HL Deb 23 November 1989 vol 513 cc138-232

Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Tuesday last by Lord Holderness —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".

3.3 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)

My Lords, today we come to debate home, health and social affairs in the context of the gracious Speech. The measures which the Government will be putting before Parliament in these fields will, I believe, carry benefits for every one of our fellow citizens. The subjects which we shall be considering today are therefore diverse and important.

But I am afraid I must start with an apology. I shall listen with interest to as much of the debate as I can, but I am afraid that I have a long-standing engagement this evening which will mean that I shall have to leave, I anticipate, before the end of the debate. I hope your Lordships will be kind enough to excuse me.

It is a pleasure to begin my remarks by endorsing all that has been said about the two notable speeches which the House heard on Tuesday from the movers of the humble Address to Her Majesty. My noble friend Lord Holderness was resplendent in the uniform of honorary colonel of the Fourth Battalion of the Royal Green Jackets. The reluctance of my noble friend Lady Blatch to attempt to match him, using the uniform of the Womens Royal Air Force, is understandable. My noble friend Lord Holderness addressed us with forcefulness, with patriotism, and with charm, as well as in English, Latin and, perhaps above all, Welsh. My noble friend Lady Blatch addressed us with the thoughtfulness and sincerity which we have come so quickly to expect from her. Together the two speeches provided an admirable opening to our discussions on the gracious Speech.

A number of themes underlie the legislative programme which Her Majesty's Government intend to put before Parliament. The first is the theme of improved access for all our people to the highly skilled professional services which are available in our country. Improved access means, in the view of the Government, more choice for the individual. However, the Government recognise that a wholly unregulated system may well have the opposite effect to that which is intended, so in important respects we are preparing legislative action which will, we believe, safeguard and improve the quality of professional services at the same time as enlarging choice.

The first area in which we seek to put these fundamental principles into practice is in health care. We have brought forward a Bill to improve the National Health Service and the management of community care. Our overall aim is to build on the achievements of the National Health Service by raising the performance of all hospitals, units and GP practices to that of the best. We want to give patients better health care and greater choice of services and to respond flexibly and sensitively to their needs. Patients are entitled to expect high quality services. It also means that patients will have more choice.

The new National Health Service trusts, which will be statutory corporations within the National Health Service, will enjoy a wide range of freedoms in running their own affairs. Larger GP practices will be able to manage funds for the purchase of a range of defined services for their patients. The aim of these changes is to enable those who are actually providing the service locally to be responsible for day-to-day decisions about operational matters.

In the context of community care the Bill will provide among other things for better assessment of individuals' need. Local authorities will have wider scope to arrange care with appropriate providers of services and will have further powers of inspection. In sum, these proposals will mean major improvements across the whole spectrum of hospital, primary and community care. In particular, they make the needs and wishes of patients a priority.

A second area where the Government intend to propose legislation which will both expand public choice and safeguard standards is broadcasting. The Broadcasting Bill will bring into effect the measures to reform the independent broadcasting sector, set out in the broadcasting White Paper and taking account of subsequent consultations. It will authorise new television and radio services of national and local interest, while at the same time safeguarding the diversity and high quality of programmes of existing services, to the benefit of viewers and listeners. It will result in less bureaucratic regulation and will open up opportunities for independent procedures.

But the control of programme standards will be reinforced with strong protection for programme quality and clear limits on broadcasting and cross-media ownership. Tough sanctions will be introduced to prevent the development of pornographic and other unacceptable satellite services and the broadcasters' exemption from the obscenity and incitement to racial hatred legislation will be removed. The new framework will allow the development of greater competition and efficiency in British broadcasting to the benefit of the individual viewer and listener.

Thirdly, we hope to be able to take a major step towards an enormous improvement in access to higher education in this country. An Education (Student Loans) Bill will be introduced to enable my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to make arrangements under which students may take out loans to top up their maintenance grants. We are committed to expanding access to higher education. These loans will give students access to more resources, and make higher education more attractive to people from all backgrounds.

We believe this to be a fair measure because it would not be right for the expansion of higher education to be funded only by taxpayers, many of whom earn less than graduates. Loans will enable students to shoulder more of the cost, and as most graduates have higher earnings in later life they can well afford to repay part of their living costs which were incurred while receiving education. Loans also have the benefit of reducing students' dependence on the taxpayer and therefore increasing their self-reliance, and thus their self-respect.

Fourthly, we must bear in mind that it is right that some people in our community need help in order to participate fully in the life of the community. Next year we shall spend over a billion pounds a week on social security but we are still planning to improve the system.

As a result of the series of important surveys which we commissioned from the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, we now know much more about disabled people and their circumstances. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Security has expressed his intention to come forward within the next few months with proposals to improve the balance and structure of social security provision in this field. In the meantime, he has announced some 10 immediate improvements, the full cost of which, in a full year, will be some £100 million —again, over and above the normal up-rating of benefits generally.

Your Lordships will have been particularly pleased to have heard the announcement that attendance allowance is to be made available to the terminally ill without the normal six-month waiting period. I am pleased to tell your Lordships that a Bill will be introduced which will give effect to this provision and which is expected to help more than 50,000 people.

The Government also continue to recognise the special needs of pensioners. For example, changes took effect last month which directed an extra £200 million a year to less well-off elderly and disabled pensioners.

Our policies aim to ensure soundly based support for people in retirement through state provision and —of increasing importance —their own pensions and savings. That is why we have done so much to encourage the development of occupational and personal pension schemes with a view to increasing the choices which people have available to them when considering how best to provide for their retirement. It is important, though, that people should be properly protected, and the forthcoming Bill will therefore strengthen the benefit security of members of occupational pension schemes and provide help for individuals in dealing with pension schemes. Among the measures proposed to achieve these ends, the Government have decided to set up a pensions ombudsman with a statutory requirement that the pensions industry should abide by his decision.

Finally, on this theme of improved public access and safeguarding standards is a Bill of some little interest to me: the Courts and Legal Services Bill which I hope to introduce into your Lordships' House early next month. The Bill will contain provisions enabling me to give effect to two major initiatives. The first of these is the Civil Justice Review. The second is the reform of the legal profession and the review of the provision of legal services which was the subject of three Green Papers issued in January and a White Paper published in July. These measures are part of a wide-ranging programme to improve access to good quality legal services and to courts whose procedures should be as straightforward, quick and efficient as possible.

Following the recommendations of the Civil Justice Review, the Bill will establish a framework for a new system of case allocation and transfer between the High Court and the county courts, so that the High Court can concentrate upon judicial review and other specialist cases, along with other civil cases of unusual substance, importance or complexity, while the more straightforward cases, particularly in the personal injuries area, are heard in the county courts, which are in general quicker, cheaper, and more accessible to ordinary people.

On the reform of the legal profession, the Government's intention is to increase the range of worthwhile choice in legal services available to clients. These will be a framework (involving the senior judiciary) for the extension of the right to conduct litigation, and of rights of audience, and a framework for the extension of rights to do work in connection with probate and conveyancing to any persons or bodies suitably qualified.

The field of candidates for judicial appointments will be broadened; and changes will be allowed to some matters of professional practice to enable the professions to organise themselves and work in different ways for the benefit of the public. We shall also remove some of the present prohibitions on contingent fee arrangements what are often called, "no-win, no fee" arrangements.

The protection of the client is also the reason that we propose the establishment of a legal services ombudsman to look into allegations that complaints about the provision of legal services have not been adequately dealt with by the lawyer or by the relevant professional body. Of course, the responsibility for regulation will continue to rest primarily with professional bodies, but I hope that the ombudsman's role will complement their work and enable relatively small but justified claims for compensation to be settled quickly and fairly. These are the main provisions of the Bill, although there are some other more technical matters therein. I look forward with interest to our debates on the matter.

I now turn to my second theme. We live in a tumultuous world, where the scale and pace of economic, social and political change defy our ability to cope. In these times, international co-operation is of crucial importance. Two measures,.both of which will begin their progress in your Lordships' House, illustrate this theme.

The Contracts (Applicable Law) Bill will enable the United Kingdom to ratify the 1980 Rome Convention and the 1984 Luxembourg Convention on the law applicable to contractual obligations. The conventions establish common principles to determine which country's law will govern a contract which has connections with more than one country. The two basic principles are the same as those at present applicable under United Kingdom law: first, that the parties to the contract may choose which country's law is to govern it and, secondly, that in the absence of such a choice the contract is to be governed by the system of law with which it is most closely connected. The conventions thus entrench freedom of choice for the parties, which had not always been recognised by other states, and the provision of unified rules in this area should assist the free movement of goods and services as we approach the 1992 internal market.

The second Bill is the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill. Serious crime is no respecter of international boundaries, and it is vital that we should be able to respond to the growth of international crime by fostering better co-operation with other countries in the investigation and prosecution of crime.

The Bill we intend to bring forward will remedy the deficiencies which exist in our law at present in a number of crucial respects; for example, by clarifying the powers of United Kingdom courts to issue summonses in criminal proceedings addressed to people who are known or believed to be overseas. The passage of the Bill will enable the United Kingdom to ratify the European Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, and I am sure that the measures contained in the Bill will receive wholehearted support in all parts of your Lordships' House.

The gracious Speech also confirmed the Government's determination to continue to combat the trafficking and abuse of drugs. A major step towards strengthening the ability of the international community to fight the threat of drugs was taken last December, with the conclusion of a new United Nations convention against illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. The United Kingdom plays a leading role in that area, and having been active in securing agreement to the convention we now need to make the changes to our law which are necessary to allow us to ratify the convention. The Bill we propose will also include those changes.

None of us needs to be reminded of the menace posed by international terrorism. As part of the battle against terrorism, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport announced last April, following his department's review of aviation security in the light of the Lockerbie disaster, the intention to seek new powers from Parliament in order to secure more effective aviation security measures. The Aviation and Maritime Security Bill will provide those powers.

The Bill also covers maritime security. There is at present no satisfactory legal mechanism by which the Government can ensure that adequate precautions are taken against terrorist threats to maritime activities. The Bill provides for similar arrangements to apply to seaports and ships as those that already apply and will apply to airports and aircraft. These are measures essential for the improvement of aviation and maritime security. I believe that the whole House will welcome them.

Perhaps I might now mention two pieces of Scottish legislation. The Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill will give effect to our policy on a range of Scottish issues, including the reform of the legal profession, the liquor licensing laws, the supervision of charities, fines payments and offender services funding. The reforms proposed in the Bill demonstrate, I believe, our continuing commitment to law reform in Scotland.

Secondly, legislation will be introduced to create two new non-departmental public bodies: Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. I am confident that that will be warmly welcomed in Scotland, where there is widespread enthusiasm for establishing those new bodies to create an integrated strategy for promoting Scotland's growth in the 1990s and beyond. In addition, the Bill will prepare for the dissolution of the new town development corporations.

Finally, I turn to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which I introduced yesterday. The activities to be regulated by the Bill have been made possible through scientific advances in ways of assisting women to have children. A committee chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, reported on those matters in 1984. When the House comes to examine the Bill it will find that the committee's recommendations form the basis for its provisions.

The Bill will regulate a number of treatments: I mention particularly in vitro fertilisation and the practice of artificial insemination by donor. It will regulate the donation and storage of human sperm, eggs and embryos.

The most controversial area covered by the Bill is the question of research involving human embryos outside the body. As promised in the White Paper Human Fertilisation & Embryology, A Framework for Legislation, the Bill will contain alternative provisions on that: one banning research and the other permitting it under strict controls. I look forward with interest to our debates on that difficult and sensitive matter, on which there will be a free vote in both Houses. In addition the Bill will prohibit a number of practices such as the creation of hybrids which, were they to take place, would, I am sure, be found generally abhorrent.

The Bill will also provide for a statutory licensing authority to be established to licence centres providing treatment or storage facilities regulated under the Bill and research involving human embryos, should that be permitted. The Bill will also give effect to a number of other provisions. Adults born as a result of the donation of gametes or embryos will have a right of access to certain non-identifying information about the donor or donors. It will determine the legal status of children born as a result of these techniques. The Bill will also amend the Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985 to make clear that surrogacy contracts are unenforceable.

That measure will regulate matters of great importance, some of which turn as much on moral conviction as on medical, legal and scientific issues. There will be strong feelings on those issues, and I am sure that your Lordships will approach them with the combination of professional expertise, rational thought and calm and courteous debate which is the hallmark of this House.

Without in any way wanting to enter into the discussion of how heavy the burden of legislation on this House is or should be, I shall observe that there seems to be a reasonable amount to discuss during the coming Session. I am sure that all your Lordships will enter into that programme with zest in order to see that it provides the benefits for all our people which the Government seek in putting it forward. My colleagues and I will be much interested in what your Lordships have to say on those matters.

I especially look forward to the maiden speeches of my noble friends Lord McColl of Dulwich and Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover and that of the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant.

3.26 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, following as I do immediately after the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has spoken, it gives me a pleasurable opportunity to express the deep respect that all of us on these Benches have for him. I am sure that I speak for every section of your Lordships' House.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Mishcon

During the previous Session when we discussed the Children Bill humanity came through clearly in the way that the noble and learned Lord piloted the Bill through the House. When he came to discuss legal services he spoke with an imperturbability that was not always welcomed in every section of the House; but nevertheless it was accompanied, as always, by constant courtesy. We have just listened to another lucid speech from the noble and learned Lord which, I suppose, for some of us merely proved again the worth of his advocacy, if nothing else.

The right honourable lady the Prime Minister described the theme going through the gracious Speech as one of quality of life. We are dealing today, as your Lordships are aware, with home affairs, social affairs and health. I propose, if I may, to leave health and social affairs to be discussed by my noble friend Lord Ennals when he winds up from these Benches.

I want, again with your Lordships' leave, to deal with the quality of our national life in so far as it relates to the administration of justice. I suppose that your Lordships will agree with me that there are possibly three constituent elements of a true and proper administration of justice. The first such element would be that there must be public confidence in our system of justice and that that system must run like a clean stream from its very source to its very end.

The second element would be that our system of justice is available to all, regardless of means. The third constituent: element would be something to which the noble and learned Lord referred in the course of his speech —namely, that justice should be efficient and speedy. Perhaps I may deal with the question of public confidence and the stream being pure from the very source to the very end. Nobody from this Dispatch Box, from the Government Benches or anywhere else has ever spoken about the police, except with words of respect for the whole of the force and admiration for the tradition that our police force has had over many years.

Unfortunately, we have recently had some shocks. Your Lordships will remember the atmosphere in this House when a Statement was made, only a matter of a few weeks ago, about the Guildford four. Your Lordships will remember that an inquiry was announced immediately. If I may say so in parenthesis, although I know that criminal investigations must take place over the next few months, I was very disturbed, to learn that Sir John May does not feel able to report apparently until some time in 1991. I feel that that fact will be looked upon with some disappointment in many parts of your Lordships' House.

However, the other matters that caused the shock in recent times were concerned with the West Midlands serious crimes squad and Operation Own Goal. That has had an alarming effect on the public. A MORI poll was taken only recently from 1,000 people and the result was that 63 per cent. said that they believed that the police bent the rules to obtain a conviction. Only 17 per cent. said that they believed that the police did not. These are the people from whom our juries are drawn.

I submit that we now urgently require the measures that were mentioned when the Statement was debated in your Lordships' House on the Guildford four. We need speedy legislation, which was not mentioned in the gracious Speech, which would provide that a confession alone would not obtain a conviction; it has to be materially corroborated. As your Lordships know, that course was advocated by no less a jurist and no less an eminent judge than the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman.

We also need immediate legislation —and this was not mentioned in the gracious Speech —which will provide for an independent tribunal to which the Home Secretary can refer cases where there are possible miscarriages of justice.

Thirdly, when we are dealing with regulations under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, we need to be extremely careful that the right of silence should still remain one of the traditions of our law which has to be observed and that there are very careful regulations in regard to the taking of statements from accused persons.

I turn to the second constituent element —the availability of justice to all. I welcome the increases in funding, especially the noble and learned Lord's press statement which was read with considerable interest. It was given out on 13th November and contained this commitment to: implementing changes which are discovered to be appropriate as they occur rather than waiting for the outcome of the review as a whole". That is very welcome, but it is a solemn thought, in dealing with this constituent element of the administration of justice, that 15 million people who would have qualified for legal aid in 1979 no longer do so. I look at this moment at my noble and learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones who had so much to do with the whole question of granting legal aid to the poor in our land. Fifteen million people who would have been entitled to legal aid in 1979 are no longer able to obtain that legal aid under the present regulations. Obviously, as your Lordships know, there have been reports and recommendations from time to time in regard to increasing the area of legal aid. I say "obviously" because I recognise that this is a field where one can go on giving good grounds for saying that levels should go up in the granting of legal aid. But there are immediate examples which I ask the noble and learned Lord to consider very carefully indeed as matters of priority.

The first is that there should be a flexible upper limit for civil legal aid, as for criminal legal aid, so that people qualify at all levels of means but are subject to paying an appropriate contribution.

Secondly, I suggest for the noble and learned Lord's consideration that there should be no means test in personal injury cases but instead a flat administration charge; and in doing that there could be a recognition of the high success rates that such cases have and therefore a minimal cost to the legal aid fund.

Thirdly, I ask the noble and learned Lord to look again at the green form scheme which has been described as the "doorway to legal aid", which saves so much time and cost by giving preliminary advice. I ask for immediate consideration, or at least careful consideration, to be given to the bringing in of capital rules which will be in line with civil legal aid. At present anyone with savings of more than £890 is not eligible for the green form scheme, however low their income. However the usual limit in regard to ordinary civil legal aid is about £6,000, and it is £20,000 in regard to some pensioners. Quite obviously, this limit of £890, with no regard at all to however low the income is, cannot be right.

Lastly on this subject of tribunals, I myself and my noble friends recognise that some tribunals have now been admitted into the range of legal aid. But there is one that cries out for that —the social security commissioners. They are the third tier in the appeals which come on social security. The only higher one is the Court of Appeal to which those decisions are referred, if necessary, after that third tier body has dealt with the matter. In these cases the Department of Social Security is always represented. It is so much to the disfavour of the appellant that he or she has to stand before that tribunal so often unrepresented. They are obviously the type of people who cannot afford representation unless they are granted legal aid. The cost of allowing for that would be extremely modest. The last figures I could obtain applied to 1987 when 3,000 such cases occurred.

I now come to efficiency and the speed of justice. As I said, this matter was referred to by the noble and learned Lord in the course of his speech. I have some grave things to bring to your Lordships' attention. In the gracious Speech these words occur: A Bill will be introduced to improve the administration of civil justice and to increase choice in the provision of legal services". In regard to the latter point, there will be an opportunity in your Lordships' House on Second Reading for contributions to be made. I do not intend to make one, certainly in regard to the lawyers of England and Wales. However, I have been specially asked by Scottish lawyers to make two protests. I do that on their behalf. The first one concerns major reforms of Scottish legal systems. Scottish lawyers protest at those reforms being incorporated in a miscellaneous provisions Bill, as the noble and learned Lord mentioned in his speech. Secondly, Scottish lawyers say —I should say this with some amount of sympathy —that the proposals for them appear to follow the proposals of the noble and learned Lord for England and Wales, and do not take into account the independent system of law in Scotland. If the noble and learned Lord had been sitting in another place, those two protests may have been rather more welcome than they are when he occupies, as he so graciously does, the Woolsack.

On the first point, as the noble and learned Lord said, great reliance is being placed, in regard to speedy and cheap methods of bringing cases for trial, on the fact that county courts will now be used very much more. There will be, as it were, a downturning of cases from the High Court to the county courts and the county courts will have jurisdiction to take many more cases than is the case at present.

I appreciate that in the Autumn financial Statement an increase of £70 million was announced for court services. It is not clear what that sum of money is intended to achieve or where it will be placed. However, I must say with absolute gravity at this moment that our county courts now, with their present jurisdiction and their present load, are near collapse. There is not a practitioner who will not tell one that there is inefficiency at the moment because of lack of staff, or lack of proper staff, and that there are delays which are quite unconscionable.

Having made those statements, your Lordships will expect me to give some factual examples. With the leave of the House, I shall read from a brief supplied to me by the Law Society. The brief states: In the last two months the Society has been notified by solicitors of about 40 instances of delays and errors in the county courts which have prejudiced the administration of justice. These instances have occurred in courts as widespread as the South Coast and Yorkshire and affect the entire process of obtaining justice. Reports of delays received include the following examples:—getting a summons issued —delay in Birmingham 2 months … service of divorce petition —delay in Bromley 4 months, processing of decree absolute (which finally ends the marriage and leaves the couple free to remarry)—delay in Bromley 5 weeks. Hastings County Court is said to be more than a month behind in dealing with post and Birmingham is reported as having 8,000 items of untouched correspondence. Solicitors' bills have been paid so slowly in Bow, that one firm wrote to say that they were considering ending their legal aid service as a result of cashflow problems. Wandsworth County Court has 2 weeks supply of money left for postage and will only be able to answer letters if provided with a stamped addressed envelope. The same court has not been able to afford to use 1st class post for some time even where Rules of Court require this. In Liverpool the quantity of untouched correspondence resulted in creditors not receiving prompt payment of money paid into court by debtors and at one point it is believed that over £1 million was tied up in this way". It is proposed by legislation —that is so easy to pass —without any regard to the practicalities of the situation, to pass on to these courts that are in this turmoil and mess many more cases in order to lead to efficient and speedy justice. I ask, with respect, that the noble and learned Lord gives attention, as I am sure he will, to this extremely important matter if this legislation is to have any practical good attached to it at all.

I come to my closing theme. I shall quote from the gracious Speech which states that the Government: will vigorously pursue their policies for reducing crime". The policies are not stated. What are they? Are they policies to fill already overcrowded and horrible prisons? We have one doubtful privilege, which is that we are at the top of the European league for imprisonment per head of population. I apply equal gravity to that matter as to my previous subject. We have even beaten Turkey who now takes second place.

I give these figures with sorrow. The Netherlands has 40 persons in prison per 100,000 of population. We have 97.4 per 100,000 of population. The Home Office issued a Green Paper entitled Punishment, Custody and the Community. No legislation was promised in the gracious Speech to carry out a policy, as it must be carried out, of shifting from custodial to non-custodial sentences all those who are not guilty of the more serious crimes, and crimes which are connected with violence. The previous Home Secretary, Mr. Hurd, said that he was very much in favour of that policy. I ask whether the present Home Secretary is also.

To conclude, yesterday in our debate on foreign affairs we warmly welcomed the progress towards democracy in Eastern Europe. Let us ensure that in our own democracy, which we value so much, we attain standards for all our people, rich and poor, strong and weak, which are worthy of emulation throughout the world. Then, and then only, can we with sincerity be proud of the quality of our national life.

3.50 p.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, I propose to concentrate my remarks on the proposals in the gracious Speech for a major broadcasting Bill. My noble friends will cover the other aspects of the debate, which was opened so comprehensively by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. We are promised that it will be a massive Bill proposing many changes. I hope that the Government will take as the basic criteria in relation to those changes the words of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor —that the interests of the viewer and the listener will be the test of the merit of those proposals.

Against that background, from these Benches we warmly welcome the proposals for a fifth television channel, new commercial radio channels and numerous community radio stations. However, when we see the text of the Bill we shall wish to test the proposals against the test of the interests of the listener and the viewer.

The Government's justification for such a fundamental and radical overhaul of the British broadcasting system is in part the technological revolution in satellite broadcasting and in some associated cable technologies. One has to take that justification with a pinch of salt. Those are exciting developments, but the major proposals in the Bill —for the new, fifth television channel and new radio stations —owe nothing to any of those new technological developments. They are terrestrial developments. The truth is that the heart of the broadcasting Bill owes a good deal more to ideology than to technology.

It is revealing that the Government have shown in their White Paper and in the debate up to this point a great deal of concern about what they regard as the unacceptable degree of monopoly that the ITV companies have enjoyed in the sale of advertising time. They have expressed concern about what has been called the cosy duopoly between independent broadcasting and the BBC. Yet they appear to show no concern at all about, and there is no indication that the Bill will contain any provision to deal with, that degree of monopoly that is enjoyed by, for example, Mr. Rupert Murdoch's News International with its very substantial share of the press in this country and now total ownership of the four satellite broadcasting channels. None of those channels is subject to the regulations that apply to BSB, the satellite broadcasting organisation that comes under the laws of this land.

The new satellite channels —and we welcome the increased choice that they will bring —will, in my judgement, grow rather gradually in terms of their appeal to viewers over the coming decade. The point that has to be registered is that the arrival of the new channels does not in any way create a necessity to disrupt the existing familiar British broadcasting channels.

I want to concentrate on the proposals that will appear in the Bill for the disruption of the independent television system and in particular the proposal to select independent television contractors on the basis of the group that puts in the highest monetary bid. That is truly a deeply flawed proposal. Nowhere else in the world —not in the deregulated United States or anywhere else —are the scarce airwaves, which are a precious national possession, sold off to the highest bidder. In Australia, where a rather different system is operated but where money has ruled the roost, the consequences for Australian broadcasting have been disastrous.

The Government's answer is to stress that they will insist on a quality test before the auction takes place, that there will be a performance bond and that there will be fines for those who fail to keep to their undertakings. However, there is some experience from other parts of the world that the temptation to overbid once one has passed the quality test will be irresistible. I am sure that in a number of cases that will lead to financial difficulties which in turn will be met out of the expenditure on quality and programming. I know from my own experience during my years as chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority that when a television company is in financial difficulties performance bonds and fines are not very relevant solutions. They are likely to make a bad situation worse.

At best, emphasis on the highest bid will lead the contractor to plan his programmes with the prime view of attracting the right numbers of viewers for the right advertisers. That is contrary to the whole tradition of commercial broadcasting in this country. I regret to say that the Government propose to encourage that tendency by putting no provision in the Bill to make it obligatory, as it is now, for commercial television contractors to provide a reasonable proportion of religious broadcasting in their schedules, a reasonable proportion of children's broadcasting, and a reasonable proportion of what is a very exciting form of television these days but is rather drably called adult education programmes. The Government's claim that the provisions of the Bill and of the White Paper will widen choice is utter humbug so far as concerns independent television. Far from doing that it will do exactly the opposite; it will narrow choice.

Why then do the Government make such an apparently perverse proposal? Is it because the ITV companies are regarded, in the Prime Minister's famous words, as the last bastion of restrictive practices? If that is so, the last bastions were already falling when the Prime Minister spoke. The Prime Minister deserves considerable credit for bringing that process about. Is it then a case of "The Treasury rules, OK"? If that is so, the Treasury's danegeld will be at the expense of quality for the listener and viewer.

In my own judgment the main motive is to please and to appease the advertising industry in this country. I say that having a considerable degree of sympathy with the complaints that the advertising industry has made about the soaring costs of buying television advertising time. It is, however, important to recognise the reasons for that rise in costs. It does not arise out of any wicked monopolistic practices on the part of the existing ITV contractors. It arises out of the simple working of the market-place, by which the Government place so much stock these days. The supply of television advertising time in existing circumstances is limited —it is limited by law in the interests of the viewers —whereas the demand for advertising time from growing numbers of advertisers has been increasing greatly. There is no simple answer to that problem.

The Government's proposed solution which is to be included in the Bill that Channel 4 should compete with ITV in selling separately its own advertising time is totally bogus competition. It will not add a minute to the supply of advertising time and it may add somewhat to the general costs of selling the advertising. The advent of Sky Channel and of BSB, when it comes along, will help to alleviate that problem. That is something which I warmly welcome.

The only short cut to dealing with the advertising industry's problem is one on which the Government have in my view quite rightly turned their back; namely, to have advertising on BBC. That was the original purpose of setting up the Peacock Committee. I think that the Prime Minister was cross when it went into the matter and came to the clear-cut conclusion that it would not be in the best interests for the BBC to take advertising.

It is as a result of that that independent television in this country has become rather a useful scapegoat from the Government's point of view. The gracious Speech contains a splendid euphemism when it refers to the "reform" of the independent television system. I believe that "revenge" might be a more appropriate word. Warts and all, commercial television in this country has been a unique British achievement. Perhaps I may say to noble Lords on the Benches opposite that it has been a unique Conservative Party British achievement.

Twenty-five years ago, the majority of those in the Conservative Party in Parliament at that time decided that British commercial television should not be driven down the American road and should not be an advertiser-dominated system. That formula was a tribute to British ingenuity and British capacity for compromise. The paradox is that other countries which have had a monopoly of purely publicly funded broadcasting are queueing up at our doors to find out how we have managed to provide a public service broadcasting system which is wholly commercially funded at the very moment when the Government are deliberately abandoning their own achievement.

Looking back on that history, I draw some consolation from the fact that major broadcasting debates in your Lordships' House have normally taken place across party lines. I hope, when we come to debate the broadcasting Bill, that that spirit of compromise and of responding to reasoned argument will still persist.

I welcome the various concessions —there have been a number which I shall not detail here —which the Government have made since the publication of the White Paper. There was in particular the concession to my successor as chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority, Mr. George Russell, that in exceptional circumstances it might not be necessary for the Independent Television Commission, which will succeed the IBA, to accept the highest bidder. I welcome that as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. I hope that, when we debate those matters, noble Lords may be favourably disposed to look, as a compromise, at what was proposed by the Peacock Committee. It proposed —if I remember rightly, by a majority of only four to three because the minority felt that there was no case for an option in these matters—that the Independent Television Commission should not be obliged to take the highest bidder. It could take the bid which it felt best looked after the interests of viewers and listeners, but it would then need to make a public justification of the reasons for which it had done so. I hope that in due course that compromise may commend itself to your Lordships' House.

Finally, not only the quality and diversity of commercial television in this country are at stake here; it is also important to recognise that the future of the BBC is at stake. I wish that the BBC showed a little more sign these days of being aware that it will be next in the firing line. Ideas are circulating regarding a radical reshaping of BBC finances through subscription and sponsorship. The advertising issue for the BBC has not by any means gone away, certainly so far as concerns the advertising industry. I have heard voices from the Government side which suggest that the BBC might gradually become a kind of cultural ghetto, rather like the public broadcasting system with its begging bowl in the United States. The BBC may yet be saved from that fate by the electoral pendulum, but it would be much better if it were to be saved by its own efforts. I therefore hope that in the debates on the Bill in your Lordships' House and elsewhere the BBC will stand up and be counted and will join in those issues which are so vital for the future of British broadcasting as a whole.

My final words are these. The fact is that, for better or for worse, broadcasting is probably the most influential factor in shaping the tastes and opinion of a modern society. I always find it a frightening statistic that people spend on average 23 hours a week in front of their television screen. The organisation of television must take proper account of the marketplace, but it is much more important than a merely marketplace matter. I very much hope that your Lordships' House, which played such an important role in shaping the original character of commercial television in this country, may play as historic a role again when the Bill finally comes before us.

4.6 p.m.

Lord Moran

My Lords, I want to speak briefly today about a quite different matter—security policy in Northern Ireland. Although when talking about Northern Ireland, the present Secretary of State recently referred, rather surprisingly, to Cyprus, I believe that, as Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, it is appropriate to raise the subject in this part of our debate on the Address dealing with home affairs. What I wish to do is to ask the Government for enlightenment on how they propose to achieve the objective set out in the gracious Speech in the section on Northern Ireland which refers to the "defeat of terrorism". I have given the noble Baroness notice of the essential question that I want to ask.

There have been somewhat confused signals from senior Ministers this year. First, there were the then Home Secretary's remarks of 9th March. Mr. Hurd was reported in the press on the following day as saying that the provisional IRA were "professional killers" who are nothing really to do with a political cause any more"; that no political solution will cope with them"; and that they just have to be extirpated". When I read those remarks, they made me sit up. I wanted to be sure of my facts so on 14th March I wrote to the Minister who dealt in this House with Northern Ireland asking whether they indicated a shift in Government policy. I received no reply. Eleven weeks later, on 31st May, I sent him a reminder. I still received no reply. The noble Lord who at that time dealt with Northern Ireland in this House was conspicuous for his punctiliousness and courtesy so I am sure that, if there had been a straightforward reply to my inquiry, he would have given it to me. There must have been some other explanation. I wonder whether civil servants in the Northern Ireland Department had decided that the inquiry was just too awkward to answer. I do not know.

But in any event Mr. Hurd's remarks must now be set against those made by the present Secretary of State for Northern Ireland after 100 days in office, when he said that it was difficult to envisage a military defeat of the IRA. Those remarks, which were, not surprisingly, praised by Mr. Gerry Adams as moderate and conciliatory, were, I think, unfortunate because they seem to have encouraged the IRA, which quoted them after murdering three members of the Paratroop Regiment the other day, to have discouraged the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Army, and to have caused a loss of confidence in the Province in Mr. Brooke himself at the outset of his period of office. They have not, I think, been retracted, though the statement made by the Secretary of State on Tuesday did something to repair the damage. In that statement the Secretary of State said that "terrorists cannot win". So he appears to take the view that no one can win in the contest between the security forces and the IRA, which is scarcely an encouraging message for those in the front line.

What worries me is that if we are not adopting the policy outlined by Mr. Hurd but are continuing a policy of containment, then we are asking a lot —possibly too much —of our young men. The Government have a responsibility to them, as do their commanders. A clear response to force may entail severe costs, as it did in the Falklands; but in that case everyone knew what they were doing and why. It is another matter to ask people to run enormous risks for a policy which appears to have no clear objective. The Police Federation of Northern Ireland have made their view clear on what that means to their members. As they see it, the police are paying the price in terms of the lives of their members for a policy of mere containment. I think it worrying that they should feel that.

Mr. Brooke's statement on Tuesday referred also to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Here again we seem to take a largely defensive stance. The Government of the Republic take every opportunity to tackle us about matters within our own responsibility but we seldom seem to pursue our concerns with the same vigour. Surely, for example, we should ask, and go on asking, why those who are wanted in this country to answer charges of terrorism —people such as Evelyn Glenholmes —are not apprehended and extradited to this country. I fear that the case of Father Ryan did not increase confidence in the good will of the Government of the Republic.

I hope that the words in the gracious Speech mean what they say and that our objective is really to defeat terrorism in, and based on, Northern Ireland. If that is so I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to tell the House how we propose to attain that objective.

4.11 p.m.

Lord McColl of Dulwich

My Lords, first I should like to thank noble Lords for the great courtesy and understanding shown to me on my arrival in this House. Bearing in mind your Lordships' instructions that a maiden speech must not be controversial, I was relieved to find that the majority of the recommendations in the National Health Service White Paper were welcomed by the medical profession and, I suspect, by most of the employees in the National Health Service. So by confining my remarks to the uncontroversial recommendations I hope to keep to the straight and narrow path.

I was especially pleased that the White Paper emphasised the primacy of the patient. Most of my experience as a professor of surgery has been in the service of the people of Bermondsey. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, will agree that they are the salt of the earth. I do not need to remind your Lordships that the people of Bermondsey have been exceptionally well served by the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, who was their Member of Parliament for nearly a third of a century. He kindly sent a message to say that he could not be present this afternoon.

There are many reasons for giving the people of Bermondsey the very best service that we can. Therefore I welcome the main objective of the White Paper, which is to give to patients, wherever they live in the United Kingdom, better health care and greater choice of the services available. Secondly, it aims to give greater satisfaction and rewards for those working in the National Health Service who successfully respond to local needs and preferences.

Judging by the quality of our medical students, the future is promising. They seem brighter and perhaps more pleasant than medical students have ever been. When I rehearse with them the correct way to receive a patient, they have no difficulty in accepting that a doctor should always stand up when the patient comes into the consulting room, look the patient in the eye, use his correct name without hesitation, give an appropriate greeting, sit the patient in a comfortable chair beside the desk and, above all, believe that the doctor is in no way superior to the patient.

One doctor disagreed with that practice because, he said, it would entail him jumping up and down all day. But it was pointed out to him that such jumping up and down all day would be a good deal safer than jogging after dark. I have little doubt that the National Health Service could be immeasurably improved if we could change the attitude of many of the one million employees within it and also if we could improve the attitude of some of the many millions of patients who use or misuse the service every year.

Such a fundamental change in attitude is not a controversial matter. Human nature being what it is, we need incentives to encourage good practices and systems to discourage unsatisfactory work. In the National Health Service we tend to have the reverse. For instance, the more work that is done by clinicians, the more they are berated by administrators for exceeding their budgets. Because of the archaic accounting systems in most of the National Health Service only obvious items (such as artificial heart valves) could be costed. Therefore administrators would try in quite an arbitrary way to limit the number of heart operations each year, and when that number was exceeded they then put pressure on the heart surgeon to go away until the beginning of the next financial year. Encouraging employees to work less has plagued the National Health Service for far too long. The White Paper's proposals that money should follow patients will help to correct such bizarre practices.

Fears have been expressed in many quarters that the proposals will result in the neglect of disabled people and those who are chronically ill or elderly. There are forecasts that the self-governing hospitals will pick and choose and only treat what they regard as interesting and glamorous work. Nothing could be further from the truth. The district health authorities and the general practitioners will have much more control over the hospitals and their future development. If some hospitals prove too anxious to carry out so-called glamorous treatments to the detriment of the service to disabled people, the district health authorities will be free to reduce what they pay for the glamorous services and increase the amount that they pay for the care of disabled people. He who pays the piper calls the tune. Perhaps we should remind the National Health Service workers that half of us will be to a greater or less extent disabled before we die. So if altruism is not enough to goad us on to serve disabled people, perhaps that touch of realism will help. My noble friend Lord Holderness is doing an excellent job of chairing the special health authority which is responsible for improving the services for disabled people. He is a very determined man and intends to ensure that the improvements continue.

The medical profession welcomes especially the endorsement of medical audit, which has been practised for years by many doctors. The obstetricians for more than a third of a century have investigated in great detail every maternal death. The Royal College of Surgeons encourages its surgeons and anaesthetists to look at all deaths and complications following surgery in a systematic way. They are discussed in frank and friendly weekly meetings which have an air of the general confession about them.

One of the attractive features of surgeons is that when they meet they tell of their failures, which of course are few, rather than boast of their successes, which are many. A recent survey of the 191 district health authorities in England revealed that the college had been remarkably successful in that such meetings are now held in every district.

However hard we try, mistakes will be made from time to time. One of the more harmless mistakes involved a Bermondsey patient. I had explained to my house surgeon that an operation to improve the circulation in the hand had an unfortunate effect in that it made the hand so dry that it became impossible to play the harp. In Bermondsey this is not regarded as too severe a disability. The following week a patient was admitted for this operation. The house surgeon made the mistake of telling the patient in far too much detail about the various complications —haemorrhage, infection, collapse of the lung, or even death —but being a Bermondsey man he took it all in his stride until the house surgeon suddenly remembered about the harp. He said in a rather offhand way, "I don't suppose by any chance you play the harp?" This confirmed the patient's worst fear: he was being prepared for an early demise and his translation to heaven.

It is commonly believed that there is a finite amount of surgery that needs to be done each year and that if only governments would provide enough money there would be no waiting lists. There is in fact no end to how many operations can be done. The average American citizen has twice as many operations as his British counterpart. Although more surgery is always good for trade, it may not always be in the patient's best interests.

Looking around the Chamber, I am sure that there are many operations which could be done on conditions of which your Lordships may be quite unaware. You could have your hernias done under local anaesthetic in the morning in time to return here for Prayers in the afternoon. On the other hand, you may feel it more appropriate to have your operation after Prayers. What is required is efficient management to ensure that just and equitable priorities can be established; for instance, to ensure that older patients who need a hip replacement are not kept waiting more than a month or two. Some health authorities manage to provide such a service while others do not. The difference cannot be explained on the basis of manpower or financial resources. The White Paper provides incentives to help to develop solutions to these problems.

One of the most demoralising features of the National Health Service is the unscrupulous exploitation of the fears of those awaiting operations. I recently wrote to the author of an article in what I thought was a respectable newspaper asking him to substantiate his claim that patients were dying on waiting lists because of lack of resources and that they were dying of the condition for which their name had been put on the waiting list. He confessed that his article had more to do with polemics than with facts or figures. One often hears distressing stories about children denied heart surgery. But when one investigates one always finds that the report is actually false. However, it takes 48 hours to do so, and by that time it is no longer newsworthy. I regret to say that much of this disgraceful propaganda emanates from NHS employees who are trying to obtain more resources for their departments. I have no monopoly of wisdom but it seems to me that if a hospital becomes self-governing its employees will no longer be inclined to such activities. The sport of shooting themselves in the foot will become unproductive.

There has been anxiety about the effects of the White Paper on research and teaching in many centres throughout the United Kingdom. Clearly it is the wish of the Government not only to protect these essential activities but to enhance them. As information systems are greatly improved, they will confirm and publicise the excellence of these centres, and thereby they will flourish and be rewarded financially instead of being penalised for their productivity.

I believe that the National Health Service could be improved enormously if more consideration were shown by its employees to one another. Until they attain consultant status in their late 30s, junior hospital doctors have far too little security in their training. It is disgraceful that they do not have a proper training programme which lends some security not only to them but also to their families who may be obliged to move every year. To make matters worse, their 80 hours' work a week is aggravated by unappetising and unhealthy food. Such a sorry state of affairs is simply due to poor management. How can all these defects possibly be corrected? I suggest that the National Health Service needs an enormous jolt to change attitudes all round and to move it into a much more caring state where the patients' needs and the patients' preferences are well catered for and where the staff are managed in a more humane and businesslike way.

4.28 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, it falls to me to congratulate the noble Lord on his very able and interesting speech which I would say just skated on the edge of the controversial! I was interested to read in Who's Who that one of his publications was Talking to Patients. I think that we had evidence of that today. As we know, he is a very distinguished surgeon. I was told the other day that he operates from 7.30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and then comes to the Chamber in the afternoon for relaxation. However, what may be of particular interest to this House is that he is vice-chairman of the special health authority for the disablement services. When he was introduced he had the noble Lord, Lord Holderness, and the noble Baroness, Lady D'Arcy (de Knayth) as his sponsors. I hope that we shall hear him very often; I am quite sure that we shall, both on the NHS Bill and the embryo Bill. I am sure that we all look forward to that very much.

The gracious Speech includes the words: My Government will continue to take action to raise standards in education. A Bill will be introduced to supplement students' grants with loans". It is on education that I wish to speak.

If the Government are sincere in their wish to improve the quality of education, they will need to change their attitude which is characterised by complacency and obstinacy. First, on student loans, obstinacy prevails. We all thought that the scheme—almost universally deplored and disliked when the White Paper was published last year, with no scheme for financial administration worked out for the banks —would have been shelved when Mr. MacGregor took over from Mr. Baker. There was the opportunity to jettison some unpopular policies, as Mr. Patten did so sensibly when he took over from Mr. Ridley. But, no, it seems that there is to be no change. Mr. MacGregor swallowed the scheme whole. We shall certainly give the Bill a tough passage when it comes to this House.

In the debate on this matter in the other place last month the comments of sensible Tory MPs, such as Mr. Rhodes-James, Dr. Keith Hampson and Mr. Anthony Nelson, are significant. The latter showed what a bonanza there was for those students rich enough not to need the loan for their higher education but who naturally take it, invest it, repay the basic sum at the end of three years and retain the interest, making a nice profit of £1,423 net.

In the meantime there is real anxiety that loans will discourage the less well-off, ethnic minorities, women and mature students, all of whom we wish to encourage. Increased access is very unlikely in spite of what the noble and learned Lord said. The evidence from other countries is daunting. Australia introduced a similar scheme but abandoned it.

The cost of the scheme will make no savings for the taxpayer until the year 2013 and that is considered to be optimistic by everyone except the Government. That is particularly so when one realises that the inflation rate on which they are working is 3 per cent. According to the Bill the cost of administration will be £10 million to £20 million per year. Of that, £7.5 million has already been approved in the supplementary estimate. We know that the job of managing director of a student loan company has been advertised by Price Waterhouse at a salary of £55,000 per year plus a car. We know that three banks have stated that they want nothing to do with the scheme but that others are considering it. The incompetence is mind-boggling.

My next theme is teachers' pay and morale. If standards are to be raised and the quality of education is to be improved, it is essential to reward the teachers properly. I hope that I am right in thinking that Mr. MacGregor has agreed to the restoration of proper negotiating rights.

The Government are extraordinarily complacent in their attitude to the crisis over the shortage of teachers. They appear to be unwilling—or they may be ashamed —to admit the seriousness of the situation. They prefer to say that there is a shortage of 1.5 per cent. of primary teachers and 1.2 per cent. of secondary teachers rather than give figures which sound much worse.

Last January primary school vacancies were 3,297 and secondary school vacancies were 2,529. A more thorough survey carried out last September by the six teacher unions, which wrote to each head teacher, revealed that 1.9 per cent. of all permanent teaching posts were vacant; that is 2.2 per cent. in primary schools and 1.4 per cent. in secondary schools. The position in special schools is worse, with 3.9 per cent. of the posts vacant. The greatest shortages were in specialists in the early years in special schools and of deputy heads. Surprisingly the next most common shortages are English, maths, science, music and physical education. They are all foundation subjects in the national curriculum.

As a result of all that, there is a mismatch, where subjects are being taught by those unqualified in the area. In its paper to the Interim Advisory Committee on Teachers' Pay the DES congratulated itself on increased recruitment to initial teacher training in 1988. But in the same paper, and looking ahead to 1995 when the national curriculum will be in full swing, figures show that, even if the department's increased targets for ITT were to be met without further action to increase supply, there will then be the following teacher shortages: 1,500 in physics, 2,000 in chemistry, 3,000 in technology, 1,000 in modern languages, 2,000 in history, 1,000 in geography and 1,500 in music. How in those circumstances the Government expect standards to be raised and the national curriculum to be a success I hope will be explained. I see little hope until the Government face up to the fact that in order to encourage people to join the teaching force pay must be improved and the status of the profession acknowledged.

A depressing article appeared in last Sunday's Observer about the pressures under which teachers are working. It showed how throughout the United Kingdom they are falling victim to stress-related illnesses and increasing their dependency on sleeping pills, drugs and alcohol. Are the Government going to do anything constructive?

I have one suggestion to make to encourage the return at least to part-time work of much-needed maths and science teachers who retired early or at the normal time. It involves pensions. The regulations are labyrinthine and difficult to follow. Many accept the fact that restrictions on earning money in retirement from the public education service is an actual embargo. As a result they often join the staff of independent schools. If the DES could make abundantly clear the fact that pensions would not be affected and make it worth their while, retired teachers could be brought back to work in the maintained sector. They have the much-needed experience.

Another area in which the Government appear to be remarkably complacent is in their attitude towards the state of the buildings. The DES estimates that there is now a £3 billion backlog of repairs in maintained schools. HMI has reported that one-quarter of children are educated in buildings where conditions are so bad that they affect their schooling. It is simply bad housekeeping to let your property fall into disrepair.

The latest HMI report published in February this year stated: Comparison with the picture revealed in the 1982/86 survey suggests that the quality of accommodation in secondary schools has deteriorated still further". The proportion of GDP directed and spent on education has dropped from 5.5 per cent. in 1978–79 to 4.8 percent. in 1988–89. If spending had represented the same proportion of GDP in 1988–89 as in 1978ߝ79, it would have been £3.25 billion higher. To cut the slice of the cake devoted to education is to deny our future. Education during compulsory years of schooling is something which each child can have only once. To deny that through the mismanagement of resources, cost-cutting exercises and sheer political dogma is a criminal act.

Let us take one example, city technology colleges. They are totally unnecessary. The money that Mr. Baker hoped to raise from industry—he said that it would be the major contribution —has not been forthcoming in anything like the sums for which he hoped. Therefore the contribution from the Exchequer has had to be higher —about four parts Exchequer to one part sponsor. Those sums would have been useful if used for maintaining buildings.

I turn to a different subject, the under-fives. The Select Committee produced an excellent report, well-argued and documented. It points out the very different situation of the child in the 1980s. I quote: He may be lonelier than in the past. Families are smaller and it is more difficult for children to play with others in public places. Second, the greater pressures on parents and the increases in the number of families where both parents work may mean there is less time for the family to focus specifically on the development of the child. The stimulus provided in a nursery school or class or other educational setting can help to counter both these aspects of modern life". The Select Committee draws two major conclusions from that. The first is that the provision for day nurseries and play groups should have a far better educational input —something of the educational stimulus provided in a nursery class or school. But it says that in the long run its second conclusion is that the way forward is the provision of a place in a nursery classroom for all children whose parents wish it. It now looks to local authorities and national government to consider how the major expansion in nursery education which it recommends may be carried out.

Another important recommendation is that, where under-fives are admitted to reception classes, as has been occuring in declining numbers, they should be taught by those who have real knowledge of their needs. No doubt I shall be told that only last week Mr. John Patten —the rather surprising choice for chairman of the ministerial group on women's issues —spoke at the nursery matters conference. He admitted the importance of the subject of children to families and that it is of ever-increasing interest to employers. One cannot help suspecting that that is the main factor.

The thrust of that group of ministers is to increase the number of women in industry and commerce, where there is a shortage of trained and skilled people which is likely to become worse, partly because of demographic change. One might also mention lack of foresight on the part of Ministers. It appears that it will be up to the employers to take the initiative: the Government are passing the buck. They remind employers that they can obtain tax relief on provisions that they make for crèches, nurseries or whatever but show no sign of relaxing the tax charges on perks when employees make use of those facilities.

John Patten seems to be asking everyone else to take care of the nation's children because the Government are not prepared to carry out that vital duty themselves. He was the Minister who said earlier this year that he did not think the state should step in to help the working mother unless her life had collapsed. I wish he would sometimes think of the child. The UK has the lowest level of publicly-funded day care in Europe. The voluntary sector, the private sector and local authorities have all been pressing for a co-ordinated strategy. That is not what is on offer in Mr. Patten's 14th November speech.

I end as I began. If the Government are serious about raising standards and improving the quality of our education, they will have to revise their present attitude towards those involved in providing the educational experience of the young and not so young and be prepared to make available the necessary expenditure.

4.40 p.m.

Lord Walton of Detchant

My Lords, perhaps I may first crave your Lordships' indulgence as my comments today on certain aspects of the gracious Speech dealing specifically with health and education issues will perforce be brief and somewhat superficial.

I begin by welcoming the fact that a Bill has now been introduced into this House dealing with what is loosely and in some respects rather inaccurately called embryo research. While I appreciate to the full the sincerity of those who oppose this measure, perhaps I may make this pont. I hope that I may have an opportunity of explaining in more detail at the time of the Second Reading of the relevant Bill why I believe it is crucial to the interests of patients with many tragic inherited and, as yet, incurable diseases that, with very proper safeguards and restrictions, selective manipulation of the conceptus up to the fourteenth day should be allowed to continue.

Recent developments in molecular biology, including the isolation and characterisation of individual genes, thought of as being almost in the realms of science fiction no more than 10 years ago, have brought into reality genuine prospects of prevention; thus raising lively and wholly justifiable hopes in such patients and their families.

I also hope that your Lordships will allow me to contribute to the other debates which will undoubtedly be mounted over the course of the next few months relating to the proposed reforms of the National Health Service. However, at this juncture I wish to welcome warmly the implicit commitment in the gracious Speech to improve the service, to which end the recent announcement of much needed additional funding would clearly make an important contribution. But I must express the hope that not too great a proportion of the additional resources will be swallowed up by inflationary price increases and by the introduction of the complex new information technology (especially in relation to budgeting and contracting) which the proposed reforms will require.

One must fervently hope that some of the new resources will be used to implement the many much needed and long awaited additional consultant posts which the service so badly needs and to abolish for all time the remaining one-in-two rotas in the acute specialties still being worked by some junior hospital doctors.

I also hope that there will now be an opportunity of capitalising fully upon many of the remarkable recent developments; for example, in transplantation surgery and in nuclear magnetic resonance imaging, which are capable of leading to inestimable benefits in patient care.

I also say in passing how much I regret the aura of confrontation which has clouded discussions between representatives of the medical profession on the one hand and government Ministers on the other. Proposals relating to medical audit, which have been defined by Dr. Geoffrey Rivett as: systematic critical analysis of the quality of medical care, including the procedures used for diagnosis and treatment, the use of resources and the resulting outcome and quality of life for the patient", have been generally supported and widely welcomed by the profession, time-consuming and costly though such activities can be.

In commending to Ministers the thoughtful and, I believe, constructive document relating to the proposed reforms which was produced by the Conference of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties, perhaps, I may simply mention that many dedicated and hard-working doctors, devoted to the principles underlying the provision of patient care in the National Health Service, have welcomed many of the proposed reforms while expressing sincerely held anxieties and reservations about others. For example, there may be some incompatibility between the wish of many general practitioners to hold down list sizes in order that they may be able to spend more time and thus to communicate better with each individual patient on the one hand, and the Government's proposals to promote competition in general practice resulting in a potential increase in list sizes on the other. Many doctors are concerned about the relative lack of comment in the Government's proposals upon teaching and research in self-governing hospitals.

However, the issues involved and many others upon which I hope to comment later are complex and deserve much fuller consideration. However, I express the hope that discussion and debate can proceed in an atmosphere of constructive collaboration, exploration, trial and assessment. In that way, those proposals of demonstrable benefit to patient care and to the service as a whole can proceed expeditiously, while those shown by experience to be potentially detrimental can be modified according to the needs of the service.

My final point is to welcome the commitment in the gracious Speech to raise standards in education with, as I understand it, more resources being provided for the support of higher education and research. I urge that that commitment should acknowledge the necessity of repairing the crumbling infrastructure in our universities upon which, under the dual support system, so much medical and scientific research crucially depends. Not least in the fields of molecular biology and immunology, today's basic science discovery is tomorrow's practical development in patient care.

The medical research charities, trusts and foundations deserve our gratitude for the fact that in the past few years the funds which they have been able to award for the support of research in medicine and medical science in the UK have overtaken government funding through the Medical Research Council. That body has been faced at times with having to adopt in response to some good quality research grant applications the unfortunate and chastening American formula of "approved but not funded".

However, whatever the source of funding for the direct costs of research —and one welcomes the funds which come from both private and governmental sources —it is our universities and hospitals which must provide the accommodation, environment and overheads which make much of the research feasible. That infrastructure has suffered in the recent past and I trust that it can now be revitalised so that this country can exploit fully the unquestioned originality and research capabilities of its doctors and scientists.

4.48 p.m.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, it is my privilege on behalf of this House to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, on his lucid and authoritative maiden speech. I had the privilege of sitting on a board chaired with exemplary firmness, purpose and lightness of touch by the noble Lord so I am especially delighted that his skills and expertise will now be available to your Lordships' House.

The noble Lord has had an extremely distinguished career in medicine, particularly in the field of neurology and muscular dystrophy. He was president of the BMA from 1980 to 1982 and of the Royal Society of Medicine from 1984 to 1986. During his presidency at the GMC from 1982 to 1989 he made a notable impact on medical education. I have no doubt that his contributions in this House will be very effective and eagerly awaited. We look forward to hearing him on many future occasions.

The National Health Service and Community Care Bill was published yesterday and will come to us in due course. I do not propose to discuss it today. The proposed legislation is largely enabling and for its rationale we have to turn to the White Paper on the NHS, Working for Patients—to which the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, has referred and which we have discussed before —and Caring for People on community care, which we have had no chance to discuss until today. They overlap in a number of ways, not least because they are animated by the same basic philosophy, which is separation of the roles of purchaser and provider or, if you prefer, the functions of funding and delivery with the object of achieving better costing and accountability, more competition and innovation, and ultimately a more efficient and cost-effective service. Thus far so good —or not so bad. The status quo was not an option either in health or in community care; but there are major flaws in both White Papers, and I wish to draw attention to some of them before the legislation reaches us.

I am at some risk of disagreeing with the noble Lord, Lord McColl, whose maiden speech we all enjoyed. However, he did in fact verge on the controversial so perhaps it is not inappropriate for me to join issue to some extent. The fundamental weakness of the NHS White Paper is that, despite the Government's oft-stated interest in improving primary care, it is too hospital-centred. That is no doubt because the Government want to take the sting out of waiting lists; the most visible and politically embarrassing sign of failure in the service. However, there are strong doubts whether freestanding, self-governing hospital trusts operating competitively between themselves and with the private sector will achieve that end.

The idea is that money follows the patient, rewarding the more efficient hospitals and eliminating the so-called efficiency trap whereby hospitals that have reached their financial targets have to close wards, stop operating or both. That sounds superficially good sense, but this type of workload funding, as it is called, is unfortunately not compatible with a capitation-based, cash limited system. Some hospitals will flourish but others will not because the total amount of money in the system will be the same. Even if more patients are treated by faster throughput a recent expert study by Goldacre, and others, of 1987 showed that speeding up treatment of waiting list cases appeared to increase the length of waiting lists because unmet need was being translated into fresh demand.

It was Mr. Enoch Powell no less, writing as far back as 1966, who made the point that Ministers are powerless to do anything with waiting lists. This is certainly borne out by the Government's recent waiting list initiative, which I believe has cost about £50 million and has done nothing to reduce lists which are again at record levels. According to the National Association of Health Authorities it has not so far been able to claim any reduction nationally; and in fact the number of people waiting for over one year has increased.

All this is cogently argued in a recent Social Market Foundation pamphlet called Greening the White Paper by Bevan and Marinker, which is to be found in the Library. Where does that leave us? In my view it simply pushes us back to the imperative requirement for a better and more extended pattern of preventive and primary care. There is only one way to reduce waiting lists and that is to ensure that only those who need to go to acute hospitals actually go there. Here, almost by accident, the Government seem to have stumbled across a good idea in the concept of budget-holding general practice; or fund-holding as it is called in the Bill. Obviously, this has some affinities with the American health maintenance organisation, which is not part of the healthcare tradition of this country, but it has the potential if properly financed, of giving greater scope to our GPs —who constitute a unique feature of our system —to tailor treatment to the human needs of their patients. GP budgets could lead not only to greater sophistication and a wider range of services within the practice, but also to a renewed role for the community or cottage hospital.

The large general hospital is not superior to the small hospital for all kinds of care. The challenge today is to unbundle medical skills and match them to needs in the face of changes in technology and social attitudes. The role of community hospitals can include those of minor surgery, strokes, convalescence after acute care, caring for the dying, geriatric care and respite care. It is also frequently cheaper and easier for relatives to visit patients in a local hospital. A devolutionary approach could also lead to outpatient clinics in community hospitals to assess whether the patient needs specialist care or to follow up after discharge from acute hospitals. This means one clinician would have to displace him or herself rather than 20 patients. It is odd that we always seem to regard patient time as worthless in comparison to doctors' time. It is high time this imbalance was redressed.

The noble Baroness will have heard —at least I hope she has, and perhaps she will confirm this —of such developments as "Hospital at Home", pioneered at Peterborough. New technology makes sophisticated homecare more viable and the total bed cost in the Peterborough scheme is around £60 a day, which compares favourably with average daily hospital in-patient costs.

I am not saying that such developments will always be cheaper —some may be more expensive —but it has to be borne in mind that hospitals account for some 60 per cent. of expenditure on general medical services as against only 8 per cent. for general practice. A relatively small increase at the lower end of the scale, avoiding the need for hospitalisation, could thus have a significant long-term effect.

The Government have got themselves into a paradoxical position. They want to make general practice more effective but to impose the contract on the key professionals who have to implement the reforms was cack-handed, to say the least. I did not approve of the BMA campaign, but the Government must bear a share of the blame too; above all for lack of consultation. There will now have to be some mending of fences. Despite the blood spilt there is a good deal of interest in advanced practices in the Government proposals and a desire to seize the opportunities offered. Equally, smaller practices are very apprehensive.

I was glad to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, say on 9th November (Official Report, col. 1044) that the contract is not cast in concrete. Some flexibility is going to be needed in what will after all be an experiment. If fund-holding is treated experimentally great benefits could emerge for patients and for the Government.

While on this theme of experiments I must ask the noble Baroness to cast her mind back to a report of the Science and Technology Committee of this House, entitled Priorities in Medical Research, in the 1987–88 Session. This report of the sub-committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Nelson of Stafford, made the important recommendation that a National Health Service research authority be set up not for biomedical research, which is the responsibility of the NRC, but to carry out public health research and evaluation of practice. In evidence Professor Maynard of York University said: The Department of Health has spent a lot of money producing performance indicators which are measures of activity and not measures of outcome. The debate about health care in this country is obsessed about either spending money (with one side saying we are spending too much and the other side too little) or it is obsessed with doing things to patients, but is not really looking at the results of activities and of this expenditure". Is it not extraordinary that an enormous organisation like the National Health Service should quite simply be measuring the wrong things?

The committee went on to say in paragraph 4.12: It is especially serious that so large an organisation as the National Health Service devotes so small a part of its budget to seeking how to improve its own operations". The Government actually appear to recognise some of this in the community care White Paper, which states on page 49: The Government's approach to management both of the NHS and of community care is determinedly devolutionary, based on a shift of objective-setting and monitoring towards outcomes and away from processes". That was precisely the point made by Professor Maynard.

In the light of the important reforms now proposed it seems to me that the Nelson Committee report —as it is generally known —acquires a new and special relevance. I hope therefore the noble Baroness will be able to tell us that the Government will accept, or at least very seriously consider, the committee's recommendation for a National Health Service research authority in order to monitor the progress of the reforms and, most particularly, their outcomes.

I cannot leave the National Health Service without commenting very briefly on a number of recent ill-informed press articles to the effect that AIDS poses no threat at all to the heterosexual population following normal sexual practices. These articles were associated with the claim by a Member of this House that such a threat was "statistically invisible". As a curious example of this invisibility I draw to the attention of the House the fact that there were 363 reported instances —those are only the reported instances —of women with HIV infection in this country, most of whom will progress to AIDS. I also draw attention to the acknowledgment last week by the Vatican that AIDS represents a serious threat to men, women and children throughout the world. Will the noble Baroness therefore reaffirm that the Government do not share the complacency promoted by the popular press and that vital education campaigns by TV and other media will go ahead?

I turn briefly to the community care paper entitled Caring for People. First, I must endorse the protest made by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, in a Private Notice Question against its publication on the very day of the Prorogation of Parliament. The Government had the report of Sir Roy Griffiths for 14 months before responding with a statement in July, and it was a discourtesy to Parliament not to have produced the White Paper in time for it to be debated in the spill-over. Your Lordships' House which has a lot of expertise in this field, to say nothing of local authorities, voluntary groups and charities which would naturally expect to be given the chance to comment on major changes, has not even seen a Green Paper stage. The Government's cavalier treatment of us in this respect must be my excuse for speaking for two or three minutes longer than is my wont.

Having said that, I think that it is a good White Paper. It is based on the same principle as the National Health Service paper, of separating purchasers from providers, wherever possible. That is a perfectly sound approach and we have no quarrel with it. In so far as it follows the broad thrust of Sir Roy Griffiths' proposals it should be welcomed. However, I should like to mention that there are some serious derogations from Griffiths and some gnawing doubts about information.

The first and most important point concerns the method of funding. The Government have not accepted Sir Roy's recommendation that funding should be earmarked or ring-fenced and paid directly to social services authorities rather than into general local government coffers through the revenue support grant. There are some traditional objections to earmarking, notably that of setting a precedent. However, the urgency of the task is so great that it would have been better to start off with targeted funds. Some authorities such as Camden are incapable of sweeping their streets, let along ensuring the funding of much more vital community care. There may also be a nasty tussle between health authorities and social services departments towards the end of the financial year, with the former wanting to discharge patients, possibly psychiatric patients, into the community and the latter resisting through uncertainty over resources. If a massive, complex and sometimes dangerous transfer to the community is to work, social services authorities must be assured of their funds. Anything else would be totally irresponsible.

Another aspect of the proposals which has received deserved criticism, not only from the Left, is the unfair withholding of the housing and income support element from those in local authority homes, thus effectively forcing local authorities to hand over these homes to private or voluntary bodies. Quite apart from the unfairness of that situation, it seems to be unwise. Local authority homes admittedly have had an uneven record, but so have private homes. According to the Government's figures in the White Paper there are 133,800 places still in the local authority sector. That all of those could be transferred to other agencies in a short period of time is unthinkable. In addition, in paragraph 3.4.11 the Government specifically require local authorities: to retain the ability to act as direct service providers … for people with high levels of dependency, or particularly challenging patterns of behaviour, whose care it is essential to safeguard". If that is a requirement, the discrimination against local authorities is not only unfair but unworkable. We agree with the social services directors that there should be a level playing field. That is what competition is about, and the Government are wrong to desert their own competitive principles.

The principle of single access to the various components of a care package is something that we have always advocated. We welcome it. However, there are worries. A case manager for each individual is bound to increase local authority staff. Will that situation be allowed for? In addition there appears to be no national standard of assessment. What would be the position if a tyrannous or indeed desperate local authority were to impose a deeply unpopular assessment? Where does the individual or relative turn to? There are several references in the White Paper to the Social Security Inspectorate but this is not an independent body and is accountable only to the Secretary of State. It makes no sense to talk about consumer choice if there is no independent appeals procedure. Therefore I should like to know what the Government's intentions are in this respect.

There is one grave omission from the White Paper on community care and that is the absence of any real appreciation of the role of the informal carer. If funds run out or the system breaks down, they will have to take the strain. The carers' national association estimates that there are 6 million people caring for sick, disabled or elderly relatives in Britain today, of whom only 100,000 receive invalid care allowance. That allowance is very small and counts against income support. The White Paper at paragraph 2.3 says: Helping carers to maintain their valuable contribution to the spectrum of care is both right and a sound investment". What is offered is: Advice and support as well as practical services such as day, domiciliary and respite care". That situation is very welcome. What is needed is additional cash support, which could come from the invalid care allowance, to compensate for jobs forgone or to pay for care while working. There is no mention of any of this, despite the billions of pounds saved by informal carers. If they all went on strike or had breakdowns, we would be in a mess.

I am not normally enamoured of the Guardian newspaper but its comment on this matter on the 17th of this month was apt: Married women should resolve never to forgive Virginia Bottomley if she fails to achieve a carers' charter". The carers charter was a concept that was first put forward by the SDP.

The principles and policies embodied in these White Papers and the Bill to give them effect will have a massive effect on millions of people between now and the end of the century and beyond. They represent the biggest shift in social policy since the beginning of the welfare state. Many of them are in tune with the spirit of the times, but others are more narrowly based on ideology and prejudice. The reforms proposed have a far better chance of sticking and becoming popular and accepted if the Government do a little bit of listening during the course of our debates and take on board some of the knowledge and experience of this House upon these matters. We on this Bench always want to be helpful and hope that we shall not be driven into hostility.

5.8 p.m.

Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover

My Lords, I feel much honoured to be able to address your Lordships' House for the first time. I am particularly happy that I am doing so in my father's presence. The only Life Peer who has had that pleasure before me is my noble friend Lord McAlpine of West Green. However, it is certainly a long time, if not the first time, that a father has heard his son's maiden speech from the Benches on the opposite side of the House.

I am happy to say that, whilst we sit on opposite sides, far more unites us than divides us on issues of public concern. My father's maiden speech was made 27 years ago almost to the day, when he spoke welcoming the Report of the Committee on Consumer Protection. He commented on its conclusion that, on the whole the consumer does not think he or she is ill served". I agree with every word that he said then, and I hope and believe that if such a committee were reporting today it would reach similar conclusions, although I should declare an interest, being chairman of the company that bears my name.

This afternoon I should like to speak not on consumer affairs but on the arts and in particular on the proposed Royal Opera House development. First, I should declare an interest in that I am Chairman of the Royal Opera House, a position that I have held for over two years. Two weeks ago the Royal Opera House published its revised plans for modernisation, an event which I should like to suggest is of sufficient importance to London and to the arts in this country that it is right that I bring it to your Lordships' attention during this debate on home affairs.

While arts were not referred to directly in the gracious Speech, a number of legislative measures were concerned with the quality of life. I should like to suggest that the well-being of our great national art institutions is also much concerned with the quality of national life. Not only is the opera house extension and modernisation important to the arts and to those who enjoy opera and ballet, but it is important architecturally for the centre of London. This is because the new building will complete the square that was designed in the 17th century by the great Inigo Jones. It will include an arcade very much in the spirit of the original design.

The first point I must make is that the proposed scheme, due to be built between 1993 and 1996, is very much overdue. The Royal Opera House is one of the last great 19th century opera houses in Europe still to be modernised and still with stage machinery dating back to the turn of the century. The conditions of work in the opera house are wholly unsatisfactory and the methods of work are as inefficient and out of date as one would expect, given the 19th century equipment. It is, I believe, a great tribute to the management and the workforce at Covent Garden that for all these years the opera house has managed to cope as well as it has.

Despite the huge operational constraints the public has had the benefit of as many performances of opera and ballet during the year as is typical of many modernised European opera houses and far more performances than, for example, Brussels or Milan. I believe that the attendance level is also higher than at most opera houses. Last year it was 89 per cent., and that despite the high prices that have to apply to many seats. I suggest that this shows that the quality of performance at Covent Garden is also high by those international standards. And as regards good value for public money, it is of interest that the subsidy —in our case the Arts Council grant —on a per performance basis is less than half the subsidy of any other major European opera house. However, I think the House should know that it is impossible for the Royal Opera House to continue as it is for the simple practical reason that it has not the facilities required for the task. Good as the stage equipment was in 1902, it is worn out and wholly inadequate for today's needs.

What, if carried out, will the development provide? Nothing I say can answer that question as well as a visit to the display now to be seen at the opera house, but in brief may I explain that it provides four important benefits. First, it creates sufficient space for the efficient quick handling by modern labour saving methods of all the productions likely to be in the house at any one time. The time saved will allow for more rehearsals and more matinee performances. Secondly, it provides the ballet studios needed for the Royal Ballet, replacing the present old studios in West London which have the serious disadvantage of time wasting travel for the dancers between theatre and studios.

Thirdly, it provides the public with much improved facilities. It restores the use of the Floral Hall. And —an important point —it ends the division of the house between those in the so-called "gods" and those in the lower part, by allowing all the audience access throughout the house. Finally, and most necessary, it creates good working conditions for the 1,000 people who work in the opera house. It does much else too, but rather than further take up the time of the House, I would urge noble Lords who might be interested to see the display for themselves.

I hope that there may be support for a development that has been planned with the objective of creating an opera house of which the nation can be proud; that can truly be a centre of excellence, and of benefit to the whole country; and that can provide educational resources and services to schools far and wide. Its works should also reach millions through a more ambitious programme of broadcasting and television; and it should do much to make London an even stronger attraction for foreign tourists. I hope such objectives are not controversial and that I have in no way offended the tradition of the House in commending them to your Lordships.

How the development should be funded —what the balance should be between public and private finance—might well be controversial and therefore I defer any comments I might make for another occasion. However, I should like to conclude by saying, first, that if it is thought that London should have an opera house providing opera and ballet of the highest international standards, then the proposed development is essential; secondly, that recently a new opera house has been built in Paris and at a cost of £240 million. The cost that will need to be met on the Covent Garden scheme is £175 million. But after realising the commercial value of the associated development it is estimated to be between £30 million and £40 million. That puts into some perspective the financing of the proposal.

Finally, I express the hope that the vitally necessary development of the opera house does not suffer the same delay as suffered by the National Gallery. For 40 years after the war, successive governments allowed a prime site alongside our marvellous National Gallery to remain a derelict bomb site right in the centre of our great city. Where was the pride in our heritage? Where was the recognition of the greatness of our National Gallery? How could we tolerate for so long the scars of war in Trafalgar Square?

In conclusion, I express the hope that with greater priority given to the quality of life we will recognise the need to invest in all our great artistic institutions for the benefit of future generations.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Irvine of Lairg

My Lords, it is a particular pleasure to follow the distinguished, vigorous and economic maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover, not merely because he is an honorary Bencher of the Inner Temple, of which I have the honour to be a Bencher, but because his services to the arts which are too broadranging to list and extend far beyond the opera house are of such value to the country at large. The noble Lord's contributions to the future proceedings of your Lordships' House over a wide canvas are keenly anticipated.

We are this Session, as we have learned from the gracious Speech, to have yet further legislation on industrial relations and trade union law. I say "yet further" because already over the past nine years we have had five major statutes on this subject. We learnt a little more of the Government's intentions from the speech of the Secretary of State for Employment this Tuesday to the CBI conference at Harrogate. He told the CBI that the employment Bill for the new Session would tackle three major industrial relations problems —first, the removal of all legal protection from the pre-entry closed shop. He went on to say: No modern civilised society should tolerate a situation in which a man or woman's ability to get a job is dependent on holding a union card. The Bill will make that form of discrimination unlawful". Once again the Government wield not an even hand but the hand of disproportion and unfairness. Today, the employee in employment has the equal protection of the law either to be or not to be a member of a trade union. That is as it should be. It is automatically unfair to dismiss him either because he is or because he is not a trade unionist. But what Mr. Fowler proposes is a gross departure from this equal protection under the law. Under Mr. Fowler's Bill it will be unlawful discrimination to refuse employment to someone because he is not a member of a trade union; so the pre-entry closed shop will be dealt with. But it will not be unlawful discrimination to refuse to employ someone because he is a member of a trade union. The job advertisement "No trade unionists need apply" will be perfectly lawful.

Perhaps I may rewrite the sentence from Mr. Fowler which I quoted: No modern civilised society should tolerate a situation in which a man or woman's ability to get a job is dependent on not holding a union card". That would be equally true. This is what the European charter will require. The reason that Mr. Fowler did not utter that sentence is that on the subject of trade unions this Government are not capable of fairness or even-handedness.

Mr. Fowler told the CBI that his Bill would also address the problem of unofficial industrial action. We know from the October Green Paper what the detail will be. It scarcely merits the name "Green Paper". It is the slightest of documents. It runs to 11 pages and contains only four proposals. I suppose that it was rushed out in time for the Tory Party conference. It could impress no other audience. It is severely overpriced at £3 —a not very helpful contribution to the battle against inflation on the part of the Department of Employment.

As the Government's fortunes wane, the trade union bogey has to be revived by playing politics with legal rights. Perhaps I may deal first with two of the four proposals and then deal with the other two. Today, if an employer dismisses all his workers who are on strike, none may take to an industrial tribunal his case that it was unfair to dismiss him. But today, if only some strikers are selected for dismissal, they can claim that it was unfair to have victimised them. However, the Government have now intimated that it will always be fair to dismiss any unofficial striker so that he can never complain to an industrial tribunal. Further, if any of his fellows take industrial action in an attempt to secure his reinstatement, then the statutory immunities ordinarily available for organising industrial action will be withdrawn.

If this proposal is carried into law it will be a blot on the statute book. I appeal to the fair-mindedness which is so often the characteristic of debate in your Lordships' House. We can all agree on all sides of the House that unofficial strikes are damaging. We can also agree that unofficial strikes very frequently last only a day or less. However, that is not to minimise their damaging effects. Moreover, we can also agree that often such strikes are a spontaneous reaction to a grievance which can be real or imaginary; and we can also agree if we are fair minded that quite often, although not always, unofficial strikes are the fault of employers when they change the status quo at work either in breach of a procedure agreement or without adequate consultation or both. It would be a strange world if all fault is always on the one side.

How in the name of fairness and reason can these proposals of Mr. Fowler be right? Let us suppose any case where any fair-minded tribunal, if it had the opportunity, would say, "Well, we regret to have to say it, but this unofficial action was provoked by the employer's fault". If it is the employer who has acted in an unfair and unjustifiable way, it simply cannot be right that he should escape liability because his actions are always to be shielded by law from scrutiny by an independent industrial tribunal. Why should an employer who has acted in flagrant breach of an agreed procedure and so provoked spontaneous unofficial action be immune from any proceedings for unfair dismissal?

Let us consider a worse case, which experience shows can happen. Deliberate provocation does happen in the real world. For example, an employer could provoke unofficial action by a shop steward who has been a thorn in his flesh so that he can dismiss him without any legal redress. That is what the new Bill will license. The fellow workers then take industrial action to press for his reinstatement because they see the unfairness of the situation, but their ordinary amenities have been withdrawn. This procedure really is the reverse of even-handedness or fairness. It is also in situations which are perfectly foreseeable a recipe for industrial action on a grand scale. If Mr. Fowler is to be given the benefit of the doubt and if he does not want to provoke industrial action on a grand scale, then it is time he learnt about his subject.

Perhaps I may revert to a point which I mentioned earlier. Today an employer who dismisses all —not selectively but all —his workers who are on strike, whether officially or unofficially, can do so without having the fairness of his actions scrutinised by an independent industrial tribunal. It is time that the situation was changed, though it will not be under Mr. Fowler's scheme of things. I submit to the House that the law should prohibit the dismissal of strikers for taking official lawful strike action after a ballot where a majority have voted in favour of such action. That is the law of France and it is right. No doubt that is the most compelling reason for its rejection by this Government.

At the very least the fairness of dismissing all the strikers taking industrial action after a majority ballot in favour of such action should be open to scrutiny by an independent industrial tribunal. I believe that that proposition would be uncontroversial to any government other than this one.

The Bill of which the October Green Paper is the harbinger will not display even a pretence of fairness. So advanced is the Government's degeneration of the subject that they cavil at, and cannot sign, a European social charter reflecting the modern and civilised consensus of all the other members of the EC. The Government cannot accept standards of treatment for trade unions and their members that for the rest of Western Europe are axiomatic.

Let us look back at the standard of democracy imposed by the Government when they legislated for strike ballots. A majority was necessary for lawful strike action but the dissentient minority was left free to disregard decisions taken by the democratic majority in scrupulous adherence to the secret balloting process: so a majority is necessary for lawful strike action, but the minority is to be left as free as it would have been if it had been the majority.

Mr. Fowler's other two proposals in the October Green Paper are that unions are to be made liable for industrial action called by officials, whether employees on a union's payroll or shop stewards who are not, unless the union writes individually to every member of the union likely to be induced to participate and also to the organisers unequivocally repudiating the action.

Here the Government are simply missing the mark. The typical unofficial strike lasts a day or less. However, I am afraid that the British postal service does not operate fast enough to allow the union to make any impact on these happenings. Most of the time the union will be compelled to write letters to members who have gone back to work. But the merits may all be with the strikers who simply jumped the gun when there should have been a ballot. It is novel in our law to require people to say what they do not believe as the price of avoiding sanctions for action they did not authorise.

When strike ballots were imposed by Parliament it must be said that the law was left in a truly fatuous state. There could be no lawful official strikes unsupported by strike ballots; but there could be lawful unofficial strikes unsupported by any ballot. Therefore it is easier to go on unofficial strike than it is to go on official strike. That is what is ludicrous; but Mr. Fowler's remedy is the wrong one.

Speaking for myself, I think that the best way forward is to remove that anomaly directly. There will always have to be ballots. This is a fact which trade unionists now accept and it is something which they so often enjoy. We should not compel trade unions with threats of sanctions to go through what will often be a written rigmarole which in the overwhelming majority of cases would not and could not have the slightest effect in practice.

Mr. Fowler's proposals bear all the hallmarks of a diversionary tactic; that is, a cover for the economic morass over which the Government preside. The public is no longer impressed with union bashing. We have that fact confirmed from no less an authority than the first leader in last Sunday's edition of the Mail on Sunday. I cannot think of any strike supported by a ballot which this Government have done anything other than oppose.

However, it was not always so. At the end of 1978 the Labour Government were fighting a battle against inflation. In a highly controversial wage settlement, variously valued at between 17 per cent. and 20 per cent., the Government's guidelines were exceeded at least threefold by a settlement made by the Ford Motor Company. On that occasion the right honourable Lady the then Leader of the Opposition, now the Prime Minister, asked the then Prime Minister, now my noble friend Lord Callaghan, the following questions: What was a profitable company such as Ford to do when it could afford to pay the increases? Was it expected to hold out until it became a loss-making company, just like British Leyland?".—[Official Report, Commons, 23/11/78; col. 1470.] Now, in government, every strike is opposed, whatever the ballot result and whatever the merits.

I return now to mention the Mail on Sunday, which is perhaps not best known for its friendship towards the trade unions. The leader reads: In the rail strike earlier this year and now in the bitter ambulance dispute, it is the unions which have better understood the public mood. And it surely cannot be an accident that both disputes concerned essential elements of the public sector. What the unions have taken on board—and the government has not—is that there is a deep-seated unease among many shades of opinion that much of the nation's vital infrastructure is seriously underfunded". That is why union officials have been able to run rings round both their respective managements and the responsible Ministers". The leader concludes this Government is failing to take account of public opinion and will probably live to regret it". That will be proved right.

The Government are bent on resurrecting—I correct myself, manufacturing—the battles of yesterday to avoid addressing the issues of today and so their prospectus is simply old hat. Mr. Fowler's proposals will make a wholly negative contribution to what the country requires: an industrial relations regime which will allow us to conform to European standards, and to be fair to unions, fair to the employers and fair to the public.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Banks

My Lords, I wish to speak briefly about the position of speech therapists in the Government's plans for the future reorganisation of the health services. Last February, I suffered a severe stroke. I had the help of speech therapists and so I was able to learn something of what they do, the importance of what they do and of their fears for the future.

If one looks through the White Paper Working for Patients or Sir Roy Griffiths' report on Community care: Agenda for Action, one will find no reference to speech therapy, or at least I could not. However, the White Paper issued last week Caring for People mentions speech therapists on page 19, but it mentions them with many other workers in the health service and it does not explain—at least I could find no explanation—the basis upon which the speech therapy service will be run.

At present, the district health authority provides the budget for speech therapy. It is administered by a trained speech therapist to whom all requests for assistance are submitted. She has control over all the speech therapists in the district and allocates them to cases. The great fear is that under the new arrangements the speech therapy service may become a fragmented service under which speech therapy may be split up among a number of different budgets. Consultants, GPs and the community services may all have a call on the services of a speech therapist and all may have to pay out of their own budgets. That is the fear. Central budgetary control would have disappeared. The service would be fragmented. If, for example, the GP has to pay out of his budget for the services of a speech therapist, he may well give pride of place to some treatment more obviously related to issues of life and death.

The training of speech therapists will be made more difficult with fragmentation. In addition, there has been some decline in the numbers engaged in speech therapy, and with a reduced output of students generally in the future, due to demographic reasons, it will in any case be more difficult to attract the right kind of person, especially as the pay is low. The present offer is 6.5 per cent. which I understand has been rejected.

Over the past 10 years, speech therapy has extended its training role. At present the cost of that training is absorbed in the district speech therapy budget. Who will pay for that in future?

Under the present system, newly qualified therapists are frequently given a mixed, generalist post, giving them the opportunity to see a wide range of patients and to acquire further expertise. Those posts will be difficult to organise, administer and support under a fragmented plan. At present, speech therapists can set priorities for speech therapy. Will the budget holders of the future be able to do that? Will they have the training required? Will not the speech therapy manager, now provided by the district, still be required?

It has been suggested that speech therapy might be declared a core service as a means of maintaining its position. Will that be possible? It will be seen that the fears I have mentioned all arise from a lack of knowledge of the Government's plans. The basic question is: will the service be fragmented? The other problems arise out of that issue. Is the present system to change, and, if so, how will the problems that will then occur be treated? Caring for People says that health authorities will continue to fund mainstream community care activity from within their overall allocation of resources. Does that mean that speech therapy will continue to be administered as a single service by speech therapists?

5.35 p.m.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I wish to break new ground and speak about Northern Ireland which I have visited several times during the past year. I am glad to say that the hospitality there is as good as ever. Great areas of normal life continue, while much constructive work is being done.

As regards relations between Britain and the Republic of Ireland, I am delighted that the Anglo-Irish parliamentary body will at last begin to function early next year. I forsee that action as an accelerator and as a brake on the activities of the two governments. In addition, it will be a parliamentary body capable of long-term thought.

Even if the new body works to perfection, it is unlikely to alter the situation within Northern Ireland where there is no consensus and where fears and suspicions, alas, still abound. We are therefore still at the stage of confidence building. I want to suggest that Her Majesty's Government and the Irish Government can help to build up confidence, thus preparing the way for eventual internal negotiations.

The most important, and probably the most difficult, step forward would be to end the ambiguities surrounding the status of Northern Ireland and the text of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Since 1948, Northern Ireland has had a status within the United Kingdom different from the other parts of the realm. It is a member so long as a majority of the citizens of Northern Ireland wish it to be so. That conditional status is destabilising even though doubly guaranteed. It means that every election tends to become a constitutional referendum and a border poll. It hinders the emergence of normal politics based on interests and issues. It also encourages certain terrorists to imagine, "Just one more heave, and the Brits will be out".

Both governments must recognise that Northern Ireland is, and should remain, a full part of the United Kingdom. They can then go on to accommodate the legitimate wishes, interests and aspirations of the nationalist and Roman Catholic minority. The Anglo-Irish Agreement was a step forward and represented progress over the position reached by the earlier Forum for a New Ireland. The agreement was nevertheless ambiguous, not least because it had to be presented in two official versions. The reason for that lies in Article 2 of the Irish constitution. Sooner or later that article will have to be amended, as was indeed proposed by a committee of the Irish Parliament, before the current troubles even began.

One day we will need to have a new Anglo-Irish Agreement concerned with the United Kingdom and the Republic as a whole, concerned with the totality of the Anglo-Celtic islands. This will encourage inclusive and not exclusive thinking. United Kingdom policy must include the Republic. Irish policy should include the whole of Northern Ireland and not simply nationalist interests there. Northern Ireland policy must be seen to include the interests of the whole resident population. Both islands will have to work together as interdependent parts of the European Community.

Meanwhile on a humbler level, Her Majesty's Government should reinforce what few democratic institutions Northern Ireland now has. Here perhaps, I may welcome the relevant sentence of the gracious Speech. There are, as we know, 16 elected district councils, but they have very limited powers. Some of these councils, however, practise a measure of power-sharing, by, for example, rotating chairmanships of committees among the parties. This is a good trend which should be encouraged. An obvious way of doing so would be to increase the powers and responsibilities of those councils where the parties agree to work together constructively.

Something could also be done to make the statutory boards for housing, health, educatidn etc., more democratic and more accountable. At present, members are largely appointed by Ministers. The elected proportion could be increased, whether this is done by direct or indirect means, or even both. The Northern Ireland little Neddy and the Community Relations Council are potentially important bodies. They could also have elected members. Perhaps the little Neddy could be expanded to include social matters and thus become a forum in which the reports of boards and other semi-public bodies could be debated. Accountability and representative democracy should be the watchwords.

I come now to direct rule itself, once described by my moderate and constructive friend, Senator John Robb of Ballymoney, as "naked Colonial Rule". I am particularly concerned with the parliamentary aspects. In the past five years, 91 Northern Ireland affirmative orders went through Parliament, as compared with only six Bills. The orders were of course unamendable, unless perchance the Government could be persuaded to withdraw them and then reintroduce them. We were duly grateful when the fair employment measure was produced as a Bill and was then greatly improved by amendments in both Houses. However, on 25th October I was told at Question Time that there was no possibility of Bill procedure for the Northern Ireland Education Reform Order. That is something of a pity, because I have it here and it contains no fewer than 201 pages.

Since that date it has become clear that this measure as printed not only annoys the Roman Catholic bishops but also fails to satisfy its main beneficiaries, the supporters of integrated schools. Will Her Majesty's Government deal sympathetically with the points raised by the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education, at least in the subordinate regulations which will follow the order?

Again, as recently as 7th November, the Opposition Front Bench raised serious points on the Northern Ireland Emergency Powers (Amendment) Order and later on the Youth Service (Northern Ireland) Order. These would have been far better dealt with by Bill procedure and improvements could well have resulted. Some better way of legislating must be found. Have Her Majesty's Government considered a Northern Ireland Grand Committee, perhaps on the Scottish model, with a government majority and possibly drawing members from both Houses? Would a Northern Ireland Legislation Committee sitting in Belfast be more acceptable? This might examine orders while they were still in draft, and before they were laid before Parliament. Any such committee would need to include elected members. Like a Select Committee, it might well hear evidence from affected parties, but, above all, it should have power to amend. Experience now shows that even a long consultation period does not always produce the essential definitions and precise wording needed.

I have outlined three ways in which the Government can help to improve confidence, by removing ambiguities, by making local government and the boards more responsible and democratic, and by improving the processes of Northern Ireland legislation. There are, of course, many other ways in which the climate can be improved. The main Churches of Northern Ireland are agencies with immense potential for good. We all rejoice that relations between them have greatly improved. The leaders of the Churches show friendship to each other and work closely together. There is an Inter-church Committee and the joint Ballymascanlon Conference.

As long ago as 1976, the conference produced a report on Violence in Ireland. Some have lamented that its recommendations remain unfulfilled. Yet, I would say that bodies like the Faith and Politics Group, the Irish School of Ecumenics, and the combined work of the Irish Council of Churches and the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission have, in practice, implemented many of the recommendations. More needs to be done and I trust that the Church leaders will commend progress to date and commit themselves to the coherent development of inter-church policy.

Already some of those in authority sense what is required. For example, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Clogher (a diocese that straddles the border) wrote very recently: In very general terms, my own ideal for Northern Ireland is a common cultural identity, which will in time build up the pride, mobilize the energies and sustain the spirit of all its people. It presupposes that we work to create a single community there, which will enable us to begin to speak of a new tradition instead of two traditions. It may be felt that words of that kind are visionary or prophetic in a land where some clergy have been exiled for seeming too friendly. Nevertheless, I know from personal experience of at least seven communities (and there are others) where Protestants and Catholics live and work together for common goals. Some are residential, others have a scattered membership which come together for study and teaching. Some are small, others have hundreds of members and associates. Some are very local, others operate across a whole province.

This is the reality on which the Bishop of Clogher's ideal is founded. Those things that unite us, like baptism, the creeds and the Lord's Prayer, are greater than those which divide us. The new-style communities are not new sects, they are ordinary Catholics and Protestants working together, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to discover what Christian fellowship means today for Ireland and for Britain. This fellowship will have to be strong enough to cast out the old fears and suspicions. I believe the time has come for the leaders of the Churches to recognize what is happening, to welcome it and build upon it. Already the Berlin Wall has lost its terrors. Is it not now time to start on the walls of prejudice and fear that still separate so many?

All the Churches, even the Roman Catholic now emphasize the importance of continuing reformation. Religion and theology respect the real differences, but, like politics, they begin to demand inclusive rather than exclusive thought and language. The old idea of a tug-of-war between opposites is being replaced by the new theme of common pilgrimage. Let us work and pray that governments and Churches alike give themselves whole-heartedly to confidence-building and co-operation.

5.50 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, of the three maiden speeches of very high quality that I have heard today, I was particularly attracted to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, who referred to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. The only previous reference that I recall was made by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack when he introduced the debate this afternoon.

As a footnote to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Walton, I wish to impress upon the House that in this remarkably important and new field of medical research and human significance we shall soon have to adjust ourselves to a European dimension. We are not alone in this field of research. We are in the forefront of it and I believe that we are leading the world in some branches. It would be disastrous and humiliating if we were to abandon the work that we are doing and which the rest of Europe wishes to copy. I shall say no more on that as I welcome the Bill. I am a strong supporter of it and have been from the beginning. However, I have a complaint to make about the Long Title of the Bill which I shall come to in a moment.

I also have a peace plan to offer to the House. If it is not exactly a peace plan, it would be a plan, I submit, of less acrimony and less bitterness than might otherwise be the case. From beginning to end of the discussions on the Warnock Report I found no reference to abortion. The Warnock Committee said that abortion was in a sense related to but was not included in its terms of reference. Therefore, the committee did not deal with it. I do not remember the subject of abortion being raised in any of the debates on the subject of embryo research, and there have been three of them. The most recent took place on 8th March this year when the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, introduced his own Private Member's Bill to harry the Government to produce the one we have today. However, he made it clear, in introducing his own Bill, that it was not about abortion. Apparently, the Bill we now have may be about abortion.

I have written to the noble Duke to tell him that I may have to make references to him personally. I very much regret that I may have to do so. What we now discover in the Long Title of the embryology Bill is a form of words which we are led to believe will facilitate amendments to the Bill to be moved, to put time limits on abortions. In other words, this Bill may achieve what the House of Commons has failed to do during the past few years.

If we are to get abortion into this Bill, it will be a bruising experience all round. I strongly urge all who may feel that this is an opportunity to pursue changes in abortion law to abandon the idea of trying to use this Bill for that purpose. There has been a good deal going on lately to which some of us have not been privy, although others have. There is no doubt that there have been talks between the Government and what are called the pro life MPs. These talks have been referred to publicly. Assurances which have apparently been given by the Government to those MPs have been given publicly and have never been denied.

Sir George Porter, president of the Royal Society, wrote a letter to The Times on 1st November. He referred to a report in The Times of 24th October which stated that: the forthcoming Bill on human embryology will be so drafted as to allow amendments on abortion". He went on to deprecate that possibility. He referred to the Bill now before us, or at least his anticipation of it, and stated: It both needs and deserves the most careful consideration by Parliament. This would be impossible in the highly emotional atmosphere the debates on abortion have always engendered". Do not ask me why abortion is such an emotive subject. I believe it is far more emotive than the subject of embryology. If abortion comes into our deliberations on the embryology Bill, I predict that it will wreck both pieces of legislation because I cannot envisage many noble Lords who support the embryology Bill being willing for it to be used to bring about changes in abortion law which the House of Commons has failed to achieve.

The Catholic Herald of 27th October referred to a delegation of pro-life MPs. The paper stated that the MPs were to meet with the Minister responsible for introducing the measure, the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, to discuss the bill's progress in both chambers … The government has made it known to the pro life lobby, however, that they will not place any obstacles in the path of anti-abortion amendments to the Embryo Bill, due to be announced in the forthcoming Queen's Speech". We have not been privy to any of this. I have written constantly to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, the Leader of the House, asking whether the reports were true and asking him to tell us more of what is going on regarding this subject or the forthcoming Bill. The Catholic Herald continues: The bill will arrive first in the House of Lords where a group of peers, led by Britain's leading Catholic layman, the Duke of Norfolk, will attempt to win the day with amendments limiting abortions to the first 18 weeks of pregnancy and banning embryo experimentation altogether". That is the agenda, presumably, for a considerable group of Members of your Lordships' House. I urge them not to go on with this and to discourage others from doing so. This Bill requires all our attention, and probably more than we can possibly give to it through lack of expertise. Nevertheless, we shall certainly have to debate the moral issues and do much before the Bill can reach the statute book. I beg of everybody concerned, and I beseech the noble Duke, to discourage any idea of using this Bill for the purpose for which it apparently can be used. I want to know why the Government have made it possible for amendments on abortion to be introduced in the embryology Bill.

I cannot believe that the Government could not tighten the Long Title sufficiently to restrict it to the main purpose of the Bill, and could not ask those who want abortion law reformed to try their hand some other time and in some other place. I beseeched the Prime Minister last year to bring the debate on abortion to a close and to end the frustrations of the Private Member's Bill procedure in the House of Commons by allowing us to bring a Bill into the House of Lords based on the recommendations of our own House of Lords Select Committee. I asked the Prime Minister whether she would give time to whatever Bill we sent to the House of Commons and to let that be the end of the matter, at least for the time being. The Prime Minister refused my request and said that the Government were neutral on this matter; that it is, by convention, left to the initiatives of individual Members. That is as far as I got.

Now I come to the peace plan. I have put down a Bill, which I introduced yesterday afternoon. I received a number of telephone inquiries from various quarters asking what I was up to. I have introduced a Bill which implements the recommendations of our own Select Committee on this subject which were contained in a unanimous report published in 1988. I introduced i1 as a possible sentinel in case a Bill were to come from the other place on the same subject.

After the most thorough investigation of all the facts, circumstances and statistics on the subject of abortion that has been undertaken in the past decade that all-party Select Committee was unanimous. There is nothing anywhere today like that report. We are now in the course of having the figures brought up to date.

The basic change proposed in the Bill is a reduction in the time limits from 28 weeks to 24 weeks. Up to the end of the 24th week existing conditions for abortion would continue, but after that time stricter conditions would apply. That was the conclusion which we all reached in the Select Committee, having started from different points of the compass. That is what I understand the Government to support. It is what the British Medical Association supports, and there is a large body of public opinion in support. Why then can we not do something about it? What did we have the Select Committee for unless it was to find the answer to a difficult problem? I submit to your Lordships that that proposal might offer a way forward.

I want a Second Reading for my Bill. I want to offer the House the choice between including abortion in the embryo Bill or dealing with the matter in the proper and more formal way in a Bill which is already before the House. Can we do it that way? I know that there are procedural problems. However, we are a self-regulating House. We do not let a lot of bureaucratic nonsense stand in the way; we find the remedy as situations arise. Here is one such situation.

If the House were to decide that it would welcome the opportunity of dealing with abortion separately in a Bill of the kind that I have introduced, there is only one condition which I should stipulate. That condition is that the Government should give time for the Bill to go through this House and go to the Commons to be dealt with there. If the Government say that they cannot find the time, I can tell them that they will spend far more time in the bruising battle on abortion in the embryo Bill than they would if the matter were dealt with separately without the hostility and with the goodwill of many who would sooner see the total Bill rejected rather than contain in its womb proposals on abortion to which we take strong exception. The matter is as serious as that.

I believe that this House will be subject to pressures which none of us will like. We are entrusted with the problem for the first time since I came to the House 15 years ago. This House has not dealt with an abortion Bill in my time. It does not know the pressures behind the issue and has not had to undergo the lobbying that goes on down the corridor, and outside, when such matters are raised.

I suggest that we have an opportunity to deal in a statemanship way with two difficult problems by separating them. The only link between the two that is of any consequence is that they both take the high moral line. The abortion side of the matter is dealt with by separate legislation, and has been since 1861. We have to consider the complications that will arise as a result of changing the embryo Bill to include the facility to change time limits for abortion and the consequences for the whole structure of our abortion law.

I leave the matter there. I am doing my best. There is always a way through these difficult problems if only there is goodwill and a willingness to achieve an accommodation on a difficult issue. We managed that on the Bill on animal experiments. All governments are afraid of animal experiments. The Government said that it would be a bear garden, it would never go through, it would not be possible to control it, and the whips would be ignored. Let us deal with the issue, and do it in a regulated and commonsense way.

My Lords, I leave that proposal with you. If it is not accepted and we go down the road of intruding abortion into the embryo Bill, I shall not be accountable for my own actions on occasion. I would rather be carried out of this Chamber dead than see that go through.

6.5 p.m.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

My Lords, I should like to concentrate my remarks on the proposed scheme for student loans which was outlined in a Government White Paper of a year ago and even more skeletally outlined in the Bill itself which appeared yesterday, which tells us virtually nothing. In doing so I shall be giving expression to my party's opposition to the scheme and to my sympathy with the students. I have drawn heavily on some excellent research by the National Union of Students which has been presented to the Department of Education and Science.

We have been assured in numerous ministerial statements, and most recently by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor this afternoon, that it is the intention of the Government to increase the numbers entering higher education. We have been told for example that the number of students in higher education will be doubled in the next 25 years. It so happens that the need for highly qualified young people —a need which exists now and which is likely to increase—coincides with a drop in the number of school leavers. Between 1985 and 1995 the population of 18 year-olds will have fallen by nearly a third. We know something of the impact of that demographic change in our schools. The noble Baroness, Lady David, has already referred to that.

If we are to achieve that aim of increasing the numbers entering higher education, we shall have to cast the net wider to embrace more of those groups in society who are traditionally under-represented in our universities and colleges of higher education —women, ethnic minorities, the disabled, mature students and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. What will be the effect on such groups in society of the prospect of a loan scheme?

Let us consider those groups that I have mentioned, using such evidence as exists as to their likely reaction. Although women composed 52 per cent. of the population in 1987, they composed only 44 per cent. of the total numbers in higher education. That figure represents an enormous increase over the last decade, but equality is presumably what we aim for. I should like to quote the results of a survey carried out by the Cambridge University Students' Union in December 1986.

Students at four randomly chosen colleges were asked: Would the prospect of incurring a large debt have deterred you from coming up to university? The percentage of men who answered that they would be deterred was 36.9, whereas the percentage of women who said that they would was 46.3. Similar results have been chosen in other surveys. It appears that women, as lower salary earners, consider themselves likely to have more difficulty over repayment.

There is a lack of statistical information about numbers of ethnic minority groups participating in higher education, or wanting to. However, a year ago a study was made of 100 students on Access courses in Avon and Somerset. They were asked: Would you do a course in higher education if you had to take out a loan to finance yourself? Of white men who responded, 32 per cent. said, yes; 36 per cent. said, no, they would not. Of blacks, only 4 per cent. said yes; 68 per cent. said no. Incidentally, reverting to women, 9 per cent. said yes; 69 per cent. said no. That is only one small survey, but the result is significant.

We know that disabled people have greater difficulty in finding full-time work than the able-bodied and earn on average 19 per cent. less. That leads one to the inference that their reaction to a loan scheme would be similar, again for fear of difficulty in repayment.

Research shows that if they had the opportunity about one million adults would be interested in working for a degree—I am of course speaking about those who have no qualification—but the prospect of being saddled with a debt would certainly be a deterrent to such people who may well have domestic responsibilities and a mortgage on their hands.

Socio-economic background is the factor cutting across other disadvantages and compounding them. Currently, socio-economic groups 1 and 2—that is 30 per cent. of the population—fill 68.6 per cent. of university places. Groups 4 and 5 account only for 8 per cent. A study was carried out at Edinburgh University some years ago in which respondents were grouped according to their father's occupation. From a professional background, 9 per cent. of men and 34 per cent. of women said that they would be deterred; and, from an unskilled, manual background, 48 per cent. of men and 74 per cent. of women said that they would be deterred.

The conclusion is interesting and important even though those figures may or may not be accurate or still true today. Although any young person is likely to be deterred and to respond negatively to the prospect of being saddled with a loan, that feeling is in all cases much more pronounced among the comparatively disadvantaged groups of society. That shows that the scheme is sure to have an inhibiting effect on plans to widen access.

I should like to speak briefly about probable hardships over repayment and the loss of benefit. In the White Paper the Government airily assume inflation at 3 per cent. This very day it stands at 7.3 per cent. We are told that it will go down, but one never knows and an estimate of 6 or 7 per cent. seems not unduly improbable. At 6 per cent., a three-year course would leave a student with a debt of E 1,753, not £1,438 as assumed in the White Paper. At 7 per cent., a four-year course would leave him or her with a debt of £3,072. Moreover, that debt would increase over the years at a fluctuating rate of interest until finally paid off. That is likely to create anxiety and insecurity.

With regard to housing benefit, under the terms of the Housing Act, the deregulation of the private housing sector is likely to cause rents to increase considerably, perhaps by as much as 50 per cent. Low-income groups are to be helped to meet that situation through housing benefit. Students who will be deprived of that benefit will be hard hit.

Under the present scheme, during the 38 weeks of academic study per year, outside London, paying a rent of £20 a week, a student with housing benefit may expect £27.85 per week spending money. Under the new scheme, with a loan but without housing benefit, he or she may enjoy a little more —£33.15 a week. But we must watch what happens when the rent goes up. With a rent of £35 a week —which a student may well have to face now not only in London but at such centres as Oxford, Cambridge, Brighton or Guildford, and will certainly have to face in the coming years —the spending money left would be reduced to £18.31. That is with a loan, but without housing benefit. Over the period of a year, including the long vacation of 14 weeks, without income support or housing benefit, the average weekly spendable income would be £6.07 —a loss over the year of £1,125.60.

Hardship is the lot of students and the figures that I have quoted, and many others with which I shall not weary your Lordships, show that a loan scheme involving the removal of benefits is likely to increase hardship, not reduce it.

Research carried out in other countries operating loan schemes tends to confirm the fears felt by students in this country. West Germany is abandoning loans as an exclusive means of support for students. It has found that many of its students spend up to 12 hours a week doing part-time work to eke out their resources and the percentage of students from lower income families has fallen since the scheme was introduced. Only 8 per cent. of working-class school leavers opt for university compared with 49 per cent. of civil service children. Evidence from the United States indicates that loans are proving a major barrier to access for black and ethnic minority groups.

We of the Liberal Democrats believe that a student should be offered a full, means-tested grant from the age of 18. If one were to ask me how that would be paid for, I should not answer now, but I should like to say that the present scheme costing £400 million a year will continue to be a cheaper option than the running costs of a loan scheme until 1997. That is by the Government's own figures for the cost of the scheme which many think are widely optimistic. No mention is made of the cost of debt collection. Dr. Nicholas Barr of the LSE, who has given the matter great consideration, does not believe that any profit will be shown until the year 2087.

There is another aspect of the matter about which I do not have time to speak fully, but which I must mention. It seems strange to me that the Government, with their determination to control inflation, their concern for good housekeeping and the lofty moral tone that they sometimes affect, should ignore the admonition of Polonious that borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry", and put young people in the way of incurring debt with the apparent object not, as it should be, of improving standards, but of possibly saving the pockets of taxpayers sometime in the first or second decade of the 21st century.

Yet somehow we have become accustomed to that kind of action from the Government. They are radical without being progressive, utilitarian without being efficient —loans are expensive and complicated —doctrinaire without being idealistic and they have no real concern for real people in a real situation. Bascially, they are philistine because to allow the country's students to live in poverty is barbaric and is doing what Plato declared we must never do: disparage education, which is the first and fairest thing that the best of men can ever have".

6.18 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, I find it impossible to dissent from a great deal that has been brought to our attention by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee. I do not share his view that there is no case for students, who are likely to earn larger incomes as a result of their educational experience, not incurring in some form some debt to the community which has enabled them to pursue those studies.

The case for that was made from the Opposition Front Bench a few months ago by the noble Lord, Lord Peston. I shall not repeat his argument here, but I am convinced that the scheme which has been evolved in order to meet that serious contention about obligations is so absurdly inefficient and damaging to the students, their universities and colleges and the community at large that one is tempted to wonder how any government department could have come up with so outrageous a set of propositions.

I remember that when it was first talked about in this House, which might have been more than a year ago, I warned the Government that if they were trying to act through a consortium of banks, they would find the banks very reluctant to co-operate. That has been borne out by their experience. After all, a fishmonger sells fish; that is his business. A banker lends money; that is his business. One does not have to bribe a fishmonger to sell fish but apparently the Government have to bribe the banks to lend money. Could we get further into absurdity?

One may ask: Who is the author of so absurd a scheme? Some people say that it was thought up by a young man strong on ideology but weak on arithmetic and totally removed from the experience of ordinary students and ordinary families. Some people say, "No, it was the work of the Under-Secretary of State for Education, Mr. Robert Jackson". Some people say that those two explanations are not contradictory.

So we have a scheme which as the noble Baroness, Lady David reminded us earlier today, was put forward and thoroughly debated in the other place on 20th October. No one who has read that debate will need to listen to me, to the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, or to the noble Baroness, Lady David, because the scheme was torn to pieces by the Government's own Back-Benchers, in particular those who, through experience or local connections, have genuine knowledge of how students behave and universities function.

One might have thought that a new Secretary of State would have listened to his own party in the other place and at least have come up with something more plausible. No, we are to have the scheme as outlined in the White Paper. So there is this extraordinary Bill. No one who started with the Bill and had not read the White Paper could possibly know what the scheme is all about because none of the particulars of organisation is in the text of the Bill. The Bill is purely an enabling Bill. It is a Bill to enable the Secretary of State to put forward, through regulations, a scheme of student loans. That is very unusual. Of course there are many Bills which have the promise or threat of delegated legislation. Given the fears of inflation and other matters, one could understand that a government might prefer to put the actual figures into regulations as it would make it easier to change them from time to time. But for the whole scheme to be in regulations is certainly extraordinary.

One asks why this unprecedented step has been taken by Her Majesty's Government. I cannot verify it but I have a feeling that we owe it to the diligence of our well beloved Chief Government Whip. I think that he must have reported to the Ministers that there was no chance of the scheme passing the scrutiny of the revising Chamber—your Lordships' House—that it would be torn to pieces clause by clause, and that amendment after amendment would make the scheme inoperable and force the Government to think again.

But of course the Government know that it is a tradition of this House that we do not oppose delegated legislation. What they hope is that during the dinner hour in the middle of a debate on an important subject the regulations putting into force this scheme will be rushed through nemine contradicente. If it comes to that point, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, that we are masters of our own affairs and that traditions are there in order to enable us to fulfil our constitutional role as a revising Chamber. If the tradition of not voting against regulations were to come up against our duty as a revising Chamber, we should have to think very seriously as to whether or not we were governed by it.

As I say, we have here something which I was tempted to say is extraordinary. However, it is not extraordinary if taken in the context of the general attitude of the Government over the past few years to higher education and particularly universities. The other place was given by the then Secretary of State for Education and Science and we in this House were given by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor—I informed him that I would raise this point—explicit assurances that the replacement of the UGC by the new funding council was simply a way of putting in statutory form the existing relations between government financing and the conduct of universities. We were assured that there was nothing in the Bill which would entitle the new Universities Funding Council to intervene directly in the management and conduct of a university's affairs. I have to tell the House that all my contacts at the universities (and I have a number) inform me that those assurances are daily violated by the Universities Funding Council.

We have growing up a quite extraordinary bureaucratic system which, through its persistent inquiries, wastes most of the time that university teachers should be devoting to their students and their own research. On examination that is not altogether surprising. Let us consider the composition of the funding council. To a very large extent it consists of very well meaning laymen who know nothing whatever about universities and who, since they are prominent in public life or in business, have no time to learn about them. It is a body that meets seven or eight times a year for a couple of hours and is responsible for the financing of 54 universities. It has a part-time chairman—let us say a part part-time chairman. It has a senior chief executive who indeed has experience of universities. Those two wholly disagree on all the major issues of policy that this quango has to resolve. Their relations can perhaps best be explained by analogy. The noble Lord, Lord Chilver, and Sir Peter Swinnerton-Dyer have towards each other the same reciprocal affection as united Sir Alan Walters and Mr. Nigel Lawson.

What then is the consequence of a body that is so run? It is perhaps the consequence that was intended; namely, that we have an enormous bureaucracy, daily growing, daily interfering more and more in the affairs of the universities and inventing for its own statistical purposes wholly nonsensical concepts—such as the idea that a university teacher can somehow distinguish between his teaching and his research. It is as though we were to suggest to the noble Lords whose maiden speeches we have heard today that there is some curious division between their treatment of a patient and the acquisition of further medical knowledge. We therefore have this ridiculous situation. With regard to students' loans, the Government—who claim to wish to limit public expenditure—will have to employ 250 people. I do not know who they are—apprentice money lenders or something. They are to be located in Glasgow. That I suppose is the contribution that the Government make towards Glasgow as the European cultural city of next year.

For the Universities Funding Council an enormous palace is being built in Bristol to hold its increasing number of cohorts who will, I suppose, be recruited—they must come from somewhere—from the curiously named Department of Education and Science.

One could go on making a great deal of fun of this issue, but there is also a serious element. The Government's case on the restrictions on public expenditure necessitating this detailed interference in the work of universities cannot be sustained. Let me take an example. It was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, in his very welcome maiden speech. Mr. Richard Luce, on behalf of the Arts Council, has succeeded in obtaining further public money for the arts. Nevertheless, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, would be very surprised if Mr. Richard Luce or Mr. Peter Palumbo were to beetle down to Covent Garden and say, "Look here, old boy, we have decided that you must put on the entire "Ring" in the next season but for reasons of public expenditure you can have only two Rhine maidens instead of three". That is the level of discourse at which the great universities of Oxford, Cambridge, London, Manchester, and the rest are being treated.

It is a curious vendetta that I find almost impossible to explain. One would think that everything would tell against it. We have the evidence of what is happening in Europe. Regimes have been shown to be undermined, not entirely but very largely, because they have alienated the entire community of teachers and students. It should be a warning to any government. One would also think that a government who rightly attach so much importance—and this was referred to in the gracious Speech—to improving the level of education, to increasing the number of people obtaining education at post-school level, who believe that the future of this country lies in its skills applied to industry or the professions, would almost go out of their way to be in harmony with the academic community if they wished to make economies. Such economies might be dictated by external circumstances. One would think that they would begin by inquiring of the universities how they propose to handle the situation. If they felt that the system of student support was inadequate, they should again ask university teachers, university welfare officers and such people who have direct contact with students, what suggestions they might make.

Instead we have this growing alienation between the Government and the academic community which is deeply damaging to this country and is bitterly resented in the universities. The universities believe that they have done a great job for this country in the vast expansion that has occurred in the past few decades. I must try to find out why we are being confronted with a proposal such as the students' loans Bill. That is pushing the vendetta against universities to the extent of denying ordinary constitutional propriety.

6.35 p.m

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, we have just listened to an exceptional speech. I do not remember such a deadly attack on a Conservative Government from the Conservative Benches in my 40 years in this House. The thought flashed through my mind while the noble Lord was speaking: why does he not join us: But of course he can cause much more harm to the Government if he stays where he is. I therefore hope that he will remain there.

It is most enjoyable to listen to the noble Lord when one agrees with him, as now. The same would be true of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, if one were to agree with him. The noble Lord will be well aware that I do not agree with a word that he said this evening. He has said that he would not be accountable for his actions if he were violently opposed. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, used language a title short of that. But the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, having said that, I would not wish it to happen, at least not on the Floor of the House. I shall pass over his remarks and leave it to the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, to deal with him on the next occasion.

I wish to concentrate on one subject, as we have to in this debate; namely, penal affairs. I have given the noble Baroness notice of one question. I shall ask it again now. I shall then deal with more general topics. What will she do about the report of the Howard League on the five suicides in Leeds Prison among young remand prisoners? It is a terrible scandal. I need not labour the point this evening. However, having given the noble Baroness notice, and since she has had time to study the report, I hope that she will be able to say something helpful.

I shall deal with rather more general considerations, taking as my text the report for the Chief Inspector of Prisons for the year 1988. Anyone coming fresh to penal matters, and reading the report, would feel very depressed, even though the inspector finds it possible to say some generous things about the prison staff. Anyone, like myself, who started the first debate held here 34 years ago would feel still more depressed when thinking of the little progress made. Indeed we may be said to have gone backwards since that time. My depression or sense of shame seems to be shared by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury who in the past few days has referred in the most scathing terms to the prison situation.

I start therefore from that very gloomy point of view. However, I do not wish everything I say to be gloomy or depressing. We are told now that the new Home Secretary—to whom I wish everything good, without prejudice to future events—has been able to announce recently that at least some of the defects in the prison system will be put right in the near future; namely, the sanitation and the kitchens. I believe that we can all agree that the Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher, is a good housewife. I say that I hope without prejudice to the electoral contest between her and Sir Anthony Meyer, or whoever it may be who challenges her. I hope that I can say that she is a good housewife without interfering in that very tense election. She has insisted that the kitchens and sanitation in particular should be put right. We have heard such promises before from various governments, perhaps including those in which I have served. One may remain sceptical about whether it will happen in the future but we must give credit for the intention.

Let us look at the system which exists today. I must put into one sentence one of the main criticisms repeated again and again by the chief inspector. He refers to the absence of useful work in prisons. Over the years we have read many similar reports, but when reading this report we ask whether today prison does more harm than good to prisoners. One is bound to say that it is likely to do more harm. I say "likely" because a small minority of prisoners benefit from prison so long as they do not spend too long there.

If that position is correct we must ask the Government why the situation exists. Why is there such appalling overcrowding? It is not the whole story but a large, unpleasant part. The Government appear to agree that there are too many people in prison. They have said so on many occasions and have published the Green Paper about punishment, custody and the community. I welcome it, as did my noble friend Lord Mishcon. That does not mean that I like every feature because I do not like the suggestion of tagging. I do not say that it must be ruled out in every case, but I hope that tagging is not introduced. However, the general idea is correct, profound and overdue. In certain moves the Government have acknowledged the fact that today thousands of people are in prison who should be punished otherwise. However, one must admit that if people break the law and commit serious breaches they should be punished. If one retains one's sanity there is no way of avoiding that conclusion.

The difficulty—which I hope will be overcome—lies in the attitude of the probation service. Like other noble Lords, I have in the past praised the service and admire it as much as any other service I know. Perhaps there remains a considerable reluctance on the part of the probation service to operate such supervision in the community. I hope that the difficulty will be overcome because I would rather see the probation service carry out the task than any other. However, if it declines, a new service must be created because the job must be done.

We are left with the question of why we do not carry out the ideas contained in the Green Paper. As was pointed out by my noble friend Lord Mishcon, today in this country there are more people in prison per head of the population than in any other European country. In a recent debate I said without contradiction that during the past four years sentences have become 30 per cent. longer. To put it mildly, it does not look as though the policy contained in the Green Paper is being approached.

I must press the Government to say whether they accept a considerable share of responsibility for the level of sentencing in this country. I do not mean the individual sentence passed on a particular person but at a general level. I hope that I shall not be told that sentencing levels are a development, in the control of which the Government can play no part; I have in mind the birth rate, the divorce rate, attendance at church or the weather. The noble Baroness knows what I am talking about because I have given her a full indication of my intention to raise the question. Do the Government accept responsibility or not?

I hope that I shall not be told that to try to influence the level of sentencing is to interfere with the independence of the judiciary. I was told by a former judge who remains close to the scene that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about the issue. The "independence of the judiciary" means that in the last resort the judges must decide upon the sentences. However, it does not mean that judges should not be expected to listen to the advice of the elected government of the day. I am asking the government of the day to play a greater part in pressing the judiciary to reduce the level of sentencing.

Some years ago the Home Secretary—then the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw—attempted to do so. However, he ran into trouble at the notorious Conservative Party Conference of 1981 and dropped the idea. There are signs that behind the scenes the Government may be whispering in the ear of the judiciary but that is not good enough. We want a public indication that the Government desire to see a lower level of sentencing.

I shall end with a point which takes the matter a little further. Judges are inclined to say that their sentences must be in accord with public opinion and that they must not lose contact with public opinion. As regards sentencing, public opinion is to a large extent that stirred up by the tabloid press. It is aware that in this country in recent years there has been a growth in the rate of crime and as a result there is a great fear for and distaste of criminals. The tabloid press does everything in its power to exploit that feeling. Mr. Auberon Waugh, of whom Members may have heard—and the fact that he is my godson must not influence the House against him—has said that at the present time the judge is Mr. Rupert Murdoch and the members of the jury are the readers of the Sun newspaper. That is putting the matter rather crudely but the point is clear.

In my opinion, if the Government confine themselves in reproaching the judges they are not performing their task. They must play a much larger part than they or any government have played in trying to educate public opinion. The message is perfectly clear. It is that today in this country sentences are too heavy. They are becoming heavier and at all costs they must be lightened.

6.47 p.m.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, I hope that at this late stage in the proceedings it is not presumptuous of me to congratulate the three maiden speakers who managed to make such uncontroversial contributions to our debate. I felt that I was present at an historic occasion when the father was sitting behind me listening to the son opposite.

When I first entered the House I made my maiden speech on the National Health Service. However, I am afraid that I was not so successful in being non-controversial as was the noble Lord, Lord McColl. I have an idea of his feelings and he might have said a number of things with which I should not have agreed. I was pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Walton, refer to research in the health service under the new organisation. He is right in saying that by far the largest proportion of research now carried out in the health service is funded by voluntary charitable research foundations.

I am a member of one of the biggest cancer research foundations. Even under the present system we have great problems in using our research money purely for research when clinical facilities are required. We carried out an analysis and discovered that in order to carry out the research we were spending between 30 and 40 per cent. of the money given to us on clinical facilities in the hospitals. I am very concerned that in self-governing hospitals that percentage will perhaps increase even more.

First, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, about the speed with which this document Caring for People has been incorporated in a Bill. So far as I can make out, that has been done in a period of three days. I always thought that it was the practice in this House and a measure of the courtesy of the Government that this House has the chance to debate a White Paper before it becomes incorporated into a Bill. That has not happened on this occasion. I believe that is particularly unforgiveable because within this House is such enormous expertise on the health service: doctors, surgeons, nurses, former Secretaries of State and people who have been very much involved in the health service. The Government were not prepared to listen to our views on the latest document Caring for People.

I hope that the House will agree with me that if the Government had followed that procedure, there might be many fewer amendments to the Bill than there will be as a result of that lack of consultation.

As a former regional health service chairman, I now find myself going back almost to where I began. I became a health service chairman in 1974 when the aim was, under a Tory Government, to bring back as much as possible of the community service into the health service because that was the right thing to do. At that time we went through two traumatic years trying to achieve that change. Therefore, I find it almost unbelievable that we are now turning round and going back, more or less, to where we were.

I also feel that apart from the lack of consultation, which I regret enormously, and the need for speed that seems to be in the mind of the Government—and that is only because they have decided on a certain timetable—when there are such fundamental changes as are envisaged by the present Bill, some time should be taken over them. So far as I am concerned, as yet, there is no proof that the new system will be so much better because it has not been tested. I believe that it would have been correct for the Government to have a proper pilot scheme.

The Government tell me that they have had a pilot scheme in the odd large hospital and the odd GP practice to find out how it works. That is not sufficient when the whole system throughout the country is being changed. The Government should have selected a region and introduced those changes in that region, covering the whole of the health and community services, to find out whether it works as a much better system.

Outside this Chamber when I talk about the problems of this re-organisation, I am always being told that the region of East Anglia loves the changes. Why could the Government not pick out that region for the pilot scheme? I would have accepted its point of view although I believe that it is probably prejudiced. However, at least that would have been a proper test.

I believe that as a result of that non-consultation, it will take months to get this Bill through both Houses. A very short time will be left for the health and community services to implement these enormous changes. I believe that it is a tragedy that this matter has been handled in that way.

Reading quickly through the Bill, which I did not receive until this morning, the one good thing that emerges, is that the Government have abandoned their legally binding cash limits on drugs for the NHS drugs budget. According to the Bill, the regions will hold budgets which will be allocated to the family practitioners services committee. Those authorities will in turn give individual GPs notional budgets linked to numbers of patients—and that seems correct—and previous expenditure. We all know that some general practitioners in this country love to prescribe the most expensive drugs. We also know that some very conscientious general practitioners use much cheaper drugs. Will not those who have previously been spending a lot of money benefit, and will not those who have been cautious and economical suffer unless a balance is introduced in some way in this funding?

The other matter which worries me tremendously is the funding for the local authority community care. I regret, as do many other noble Lords who have spoken, that the Government have not accepted Sir Roy Griffiths' suggestion that there should be a special fund to local authorities for the community care changes. It will now be lumped in the general revenue support grant. How are we to ensure that that money is not spent on or diverted to other authority spending? Who will monitor that it actually goes into the community services? It is quite frightening to think that we are changing the whole system and not making certain that the money is there.

There is another impact. Very conscientious local authorities which feel that they want to provide the right community services might find themselves in the position that they are over-spending and so they might have to increase the community charge. I do not believe that the Government will allow them to do that. They cannot be rate-capped, but some action will be taken against them if they do not keep their spending within the budget.

Therefore, there are two dangers in that way of funding. The health authority funding, for its responsibilities, is to come from its overall allocation of resources. The document itself says that it is not possible to say what proportion of ill patients may in the future possibly be supported outside hospitals. However, the whole aim of the Bill and the two documents which we have is to make certain that the maximum number of people—at least that is what it says—will be allowed to live in the community in their own homes. Therefore, to be successful that must enormously increase the hospital authorities' expenditure on community services.

The problem is that that means that the hospital authorities will have to provide an increasing number of community nurses and health visitors—and quite rightly. However, they cannot do that unless, at the same time, it is possible to close down in-patient provision formerly provided.

I was in the health service at the beginning of the closing down of the big mental institutions. I know that it is impossible to make substantial savings unless you can, just like that, close down a whole unit. If you only half close it down your revenue expenditure on keeping the place heated, maintained, and so on, is almost the same as if it were fully staffed. That has been the problem in the past with the return to the community of long-stay patients.

The need for an increase in the number of community nurses will be enormous. We have already seen the result of the half closing down of the big long-stay hospitals. Eight hospitals in the South have shut down. The community services were not adequate. In West Lambeth 4,000 people are no longer in hospital, half of them being schizophrenic. I am not arguing for institutions, but those people have lost what they consider to be their home and their friends and they have not gained anything in the community. We have to be extremely careful because this situation will apply to an even greater number of people under the present plans.

Some people would say that by giving people the right to live in their own homes we are creating misery, although we call it freedom. I hope that we will think carefully about these problems.

7.1 p.m.

Viscount Torrington

My Lords, as my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor reminded us this afternoon, we shall be spending a certain amount of time this Session discussing the broadcasting Bill. At the outset of my remarks, I must quickly admit an interest in that I am chairman of an applicant company for a cable television franchise. A short while ago I also had the privilege to chair the sub-committee of your Lordships' EC Select Committee which looked into proposals on television without frontiers and into European telecommunications policy in the 1990s.

In the digital age television broadcasting and telecommunications are rapidly merging into a single major utility. Digressing for a moment, I refer to Bills on past utilities rather than Bills on utilities to come. I was somewhat amused yesterday to hear Mr. Brian Gould give perhaps one of the best reasons yet aired for the privatisation of water. He said—and I do not profess to quote his words exactly—something to the effect that notwithstanding a £5 billion debt write-off and a £1.5 billion "green" dowry, water, at a sale price of around £5 billion, is a pretty dicey investment. If it is a dicey investment, how much better that it should be owned by investors who are prepared to take the risk and that the taxpayer should pocket a risk-free £5 billion.

I do not believe for a moment that water is a dicey investment. I have to remember that only about four months ago in your Lordships' House I argued that Power Gen, or big "G", with a nuclear component would be a better investment than one with coal-fired capacity alone. Noble Lords opposite no doubt chortled at the Government's discomfort and mine in this matter; but just before the laughter gets too loud, it is worth remembering that the facts about the true costs of nuclear power have probably only come to light because hard-eyed merchant bankers and lawyers have exercised due diligence over the contents of what was to become a prospectus. Had the privatisation exercise never been embarked upon, it might well be that these facts would never have come to light and the unfortunate taxpayer would have borne a greater bill in the long term.

Returning to broadcasting, the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, has already given us a taste of what no doubt will be a very controversial issue in your Lordships' House. I understand that the Bill will cover other matters. Sadly, it will not address the BT/Mercury duopoly, which is due to be the subject of a separate review. It is however likely to provide for current cable television franchise holders to convert their franchises into local delivery networks, which will be permitted to convey anything through their broad-band cables—be it TV, video, data or telephone services which can physically be conveyed in digital form—provided that they offer open access to all service providers. There is a snag in this. Such systems will have the right to carry voice communications but only if the duopoly is ended.

Local broad-band cable systems with open access will offer to the public the greatest choice of services imaginable and put this country streets ahead of our competition in communications terms. Unfortunately, the economics of local broad-band networks mean that they need to be allowed to compete for all sources of income, not just television alone. What is the point, for example, of a broad-band local delivery network with masses of spare capacity available for high quality voice communications being denied the potential revenue therefrom, while the customer either has to content himself with a poor quality copper-wired service from BT or has to bear indirectly, through BT's monopoly or its part of the duopoly, the cost of BT duplicating a broad-band system which is already in existence? In the latter case, BT would I suggest be wasting its shareholders' funds, which could far better be spent in the provision of new value-added services.

It would seem to me the solution is to end now in the Bill the duopoly at the local or "final mile" end of the system, and to impose on BT and Mercury—perhaps through Oftel—the duty to demonstrate, before it duplicates any cable system in any area, that such duplication will offer a more cost-effective and better means of delivery than renting capacity on a pre-existing non-BT system. Equally, were BT or Mercury to have already installed the necessary broad-band cable system, a cable TV franchise holder should be able to gain access to that system at a reasonable tariff rather than be compelled to construct a duplicate system.

Telecommunications are no longer a natural monopoly. The White Paper's proposals are imaginative and bold. I sincerely hope the Bill will be equally bold and be the impetus for great and innovative communications systems and not a preservation order for BT's millions of miles of antique copper wire.

7.7 p.m.

Lord Rea

My Lords, at a post graduate meeting of general practitioners last month I was asked if, as a Peer, I felt I had a constituency. Having a general practitioner's surgery every day, I said I was rather relieved not to have a constituency surgery as well. In fact it is surprising how similar the problems are which are brought to both types of surgery. I do feel that I have got a constituency both in my profession and even more among my patients; in a wider sense among all patients or potential patients. From their point of view there is much that is relevant in at least four of the Bills which will come before the House this parliamentary Session. There is also much which would help them to avoid becoming patients through the maintenance of good health, which I submit is missing in the Government's programme.

It is too often forgotten that there is still a large and possibly increasing divide between the health and wellbeing of the well off and better educated and the less well off and less skilled segments of our population. Another unwelcome fact not recognised sufficiently is that our health statistics as a nation are, despite an overall improvement, more and more slipping behind other countries. For some years Japan has led the world both in expectation of life and low infant mortality. From being well behind us, France has recently overtaken us for low infant mortality. Hong Kong and Singapore are well ahead of both ourselves and France in this respect; so is Iceland, which ties with Sweden for second place. Our only distinction with regard to health statistics is that Scotland and Northern Ireland hold first place in the world league tables for deaths from coronary heart disease and England and Wales are not far behind.

Sir Douglas Black's working party on inequalities in health in 1980 pointed these matters out with great clarity and detail. His work was updated three years ago by Margaret Whitehead. His report is highly regarded academically and internationally, but, I regret to say, less so by Her Majesty's Government.

The first of the 38 targets for Europe in WHO's Health for All by the Year 2000 programme calls for equity in health. Professor Black pointed out that two and a half years ago that, if this could be achieved by bringing health of the poorer manual groups up to that of the professional groups, we would save 20,000 pre-retirement deaths per annum by the year 2,000. At the same time the number of chronically sick and disabled in that group could be reduced by 100,000. There are obvious implications in this for the costs of the National Health Service. On the other hand, from the Treasury point of view the adverse position would be that those whose early deaths might have been prevented would live to collect their pensions. However, the increased prosperity of the country, about which Her Majesty's Government reminds us so often, should be able to carry them, especially as those concerned would have helped to create that wealth. There is very little in the programme that has been outlined to us that will help boost the health of the less well off and thus achieve the first aim of Health For All by the Year 2000.

The general practitioners' contract which will come into force in April next year contains some features which will encourage greater involvement of GPs in preventative medicine, and that is something that I welcome. For several years some of us have been advocating incentives for immunisation, cervical screening, child surveillance and other measures of pro-active medicine. However, as my noble friend Lord Pitt said two weeks ago during the debate on the NHS regulations for the contract, the Government shot themselves in the foot, as has been mentioned by another noble Lord today, by the way that they introduced the contract and antagonised general practitioners.

I hope that the good intentions of the contract will prevail in the end if the Government are flexible in the way that they introduce it. However, I do not believe that they have realised the true cost to GPs of adequate screening and surveillance. More discussions with the GMSC and other representitives of the profession must go on despite the fact that the contract is supposed to have been imposed on the profession.

Screening for the early stages of disease has no effect on the basic causes of our major health problems, which are heart disease, cancer and stroke. These diseases are detectable only through screening, when they have already reached a fairly advanced stage and when it is difficult to reverse them.

Policies external to the National Health Service are of crucial importance if inequalities are to be reduced and Britain's health performance is to be radically improved. There are financial, educational and other restrictions on the opportunities for some groups to achieve the better lifestyles that they need in order to avoid ill health and premature death from the diseases that I have mentioned. These restrictions can and should be overcome so that healthier lifestyles can be promoted more easily among the whole population. Exhortations to eat more healthily, to smoke less, to drink less, to take more exercise and avoid stress—although I am not quite sure how one does that—need to be allied to carrots and sticks. I am not suggesting that they should form part of the diet. Carrots are supposed to be good for night blindness; perhaps they will be useful to noble Lords in this House as we go through the heavy programme ahead of us. In addition to those incentives there needs to be greater provision of facilities in the commuity to enable people to lead the healthier lifestyles that are necessary.

It is a sad fact that cigarette smoking is the biggest single avoidable cause of death or disability in the developed world. It is fast increasing in importance in the third world. I consider that the Government are pussy-footing in their gestures to encourage people to cut the habit. Now that most people are non-smokers the Government could afford to be more courageous in banning advertising, especially the sponsorship of televised sports events by the tobacco industry, and in progressively increasing the tax on cigarettes beyond inflation. The sale of cigarettes to under 16 year-olds should be clamped down upon. The legislation is there. All that is necessary is that it should be enforced. I warn noble Lords. I have spoken on this topic on many occasions and I will probably do so again until more action is forthcoming.

There is to be a Bill to improve food safety. This is strictly a subject for Monday's debate but I am afraid that I will not be present then. This is an excellent measure, provided that Her Majesty's Government realise that more trained personnel—for example, trading standards officers and food inspectors—will be necessary to supervise the new regulations. I have a strong suspicion that the existing regulations would be sufficient if the inspectorate was adequately staffed and financed. Let us hope that the new regulations are not another smokescreen for inadequate funding.

My main interest in food lies in its nutritional value rather than its freedom from infection. This is a matter of fundamental importance in some of the main diseases of our time. For example, although smoking can cause heart disease in Western societies, it does not do so to anything like the same extent in Japan and China where blood cholesterol is low. This is entirely due to their different diet. To speed up the change to a cholesterol lowering diet in the United Kingdom, as advocated by the Department of Health in its COMA report on diet and cardio-vascular disease, we need a few changes. We need better food labelling, preferably with "traffic light" or similar symbols indicating the levels of the various components. We need to grant subsidies for cholesterol lowering foods and oils to remove subsidies from cholesterol raising foods which are now present.

If there was a strong government will, the complex difficulties which now prevent these measures could be overcome quite easily. There are other measures which the Government could adopt centrally to assist the many excellent local efforts aimed at the dificult task of changing dietary habits. It is very important to start young, since many of our chronic diseases may well have their origins in childhood. The return of nutritional guidelines for school meals would be an obvious first step in that direction.

I have concentrated on smoking and food as examples of what the Government could do to improve the nation's health in the long term, especially that of the less well off. However, there are other areas—for instance, encouraging and subsidising better sports facilities, cycle lanes etc. to increase physical activity. In the field of mental health the best preventive action would be to give support to families with young children, especially those who are physically and socially deprived. This would also help to give children the good start which, as recent research has shown, may help to prevent the early onset of degenerative diseases in later life.

Finally, I should like to remind her Majesty's Government that this country arguably has the finest record in the world for medical research. Sadly, this may now be true only in a historical sense owing to the erosion of support for science, a point mentioned in the clear and non-controversial maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant.

As a co-opted member of your Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology, I visited the United States. Many friendly scientists there expressed great concern about the present state of medical research in Britain. I should like to ask the noble Baroness, for the second time in the past month, when the Government propose to reply to the Select Committee's report on priorities in medical research, especially with reference to the needs of the National Health Service. The report was published in March 1988, which is 21 months ago. An important aspect of the report, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, recommended that the National Health Service should do more research into its own functioning. Less than 0.22 per cent. of the multi-billion National Health Service budget is spent on research and development, whereas any sizeable commercial enterprise allocates 5 to 10 per cent. of its budget to this.

The Select Committee's report made clear recommendations, based on a wide range of high quality evidence, as to how health service research should be enhanced and informed decision-making achieved at all levels. The major changes proposed in the National Health Service Bill are not based on research. I am very much afraid that, when the time comes to implement the proposed changes, there will be colossal difficulties and that the lack of prior research will be bitterly regretted.

7.22 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, our new Session opens during a kind of crisis in the governing party. There is more to that crisis than the Prime Minister's style of government, and much more to it than the exchange mechanism of a European monetary system. What we hear is the creaking and groaning of a fabric strained by 10 years of dogmatic government, even bigoted government, which have been profoundly alien to the pragmatic British way of life. I shall go further and suggest that it is later than we think; that our Government have already become in certain respects unconstitutional; that our laws and liberties have been and are being subverted; and that there is now no alternative to thinking the unthinkable and looking at the position of "the Queen in Parliament". This I now propose to do. Before judging whether or not I am justified in my fears, I hope noble Lords will look at Hansard tomorrow morning. The issues are complex and numerous, and some of the remedies might lie in our own hands.

In the 18th century we were admired for the way in which we protected our liberties by keeping the legislature, the Executive and the judiciary separate. In the United States they enshrined that separation in their constitution. But because the British Constitution is not written down in any single document called "Constitution", we have to do our own enshrining through daily vigilance. This is a historical truism. That vigilance now shows us that the Thatcher Executive has been subordinating the legislature and the judiciary to its will for purposes that, in the words of the 1689 Bill of Rights, have tended to, subvert and extirpate … the laws and liberties of this kingdom". What has been happening? The Prime Minister was chosen as Prime Minister by a party which has three times been returned by a minority of the votes cast, and each time by a smaller minority. She heads a minority government. Now some would say that from that position she has—I borrow the rhetoric of others—plunged a sword in the heart of the people. But I think that the right image is the opposite one. She has withdrawn the shield which formerly protected us. That shield is the state, which human societies developed some time ago to carry out their essential common purposes, including that of protecting themselves against over powerful partial interests. The Prime Minister's policies stem from her belief that the state and the market are in some way alternatives. That is a mistake—the regulating of "markets" is one of the principal purposes of the state.

Because Thatcherism is not a straightforward removal of power by the Executive from Parliament, the process has been quite hard to make out. It has taken the form of a steady shift in the operation of government towards favouring a sectional interest, roughly indentifiable as "successful businessmen", self-made entrepreneurs and public relations people whose wisdom the Prime Minister deems sufficient for the public good. The result has been a steady "monetarisation", as it were, of the public interest. Their firms pay her party large sums of money, and the Government reject proposals to make those sums more visible. These people devise her policies, often to the exclusion of Her Majesty's Ministers; they take the taxpayers' money to promote those policies; and, finally, they even undertake the tasks they have themselves recommended.

A majority of Members of the House of Commons now act simply at the behest of this highly personalised Executive, and a majority of that majoritys work as paid or unpaid lobbyists for the interests. For a while we in this House were able to impose a certain restraint on the Executive's control of the House of Commons, but it is now difficult to resist the impression that a majority of the working House here have been persuaded to act as if their loyalty were not to the Queen, but to the Prime Minister.

I want now to give the House a list of things the Government have done. All these things have of course been the object of criticism and opposition at the time they were done, but they have come thick and fast. It was always time to turn to the next one, and there has been a natural tendency, in Parliament as well as in the press, to forget what came before. But if one considers them all together, the list shows that our laws and liberties have been subverted.

Here then is the list. It is not a complete one by any means. The Government have demanded power to repeal parts of Acts of Parliament without further reference to Parliament. The Lord Chancellor has sought in his proposed legal reforms new Executive powers over the judiciary "on first principles", and has done so without proposing any balancing Bill of Rights. Hong Kong is to have a Bill of Rights, not Britain. He has come close to forgetting that he is in a sense senior to the Prime Minister, who appointed him, and that he has a historic role as protector of the independence of the courts.

The Prime Minister has stopped creating new Opposition working Peers to replace those who die. Royal Commissions are no longer appointed. Bills are drafted on evidence supplied by private groups and think-tanks manned only by government supporters. The evidence is not published. Evidence relevant to the examination of the Bills themselves in Parliament is controlled by a document clearance group in Whitehall.

The Benjamin Report, commissioned by the Economic and Social Research Council, on the availability and quality of government statistics has not been published, no doubt because of the extremely damaging criticism it makes of what has been happening in that field. Our Library has been able to provide a photocopy of the report. Among other things, it is clear from the report that no statistics relevant and sufficient for judging a proposed reform of the National Health Service are available, a point already emphasised by my noble friend Lord Kilmarnock and by the noble Lord, Lord Rea, just now.

In certain fields, particularly in relation to schools, non-voters were, until the House prevented it, proposed to be counted as having voted for government policies in local ballots. The Prime Minister has, unprecedentedly, taken the right to appoint the Chief of Defence Staff. Secret agreements appear to be regularly entered into or updated which grant the United States Government and armed forces unknown powers over unknown matters in unknown areas and our strategic deterrent is composed of US-made and maintained weapons.

There being no public interest defence in the new Official Secrets Act, loyalty to the Executive has there replaced loyalty to the Crown. The right of the armed forces to defend themselves is taken away and given to private firms, with the result seen at the Royal Marines School of Music.

Government spending on advertising has quadrupled under this Government, and that is not counting what has been spent on the privatisation campaigns. The Central Office of Information has been taken under prime ministerial direct control. Civil servants working in departmental public relations have been denied a code of practice.

I think it is fair to say that this Government's neglect of their duty to protect the public from fraud and theft has led to people no longer expecting probity in the City. Probity, a public value, now seems the exception and this is a tragedy.

Monopolies are once again sold, as they were in the 17th century. Freedom of speech for employees in about to be privatised industries is restricted, as is the publication of relevant information, even of the sort which used to be regularly published all the time until privatisation appeared on the horizon.

Private monopolies are to be allowed to purchase land by compulsion; land compulsorily purchased in the public interest from private owners may be sold to other private owners without being offered back to the original ones; and property acquired or built with public money may be sold to private enterprise without repayment to the original subscribers. Twelve city councils are going to court to prevent the inclusion of their ratepayers' assets in the water sell-off.

The House of Commons went so far as to pass and send to this Chamber a clause in the Water Bill which would have made it an offence after privatisation for anyone to give water to a neighbour who could not pay his or her water bill.

Public safety is degraded by the cost-cutting which has been imposed on public enterprises, such as London Underground and British Rail, and a corresponding freedom from control or prosecution is allowed to private enterprises—the agro-chemical industries, the offshore oil extractors and the ferry companies. Private citizens are having to prosecute where the Crown will not do so in such cases.

The health service Bill, about which we have heard much today, will seek to monetarise health care and is opposed by every single Royal College. There was no statement in the Conservative manifesto about such a huge and immensely contentious Bill. It is huge by virtue of the powers it confers. Commercial secrecy takes precedence over private health in the licensing of medicines.

Detention without charge for longer than allowed under European law is to continue. As has already been pointed out in today's debate, the number of people entitled to legal aid has steadily decreased. Moreover, the children of poor parents are to be saddled with debt if they take up university places which they have been awarded in open competition. This policy will drive even more science graduates into highly paid City jobs rather than into industry, let alone into teaching, which our future demands.

University researchers are forced to seek commercial funding, which frequently has strings, and if they do not get it they are forced to do less of the fundamental and long-term research which our future demands. Where government-funded research is deemed "near market" and industry refuses to take it up, it is stopped, regardless of the public interest.

Under proposed police and prison reforms private citizens, who need not be British, would be given rights to investigate, arrest, interrogate, confine and discipline Her Majesty's subjects and to derive profit therefrom. Further, employees of private security firms are enrolled as special constables.

Sections of the media have been allowed to fall into the hands of foreign millionaires who support the Prime Minister. Watchdogs are politically loaded. New television channels are to be sold to the highest bidder with very little regard to the public interest.

London and the other big cities have been deprived of their city government because the national government did not like the way the urban people voted. County councils have been progressively stripped of their powers and appeals against district council decisions are increasingly allowed. The fabric of local government has simply been shot away.

Our constitution is a complex network of implicit contracts. The fact that it is nowhere inscribed in a single document does not make it uncertain, nor does it mean that there can be no remedy when it is breached. Edmund Burke examined all this in relation to 1688.

The matters I have just listed are not the small change of bad government; they amount to an all-round, increasingly flagrant infringement of the laws and customs which over the centuries the British have built up and held on to. They held on to them against William the Conqueror, against King John, against Charles I, against James II and even against this House in 1912. Hitherto we have mostly had to protect ourselves against overweening monarchs, but I believe that the boot is now on the other foot. Should we now turn to our Constitutional Monarch for protection against an overweening Prime Minister?

The Coronation Oath is as close as we come to the usual preamble of written constitutions. In it the Queen promised "solemnly" to, govern the people of the United Kingdom … according to their respective laws and customs". Her promise was about the "peoples" and it was made to God, not to her (United Kingdom) Government.

Our constitutional doctrine holds that "the Queen can do no wrong". That is as it should be. But may not the Executive's advice to the Queen now be so faulty as to be incompatible with her Coronation Oath? Although the Queen's first duty is to advise back privately, may it not, if her advice is persistently rejected and our laws and customs persistently flouted, become her duty to require the Executive to observe the constitution's implicit contracts? If the Queen continues to accept legislation which is incompatible with the country's laws and customs, are not the Government pressing her into wrongdoing?

The convention that the Sovereign is guided by her Ministers is not self-validating. It grew up like all our other conventions and its validity depends on Ministers in their turn observing all those other conventions. It is only because earlier Ministers have faithfully observed those other customs that this particular custom acquired the validity which it has. There is an unwritten but implicit contract here as well and if it is broken the oldest custom of all empowers the Sovereign to call an unworthy government to order: the Queen's specific approval is required to turn any Bill into an Act of Parliament.

7.39 p.m.

Lord Ashbourne

My Lords, I was glad to hear that the Government intend vigorously to pursue policies for reducing crime, as I believe that the law and order enigma is one of the major concerns of many citizens of this land today. The fact that noble Lords may feel unsafe in certain often deprived areas is deeply disturbing. Indeed, there are probably many more areas where women feel vulnerable. That is not far short of the no-go areas of Ulster which existed during the early days of the troubles. It must surely be wrong for citizens to feel fearful of visiting those so-called danger spots at night or at any other time.

On the other hand, I find it disturbing that the Government do not always take vigorous action to uphold the law. They have taken scarcely any steps to enforce the Shops Act with regard to Sunday trading, saying that it is up to the local authorities to prosecute where the law is being broken. The local authorities have, in turn, often been reluctant to prosecute. In the case of Torfaen Borough Council v B & Q, B & Q asserted that the Shops Act was contrary to the Treaty of Rome. That was another attempt to confuse and discourage local authorities from taking action. However, only this morning the European Court found against B & Q and decided that the Shops Act does not contravene the Treaty of Rome. So there is now no excuse for the Government or the local authorities to stand back and watch the Shops Act being openly flouted.

David Blackmore, operations director of the Keep Sunday Special campaign referred to the European Court's judgment in these words: We call upon the Attorney General now to take decisive and effective action to ensure that the law is enforced and the rule of law prevails. We appeal again to that small minority of companies which have been winning by cheating to stop playing politics with people's lives and put the quality of our environment and our heritage ahead of their own self interest". The director-general of the National Chamber of Trade, Mr. Bernard Tennant, called upon his 150,000 local members and supporters to encourage all local authorities now to take decisive, but fair, action to uphold the rule of law against a minority of law breakers stealing market share from many of our members through manifestly unfair competition". I shall say no more but merely ask my noble friend who is to wind up whether the Government will not only vigorously pursue policies for reducing crime but, in view of this morning's judgment, also take vigorous action to uphold the law of the land, especially in regard to the Shops Act.

7.43 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, like my noble friend Lady Robson, who is not in her place at the moment, I am worried about the White Paper Caring For People: Community Care in the Next Decade and Beyond and about the short time we have had to consider the implications of that White Paper and the Bill which is not available in the Printed Paper Office because there has been such a rush for it. I am having to crib my noble friend's copy of the Bill.

The impications for those in urgent need of treatment for alcohol and drug problems are as severe in the enabling part of the Bill as I thought from the White Paper they would be. Many of your Lordships have said with regard to the White Paper that one cannot fault the Government's energy in their desire to rationalise the whole spectrum of community care services which are currently distributed among health authorities and local authority social services departments. The recommendations contained in the White Paper, so far as they affect those suffering from severe alcohol and drug problems, greatly worry all those involved in that growing area of illness in our society.

The Government's intention is to make local authorities responsible for assessing and distributing their available money in order to rationalise the provision of care. Even before the White Paper and the Bill it was difficult for people with drug and alcohol problems to receive the priority which many of the people who work with them feel that they should have. There is still a stigma in the community attached to drug and alcohol abuse. Under the Government's new plans, funds will be available from three areas, and it is likely that drug and alcohol patients will come near the bottom of the list. When money is tight and authorities want to implement the changes and be efficient and even-handed, there will be areas of concern which will come before drug and alcohol addiction, the elderly and disabled among them.

I have mentioned the background of the problem many times in the House. At the last count there were 1.5 million people involved, although there are now probably more. Although the consumption of alcohol is not growing enormously there are various aspects and concentrations of it which cause concern. Approximately 1.5 million people are drinking at levels which are dangerous to themselves and other people, especially their families and friends. It is assessed that between 5 million and 6 million people are seriously at risk from alcohol. We are not talking about those who are vulnerable to drugs. I am talking about alcohol. People have to deal with both drug and alcohol addicts and the treatment for both classes of patient is similar.

The treatment of such patients cost each authority about £9.5 million. One out of three authorities has inadequate counselling facilities for drug and alcohol addicts. As your Lordships are aware, counselling after treatment is of enormous importance. There are only a few planning groups at local level and in the community a poor recognition of the problems of alcohol abuse. Most patients who are referred are at an advanced stage of their dependency. They come through the courts, as a result of the complete collapse of their health or are referred at the final stage of the interruption of their family life by close relatives.

The community does not recognise the fact that there is a widespread problem among various groups of people. Women are increasingly sufferers from alcohol and drug addiction, in particular alcohol. That has been one of the features of the past few years. As we are aware, young people are increasingly at risk from drugs and alcohol and in some cases both. The ethnic minorities have particular problems with drugs and in some cases alcohol. Disabled people, and even lesbians and gay people, have addiction problems which need treatment and counselling. Single homeless people are particularly at risk from this kind of illness. As many people forget, friends and relatives are often in need of counselling and help, sometimes psychiatric help, as a result of members of their family being afflicted.

In this country counselling is usually voluntary and very effective where it exists. However in order to have a proper effect and to make inroads into the problem, we need a statutory response so that there is a combination, an input from both the voluntary and the statutory sources.

I have noted what the noble Lord, Lord Rea, said and I accept absolutely that as regards medical research this country is second to none. But it also seems to me that in the field in which I am interested, the drug and alcohol field, there is an imbalance. Excellent research is being done with various pilot schemes, but there is an imbalance between the research and pilot schemes and the treatment available for those who have problems.

An excellent booklet has recently been published called Drinking Problems—A Challenge for Every Doctor. This situation produces more patients if the doctors are doing their job properly, but where do they send the sufferers? There are not enough services to cope with the problem. We have not even talked about the problem of drink and drugs for the offenders. A recent booklet on prisons has been published by the Prison Reform Trust entitled Drink, Delinquency and Prison which gives alarming and troubling statistics about the problems of drink and drugs in the penal area.

We are very concerned. I should be grateful if the noble Baroness could reassure me that some thought is being given to future ideas on how to cope with an ever-increasing problem of suffering and addiction. With rationalisation and attempts to make caring more efficient, what will happen if it seems that the drug and alcohol addicts are being squeezed out? They will go to the bottom of the queue.

It seems to many of those to whom I have spoken who are concerned about alcohol and drug abuse that there is a real fear of the time when the Government's proposals in the Bill are carried out, in the middle 1990s. It is a reasonable assumption, should there be no change in emphasis about the funding of treatment for drug and alcohol abusers, that treatment will be almost unavailable except for those who have private means and are in the more affluent parts of our society. As we all know, drug and alcohol abuse cuts right across the whole socio-economic scale. This development would be extremely damaging. I hope that the noble Baroness might be able to reassure me on that point.

7.54 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, last year the Government published an important Green Paper on penal policy entitled Punishment, Custody and the Community, to which reference has already been made by my noble friends Lord Mishcon and Lord Longford. Early in this Session we expect a White Paper on ways of implementing proposals in that Green Paper. This is a most important opportunity for the Government to do something about the parlous state of the British penal system.

Regrettably, there is nothing in the gracious Speech on these aspects of the criminal justice system, although legislation is urgently required. Quite apart from last year's Green Paper, it is a year since the Carlisle Report on parole was published on which action is also urgently needed. As my noble friend Lord Mishcon has indicated, we are now sending more people to prison per 100,000 of the population than any other European country. My noble friend referred to us being second to Turkey. We are now competing with Turkey for the top of the league table. On recent trends we shall soon overtake the Turks, if we have not done so already.

Our wasteful and ineffective penal system must be reformed. Nothing short of really radical proposals will do, both in the White Paper and in the subsequent Bill which, disappointingly, we shall not be discussing during the coming Session.

Let me say what is wrong before turning to solutions. Perhaps I may start with patterns of expenditure. Over the past 10 years we have seen heavy investment in law and order. Indeed, over the decade it is, along with defence, the one part of the public sector where the objective has been to spend more. Spending on the criminal justice system has increased from £2 billion to £5 billion—an increase of about 50 per cent. in real terms. An extra £1.6 billion has been committed towards total Home Office spending, most of which is to go on expanding the prison system and increasing local authority spending on the police.

In cash terms, Home Office central government spending will have risen by 60 per cent.—an increase without parallel elsewhere. There have been big increases in manpower right across the criminal justice system, but the most staggering rise has been in the number of prison staff, with an increase of over 50 per cent. between 1979 and 1991.

The Government have also embarked on a building programme for prisons which is now budgeted at over £1 billion, although I must say that I welcome the recent decision in the Autumn Statement to cut out four new prisons and to use the money saved for renovating existing prisons. However, even with that, we shall have the largest prison building programme for 100 years and we shall still create at least 24 new prisons. Many more places will be added to existing establishments.

In the next three years there will be 10,000 more places; by the mid-1990s there will be approximately another extra 10,000 places in the system. But is this what we really want? Should there not be far more emphasis on finding ways of keeping people out of prison by the use of non-custodial sentences rather than using vast sums of money to put up prisons and employ more prison staff?

If West Germany can cut its prison population by 20 per cent. over the last four years, why cannot we? We in this country have been going in quite the opposite direction. Over the past decade the proportion of adult men and women convicted of indictable offences who are sent to prison has increased from 17 per cent. to 21 per cent. for men and from 3 to 8 per cent. for women.

The Government have rightly come round to accepting that non-violent offenders should, for the most part, be kept out of prison. On the other hand, they have backed tougher sentences for crimes of violence. This twin-track policy has been singularly unsuccessful in terms of results, at least as regards the first part of the bargain. Only one person in every five imprisoned each year has committed offences involving violence, sex, robbery or drugs. There are thousands of non-violent offenders in prison who have committed various crimes against property. Whether such people end up in prison will depend on where they live. For example, an accused person is 10 times more likely to be remanded in custody by courts in Dorset than in Bedfordshire. A convicted offender is twice as likely to be sent to prison by magistrates in Oxford as in Cambridge, or in Manchester as in Liverpool. The Government have done little to control these outrageous disparities between the practices of courts in different parts of the country.

Not only are more convicted people being sent to prison but, as my noble friend Lord Longford said, sentences are also getting longer. In the Crown Courts the average sentence increased from 16.6 months in 1982 to 19.2 months over the five-year period up to 1987. On present trends, the numbers in prison will include some 5,000 life sentence prisoners by the end of the century—over double the number today. Even a small average increase in the length of sentence will have a considerable effect on the size of the prison population. There is, however, very little evidence to support the argument that long sentences constitute a more effective deterrent than shorter sentences. The Home Office itself advises that: imposing … particularly severe sentences has a very limited effect on crime levels. The probability of arrest and conviction is likely to deter potential offenders whereas the perceived severity of the ensuing penalties has little effect". It is surely absurd for the Government to do nothing to ensure that the advice of the Home Office is followed.

If the experience of being in prison were more constructive, there would be less need for concern about the number of people locked up in British gaols and the vagaries both of who goes to prison for a particular offence and who does not, and how long the individual offender ends up staying inside prison. It is pretty obvious that the reformative impact of sharing a cell with two other criminals in the kind of regime currently in existence in most of our prisons is likely to be limited. As the Government state in their Green Paper: Imprisonment is not the most effective penalty for most crime". It is not the most effective penalty, and it is also very expensive. I have already mentioned the huge capital costs, but running costs are also enormous. It costs about £250 a week to keep a man in a local prison, nearly £500 a week to keep a woman in Holloway and around £300 a week to keep a juvenile in a closed young offenders' establishment. Put another way, that means it costs £25,000 a year to keep a woman in Holloway.

Despite these very high costs, education, training and opportunities for work are dismally inadequate in most prisons. Most prisoners are locked in their cells in appalling physical conditions, in a state of continual dependency and enforced idleness. Prisons ought to provide some challenge to prisoners to set themselves objectives, to master skills and to acquire new knowledge. They ought to help prisoners to become less dependent, more self-disciplined and to acquire a more positive self-image. Most prisons fail hopelessly in all these respects. High rates of recidivism are a salutary reminder of their complete failure.

I am glad to say that the Green Paper recognised many of these failings and rightly focused our attention on alternatives to prison. But while clearly hoping to minimise the use of custody, the Government have not so far been willing to introduce statutory restrictions on the discretion of the courts, except in relation to bail and to juveniles and young adults. However difficult it may be to persuade judges and magistrates to give up some of their discretion, this must be done.

Despite the fact that various non-custodial alternatives have been available, such as community service orders, probation day centres and detoxification centres, they have all been under used. Moreover, where they have been used, it has often been as a substitute for fines rather than as a substitute for prison. Non-custodial alternatives are far cheaper than prison and more successful. For example, 75 per cent. of those sentenced to community service complete their orders successfully and only 9 per cent. commit a further offence during the course of an order. Yet these very important facts seem to have had relatively little impact. What this suggests is that without a radical change involving statutory guidelines for magistrates and judges, there is little hope that we shall crack the serious problem of too many people in prison.

The introduction of a coherent sentencing policy is now urgent. A sentencing council should be established to plan and co-ordinate policy on sentencing and to provide realistic guidelines. It should also set out to cost different sentences, and it should review them and keep them up to date. We cannot continue to disregard the costs of dealing with offenders. If the public were more aware of just how much money is being squandered, there would be a real outcry. It seems extraordinary that a government which have been so concerned to keep down public spending have been so willing to indulge in high spending, regardless of the benefits, in this area.

It must be made clear that prison is a last resort to be used for dangerous criminals whom we cannot risk leaving at large. It should not be used for thousands of offenders for whom other sanctions would be cheaper, more humane and, above all, more effective. I hope the Government will have the courage, which up to now they have lacked, to introduce the necessary changes and to do so with some urgency. It is a blight on our reputation as a civilised society to have the worst record in Europe on numbers in prison. It is high time we moved from 19th century approaches to crime to those appropriate for the 21st century.

8.5 p.m.

Lord Addington

My Lords, when it was first suggested to me that the Government would be introducing a student loan system I felt myself bound to oppose it on a matter of principle. The principle is that a society which will benefit from people taking higher education through the study of subjects themselves and the practical benefits gained through the study of those subjects—these benefits are often economic benefits—should help everyone who wishes to enter higher education to do so. This should be available as of right. Furthermore, society should be prepared to pay for it.

At present Britain has a mere 15 per cent. of its 18 year-olds entering higher education. This compares with a figure of approximately just below 40 per cent. in Japan and America. We have set ourselves a target of a 23 per cent. total of 18 year-olds entering higher education by the year 2000. We are going to try to achieve that against a downturn in demographic terms. In other words, we shall have to try to encourage a greater proportion of a decreasing population to enter higher education.

I have prepared an argument based on statistical evidence to show that that idea is not on, and that there are great negative incentives involved in the government scheme. My noble friend Lord Ritchie of Dundee said such statistics would tear the Government's case apart. Indeed in many cases he was going to use the same statistics as mine. Then the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, having seen that there were holes in the argument, proceeded to drive a coach and horses through it. What is more, he then stopped the coach and horses, backed it up and had another go. Therefore, I find myself rather limited in what I can say without repeating everything that has already been said. However, I should like to make a few comments on a student's situation. I possibly have a slight advantage here as I was a student myself until July of 1988. I think that gives me something of an advantage as I have an idea of the way in which students have to spend their money and the things they have to spend it on.

Students face a snowballing of expenses and debt. When a student first enters university he will invariably have been kitted out by his parents or whoever is responsible for him. In his first year he probably will not have to buy any clothes and he may have received a present of a new portable stereo or other such item. In other words, he is fairly well taken care of. He will probably live in halls of residence, and although he will complain heartily about the food he will pay for his meals at a cheap rate. In other words, throughout his first year he may just be able to manage. Money may get a little tight towards the end of each term, but there again it always will.

However, the real problems start when students leave university accommodation. Their rent charges go up dramatically. With the removal of housing benefit, students will feel any increase in the price of accommodation severely. Students who leave university accommodation will face fuel bills. However, the Government have other little surprises in store for them such as their percentage payment of the poll tax. In other words, they are confronted by a series of rising expenses.

Students can respond in a variety of ways. They can either borrow from the bank or take a part-time job. Borrowing from the bank adds to the problems of the loan. It is worse, because students will pay a far higher rate of interest. In my experience it was not uncommon to find people building up £3,000, £4,000 or £5,000 of debt by the end of their courses. I agree that some of that could be avoided, but very often it could not.

The problem can be alleviated by providing oneself with part-time employment. One girl with whom I was at university was confronted by another very common problem: her parents were not meeting the full amount of their parental contribution, which was the majority of the money she was supposed to receive to make up her full grant. She decided to take a full-time job and worked as a barmaid five nights a week. She met all her debts but did not have time to work and was kicked out of university at the end of her second year because she could not pass her exams. I suggest that we should look very carefully at our investment in young people if we are not to have that kind of wastage on a grand scale once the scheme is brought in.

Financial problems grow throughout a student's time at university. Every time exams crop up the amount of time that can be devoted to a job diminishes or the exams suffer. In a student's final years at university outside work is not an option, particularly if a thesis has to be prepared or field courses are involved. In many practical subjects students lose six or seven weeks of their holiday and potential earning period. For example, foresters I knew at the University of Aberdeen went to places like Czechoslovakia to chop down trees, or whatever it is that foresters do.

Having tried to explain some of the problems, I turn to the Bill itself. I shall not go into detail because, as I said before, that would merely be to repeat what has already been said. I should like to reinforce a point which the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, made. It is a rather slim Bill. Indeed, when I picked it up at the Public Bill Office I thought that the middle had already fallen out of it. I was about to find out that the qualitative middle of it has indeed fallen out.

We have a Bill which takes no account of the special position of one part of the higher education system. The Scottish system is based on a four-year honours degree. That is the norm. That means an extra year in which to incur loans on which to be charged interest and in which to build up greater debt. The Scottish system, with its four-year courses, corresponds with the norm in the Western world. The three-year English and Welsh degree is the exception. Our competitors, such as the Germans and the French, all have a four-year course. It seems to benefit them. They are certainly doing rather better than we are. Why, therefore, should four-year courses be so heavily attacked? The provisions will also bear heavily on such people as medical students or architects who have to undergo long courses.

This measure will not solve many problems. It will not raise students' income or remove the need for them to undertake part-time work or work during their holidays. Perhaps I should have said earlier that to suggest that every student can find 14 weeks' work every summer is ludicrous. One can expect to lose one week looking for a job and to give it up one week early in order to return to university. Often employers are not obliging enough to provide 12 weeks work. If one then wants to do something as ridiculous as taking a short holiday one has to sacrifice more of one's earning time.

The Government propose a half-baked measure on what appear to be purely ideological grounds. As has been pointed out by earlier speakers, the scheme will not make any money for a considerable period of time. I doubt very much whether it will do so before the middle of the next century. One speaker suggested that it would not start to show a profit before the year 2087. I suggest that to wait 90 years before showing a profit does not agree with what I understood to be the basic tenets of good housekeeping.

The proposed system is offensive on certain grounds: it will discourage people from entering higher education and it will not pay for itself. Why are we to have it?

8.15 p.m.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, speaking last and speaking late I shall not speak at length. Scrutinising the gracious Speech, I begin at the end and welcome the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. I saw it only this morning and so I shall not make a Second Reading speech now, but say only that I welcome the proposal to set up a licensing authority, subject to its terms of reference being satisfactory. I shall take a good hard look at the scope of the Bill's provisions to see what is permitted. I have to confess that at first sight I do not like the sound of some of them.

I turn next to the broadcasting Bill. Perhaps I should disclose a semi-interest as an ex-governor of the BBC. I should also state that for the past 12 years or so I have objected to the duopoly given to the BBC and IBA on religious broadcasting, and the coupling of religion with politics as if they were both some unclean subject which could not be entrusted to anybody but the BBC. Again, I shall not make a Second Reading Speech on a Bill that I have not seen. This is just a shot across its notional bows.

This morning I attended a meeting of the Parliamentary Legal Committee of the Royal Society of Chemistry. I am a fellow of one and a member of the other. As the Committee studied the Queen's Speech it was clear to me that I shall be busy on the provisions for the control of pollution and waste and also those on food safety and consumer protection. Those are all jobs for chemists.

I turn now to a matter which was not included in the gracious Speech, unless it was included in those other measures which will be laid before us. I refer to the disgraceful state of our law on abortion and the deplorable behaviour of a minority in the other place who denied the Alton Bill a Division and therefore denied us an opportunity to discuss it here.

When I was young "abortionist" was a term of contempt. Britain is now the late-term abortionist for all of Europe. We sanction what others condemn. I detest that status, and so do many others.

The position in law is that we are under the control of two Acts, one of which was enacted about 40 years before the other when the state of the medical art was quite different from what it is today. One has to admit that legislation always lags behind science and technology. Therefore any law of this kind ought to make provision for the Secretary of State to have access to statutory instruments enabling the law to be brought progressively up to dale in line with science and technology.

The reason for all of that is that there are two polarised points of view on the subject. Never the twain shall meet. One is that a woman has a legitimate and absolute sovereignty over the processes of her own body and is entitled to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. The other can be expressed in the Commandment, "Thou shalt do no murder", with difficulties of definition as to the point in a pregnancy at which murder can occur. All professions are split down the middle between those two poles. The medical profession is split. The legal profession is split. The laity is split.

Should the legislature therefore pay no attention to that and say that people must manage their own affairs? No. That would be unjust because it would have a differential effect as between the lower and higher income groups. The lower income groups would die in substantial numbers in back streets at the hands of Granny Gamp. The higher income groups would have clinical abortions under safe conditions. The law must therefore regulate. In regulation, we do not necessarily condone.

In that context I observe the great difference between the honesty of French legislation in this field and the fundamental dishonesty of British legislation. French legislation provides for abortion on demand up to 10 or 12 weeks depending on how one calculates the date of conception. After that, abortion may be carried out only under stringent conditions. In Britain we pretend that we have no abortion on demand de jure, although we certainly have it de facto through the provision of a threat to a woman's mental health. She need only go to a permissive surgeon or physician who asks, "Does your pregnancy worry you?". If she says yes, that constitutes a threat to her mental health and she goes through the process, provided that she knows the ropes.

That is fundamental humbug and hypocrisy. It is not good enough. We should have honest legislation. In this matter Private Members' Bills are non-starters. We saw what happened to the Alton Bill in the last Session of Parliament. The Government should embark upon reform. I hope that in her answer the noble Baroness will tell me whether the reform of the law on abortion will be one of those other matters that will be laid before us.

8.21 p.m.

Earl Russell

My Lords, this is a good day for the House. I cannot recall any other day since I have had the privilege to be a Member of this House when we have heard three maiden speeches of the high quality that we have heard today. It has been a great pleasure to listen to the maiden speeches of the noble Lords, Lord McColl of Dulwich, Lord Walton of Detchant and Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover. I am sure that I speak for every quarter of the House in offering the warmest congratulations to all three of them and in looking forward to hearing them on many future occasions.

Political parties come to office with an agenda and because they are perceived by the public to be capable of carrying out that agenda. That agenda does not cover everything. For any political party, there are certain things which it is not in a particular hurry to do and which it is not perceived to be particularly well qualified to do. So when a party is in office for a long time an agenda always builds up of things that it has left aside. I believe that that is what generates the somewhat mysterious changes in public mood.

Political parties which have come to office have presumably done so because they are capable of perceiving a trend. When one notices a governing party switching its agenda, one begins to think that things are shifting. I was in the United States for the 1980 election. The moment when I knew that this was the Republicans' year was when my local Democratic candidate for Congress gave out a leaflet saying, "We can cut budgets too". So last Wednesday, when I heard the Statement read on behalf of the right honourable gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer saying, "We can spend money too", I perceived a changing agenda. The key to that is the perception, now very widespread, of declining public services. Running public services is not what the Government have been perceived as doing best.

Before I consider the general problem, I want to look specifically at the area of social security where we have a certain amount of unfinished business. There is the matter of the OPCS reports on disability. I vividly remember the noble Lord, Lord Carter, saying last summer that he expected that the Minister would say "OPCS" and sit down. I look forward to the time when we have a debate in which the Minister says "OPCS" and does not sit down.

There is also an unfinished issue with regard to child benefit on which I look forward to being able to assure another place that what we tell them three times is true. Should they not be convinced on that occasion, I would look forward to hearing that they would instead introduce a child tax allowance, or, if not, to being told whether or why it has become government policy to discourage the having of children.

There is unfinished business on the issue of board and lodging in hostels for the homeless on which I shall not dwell. There is unfinished business, which I hope is in hand, regarding homeless teenagers, especially those who are pregnant. I have already learnt that it is vital to conducting business in this place to be able to forget about it when one goes home and gets down to work the next day. I shall say only that this is a subject on which I have found that peculiarly difficult to do. For that reason among others I shall say no more about it now.

More generally, I recollect a speech—indeed a series of speeches—made by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, during the passage of the Social Security Bill last summer. He drew our attention to the question of priorities on costs and to the size of the social security budget. He raised questions which require thought on this side of the House as well as on the other. He forced us to consider why that budget is so large and what one would do with it in order to reform the things which any Opposition worthy of the name must continue to press to reform.

The £50 billion figure—the big one which we are given—includes the contributory benefits. Since the abolition of the Treasury supplement, those are no drain on the Exchequer or on general taxation. We are looking instead at the non-contributory benefits which in the financial year just completed amounted to£19.5 billion. That is still a considerable sum, so anyone who, as I frequently do, recommends that the Government should spend more money must look at those figures to see whether further savings may be made.

One could not easily say that our social security benefits are too large, so one must ask whether at present they are received by too many people. We find that since 1979 the number of people in receipt of non-contributory benefits has increased from 2.9 million to 4.9 million. That is a very large number. It marks the appearance of what I believe Mr. Frank Field is right in recognising as an under-class.

Some of those benefits concern the disabled. I believe that that is because we are slightly better than we were at recognising disability but, as we shall need to become even better, I do not think that that is an area in which we should look for significant savings. A good deal of the cost relates to single parent families. The cost in that respect has increased from 300,000 to 600,000 people a year. There is no use in trying to deter people from becoming single parents. The law has done that for many centuries and it has been a conspicuous failure.

What comes to my mind is the strategy recommended from the Dispatch Box by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, of, as he put it, floating people off benefit and into employment. If that strategy is to be considered, it is essential that we should restore the child care disregard for income support and for housing benefit because without those I simply do not see how it can be done.

Looking again at the figures, we next find 2 million people registered unemployed in 1987 drawing income support at a cost of £2.8 billion for that support. The figure for housing benefit is not readily accessible. That is an awful lot of money and people. It is a reminder that even registered unemployment is still unacceptably high. One of the many reasons for saying that is its immense cost to public funds.

But it is not only a problem of registered unemployment. There are also 1,060,000 people on income support who are not in employment but are not registered unemployed. That is at a cost of £2.6 billion, which should be added to the cost to the Exchequer of unemployment. That makes a total figure of £5.4 billion for income support alone, leaving out any figure for housing benefit, which with the implementation of the Housing and Local Government Act 1988 will rise considerably.

There are also social security benefits going to people in work because their earnings are very low. The part-time revolution has many advantages, not least the opportunities it gives to married women, but I do not think that we have yet faced up to how much it will cost to pay people at rates for part-time work which make it seriously worth their while to do that work. There are 320,000 people receiving family credit while in work, at a cost of £440 million. There are 120,000 people receiving income support and working part-time, at a cost of £250 million. Again the figures for housing benefit are unknown. So we are spending something in the order of £1 billion to subsidise people who are in work.

I know that I often speak about not putting excessive costs on industry but I believe that wages are properly a cost on industry and one which one might reasonably perhaps expect industry to bear. When we look at the European social charter, and in particular at the minimum wage provision of its stricter form, we should consider whether perhaps one of the advantages that we might obtain from signing it will be a very considerable saving in public money. That argument might be persuasive to the Treasury.

We have here only one example among many. In the gracious Speech the dominant theme concerns the Bills dealing with the professions of the health service and the law. I must declare an interest. My profession has already been through that mill. There is a common philosophy informing those Bills which is rather more common than the different nature of the matters would perhaps suggest. There is continual talk of increasing the power of the consumers against the producers. When I hear the word "producer" continually used as a term of denigration, my first thought is that I increasingly understand why the CBI is growing so dissatisfied with this Government. My second thought is that in medicine and law the producers represent the germs and the criminals respectively. We have here a case of a seriously inapplicable model which leads to distinctly confused thinking.

However, I think that the root of the Government's philosophical trouble with the professions is their very impoverished definition of efficiency. Last May when the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara (to whom I gave notice that I intended to quote him) said that I had spoken of efficiency versus safety, I was extremely surprised. I had no idea until that moment that there was a definition of efficiency that conflicted with safety. To put it no higher, I was somewhat taken aback. In different contexts, both the noble Lords, Lord Mishcon and Lord Beloff, spoke of the Government's concept of efficiency and its consequences. As they define efficiency, it makes me think of being stuck behind a one-man operated bus. Looking at all our public services I cannot help but think that I would often be glad to have a less efficient service in their sense and have instead a better one.

There is a great deal more to say for which there is no time now. I shall only mention briefly the Bill on student loans. I agree with everything said by my noble friend Lord Ritchie of Dundee and the noble Lords, Lord Beloff and Lord Addington. Theirs was the voice of reality about what undergraduate economic life is like and it does not make it easy for students to get on with work.

Noble Lords will know that I have a good deal of misgiving about the student loans scheme. I shall not detain your Lordships with speaking of it now but will simply say that since I have seen the Bill my misgivings about the scheme are no longer my chief reason for having misgivings about the Bill. That Bill simply states that the Secretary of State can do whatever he likes.

It is very difficult for a revising Chamber to attempt the kind of work that it ought to be doing on that sort of Bill. I believe that a government who do not want a revising Chamber are a government who are very badly in need of one. We might also consider that convention is a seamless robe. It is a convention that that kind of Bill is not put in front of us. It is also a convention that we do not divide the House on statutory instruments. All I shall say is that the breach of one convention makes it rather less easy to observe the other.

8.37 p.m.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, this has been an extraordinarily wide ranging debate and we have had a prime example of what this House can best offer. It brings together people of remarkable experience who are able to exchange their views. Today we have brought together meat for at least 20 well informed debates.

Further to what has already been said about the gracious Speech, I believe that some of the most important work done in this House will not be concerned only with the particular Bills forecast in that Speech but with issues of penal reform, industrial relations, homelessness, the level of poverty, disability and other sad issues in our society.

First, however, I want to say what a great joy it has been to welcome three outstanding maiden speeches. Rarely have we had such wealth in our debates. There were two medical peers whom we welcome very much at this time when we are faced with a heavy programme of health matters. The noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, revealed a delightful sense of humour which we shall value in the more difficult times before us in our work on the National Health Service and community care Bill. I was not surprised at all by the quality of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, because I heard him speaking only last week at an event that was linked with a medical charity. He brings great distinction and invaluable experience to this House. So too does the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover, who is a very distinguished chairman of the Royal Opera House. I hope it is not out of order when I say that although he spoke of two Sainsburys, I espied three Sainsburys at the time that he was speaking.

In a different mood I want to express again my sadness at the absence from this debate of the late Lord Trafford. He would have been winding up. The fact that I am saying how sad it is that Lord Trafford, with all his skills and warmth of personality, is not with us does not mean that I do not warmly welcome the noble Baroness to the beginning of a hard Session.

It would be unwise and time consuming to talk on many of the issues that have been raised by noble Lords today. What is clear is that we have a very controversial Session ahead of us on industrial relations, broadcasting and student loans. There have been some outstanding speakers. If I refer to two, my noble friend Lord Houghton and the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, I do not think that anyone will feel offended. Both of them brought enormous vigour and verve to the debate. If in the future any of us are still around and putting forward with the same strength the arguments that they presented, then it will show that, whatever it does to the health of the nation, debate in the House does a lot of good to the health of your Lordships.

We are facing a controversial Session. In a sense we have two Bills in one in the health Bill. However, I welcome parts of the Bill on embryonic research. We have the freedom of choice within that Bill that we were promised. I must say how much I agree with my noble friend Lord Houghton. It would be quite inappropriate to spatchcock into this Bill on research and regulation a further and totally different debate on abortion law reform. Whatever our views may be on the issues concerned, they are two different issues. As the noble Lord said, they should remain different and separate. I was delighted to hear the Secretary of State, Mr. Kenneth Clarke, saying the same this morning on the radio.

Perhaps I may make one generalisation about the Bills that will be before us. I give examples from the proposed health Bill. The generalisation concerns the process of government. No government in our democratic society can do their job unless they carry people with them. This Government—perhaps because they have been in power for too long, perhaps because there is a degree of arrogance, perhaps they despise the Opposition parties, I do not know the reason—do not feel that it is necessary to convince not only us but the people in the country of the matters that they wish to put forward.

Consultation is the first essence of good government. With regard to our parliamentary performance, one of the tests of good government is whether Ministers, putting forward ideas that they are convinced the nation needs, are prepared to learn from the democratic process in this Chamber and in another place. I am often very saddened by the small extent to which governments are prepared to make a move. I refer in particular to the major health service Bill. I hope that we shall see a willingness to consult with, participate in, and to change and revise their views in the course of our debates.

The noble Baroness, Lady Robson, and the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, were right when they referred to the document Caring for People. It was published a few hours after we prorogued. If we happened to be in the House—and most of us were not—it was in our hands that weekend. Before we knew where we were, it was in the Bill. What is the purpose of a White Paper if it is not to promote consultation and then to include the result of the consultation in the Bill ready for legislation? But to publish a White Paper and then to bring out a Bill two or three days afterwards is an example of a very poor process of government.

Improvement in the provision for community care is an issue affecting millions of our people: the most frail and vulnerable. It has taken the Government literally years to make up their mind. They then come forward with their conclusion and think that we shall simply vote it through. I have to say that we shall not be dealt with in that way. It is a mistreatment of us as legislators and of the role of this House. We shall take our job seriously. We shall not be rushed. Perhaps the Government will think again. I shall ask them to do so about the proposals that they have made in respect of the health service.

I should have liked to have touched upon some of the other medical issues. My noble friend Lord Rea spoke about smoking, diet and research. I should have liked to have said something about the importance of preventive medicine. I should like to have seen reference in the gracious Speech to the validity of complementary medicines. There was no reference to a range of issues that I should like to have seen.

However, I shall concentrate on what may be one of the most controversial Bills before us. How did it come about? The new health Bill started with a funding crisis 18 months ago. It did not start with open criticism of the National Health Service. It was a problem of shortage of money. The Prime Minister moved the goal posts and established a working party to study the National Health Service, not different methods of funding. We never knew who the people were who formed that working party. No report of the working party was ever published. We know that the working party did not have any proper consultation with any of the organisations representing the professions in the National Health Service or organisations representing patients. No report was published until we had the White Paper. Then we had a very rigorous period of consultation.

The Government stated that the purpose of consultation was not to consider whether the ideas in the Bill were good but simply how they were going to be carried out. Although many people thought that some of the ideas were good, obviously concentration was on those that were not so good. It was as though Ministers could not hear what was being said. All the professions in the National Health Service were expressing their considered views on many proposals, in particular GP budgets, and the proposals for opting out for hospitals. They made their views very clear. The Government did not seem to hear.

We have a Bill which hardly recognises 10 months of vigorous national debate participated in not only by the organisations involved but also by the general public. Every time the public were asked for their view either in public elections or in opinion polls they always showed that roughly 3:1 thought that on balance what the Government were proposing was likely to do harm to the National Health Service. Anyone who sets out to do harm to the National Health Service in Great Britain is asking for trouble. There is no more popular public service than the National Health Service. It may be said that the most vigorous opponents were from the BMA. I have heard some very harsh criticisms of the BMA outside this House and in statements made by Ministers. Sometimes Ministers enjoy confrontation. They enjoy a good old slanging match over the body of the National Health Service. I believe that it is wrong that it should be so.

I have heard it said that the BMA was playing party politics. It was said at a meeting in a part of your Lordships' House at which we had a briefing by the BMA. It was said by some noble Lords not present at the moment. The person who replied told me afterwards that he had been a member of the Conservative Party for 30 years but that it was the last time he would pay a subscription. The comment was not true. Whether or not their tactics were right on presentation the doctors formulated their view on the basis of what they thought was best for their patients. I have had my arguments with the BMA but I do not believe that doctors have the twisted motivation which seems to be believed by Government Ministers.

I do not wish to base any arguments on the position of the BMA today. I am mainly concerned with the arguments that have been presented by the Royal College and the presidents of the Royal Colleges. Any government who decide to bring forward proposals for the National Health Service without consultation with the presidents of the Royal Colleges are off their rocker. The Royal Colleges represent the greatest and the best in British medicine; and British medicine at its best is the greatest in the world. They were not involved in the consultation. They took eight months after discussions with the Secretary of State and elsewhere to come to their conclusion. Perhaps I may read it to you. They stated: We conclude that the creation of self-governing hospitals, as proposed in the White Paper, will be seriously divisive and result in two categories of hospital competing for patients within limited funds, but bound by different sets of rules. Potentially, this proposal must result in:—substantial changes in the balance of case-mix in each type of hospital; a tendency towards a more selective, rather than a more comprehensive, service; a fragmentation of services—resulting from competition led by financial considerations rather than the needs of the individual or the community; changes … in the 'winner' hospitals that have a reciprocal effect on the 'losers'; patients attending 'loser' hospitals inevitably receiving a less-good service". They went on to generalise that the effects of the trends would produce an uneven service; less choice for patients and general practitioners; less opportunity for up-to-date treatment in some highly specialised fields of medicine; more difficulty in maintaining balanced undergraduate teaching and training programmes for junior doctors and other staff grades; and they referred to discincentives for research and development.

That is the unanimous, considered view of all the Royal Colleges. It is quite extraordinary for the Government now to proceed with the Bill in the light of that assessment. Yet they have done so. Perhaps in terms of GPs' budgets they have attracted a little but, having received a recent answer about the budgets from the noble Baroness, I am not certain that the Government have moved at all. Perhaps it was merely intended to quieten the BMA for a brief period of time.

We have had a long debate. In conclusion, I recognise that there are Members of your Lordships' House who support the Government. Today we have heard from a new Peer and it will be good to hear him at his best; but there are few indeed. It was interesting to note that at our last health service debate dealing with GP contracts there was for most of the time not one single Member sitting on those Benches. There were plenty of Members sitting on this side of the House but the Minister was lonely in her defence.

It is not too late. I speak in the interests of the National Health Service. At one stage I said that I believed that the Government would go down because of their attitude towards the National Health Service. I want them to go down, but I do not want them to damage the service. I say that it is not too late. The Government may say, "This is our agenda; these are the proposals that we are putting forward. Now we are prepared to have the kind of consultation by means of amendments, debates and so forth in the other place and in your Lordships' House". Some of their proposals are good, so if they did this we may produce a good Bill which would improve the National Health Service, and that would be to the credit of the Government.

However, I warn the Government that if they proceed without listening and taking note of those in the profession who know better than we politicians—and for that reason I did not give my view but that of the Royal Colleges—they show a certain arrogance in assuming that they know better than those who work in the service. The Government could achieve for themselves and for the National Health Service a certain amount of credit if they used time during the next few months, both here and in another place, to bring about a Bill which will do good for the National Health Service, instead of one which is divisive and believed to be damaging in the interests of patients as well as those who work in the service.

8.55 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Hooper)

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lord who have contributed to the debate. I add my congratulations to my noble friends Lord McColl and Lord Sainsbury and to the noble Lord, Lord Walton, on their informed and excellent maiden speeches. We look forward to many occasions on which we can benefit from their expertise.

My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and I have listened to and noted what has been said during the debate. Of course, legislation is not the answer to every problem, nor is it the only route in search of excellence. Nevertheless, the importance of getting the legislation right has been made clear in the varied contributions to the debate today.

Many noble Lords referred to our proposals to reform our health and social care services. Not all of these reforms require change to existing legislation. Those which do will be provided for in the Bill which the Government introduced yesterday in another place. A key principle of the Bill is that the foundation stone of the NHS, to which many have referred, should remain unchanged. We remain absolutely committed to ensuring that the NHS should continue to be a comprehensive, integrated service financed mainly out of general taxation, available to everyone regardless of means and essentially free at the point of use.

I am grateful for the welcome given by some of your Lordships to our proposals. We also believe that constructive change is needed if the National Health Service is to prosper further and develop. The Bill will ensure that the massive resources that we devote to the service are used in the best interests of patients.

Our record on funding for the NHS demonstrates our commitment to the service. The spending plans announced recently in the Chancellor's Autumn Statement mean that the resources available to the NHS next year will increase by the equivalent of £2.6 billion—around 5.5 per cent. in real terms after allowing for inflation. By next year expenditure on the NHS will have increased in real terms by 44 per cent. since the last Labour Government.

We want to create a health service in which those who are actually providing the services locally—the managers, carers and clinicians—are also responsible for day-to-day decisions about operational matters. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, totally agrees with us. They are in the best position to tackle problems as they arise and to be aware of the views of the local community.

There have been suggestions that our reforms should not be introduced without some kind of pilot project for all the key changes. We believe that that kind of approach would be a recipe for inaction. We want patients to be able to benefit as soon as possible from our reforms. This does not mean that we are adopting a "leap into the dark" approach. We are actively supporting a number of projects throughout the country with the aim of developing the information, financial and management systems that will be needed by 1991. Moreover, we are not neglecting the need for additional funds. The Government have made available an additional £82 million this year to assist with implementation costs, and the additional resources just announced for the NHS in England in 1990–91 include a total of £257 million for initiatives connected with our implementation programme. Therefore, I take this opportunity to reaffirm that the introduction of the reforms will not be at the expense of patient care.

The new funding arrangements will be a central feature of the changes introduced by the Bill. In future all hospitals and units will receive their funding through a system of NHS contracts or specific agreements. District health authorities will be funded for the health needs of their resident population and, for the first time, hospitals will be funded for the work that they actually do. Funds will flow to those hospitals which do the most work, so administrative boundaries will not obstruct patient care. It will be the job of health authorities to identify which hospitals and community units can best provide the services and treatments that they need to the standards they require. Hospitals and units in turn will need to make sure that they are providing the quality, quantity and range of services that health authorities want. In deciding where to place contracts health authorities will need to collaborate with GPs in order to satisfy the widest possible range of referral needs. They will include the needs of disabled and elderly groups. This continuing dialogue means that GPs and patients will have far more say than now in how the health authority spends its money.

I respond to the noble Lord, Lord Banks, since he gave notice of his concern, that when placing contracts for speech therapy services, districts will need to ensure that services to individual patients are not disrupted as patients move from hospital to the community or vice versa. I am confident that districts will be able to achieve that objective. In many areas a single hospital or unit which may or may not be a NHS trust can be expected to be responsible for the delivery of both hospital and community speech therapy services, thus avoiding any possible fragmentation.

Further, we would expect both NHS trusts and districts to continue to assist with the training of speech therapy students by accepting clinical placements. Regional health authorities will monitor the situation in their area to establish that a sufficient number of placements are available.

I return to the funding arrangements. The Bill also allows for change in family practitioner services. GP practice funds will give those GPs who opt for them greater control over all the services which they deploy. They will be better placed than ever before to ensure that the patients receive the quality of treatment they need. The indicative drug budget scheme also enabled by the Bill will be a further spur to improvement in the family practitioner services. By giving all doctors fuller information about their prescribing activity and its costs, the scheme will ensure that we get the best possible value for money from the vast expenditure on drugs in the National Health Service.

The Government have been discussing their plans for implementing the changes they want to introduce with a wide range of health, professional and other interested groups. While I too regret the degree of confrontation that has been referred to, it is clear that there is a marked degree of agreement on the need for reform and on many of our specific proposals. In preparing the Bill we have responded to helpful and constructive comments and legitimate concerns. The Bill takes account of that. One example is the provision in the Bill enabling the Secretary of State to intervene to ensure that National Health Service trusts play their full part in medical education and research.

Furthermore, the National Health Service Bill introduces new incentives to encourage excellence. In future, hospitals will be rewarded for high quality and effective services, and that means those in the forefront of new medical development and research. The present arrangements for protected allocations for medical education and research should continue to guarantee that those who provide those services, whether health authority hospitals or the new National Health Service trusts, are not disadvantaged. National Health Service trusts will have specific powers to conduct teaching and research and, as I said, the Secretary of State will hold reserve powers in that respect.

On the wider research front, the Government of course recognise that the Select Committee of the House of Lords pointed to important issues in its report. Those have been carefully considered both in terms of the best arrangements to fit in with the National Health Service in the light of the proposals now contained in the Bill as well as for the department itself. The Government's response will he available in the New Year.

The Government have also taken several initiatives to overcome health inequalities. There is now more emphasis on health promotion, not least to encourage individuals to influence their own health through their choice of lifestyle. Targets have been set for cervical and breast cancer screening. The new vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella is the biggest development in immunisation policy for more than 20 years. There are national campaigns encouraging people to look after their hearts, to reduce cigarette smoking and to stop drug and alcohol abuse. The Government seek to ensure that health services in that respect are available to all social and ethnic groups.

In relation to the continuation of the AIDS programme, it is true that the health education authority is in the process of an internal reorganisation, but that in no way reflects a downgrading of the authority's AIDS work or any pressure on the part of the Government to do so. The symposium being convened jointly by the health department and the HEA this month to assess the current picture and prospects for the spread of HIV in the UK is clear evidence of our continued commitment. The Government's work on HIV and AIDS will also be restated in their response to the seventh report to the Social Services Select Committee on AIDS to be published shortly.

On the issue of community care, the White Paper builds on Sir Roy Griffiths' valuable work. His recommendation on the role of local and health authorities has been broadly accepted although we do not accept the need for a general specific grant. We believe that support through the revenue support grant will ensure maximum local accountability and flexibility and encourage value for money by enabling local authorities to make their own decisions about community care based on local factors.

I find it extraordinary that on the one hand we are accused, as a government, of centralising our powers and policies and, on the other, we are being asked to tell local authorities specifically what they are to do with the money passed over to them. Since we announced our basic conclusions in July, we have engaged in full consultation with leading organisations, including voluntary sector bodies and representatives of the health and local authorities. We have also taken careful account of the numerous responses and views we have received both on the Griffiths Report and on the Government's July Statement. There have already been several debates in Parliament this year on community care and there will be full opportunity for further discussion during the progress of the National Health Service and Community Care Bill.

However, we believe that a wide basis of support exists for our proposals which will introduce a new framework for the delivery of community care. We want to move swiftly to remedy the situation and thus need to introduce the necessary legislative changes rapidly. However, we shall continue to discuss implementation of our proposals with all interested parties.

I believe the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, was the first to refer to the administration of justice and law and order. On his final point, which was subsequently echoed, about the number of prisoners, I assure him that we are preparing proposals on penal policy and hope to publish them early in the New Year.

As the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and indeed the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, mentioned, the Chief Inspector of Prisons' report drew attention to aspects of prison conditions which gave him cause for concern. My right honourable friend the then Home Secretary announced a national initiative in February of this year to increase the proportion of places in the prison system with access to night sanitation from the present 50 per cent. to about 87 per cent. by the end of the century. All new prisons have such access. A wide range of building work and other action are already in hand to help maintain acceptable standards of hygiene and improve working conditions in prison kitchens. Fresh guidance on best hygiene practice was recently issued to all establishments, together with health and safety policy statements which will improve arrangements for monitoring standards.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, is the noble Baroness finishing with prisons? When she does I have something to say.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the Government accept some responsibility for sentencing policies; after all, they have to finance the prison and probation services, which are responsible for implementing many of the courts' decisions. We can influence the public debate on sentencing through publications like the Green Paper Punishment, Custody and the Community and through publishing statistics and the results of research. The results of the British crime survey suggest that the British public are not so punitive, particularly about property crime, as the popular press might believe.

The other way that the Government and Parliament can alter sentencing policies is through legislation. If maximum penalties are increased, as they have been recently for attempted rape, the carrying of firearms during a criminal offence and for cruelty to children, the courts can be expected to respond. The courts are giving longer sentences for the most serious violent offences such as robbery and rape and for drug trafficking. The Government support severe sentencing of the worst crimes. That is why we introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 a provision which allows the Attorney-General to refer to the Court of Appeal a sentence which he regards as unduly lenient. Moreover, there can be no doubt that the provisions on young offenders in the Criminal Justice Acts of 1982 and 1988 have had a marked effect on the way the courts deal with young offenders.

The Government's policies are quite clear; serious violent crime justifies long custodial sentences. However, most crime is not serious, and nor is it violent, and most criminals can be properly punished within the community where they are better able to compensate their victims or to do useful unpaid work as reparation to the community.

The noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, raised the question of Sunday trading. In this context the Government are considering the judgment of the European Court which appears to find that the existence of the Sunday trading laws are not in breach of the Treaty of Rome. The judgment of the Court also indicated that it was for member states and their national courts to ensure that the effect of legislation does not go beyond what is necessary to achieve the underlying economic and social policy.

The delays in some county courts arise because of staffing difficulties and an overall increase of 6.5 per cent. in workload. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has been examining ways of reducing staff retention difficulties and improving performance generally. Additional money has recently been allocated to the court service from within departmental resources to stabilise staff numbers and maintain performance at the required level. The position will be kept under review.

Further, a centralised summons production centre is to be introduced in January 1990 and a reduction in the case handling function of the county courts is due to take effect in April 1990. Both of these measures will help to relieve pressure on court staff and release them for new work arising from the new system to be introduced under the Bill.

On legal aid, the Government want the public to have the best possible access to legal services of the right quality for clients' particular needs. Free competition through market discipline will ensure the most efficient and effective network of legal services at the most economical price. Legal aid is reaching more people. Numbers of criminal legal aid orders and civil legal aid certificates have increased substantially in the past 10 years. Legal aid expenditure increased fivefold from around £100 million to over £500 million. Last week my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor announced changes to legal aid limits particularly benefiting children, pensioners living off savings and those in personal injury litigation. A review is being set up to fit the provision of legal aid more closely to the proceedings for which it is given and to suggest means by which legal aid can be directed to those who need it. There is therefore considerable activity in that area.

Turning to the broadcasting Bill, it will authorise new television and radio services of national and local interest while at the same time safeguarding the diversity and high quality of programmes of existing services, we believe, to the benefit of viewers and listeners. It will result in less bureaucratic regulations and will open up opportunities for independent producers. The control of programme standards will be reinforced with strong protection for programme quality and clear limits on broadcasting and cross-media ownership. Tough sanctions will be introduced to prevent the development of pornographic and other unacceptable satellite services, and the broadcasters' exemption from the obscenity and incitement to racial hatred legislation will be removed.

The new framework will allow the development of greater competition and efficiency in British broadcasting to the benefit of the individual viewer and listener. We believe that our competitive tender proposals for Channels 3 and 5 offer a fairer and more transparent means of franchise allocation than the present somewhat opaque system.

We wish to retain the diversity and quality of existing television services for the viewer, but we must also seek a reasonable return for the taxpayer from commercial companies in exchange for their lucrative exclusive rights to revenue from television advertising. We believe that the stiff quality hurdle, as strengthened by the then Secretary of State's Statement of 13th June, will guarantee the former, while the bidding process will ensure the latter.

Turning to the field of education, the student loans Bill was the main topic of the debate. We believe that the expansion of higher education cannot be fuelled by taxpayers' money alone. Additional resources are required if the number of entrants to higher education is to be increased in coming years. Contrary to what has been suggested, there is no evidence from experience of loans systems overseas that a favourably structured loans scheme has reduced participation in higher education by the lower socio-economic groups.

Furthermore, loans will be offered on generous terms, including a zero real rate of interest and deferment of repayments when a graduate's income is below 85 per cent. of the national average. It was never intended that students should draw support from the welfare state. Top-up loans will compensate most students. Those who would have been able to claim larger sums will be strong candidates for support from the access funds. There will be three £5 million access funds to support students in special financial need.

It was suggested that the loans might deter women. We believe that the deferment provisions are specifically designed to meet the needs of women raising families. As the debt outstanding will be inflation-proofed while they defer, they will neither gain nor lose by interrupting repayments. There is no evidence that loans deter women. For example, in the United States women are the majority of higher education entrants.

In relation to the cost of the scheme, which will be administered by a company formed by the participating financial institutions, we anticipate that savings from the scheme will begin to outweigh costs at about the beginning of the next century. In the long run there will be savings of over £200 million per annum.

In relation to Scotland and the popularity of some longer courses, about 25 per cent. of students at Scottish universities come from outside Scotland. That is evidence of their value in students' eyes and there is no reason why that situation should change. An additional debt of about £400, rising eventually to some £1,500 in current prices, repayable over several years at nil real interest out of a graduate salary is, I believe, hardly going to be a deterrent to the extra year's study.

Lord Addington

My Lords, it is not the sums but the spectre of debt which everybody here has been talking about—the idea that one is going to incur a debt. An extra debt on any course is what we are tallking about. It is not the figures themselves, but the idea. The new groups that we should be trying to attract into the education system will be put off by this spectre.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I do not believe that that is the case because there is no obligation on people to use the scheme if they do not wish to incur debt and have other ways of financing themselves.

Before leaving the subject of universities I should like to say that the Government acknowledge the vital role of our universities and the importance of academia to the quality of life in this country. I therefore regret that my noble friend Lord Beloff feels so strongly that the UFC's operations will have a deleterious effect. We are monitoring the procedures involved and I feel sure that, like almost everything else, they can be improved upon.

I should like to refer to teachers' pay and conditions, a matter raised by the noble Baroness, Lady David. Let us be quite clear about the facts. Teachers' pay has risen by 30 per cent. in real terms since 1979. This compares to an increase of only 6 per cent. under Labour.

The remit given recently to the interim advisory committee allows the fair and substantial sum of £600 million for the teachers' pay settlement for 1990–91. The remit will enable the targeting of resources where they are most needed, in particular to tackle shortages in key subjects or in particular areas.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State over the past few weeks has been discussing with the teaching unions and local authority employers various options for the establishment of permanent pay determination machinery for teachers. He will be carefully considering the points put to him during the course of those meetings before putting forward any firm proposals.

The Government are not complacent about teacher shortages. We have had for three years an action programme to combat teacher shortages which focuses on those subjects and parts of the country where there are particular difficulties. The programme aims both to produce more teachers and to improve the balance of subject capability of those already there. The Government will continue to reinforce those initiatives.

The noble Lords, Lord Moran and Lord Hylton, referred specifically to Northern Ireland. There should be absolutely no doubt that the Government's overriding priority is the defeat of terrorism. The action of the security forces will be to play an active and conspicuous role in bringing terrorism to an end. This must and will be complemented and reinforced across the board, not least, I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, by economic and social measures. There is no question of the Government talking to Sinn Fein while it supports violence.

In further answer to the points raised by the noble Lord, we have always sought to encourage the greater involvement of locally elected representatives in the affairs of Northern Ireland. The Government continue to believe that the devolution of legislative and executive powers to a regional administration is the most practicable way forward and the one most likely to secure and retain widespread support. However, we do not rule out other possible arrangements such as an extension of the powers of the existing district councils if they were workable and likely to secure widespread support. I understand that a working party of district council chairmen is considering this very issue. The Government will of course consider seriously any proposals which may emerge.

On the question of legislation for Northern Ireland by Order in Council, the existing procedures provide for extensive consultation in Northern Ireland on most orders, and, if desired, for debate in the Northern Ireland Committee. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland appreciates, however, the difficulties posed by unamendable Orders in Council. That is why he has repeatedly offered to talk about these issues with all interested parties and to consider constructive suggestions.

The subject of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is clearly one of the most controversial raised during the course of the debate. It is clearly not possible to find a way of dealing with this topic which will satisfy everyone. On the question of research, however, the Bill employs the device of alternative provisions. The Government have made it clear that there will be a free vote on this serious issue. Perhaps I may remind the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, that the Government remain neutral on both embryo research and abortion. There is no question of favouring groups taking a particular position. Ministers regularly meet Members of Parliament and others who favour research involving human embryos as well as those who oppose it.

As we have been reminded, if this House decides to debate abortion amendments in this Bll, it is a matter for this House, not for the Government. As it stands, the Bill contains no provisions about abortion, which has traditionally been a matter for Private Members.

Turning from this controversial issue to the funding of the Royal Opera House represents a somewhat dramatic leap. It is something which I consider to be less controversial. We all recognise the contribution made by the arts to the quality of life. I feel sure that I speak for us all in saying how proud we are of the important national role played by the Royal Opera House. Perhaps I may say that the increase in grant to the ROH next year of £1.5 million is a not insubstantial sum. It will make the total grant of the Royal Opera House more than £15 million. Although the Government are not contributing directly to the capital costs of the development scheme, they did make a special grant of more than £2 million to enable the Royal Opera House to purchase land in Floral Street. This is now a substantial capital asset. My honourable friend the Minister for the Arts announced earlier this month that the arts in Britain would benefit from an additional £66 million over the next two years.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, referred to social security. The social security system needs to be responsive to the demands of constantly changing society. Government policies are aimed at identifying groups which are doing less well than others to ensure that they can share in the prosperity which government policies have produced. As my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor said in his opening speech, expenditure on social security will be running in excess of £1 billion each and every week of next year. This will contribute to the living standards of nearly three-quarters of the population.

I feel sure that I have not done justice to all the earnest contributions which have been made during the course of this debate. However, we shall certainly further consider the matters which have been raised and shall do so most carefully.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Trumpington I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned until Monday next.

Moved, That the debate be now adjourned until Monday next.—(Viscount Davidson.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.