HL Deb 08 November 1990 vol 523 cc51-110

5.19 p.m.

Debate on the Address resumed.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, I am slightly sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, was not present when the Statement was read. I am sure that he would have been cheered to hear that the building programme for new prisons is being curtailed.

Returning to the debate on the gracious Speech, a number of measures are to be greatly welcomed. But there is one notable absentee. We are told that other measures will be laid before us. I venture to hope that there is still the possibility of a charities Bill under that heading. We have been assured that the Government propose to legislate during the lifetime of this Parliament. Obviously I do not know how long that will be. However, time is running on and the needs do not diminish.

We have debated charity law on a number of occasions. In May last year the Government produced a paper which, although coloured bright blue, was technically not a blue book but a White Paper. We debated that White Paper on 30th November. I see that I was unwise enough to conclude the debate with the reflection that it would not fall to me, to propose a sixth debate on charities but that the next one will be the Second Reading of the charities Bill".—[Official Report, 30/11/90; col. 590.] That now makes rather sorry reading.

I am well aware that the charity commissioners have been making progress without new statutory powers. They have tackled in earnest the computerisation of the register of charities. In the next few months they will be asking every charity whose name appears on the register to submit a return. As a result, the register for the first time will be shorn of those charities which once existed but which have ceased to exist. It will contain up-to-date and accurate information.

The commissioners have made alterations in the distribution of staff in order to strengthen the investigative capacity of the organisation. They have made good use of the powers conferred on the Inland Revenue by a recent change in the law about supplying information to the Charity Commission. As I understand it, there is now a similar arrangement with the DTI but for some reason it does not yet apply to the board of Customs and Excise.

However, there is a limit to what the commissioners can do without fresh legislation to sharpen their powers and to give them authority to require and not simply to request. Without new powers they cannot satisfactorily raise accounting standards. All the effort of updating the register will not be put to full use without new requirements on charities to send in financial and other information.

Without fresh powers to take remedial and protective action, the ability of the commissioners to deal with abuse will be muted. I take one example. It will continue to be possible for a trustee who has been convicted of fraud or dishonesty, or who has been removed from his post by the commissioners, to go blithely ahead and involve himself in setting up a new charity. Without new powers the regeneration of parochial charities, which it is hoped to achieve through a new local review initiative, could be a rather damp squib. The continued absence of a power for the Charity Commission to go direct to the courts may well continue to be exploited by some of the more sophisticated operators. The staff of the official custodian have the rather melancholy task of continuing to work on his investment responsibilities when they know perfectly well that the plan is to do away with those responsibilities. They would certainly be much better employed on strengthening the enforcement side of the commission.

I could go on. However, I hope that I have said enough to make the point that without the promised new powers the commissioners simply cannot do as effective a job as we would wish them to do in supervising charities, clarifying the responsibilities of trustees, dealing with abuses and ensuring that the sums which are generously subscribed are safeguarded. In appealing to potential donors, it is not yet possible to say in as clear and uncompromising terms as one would wish that they can trust charity to use their money without risk of impropriety and that if there is abuse it is very likely to be identified and dealt with.

It is only fair to say that the Government have increased the resources available to the Charity Commission. However, government must realise that they are not obtaining the return from this increased investment which they could look for if the Charity Commission was enabled to take more effective action in using its resources. The case for amending the law is very strong, as the Government have accepted. I still hope to see a Bill introduced this Session to supplement the rather modest list before us. I believe that all of us could face with equanimity arguments about public schools and about religion.

I wish to mention a topic to which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, referred. It is of some importance against the background of the Criminal Justice Bill which we shall be considering and the issues to which the noble and learned Lord referred in opening the debate. I refer to crime statistics. I would not for a moment seek to deny that there is too much crime and that it is increasing. I appreciate that someone mugged in, say, Westminster, is not likely to derive much comfort from the reflection that he would have been at even greater risk in, say, Manhattan.

It is also disappointing that all the money which the Government have poured into the police—and, my goodness, they have poured in plenty—and all the efforts made for crime prevention seem to have had very little effect on the rise in crime. However, I wonder whether more might not be done to try to counter a fear of crime which may well be exaggerated. The publication each quarter of offences known to the police in England and Wales—preceded as it usually is by the figures for the Metropolitan Police—tends to be treated at any rate by the popular press as a precise indication of the level of crime. I do not suppose that it is now possible to cease publishing those returns without incurring charges of censorship. But we do not hear perhaps as much as we should of warnings that only a proportion of crimes is reported and that the size of the proportion which is reported is affected by a variety of factors including notably the police's own methods of recording.

It is a rather complicated subject. One must consider that there are more policemen to report to. There is an increasing tendency to report, for example, domestic violence. There are requirements too for insurance companies to report to the police. Nor is it always made clear that only about 6 per cent. of the crimes reported are crimes of violence and that unlike, for example, thefts from motor cars, such crimes have not increased all that much.

In 1982, 1984 and 1988 crime surveys in England and Wales, a quite large random sample of the population was questioned about offences it had experienced whether or not reported to the police. The information that those surveys obtained—it was reasonably consistent—gave a picture which differed quite considerably from that conveyed by the police figures. This is obviously not an occasion for going into detail. However, suffice to say that between 1981 and 1988 the crimes covered by the survey increased by 30 per cent. That was significantly less than the increase of 41 per cent. recorded in the police figures. For example, assaults increased by 12 per cent. compared with the police figure of 40 per cent. Burglaries in dwellings increased by 3 per cent. a year compared with the police figure of 7 per cent.

I am somewhat alarmed by rumours that, in the interests of economy, plans for a fourth crime survey are being scrapped. The Conservative Party always prides itself on being the party of law and order. It would be a thousand pities if, just when the Government are proposing substantial changes in the criminal justice system, they are thinking of abandoning the only check which enables police figures to be seen in better perspective besides throwing additional light on criminal behaviour.

That is a somewhat melancholy note on which to conclude. I am however looking forward to the Criminal Justice Bill. I hardly care to think of the number of such Bills with which I have been concerned. I remember paying my first visit to the uncomfortable official gallery in the other place in 1938 in connection with a criminal justice Bill. It was killed off by Adolf Hitler. I hope that the Bill will make new provision to safeguard the interests of people with a mental handicap who are deemed to be unfit to plead. That is an area in which justice has not always been seen to prevail.

We are looking forward to hearing the noble Baroness, Lady Eccles of Moulton. I recall the occasion on which I made my maiden speech. Immediately before I was due to speak a Statement was repeated and I sat poised for almost an hour waiting to make my contribution. At least the noble Baroness has been spared that ordeal.

5.31 p.m.

Baroness Eccles of Moulton

My Lords, it is with some diffidence that I rise to speak on a subject about which many of your Lordships know a great deal more than I do. I am nearly as new to the workings of the National Health Service as I am to your Lordships' House. Making a maiden speech is a quite frightening experience but the friendliness that I have been shown during the past few months and the good wishes that I have received today make it a lot less daunting.

In the short time that I have been a district health authority chairman I have seen the reforms grow from a twinkle in the eye of the NHS Review Committee to the changing management and funding approach which we are in the throes of applying. The Government's commitment given yesterday in Her Majesty's gracious Speech, to continuing improvements in the health service has allowed me the opportunity to make a few observations.

From the moment the White Paper Working for Patients was published in January 1989 the wheels began to turn, starting with assessment of the work to be done and the drawing up of timetables. Some of the reforms could take place without primary legislation but the main part of Working for Patients could not be put into effect until the Bill was passed.

During that time it was not unknown for a health authority member to propose that no management action could be approved that had White Paper legislation implications. Common sense usually prevailed when it was demonstrated that so far reaching were the reforms that if such a constraint was imposed management of the local health service could grind to a halt. The Bill was passed not long before the summer holidays. Thanks to the great efforts made by the department, helped by regions and districts, the non-executive members of the new slimline regional and district health authorities were appointed within a few weeks. The authorities officially came into being on 17th September.

It would not have been possible to contemplate the 1990 reforms if the foundations of general management had not been laid in 1985. However, it is strange to work in a service where the purpose remains the same but the management undergoes a revolution.

With your Lordships' permission, I should like briefly to mention the reforms from the point of view of a health district. The health service, particularly during the past 10 years, has moved from providing services meeting people's real needs to a position where it is also increasingly being asked to meet their wants. The public tends to judge the service not only on the purely medical result but on how the system looks after it in all other respects; for instance, clear information on subject, such as visiting times, how long people will stay in hospital and explanations about the proposed treatment.

The belief so strongly held when the NHS came into being—that the consequence of health care free for all at the point of delivery would be a fitter nation, declining demand and therefore a reducing call on public funds—has been massively disproved. As your Lordships will be aware, this is not because the first premise is at fault. Mortality and morbidity records show that we are undoubtedly fitter than we were. What could not have been foreseen in the late 1940s was that people's expectations in the light of medical scientific progress would make a continually increasing demand inevitable. This means that not only do we have to try to link needs with wants but it must be made clear that there will always be limits and therefore choices.

How do we involve the people for whom the service is being provided in making those choices? This has become even more important now that we have moved from representative health authorities to a more corporate style of management. Primary health care by general practitioners and the services provided by a health authority need to draw closer together. People visit their GP surgeries off and on throughout their lives but acute hospital treatment tends to be infrequent and episodic. A very high percentage of hospital admissions is the result of GP referrals. The two services are inextricably linked and the reforms encourage information on the health needs of the population to be integrated. This is valuable to health authorities, as who better to understand what patients are likely to want than their family doctor? In Ealing we have seized the opportunity and our newly-appointed director of public health is shared with the Family Health Services Authority.

Although our knowledge of needs and wants will continue to be imperfect, that will be the basis on which the contracts will be drawn up which we finance with funding allocated on a per capita basis. Money following the patient makes very good sense. I shall give your Lordships an example of how the present system does not always work very well. We opened a new maternity wing about three years ago. It replaced a new maternity hospital where about 1,700 babies were delivered each year. An allocation for 2,000 deliveries was found out of the budget. However, since then, due to the unit's popularity, the number of deliveries has increased to 2,400 and is still rising. This is bound to result in an overspend. Any efforts to limit the number of deliveries would restrict the mothers' choice. However, under per capita funding, as long as we get the contract right we shall be paid for each baby delivered, and if mothers and GPs wish the unit will be used to capacity. The fine tuning which will match facilities to demand could not happen without modern information systems.

In many instances in-patient care is becoming more expensive in parallel with lengths of stay becoming shorter. Accurate costing necessary for contracts will pick this up quickly. As some of the more simple operations are carried out on a day basis there is a rise in the levels of care, and therefore the costs, of those who have to be treated as in-patients.

Changing from the present system of funding is complicated, to say the least, but I am sure that my noble friends on the Front Bench will understand when I stress the urgency of moving with all speed to accurately weighted per capita funding that is not heavily top-sliced. The purpose and motives driving the reforms will be sadly diluted or even lost without that essential component being fully implemented.

The last factor which I wish to mention is the purchaser-provider split. Without that there can be no contracts. A great deal has been said about the anomaly of entering into a contract with a part of yourself. All the hospitals and community services which are not self-governing trusts remain directly managed. If they overspend, the district is ultimately responsible. If there is an outbreak of food poisoning, the district carries the can.

Logically this must be regarded as a transitional period, even if it is a very long one. It is hard to think of another way of granting hospitals and other services self-governance within the NHS. However, the basic contradiction will remain until self-governance is complete. With tolerance and imagination as a transitional measure it can be made to work. Already the need to make a contract is having interesting effects. In a general hospital in my district the consultants who have become clinical directors are enthusiastic about making business plans and managing their own budgets, thus having a greater say in how the money is spent in their own departments.

There is no doubt in my mind that we are heading in the right direction, but no matter how splendid reorganisations and new structures may look they are not worth the paper they are written on without the people to put them in place. It is occasionally said that the NHS is a huge monolith inevitably prone to bureaucracy. The reforms, with their emphasis on devolution, will allow room for enterprise and even create a wish to short-cut unnecessary bureaucracy. Many remarkable people work in the service and a great deal of enthusiasm has been generated, so that in order that they are not disappointed the momentum must be sustained.

5.42 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, it is an exceptional pleasure to be allowed to follow and congratulate the noble Baroness. I should have followed other maiden speakers with much pleasure because they are dealing with topics dear to my heart. However, there is a double pleasure in following the noble Baroness. Her father-in-law, the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, is a very old friend from my New College days. A number of people with us at New College at that time made a mark, whether or not one likes that mark, in the world; for example, Hugh Gaitskell, the noble Lord, Lord Jay, Kenneth Younger and Dick Crossman. They took one view of things and I ultimately joined that side of the argument. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, persisted in the other view. We always thought that he would go a long way. I thought that he would make his fortune in buying and selling books because that is what he was doing when he was an undergraduate. I hope that he has done that in the course of his activities.

He has also achieved great eminence in the field of education. Many people—and I am not necessarily referring to myself—say that he was the best Minister of Education since the war. I do not believe that any person belonging to the Labour Party would say that, but many people hold that view.

I point out also that he has a unique distinction. His daughter-in-law is now in this Chamber. I do not believe that there is a precedent for that. I am rather shortsighted, but unless I am mistaken I see his son and his grandson, so one might say that the whole family is here. That must be quite unprecedented in the history of this Chamber. I knew that the noble Viscount would go far but I did not believe that he would go as far as that.

The noble Baroness spoke with much eloquence. She dwelt on topics with which I am very much involved in connection with mental offenders, about whom I propose to speak in a moment, and hospices, on which I am opening a debate next week. The noble Baroness will not expect me to agree with everything she said. Therefore, I congratulate her on her style and charm. I feel sure that she will always be a valuable Member of this Chamber along with her father-in-law. In time perhaps her husband and her son will be here. There is no limit to what can be achieved.

I propose to say a few words about mental offenders. That is a subject about which I opened a debate at the end of 1988. As we all know, that is an incredibly complicated subject because the two factors of crime and mental illness overlap. In itself that makes it likely that it will not receive very good treatment because on the one hand there is the Home Office and on the other hand the Department of Health. As usual, the worst administration results where there is that kind of gap or overlap, whichever way one likes to look at the matter.

It is impossible for anybody to be very encouraged as regards this matter. Even the noble and learned Lord, who earlier set out the Government's position, can hardly claim any great triumph in this respect. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, explained the horrific character of the present situation and touched on the report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons and the situation at Leeds Prison where there were cases of suicide. That is a terrible story. I do not say that that is the fault of any one government. A number of governments have allowed that situation to come about. However, this Government have been in power for 10 years so they must assume a rather heavier responsibility than those in office earlier.

As regards provision for the mentally ill either in or out of hospital, some of your Lordships may have seen the report by the House of Commons Social Services Commit tee on community care and services for people with mental handicap and mental illness. I do not believe that anyone would say that that is not a damaging report.

Whichever side of this issue one is looking at—the penal or the national health side—it is a very bad situation. However, it is no good despairing. Let us see what can be done about it. There seems to be general agreement that a number of people—no one can calculate the figure correctly because it is so much a matter of opinion—are now in prison who should be in hospital and some of them should be in the community outside hospital. On an earlier occasion the Minister gave a low figure but no one can tell what the figure is. If one talks to professors of forensic psychiatry and so on, they say that the number of people judged suitable for transfer depends very much on the amount of accommodation available. If the hospitals are very short of accommodation, they are reluctant to take those people so the prisons decide that it is not worth trying to transfer them. Figures do not have much validity in this case. However, everybody agrees that a number of people are now in prison who should be in hospital because they have mental disorders.

During the course of the summer five of the most relevant organisations wrote a letter to the Home Secretary. According to The Times, the letter demanded urgent action to reduce the growing number of prisoners suffering from psychiatric disorders in prison. Five organisations called attention to that. The Home Office did not seem to be altogether allergic to that point of view.

On 1st September the Home Office, in conjunction with the Department of Health, issued what were called guidelines for dealing with mentally disordered offenders. Much of the circular was descriptive, explaining what could be done under existing arrangements. The message was clear: Prison should be avoided wherever possible". We must assume that there is some disposition in government circles to reduce the number of mentally disordered people in prison. It is obviously not easy to do that, for reasons at which I have hinted and to which reference will no doubt be made by later speakers, possibly my noble friend Lord Carter. That is due to the poverty of the provision in the National Health Service for the mentally ill.

One may consider the situation of large mental hospitals. Their numbers have been reduced. I will not say that nothing has taken their place, but much less provision is being made. In East Sussex, the county where I live, there is a mental hospital called Hellingley. That was built to cater for 1,000 people. At one time there were as many as 1,400, which no doubt was too many. A few weeks ago when I visited there were only 100 people. The numbers are being reduced and soon Hellingley will cease to exist. There are authenticated rumours that it is to be turned into a prison. That would be an ironical result. Whether or not it is turned into a prison, one is hound to ask where the 1,000 people are now being looked after. They were not held in the hospital against their will, and it is the duty of the community to care for them.

The schoolbook answer no doubt is that smaller units will be provided. To some extent that is correct. I tried to discover how much provision of that character there was. I visited an excellent example with which some noble Lords may be familiar, St. Anne's at Hastings. One may ask where the equivalent of those 1,000 people are being looked after there. At the present time in that area, so far as can be judged, there is smaller unit accommodation for 200 people as against 1,000. It is hoped that that number will be increased to 400, but that is a lot fewer than 1,000.

That gives the House an idea of the kind of situation with which we are confronted. Hospitals are being run down and community care has not yet been built up. There is no sign at present that community care is approaching the filling of that gap. No one, not even the most optimistic Minister, will say that that position will be rectified. It will not. It is a grave situation which will continue to plague this country for a number of years.

I ask the Government to realise that we cannot deal with the problem of the mentally disordered in prison unless accommodation is found for them in the community. That accommodation cannot be found unless the services in mental hospitals or smaller units are greatly expanded. That is the situation. I ask the Government at least to realise the gravity of it.

5.54 p.m.

Lord Perry of Walton

My Lords, I too should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Eccles of Moulton, on her notable maiden speech. I also apologise to the House. Due to a previous engagement I shall have to leave before the end of the debate.

It may not surprise some noble Lords that I turn to the subject of education. For a decade this Government have been prepared to confront all manner of vested interests and force them to accept change. They have tackled the unions, local authorities and the establishments of medicine, law and education. For such courage and determination, they deserve much credit.

What is disappointing about some of those confrontational challenges is that there is little sign of imaginative alternatives to replace what has been forced to change. There is often a shortage of new ideas. All too often the Government seem to seek to preserve and maintain into the 21st Century systems and practices that were devised to match the needs of the 19th and 20th Centuries, or even earlier. They appear to look backwards rather than forwards.

I should like to consider that outlook in respect of education. Before I do so perhaps I may make one comment regarding Europe. Here, if anywhere, there seems to be an absence of vision and imagination. We are living in an epoch that is as pregnant with possibility as that which saw the coalescence of the United States of America. The vision that produced their constitution, their preservation of state's rights within a federal system, is seen by many people not as a shining example, but as a threat to something we call sovereignty. That seems to be little more in this modern world than an illusion that feeds on our undoubtedly glorious past.

There is only one mention of educational legislation in the gracious Speech. It declares continuing commitment to quality, and promises a better deal for school teachers in England and Wales. That at least is to be welcomed. But it only nibbles at the problems that have been with us in education for many years and which are becoming steadily worse.

In a previous Session we passed the Education Reform Bill. No doubt during this Session, under yet another Minister, it will be further implemented. The new Act undoubtedly moved in the right direction by improving the breadth of school education up to the age of 16. But it stopped short in tackling A-levels. Since then almost every educational group in the country has called for changes in A-levels. But the Prime Minister has set her face—a very strong face —against any such change. That is another classic case of looking backwards and not forwards. It seeks to maintain an outmoded system.

The ancient English universities catering for the children of the aristocracy and wealthy merchants devised a system for completing specialised honours degrees in three years. That was an excellent system for training the scholars and the mandarins of the future. It was a system copied by all the new universities. In my academic days universities took a positive pride in the fact that they achieved a 90 per cent. success rate in graduations. They were out of step with the rest of the world which took four years to award an honours degree and which had success rates as low as 50 per cent. At first sight that looks like a record for legitimate pride; it is not. It is purchased at enormous cost. It commits few errors of commission simply by committing large numbers of errors of omission; by denying entry to many who could benefit.

That was the root cause of the political decision of Harold Wilson and Jennie Lee to found the Open University system. I am enormously proud to have been involved in the birth of that institution. I believe that it is the only imaginative change in our educational system that has taken place this century.

The real tragedy of the three-year honours degree was its effect on secondary schools. The universities had to insist on early specialisation at school in order to achieve the three-year honours degree; they had to insist on the A-level and still do. They impose on all children a curriculum which, however admirably designed for the 5 per cent. of scholars—albeit illiterate scholars, illiterate scientists and innumerate humanists—denies 95 per cent. of the non-scholars any chance of a broad and balanced education.

A-levels perpetuate the myth popular in my day that the only really worthwhile education is study in depth, knowing more and more about less and less. What modern society needs is education in breadth, knowing enough about more and more. That means some mathematics, some economics, some foreign languages, some science, some technology and some computer science. All are essential for success in modern life.

The Scottish education system was devised by people who had divided the hierarchical structures of the feudal system of the Episcopalian Church. It followed the principle of universal literacy advanced by Calvin. Children of all classes went to university. There was much less of a feeling of "them" and "us" —a feeling that is still prevalent in England. There was a four-year honours degree and no A-levels. No wonder we export so many broadly educated men to take up jobs in the South. We must get rid of A-levels.

However, that alone is still merely tinkering with the main problem, which is that our education system is in a state of crisis. Many of our children are being taught mathematics by teachers with no mathematical knowledge, no mathematical training, and precious little mathematical skill. Improving salaries will not solve the problem. The shortage of mathematics teachers—a critical shortage—was evident in 1975. At that time I offered the then Labour Government to run a crash programme from the Open University to upgrade teachers in mathematics. The offer was rejected by that Government. Since then, matters have steadily gone from bad to worse.

We have the solution in our own hands. The only problem is that it demands an imaginative leap into the future, and another challenge to the teaching profession, comparable to the leap that created the Open University. We have all the technology that is needed. We could create a dozen different courses in mathematics: each covering exactly the same topic; each taught by a gifted expert teacher; each using a different kind of technique ranging from a talking face to an interactive video disk or a computer program. We could offer all the courses to pupils and let each pupil choose which excited and which stimulated. All that that requires is the provision of the hardware and the work stations in the schools. That could be done—I offer it as a suggestion for privatisation—by someone who wanted to lease work stations to the schools.

I believe that the results would be astonishing. Children are naturally curious and anxious to learn. What is more, they revel in computers and in videos. Instead of switching children off, as we now do, so that they come to regard mathematics as beyond them, they would nearly all advance rapidly. We could, by using a self-paced individualised instruction system in this way, achieve a better educated population in a shorter period of initial schooling.

We do not need to introduce such a system on a national scale, which would be extremely costly. It could be done in selected areas as pilot schemes. However, such a change requires an act of faith as profound as that which led to the Open University; and it must be a political act of faith. The profession' will never move, unless forced to do so, any more than the universities of Britain would, off their own bats, have introduced the Open University. However, vision of that kind seems to be wholly absent from the programmes of this Government; and that is why I call them unimaginative and find them unsatisfying. We have little time left. We need such acts of faith.

6.4 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, the gracious Speech stated that the Government, will continue to take action to improve quality in education". So I hope it is appropriate for me to spend a few minutes on the question of quality assurance in higher education by sharing with your Lordships some of the impressions I have gained during eight years as a member of the Council for National Academic Awards, for the last five of which I have been its honorary treasurer.

The Council for National Academic Awards—the CNAA as it is generally known—is a chartered body which awards more degrees than any other organisation in the United Kingdom. There are about 250,000 students in the polytechnics and colleges on courses which lead to one of our awards. The universities, of course, each have their own Royal Charter under which they govern their affairs and award their own degrees.

The CNAA validates the courses under its auspices through a system known as "peer review". I can reassure those noble Lords who may not be familiar with that expression that it is not one of your Lordships' activities which has escaped attention. Peer review is a system whereby groups composed largely of academics visit our institutions and review their courses with the staff who teach them. Conformity to certain standards is thus assured throughout the sector.

I hasten to add that I am not an academic. I sit on the CNAA as one of the obligatory representatives of commerce and industry. In real life I have spent much of my time as a reinsurance broker. So the impressions that I shall give your Lordships are those of an outsider looking in at the world of higher education in this country. I must say that it struck me as a pretty strange world when I joined it in 1982. It certainly did not do a lot to initiate someone from what it called the "world of work" into its mysteries. Indeed, I have been struck by the contrast between that reception and the kindness and courtesy with which I have been received in your Lordships' House. I take this opportunity to thank all of your Lordships most sincerely for the generous and friendly welcome which has been shown to me by all sides of the House. It really has made all the difference in what might otherwise have been a very daunting experience indeed.

I return to the world of higher education in 1982. I resolved to read all the voluminous paperwork, to learn at least something of an entirely new language, and to keep my mouth shut for at least a year. However, I could not resist breaking the last of those resolutions when the expression "the continued and participative discussion mode" had appeared in my papers. I put up my hand and asked whether the phrase "the continued and participative discussion mode" could have been translated as "talks". I am afraid that was not well received. At about the same time I realised that I had been hearing an awful lot about things called "units of resource" and it came as something of a surprise to learn that "units of resource" were much the same as "students", about whom I had not heard quite so much.

I am glad to say that matters have improved since 1982 and I have made many good friends in the sector. Furthermore, I pay tribute to the work of the CNAA, particularly during the last four years. I believe that our system of peer review has ensured that most polytechnic courses are at least as good as most of their university counterparts. So convinced are we of this that we have felt able to grant what we call "accreditation" to all the polytechnics and several colleges catering for some 86 per cent. of our 250,000 students. Accredited institutions now take care of their own course validation and the CNAA will only go round for a check-up every five years or so. Taken together with the Government's recent policy of allowing polytechnics to enjoy corporate status independent of local authority control, I believe that accreditation will continue the good work which the CNAA started.

I hope it will add credibility to the praise which I have just given to the CNAA and its sector if I say that in my view our good work is not quite completed. Although I would say that the "technic" side of the polytechnic movement is generally first class, there are one or two areas on the "poly" side where it seems to me that academic rigour is still perhaps not all that your Lordships would expect. For example, I am quite worried about some of our teacher training and, indeed, about the whole process of training teachers in this country. Teacher training can be likened to the soil in which the roots of the great tree of British state education feed and I feel sure that the national debate, which is beginning to focus on this area, will bring nothing but goodness in its wake.

As part of the general debate about quality in education, there is one question which I feel I should bring to your Lordships' attention. In these days, when all sides of our political spectrum are committed to more students entering higher education, it seems to me very important to ensure that "more" does not mean "worse". The question therefore is: to what extent should we expect quality to be self-regulated by our institutions of higher education? The 1985 Lindop Report went some way to answering this question. It gave birth to one key statement which has become accepted wisdom in any discussion on this issue. It goes like this: Quality in Higher Education is best assured when institutions accept the maximum responsibility for their own standards". The CNAA has responded to this concept by granting accreditation as widely as it feels is prudent. But it has rightly retained background powers of quality control. If something goes wrong and an institution cannot or will not put it right, the CNAA has the power to remove accreditation and, eventually, to remove its degree from the course or courses in question. No degree would mean no students, which would mean no units of resource, or no money, and therefore no course.

It is very important to stress that this would happen entirely within the world of academe without interference of any kind from central government. It is most unlikely that these powers will ever come to be used, but the very fact that they exist is a strong incentive to successful self-regulation and quality assurance. Even the threat of losing its accreditation would in my view be bound to motivate an entire institution into appropriate action.

Looking across the binary line at the universities, we see the recent creation of their academic audit unit which is setting up a system of quality assurance for the university sector. I feel sure that this is much to be welcomed.

I have spoken about quality in higher education. I finish by pointing out that no sector of our education system is independent of another. The primary, secondary and higher sectors feed into and depend on one another. What goes on in higher education, perhaps particularly in teacher training, influences what goes on in our secondary and primary schools, and so the wheel turns again. The quality of every part of our system should be of paramount importance to all of us involved in education. It is certainly of vital significance to our children and young people. I believe it is of crucial concern to the nation.

.12 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, to be the filling of a sandwich of two maiden speeches is an awesome position to occupy. I have never had this experience before. It imposes on me a double duty. First, there is the pleasant one of congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. The second duty is that I must not stay too long in the way of the noble Earl who is to follow or he may begin to suffer from undue tension. I must be kind to him. The latter duty is the most difficult for me, as noble Lords will understand. I shall do my best.

The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, is a notable addition to the stock of knowledge and experience which makes your Lordships' House unique in our parliamentary system. We have heard two maiden speakers so far; a third is to follow. Each one adds to the value of deliberations in your Lordships' House. How any political party thinks that we can be adequately replaced by a bundle of county councillors elected by proportional representation, God only knows! Such is the path of folly which some of my political friends appear to have set for themselves. Time will tell whether any such fate shall befall your Lordships' House.

I was especially interested to hear the noble Lord's amazing survey of the whole field of education. I hope that when we come to the subject of teachers' pay and conditions we shall be able to dwell on some of the aspects of primary and secondary education which are the important stepping stones to higher education. I can modestly claim to have conducted the only independent inquiry into teachers' pay and grading in the past 16 years. All that has happened since has been patchwork or has been imposed on the profession and the system by an impetuous Secretary of State. It is now time that we should be able to discuss that.

The quality of education depends on the ability and enthusiasm of the teaching profession. I shall refresh my memory in due course concerning the introduction that I wrote to my report 16 years ago. It was intended to point the way and to draw the vision of the future of the teaching profession. Little attention was paid to direction. Eyes went straight to the appendices where all the pay scales were published. Pay at the back and cost at the front were about as far as anybody got. So education became neglected. Everyone lost his way. The behaviour of the the National Union of Teachers was indistinguishable for a time from that of the Transport and General Workers Union. I felt that a great opportunity had been lost.

It is said that the gracious Speech is thin and that it contains only 15 Bills. Such is our insatiable appetite for legislation that we go in for the numbers game. There are Bills, and there are Bills. Noble Lords know that vary well. I do not believe that we shall have any spare time in this Session as events unfold. I said in September that the British people are being confronted with an ordeal for which they may be inadequately briefed or insufficiently braced.

The clearing of the decks, which the gracious Speech is supposed to be, in order to make room for a general election, is in my opinion a clearing of the decks for war. It seems that there is little hope for peaceful settlement of the Gulf dispute. More specific utterances are being made by the day as to what is to happen if Saddam Hussein does not vacate his unlawful occupation of Kuwait. The weeks pass and something is going to happen before Christmas. That something is a matter which we should not shirk. This is probably the first experience for the world of the absence of super powers to order, influence and regulate the peace. That role may now fall to the United Nations. The situation will be the first test of its adequacy to meet the challenge. Unless we face the challenge, I believe that we shall have a period of chaos.

We also have to talk about Europe; we have not settled that problem yet. More debate may be needed before we do so. Some of us feel quite specifically one way, others another. Clearly, we have to work our way through a period of decision concerning the destiny of this country. This Session may well provide that opportunity.

Turning to the gracious Speech itself, I observe, along with the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, the absence of a charities Bill. I deplore that on two grounds. The first ground the noble Lord has explained very fully. The second is that an experiment in co-operation was being undertaken involving an all-party committee comprised of both Houses of Parliament in order to help the Secretary of State produce a discussion document and eventually an outline Bill. That process was used most successfully in 1986 when we had the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Bill which covered animal experiments. I believe that this is the way to work towards agreement on a Bill containing possibly controversial measures. I am sorry for those who spent so long on the matter. The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, and myself were all part of the team. We published conclusions at our own expense so that everyone could see the sort of advice we were offering to the Home Secretary. Two Home Secretaries co-operated in the work, but now it looks as if it will run into the sand. It will be two years before we get a charities Bill. In that time the development of the charitable industry—I call it an "industry—will be very swift indeed.

Next week the charities annual conference will take place at which the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, is to make a keynote speech. In its brochure there is a photograph of the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw. The theme of the conference is "Five multiplied by £2 equals £10". That is an example of simple arithmetic. However, the front of the brochure states that the conference is about raising the levels of support from £2 to £10 per household during the 1990s. It is a conference to plan an assault upon the generosity of the public to support more charitable work by greater charitable giving.

The situation raises questions which at one time arose in connection with building societies; namely, how big a movement can become before something has to be done about defining its role and limiting its activities—or expanding them as the case may be—so that we know what place it has in a changing society. In my view we are losing that opportunity, and I am very sorry indeed. If we had only achieved in respect of dogs and dog registration what we did in connection with animal experimentation, and what we have done on charity law, we should not have had the mess we had last Thursday when we tried to decide at the very last minute of the Session the attitude of your Lordships' House towards a controversial matter. That alone is a great disappointment to me.

One other feature of the gracious Speech troubles me greatly. I refer to the strengthening of parental responsibility for children. What is proposed is not the strengthening of parental responsibility but the enforcement of it. No doubt noble Lords noticed that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, introduced the Bill as the Maintenance Enforcement Bill. That is indeed what it is. If we are to pursue those who are fathers of children or who have fathered a child or children—there is a big distinction between the two—we must scrutinise most carefully the methods which will be adopted to do so. In my view, what is proposed is a step in the wrong direction.

I have spent most of my life promoting the independence of women, especially their independence in marriage. It is the economic independence of the woman, married or single, which should be our aim in the new society. However, we are now setting up a new kind of detective and pursuing agency to hunt down erring fathers, delinquent husbands and so on, in order to compel them to contribute to the maintenance of their children. The more you do that, the more you increase the agony of the women concerned. A greater contribution raises the question of access. Some women do not want contributions because they do not want to grant access—sometimes for very good reasons. We must be careful not to cause more unhappiness.

I very much fear that so intensive will be the hunt for these fathers that the Inland Revenue and the Department of Social Security will be recruited as part of the detective agency. I shall strongly object if that proves to be the case. I see no reason at all why departments seeking information about individuals for one purpose should then use it in the course of a detective exercise to try to track down a person for some alleged failure to comply with his responsibilities as regards a child or children. I am bound to say that I have very strong objections to what I believe to be the aim and the methods of undertaking this operation.

I conclude by expressing my deep regret that we shall have the war crimes issue thrown into the cockpit of parliamentary strife once again. However, if the Bill reaches this Chamber for the second time—I hope it does not—I shall circulate to your Lordships beforehand a copy of a broadcast shown on BBC2 on 4th July 1990 given by defending counsel of the one war criminal so far tried in Canada under the kind of general accord which we now think should apply to us. He expressed his condemnation of the resources at the disposal of the prosecution with nothing comparable at the disposal of the defendant. It seemed that money was no object to the prosecution. Indeed, people were brought from Hungary in large numbers to give evidence much of which was vague and contradictory. It is true to say that old men forget. Sometimes, it is impossible for them to recollect accurately what they believe is so vivid in their memories.

If the occasion arises, I hope that the BBC will lend me the film. It is not a long one. Members of both Houses will be able to see defending counsel in the case. His client was acquitted of all charges; namely, manslaughter, theft, cruelty and assaults in prison, following a trial lasting months and months. He tells the sad story of an old man of 79 in the dock all that time with his feet up on a chair, fast asleep every day. That is the sort of trial which took place in Canada. All the people concerned in these crimes are about 79 years old, or almost that age. Many are infirm. Moreover, although this particular man was acquitted, he was ruined in health, in social status and economically.

There it is. I must now make room for the noble Earl. I have kept him waiting for too long. I apologise to him for that fact. However, we all look forward to hearing what he has to say. I am grateful for having had the opportunity to rid my conscience of the few items in the gracious Speech which cause me considerable anxiety.

6.30 p.m.

Earl Howe

My Lords, I am aware that I am not the only Member of your Lordships' House to welcome that part of the gracious Speech which referred to criminal justice and the ways in which our courts are empowered to sentence convicted offenders. Changes in that area have been in gestation for some considerable time now, and at the beginning of this year the Government published their White Paper Crime, Justice and Protecting the Public. It proposed a more coherent and flexible framework for sentencing than exists at present.

Pressure for change stems from discernible public anxiety on two fronts: that prison is often not an appropriate or especially effective punishment for crimes at the petty end of the scale, particularly for young people, and at the opposite end of the scale, where we are dealing with crimes of violence and sexual offences, sentences administered by the courts are often watered down by remission, which is virtually automatic in most cases, and further watered down by the separate system of parole for which many prisoners are eligible after serving as little as one-third of their sentence.

At both ends of the scale it is a question of insufficient flexibility. People feel that for less serious crime there should be a more graduated range of punishments, short of a custodial sentence, at the court's disposal, and that for serious offences it should be possible to keep the prisoner behind bars for most of his sentence if he is still a danger to the public. Those are worthy objectives. I am sure that all of your Lordships will look forward to the publication of the Bill in due course.

We need to remember that at the back of any legislation of that kind is our common wish to reduce crime and, in particular, to reduce rates of recidivism. There is no question of being soft on crime, but rather there is a need to look at ways of making punishment a force for good, rather than something unconstructive and therefore poor value for money. It is not often when reading a government document that one is conscious of an element of light relief. There is an insistent theme running through the White Paper that offenders should receive their just deserts, spelt throughout with "ss" as in puddings. No doubt there are many of us who wish that the matter were as simple as letting the nourishment fit the crime. We should remember however that what constitutes a person's just deserts rests essentially on subjective instinct rather than any utilitarian considerations. I have no doubt that that is a subject which will exercise your Lordships considerably when the Bill is debated.

That said, there are two ideas which hold out the promise of real benefit. The first is that punishments themselves can be made more useful to the community than the often sterile exercise of keeping a man in gaol. For example, it should be possible to release an offender on probation and require him to perform community service under constructive supervision or, in the case of a fraudster, to impose a fine in conjunction with a probation order so that he cannot derive financial gain from his misdemeanours. At the moment courts can do neither of those two things because probation is not a sentence that they can impose.

The second aspect of what I hope the Government will propose is the likely effect on the number of young offenders going to prison. That is an area of particular anxiety to many people. It is also a topical area in the light of this week's disturbing report on conditions at Armley Gaol where a number of young offenders have committed suicide. Nearly half the offenders dealt with each year by the courts are aged 14 to 20, and the vast majority of the convictions relate to theft and opportunist burglary. To lock up such people in prison must be a last resort.

We detest the crimes about which we read in the newspapers, but how much more should we detest our own stupidity if we believe that prison is the appropriate punishment for most young offenders. On the contrary, a prison is often a direct route to worse trouble as youngsters are disillusioned and corrupted by the prison culture and the influence of hardened criminals. How much more constructive it is to make a youngster compensate his victim out of his weekly pay packet or to attend a day centre where he can be made to face up to what he has done and discuss his personal difficulties. It is interesting to note that since 1983, despite a halving of the number of young offenders sent to prison, there has been no discernible increase in the levels of juvenile crime. That reflects the welcome measures in judicial sentencing which have already been taken.

All of that of course begs a large question about the state of our prisons. If one reads papers by criminologists—never a cheerful experience—one frequently finds that a sense of pessimism prevails about the ability of prisons to rehabilitate and reform. Despite the old term for a prison as a "house of correction" no one now looks at imprisonment on its own as a way of putting an offender back onto the straight and narrow. A life of enforced idleness, where daily responsibilities and temptations are removed, is not conducive to correction or self-help. Most prisoners would agree with that analysis, but many will also tell you that it is not slopping out, or living three to a cell, which makes life oppressive—bad as those things are—as much as the depersonalising culture of prisons and the often brittle relationships which exist between prisoners and prison staff.

If personal feelings cease to matter, one soon learns not to consider other people's feelings, and any sense of personal responsibility is squashed by peer pressure. That is why prisons are such dispiriting places and why the Government's extensive prison building programme should be seen as a means to several ends: not merely to ease overcrowding but rather to enable offenders to spend time in constructive occupations, especially vocational training and further education, thereby instilling in themselves some degree of personal responsibility. Even then one will find experts who say that education does not work. For me to question the experts is perhaps to "plunge the finger of inquiry into the pie of impertinence", but theirs is not an especially constructive approach.

Similarly, there are those who say that the criminal makes his bed and should therefore lie upon it. It strikes me that we tend to treat the prison system all too readily like the bed of Procrustes, by taking the existing prison regime for granted and expecting prisoners of all types to conform to it. We should examine ways of altering the prison culture and, lest anyone considers that fanciful, we need look only as far as Grendon Prison in Buckinghamshire, which for 28 years has operated under a system different from any other in the country.

Grendon is a category B closed prison. One of its main aims is to treat prisoners who are in some way mentally disordered—not schizophrenics who require drug treatment but those who are merely maladjusted and who can respond to group therapy and other psychiatric techniques. They are made to face up to their weaknesses and learn how to overcome them. It is doubtful whether group therapy can be much applied outside Grendon with any degree of relevance, but what is of interest about Grendon is the way of life. Prisoners are put on trust to go as they please in the prison during daylight hours. The prison officers are regarded by the prisoners as part of the team and are known by their first names. They do not carry sticks and there are no dogs. The prison is effectively run as a democracy by the prisoners. If anyone is violent, that is an infringement of the rules and that person is voted out of the prison by the other members. No segregation of sex offenders is necessary because everyone in the prison shares overriding common values. It is an extraordinary and largely unsung success.

What Grendon illustrates, of course, is that if one gives responsibility to the right prisoner that responsibility will be honoured and built upon. The Government's plans to open 12 new prisons over the next two and a half years surely provide us with an opportunity to see whether, say, one establishment could be set aside for adult, first time offenders—properly assessed for suitability—who are more likely to respond to a Grendon-type regime and to benefit from it.

The common thread in any changes we may attempt in the system of criminal justice is the need to instil a sense of personal responsibility and maturity in the offender. Certainly, we should not forget that such changes—particularly those in judicial sentencing—will be an experiment. They therefore carry the risk of setbacks as we try them out. But it is only when we think in new ways that we can move forward. Then, too, in your Lordships' House we can fulfil that great and wonderful purpose with which we are all entrusted.

6.42 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, we were lucky tonight to have had three such maiden speeches. I was nervous for the noble Earl because the first two speeches in their absolutely different ways were exceptionally good and I thought that he might not come up to scratch. As the first chairman of Grendon and a very keen member, I am extremely biased about his speech. I should have praised him even if he had spoken badly. However, he did not. I wish to tell him that we have a group of sometimes 10, sometimes 20 noble Lords who always turn up at penal debates. We know one another very well. We have been making these speeches for 30 years and we are jolly glad to welcome a new member.

It is a great pleasure to say that, but I now wish to turn to something rather less interesting. On an evening like this the main subjects being discussed are so desperately difficult that lesser subjects seem to me to be left out. I shall speak tonight only of the voluntary social services and the arts, both of which are minor affairs compared with the dreadful matters we have to talk about such as the NHS, education, the social services, unemployment and prisons. These are all concerned with billions of pounds, not millions. I must remind noble Lords who often, I dare say, make the same mistake as I do that a billion is 1,000 million, so that the figures are inconceivable to people like me. We want £1,000 here, £100,000 there, and sometimes £1 million there for social services and the arts. So it is important that these secondary matters should not be entirely left out. Therefore I thought I would mention them.

Without the voluntary services and the arts, society could still carry on but it would be a pretty miserable society. Those two groups act, each in its own way, as lubricants to the grinding realities of modern life, and sadly under the grinding realities they are always the first to be cut.

Perhaps I may look first at the voluntary societies and later the arts. These societies have always been the Tories' favourites, so it is surprising that they are left out in such a way. Every kind of voluntary agency is affected: the many societies for helping the blind, the deaf, the disabled, one-parent families, the invaluable law centres and the equally invaluable citizens advice bureaux, hostels for the homeless, smaller ones like the family service units, the Simon Community and MIND. I could go on for ages. These and many more are the only comfort and hope for millions of our less fortunate fellow citizens. Without exception, they have been set up by private people on locally raised money. Where they have proved to fill a need, they have qualified for a partial subsidy from the government department concerned. This has enabled them to expand and to justify increased assistance. They have seen this eroded and underfunded in recent years by the oldest Treasury trick of all which allows an increase for inflation much less than the rise which follows.

However, there is now a further threat of the most serious kind. To keep down the poll tax and to escape charge capping, local authorities are cutting the voluntary agencies right, left and centre. I hear from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations that every kind of agency is affected. A sum of £15 million will be cut from London local authorities alone, with heavy cuts in Derbyshire, Barnsley, Bradford, Haringey, North Tyneside and many other authorities. This is official, coming from the local authorities' own association. I do not wish to go into elaborate detail but most noble Lords will be able to quote their own examples, as the noble Earl, Lord Longford, will do in the debate on hospices on Thursday.

I wish to give one example from my own personal experience. This time it is not Grendon but NACRO, which was referred to earlier by my noble friend Lord Mishcon. I was its first chairman and I am still the first president. As a result of departmental cuts, it has had to close five of its 25 youth training schemes in Rotherham, Greenwich, Warwickshire, Cannock and Leigh. NACRO's youth training places have thus been reduced from 2,600 to 1,800.

We are following up the casualties resulting from cuts in these schemes, all of which were for young offenders and other disadvantaged young people. Some have abandoned training altogether, some are already in further trouble with the law and some have gone back to training agencies where they had already failed before coming to NACRO. We also face a reduction of 11 per cent. in funding for our employment training centres for those aged over 18, from £14,000 to £11,300. No one has suggested that the work NACRO does is either unnecessary or badly done. It is simply stupid to interfere with essential work which is going well, when we consider what has been said in the House this evening about the problems of crime. This is one organisation which deals directly with the problem.

In every walk of life we find effective voluntary bodies, some large, some small, employing underpaid but devoted professionals who do sterling work to assist the helpless and unfortunate. These are acutely at risk as a result of government policy. Each of these bodies is trying to help the unfortunate to help themselves and the present policy seems not only callous but once again stupid.

Perhaps I may turn to the arts. Here, the threats are almost exactly the same, with one or two added for good measure. The underestimating of inflation and the worries of local authorities about the poll tax and charge capping apply equally here. Another favourite government method of trying to improve matters without spending any money is to reorganise everything while omitting to note that the costs of reorganisation are almost certain to outweigh any savings made. The poll tax is the most superb example of that on a large scale. However, something of a similar nature now seems to be occurring with the Arts Council.

The arts are particularly sensitive to recession as they are so deeply dependent on sponsorship, which is a form of giving that does not thrive in a depression. We can all agree that the Minister did well to squeeze out an overall increase for the Arts Council of 12.5 per cent. last year, but provision for the future is quite inadequate. The proposals for the grant to the Office of Arts and Libraries for 1991–92 allot an increase of 5.1 per cent. against a current rate of inflation of 10.9 per cent. For 1992–93 an increase of 3.9 per cent. is allotted against the most optimistic estimate for inflation of 6 per cent. Those two shortfalls will amount to £28 million in 1991–92 and £41 million in 1992–93. Those are massive cuts.

The Arts Council is responsible for the performing arts and museums and galleries. I shall say no more about the latter except that they will have to share the shortfall with the performing arts, because my noble friend Lord Morris of Castle Morris, who was a distinguished chairman of the Museums and Galleries Society for several years and who knows the subject better than most noble Lords in this House, will speak later tonight on this subject. I fear he will be no less pessimistic than I.

The Government always put a good face on the arts problems by saying that although there will always be problems and the arts will never be satisfied with what they get—that is certainly true—the arts today are in better shape than they have ever been. That is demonstrably untrue. I agree with the statement of Joan Bakewell in the Sunday Telegraph on 23rd September when she wrote: The tumbrils are starting to roll for the arts as the poll tax and charge-capping cuts are declared. Many local authorities have been raiding their reserves to soften this year's cuts. Next year there will be no such cushion". Local authorities in England and Wales spent £200,000 last year on the arts, but how much will they be able to spend this year? What about Britain's glory, the so-called big four made up of the National Theatre, the RSC, Covent Garden and the English National Opera? Every one of those splendid bodies is in mortal peril. Once they have cut themselves to the bone—they have already done so—they can do no more. The next step is a lowering of standards. I am glad to be able to say that not one of those bodies is prepared designedly to do that. Prices are already too high and they cannot get out of their problems by raising them any more, at any rate at this moment.

ENO needs a 14 per cent. increase in grant to keep up with inflation but it has only been offered a 2.5 per cent. increase. Covent Garden was promised that its grant would be maintained at the rate of inflation when the Priestley Report's recommendations were in general approved. However, it is £2 million short of what that would have meant. The RSC was promised the same but it is 63 per cent. down on inflation. However, there is the fullest demand for what is provided, even at the prices that are charged. The National Theatre has filled its three theatres up to 75 per cent. capacity for the year. The Royal Opera House has averaged 92 per cent. capacity for opera and 91 per cent. capacity for ballet. The same thing can be seen wherever one turns. I shall not mention any more examples although there are hundreds, not least from outside London.

Is it really the Government's intention to allow both the voluntary social services and the arts gradually to run down in this way? We know pretty well what the deficit is in the arts—if any noble Lord does not know what it is we can soon tell him—but I hope that the Government will admit that there is a deficit and arrange to wipe it out, perhaps over a phased period if necessary. We have little idea of what the deficit amounts to for the voluntary services. That deficit must involve a number of Ministries and we all know how difficult that makes it to find out anything at all. I hope I may persuade the Government to try to make an estimate and to arrange to wipe that out too over a period. I doubt whether that will occur, but there is no harm in asking.

6.55 p.m.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, I shall be brief. First of all, I wish to congratulate those who spoke so brilliantly yesterday in the debate on the Royal Address. We should all thank them for their contributions. I also wish to congratulate the three maiden speakers this afternoon. It is rare to have three maiden speakers in one afternoon. However, I believe that all of us who have had the pleasure and privilege of listening to them would like to offer our congratulations. Each one in their separate ways and on different subjects taught me a great deal, and entertained the House. I hope that each one of them will speak on many occasions in the future.

I face a difficulty in that I cannot stay much longer this evening. Further, the first three speakers this afternoon spoke on the subject on which I had hoped to say a few words. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor in his wisdom gave us much advice about the Criminal Justice Bill. That was backed up by the noble Lords, Lord Mishcon and Lord Harris of Greenwich. Therefore I do not have very much to say. However, I have one suggestion to make. I have sat as a presiding magistrate for many years. In that position I had the opportunity, if I wished to await the receipt of reports, to send a defendant out on bail, to send him to a bail hostel or to remand him in custody before he appeared with full reports. This matter has been mentioned this afternoon. I believe it is quite wrong to mix up those who are on remand in custody with those people who have already been sentenced and are serving terms of imprisonment. Therefore I suggest that those who are remanded awaiting reports should be sent to a different place altogether.

I believe it was the noble Earl, Lord Longford (who unfortunately is no longer in his place), who mentioned Hellingley Hospital. There are many hospitals which are no longer used because they are unwanted or are surplus to requirements. Those hospitals would make excellent remand centres for people who are not convicted but on whom one needs reports. I put that idea forward as a suggestion. As a former member of the parole board, I welcome the idea that release after serving one-third of a sentence should now be amended to release after serving one-half of a sentence. The prisoner would then know how long he has to serve.

However, I wish to concentrate mainly on the concept of the family which was an important aspect of the gracious Speech as my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor pointed out. However, I have looked for a reference to the family in the gracious Speech and all I can find is the sentence which states: My Government are concerned to strengthen parental responsibility for children". There is one further sentence on this matter but that is all. I do not know whether the Government intend merely to strengthen the responsibility of parents for children if the children appear in court. That might well be the Government's intention. However, I hope it means that the Government intend to strengthen the responsibility of parents for their children in the context of family life. I suspect that the Government wish to concentrate on the responsibility of parents for their children when the latter appear in court. I wish, however, that the Government were more concerned with parental responsibility in the context of family life. Much hard work has been carried out recently in producing reports on family life and many ideas have been put forward. I hope therefore that in the not too far distant future we shall have the possibility of discussing family life as it is today in far greater detail than has been the case hitherto as a result of the many reports that have been produced. The trend in parental separation, followed by divorce, is creating untold misery for parents, but more especially for the children who desperately need stability and love. Therefore, I am very disappointed that the Government have not made more of that particular difficulty in our society.

Outside Parliament we have read that trained workers will be able to help those parents who are in difficulties. My view is the same as that of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, who, at the tender age of 92, should know a good deal more than I and some other Members of your Lordships' House. My view is that life is a training ground and the experience of older people should be used to help people in difficulties. I was horrified the other day when I was told that a lady who I know well was not suitable to help people in trouble in any capacity because she did not have a university degree. I replied that she did not have a university degree because she had fought for her King and country and then had had children, therefore there was no time for her to study for a university degree. However, she had no less experience of life and could help people in need as much as anyone else.

On the subject of maintenance orders, I also share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. I know a great many desperately unhappy fathers. They will pay maintenance if they can see their children, but if they are not allowed to do so even after a court hearing before a judge, they are apt to say, "No children; no money". That will be one of the problems.

For so long as I can remember it has been possible to make an attachment of earnings order if the father agrees. That is not new. However, as the noble Lord said, access will be the main problem when it comes to collecting money from the fathers. Those fathers are deeply unhappy. They are usually out of work because of their unhappiness. Something must be done; but in my view it is no good expecting that when fathers are chased up they will automatically pay maintenance. They will automatically lose their jobs because of their unhappiness.

There is a great deal more that I should like to say, but I shall not do so because time is marching on. The Queen's Speech has been well received throughout the country; but I hope that the other measures that will be laid before the House will include something about the families.

7.3 p.m.

Lord Nathan

My Lords, as time is getting on, I shall confine myself to brief remarks. However, before I do so I, too, should like to refer to the outstanding maiden speeches which have been made this afternoon. The outstanding feature which struck me was the positive, affirmative and hopeful tone of those speeches on the subjects chosen by the speakers, about which they clearly know so much.

If I refer particularly to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, it is because he spoke about sentencing, to which I want to address my remarks. His speech had a broad sweep. It contained a great deal of information, and he is obviously knowledgeable on the subject. His speech also contained that essential element of humour which helps us so much in these long debates. He hoped that the purpose being fulfilled at Grendon would be extended. Those helpful elements were extremely encouraging. However, I wish to confine myself, with my feet on the ground, to a narrow point which I thought should be brought before your Lordships.

As your Lordships may know, the Government have recently been found guilty in the European Court of Human Rights of a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights relating to questions of sentencing. I wish to refer merely to that point because it is very important and a matter on which the House should be informed of the Government's view.

The case to which I refer is that of Thynne, Wilson and Gunnell. The decision was given on 25th October. It did not come as a surprise. The questions which arose in the case have been anxiously discussed over many years, and much concern has been expressed in many quarters about the United Kingdom law and its administration in that respect. The Government were well aware that the current situation was likely to give rise to the decision which has now been given.

The essential point is this. When a life sentence is imposed—and this may be objectionable in itself but is not the subject of that particular decision—the trial judge writes to the Home Secretary through the Lord Chief Justice as to the appropriate period of detention to meet the requirements of retribution and deterrence. In plain English, that means punishment. That period is often referred to as the tariff. The question as to whether the prisoner is to be released after the end of the tariff period depends on whether he would be a danger to the public. It follows that at that stage the punitive sentence will have been served.

That was the basis of the European Court of Human Rights' decision in all three of the cases before it—the applicants were entitled to judicial control of their detention after the tariff period had ended. The court specifically reserved the question of whether judicial control could be exercised during the tariff period because that did not arise in the cases before it. The article in the convention (Article 5, paragraph 4) cannot be regarded as some strange, foreign idea introduced into the English scene. It embodies principles which have been inherent in the English system for centuries. It is short, and I quote it in full: Everyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings by which the lawfulness of his detention shall he decided speedily by a court and hit; release ordered if the detention is not lawful". That seems to me to be an unexceptionable statement of principle.

Over the years, and particularly in the past 20 to 30 years, the nature and purpose of the life sentence in the United Kingdom has developed so that the period of detention required in relation to punishment is established and is distinct from any further period for which the prisoner may be detained for reasons of dangerousness. It is, I suggest, no longer open to the Government to argue that any prisoner serving a life sentence and who is released on licence is benefiting from a n act of mercy and that independent review of continued detention by a court is therefore out of place. That may have been the case centuries ago, but as the European Court of Human Rights found, it is not an argument which has any validity today. The cases decided by the Court of Human Rights, and previous cases, relate to discretionary life sentences. They are cases in which the judge has discretion whether or not to impose a life sentence, such as in cases of rape.

Much concern has been expressed over the years by your Lordships about life imprisonment and the working of arrangements for release in cases of murder. That concern was expressed in all quarters of the House in a debate on the Criminal Justice Bill in 1987. As a result, on 21st July 1988 your Lordships appointed a Select Committee on Murder and Life Imprisonment of which I had the honour to be chairman, and we reported on 24th July 1989. I will say no more here than that we recommended, having taken into account the European Convention on Human Rights as one of the factors which influenced us, than life sentences imposed for murder should be dealt with in the same way as the Court of Human Rights has decided in the recent cases.

I emphasise here that the tariff—the period of detention representing what is appropriate for punishment—may be very long, and indeed we envisaged that in some cases it might extend to the whole life of the prisoner. But the fact is that over many years past, when a life sentence—whether discretionary or mandatory—has been imposed it has been very exceptional for the prisoner to be kept in prison for the rest of his life. Therefore, in practically every ca se the question of release on licence has had to be considered. Therefore, discussing release on licence and related matters is not a case of discussing a soft option. What needs to be discussed and, I suggest, embodied in the Criminal Justice Bill which is to be brought forward, is the mechanism by which the decision to release or not to release on licence is reached Logic and justice require that the same procedures for these two types of life sentence—if, indeed, a mandatory life sentence for murder is to be retained—should be applied.

When our report was debated in your Lordships' House, there was general support, other than from government, for the recommendations that we made on these matters. The recent case before the Court of Human Rights prompts me to ask that the Government give early consideration to these matters with a view to their being incorporated in the Bill to be brought forward.

7.12 p.m.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, I should like to join in congratulating those noble Lords who have spoken in the House for the first time. Each speech was well informed, interesting and had a touch of wit. I know that we all look forward to hearing each of them again.

I have the honour to serve as a magistrate. What prompts me to speak is the number of youngsters who come to court, who are unemployed and virtually unemployable by virtue of the fact that they have missed much of their schooling and are educationally disadvantaged. There are many more who do not appear in court. There seem to be two main reasons for this lack of schooling. First, there are those who for one reason or another play truant and simply do not attend. The Government have made dire threats to parents of truant children. While there are cases where parents are at fault, I believe that in the great majority of cases the parents do all they can, but the children, having registered, then disappear out of school. The number of truants is small in proportion to the number of children—just 1 per cent. in my county—but it nevertheless adds up to 900 children, which means 900 problem cases for the future.

The second reason for lack of education, and one that is far more common, is late development. Many of us can speak with the experience of our own children, who have shown no promise whatever at school but have taken off at the age of 16, 17 or even 18. Some have sailed into academic study such as the law, to the astonishment of their schoolmasters who had written them off. But it is much more difficult for this late run to occur in the public sector of education, where there is no provision to keep a youngster in education once the appropriate age is passed. In the private sector, of course, a boy or girl can go to a crammer and get the results needed for university. While these two cases are quite different they have a similarity in that in both cases the youngsters reject or fail to respond to education at an early age, but will respond to it, if it is available, a few years later, when they find that they actually need to read and write and do sums to enjoy their life with their motorcycle spare parts list, their computer instructions or even to read the programme at the football match.

I was therefore interested to hear recently about Osmond House in Birmingham. This Barnardo school somehow manages to attract school drop-outs back into education and turn those heading for a life of social security and crime into useful people. I believe that there should be provision in the public sector to remove from school those youngsters who are either late developers or who are playing truant and to put them into some occupation that they enjoy. That might be practical work to do whatever appeals to them, inspires their enthusiasm and turns them on. After a year or so they would be ready to come back into academic education, and learn that much more quickly. Think, for example, how quickly one can learn a language on a crash course, compared with the lack of success of learning it over the 10 years of one's school days. Motivation is what it is all about. Such a scheme would allow greater progress for those who followed the normal school process, and the cost of dealing with the slow stream would surely be justified by the decrease in unemployable youngsters.

My second and last point relates to those who come to court. Many of those who come to court are unemployed and living on social security. By the unit fine system, they now cannot be fined the appropriate amount. For example, while the tariff for no insurance on a car may be £100, the unemployed may have to pay only £50. First, this means that he will probably risk being caught, as he cannot get insurance for £50; and, secondly, it is very bad luck on the lorry driver who is fined the full amount, loses his licence and possibly his job, and has to find twice the amount while also out of work. At best the lorry driver will have to work for several weeks to earn the money to pay his fine, while the unemployed man will sit around for perhaps years, while he pays off his fines from his weekly social security allowance, bored, with no money to spend, no work, no future and quite unable to give any maintenance to his girlfriends and their many children who, unfortunately, seem inevitably to be a feature of this kind of case.

Fairness and prevention of crime dictate that punishment for the unemployed should be the same as that for the employed, which is not the case with the unit fine system, but somehow provision must be made for the man to be able to pay the fine. How can that be achieved? He should be offered work such as hand brashing of trees by the Forestry Commission, strictly on piece work. Very little supervision would be needed, as he would be paid only if the job was done as directed. Once the work was completed he would be paid in the form of a certificate for the sum of money. There would therefore be virtually no cost to the employer—in this case the Forestry Commission. The certificate, adjusted to take account of the cost of travel and tools, would be acceptable to the fines office as payment for the fine. By volunteering for this work, he would be able to pay off his fine in a few weeks, but above all he would have learnt to get himself to work and would have been occupied and out of temptation to commit further crime to relieve his boredom.

There are many more details to this scheme that overcome the various criticisms that have been mounted against it. I really do think that it should be given a good deal of consideration. It combines the benefit of punishing the miscreant adequately, enabling him to pay those fines with his own labour, enabling the defaulter to be kept out of prison, training him to work, and, on top of that, freeing his state benefit for deductions for maintenance payments or compensation, all of which individually are stated aims of the Government.

To sum up, I believe that we are wasting the talent of many of our young who could achieve scholastic success if their schooling could be timed to coincide with the late arrival of their motivation. The second point is that the aims of the Government to punish the criminal, to make him pay compensation and maintenance, are totally incompatible with the unit fines system, while work in lieu of fines—and this is not the same as community service—can help to achieve those objectives.

7.20 p.m.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

My Lords, I should like to add my words of congratulation to those of the three maiden speakers whom I heard. Unfortunately, I did not hear the third, the noble Baroness, Lady Eccles. However, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, particularly because I happen to agree with what they said, which I did not expect to do as they are on the opposite side of the House. I have the impression that nobody wants to stay unduly long. Noble Lords are probably becoming thirsty and hungry. I have been shedding sheets from my speech at a fast rate. But there are certain matters of great importance that I should like to mention, and I hope that noble Lords will bear with me.

Reference has been made this afternoon to the serious concern which is felt about the condition of the country in certain ways. I have in mind in particular the words of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, who spoke of the worrying rise in the crime rate. The state of the education service is also a matter of grave concern. In fact, the noble Lord, Lord Perry, described the education service as being in a state of crisis. I agree. No one can say that the Government have not done anything about it. On the contrary, many people, especially educationists, would say that they had done too much but that they have done the wrong things.

I think that we all agree about the chief cause for concern, which is closely related to what the noble Lord, Lord Gisborough, just said. Far too many of our young people leave school at 16-plus, hardly more than half-educated and without the beginnings of skills or training. It is perhaps only a small percentage but it still adds up to a considerable number and constitutes an appalling waste of human potential. Our record with regard to 16 year-olds staying on at school for further education or going to college for training is the worst in the European Community except for Greece. The figure is one of the lowest in the industrial world. One-third of our 16 to 18 year-olds do not receive even part-time education or training.

The fact is that for too many of our children school becomes irrelevant after about the fourth year of the secondary level. Many begin to truant. They leave school without qualification and, despite the valiant attempts of the youth service, too many find themselves jobless and homeless and may drift into drugs and delinquency. I believe that that must be one potent cause for the disturbing rise in the crime rate. I am sure that it is one reason why it is impossible to walk from one end of the Strand to another without encountering young people crouching in doorways begging, unable to find lodgings because they have no work and unable to get work because they have no address. I have not encountered that before in our streets—not in all my life.

I am speaking of a major social problem. I have no doubt that one can point to many causes for it. A former Secretary of State—I think it was the one before the last (they follow each other in such quick succession), the last one having shown unwelcome signs of listening to the unions and teachers—said that secondary-age school children were bored because they were not being taught the things that they wanted to learn. I believe that he was right.

Mr. Tim Eggar has disclosed that the Government have plans to change that situation and to make provision for non-academic youngsters in their fourth and fifth years by offering a range of vocational subjects as an alternative to the academic ones and as a preparation for gaining qualifications at 17 or 18. That is excellent. That should lead to more young people in their last two years of compulsory education finding, something to be gained by staying on for education or training after 16.

But there is another very potent cause of secondary age school children opting out. They are failing. The strongest incentive to effort is success. If it is realised that one can do something well, one is powerfully motivated to do it even better. Conversely, failure has the opposite effect. If at school one finds that after reasonable effort one cannot do something that everybody else can do, there is a strong tendency to lose heart and stop trying. One then resorts to disruption or truancy, which one can view as fight or flight.

The commonest cause of failure is incompetence in the three Rs. How often does one meet adults who, when pressed, will confess, "Well, you see, I never could learn to spell" or, "My trouble was that I hated reading" or, "I couldn't add two and two"? I have taught boys of 17 and 18 who did not know the alphabet. That can persist through life. I merely say what we all know—even the present Government—that sound foundations are quintessential. The Government have stressed that but have they taken the right action?

We on these Benches believe that over-legislating and under-resourcing have been the fatal flaw in this Government's work in education. A crippling burden of paperwork has been piled on to LEAs, governing bodies, heads and all assistant teachers. At the same time under-resourcing has meant cuts in the areas that are most crucial for the help of children at risk: nursery schooling, peripatetic remedial support and good teaching materials. Those two factors, over-legislating and under-resourcing, have contributed to the gravest failure of this Government; namely, the alienation and demoralisation of the teaching force.

It is as though the Government have thought of everything but the pearl of great price—the teachers themselves, without whose support and co-operation all the radical innovations and reorganisations in the world are worthless. As we all know, the result has been the flight from the profession which, according to a survey by the teacher unions published on Monday last, has left 10,000 vacancies. Many of those vacancies are temporarily covered by supply staff; others by teachers who are not qualified to teach the subject in question; and others by teachers on fixed-term contracts. That has enabled the Government to ignore them as statistics and claim that there are far fewer vacancies than in fact there are.

Constant changes of teachers—say, three in a year—have a devastating effect on the progress of children, in particular children who tend to be in special need, which is of immense concern. The shortage is especially acute at the primary stage where firm foundations should be laid.

On these Benches we are by no means sanguine about the Government's intentions regarding the new negotiating machinery for teachers. To judge from what the last Secretary of State said in the summer, there are three snags. The first is that there is to be a time guillotine on negotiation, which means that just when some final, perhaps comparatively insignificant, issue is about to be resolved, the Government can intervene and settle the problem by diktat, so that many weeks of painstaking negotiation can be wasted.

The second snag is that settlements will not be permitted to go outside the so-called median range. In order that teachers' pay should catch up with the pay of comparably skilled professions, it will have to go outside the median range, which is currently 6 per cent. If it cannot, teachers will never be properly paid.

Thirdly, the fact that LEAs and grant maintained schools can opt out of national bargaining is likely to mean that richer boroughs and schools will be able to divert the limited teaching force from poorer areas where it is really most sorely needed.

With regard to the improved quality mentioned in the gracious Speech, is that to be quality for all or quality for only some? There is much that Liberal Democrats would like to see changed, but the problem of the wastage of young human potential is perhaps the one that is in most urgent need of a solution. The most important single factor in the achievement of that solution would be a fulfilled, revered and plentiful teaching force. Alas, from what we at present know, it does not sound as though the Government will achieve it by any forthcoming measure. Somehow, sooner or later, however, it must be achieved. I hope that the Government will listen to the suggestions and proposed revisions of your Lordships' House when we come to discuss the Bill to set up the new negotiating machinery.

7.29 p.m.

Lord McColl of Dulwich

My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to the three maiden speakers on their splendid contribution to this debate. I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Eccles, for dealing so well with the problems of the National Health Service. I too was very pleased to hear in the gracious Speech about the Government's determination to continue to improve the National Health Service. In the past few months we have already seen a considerable improvement as a result of the reforms. The district health authorities have been reconstituted. We have no more chaotic, disorderly, unpleasant and ineffective authority meetings—a remarkable change.

I should like briefly to draw your Lordships' attention to the many hard working nurses, doctors, managers and others in the hospital service who have been trying to get to grips with the problem of financial control. One ward sister, in her effort to get to grips with this problem, was amazed to find 2,000 pairs of disposable underwear in the store cupboard in her ward. Ward sisters are not usually surprised by anything these days, but she was surprised at that because hers was a surgical ward entirely confined to men. When she inquired about the cost, she was told that it was not possible to obtain that information because it was a special contract. One can therefore never find out the cost. When she threatened to inform the press, she was quickly informed that the cost was £1.40 a pair. She thought that that was very curious because she could buy them at half that price in the local high street. As a result of her inquiries, the culprit left his employment in rather a hurry.

However, on a more serious scale, the works department at a hospital was thought to be under-performing. An inquiry was announced; and that evening the room in which all the records of the works department were kept was burnt to a cinder. Nothing much happened for another year. Disquiet continued. A formal inquiry was announced; and that evening the whole four-storey building was burned to the ground. It could be said that these are just anecdotes. But there are many such anecdotes which cry out for much better financial control and management of the hospital.

It was good to hear in the gracious Speech that we are to have another £3 billion for the National Health Service. However, it has been shown in many parts of the world that when one pours more money into a health service, it tends to be absorbed into other functions rather than in improving the service to the patients. That again emphasises the great need for much stricter financial control to ensure that the money is spent in the interests of patients.

In the debate we have heard yet again—we hear it frequently in this House and other places—that more beds are being closed. We are told that that is the subject of regret. I should like to emphasise yet again that the number of beds in the National Health Service has been declining at a steady rate for the past 30 years irrespective of which political party is in power. All political parties are agreed that the resources in the National Health Service should be much more fairly distributed throughout the country. That means that money inevitably will flow from the South East into other parts of the country. All are agreed that the hours worked by junior hospital staff should be reduced to more reasonable levels. All are agreed that the number of those doctors working in hospitals should also be reduced in order that there may be a more reasonable chance of them obtaining permanent jobs in hospitals.

Furthermore, the advances in medicine mean that patients spend much less time in hospital. For instance, let us consider the commonest operation on the abdomen—taking out the gall bladder. Patients used to stay for two or three weeks only 25 years ago. Now we have the exciting development of being able to take the gall bladder out through a one-centimetre incision at the navel. One puts in a small camera and has the most wonderful view of the inside of the abdomen—much better than if one opens it up, strangely enough. The patient can go home next day. It is being called "running repairs". All those facts mean inevitably that we need fewer beds and therefore fewer hospitals. Nothing could be simpler.

Finally, perhaps I may remind the House that there are still out-patient clinics in the United Kingdom where all the patients are asked to come at the same time, at nine or 10 in the morning. There may be 40 of them. As a consequence, some have to wait several hours. The fact that they are all eventually seen within four hours means that one could have an appointment system, if one had proper management, so that they did not need to wait inordinate lengths of time. These chaotic out-patient sessions have nothing to do with shortage of resources. They have everything to do with a fundamental lack of consideration and courtesy for the patients.

It is small consolation to look to other fields where the situation is even worse. I refer to some magistrates' courts where people are instructed to attend early in the morning although their cases are not to he heard until the afternoon. Perhaps George Bernard Shaw was right when he said, all professions are conspiracies against the laity".

7.36 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking and congratulating our three maiden speakers today. They have enriched the debate. I hope that they will continue to enrich your Lordships' House.

I speak on housing and the homeless, bearing in mind two statements in the gracious Speech. It stated: My Government will continue to work to improve the quality of Health and Social Services". Earlier in the gracious Speech it is stated that the Government, will maintain … control of public expenditure with the aim of keeping its share of national income on a downward trend". I shall refer to that issue later.

The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack spoke of the significance of the family in the life of our nation. The matter was taken up by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, and my noble friend Lady Macleod.

I speak on the need for low rented, affordable, social accommodation in the community. I understand that Her Majesty's Government hope to achieve the provision of such accommodation by encouraging private landlords in the market-place to provide it. Her Majesty's Government hope that through allocating money to the Housing Corporation the corporation will channel grants to housing associations which will in turn provide low rented, affordable, social accommodation.

I have consulted lawyers, surveyors, architects, businessmen and house agents. With one voice they tell me that the open market is most unlikely at this stage to supply the amount of accommodation that is required in our country today. We learn that the Housing Corporation, to which the Minister proposes to allocate money, has a cash flow difficulty at the moment.

The Minister states that the corporation has nine offices throughout the country. During the current year it was allocated £1 billion and that will rise to £1.7 billion in 1992–93. But the corporation has a cash flow problem because it gave approval to the housing associations to begin certain projects. The associations worked so quickly that they managed to deal with all the projects in one year and the Housing Corporation did not have the money to pay. It has had to take money from this year's allocation, which will therefore be less than is necessary.

I am grateful for the help and information that the Minister gave me. He told me that Her Majesty's Government will rely on the housing associations, which are voluntary bodies, to meet the need to house the homeless and to provide low-cost rented social accommodation. In telling me that the Minister appears to be at variance with the housing associations because they tell me that they cannot possibly undertake to carry out the work. The housing associations began as adjuncts to the local authorities. It was never their intention to take over the provision of housing for homeless people and the provision of low-cost rented social accommodation.

There are 2,400 registered associations managing and maintaining 500 homes. They offer 48,000 hostel bed places. Those figures are trustworthy and obviously correct. However, in England, Wales and Scotland during 1988 the people in 150,000 households were accepted as homeless and they totalled 430,000. The increase in England has been greater. In those circumstances, is it possible for the housing associations to meet the needs of the people of this country who require low-cost rented social accommodation?

Who are those who need low-cost rented social accommodation? There are the people discharged from mental hospitals, as mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Longford. There are the young people who were brought up in statutory or voluntary children's homes, and some in penal institutions, who were removed from their home by court order and when discharged from the care of the local authority had no families nor homes. Research carried out in 1983 showed that 33 per cent. of homeless young people in this country had been brought up in local authority or voluntary homes.

There are also the young married couples without the resources to raise the money for a mortgage. There are many such couples in this country. There are young widows and unsupported mothers. There are also many students who, I am told on good authority, sleep on the floors of houses of friends or perhaps of those who are not even friends. That is a devastating situation for young people starting university, polytechnic or further education courses.

I have consulted the Association of District Councils, which commissioned research carried out by Dr. Glen Bradley of the Bristol School of Advanced Social Studies. I have also consulted the Association of County Councils, which set up a working party on housing and the needs of the homeless. Furthermore, the metropolitan authorities have looked at the problem. They all agree that it is beyond the capacity of the housing associations to meet the country's total need. That was also stated in the Church's report on rural areas. Under the National Health Service and Community Care Act, provisions of which will not be implemented for two years, Her Majesty's Government will need such accommodation. The Children Act 1989 will also make such accommodation necessary. The noble Lord, Lord Joseph, chided me some time ago because he said that every time I spoke I made recommendations for money and resources which were not available. But we in this country have wasted money appallingly on bed and breakfast accommodation. However, in many ways that waste is not as bad as the terrible effect that living in such accommodation has had on people. I point out to noble Lords in the medical profession, although I am sure that I do not need to do so, the terrible waste of money when the health of women and children has suffered as a result of living in such accommodation. I have that on good authority from the health visitors.

My difficulty is in costing the loss to the country of our housing policy. I believe that the answer is that local authorities, in partnership with the housing associations, should be allowed to provide low-cost rented social accommodation in the community. The housing associations are voluntary organisations and they started as adjuncts to the local authorities. However, it was not intended that they should take over the local authorities' work. I pay tribute to the voluntary agencies and the housing associations, which carry out the work very well. I am also grateful to Mr. Spicer, the housing Minister, for agreeing to meet a group of those concerned with housing for the homeless. However, I consider that I am a voice speaking on behalf of the voiceless.

7.48 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, in a gracious Speech made long ago it was wisely said that man does not live by bread alone. I was reminded of that yesterday as I listened with great care to the the Government's proposals for legislation during the coming Session. Amid plentiful plans for dealing with crime, transport and the weapons of war, not one word was said about the arts, sciences, research, the theatre, orchestras, art galleries, museums or Britain's national heritage in any shape or form. Yet legislation is desperately needed in those areas. That great growth industry requires and demands vision and guidance from government if it is to contribute properly to national prosperity.

Some of your Lordships may be aware that I am in the last few dying weeks of my chairmanship of the Museums and Galleries Commission of which I have been a member for 15 years and chairman for the last five years. I shall leave it with the utmost reluctance and the deepest regret because that wonderful body of men and women are doing this country great service. The commission is the Government's adviser on all matters concerning museums and art galleries throughout the United Kingdom and since it was set up in 1931, it has built up an unrivalled knowledge of the museums business.

I use the word "business" advisedly because these days museums and art galleries are big business. There are more than 2,500 museums in this country and together they attract more than 100 million visitors per year. That is more people than go to all the football matches and theatres in this country.

Your Lordships will know of the 19 national museums with their 50 branches and out-stations funded mainly by central government and run by boards of trustees. There are those in the centre of London; there are those in Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast and on Merseyside. Your Lordships are probably aware of the 600 and more local authority museums owned and funded by county or district councils. However, your Lordships may be less conscious of the 250 university museums and collections, mainly funded from money which universities receive from the Universities Funding Council. Therefore, they are presently in imminent peril. Your Lordships may be unaware also that there are 200 or more regimental and other armed services museums, many of them housed in Ministry of Defence premises, and 1,300 or more independent museums. More than half of the museums in this country are small independent museums. Many of them are owned by a trust and most receive no regular funding from central or local government.

It has been calculated that one new museum opens somewhere in the United Kingdom every 14 days. It is probable that one closes about every month. However, it is a growth industry which is not afraid of its failures. Are your Lordships aware that there is a bakelite museum in Dulwich, a bagpipe museum in, of all places, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and a mousetrap museum in Glamorgan? All those museums are the result of the enthusiasms and delights of people who collect and wish to display their collections. Yet no government policy is declared on museums. They are covered by no general legislation. No less than seven government departments are concerned with museums. The designated Minister for the Arts is in charge of the Office of Arts and Libraries and yet it funds only 11 of the 19 national museums and its general concern for non-national museums is shared with the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland offices.

The bulk of central government funding goes to the national museums which together receive some £200 million per year. If one adds all other public sector expenditure on museums, it amounts to a further £100 million making a total of £300 million in all. One could hardly find better value for money than that provided by the museums business in this country.

For years my commission pleaded, unsuccessfully alas, for a government policy, for funding and for legislation, particularly in six areas. First, as regards heritage, we advocate that the Government should confirm that they accept the principle that museums are the proper repositories for objects judged to be of outstanding importance to this country and threatened with export. We advocate that the Government should double the purchase grants of our national museums and return the two MGC purchase funds to something like realistic levels. We point out also that in the past the national heritage memorial fund has been seriously under-funded. Surely it is time for export legislation to be put on a much sounder footing and full responsibility for arts and heritage, including export control, vested in the Minister for the Arts.

Secondly, the Government have a clear responsibility for the basic funding of a national museum's essential activities. Sponsors can be found for exhibitions, not for infrastructure. I long to see in one of our great museums a plaque which says, "The drains in this museum by courtesy of Harpic plc—clean round the bend!".

Thirdly, the area museum councils, which are the commission's main agents throughout the country, are a highly cost-effective and successful way of improving our museums' standards, but they too are significantly under-funded. For years the commission's long-standing aim has been to double the funding of those councils. It has not yet succeeded.

Fourthly, the university museums are an important part of our heritage and the universities holding them in trust have a duty to secure their adequate funding. I can assure your Lordships that the universities, in trying to do that, are at their wits end.

Fifthly, those independent museums, well described by one of my predecessors as the primeval slime out of which all museums in this country have developed, for all museums were independent museums once, should no longer be impeded in what they are trying to do. Legislation should enable them to benefit directly from private treaty sales. At present they cannot.

Sixthly and lastly, I draw attention to the armed services museums which are an essential part of the services fabric. A walk through the approach to Westminster Abbey today shows how important is the past of regiments and corps to their present morale. The Ministry of Defence should acknowledge and adopt a consistent policy towards them and fund them adequately.

I hope that the new Minister for the Arts will bring the flare and energy for which he is justly renowned to solving these chronic problems. Perhaps the most serious danger is the steady erosion of scholarship and research. The silent seepage, the internal haemorrhage, of the life blood of curatorial care, is all the more insidious for being unseen.

In its 1988 report on the national museums the commission said that: scholarly activity is a major part of the work of senior curators and conservators in a national museum … research and this sort of scholarly activity are not luxuries, to be cut when money is scarce. They are fundamental to the role and purpose of a great museum". That is why I was saddened and my mood was tinged with autumnal melancholy when I found that all those matters were loftily ignored in the proposals for legislation. Museums look not to the past but to the future. They feed the creative imagination. They cleanse the vision of the people and it is well said that, where there is no vision, the people perish".

8 p.m.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, towards the end of Her Majesty's gracious Speech, as was mentioned by my noble friend Lady Faithfull, Her Majesty said, My Government will continue to work to improve the quality of Health and Social Services".—[Official Report; 7/11/90, col. 3.] Part of that improvement we are already aware of; it has been discussed before. That is care in the community.

Care in the community will not work unless there is accommodation in the community for those who need care. At the moment there are large numbers of severely and not so severely disabled people in hospitals who are not able to leave hospital because there is not adequate accommodation for them. If matters in the Gulf go badly and there is a war we may also well have a number—possibly a large number—of our young men severely disabled and kept in hospital for long periods. We owe those men, who will be doing our dirty work for us, the opportunity of proper accommodation out in the community. They should not be incarcerated in hospital. I hope that that will not happen. There are already numbers of people who should be able to move out of hospital into properly designed accommodation.

Over the past five years there has been a large body of research carried out that reinforces the view that housing provision for physically disabled people is inadequate, and that service providers are often insensitive to or unaware of the housing needs of physically disabled people. As I have already mentioned, with the community care reforms shortly coming into effect it is vital that action is taken to remedy that situation.

Figures for the past 10 years show a startling decline in both local authority and housing association new build. The number of wheelchair units built between 1978 and 1988 declined from 827 to 184. The number of units of mobility housing declined from 7,383 units to 902 units in the same years. That is only local authority build; it does not include housing associations.

A report by the Royal College of Physicians on physical disability in 1986 and beyond, stated that a large proportion of hospital beds were occupied inappropriately by patients waiting for adaptions to their homes or housing transfers. Both a report, on lifetime homes, edited by Andrew Rowe, a Member of another place, and a report by Outset, on an analysis of discussions relating to housing design for disabled people, stressed the difficulties in persuading designers, architects, surveyors and manufacturers to take on board guidelines for a design to improve the basic flexibility and accessibility of all buildings.

One possible way forward, as I have previously mentioned, is to amend the building regulations. Without a change in the building regulations, private developers will not be prepared to pay the additional cost of building houses to mobility standard. They will be frightened that their rivals will be able to sell houses at non-mobility standard at a slightly lower price and capture the market. It would be much better for everyone if their house was built to a proper standard.

It would appear that in many instances local authorities do not have proper schemes for housing disabled people. They do not have any plans. Would it not be wise to impose on local authorities a statutory duty to plan with housing associations for the housing needs of disabled people, and to plan those needs prior to a person's discharge from hospital? That duty was placed on them in the community care Bill in this House, but that was removed by another place. I still believe that the Government will find that they need that duty as the Act, as it now is, takes effect.

That is enough on housing. I wish to bring to your Lordships' attention one other matter on disability. It involves the severe disability allowance. As many noble Lords will be aware, if someone has not lived in this country for 10 out of the past 20 years, or a complete 10 years if they are under the age of 10, they are not allowed to receive a severe disability allowance. That situation affects families of Crown servants.

Families of Crown servants who are abroad supporting the Crown servant who has been sent abroad by the nation to look after its affairs, may be caught in that trap. It does not affect the Crown servant, but it affects the family. It may affect a number of civil servants in the EC. I doubt whether it affects our diplomats. I believe diplomatic property counts as United Kingdom property in whichever country it is. However, it affects a certain number of people in the services; not often in the Navy, rarely in the RAF, and hardly at all in the Marines. Most of their service is alternately abroad or in this country. It affects some people in the Army, mainly the armoured units. Over the past few years they have been inclined to be stationed in Germany rather than in the United Kingdom because of the training facilities. Those are the units which will take the brunt of any action in the Near East should war come about. I believe the figures amount to only five or six people, but that could grow.

I hope that the disability allowance and the disability credit Bill, as mentioned by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor when he opened the debate, can be used as a vehicle to correct that position. I gave notice to my noble friend Lord Henley before the debate began that I would be asking what steps the Government would be taking to correct that anomaly. I hope that he will be able to answer when he winds up.

8.7 p.m.

Earl Russell

My Lords, it is my pleasure as well as my privilege to congratulate today's three maiden speeches. Anyone winding up the debate and having to congratulate three maiden speeches feels a little like Paris. I am afraid I must advise the maiden speakers that I shall not award any apples; I know what that led to! Fortunately, since they were all so excellent, it would be quite impossible for me to decide, even if I tried.

The noble Baroness, Lady Eccles of Moulton, in a speech which was beautifully delivered, said a great many things which I shall not answer; that might hinder their claim to be non-controversial. They will make me think a great deal and will call for thought in all quarters of the House.

To the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, I should like to offer apologies on behalf of my profession for any coolness in the welcome he received. I hope that the warmth of my welcome to him in one capacity may make up for any coolness in my profession, which is my other capacity. I assure him that I entirely agree with his feelings regarding the phrase, "the unit of resource". I have made inquiries of its origin. I discovered it came not from the academic profession, but from the University Grants Committee. It is a bureaucratic phrase.

The noble Earl, Lord Howe, made a point about "just deserts", which I have been longing to hear somebody make. He also gave us a great deal of Benthamite wisdom, which will call for thought from all of us. I listened to him with a great deal of interest.

A winding speech, inevitably, must speak about everything by turns, and nothing long. It is inevitable that any government, when they come to power, comes to power because an agenda has built up to which their principles are thought to be applicable. But as they work through the agenda, they reach a point where carrying out their ideas in their full, logical and pristine glory slowly takes them out of the range where they become acceptable to practical people.

If one looks ahead along the sort of ideological road that was embarked upon in 1979 one might see it leading—and this is reductio ad absurdum—towards the position in Orange County, California, where the local privatised hospital is surrounded by armed guards to keep out uninsured pregnant women. In the health service review, the Prime Minister, and others, decided the Government were not going down that road. I wonder whether, just as Karl Marx once proclaimed, "I am not a Marxist", that represents the point where the Prime Minister, however reluctantly, decided she was not a Thatcherite. But when a government gets to that point, inevitably parts of their programme become vague. Looking at the list of the Cabinet in last Sunday's papers I was reminded of Disraeli's phrase about the Front Bench of the first Gladstone administration in the last year of its life—"a row of exhausted volcanoes".

I do not complain that we have a smaller gracious Speech than we have had for a number of years. I remember the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, about legislative incontinence. I do not complain that this is a more continent gracious Speech than some others; but I am going to say that I see here a sensible set of consolidating measures with occasional volcanic minor eruptions of ideology, some of which may detain us for some time.

I have given a warm welcome, in principle, to the maintenance enforcement Bill. It addresses a problem which needs a solution. I hope that in Committee we shall be able to address that in a constructive spirit. I have some doubts about the proposals. I have a doubt on whether the level of protected income which is to be allowed to fathers and their second families, if they have any, is set high enough to make it viable. If one sets it too low, enforcement becomes difficult.

I also have considerable anxiety—and more since the Statement—about the prospect of mothers being deprived of benefit for refusing to name the father. Whether one thinks that is right or whether one thinks that is wrong—I admit that there can be two views —I do not believe that it is enforceable. At the very least, before that Bill leaves this House I hope it will contain an absolutely clear exception for women who have been victims of domestic violence.

I am also worried about a 20 per cent. cut in entitlement to what is, after all, a subsistence benefit. We have yet another example of the principle of disentitlement from social security benefit. That is a principle which I believe is capable of a great deal of dangerous extension and I think we should consider how far we are prepared to let it go.

In regard to the disability Bill, I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, said about the severe disablement allowance. I am prepared to welcome the disability employment credit as an imaginative idea; but I wonder whether the amount of money to be put into it is big enough to make it as effective as I am sure the Government hope it will be. On the disability allowance, I am aware that there is a great deal of debate about how far the OPCS has accurately assessed the true costs of disablement. I will listen to debates on that subject with a great deal of care.

I also hope that while that Bill is being prepared the department will take the opportunity of looking at other issues concerning disability, such as those raised by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. In that context, I hope the department will look at the report recently produced by Age Concern entitled Old and Clean. The report is about bathing and washing services for those physically unable to do it for themselves. The principle at the moment is divided between those who need this service for medical reasons who are the responsibility of area health authorities, and those who need it for social reasons who are the responsibility of local authority social services departments.

At the launching of that report in this House we listened to a nurse from Newham who told us that the authorities had endeavoured to carry out an exercise to work out this distinction in practice, but they could not do it. In these times of financial stringency there is, to put it no higher, a temptation on each party to leave it to the other. This is a problem of bureaucratic terms. Good will is required to solve it and I believe that that good will is there on all hands. I hope the Government are prepared to co-operate in the task of making that good will effective. If ever I heard of an issue that calls for effective chairmanship, that is it.

Like many other noble Lords, I regret finding the War Crimes Bill in the gracious Speech. I do not intend to go into the arguments in that respect, but I make two points. First, is there any other case of a criminal measure which has reached the statute book against the opposition of all those Lords of Appeal and former Lords of Appeal who have expressed any opinion about it? That, I believe, is a perturbing precedence.

Secondly, is a free vote a free vote, or is it not? When we were given a free vote on the previous Bill, I was under the impression that we actually had authority to accept or reject it. If that was not so, and if it was a measure to which government authority was committed and we were expected as a duty to let the Bill go through, we should have been told.

I shall not deal with the Criminal Justice Bill because my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich has covered those issues. That Bill was of concern to many speakers this evening.

The other theme which has run through the whole of this debate is the reference in the gracious Speech to quality in both health and education. Clearly that has been the subject of a great deal of anxiety throughout the House, much of it backed by the feeling that it should have been dealt with more in the Autumn Statement than in the gracious Speech.

It is a little early as yet to analyse the detail of the Autumn Statement. I notice that once again we have unplanned increases, which I welcome, in health and education. I wonder whether that is beginning to mark the point where the Government have to abandon the principle of the 1980 White Paper that increases should he tied to the Retail Prices Index and not to the index of costs in the service under discussion. If so—I think that, in fact, it is so—it marks the Government's failure to solve one of the major problems on which they came into office.

The problem is the tendency of the costs of our public services to grow faster than our productive capacity. However, to say that the Government have failed to solve that problem is not to say that it is not a real problem. It is a real problem. I heard what the noble Baroness, Lady Eccles of Moulton, said about the continually increasing demand. That is a problem on which the Government came into office and that they will bequeath to their successor; and I wish their successor luck with it. It is a problem to which I do not see a solution and to which, in due course, one must be found. However, until a solution is found I hope governments of all persuasion will be careful about making sure that their eyes are not bigger than their stomachs and do not take on commitments which they cannot afford to finance.

There is always a temptation when it comes to Autumn Statements to say, "Yes, we can do it, but not at the stated price". So we get a great many provisions which are partially financed and the Treasury, as usual, cast as the Old Man of Thermopylae of the body politic. In some cases it is much better to say that if a provision cannot be financed properly it cannot be done.

The Government thought that they could reduce the cost of public services by increased efficiency. They have been using a somewhat impoverished notion of efficiency to do that. For example, the Universities Funding Council has recently told the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals that it expects more savings by increased efficiency. When I find a library cutting back on buying books my pupils come to me and say that they cannot write their essays because they cannot get the books. The Secretary of State perhaps sees efficiency, but I see inefficiency.

I think the definition of efficiency needs a little widening. We need to think about the problem raised by my noble friend Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, about basing public spending plans on forecast figures for inflation instead of actual inflation. The effect of this can be seen if one looks at the comparison between the social security budget which is financed on the past year's actual inflation and the health and education budgets which are financed on the coming year's forecast of inflation. The effect is that the percentage of government spending going to social security has increased steadily with a comparative dropping back for health and education. That is the measure of real cuts.

I am not saying there is not a need for spending more money on social security. I believe that all your Lordships know that I think otherwise. There are areas in social security where the spending of money could be avoided. The cost of concealed unemployment on the social security budget is very severe indeed. In a Written Answer dated 16th October my noble kinsman gave me a set of figures on unemployment and income support. There are 1,216,000 people on income support who are not of pensionable age; neither are they in receipt of a disability premium or registered as unemployed. That is quite close to the figure given by the unemployment unit of 926,300 as an estimate of the number of people who are actually unemployed and not appearing in an unemployment register.

I was also interested to note that the auditor general's report on the appropriation accounts said that one of the errors discovered in the social security account was that a good many people were getting income support who should in fact have been paid unemployment benefit because they were unemployed. That is a significant error. A good deal of the money that is spent on income support and, I imagine, on housing benefit as well is the result of low wages, especially in the field of part-time work.

In the NACAB report entitled Hard Labour there are a number of cases where the Department of Social Security made inquiries and cut benefit because it could not believe that people were being paid as little as had been reported. In some cases wages for part-time workers were as low as £1.33 an hour. In that context, if we were to investigate the social dimension of Europe a little further, and in particular the EC directive for part-time workers, we might find that one of the beneficial effects of that was saving money on the social security budget and therefore having more to spend on provisions where that money is desperately needed.

In general, I have spoken against increasing costs on industry. However, I think the cost of employing labour is properly a cost on industry. To allow it to pay wages below the subsistence level and to top them up with income support and housing benefit is a significant distortion of the market. The Prime Minister is on record to the effect that you cannot buck the market. It may be that this is a case where she should apply that principle.

8.25 p.m.

Lord Carter

My Lords, we have had a wide ranging debate which has covered the field of home affairs and social policy. We have had a number of notable speeches, none more notable than the three excellent maiden speeches that we have heard today. I know that I speak for the whole House when I say how much we are looking forward to further contributions to our debates from all those who have spoken in this House today for the first time.

My noble friend Lord Mishcon has covered most adequately Home Office and legal matters. I shall deal with social policy matters; namely, education, health and social security. As we know, the debates on the gracious Speech provide the opportunity to consider the measures which are proposed in the Speech and to draw attention to those problems in policy which are not mentioned in it. At the beginning of this Session (perhaps the last of this Parliament) it is appropriate to reflect briefly on what has happened in the field of social policy since 1979 and to look forward to some of the reforms in that sphere that will be introduced by an incoming Labour administration.

Although education is centrally important in considering social policy, I do not propose to deal with the topic at length this evening because my colleagues on these Benches intend to put down a Motion for a full five-hour debate on education for the Labour debate on 21st November. There are some brief points I wish to make. On these Benches we broadly welcome the proposed Bill dealing with teachers' pay and conditions and to restore the negotiating rights of teachers. We shall certainly wish to question any provisions enabling local authorities and grant-maintained schools to opt out of national agreements. We fear that such provisions would undoubtedly exacerbate the existing teachers' supply problem in the poorer areas. We also fear that they could worsen the shortages which are now being experienced.

The problem of teachers' pay was brought home to me graphically the other day by an old friend of mine who is a man in his mid-50s and the head of a department in a large comprehensive school. He told me in passing that his son aged 23, who is an industrial chemist, would catch up with his father's salary after his next increase in pay. I wish to put a few specific questions on education to the Minister. When he replies can he tell the House in terms what is the Government's policy on education vouchers? We all understood that vouchers were off the education agenda, but it seems from the Prime Minister's speech to the Conservative Party conference that they are very firmly on the agenda again. It will be helpful to know just where the Government stand on that issue.

Can the Minister also confirm that the backlog of repairs in maintained schools now amounts to about £3 billion? We understand that there has been a very patchy uptake of student loans and a good deal of variation in administration of the access funds. It will be helpful if the Minister can give us the latest information he has on this point. A number of your Lordships have quoted the cryptic statement in the gracious Speech that, My Government will continue to work to improve the quality of Health and Social Services". In the light of that statement can the Minister say how that can be reconciled with the information reported only this week about big closures of waiting lists and a financial crisis in the health service? The Independent newspaper yesterday quoted a survey of health authorities which said that 4,500 beds have already been closed this year. The College of Health has said that waiting lists may reach 1 million this winter. The National Association of Health Authorities and Trusts reported today and confirmed all these figures. Sixty per cent. of health authorities have only been able to keep within their cash limits by freezing posts, drawing down reserves, reducing services, cutting the number of staff employed, closing wards at weekends and holiday periods, cutting back on drugs and equipment budgets and freezing maintenance. It seems that the much vaunted reforms in the health service appear to be unravelling before they are introduced. Apart from the under-estimation of inflation and the underfunding of pay awards, health authorities may face the problem of having to wipe out their deficits and balance their books by April 1991 so that the new internal market can operate on a level playing field. That is to put book keeping before treatment. The Government have written off literally billions of debt in the nationalised industries in order to fatten them up for privatisation and have then spent millions on fees and promotion of privatisation. Why cannot they do the same as regards the £70 million to £100 million of underlying debt in the National Health Service? What is achieved for patients by this obsession with book keeping?

I should like to put three specific questions to the Minister. I hope that he will not reply by quoting the global figure for health service expenditure from today's Autumn Statement. First, what is the Government's estimate of the total number of bed closures in the health service for the year ending April 1991? Secondly, what is the Government's estimate of the peak figure for hospital waiting lists between now and April next year? Thirdly, will the Government undertake to write off the underlying deficit in the health service which will be there in April 1991 or, if they are unable to do so, will they allow health authorities to spread the wiping out of the deficit over a period of two to three years instead of two to three months?

We welcome the Government's proposals regarding child maintenance and the Child Support Agency. These are right in principle. However, the Minister and the House will know that considerable concern has already been expressed regarding the practical operation of the proposals and their possible effect on the families involved. There is a genuine fear that in some cases recipients of benefit will have a marginal tax rate of 100 per cent., losing £1 of benefit for every £1 of maintenance received, thereby reducing the incentive of the lone parent to seek employment.

We know that the £15 disregard on family credit will be more than swallowed up in child care costs. Indeed, if the Government increased the disregard and allowed the child care costs, there could be a net gain to the Treasury through the reduction in social security payments as lone parents would then be encouraged to take up employment. There is a strong suspicion that the Government's main intention is to reduce the £3.6 billion cost to the Exchequer of lone parents and to ensure that the absent parent's first duty is to meet the cost to the state of the family situation, with the duty to the children coming into play only after the bill to the taxpayer has been reduced.

There is also a very real concern regarding the proposal to punish lone parents by deducting one-fifth of their benefit if they refuse to name the absent parent. How is that proposal supposed to help the children who are, after all, the innocent victims in such a situation? Rather than supporting children, the Child Support Agency could in fact place many more in poverty because the first family may not receive all the payments or the second family will suffer from low income through benefit. That could put more children at risk and in need of the social services and their "preventive" measures than would otherwise be the case. The one piece of excellent government legislation, the Children Act 1989, will, we fear, have to fight an uphill battle with other new government social security legislation in this respect.

The proposals in the gracious Speech regarding social security relate to the two new benefits for disabled people; namely, the new disability allowance and the disability employment credit. We welcome both measures. In introducing the debate today, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor referred to the "simplicity" of the new disability allowance. As I understand it, the merging of the mobility allowance and the attendance allowance will produce a matrix of no less than 11 variations of allowance. That need not be wrong, but it is hardly the simplification of the benefit system which we were promised in the Social Security Act 1988 or indeed that was mentioned earlier today. With the new disability employment credit, the Government must ensure that this helps disabled people to find employment and does not put at risk their future entitlement to long-term disability benefits. Can the Minister tell us whether there will be a consultation document which will be circulated on the new system of employment credit?

We welcome the proposals for self-assessment for the two new benefits. It is to be hoped that this will overcome some of the anomalies and injustices which exist in the adjudication at present, certainly as regards the mobility allowance. However, we shall need to examine the proposals in detail.

There are many other problems in social security besides those dealt with by the introduction of the two new benefits. I fear that it may be too much to hope that the Government will deal with them in a social security Bill in the coming Session. There are disabled households which are £200 to £500 a year worse off as a result of the switch from rates to poll tax and the ending of rate relief for disabled households. There are then the 100,000 or more people who are still on transitional protection and who in April next year will face their fourth year running without any increase in their benefits. There are poor families who are above the level of family credit. There are also poor families with three or four children who have received a 3 per cent. or 4 per cent. increase in their child benefit compared with rich families with one child who have received a 12 per cent. increase.

There are also the 22 per cent. of children under the age of 16 in Scotland who are now dependent upon income support, compared with a figure of 8 per cent. in 1979. There are pensioners who have lost £22 billion since 1979 by the ending of the link between pensions and earnings and all those who have suffered from the cumulative cutback in real terms of some £27 billion in benefit since 1979.

I do not know whether your Lordships have seen the report produced during the past few weeks by Barnardos entitled Missing the Target. It is a damning indictment of the operation of the Social Security Act 1988. Sometimes the Prime Minister and her Ministers quote the parable of the Good Samaritan to support their social policy. They point out that the Good Samaritan was only able to help because he had money. That is a curiously utilitarian exegesis.

According to every independent survey and the Government's own figures since 1979, there are more people on low incomes, more people on the minimum safety net level of benefit and more people with incomes below the safety net level. Moreover, since 1979 there has been a negligible income growth in real terms for the poorest groups, accompanied by a significant income growth among the rest of the population especially as regards the £26 billion handed back to higher rate taxpayers. When we consider all that, I suggest to the Government that if they wish to call in aid the parable of the Good Samaritan, a more suitable role model for their social policy would be the rich man who passed by on the other side.

In conclusion I must point out that time does not allow me to cover the many other issues which arise in respect of social policy: the continuing shortfall, despite the recent increases, between income support and the cost of residential and nursing care; all the problems resulting from the postponement of community care, as referred to by many noble Lords today; the shortfall, despite the £30 million ring-fenced grant, in the provision of services for those with mental handicaps or suffering from mental illness; and the continuing and agonising problems of carers. There are of course many more such issues.

Noble Lords are entitled to ask: what will a Labour Government do about these problems? We have proposals, set out in detail in our policy documents, which deal with pensions—both state retirement pensions and personal pensions—and child benefit. There are proposals for a new disability benefit and increases in existing benefits. There are new carers' benefits and proposals to extend respite care; a national minimum wage; ring-fencing of community care; and the funding in full of health service pay awards. The pension and child benefit proposals will be introduced immediately. The other policies will be introduced over time and as resources allow.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Henley)

Ah, my Lords!

Lord Carter

My Lords, I thought that the Minister would say that. The question of resources is crucial, and I shall tell the Minister why. I do not intend to intrude upon next Wednesday's debate on the economy, but the incoming government, whoever wins the next election, will face a massive economic problem. We have a structural deficit on the balance of payments of some £15 billion while the economy is in recession. What figure will it reach if the economy starts to grow? We face the painful adjustments that will flow from entry into the ERM. We face an economy which is fundamentally out of balance as between consumption, investment and public expenditure.

For all those reasons, some harsh choices will have to be made in putting essential social policies into effect. Those harsh choices will face any government. Only a Labour Government will make the choices on the grounds of social equity, justice and fairness—the grounds which have been so signally missing since 1979.

8.40 p.m.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I should like to join with other noble Lords in congratulating my three noble friends on their excellent maiden speeches. My noble friend Lord Howe made an informed speech on the Criminal Justice Bill and prisons and their problems. My noble friend Lady Eccles, as a distinguished chairman of Ealing District Health Authority, spoke about the NHS. My noble friend Lord Pearson spoke with great expertise on higher education as an outsider. How welcome it is to hear an outsider from higher education give us the benefit of his advice in the House where we have so many insiders on that subject.

The debate covered a wide range of subjects and departments. We occasionally went way beyond the subjects that are normally part of this debate. One noble Lord mentioned the Gulf. The subject of housing was mentioned. That may be more a matter for my noble friend Lady Blatch when she speaks on Monday in the debate on the environment and transport. I am sure that noble Lords do not expect me to cover every point raised, especially as many of them relate to legislation which will come before us later. Those points can no doubt properly be made in the context of those Bills. I shall try to answer as many points as I can. I give the assurance that I shall write to noble Lords on the points that I do not cover, which I imagine will be the vast majority because of the number of cases that were put before us. I have listened to every speaker and noted every point that has been made.

I shall try to deal by department with matters that have been mentioned. I intend to touch briefly on education, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, pointed out, we are shortly to debate that subject. I shall then touch on health and the arts briefly, the various Bills covered by the Home Office and last, and by no means least, merely because it happens to be the department that I have the honour to represent, the Department of Social Security.

I turn to education, a matter raised by various noble Lords. I should like to say a word or two in addition to what my noble and learned friend said about the new teachers' pay machinery. The proposal was broadly welcomed by various noble Lords.

The Government's proposals for new teachers' pay machinery will restore teachers' negotiating rights. That is what most of the unions and the employers wanted. They also provide for individual LEAs and the governing bodies of grant-maintained schools to opt out of the national arrangements and determine the pay and conditions of their teachers locally where they think that will better enable them to meet local circumstances and needs.

The proposals offer full and fair opportunities for negotiation between teachers and their employers, and a means to resolve deadlock if the negotiators cannot agree. They acknowledge the interests of employers, teachers and government in the determination of teachers' pay. They afford a basis for the peaceful resolution of questions of pay and conditions, and their adaptation to the changes which face our schools in the 1990s.

As I said, noble Lords will have an opportunity to debate the details of the proposals fully when the legislation is brought before the House, and during the debate that we are to have in two or three weeks' time.

It has been alleged by various noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, that there is severe under-resourcing of education. Perhaps I may remind him that spending per pupil in primary and secondary schools has risen by some 40 per cent. in real terms since 1979–80. I shall take just one item: spending on books and equipment. That has risen from some £20 per head per primary and secondary pupil in 1979–80 to £49 per pupil in 1988–89; the ratio of pupils to teachers in primary and secondary education has fallen from 18.7:1 in 1979–80 to 17:1 now.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, mentioned a number of detailed points upon which I shall not touch now but about which I shall write to him. I can say only that a t present we have no plans to introduce vouchers.

I shall make just one comment on the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Pearson and his tribute to the Council for National Academic Awards. I share his views on the outstanding role it has played over the past 25 years in maintaining and enhancing the quality of higher education. He referred to the review of its role. I understand that my right honour able friend the Secretary of State has consulted widely on the recommendations and is currently considering his response.

I turn now to the Department of Health and the various reforms of the NHS. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor outlined the steps now being taken to improve the quality of health and social services through the introduction of the reforms of the NHS, which I am pleased that my noble friend Lady Eccles welcomed, and the identification of health priorities and setting targets for them. That is a significant programme of action. We have received 66 applications for NHS trust status which are awaiting approval from the Secretary of State for Health, and 350 applications for GP fund holding are being considered. Major efforts are being made to ensure the readiness of the NHS contractual system which will come into effect from April next year. We can look forward to a new style NHS: one which is responsive to the needs of patients; one which provides greater satisfaction and reward for those employed in the service; one which has consistently received a real term increase in financial support throughout the period of this Government; and one which is working to improve the health of the population.

Both the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and the noble Lord, Lord Carter, referred briefly to the report by what used to be called NAHA and is now, I understand, called NAHAT relating to bed closures. NAHAT claimed that bed closures constitute the one barometer of hospital provision universally recognised. The figures that the report quotes take no account of the fact that while some beds have closed others have opened or are in the pipeline. It also takes no account of the fact that, as mentioned in the very informed speech of a medical professional, my noble friend Lord McColl, it is activity levels that matter and not bed numbers where patient care is concerned. Similarly NAHAT concedes that bed closures, both temporary and permanent, mostly occur for medical or policy reasons rather than as a response to financial pressures Perhaps I may take up one other point on waiting lists. My noble friend Lady Hooper dealt with this very well at Question Time only recently. She made the important point that should be repeated again and again that it is not the waiting lists that are important but the waiting time. Waiting times are lessening and improving.

I move to the subject of government funding of the arts. I welcome the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Donaldson and Lord Morris of Castle Morris. I regret that I shall not be visiting either the bakelite museum in Dulwich or the bagpipe museum in Newcastle. My noble friend Lady Faithfull mentioned the mousetrap museum and similarly I have no plans at present to visit that museum, wherever it might be. I have heard that there is a museum of barbed wire somewhere in America. Possibly that shows the ingenuity of man in finding new items to collect and in which to take an interest.

The Government's aim is to encourage public access to and appreciation and enjoyment of the arts and the nation's cultural heritage. They will keep up their support and create conditions in which the arts can develop. The three-year funding programmes, which the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, welcomed, have provided the means to implement the policy and the assurance that the Government are honouring their commitments. They have given and are giving arts bodies the incentive to plan ahead and the opportunity to increase resources overall for development and growth. However, I must stress that it is a matter of resources; there have not been cuts, we have seen a growth of 48 per cent. in real terms since 1979–80. However much we provide, I am sure that noble Lords and individual bodies will always want more; but we must recognise that everything for which each organisation or body asks will not necessarily be met.

I turn now to various subjects that we could refer to loosely as Home Office matters. Drug trafficking and misuse were not discussed a great deal by noble Lords in the debate, but it would be worth saying a word or two about them here because the gracious Speech referred to the Government's vigorous efforts to combat the evils of drug trafficking and misuse. I wish to emphasise how wide-ranging these efforts are.

Strong powers already exist for the confiscation of the profits of domestic drug trafficking. We have taken the lead in negotiating multilateral and bilateral agreements to complement these powers at the international level. We hosted the world ministerial drugs summit last spring at which 126 countries reaffirmed their commitment to tackling both the trafficking and the demand for drugs. At the summit too we announced the creation of the United Kingdom demand reduction task force as a practical demonstration of our commitment to help other countries tackle their drug problems.

Within Britain we are going ahead with the establishment of 20 teams working with the community in inner cities and other at-risk areas against the threat posed by drug misuse. These and other initiatives take place against the backdrop of the unremitting work carried out by the police, customs, teachers and health workers against the trafficking and misuse of drugs. I know that the House will join me in paying tribute to their work.

On the Criminal Justice Bill, I welcome what I took to be partial support from the noble Lords, Lord Mishcon and Lord Harris, for the Bill. As my noble and learned friend said in opening the debate some hours ago, the Bill is largely based on the proposals in the White Paper published in February. These were broadly welcomed by most of those who commented on it. When the Bill is published, its general tenor will, I think, come as no surprise to most people.

The White Paper itself should be regarded as a development of our thinking on the way in which the criminal justice system treats offenders rather than a completely new departure. The proposals also to a large extent build on the existing sentencing principles which the Court of Appeal has developed. As to sentencing, the White Paper developed the ideas canvassed in the Green Paper Punishment, Custody and the Community, published in July 1988. As to parole, it took up many of the recommendations in the report of the committee that reviewed the operation of the parole system in England and Wales. This was published in November 1988. My noble and learned friend has explained in fairly general terms how the Bill will deal with these issues.

Following my noble and learned friend, I am afraid that I cannot go into points of detail on the Bill. Nevertheless, I shall try to respond to some of the points made by noble Lords within that constraint. Both the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon and the noble Lord, Lord Harris, took the Government very much to task over the state of the prisons. We feel that state will undoubtedly be helped by the proposals which the Criminal Justice Bill will contain to divert offenders from custody. We feel that the Bill will help to ensure that many more minor and less serious offenders serve their sentences in the community. The new order combining probation and community service, for example, could divert 4,000 offenders from custody.

I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, that the probation service will be given resources to cope with the additional offenders. Following the Autumn Statement of my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, there will be an extra 360 probation service staff next year, and a further 480 by the end of 1993–94.

I also listened to the Autumn Statement repeated in this House. I noticed a sense of sadness in the House when the Statement mentioned that the prison building programme is being scaled down a little. This reflects the success of our policy so far in diverting offenders from custody and the intended effects of the Criminal Justice Bill's proposals. Nevertheless, 13 new prisons remain in the programme, which should meet the demand for places. An extra £50 million will be spent in 1991–92 to improve the prisons' estate, especially following the Strangeways incident. The intention is that 75 per cent. of prison places will have access to integral sanitation by 1993–94. I should also stress that expenditure on the prison system has risen by 100 per cent. in real terms since 1979. So the Government have a record of providing resources to meet the perceived needs. Both noble Lords also asked whether we would introduce legally enforceable minimum standards. As I have said, the Government are succeeding in improving physical conditions through a greatly expanded programme of new building and refurbishment. The plans for this work take account of the need to reduce overcrowding, as far as is practical, and to provide access to sanitation. Particular emphasis is placed on work that is designed to raise standards of hygiene.

The matter of a code is one of the issues which I understand the Woolf Inquiry has taken evidence on. We shall consider the views of Lord Justice Woolf, but the mere existence of a new code would not necessarily alter anything. The Government's view is that it is more effective to set out clear priorities to reduce overcrowding, to increase the proportion of cells with integral sanitation and to continue to extend regime opportunities by increasing the number of hours that prisoners are usefully occupied in work or recreation.

I turn now to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, on whether the Criminal Justice Bill will include provisions on mentally handicapped persons who are unfit to plead. I am glad that the noble Lord is looking forward to the Bill. I shall pass his comments on to my noble friend Lord Ferrers, who will welcome the noble Lord's involvement in the Bill as he is a distinguished former Permanent Secretary in the Home Office. The noble Lord will see the Bill soon as I understand that it is to be published tomorrow. He will have an opportunity, as will others, to table amendments in due course if he thinks it is right to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Nathan, mentioned the judgment of the European Court in the case of Thynne, Wilson and Gunnell. We are urgently considering our response to that judgment. I can only say that we shall announce our conclusions in due course. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, mentioned the position of mentally disordered offenders in the criminal justice system. The Government seek to ensure that mentally disordered offenders receive the most appropriate and timely placement. Our aim is to ensure that in suitable cases they are dealt with without resort to the courts or, failing that, the penal system. We recognise that there is scope to increase the level of diversion. This can best be effected—

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, will the Minister repeat that?

Lord Henley

My Lords, our aim is to ensure that in suitable cases they are dealt with without resort to the courts or, failing that, the penal system. We recognise that there is scope to increase the level of diversion. This can best be effected by increasing local awareness of non-custodial options and encouraging closer and more effective working relationships between all the professional agencies and individuals involved.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, does not the noble Lord appreciate that there are hundreds of such people going through the criminal justice system and that no one wants them? In particular, the National Health Service will not accept those people. The result of that is that they get sucked into prison. What specifically are the Government going to do? Expressions of good will are, unhappily, no solution to this problem.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I can tell the noble Lord that the Home Office has recently issued guidance to the courts, the police, the probation service and other bodies on how to deal with mentally disordered persons who commit offences. The guidance has the full support of the Department of Health and has been circulated to both health and social services authorities. The Government's policy aims to ensure that people with mental disorders who are suitable for and would benefit from care in the community should receive such care. However, it was never intended that all mentally disordered offenders should be accommodated in the community. Some would certainly not be suitable for such a placement and each individual case has to be considered on its merits, taking account of the clinical judgment and the need to ensure the safety of the public. No mentally disordered person detained in hospital should be discharged from the hospital until the strict criteria laid down in the Mental Health Act are met. No patient should be discharged until proper care and attention while he is in the community have been arranged.

I now turn to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Allen, who spoke of crime statistics and mentioned the potential weakness of all forms of crime statistics. He praised the British crime survey, which to date has been carried out in 1982, 1984 and 1988. We accept that its findings have been of great value and we have no plans to discontinue it. However, large-scale services are costly. Although we should like to mount a fourth sweep in 1992, finding the money will not be easy and we may be forced to defer plans for a year or so.

I turn now to charities. The noble Lords, Lord Allen of Abbeydale and Lord Houghton of Sowerby, asked when there would be a charities Bill. We remain committed to the proposals contained in the White Paper entitled Charities: a Framework for the Future which we published in May 1989. Equally, it remains our hope to introduce legislation within the lifetime of this Parliament. However, this is a complex area of law and it is right that we should not be in too much of a hurry to proceed.

I now turn to the War Crimes Bill. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor said: The War Crimes Bill will be introduced in identical terms to the Bill which was refused a Second Reading in your Lordships' House last Session". My noble and learned friend also said: In reintroducing this Bill, we shall be seeking to secure the support for it of both Houses of Parliament". I shall not add anything to what my noble and learned friend said on that occasion, nor shall I rehearse the arguments for or against that Bill. However, I wish to make one brief point about the Parliament Acts.

Under the terms of the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1945, the House of Commons may suggest amendments to a Bill which has been reintroduced following a defeat in the House of Lords in the previous Session. Such amendments are not inserted in the Bill but are sent to this House with the Bill after it has completed all its stages in another place. If this House finds the amendments acceptable, they are treated as amendments made by the House of Lords and agreed by the House of Commons. Should the House of Lords once again reject the Bill, it will pass into law without the suggested amendments.

I now conclude my remarks on what I referred to as Home Office matters. The Maintenance Enforcement Bill should not be confused with the Child Maintenance Bill. I believe that both my noble kinsman Lord Russell and the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, confused the two Bills. The Maintenance Enforcement Bill will, in our judgment, make an immediate and practical contribution to making the present maintenance system work better. It will ensure that creditors receive their maintenance regularly, which can be as important as the amount of maintenance ordered. The Bill is focused on the short term, and accordingly complements the Government's wider initiative to reform the whole maintenance system. It highlights the importance which we attach to making parental responsibility a reality.

Turning now to the last department that I intend to cover, I shall start with the Child Maintenance Bill —not to be confused with the Maintenance Enforcement Bill. The current system of obtaining maintenance payments for children is fragmented, inconsistent, often slow and ineffective. For example, only 30 per cent. of lone mothers and 3 per cent. of lone fathers receive maintenance regularly, and over three-quarters of a million lone parents and their children depend on income support. Reform is long overdue.

The Government are convinced that the proposals which will be contained in the Child Maintenance Bill will bring order and equity to that very complex area. The proposals in the Bill will seek to ensure that there will be an easily understood, universal formula for assessing maintenance; that the formula will produce maintenance assessments which are fair to all parties and realistically related to the costs of caring for children; that caring parents who wish to work will have the incentive to do so; and that there is a clear legal responsibility for both parents to maintain their children and that that responsibility is honoured.

Both my noble kinsman and the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, suggested that the proposals do not strengthen responsibility but enforce it. I accept that that is the case. However, even if parents' relationships break down their responsibilities as parents continue. It is not right that they should be able to avoid those responsibilities. We are seeking to make the assessment, collection and, where necessary, enforcement of maintenance simpler and fairer.

Various noble Lords feared that some lone parents would not wish to name the other parent. I can assure noble Lords that at present some 80 per cent. of lone mothers name the father. However, we understand that there will be circumstances in which it is entirely reasonable for the caring parent not to wish to co-operate. We are giving very careful consideration to what those circumstances may be and we shall certainly make provision for them. It is a matter that we shall be able to discuss at some length when the Bill reaches the House.

There was also some criticism of the benefits sanction on the caring parent if she refuses to co-operate. I say "she" in this case because it is my understanding that in most cases it would be the mother, but obviously where I say "she", "he" could also be appropriate. Any sanction would apply only to the caring parent's own personal allowance and not to benefit in respect of children. The basic principle is that, just as an absent parent should not be able to throw his responsibility on to the state, so a caring parent should not be able to do so.

Lastly, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, suggested that the only reason for making the savings is to satisfy the Treasury.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I said that it was the main reason, not the only reason.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I accept the correction by the noble Lord. However, I know that he and his noble friends always mistrust the aims of the Government and seem to impute everything to the allegedly malign influence of the Treasury. The interests of the taxpayer are important. There is no reason why taxpayers, many of whom are bringing up families on modest incomes, should subsidise those who choose to avoid their responsibility. However, our real motive is to put children first and to ensure that regular maintenance payments are made through efficient and non-confrontational means.

I know that these issues are of deep concern to your Lordships. I am sure that the House will welcome the spirit of the Government's intentions in this matter, in spite of what I have just said about the noble Lords' quibbles about the Treasury. The House will have an opportunity to debate the details of our proposals. I am certain that together we shall strive to ensure that, to adapt the title of the White Paper, children really do come first.

I have now been speaking for some 30 minutes but perhaps I may briefly say a few words about benefits for disabled people. I am grateful for the partial welcome that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, gave to the new disability Bill which will be introduced in time. The introduction of new disability benefits demonstrates the Government's continuing commitment to improving the position of disabled people, building on our already substantial achievements. Since taking office we have increased spending by £4 billion, which is an increase of almost 100 per cent. in real terms. The number of people able to claim disability benefits has increased dramatically. To quote only two benefits, numbers receiving attendance allowance have increased by over 300 per cent. and numbers receiving mobility allowance by nearly 650 per cent.

We have also made substantial increases for carers. By extending invalid care allowance to married women we increased the number of claimants from 5,000 to 111,000. In the uprating statement the Government announced that the carers' earnings disregard will increase from £20 to £30 a week. And from this autumn, we have introduced in the income-related benefits the carer premium, which is payable on top of other premiums. We have also announced a further improvement: that the premium can continue for eight weeks after caring ceases.

These measures exemplify the Government's care and concern for disabled people, as do the new benefits proposed by this Bill, which would add a further £300 million to the very substantial amount —more that £8 billion—already being spent. They also carry forward our expressed aim of targeting resources on those most in need, in particular people disabled from birth or early in life, who have had least opportunity to make provision from earning and saving. This Government's record on disabled people is one to be proud of. The proposals in the Bill carry this still further.

Perhaps I may deal briefly with the question asked by my noble friend Lord Swinfen. I note his remarks; indeed, we recently met and discussed this subject. I have to tell him now what I told him then. The future of the severe disablement allowance residence test is still a matter which we are considering in the broader context of arrangements for disability benefits generally.

Over the past 11 years this Government have proved that they have the energy, determination and vision to tackle some of Britain's most intractable problems head on. As a radical, reforming government we know and accept that there is unfinished business. Today a more self-confident, meritocratic society rightly demands higher standards from public services and greater opportunities in their lives. We want to see that those demands are satisfied. This Government have been sustained for more than a decade by an understanding of, and sympathy with, the aspirations of families throughout Britain. Our plans for the next Session show that we remain in tune with the people of this country.

We want an even more responsive, efficient health service that is able to meet the growing demands we all make of it. We understand that parents demand higher standards and more say as to how, and where, their children are educated. We are determined to do more to protect the public from violent criminals. And we want to keep less serious offenders out of gaol and away from the malign influence of hardened criminals. We will end the scandal of only three in 10 lone parents receiving the regular maintenance payments which are theirs by right with our plans for a new Child Support Agency. We are continuing the major shake-up of the benefits for disabled people, removing barriers to work and creating a system more attuned to the needs and circumstances of disabled people.

The Queen's Speech underlines the continuing dynamism of this Government. We remain, as we have throughout these past 11 years, determined to meet the real concerns of people throughout this country. Our proposals for the next Session are designed to do precisely that.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara, I beg to move that this debate he now adjourned until Monday next.

Moved, That the debate be now adjourned until Monday next.—(Baroness Blatch.)

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

Avon Light Rail Transit Bill [H.L.]

Avon Light Rail Transit (Bristol City Centre) Bill [H.L.]

London Underground (Safety Measures) Bill [H.L.]

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Aberdare)

acquainted the House that, (pursuant to the Resolutions of 17th, 23rd and 25th October last) the Bills had been deposited in the Private Bill Office, together with the declarations of the agents; the Bills were presented, read a first time, read a second time pro forma and committed to Select Committees.

British Railways (No. 3) Bill [H.L.]

London Local Authorities (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill [H.L.]

Mersey Docks and Harbour Bill [H.L.]

Midland Metro (Penalty Fares) Bill [H.L.]

The Chairman of Committees

acquainted the House that, (pursuant to the Resolutions of 17th and 25th October last) the Bills had been deposited in the Private Bill Office, together with the declarations of the agents; the Bills were presented, read a first time, read a second time pro forma and reported from the Committees.

Llanelli Borough Council (Burry Port Harbour) Bill [H.L.]

North Yorkshire County Council Bill [H.L.]

The Chairman of Committees

acquainted the House that, (pursuant to the Resolutions of 17th and 23rd October last) the Bills had been deposited in the Private Bill Office, together with the declarations of the agents; the Bills were presented, read a first time, read a second time pro forma and committed to Unopposed Bill Committees.

House adjourned at seventeen minutes past nine o'clock.