friend the Minister whether Her Majesty's Government will look again at the juvenile justice system in England and Wales. Will he say who is responsible for the juvenile justice system—the Home Office or the DHSS; or could it be that the Lord Chancellor's Department will include the juvenile justice system in the review it is carrying out at the moment and on which it will report in December? I am the only person to speak on these matters in this debate but I believe them to be vitally important to the carrying out of the message of the Queen's Speech. I hope that we will all look deeply at this matter although some of it is little known to many noble Lords. I ask my noble friend the Minister to answer the questions which I have asked.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, I should like to commence by offering my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, on his transfer, promotion or whatever it may be to the Department of the Environment. I know that according to the Queen's Speech and the Government's intentions he will carry a heavy load over the next two Sessions. Though I and my colleagues on this side of the House will probably disagree with quite a lot of what he will be dealing with, we nevertheless have the utmost regard for him and for his integrity as a Minister at the Dispatch Box.
There are some myths being spread by the Government at present that are a continuation of myths that were spread during the general election campaign. During the few days of proceedings dealing with the gracious Speech various speakers have referred to the general election campaign. I do not wish to do so because it is history and water under the bridge, but if somebody presents a case that is factually and historically wrong it is the duty of people like me to put it right. I should like first to deal briefly with the Government's proposals for the privatisation of the water supply.
I remember a Conservative press conference at which the Prime Minister was a central figure. She was flanked on her left by Mr. Norman Tebbit, who was then the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and chairman of the Conservative Party. On this morning they were launching their privatisation proposals. Mr. Tebbit was asked why they were leaving out the Post Office. I may not be word for word correct in what I am saying because I am speaking off the top of my head, but the message was that the Post Office was not being privatised at this point in time because it had always been a public body and that the water authorities were being given back to the private sector where they belonged.
With your Lordships' permission I wish to quote briefly from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in seconding the motion for the humble Address. He said: 206Noble Lords will have noticed that the Government intend to continue their excellent record of returning nationalised industries to the private sector in the shape of the water and sewerage functions of the water authorities".—(0fficial Report, 25/6/87; col. 14.)I do not have the exact percentages but the overwhelming majority of water authorities in this country before 1983 were publicly owned in one way or another by local authorities. I happened to be the leader of Manchester City Council when it provided water not only for itself but for 17 other local authorities from the Lake District to Manchester. It could be said of Manchester at the time that excluding Liverpool and Merseyside it was the water authority for the whole of the North-West of England.
That responsibility was removed from our ownership by the Conservative Government of Mr. Heath. The Secretary of State was Mr. Walker and the Minister given the responsibility for carrying out the exercise was Mr. Eldon Griffiths, who is still a Member of another place. Manchester had pioneered water supplies—and I do not claim credit for my own party because years and years ago it was first done by Conservative councillors and Conservative aldermen. When that exercise was carried out those holdings, which had been built up over the years and paid for by the citizens of Manchester, had a huge value. They were taken from them with the end result that when the water board was set up the authority which had created it all did not get a single place on it.
If the Government are saying that they are returning the water authorities to the private sector—and I should like the Minister to answer this point though I know he will have a hell of a job to answer everybody—they should get the historical facts right. Are the Government saying that if the local authority in Manchester, with which incidentally I have no connection, so desired it would be able to make a bid for the valuable holdings that were taken from it and which belong to the ratepayers of Manchester? Are the Government saying that? If they are not saying that, I think that the whole phraseology of returning water authorities to the private sector where they belong is either a grievous mistake and a mathematical error, with somebody providing a brief to the Government having got it wrong, or, if it is not an accident and is being done deliberately, it is as far from the truth as it is possible to be.
I have reason to believe that as much as 80 per cent. of water supplied in this country before the Water Act 1973 was in one way or another under the control of local authorities or joint boards of local authorities. The Government ought to come off this one of saying that they are giving it back to private people where it belonged. It never belonged there anyway.
As a Mancunian born and bred I resent the fact that so much misquotation is taking place. If it was done by accident I accept it, but if it is being done deliberately it is a sleight of hand that is unworthy of the Government, and they ought to come off it and put it right.
Secondly, I want to deal with a question that has been raised and about which the right reverend 207 Prelate the Bishop of Rochester spoke at great length earlier. It is regarding housing. The Minister will forgive me if I do not go into too much detail tonight because the time is not opportune, and no doubt we shall be able to debate later in more detail what is in the Queen's Speech when the Bills emerge.
I do not say in any spirit of sarcasm or cynicism that I welcome the fact that the Government are going to concentrate on the problems of the inner cities. Over the last two to two-and-a-half years your Lordships' Chamber has debated those and related problems more regularly than they have been debated in another place. I can recall the debate that took place about two years ago on the Duke of Edinburgh's report, which was so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm. It was generally agreed then by Members from all corners of the House that there was a problem that unfortunately was not being recognised.
Then I jump a bit, because I want to come to February this year when we debated Faith in the City, the Archbishop of Canterbury's report. Unfortunately when it first appeared it was rubbished before it had been read, but when it had been read in detail it was accepted as a super work and a non-political analysis of what was going wrong. There was a long and exhaustive debate in your Lordships' Chamber, which I think was opened by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman.
Those reports were brought forward by people with no political axe to grind. They were not reports of the Labour Party, the Liberals or the SDP. They were reports of people who covered the whole of the political spectrum. At the end of the day they came to one conclusion, and that was that there would have to be a substantial input of public money to deal with the situation in the inner cities of today.
I wish the Government success in their endeavours. But if they think that by suddenly extending their philosophy of urban development corporations they will solve the problem, I have to tell them that that is nonsense. I have no time at all for obstructive councils that attempt to stop progress where it can be made, but if the Government in order to get their way attempt without proper negotiation to impose something on local authorities, it is doomed to disaster.
I think that the Prime Minister is serious in her intention that she wants to do something about the inner cities, but when we are talking about investment I refer to the fact that people have said that huge sums of money would be required. There has been mention of as much as £75 billion being required to deal with our housing stock across the board. Significantly enough the biggest deterioration in our housing stock has not been mentioned in the Queen's Speech. It is the owner-occupied sector. The deterioration in the owner-occupied sector is now coming on with all the aspects of a juggernaut. It is developing very rapidly and there is no mention of it. There is no mention in the Queen's Speech that since 1979 the number of homeless families has doubled and on a percentage basis is increasing each year.
I ought to finish shortly. I do not want to go on too long because we can debate these matters later. Most 208 of these problems can be found in the inner urban areas. One of the main facets that came through both in the Duke of Edinburgh's report and in Faith in the City was that there was now a terrible imbalance in the inner cities, a genetic imbalance, and nobody had a magic wand to alter it.
I can only speak about the city which I grew up in but which I no longer live in, Manchester. Manchester had three-quarters of a million people at the end of the war. The population is now less than half a million. I think Liverpool's figures are similar. They have exported a quarter of a million people; they have got out. What is left behind is a residue of a disproportionate amount of elderly people, ageing people and young people in diminishing numbers. If you take any major city or the inner areas of London, by coincidence (or perhaps not by coincidence) they have also the highest areas of unemployment on a long-term basis. Most of the inner cities developed around the Industrial Revolution, and their industries were what were earlier called smoke-stack industries, which have gone.
I shall be as ready as anybody, and so I think will my colleagues on this side of your Lordships' House, to help in legislation which is meaningful in dealing with the problems of our inner cities. Having come from there I have touched on what I see as the problems. Those younger people who could, got out. They may have moved only three miles away. I live above the city of Leeds and can see down into it, and there is squalor in parts of Leeds that is as bad as anywhere. But the people who have had the opportunity have moved out.
I hope that the Minister will take note, and I am sure that he will, that there is a substantial number of elderly people and young people trapped in those cities. I know that they talk about the £500 million they are putting in now, but that is peanuts. They have taken £6,000 million away from the major cities in rate support grant cuts.
I am delighted to read now, and see on the television, that the right honourable Michael Heseltine has a conscience about the inner cities and is leading the fight on their behalf in his own party. I can go back to when I was in another place and he was the very Minister who started butchering housing assistance and rate support grant, which helped to bring about part of the situation that we have today.
The Government have proposals for local determination on council estates. My experience leads me to believe that where some of the major cities have had to build substantial and good quality estates outside their borders—I think Manchester built 30,000 outside its borders in nice areas—there is a possibility that tenant involvement in running those estates could take place. But if somebody can tell me, referring to the centre of Manchester, that 60 per cent. of the people occupying council property who are either totally on social security or largely on it in order to live will want to be involved in becoming their own landlords, they are talking absolute nonsense unless the Government are prepared to say, "Of course you can do all those things and we will foot the bill".
209 There is also another proposal by the Government that they are now going to stop local authorities even providing support for their housing revenue account from their rate-funded contributions. Manchester happens to be one of the local authorities which has done that persistently over the years to keep rents at a reasonable level. I have to say that if the Government are going to dabble in that type of thing and destroy local determination, we may as well forget about local government altogether unless the Government are also prepared to pick up the tab for some of the decisions they appear to be going to railroad through another place and through your Lordships' House in the fullness of time.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dean, as on so many occasions, has jolly nearly spoilt what I had decided was to be my opening sentence. The opening sentence that I decided was appropriate was that the election had had a very cleansing effect, if today's debate is anything to go on. In previous Parliaments, the debate on the gracious Speech has invariably been a replay of what had been said in the other place, and we have had all over again the partisanship and all that goes with it. That has not happened today.
Today we have had contributions where people have chosen some part or other of the gracious Speech in order to emphasise the particular points they had in mind. As regards the objectivity which should always come from debates in your Lordships' House, we could not have had a better example than the one from the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, who gave us a witty and wide-ranging contribution to the debate.
My contribution, for what it is worth, was not intended to deal with any particular part of the gracious Speech. I intended to make a comment upon the role of your Lordships' House in implementing the various parts of the gracious Speech when it is being transferred into legislation and eventually into statutes. Our approach should be different from that of the other place. What has been done today is right. We have no constituents to keep sweet. We are not involved to the same extent in having to justify the manifesto or to maintain a personal address in a constituency. We can recognise that in a way we are the junior partners in getting points that have been agreed onto the statute book.
The senior partners—the ones who must be treated with respect and full attention—are the Members of the other place. They have to face the people of this country and justify what they have done. Before they actually do it they announce what they have in mind in the form of a gracious Speech such as this. So we, not having to face the electorate and justify anything that Parliament has done, consequently ought to recognise just how far our role should go: to revise, to improve where we can, but not to set ourselves up in competition with the other place, with all the special powers given to it under our parliamentary system.
210 The need for objectivity, I think, can best be exemplified by one phrase in the gracious Speech when it referred to the intention to remove the domestic rate system and replace it with the community contribution. I believe that our objectivity ought to be brought to bear to its fullest when we are dealing with that and I think we ought to remember the history of it. Why is it in the gracious Speech? I believe that our role is to remind people how we have got to the point of needing to discuss this particular matter. It is because we know, whatever part of the House we sit in, that the existing rating system is unfair to the point of being dangerous to the continuation of ordered local government.
Therefore we ought not to be critical of it at this stage until we have seen the Bill itself. To try to rubbish it before we have seen the contents of the Bill is not in keeping with the sense of responsibility which ought to flow from this House. Until we see the Bill I believe that our job is to try to remind people how history has led up to the point of this matter being included in the gracious Speech.
At this stage I think we would be justified in wanting to compliment the Government on having the courage to deal with something which every party when in government over many years has said needed alteration. They have had the courage to face the problem which governments have detested and have wanted to improve but have not done anything about. If what this Government intend to do about it proves not to be satisfactory to the other place, they have all the power to deal with it if they feel that the undertaking given in the manifesto and in the gracious Speech itself proves to be unsound. I have no doubt that in the other place the Opposition will damn it hook, line and sinker—and to some extent they would be doing their duty in doing so after having seen the contents of the Bill, because it is only by giving forceful and complete opposition that one is able to get to the guts of the matter and bring about any amendments that are required.
But that is not our job in this House. Our job, when it has gone through the electoral test of the election itself and when it has gone through the test of the examination by the other place, with all the responsibilities carried by its Members in having to deal with any problems that flow from it, is not to go beyond that and attempt to kill the Bill in this House.
It is at that point that I find myself in something of a difficulty because I am in such complete opposition as regards the advice that my noble friend Lord Alport gave. I now find that he is in the pre-eminent position of occupying the Woolsack and I do not know how one can keep within the rules and defy the Woolsack. Nevertheless, on this occasion I think I shall attempt to do so. The noble Lord, Lord Alport, had already formed a view about this matter—and it is one of several Bills that he mentioned—without having seen the Bill because it has not yet been prepared. He suggested to the House that because of our separateness and independence it might be our duty not to allow the Bill to go through. He argued that we have to preserve local government, and that is right. We all want to preserve what is best in local 211 government. However, we must not ignore the weaknesses which have developed in that same system.
The noble Lord, Lord Alport, and I entered Parliament at about the same time and our general background is not dissimilar in terms of the positions we held in the party and in government in those days. I have the greatest admiration for his ability and his integrity. Therefore, I sometimes wonder why he comes to conclusions that are so opposed to my own on matters such as this. I trace it to the time when he became High Commssioner in Rhodesia and took on all the importance that goes with such high state at the top of a bureaucracy whereas I had to stay at home in my own town running my little business, employing people, sitting on the local council and keeping an eye on events in that sphere. It may well be that it was those different experiences which helped to form our opinions and which led us to draw such different conclusions. Like the noble Lord, I also admire local government. I recognise its antiquity and the great part that it can play.
However, I also recognise that in terms of objectivity and looking after the interests of local areas, even in my lifetime it has deteriorated. I have seen how local authorities which really were local have been merged into bigger units and are now on the perimeter. They do not have the same local approach. I have seen in the big conurbations how caucuses have been formed in which decisions are taken outside the council chamber and the decisions that have been taken have had almost nothing to do with the problems of the local area and have been taken out of loyalty to what is thought to be the bigger role of their party. I have seen too many instances of such authorities reaching the point of appearing to want to set themselves up as a parliament in themselves.
The noble Lord says that we ought not to let that interfere with our views on such measures as the community charge because such authorities are only few. It is only Liverpool, but Liverpool covers a big area and serves millions of people. One cannot say, "It is only part of London" because London is very extensive and has an authority and standing that is hardly equalled by any other body in the world. There are very few criminals, but those few criminals mean that we must have a police force to deal with their actions.
I do not believe that we should ignore the changing role and approach that has come from local authorities. We have to look at the way in which they obtain finance and do it in a way that will impose some sort of control to ensure that they keep within the bounds of what in the past we have all experienced as good government.
Indeed, the only advice that I would give to my noble friend about the community charge is that we may be making a mistake if we are not careful. When we brought in the re-organisation of local government in 1972 we did not also re-organise their finances and the way in which they obtain their income at the same time. That is why the re-organisation in the past did not work very 212 satisfactorily. If we deal with the financing of local authorities without also facing up to their structure we may be putting the situation out of balance and it will not work.
However, the real point of my contribution to this debate is not to attempt to praise or criticise any of the individual items which make up the gracious Speech. We do not yet know what they are. Until we see the Bills we do not know what we are criticising and what we ought to be amending. I hope that your Lordships' House will not feel that on some of these issues we should attempt to override what the electorate have shown by their vote to be the will of the country. The Bill will not reach us until it has had the approval of the House of Commons with all its authority and power and in consideration of the risks that are taken when adding to the legislation of this country. It is in the hope that we shall be able to do that, which runs a little contrary to the advice given by the noble Lord, Lord Alport, that we shall approach the next stage of the gracious Speech.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Lord Fairfax of Cameron
My Lords, great attention has rightly been focused since the general election, and in the Government's legislative programme, on the serious problems of our inner cities. There is one aspect of those inner city problems on which I should like to concentrate and that is crime. I shall try briefly to look at some of the problems we face and also perhaps to suggest some ideas for the fight against crime.
Almost everyone—and no one more than the hard-pressed police—can see that we are in the grip of a serious and apparently growing crime wave, the major part of this centred on our inner cities. Almost every type of crime seems to be on the increase, particularly the worst categories involving personal violence, mugging, burglary, rape and armed robbery. You name it, it appears to be on the increase, while the police clean-up rates appear often conversely to be tumbling. Indeed, it is difficult to open your newspaper in the morning without being confronted by some new ever-more ghastly tale of violence committed by one, or often by more than one, Briton against another and, what is worse, increasingly against old people. It is sometimes said that you can take the temperature of a society's moral health by observing how its old people are treated. If that test were applied to some of the ghastly atrocities committed daily with increasing frequency and perversity in this country against old people, I think that Britain today would be diagnosed as being pretty sick. The question that I should like to ask is: what do the Government propose to do about it?
I must say at this point that I personally find it utterly breathtaking that during the election the Labour Party was almost able to hijack the law and order issue and to present itself successfully as the party doing most to uphold the police and the rule of law. I say "breathtaking" because the idea that the Labour Party and its would-have-been Home Secretary in particular—the party that has in its ranks as a Member of the other place someone who crowed over the death of a police constable at the hands of a mob and the party containing some who 213 condone, or at least do not condemn, mass violence on the picket line—can have presented itself almost with success as the party of law and order in preference to this Government is something that I find quite amazing and rather disturbing. The only conclusion to be drawn, in my opinion, is just how much this Government have to do in this area.
Having delivered that party political broadside, may I also pay tribute to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. Rather like my noble friend Lord Ferrers, I agreed with almost everything he said, and he raised questions which I hope the Government will take some time in trying to answer.
Of course, to preside over a country that is as economically successful as Britain is certainly becoming is a matter for pride, and the Government and the Prime Minister have, quite rightly, been given full credit by the electorate for putting Britain on a path to sounder and wider prosperity. But if that society is also crime-ridden and, in addition, famed for the anti-social behaviour of too many of its young citizens in particular, that pride must be severely tempered.
Who is not appalled that young Britons could have been responsible for the carnage at the Heysel stadium, or indeed is not appalled whenever similar mob violence takes place in and around English football grounds every Saturday during the winter and now even sometimes also in European summer resorts in the summer? I am sad to say that the British hooligan is infamous throughout Europe.
Presuming that the Government find this behaviour as unacceptable and shaming as I believe the rest of the country does, I hope they will devote a significant part of their formidable energy and talent away from the purely economic scene to this national blight. I should like presumptuously to suggest a few thoughts that the Government might like to consider in this area. First, I am certain that improved education could in the medium term perhaps be the single most important force for good in that area. Therefore, I strongly applaud the brave and radical direction in the area of education that the Government have outlined in their legislative programme for the attainment of standards and excellence in our schools. A better educated country is in my view likely to be a less criminal one.
At the same time may I support what was said several hours ago by my noble friend Lord Eccles when he made a plea that this ambitious programme of education should be adequately funded. In my view an extra £1 spent today on education may save £5 tomorrow on the prison service.
Secondly, I was recently discussing our crime wave and the reasons for it with an American. He thought that there appeared to be a lack of any moral framework in Britain in 1987. I am sorry to say that I think he was right. So, as part of the new direction in education, I should like to see the Government trying to reinstil in our young people in particular that lost moral framework.
It must be accepted that this country is now, like it or dislike it, almost a-religious and, in my opinion, it shows. Of course there are serious difficulties in force-feeding religion; so if it cannot be force fed, I hope 214 that the Government will try to instil some ordinary moral values instead.
Thirdly, I should like to see the Government pay more attention to the effects of violence on television. The Guardian newspaper and those progressives in Shepherds Bush will no doubt immediately and vociferously cry "fascism", "censorship" or, most likely, a combination of both words. That is, of course, rubbish. The notion of limits on what is acceptable on television has already been accepted in principle. To redefine those limits is hardly revolutionary or draconian. If television violence is art, then, in my view, life has been imitating art to far too great an extent recently. I urge the Government to look seriously at that area and if they will not legislate themselves, then at least to support any private legislation on the subject.
Fourthly, I also want to see our people's faith restored in the judiciary. The light is getting low and I may not be able to read what I am trying to say. Our people's faith in the judiciary has recently been severely shaken by some apparently perverse examples of sentencing in criminal cases, even allowing for the notoriously incomplete and sensationalistic reports of those cases in the press. If the Government wish to restore the public's faith in the criminal justice system, may I strongly ask them to give the prosecution the right of appeal against sentence rather than the rather half-baked measure that was included in the legislation that was lost before the election.
When confidence in the judiciary no longer exists the rule of law becomes discredited and you get people like Mr. Goetz in New York who take the law into their own hands. I am sure that that is not what the Government wish. Having said that, I was gratified to hear my noble friend on the Front Bench, Lord Caithness, making positive noises in that direction earlier this afternoon and I hope that the Government have the courage to carry through any legislation to give the prosecution the right of appeal against sentences that they see as inadequate or too lenient. That is absolutely crucial in order to give the public back the confidence that has been lost to some great extent recently.
Fifthly, I should like to see the police properly funded. They may be adequately paid now but that is not the same as saying that they are adequately funded. In many areas, particularly inner city areas, they are thoroughly undermanned. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act has created a vast amount of new work for the police to do. There is now, purely as a result of that legislation, a need for a significant increase in the establishment of police forces, particularly in inner city areas.
I was again glad to hear from the Front Bench earlier this afternoon that something will be done in that area and that more police officers will be put in uniform and used in a back-up capacity. In some inner city areas, the protection offered to the public by the police is sometimes more illusory than real and the blue line is becoming extremely thin.
Sixthly, I should like to see the Government get young people off the streets, particularly in inner city areas. Even if it is too facile to say that unemployment creates crime, it is common sense that 215 the devil finds work for idle hands. Where the various training schemes of the Government or the job market continue to leave gaps, I hope that the Government will give serious thought to what might usefully fill those gaps. I am thinking perhaps of an expansion of the community programme on socially useful projects.
Before my concluding remarks, I should like to make two ancillary points. I have mentioned young people often. I make absolutely no apology for that. It is a sad fact that young people are responsible for an increasingly large number of crimes committed in Britain today. Only two weeks ago I read in an article in the Standard that a Superintendent Farbrother of Scotland Yard had said that it was now almost routine in many cases for young people in London to carry knives and that it was done not necessarily for aggressive purposes but sometimes purely for reasons of self-defence. That is an extremely worrying matter.
Broken homes may often be the reason for such juvenile crime and I am conscious that in speaking this evening I have not touched on the large area of social reasons that can go to make up juvenile criminals. However, I should say at the same time that the thought that a mugger or attacker comes from a broken home is very little consolation to his victim. I therefore hope that the Government will pay particular attention to attempting to diminish juvenile crime.
216 The second ancillary point I wish to make is that there are certain facts relating to the breakdown of crimes by racial background which the laws of this country prevent people articulating, at least outside this privileged Chamber. In that regard, I note that a college lecturer in south London was officially reprimanded a week ago for daring precisely to speak such facts. Let me content myself by saying this. If our citizens are gagged and prevented from speaking of the facts, then it is particularly incumbent on the Government either properly to protect the law-abiding citizen or to remedy the problem in other ways. To conceal the facts or to prevent such facts being revealed by force of law otherwise only aggravates rather than diminishes racial disharmony.
In conclusion, may I say to the Government that we must not have economic success in a moral desert where crime stalks the streets and our citizens live in fear. The Government have shown that they can use their considerable energies and talents to foster economic growth and success. Let them now be seen to devote the same energy to the fight against crime. We all know that there are no easy solutions; otherwise, they would have been thought of long ago and I would not be wasting your Lordships' time now. However, I do hope that the Government will apply sufficient time, effort and, if necessary, money to deal the crime wave the body blow for which our people are crying out.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Lord Gifford
My Lords, it is pleasant to begin in a non-partisan fashion, not, I hasten to assure your Lordships, by agreeing with the noble Lord who has just sat down, with almost every word of whose speech I found myself in disagreement, but by agreeing with every word of the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull. The noble Baroness and I have been on the same side in matters relating to family courts before. If there is one work that we could achieve in a bipartisan way in the course of this Parliament it would be finally to achieve the family court for which she was pleading and to remedy the inadequacies of the judicial system in family matters which has been so clearly shown up by the events of the present.
Having said that, I shall immediately continue to be partisan and controversial, because the Government's reference in the gracious Speech to the special regard which they intend to have to the needs of the inner cities was a reference which made me more than a little angry. For eight years the Government have pursued policies which have had directly and sharply an adverse effect on the quality of life of the inner cities. Unemployment has soared, housing has been neglected, the number of homeless people has doubled, health services are under stress. All of these effects have been felt most sharply in the inner cities. The Government now tell us that they have a special regard for the needs of the people in the inner cities.
The Government have made a sustained attack against local authorities, which are in the front line of facing, and trying to pay for, the needs of the people of the inner cities. They have penalised them with reductions in the rate support grant and they have imposed borrowing and other restrictions. Now these local authorities are asked to accept that the Government will have special regard for their people's needs. My deep fear is that through imposing their particular brand of solution to the problems of inner cities, through refusing to listen to and to work with the local representatives who are close to those problems, the Government's special regard for the problems of the inner cities will exacerbate them rather than alleviate them.
I came to know of the problems of the inner cities more closely when I was chairman of the Broadwater Farm Inquiry, which was set up by the London Borough of Haringey in the aftermath of what were probably the worst riots that have been seen on the British mainland this century. Riots, with all their destructiveness of life and property, are indicators wherever they occur and in whatever country that people can see no other avenues for change or protest. Ours was not an official inquiry—I wish it had been—but it was a very professional one. Its conclusions were supported by an extensive and detailed public opinion survey, a social survey. Its conclusions, which are worth reading, are similar to those drawn by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, in the Brixton inquiry. But, the immediate causes of the terrible disturbances of October 1985 lay in the experience of many, many people of insensitive and often disgraceful policing. I say nothing of that in this speech, because there are signs 218 in Tottenham and Broadwater Farm that people are coming together both from the police and the community and I hope that that continues.
Underlying those causes was a terrible waste of young people's energy, summed up in the statistic which we discovered that 83 per cent. of the young black men on the Broadwater Farm Estate were unemployed. In our inquiry we also found many positive and inspiring features. The first was the extraordinary determination of the people of the estate led by a remarkable woman, Miss Dolly Kiffin, to build facilities for all the people of that area, both young and old, black and white. There was no immorality among the young people who were engaged in those endeavours. They had set up a meal service, a mothers' centre, a youth centre and a people's festival. Most recently they are working through the labour of young people on a memorial garden on the Broadwater Farm Estate. It is to be in memory of Police Constable Keith Blakelock and of Mrs. Cynthia Jarrett and is to be opened later this year as a magnificent gesture of the coming together in the aftermath of the riots. The reward that Mrs. Kiffin has had for years of selfless effort has been to be the subject of a fraud inquiry which I believe to be spurious and which I am sure will come to nothing. It was set off by a malicious press report.
Secondly, we found that the enlightened policies of the local authority responded to the demands of the people in the area for change. Our report made a number of criticisms of the authority, but we found ourselves compelled to praise its actions in setting up a neighbourhood office which tried to address the problems raised by local people on the ground.
I give two examples of how local initiatives by the London Borough of Haringey have achieved some of the very aims which appear in the gracious Speech. First, in the field of crime prevention, in the early 1980s through co-operation among local authority, local residents and the police a programme of crime prevention was initiated. The doors of all flats on the estate were strengthened so they would be less easy to break down. Entry phone systems were placed in the blocks so people could not lurk along the corridors. As a result there was a 50 per cent. reduction in crime on the estate. This was all paid for by the supposedly profligate council which is now berated by the Government as a high-spending authority. It is an example which I hope the Government in their crime prevention measures will look at, follow and fund.
Secondly, in the field of economic development the situation is that the private market will not assist local entrepreneurs. The private market shuns the inner cities. It red circles them as areas where credit terms and insurance premiums will be high. What development there has been in the creation of jobs has been conducted through loans and grants from that same local authority. It is far too little. The powers of local authorities are very limited and the funds available to them are small. However, the example which they set in encouraging co-operatives ought to be followed if jobs are to be brought into this kind of estate.
We commissioned an inquiry from a business consultancy. It indicated the enormous scope for 219 local businesses serving local needs and using local skills if the resources were there to finance them. If the Government have schemes for providing or underwriting private finance capital for business ventures in the inner cities they will be welcomed by the people on estates such as Broadwater Farm.
There is no doctrinaire attitude to the creation of jobs. They will be welcomed provided that they generate local employment and are run in consultation with local people and local government. It is here that I become fearful—fearful that the Government will impose solutions which are suited to their ideology willy-nilly in defiance of local opinion. There is one example already in the local government Bill, part of whose provisions are to prevent local authorities from inserting conditions in local government contracts which are not strictly commercial. That is the last thing the people of the inner cities want. They want local contractors to be required to employ local labour both in order to provide jobs and in order that local people should take pride in building within their own communities.
Therefore we need a unified programme for the inner cities and it must require a revamping of those clauses of the Bill. A second example is that referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, in opening this debate when he spoke about urban development corporations as a vital component of policy. I can think of nothing more provocative of anger in the inner cities than a London Docklands Development Corporation-type solution with no local accountability imposed upon local authorities. The LDDC is resented enough by the ordinary people of Newham and Tower Hamlets, who are not able to buy the houses which it has built or to take up the jobs which have been created.
The third example is the ominous pledge in the gracious Speech to reform housing legislation. The inner cities have problems enough, but one of the problems they have not had since the Rent Acts of the 1964 and 1974 Labour Governments is the problem of Rachmanism. Any decontrol of rents and housing security will sharply increase the plight of the poorest in our inner cities.
The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, whose appointment I applaud, is a man for whom I have great respect. I urge him during his ministerial term to work with and not against local democratic authorities of every political colour. They know. They care. They are respected by their people. Further attempts to undermine them will cause incalculable alienation, the consequences of which could be literally devastating.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, I rise conscious that this is the speech for which the whole House has been waiting. It is the speech which precedes the wind-ups. I am conscious that I stand between the House and release from a long, important and I believe fascinating debate. I wish to begin as many on both sides have done by congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, on resuming his responsibilities and to the noble Lord, Lord 220 Belstead, who comes to this debate with a great reputation. We are all certain that he will enhance it while he occupies his place.
I also want, as a number of Members have, to refer briefly to the fact that we are debating a Queen's Speech immediately following a general election. Although for my colleagues and I the result was sad, we nevertheless recognise that it was a democratic decision. The people have made their judgment and this country, for good or ill, will be governed by the Conservative Party for the next period. That does not of course stop Members, who not only opposed the Government's election but oppose many of their policies, from taking opportunities, as we have today, to point out the enormous damage that we consider will be done to the people of this country if some of the measures contained in the Queen's Speech are concluded.
My noble friend Lord Mishcon in a sober, sombre speech, which was in my view spot on, highlighted the missing ingredient in the Government's programme—compassion and care for the people who need compassion and care more than many other groups in our society. Many people, and perhaps all in this House, are capable of standing on their own two feet and of looking after not only themselves but others. But those of us who have been Members of Parliament, especially those who have long experience of local government on this side of the House as leaders and chairmen of committees, do not need to be told about the damage that will be done to many people. They may be deprived, disadvantaged, disabled and often feckless and they need assistance and support.
The Government have given notice that they intend to introduce a poll tax, a uniform business rate, to force local authorities to privatise services and to by-pass elected councils in the key areas of education and housing. All that combines to diminish the role of local authorities and to undermine the concept of democratic accountability.
My noble friend Lady Fisher of Rednal said that that was one of the true aims of privatisation. It is nothing of the sort. The true aim of privatisation is to take money out of the public pocket and to put it into private pockets. The Government have never sought to hide that fact although they have maintained the facade that their purpose in doing these things is to democratise and to make more efficient. We on this side of the House will take the opportunity during the debates to oppose such measures.
Ministers have talked about the resources that are now to be made available to the inner cities. In the year just ended, the Government spent £25 million less on urban aid than in 1980. So much for the crocodile tears about what they have discovered is wrong with the inner cities and what needs to be done.
I go on to the measures proposed to revitalise the inner cities. The noble Lord, Lord Gifford, made a telling point. The inner cities and large areas of London—I live in Edmonton and I know Haringey well, as well as anyone who does not live there—will not take kindly to government measures to do good 221 to them without an input from the people who live and work there and, of more importance, the people who will be affected.
Several of my noble friends have asked about the reference to 100,000 homes. The Government talk in terms of measures to revitalise housing. What about the agony that must persist in 100,000 families? I shall not say homes, because they do not have homes. I believe that Conservative Members fail to understand the depth of human despair that there is in 100,000 families tonight. These families need sustenance and support, but they see none in the Queen's Speech.
The Government are full of giving people choices and opportunities to opt out of situations in which they find themselves. They will give tenants the right to opt out of council housing. As the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, must know as the chief officer of a council, that will increase the management and maintenance costs and it will be a recipe for confusion between landlords. The Government talk about new housing action trusts, which will deny tenants even the right to choose their landlords. Their homes will be taken over with a view to selling many into home ownerships. This will reduce the rented stock still further. The plan to scrap fair rents for housing association tenants is bound to lead to an increase in housing benefit costs. So it goes on.
I do not know what mandate the Government feel they have to dismantle and destroy the fabric and basis of local government as we have known it not just for 10 years but for 100 years. That is what they are leading to.
As to the poll tax, all four associations—the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, the Association of District Authorities, the Association of County Councils and the Association of London Authorities—oppose the concept of such a tax. They can see clearly that it is unfair in principle and unworkable in practice and gives central government so much control over local services and spending that local accountability will become meaningless. Having served on a local authority for many years and having proudly led one in London in the 1960s, I often wonder what local government Conservative councillors in Enfield see as their role, apart from being place men and women and yes men and women for the man in Whitehall for whom, when I knew them, they all had derision. They are being told by central government what they can do and what they cannot do. A poll tax would cost twice as much to collect as any other tax.
The Queen's Speech then says:A Bill will be introduced to improve the working of criminal justice.Reference has been made to prisons and magistrates' courts. The noble Baroness, Lady David, the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, and I had the privilege of visiting Brixton Prison. I attended as part of the all-party penal affairs group. We all got out alive and enjoyed the experience of having been there. The Government talk in terms of building programmes and having the situation under control. I know that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, is a regular visitor to many prisons. 222 He must come away as despairing as I did yesterday at the problems he has to face. At Brixton there are 670 prison officers in post. The Home Office Prison Department says that there ought to be 1,022. There are 300 prison officers who ought to be available for duty but who are not available. Is that not a difficulty under which to work? There are twice as many prisoners in Brixton as is laid down for the normal accommodation. There are therefore twice as many prisoners and half as many prison officers. In Brixton at the moment they are holding more than 200 sentenced prisoners who ought to be taken to places like Wandsworth and Chelmsford but who are unable to be accepted by those prisons because they are full.
I know that the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, is not here but my speech will be reported to him. I do not berate him for not being able to solve the problem but he ought to recognise that the problem will not go away and needs to be tackled with a great deal more vigour.
In a casual aside the governor said to us yesterday, "We are now trebling up." I asked, "What does trebling up mean?" It means that a cell built 100 years ago to accommodate one man has been accommodating two men and is now accommodating three men. Let the House contemplate the living conditions of not only the prisoners, but also the prison officers and governors who are just as much prisoners of the prison environment as anyone else.
We also raised the question of the service to magistrates' courts. Magistrates' courts rely upon the delivery to their courts of prisoners every day. Yet we found that despite the best intentions magistrates' courts are unable to get on with their work at 10 o'clock because the prison vans which deliver the prisoners do not arrive in time. At Highgate, one of the courts of which I am aware, the vans do not arrive until 11 o'clock. When we are talking about improving the criminal justice, perhaps the Minister will ensure that we have not only the grand design and scale in mind but also the nitty-gritty matters. The magistrates' courts are an essential and valuable ingredient in the chain.
In this House Ministers have goodwill but they will need far more than goodwill. They will need vision, compassion and a caring attitude to all of our people. I can see precious little of that in the Queen's Speech.
§ 9.53 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, everyone will agree that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead—to whom welcome has been given by a number of speakers and which I echo—will have an immense task in replying to the numerous points raised in the speeches in this very long debate. He will be involved in a large number of the 17 Bills which we understand will be arising as a result of the gracious Speech. Although we welcome him to his new position and know that he will do his best to steer the legislation through, we can guarantee that the Bills dealing with local government will be fiercely fought on this side of the House.
There have been 33 speeches. Some very impressive points have been made in many of them. I know that 223 it is always invidious to mention particular speeches but at this stage I should like to refer to the speech by my noble friend Lord Mishcon, to which the noble Lord, Lord Graham, referred. His was a very impressive speech. He posed some vital questions—to which I hope the Minister will be able to reply—on the Government's attitude, endeavouring to find out the reasons for our position on law and order, and what the Government propose to do about it. Other noble Lords reflected similar questions.
The other speech to which I should refer is that of my noble friend Lord Morton of Shuna. In speaking of the situation in Scotland he explained in very simple language—something which has not been done in this House for some time—how the Labour Party in Scotland has not only put forward but carried through the practical policies based on socialist idealism and socialist faith. I hope that will be repeated more and more in this Chamber as the months go on.
Before referring to particular aspects of intended legislation relating to local government, I was pleased that the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, was the first to raise the question of the proposed privatisation of the water and sewerage functions. That was followed up by my noble friends Lady Nicol and Lord Dean. I hope the Minister will take note of what my noble friend Lord Dean said about this theory of returning water to the private sector. He referred to Manchester. Some of us know other areas where vast schemes were undertaken. I know of that in Birmingham and the massive development in the Elan Valley. I do not think that the Welsh were altogether happy in the way their water was taken.
Some of us also recall the way in which the Metropolitan Water Board was able to collect together a massive number of local authorities throughout the vast London and Home Counties area. It functioned efficiently. I have tried to think of a word to describe the Government's policy to privatise the water and sewerage functions. Frankly, I can only describe the policy of transferring services such as sewerage and water supply to the private sector as obscene. To place those two services in commercial hands to be dealt with by market forces can only be described' as obscene. It is a shocking example of Tory Party dogma, insisting on carrying through privatisation whatever the service may be.
The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, was the only person to refer to merchant shipping. In view of my transport responsibilities I was pleased that he did so. The gracious Speech states:Measures will be introduced to assist the merchant shipping industry".At the outset of his speech the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, suggested what was meant by those few words. Frankly, they did not seem to me to tackle the serious problem of the drastic decline in Britain's merchant fleet and also the tragic growth of flagging-out of British ships. We shall wait to hear more of what the Government propose for merchant shipping.
The gracious Speech clearly shows how the Government thoroughly mistrust local government. 224 If I may say so, that was echoed well and strongly by the noble Lord, Lord Alport. No wonder the Labour Party in its general election manifesto said the following:The Tory Government has undermined local democracy and plans to continue to diminish the importance of votes in local elections".That was said before we knew what the promised legislation was to be as outlined in the gracious Speech. It must not be forgotten that there is no word of any intention by the Government to reverse their repeated cuts in central government contributions to local government. The House should be reminded that, whereas in England in 1979–80 central government contribution was 61 per cent., by 1986–87 it was right down to 46 per cent. Some people wonder why there are financial problems in certain local councils. No fewer than £17 billion has been lost to local councils over this period from 1979 to 1986–87.
The noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, whom we welcome as the new Minister of State at the Scottish Office, asked whether any credible alternative is advanced. I hope noble Lords will recall that the Opposition sought to amend the Motion for the Second Reading of one of the many rates Bills—there have been so many that quite frankly I cannot recall exactly which year it was; it was not so long ago—and to ask for a thorough review of local government finance. That was rejected out of hand by the Government. Another opportunity to look at possible improvements to our local government finance system was missed as recently as 5th November last year.
The leaders of the four local authority associations, representing the county councils, the district councils, the metropolitan authorities and the Scottish authorities, wrote jointly to the Prime Minister suggesting talks with a view to agreeing on a system of local government finance that,you and we can live with".That was tossed aside and instead the Government decided to proceed with the abolition of rates and with the proposal for the community charge.
The noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, said that we do not know what is in the Bill. We have been assured that the Bill will follow generally the lines of the Scottish Bill. Clearly little thought was given to the details when that Bill was introduced. I say with respect to all noble Lords that I hope they will read all the speeches made during all the stages of the Scottish rates Bill, the provisions of which will take effect in April 1989. During the Second Reading debate on the Bill I referred to the devastating speech of my noble friend Lord Ross of Marnock. That speech should be read, and if it is read noble Lords will realise that what we said would be coming to England and Wales is true.
As my noble friend Lord Graham remarked, this Bill is condemned by all the four local authority associations. The Scottish Bill was condemned not only by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities but by the three English associations—the district councils, the county councils and the metropolitan 225 authorities—all of which said that it was an example of what would come to England and that that ought to be faced. Throughout the debate on the Scottish Bill Ministers resisted calling it a poll tax. I was surprised—although not totally surprised—when listening at home to a report of one of the very first general election press conferences of the Conservative Party to hear the Prime Minister call it a poll tax. Henceforth it will be a poll tax as far as we are concerned when we are dealing with this measure.
The noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, said that we must consider how this proposal for a poll tax—a community charge—came into being. In 1983 the Conservative Government issued two White Papers. One was issued by the Secretary of State for Scotland and the other jointly by the Secretary of State for Wales and the Secretary of State for the Environment. I have the White Papers before me. They give the history of how it came about. Paragraph 2.9 states in relation to a poll tax that,its costs would be very high in relation to the yield. The Government agree with the Environment Committee that this option should be rejected".Paragraph 2.15 states:The Government recognise that rates are far from being an ideal or popular tax. But they do have advantages. They are highly perceptible to ratepayers and they promote accountability. They are well understood, cheap to collect and very difficult to evade. They act as an incentive to the most efficient use of property. No property tax can be directly related to the ability to pay; but rate rebates, now incorporated in housing benefit, together with Supplementary Benefit, have been designed to reduce hardship".Then it goes on:The Government have concluded and announced in Parliament that rates should remain for the foreseeable future the main source of local revenue for local government".That was a Conservative Government White Paper of 1983, and yet we had the Scottish Bill, and now, before we have even seen the effect of the Scottish Act, because it does not start until 1989, we have this proposal for England and Wales.
Leaving out all other points, there is unfairness. As was mentioned in the debate on the Scottish Bill, a single laird in his castle with vast estates will pay one community charge. A poor family—father, mother, and two sons or daughters over 18—living in a Glasgow tenement flat will pay four times that figure. I listened to a conversation that Sir George Young had on the radio and he gave a different example. He referred to a wealthy man in a penthouse flat in London who would pay one community charge, but a family of four adults living in a semi-basement flat would pay four times the amount paid by that person living in the wealthy penthouse flat. Figures issued by the DoE show that there will be far more losers than gainers under the community charge. This unfairness is apart from the problems of collection, enforcement, the need to get a new register, and the possible effect on the electoral role.
I should like to pass on and refer to the proposals for education. I must say frankly that I recognise the contrast in what I thought was the impressive and enlightened speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and the speech dealing with liberation— 226 heaven knows why—made by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. They were two completely different philosophies as to how we should develop education.
The proposals for schools to be able to opt out of the LEAs obviously are not thought out. It is clear that answers are given as problems arise, the same as we have seen with other government legislation. We saw this vividly on the abolition Bill: as problems arose the Government thought out the answers. From the outset there was confusion between the Prime Minister and Mr. Tebbit even at the press conference as to whether there would be a system of selection and payment of fees. Now we are told that there can be payment for certain extras. My noble friend Lord Stewart dealt with this effectively in his notable speech.
There is to be payment for extras. I do not know what this means. I can recall that when I was a little boy at school we had to purchase French dictionaries. My parents could not afford the big French dictionary and I had to have a little one, which was about a quarter the cost. The effect on you when you go running to school with your friend is notable. You have payment for transport for a certain outing. You feel it when you cannot pay. I was a pretty good athlete at school. My parents could not afford to buy running shoes. I had to have shoes which were granted by the school because I needed spiked shoes in order to do the job properly. Even this question of payment has its problems.
So far as I know there has been no consultation with local government on these proposals for education. Even the Association of Head Teachers, 26,000 strong, have said that the proposal for opting out is unacceptable. I believe they had no desire, apart from the principle, to become managers in their schools. We are told that a majority of one will be sufficient for a decision to opt out. What will be the position of others who have no desire to opt out? Where will they go and what will be their position? Also, what will be the opportunity, once a decision is taken, to revert back if people are dissatisfied with how the opting-out proceeds? Will the Government make provision for a further revision to be asked for by parents or governors? I should like to know that from the Minister.
We are told that it will be up to a particular school to determine the admissions policy. That means there may have to be selection instead of the LEAs, as at present, being in control of admissions. I note from a report that on the 22nd May the Prime Minister said,There is nothing wrong with selection according to aptitude and ability.I should like the Minister to tell me precisely what that means—unless it is a return to some method of selection. Inevitably this policy must lead to a diversion of resources from less popular schools to the more popular. What is to happen to the less popular schools?
What will be the position in ILEA if some of the wealthier boroughs opt out of ILEA, bearing in mind that ILEA is already in the position of being rate-capped and of not having received any grant for the past seven years? If a substantial number of schools 227 should opt out throughout the country, what will be the bureaucratic administration that will have to be set up by the department?
There is also a proposal that the polytechnics and some colleges of higher education will also be removed from the LEAs. The whole package of these proposals must weaken LEAs to the point where there are few functions left—and without education what happens to local government? How will you attract to local government the right sort of person who really wants to do a thorough job?
Ninety-three per cent. of pupils are in state schools. Surely we should be concentrating on improving morale in the classrooms and improving the general standards. Why do we see nothing in the proposals to do anything about the HMI report on the deteriorating state of vast numbers of our schools and the numbers of schools which have a shortage of school books? Let us remember that the Audit Commission itself said that in 1985 some £500 million were required to deal with school repairs.
Time is going on, and therefore I shall cut short what I was going to say on housing. However, I should like to know what consultation there has been with the local authority associations on the housing proposals. What consultation has there been on the actual principle of what is proposed? Sometimes we are told there has been consultation but it is not on the principle: it is on trying to get the Government out of a mess, and to see how the job is going to be tackled.
We have this position, referred to by one noble Lord, of the massive expenditure needed to bring both public and private housing up to a decent standard. No fewer than £19 billion will be required to bring public housing up to a decent standard. As my noble friend Lord Dean mentioned, the position is worse in the private sector. Two out of every nine homes are unfit in some way or other; and nearly half of those unfit houses are in the private sector, not in the local authority sector. There is nothing in the gracious Speech to allow local authorities to spend the £6 billion still in their reserves from capital receipts.
Why has nothing been done about that, my Lords? Frankly, the proposal whereby each council tenant has the right to transfer ownership to various bodies seems to me to be half-baked, particularly when it comes to flats. In the case of flats will there be a majority decision or must it be unanimous? Can there be flats with a number of different landlords in the same premises?
I ask the same question about the inner cities. There appears to have been little consultation with local government about the Government's intentions towards the inner cities. The noble Lord, Lord Young, who is now the responsible Minister, has stated that he will appeal directly to the people who are living in those areas over the heads of the local authorities. If it is the intention of the Government to bypass local authorities, the proposals for the inner cities will be an absolute tragedy not only for local government but for the people who live there.
228 Is there to be such an imposition from above? Surely we must all agree that any plans for the inner cities must involve government departments, the private sector, voluntary organisations and representatives of the community, but above all they must involve the elected representatives on the local councils.
My last point has not been mentioned at all by any speaker. It deals with the proposals for compulsory tendering and the banning of contract compliance. The track record of compulsory tendering has not been particularly successful. In particular there has been example after example of cleaning in hospitals that has been a complete and absolute tragedy. We have not seen the proposed legislation but if the lowest tender has to be accepted it may lead to a terrible lowering of standards of service. Surely local councils should be responsible to the people who elect them for standards of service. Already local councils are responsible to the Audit Commission for their general commitments.
All the four local authority associations are opposed to the proposed legislation on compulsory tendering and contract compliance. I must ask the Minister whether the Government intend to include in this Bill a provision similar to that included in the Bill for London Regional Transport and the last Transport Bill that under no circumstances must there be any consideration in tendering of conditions of service and work. Will it mean that a local council must put services out to competitive tender and cannot lay down conditions of work that must be complied with? Will it mean that such matters as hours of work, pensions and training cannot be considered at all? That is what the Government firmly resisted on the two Transport Bills to which I have referred.
Unless the Government make some changes in what we understand will be in these items of legislation, these measures will be a tragic blow for local government. The measures will not only be dangerous for local government itself but I believe dangerous for the democratic system of this country.
§ 10.18 p.m.
§ The Minster of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Belstead)
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, promised your Lordships' House plenty of hard work ahead in this Session, And, indeed, this afternoon and evening we have had plenty of hard work during a wide-ranging debate. We have had a broad spectrum of remarks including a reference to Irish home rule in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, and a reference to the need for the Labour Party to undergo reform of a religious nature that figured in the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Longford.
However, what I have not heard today in your Lordships' House, although I think it has been implicit in quite a number of speeches, is that the Government's programme for this Session is ambitious. That is certainly a comment that I have read in the press over the last few weeks. I do not deny it because I believe that the Government's 229 programme represents honest ambitions: to achieve greater fairness and accountability in local government; to provide greater choice and opportunity in housing and education; and to encourage more enterprise and more jobs in the inner cities. In that context, the unfairness of domestic rates has been widely acknowledged. I was most grateful to my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls for putting his finger on it and saying that something needs to be done.
The other main weakness of rates that has become clear in recent years is that it is not an accountable tax. Only a minority of local electors pay rates directly and in full. Only one in every four local electors in, for instance, Manchester pays full rates when the overwhelming majority of local electors surely require a stake in deciding the quantity and quality of local services and how much they are prepared to pay for them. That is one of the reasons why something needs to be done about the rating system.
It must help to attract jobs to inner cities and to high rating areas if we put a stop to the system whereby businesses which have no say pay half the cost of any increase in local spending. We must remove from businesses the burden of large and unpredictable increases in their rate bill. These, together with a simplification of the grant system, which we intend to do, will be radical proposals going to the roots of the problems of local government. They will enable local electors to see where their money is going and how their local council compares with others.
But that is only half the story. We must consider not only how local government activities are paid for, but also how the money is spent. The Local Government Bill which was introduced on Friday in another place will extend the benefits of competition to a new range of local government services. Some of your Lordships, including the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, have been critical of this. I would only say this evening that the savings which have been achieved by authorities who have introduced competitive tendering on their own initiative have typically been somewhere between 20 and 30 per cent. The potential savings to ratepayers, if the same action is extended to all authorities, can run into hundreds of millions of pounds. I must say in passing that the Bill which was introduced last Friday does something else which I think many of your Lordships will support. It contains a clear and unambiguous provision to stop party political publicity on the rates.
In this Session we have a high priority to press on towards better housing and wider choice for everyone. The right to buy really has been a great success and we are going to continue to spread owner occupation through this right and through the system of mortgage interest tax relief. We are also going to do our best to tackle the problems of the rented sector. As my noble friend Lord Ferrers pointed out so rightly, controls over rents have operated against the best interests of tenants by drastically reducing the supply of accommodation. We therefore intend to decontrol new lettings by private landlords and 230 housing associations through the present systems of assured tenancies and shortholds. But there will be important safeguards. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, for whose personal remarks I was grateful, that there will be these safeguards. Existing tenants will continue to have the same protection as they do now for their rents and security of tenure and we will strengthen the law against harassment and exploitation.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester asked about housing benefit. If, in this general context, rents do rise, then housing benefit will need to rise to give support for those who require it. We will also take steps to widen the choice available to council tenants and to improve the management of their property. We intend to give council tenants the right to transfer to other landlords, building on the success of urban development corporations which have shown the advantages of a single-minded approach to specific problems of dereliction by taking powers to create housing action trusts.
I believe that these policies will have a particular impact on the inner cities, where we intend to give high priority to encouraging enterprise, promoting development and tackling dereliction. We have established five urban development corporations, which will build on the outstanding success of the existing urban development corporations in London and Merseyside docklands. We will also continue to encourage private investment in urban areas through the complex of grants: urban development, derelict land and urban regeneration grants.
We are determined to do our best to tackle the problems of the worst housing estates. Here I am glad to record to your Lordships that the estate action programme has promoted improvement schemes involving nearly 60,000 homes and for this year that budget has been increased by 50 per cent to £75 million. This year we are also providing a £50 million budget to the housing corporation for mixed funding housing association schemes to provide interim accommodation for homeless families.
Before any of your Lordships says it to me, there is of course much more to tackling the problems of our inner cities than improving the environment or physical fabric, although those are crucial. The debate which was initiated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, last February reinforced the point that policies have to address the needs of inner-city residents. That approach is at the heart of our policies to improve education and training and ensure that the benefits of our programmes flow directly to those who live in urban areas.
I shall just try to answer some of the points made by your Lordships on education. My noble friend Lord Eccles spoke of the central importance of teachers in the education process and asked whether enough resources were being put into both pay and training. Well, a 25 per cent. increase over an 18-month period is really as good as we feel we can possibly offer. I think that it has been welcomed in cash terms by the teaching profession. I also think that the pupil-teacher ratio at 17.6:1 last year, being the best ever, with more improvements planned, 231 shows that things are going in the right direction on that front too.
As regards training, intakes to initial teacher training are set to rise by 2 per cent. by 1989 and, as my noble friend may well know, the Government have been active in combating the shortage of maths and physics and other shortage subject teachers in secondary schools. Nonetheless, the noble Lords, Lord Stewart of Fulham and Lord Morton of Shuna, the latter of whom spoke from the Scottish point of view, both said that not enough money was being spent on education. With spending per pupil at record levels in real terms, with the pupil-teacher ratio at an all time best and plans for increased spending in essential areas such as for books, equipment, repairs and maintenance this year, I think if I may say so, that we are doing as well as any government have ever done, The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, questioned the proposals of my right honourable friend for the national curriculum. It is not the Government's aim to bring to an end the healthy diversity of responsibility for the curriculum noted in the White Paper, Better Schools. The aim of the proposed legislation on a national curriculum is to offer a framework with a guarantee of good standards for all pupils, so that parents, teachers, governors, local authorities and others involved can work together towards agreed objectives and can help all pupils to reach their full potential.
The noble Lord also spoke about what he called "opting out" that is, the setting up of grant maintained schools. He felt that that would increase centralism. With respect, my noble friend Lady Cox put her finger on it when she said that those schools would not be centrally run. Responsibility for employing the staff and for deciding the schools' policies and priorities—in short for deciding their character—would all be within the control of the schools' governing bodies working with the head teachers. The governors will be local people and they will be able to see that the school meets local needs.
My noble friend was absolutely right in saying in her most interesting speech that this is a scheme which is going to be popular because it will allow all parents to have a say in the sort of schools which their children attend. It will build on the extension of parental involvement in the running of schools which the 1986 Act has introduced and which has been widely welcomed by all those concerned with raising standards in our schools.
My noble friend asked me a direct question concerning when the open enrolment proposals may take effect. It is intended that those new arrangements should take effect for secondary schools shortly after Royal Assent. They could be extended to primary schools in due course by order of my right honourable friend.
The noble Lord, Lord Stewart, asked many questions about grant-maintained schools. If I may, I shall write to him on some of those questions. But I should like to answer the two questions I think are most important. I felt that the noble Lord was suggesting that there could, in effect, be a return to 232 the 11-plus. Grant-maintained schools will retain the character, whether comprehensive or selective, of the schools concerned as LEA schools. Any subsequent proposal to change a school's character would require a proposed procedure with scope for objections. As to the difficult question which the noble Lord asked with regard to opting back in, this is an area which can be examined in the course of the consultation exercise upon which the Government are shortly to embark.
My noble friends Lord Beloff and Lord Trafford spoke about higher education and the future arrangements of the Government for the funding of universities. Both my noble friends acknowledged the force of the recommendations in the Croham Report. The main recommendation of that report concerning the reconstitution of the University Grants Committee was accepted by the Government in the White Paper Higher Education: Meeting the Challenge.
My noble friend Lord Trafford recognised the need for universities to adapt to changing circumstances and for that change to be constructively managed. The legislation we are proposing will facilitate that. My noble friend Lord Beloff expressed some criticism of the two consultative papers on the new university funding committee and on contract-based funding. Those documents have been the subject of some misinterpretation and I should like to take this opportunity to emphasise the Government's firm intention that the new arrangements should accommodate and respect the essential nature and purpose of the universities.
I shall try to answer as quickly as I can in the time available the general questions which your Lordships put. The debate started with the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, speaking after my noble friend Lord Caithness. The noble Lord spoke about the increases in crime and questioned the reasons for those increases. I would not for one moment cross swords with the noble Lord, with his great experience in such matters, by saying that the levels of crime we have in this country, and indeed in the whole of the developed world, do not give great cause for concern. But for the record, it is interesting that recorded crime in the first quarter of this year did at last show some slight slackening of the rate of increase, if that is any comfort. That said, the noble Lord had every right to make the speech that he did and my noble friend Lord Fairfax had every right to ask the question: "What are the Government doing about crime?"
We have made enormous strides in community crime prevention with neighbourhood watch schemes and things of that kind, through the sort of management schemes in housing areas which the noble Lord mentioned, such as the Department of the Environment's priority estates programme, and through the provision of more policemen on the beat, which has been made possible by the great increases in police manpower since 1979.
Both the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, also spoke of the effects of the conditions in existing prisons. I should like to say that there is a major programme of 233 refurbishment and redevelopment going on at about 100 establishments including almost all local prisons. Meanwhile, let us not forget that this Government have given the courts the best and most flexible range of non-custodial sentences of any country in western Europe.
The right reverend Prelate asked about rate relief for charities and the impact of the community charge on older people. So far as concerns non-domestic property the Government have made it clear that they intend to preserve the existing pattern of reliefs and exemptions from rates. This means that, for example, charity shops, workshops for the disabled and other such organisations will continue to enjoy reliefs that they enjoy at present.
Concerning domestic property, the Government's proposals are that domestic rates should be abolished and replaced by the flat rate community charge payable by all adults with only limited exceptions. The special groups who will be exempted from the community charge include the mentally handicapped, long-term hospital patients, residents of old people's homes and other caring institutions. It is worth saying in passing that so far as one can see from the figures that have been worked out the community charge, in general terms, ought to be good news for older people.
I am not going to say anything, if they will forgive me, to the noble Lords, Lord Grimond, Lord Perth, and Lord Houghton about Scottish devolution for rather obvious reasons. I come from the other side of the border and I do not think I ought to be saying anything about it this evening.
I just say to the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, that I was a little surprised that the noble Lord asked for an assurance that the community charge is going to be implemented in England and Wales as well as in Scotland—I give that assurance to the noble Lord. The Government are committed to introducing a Bill in this Session of Parliament to abolish domestic rates in England and Wales and replace them with the community charge. Our aim is that the new system should come into effect in England and Wales in 1990—just one year later than in Scotland.
I should like to assure the noble Earl that Ravenscraig will remain in operation until 1988. Its future after that is still under review. Of course, I shall report the noble Earl's comments and concern to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.
I particularly enjoyed the speech made by my noble friend Lord Forbes, who has such special knowledge of Scotland and its rural areas. The noble Lord spoke more generally this evening of the special problems of Scotland in a constructive way, in a speech which I found very interesting. I was grateful to my noble friend for his support for enterprise zones. I shall certainly draw the many suggestions in my noble friend's speech to the attention of my right honourable friend.
My noble friend Lord Ferrier spoke about the need for good space heating to complement energy saving devices in houses. I say to my noble friend that under 234 the present social security scheme there are those who get money each week for heating, and we have been running an extensive system of heat additions with expenditure well above the levels provided by the previous government. People will carry on being helped with the introduction of the reforms in social security in 1988, but in a different way. There will be premiums for groups such as the elderly and the disabled. These are groups which are particularly likely to be receiving heating additions now.
I was grateful to my noble friend Lady Sharples for speaking about farm woodlands and saying that she hoped grants for them would be arriving shortly. The Bill we propose to introduce will provide enabling powers and we will then proceed with secondary legislation to bring in the scheme. We hope that it will be in place in time for farmers to plant trees late in 1988 and I hope this will be soon enough for my noble friend.
My noble friend Lord Ferrers said that really in the present situation of surpluses it would be the thing to do to pay farmers not to grow crops. Under the package agreed by the Agriculture Council in March, member states are required within the next nine months to set up extensification schemes which will follow my noble friend's line of thought. These schemes will provide for the payment of money to farmers provided that they reduce production of surplus products, initially cereals, beef and wine, by at least 20 per cent.
I shall not again go over the nitrogen ground with my noble friend, who knows the objections of the Government to a nitrogen tax. I should like fully to endorse his comments about agriculture and conservation being complementary. The Government recognise the vital role of agriculture in the rural economy and will continue to support it as indicated in the gracious Speech.
Let me just say in response to the very detailed speech which the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, made that we share her concern about special help to inner-city areas. Since 1979 Birmingham has received £150 million under the urban programme and, of this, £25 million was targeted specifically on projects in the area which the noble Baroness mentioned; namely, Handsworth. There are 18 urban development grant projects in the city; £20 million in grants from the projects has attracted £90 million in private investment. This again was a matter to which the noble Baroness particularly referred.
I am sure your Lordships will have enjoyed the speech made this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. I should like to put on record the admiration which certainly I feel for the dedicated, sensible and practical way in which the noble Lord pursues unremittingly the well-being of animals; the subject on which the noble Lord terminated his speech. I am sure that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary will look most carefully at the suggestions made by the noble Lord for improving the welfare of animals.
In a very interesting speech which reminded the House of the Government's commitment to the Northern Ireland economy, the noble Lord, Lord Blease, called on the Government to build confidence 235 in the parliamentary process. The gracious Speech sets out the broad lines of government policy towards Northern Ireland. We shall continue to seek agreements on means of devolving greater responsibility to the representatives of the people of Northern Ireland. We are ready to discuss constructive ideas at any level with representatives of the political parties separately or together and the Government will continue to back the security forces to the hilt in their efforts to combat terrorism in the Province. In this as in other fields, we shall continue to build on the constructive relationship that we have established with the Republic.
I am sorry, particularly because both the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, were extremely kind in personal remarks to me, that I do not agree with them on water privatisation. We set out in our manifesto the high priority which—
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, let me just finish this point and I shall give way. We set out in our manifesto the high priority—
§ Lord Dean of Beswick
My Lords, I am sorry I have to intrude at this late stage. I was not suggesting that there was anything wrong other than the political philosophy of the Government in privatising water. I said that there was deliberate or accidental misinformation being produced during the general election campaign as to who originally owned all the water undertakings. It has been perpetrated in the other place and it was perpetrated in this place yesterday by a Minister when he said that the water holdings would go back to private people where they belonged. The point I made was that the overwhelming number of water authorities in this country before the 1973 Act were not in any way in private ownership. They were in the main owned by local authorities or various committees composed of them. That was the point I was making.
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. They were indeed in those hands and they were inefficient and underfinanced, which is precisely why we are going to privatise them. I say to the noble Lord, and I am sorry to have to sound brusque because he was extremely kind to me across the Floor of the House, that we do not envisage that local authorities will have the power to run the water supply or sewerage operations in future because the shares in the companies will be offered to the public and not to institutions of local or central government.
Perhaps I may put a little balm on the wound and tell the noble Lord and the noble Baroness that there may be a rather greater area of agreement because in the privatisation process we intend to ensure that there are strict safeguards against river pollution. We intend to establish a national rivers authority to take over pollution control and the other regulatory functions of the water authorities.
The noble Lord, Lord Carter, spoke about children with special educational needs. I assure him 236 that the Government will take full account of the position of children with special educational needs in developing their proposals for education. He feared that mainstream schools with delegated budgets might be unable fully to provide for the needs of handicapped children. It is our firm intention that the arrangements for delegated budgets should take account of factors such as the incidence of handicapped children in the school in the calculation of the sum to be made available. Thus the level of funding delegated to a school should be no disincentive to that school providing for handicapped children in the way that has become increasingly common since the Warnock Report and the 1981 Act.
The points that the noble Lord made were important, and I say to him that our prospectus for a third Parliament begins with a firm record of improvement upon which we intend to build. In the seven years up to and including last year real terms expenditure on the benefits for long-term sick and disabled people grew by £2.5 billion to an estimated total of £6 billion. Of that increase, £1.75 billion was the result of more recipients and £750 million was due to larger amounts received.
We have also put in hand the largest ever survey of disabled people to obtain information on their numbers, needs and circumstances. We expect the results to be published next year, and it will make a thorough reappraisal of benefits for disabled people. Disabled people will not be denied the improvements we shall introduce next year. That is the point about which the noble Lord was asking. We estimate that 160,000 sick or disabled people receiving supplementary benefit will be better off under the illustrative figures.
My noble friend Lady Faithfull asked about family courts. She pressed for a government statement on the establishment of a family court. My noble friend made it clear that her remarks had been prompted by recent speculation in the media. As is known, the Government published a consultation paper in May 1986 which set out the various options for reform in the handling of family cases. That paper indicated that Ministers intended to be able to take decisions about that matter not later than December of this year, and that remains our target. But the matter is complex and the Government cannot commit themselves to that date or to a particular decision.
I know that there are points to which I have not replied. If your Lordships will forgive me, I shall write about those.
The gracious Speech inaugurates a major legislative programme on environmental and home affairs for this Session. I believe that it represents more than that. I believe that we have picked up the plea for the family made by my noble friend Lady Faithfull. In its proposals on housing, education, local grant finance and services, this gracious Speech marks a concerted drive to widen choice and improve quality in services which are the essential bedrock of family life. They aim to bring more freedom and opportunity to people who use the services and to give them more personal responsibility. By laying more emphasis on the consumer and by removing 237 barriers to enterprise we aim to lay foundations for a sustained revival of the economy of our older industrial cities based on private sector-led grants. It is a programme worth pursuing, and that we intend to do.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.—(Lord Hesketh.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.
§ House adjourned at ten minutes before eleven o'clock.