§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Debate on the Address resumed.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, we very much look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, in a few moments. I propose to divide what I have to say into two parts. First, I shall deal with the contents of the gracious Speech as they affect the areas of policy for which the Home Office is responsible. Secondly, I shall turn to a number of important matters which are not in the gracious Speech but which have to be addressed by Parliament with some degree of urgency as soon as the forthcoming general election is over.
First, under the matters which were in the gracious Speech, I turn to the charities Bill. I welcome unreservedly the fact that the Bill will be introduced in this House, and the Government deserve credit for having found time for it. I am sure the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, agrees that this concludes a long campaign which has been waged by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, to have the matter dealt with in this House as soon as possible. We welcome the opportunity of discussing it very soon. The issues in the Bill are important as they deal with the risk of fraud in charities. The noble Earl was quite right; there are not many occasions where we have problems of this character, but nevertheless it is right that the Bill should be introduced here. I look forward to discussing it and hope that it will pass through this House quickly so that there is some prospect of putting it on the statute book before the general election.
I turn now to the Bill dealing with prison mutiny to which the noble Lord, Lord Richard, referred and the other element within the Bill of increasing the maximum penalty for aiding prisoners to escape. I do not wish to express any views on the Bill as it has not been published. However, I am bound to remind the noble Earl that there was no recommendation on these matters by Lord Justice Woolf who conducted a detailed inquiry into the disturbances at Strangeways and a number of other Prison Department establishments.
Although I do not wish to criticise the Bill before it is published, I repeat the criticism made by the noble Lord, Lord Richard, that a whole range of penalties is available for people who are involved in acts of violence in prison. Criminal damage has been referred to but on certain occasions there could also be charges of grievous bodily harm. I therefore find it a little odd that we are to have the Bill at all. No doubt the noble Earl will be able to reassure us of the merits of the proposal when it comes before us.
Then there is the curious episode of the Bill on joyriders. I do not like the term "joyriders". As the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, observed, it is a singularly inappropriate way of describing people committing serious criminal offences. I can understand the circumstances which caused the Government to examine the matter. According to The 247 Times of 10th October 1991 at the Conservative Party Conference the Home Secretary referred to it. The article stated that:A new offence to combat joyriding was announced by Kenneth Baker yesterday as he tried to reassure the conference that the government was committed to tough law and order policies".If that is the intention of the Government, I find it a little odd that proposals did not appear in the gracious Speech. What happened was that following the publication of the gracious Speech a number of tabloid newspapers, and politicians, criticised the Home Secretary for not having put a Bill in the gracious Speech. Next, we were told that although it was not in the gracious Speech we would still have the Bill. The additional comment was made that the Government hoped that they would receive the co-operation of the Opposition in putting the Bill on to the statute book.
I wish to make two comments about that. First, I recognise that large numbers of people are rightly disturbed about what happened in Newcastle, Oxford and Merseyside, particularly the tragic deaths of three people within the past few weeks. I find it unattractive that the business of joyriding has now become a spectator sport with large numbers of people turning up to watch young hooligans who have stolen cars driving them through built-up areas.
However, should this require new legislation? That is the point to which we must direct our attention. After all, a person who causes death in the circumstances I have described can be charged with the offence of manslaughter. There are many other criminal penalties available for dealing with the problem under the various provisions of the road traffic Acts.
Perhaps it is proposed that there should be prolonged periods of disqualification—as has been suggested in the press—with additional penalties of disqualification for children aged 13, 14 and 15 who are involved. The period of disqualification would begin, it is said, at their eighteenth birthday. All I can say to the noble Earl is that the Government are being amazingly optimistic if they take the view that that will cut down the commission of offences of this character. However, we are awaiting the publication of that Bill and we shall debate it on its merits.
As regards the co-operation of the Opposition, certainly in this House there has never been a policy of trying to obstruct the passage of government Bills. It would be quite inappropriate for the House of Lords to attempt to do so. However, as the noble Lords the Leader of the House and the Government Chief Whip are present I wish to remind the House of what happened when the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol Etc.) Bill was being discussed in July 1985. It was proposed by the then Government Chief Whip that we should proceed with all the stages of that Bill in a single day. If that is what is meant by co-operation from the Opposition I must tell the noble Lords concerned that there is absolutely no question of us agreeing to any such procedure. If we are talking about introducing new criminal offences in legislation 248 it is essential that Parliament should have a right to discuss those provisions in detail. I hope that Ministers will take that point into account.
I now turn to the other provision in the gracious Speech that I wish to discuss—the forthcoming Asylum Bill. I accept that there is a serious problem. In my view it is wholly foolish to pretend that there is no problem as regards significant numbers of people turning up at our sea-ports or airports who are in reality economic migrants. None of us on these Benches would deny the existence of that problem. Nevertheless, I find a number of the provisions of this Bill profoundly unsatisfactory. The fast track procedure causes me considerable concern as it gives officials the right to make decisions on some of these matters. The provisions on legal aid are also objectionable.
I hope the noble Lord the Leader of the House will forgive me for repeating the admirable words he used on a previous occasion. When he was Minister of State in the Home Office he spoke in the House of Commons on the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Bill, which became an Act in 1987. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, assured the House of Commons that the Bill would be operated "sensibly and reasonably". He stated that in Committee on 26th March 1987 at col. 628 of the Commons Hansard. In the debate that took place in this House 15 days ago, on the final day of the parliamentary Session, I asked whether immigration officers had had the words "sensibly and reasonably" specifically drawn to their attention as regards making a determination on the scale of penalties which were to be imposed on airline and ferry companies that the officials considered were guilty of an offence. As I understood the answer the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, gave on that occasion, the officials had not had their attention drawn specifically to those words. I hope Ministers will recognise that when we debate the Asylum Bill any assurances of a similar character that are given by Ministers will be treated with considerable caution by noble Lords in all parts of the House. We shall want such assurances to be written into the Bill.
I have given the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, notice of my next point. I refer to the two statements made by the noble Lord the Leader of the House on 22nd October in which he, no doubt unwittingly, misled a number of noble Lords. During that debate I and others pointed out that there was no relationship whatever between the words used by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, when he was Minister of State in the House of Commons with regard to the fines being imposed "sensibly and reasonably" on airlines and ferry companies and the events that occurred after the passage of the 1987 Act. As I said in our debate in October, under the terms of the 1987 Act the airlines and ferry companies concerned could, until August of this year, have been fined £1,000 for every passenger they brought to Great Britain who did not have the proper travel documents. After August the fine was increased to £2,000. Our debate of 22nd October was on a prayer to seek to annul that regulation; namely, the increase in the fine from £1,000 to £2,000.
249 I apologise for repeating myself but those noble Lords who were not present during that debate should recognise what is happening. Following the introduction of the 1987 Act airlines and ferry companies have been fined more than £30 million. Despite the assurances given by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, when in the House of Commons, 65 Turks who boarded a British Airways plane in Cairo en route to Lisbon with the objective of changing flights at London airport destroyed their travel documents during the course of the flight and asked for asylum in London. British Airways was consequently fined £65,000. I asked the noble Lord to justify that fine, which was imposed by Home Office officials and not by any form of independent tribunal, but I was not given a reply.
There was the case of the businessman who had to travel to Frankfurt. He had a one-entry visa to enter this country and was subsequently asked by his company to travel to Frankfurt to do business and then return to Britain. The airline that transported him was fined £1,000. Was that businessman an economic migrant or a person seeking political asylum? Of course he was not. He was a businessman trying to do his job. Yet despite the assurances given by Ministers, officials imposed that fine and there was no appeal against it.
Finally, there is the most ludicrous case of all—that of the Nepalese military band. The uniformed Nepalese military band, 16 strong—the members of the band had one-entry visas to the United Kingdom—arrived at Dover hoverport en route to Heathrow. After playing Nepalese military music throughout the United Kingdom they had made the grave error of doing the same thing in France. The company that transported them was fined £32,000. What conceivable justification is there for such foolishness?
I referred to all those cases in our previous debate but I received no coherent explanation as to why, following ministerial assurances, those extraordinary fines were imposed by officials. I said during our previous debate that I had no desire to force a Division on the matter. However, there was considerable strength of feeling in all parts of the House on the matter. I asked the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, whether he could give us an assurance that the Long Title of the Asylum Bill—it has now been introduced in the House of Commons—would enable us to reopen discussion on the issues in the 1987 Act. I received what I regarded as a perfectly reasonable and sensible answer from the noble Lord. He said perfectly reasonably that he could not give an undertaking while standing at the Dispatch Box in the House of Lords. However, he added:I can repeat what I said before: that I should be very surprised indeed if the scope of the Bill was not wide enough"—to allow such discussion. He continued:I should certainly like to see all these matters ventilated when we come to discuss refugee status".—[Official Report; 22/10/91; col. 1480.]Following that debate I received a letter from the noble Lord, on Friday of last week. He kindly sent me a copy of the Asylum Bill. However, the letter had the 250 effect of making a material change to the statement the Minister had made in the House of Lords. The Minister's letter dated 1st November stated:So far as the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987 is concerned the Bill relates only to the treatment of transit passengers and I am not sure that it will necessarily provide an opportunity to deal with the detailed application of the 1987 Act other than in relation to asylum seekers".He added:I hope this goes some way towards clarifying the position".It certainly clarifies the position, but unhappily it directly contradicted what we understood to be the position when we discussed the Prayer.
I do not propose to say any more about this matter this evening save that, in view of the character of the statement made by the noble Lord, I very much hope that there will be some discussion in the usual channels of this House as to how the matter can now be dealt with. It is highly desirable that the House should have the opportunity to state a clear position on the matter. I am bound to tell the House that if there had been a vote 15 days ago—and I made it clear that that was not my original intention—there is no doubt that, given the strength of feeling expressed on that occasion, the Prayer would have been carried. I repeat that I hope that the usual channels will discuss the matter to see how it can now be dealt with.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to intervene? He has just told your Lordships that in certain circumstances the Prayer would have been voted on and carried. Is the noble Lord aware that to have voted on that Prayer would have been a breach of what is now the long-established convention that your Lordships' House does not vote on negative instruments?
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord. I should like to deal with that point very directly. If it is the view that this House should not vote on Prayers there should be an amendment of the Parliament Acts.
The situation which confronted us 15 days ago was that a Motion had been put down in the House of Commons, signed by over 100 Members, but no time had been found to debate that Prayer. Therefore, the only occasion on which the Government could be challenged was in the course of our debate. We put down the Prayer on the last day on which it was possible to discuss the matter.
If it is the view of this House that we should not vote on Prayers, in my view the Parliament Acts should make that clear. I do not believe that it is right for this House to take powers away from itself unilaterally. That is all the more so given the fact that the amount of delegated legislation imposed on Parliament by this and preceding governments makes debates of this sort the only occasions on which the Executive can be challenged.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, I am sorry to intervene again, but does the noble Lord appreciate that, whatever the merits of the proposal, there has been a long-established convention? It would be quite wrong to alter it simply as a result of one particular debate. If the noble Lord considers it wrong that we 251 should have abandoned the power to vote on Prayers—and that is an arguable point of view—the matter should be discussed through the usual channels and debated on its merits. It should not be used as an excuse in connection with a particular matter on which the noble Lord feels strongly.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, I was not the only noble Lord who felt strongly about the matter. I was joined by a substantial number of Members of the House on the noble Lord's side of the Chamber, including the noble Lord, Lord King, the chairman of British Airways, and a significant number of other noble Lords. However, I repeat that I do not accept that this House is powerless to vote on a Prayer in circumstances such as I have described. If that is the desire there should be some change in the law to remove that power from the House. I do not accept that it is unreasonable to vote in the circumstances I have described.
I turn now to two other important matters which are not referred to in the gracious Speech but which I believe will have to be dealt with by the Home Secretary as a matter of urgency as soon as the new Parliament meets.
First, there are the appalling industrial relations in our prisons. That is a matter which the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and I have discussed on the Floor of the House, on a number of previous occasions. The problem existed long before the present Government came into office. It has been going on for at least 14 years and arguably a great deal longer. Therefore, I do not propose to try to apportion blame for all the current disputes which are now under way.
There are now no fewer than 82 disputes in 45 prisons in England and Wales. Last year at the same time there were disputes at 33 prisons. In most cases the arguments are about levels of manning. The consequences have been extremely severe. The refusal of some prisons to admit prisoners has led to their already appalling conditions being made still worse. For most of the past three months, and possibly longer, 1,800 prisoners have been held in police cells. Those cells are normally used to hold prisoners for three or four hours, but they are now being used to hold prisoners for weeks. Some prisons have refused to accept a particular named prisoner who they are not prepared to have in their midst. At others prisons—and this is an extremely serious matter—instructions which have been given by assistant governors have been countermanded by their subordinates who are officers of the local branch of the Prison Officers' Association.
I do not believe that we can continue like that. That represents a clear challenge to the authority of managers within the prison service. It also represents a challenge to the Home Secretary, in whichever government he may serve.
I have no desire to urge a policy of calculated confrontation with the Prison Officers' Association but I believe that this situation cannot possibly continue. It has to be dealt with. I welcome the Home Secretary's action at Wakefield prison a few weeks ago. I very much hope that the Prison Officers' Association will realise that if such conduct continues, 252 any government, of whatever political complexion, will have to take decisive action to deal with it. Fourteen years is far too long to allow such behaviour to continue.
The other matter which I should like to mention is the tragi-comedy of the award of licences by the Independent Television Commission, based on the provisions of the Broadcasting Act of which the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, was such an eloquent supporter when it went through this House. On that occasion the Government chose, both in this House and in the other place, to ignore the views of a very large number of people who were expert in the matter—my noble friend Lord Thomson of Monifieth (a former chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority), the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, and many others on all sides of the House. Now we know the result. The House will recall the deeply pained observations of one of the principal architects of that legislation, Mrs. Thatcher. In her letter, which Mr. Bruce Gyngell, the chairman of TV-am, chose to publish, she said:When I see how some of the licences have been awarded I am mystified that you did not receive yours and heartbroken. You of all people have done so much for the whole of television and there seems no attention to that. I am only too painfully aware that I was responsible for the legislation".Indeed, she was, but quite a few other people were also responsible for that legislation and not all of them were in the Home Office.
We now have a system in independent television which is based on an absurdity. Scottish Television has had its franchise renewed for £2,000 a year. The Midlands franchise, too, has been renewed at a cost of £2,000 a year. Yet Yorkshire Television is paying £37 million a year, and Granada, which is roughly the same size as Yorkshire, obtained its franchise at roughly a quarter of that cost. TVS was wiped out because it bid too much; TV-am was wiped out because it bid too little.
I fear that there will be a damaging effect upon the quality of programmes in the immediate future. Thames, the largest television company in the country, which has lost its licence, is faced with some extremely difficult decisions. Will it continue to make high-quality programmes for the relatively short period ahead of it, or will it stop doing so? Who believes that Yorkshire, with the immense cost of its licence, will be able to make high-cost programmes? That is the price that we pay for ideology. The Government have got themselves into a truly impossible position and I hope that after the general election the Home Secretary will take early action to deal with the matter.
Perhaps I may say this in conclusion. This country used to have an impressive reputation for many things outside our own shores. It used to be regarded as an oasis of peace and tranquillity in a troubled world. Unhappily, that is no longer true. It used to be seen as a nation with many high-quality public services that were the envy of many other countries in Europe and North America. I find it impossible to believe that that is any longer true. Can we say that it is true of our health and education services when compared with 253 those of Germany? I should have thought not. Can we say that it is true of our railway system when compared with that of Germany or France? Can we say that it is true of the London Underground when contrasted with similar operations in Hamburg or Munich? Can we say that it is true of the cleanliness of our streets when compared with those of Paris?
I for one do not mock the ideas behind Mr. Major's Citizen's Charter. We require an immense improvement in the quality of our public and many of our private services, but, unlike him, I do not believe that any of that can be achieved without spending significant sums of public money.
Some noble Lords may have seen a recent television programme on the Fenchurch Street to Southend line which is alleged to be the worst line in the country. I am perfectly prepared to believe that that may be true. Various passengers were asked what they thought of the Citizen's Charter. They were not particularly against it. They were told that they would obtain a refund if the trains were consistently late. They said that, having been hideously delayed on the trains, they supposed that they would then have to queue up to obtain a refund on a daily basis because the trains are late every day. A British Rail spokesman was then asked how British Rail would pay for all the refunds which are made necessary not as a result of its strategies, but as a result of the totally inadequate public investment programme. He replied that it would have to increase the fares.
It is evident that this country faces major economic problems. The Government can alleviate such problems as the Fenchurch Street line and other public services only by pushing through a substantial and sustained national investment programme. Ministers do us an immense disservice when they talk about reducing the standard rate of income tax to 20p in the pound. That guarantees that we shall have a still more rapid deterioration in the quality of many of our public services.
Fifty-four years ago President Roosevelt stood on the steps of the Capitol to make his second inaugural address. He said:The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little".That test applies just as much in this country today as it did in the United States in 1937—too little not in terms simply of income but of the quality of public services that our people have a right to expect. That is the issue which should preoccupy the next Parliament.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Guildford
My Lords, I should like to speak for a few moments about education. It will be for only a few moments. If I cannot contribute much wisdom to the debate, I hope that I can at least contribute brevity.
Over the past five years there have been a substantial number of changes to the educational arrangements of this country—the national curriculum, standard assessment tests, alterations to the government of schools, local management of schools and so on. Most of those changes have been beneficial 254 and I welcome them, but they have taken place in a short space of time and two consequences have flowed from that fact.
First, there has been heavy pressure on teachers and governors and many in the education world are bewildered, if not dismayed. The latest submission by the Secretary of State to the Teachers' Pay Review Body shows a substantial increase in the number of teachers taking retirement either early or on grounds of ill health. That indicates a depressed profession and does not give us secure hope for the future education of our children.
The second consequence is that it is not easy to see an overall vision or overarching policy for the future. Many proposals are put forward by Ministers, but it is not always clear how they relate to one another and whether there is any basic coherence and overall vision against which each proposal can be assessed. It would help to evaluate the proposals, and if possible to work with them, if we could see more clearly what the overall vision and policy is. What kind of education system are we working towards?
One place where Her Majesty's Government have spelt out their intention for schools is in Section 1(2) of the Education Reform Act of 1988 which refers to:a balanced and a broadly based curriculum which … promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural and physical development of pupils at the school and of society; and prepares such pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life".That is an admirable statement.
I recognise also that the Government are working for higher standards, wider choice and greater accountability. However, even having said that, do we not need an education policy stated and recognised so that we have coherent criteria against which to evaluate the performance of teachers, the attainment of schools and the purpose of the inspectorate? Without those declared objectives or policies for education, the various reforms seem arbitrary and lacking in coherence and hence there is defensive resistance. There is therefore a need for declared, acknowledged and coherent policies.
Following that, I should like to pursue the reference in the Parent's Charter to the performance tables for local schools. In general, I wish to support the publication of that information. The charter indicates that information will be available about exam and test results, truancy rates and the destination of pupils in further and higher education or in employment. But are those the only things that parents should look for?
In introducing today's debate, the noble Earl rightly drew our attention to the values of home and family life. He went on to refer to the role of schools in preparing young people for adult life. I fully support him in that, but does that not mean that, if we are to publish information about schools and their performance, we should consider including such things as provision for children with special needs, extra-curricular activities, and provision for the physical, spiritual and artistic elements in a child's make-up? Are the schools producing results in those fields? In any case, truancy rates may well tell us more about the attitude of parents than about the educational provision of the school. Examination 255 results are undoubtedly important but education is not just about pumping information into children and examinations are not a failsafe evaluation of ability. We need a broader base against which to measure attainment.
We need that same broader base also for the inspectorate and for teacher assessment. I welcome a fresh look at the inspectorate and I support assessment of teachers, but the evaluation of the performance of schools and teachers must be open to many more factors than are listed in the Parent's Charter.
The inspectorate might well be reformed. At present all is not well. Schools are inspected only at rare intervals and sometimes inspectors have difficulty in appreciating the ethos and purpose of a voluntary school. Opening up the inspectorate could provide a welcome broadening. It would be an improvement if a school, having made its own mission statement, could be assessed by inspectors who understand and appreciate that statement and will evaluate how far the school measures up to its own aims. But if there is to be a more open system of inspection and it is to attract confidence, there will need to be careful authentication of inspectors and some local comparability arranged, I hope, through the local education authority.
I should like to make a special point about church colleges of higher education. Just as we value the Church's partnership with the state in regard to our church schools, so also do we value the partnership in the provision of higher education through our church colleges. In the promising future of expanding higher education which the Government now propose, we want the church colleges to play a full and active part. Therefore I should value an assurance from the Minister that the church colleges will continue to be individually funded by the new higher education funding council. Funding should allow them to expand in line with growing student numbers and to achieve their strategic plans. Those plans have been framed within the Government's policy of diversity and choice. In order to allow the church colleges to grow and develop as an important arm of our higher education system, I hope that the Secretary of State will accept the church colleges as competent to grant degrees, diplomas and certificates under Clause 72 of the Further and Higher Education Bill.
Perhaps I may plead with Ministers not further to undermine the role and confidence of local education authorities. I come from a county which has a strong Conservative allegiance. Many in our locality are disturbed and anxious about the potentially divisive consequences of some recent education policies, such as the 16 per cent. additional funding for grant maintained schools. That may be of immediate advantage to grant maintained schools but it puts at risk the local education authority's responsibility for planning and monitoring a system of education which provides high standards for all. That is the aim and concern of the local education authority in the area from which I come. I support its proper and consistent concern for children with special needs, extracurricular activities and good examination results.
256 Local education authorities also have a strong social duty to provide education of a high standard for all and not just for the successful. I hope that Ministers will give us a clearer picture of what they aim to achieve in the field of education and then be ready to discuss with the practitioners, including local education authorities, whether their proposals will in practice achieve the aims set out.
§ 5.24 p.m.
§ Lord Skidelsky
My Lords, I am very happy to follow in my maiden speech the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford. It gives me the opportunity to take up some of his remarks.
As I understand it, in the coming Session of Parliament the Government propose to introduce at least two education Bills. I want to confine my remarks to the first Bill, which deals with schools and is designed to give statutory force to the Government's proposals on inspection and parents' rights. The Government propose to replace the local schools' inspectorate with a system of licensed auditing firms. As part of the Parent's Charter, performance tables for all local schools will be published, including examination and national curriculum results, truancy rates and so forth. The intention clearly is to give schools an incentive to raise standards by threatening them with parental sanction in the form of withdrawing pupils. They will thus lose income if they under-perform. The Secretary of State has also proposed internal incentives in the form of performance related pay for teachers. The proposals need to be judged in relation to both the problems which they are designed to overcome and the Government's policy as a whole.
Concern for the quality of state education pre-dates the change of government in 1979. Indeed, it was the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, who as Prime Minister started the great educational debate at Ruskin College in 1976 when he called for more rigorous standards, concentration on basic skills, more emphasis on technical and practical subjects and closer monitoring of teachers' performance. More recently there has been widespread concern about the under-skilling of the British workforce in comparison with that of our industrial competitors. There is therefore a wide measure of agreement on the goals of our education system. The disagreements are about how to achieve them.
Most informed people now accept that educational problems are not solved simply by throwing money at them. A recent Brookings Institution report on American schools concluded that money is not what makes some schools more effective than others. Even in regard to the so-called teacher shortages in Britain, shortages in some subjects go with surpluses in others, particularly in administration. Apparently the private sector uses its teachers more efficiently than the public sector. That simply illustrates the rule that in a non-market system under-funding is always in relation to existing practices and not what might be achieved with different practices.
The sources of our relatively poor educational performance lie elsewhere and chiefly, I suggest, in the 257 way in which our school system is organised and the internal practices of many of our schools. There is now strong evidence to show that the speed and inflexibility with which the comprehensive reorganisation was carried out in the 1960s and 1970s dealt a blow to British education from which it started to recover only in the 1980s. It was only in the 1980s that the rate of improvement in the performance of both able and less able children, as measured by tests and examination results, regained the trend that had been established in the 1950s and 1960s under the older system.
It was in those intervening years that the performance gap between us and the Continent of Europe started to open up. That is, after all, not surprising. Schools are organic things. If they are treated as bits of Lego—a piece to be added here and a bit to be lopped off there—one is bound to destroy the ethos on which a school's effectiveness crucially depends. In retrospect, I believe that a slower evolution to a mixed but flexible system would have served the cause of British education much better. What amazes me is that at no point during this transformation did the Department of Education and Science try to monitor the effects of a changeover to a comprehensive school system even though it had the data to do so.
Equally important, the comprehensive schools failed to develop a credible educational philosophy. What happened was the gradual abandonment of differentiation by ability, aptitude and interest within the schools. That of course seemed to be a logical corollary of abandoning selection by school. But the changeover was bound to have a profound and destructive effect on the quality of much teaching, the content of curricula and the testing of performance. It led to the great vogue of mixed ability classes. It precluded the attempt to develop differentiated pathways which might have led to a variety of school-leaving certificates.
I suppose that it was bad luck that the comprehensive reorganisation coincided with the triumph of progressive theories in education. But in a way the two factors complemented each other. Bad theory simply filled the gap left by the assault on traditional standards and practices.
The question which now faces us is whether a system imposed from above can be reformed from above by orders issued by the Secretary of State or whether it can be reformed only from below by opening it up to the pressure of its users; that is, whether one goes for the centralist or the market solution. The Labour Party stands squarely for the former; the Government seem to wobble between the two or, as they would see it, try to get the best of both worlds. They offer parents choice of school but at the same time tell schools what they must do.
It is an extraordinarily difficult problem. There can be no reason in logic why a state system should not provide good education for all its pupils. It does so in other countries. Nor should it be impossible to provide adequate diversity and differentiation within large comprehensives. After all, it was their very size which was supposed to have made that possible. The 258 Americans have started to develop what they call magnets within their high schools in order to differentiate between pupils. Recently Mr. Jack Straw has called attention to the needs of gifted children—the Cinderellas of our school system.
However, my intuition tells me that the centralist solution will not work because there are not enough people in the education establishment who accept the educational philosophy of the Secretary of State or even of his shadow Secretary. He will issue his instructions but they will have to be implemented by people who do not agree with them. Therefore those instructions will be undermined and subverted. Such was the fate of the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, when he was Secretary of State; and it has happened to all his successors. I need only cite, as the most recent example, the fiasco that occurred this summer of the tests for seven year-olds.
My fear is that in their attempt to overcome what they see as the obstruction of vested interests, the Government will be drawn into taking more and more power over issues which ought to be outside their control. A market solution would involve making schools responsive not to the wishes of the Secretary of State but to its customers. The practices of the school system in toto would come to reflect the demands placed on it by its users. Under such a system there would be no need for parents' charters, national curricula and the like. The DES could be largely shut down. Its main remaining function would be to send out vouchers to parents. Of course that will not come to pass either. But the educational problem will not go away and sooner or later we shall have to choose which of the two routes we wish to go furthest down.
In the meantime, perhaps I may urge the Secretary of State to rethink his ideas on relating teachers' pay to performance—to which the right reverend Prelate referred —and privatising the inspectorate. We have had some experience of the former in the universities. We know that it is nonsense because of the weight of unmeasurable factors in good teaching and good research. If we wish to vary pay, the only test that I would use is market demand.
With regard to privatising the inspectorate it is surely a confusion of ideas to see regulators as clients of the firms that they regulate. They are there to protect the public interest. That is what the inspectorate is for. It must not be subject to pressure from either the Government or schools. The best way of ensuring that is to make the schools inspectorate a genuinely independent agency for the first time in its history.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
My Lords, it falls to me to express the view of the whole House today in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, on a brilliant speech. We are grateful for all that he said, with his deep wisdom and experience, on the education of our children, a subject which we hold very dear. We look forward to hearing him in the future.
The noble Lord is now a Professor of International Studies at Warwick University. I have read a potted 259 version of his achievements. He has written many books, one of which was called The End of the Keynesian Era. It was written in 1977 with Michael Holroyd. He goes to the opera, the ballet and the cinema. He is good at games and plays squash, also with Michael Holroyd. They are obviously very great friends. We are most grateful to the noble Lord. It is difficult not to call him "Professor" but I am sure that he will become used to being called a noble Lord. We welcome him to the House and thank him for his contribution today.
I wish to make three brief points. Due to my very serious accident in the spring I was unable to attend your Lordships' House to take part in the debates on a Bill which I considered one of the most important to be discussed for many a year. I refer to the Children Bill. I was very involved with the issue but, unfortunately because of my accident, only on the sidelines. However, I wish briefly to state that the repercussions of the Act are already very good. For many years I have been worried about the father's position as regards the matrimonial home and the children's upbringing. We now have the Children Act. One father rang me and said, "The laws did not recognise us in so many ways. We are now fathers again and we are thrilled". One organisation is called Families Need Fathers. I agree with that sentiment so much.
Another father rang me and said, "At long last my wife allows me to see the children. She took them over 300 miles away knowing that although the judge gave me access I could never afford to see my children. We are now on a much more even keel". He is now a very proud father. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for raising the issue but it has worried me for a long time.
The vast Charities Bill, with 77 clauses and six schedules, will occupy us for a long time. However, I am grateful to all those in this country who help by organising charities. I have a certain amount to do with that. In this country our people are renowned for showing their concern about various sections of the community at home and abroad by giving as much money as possible. That has been referred to by my noble friend Lord Ferrers. It appears that we shall need a great deal more money to provide more commissioners. They cannot do a thorough job without more money at their disposal.
I turn now to the main point of my remarks and I shall be brief. It relates to law and order. My noble friend Lord Ferrers said what I wanted to say and because it is difficult to cut out most of one's speech I shall repeat his comments. Everyone is worried about the escalation of crimes committed by young people in our cities. I am not talking about the youths who wilfully steal a car and go joyriding. Often because they are under age and have no experience of driving the vehicles crash, with tragic loss of life. I do not add those youngsters to the criminals in my list because their chime is so serious that the police are the best people to catch the ones involved.
My main worry is for the thousands of youngsters who get into trouble because they are bored and say that they have nothing to do. My inquiries have shown 260 that to be true. Although I express a degree of sympathy with them, I believe that we must take more notice of the problem and the gap in their lives. Television is no substitute for action and that is why they go out with friends and form gangs. I want the young people aged between 15 and 18 years to be encouraged to play games and take exercise. The spirit of competition that has recently been lacking in our schools should be renewed.
A great deal is done to teach young people, but if we can get them away from the gangs much more can and should be done. There are hundreds of school playgrounds and hundreds of sports grounds which are owned by companies. The former are rarely used after school and the latter often only at the weekends. The Sports Council has approximately 500 sports development officers who work with the local education authority and local government. They do a good job, but more resources are needed to provide more officers; 500 is nowhere near enough. I cannot help thinking that many retired people of about 50 years of age would welcome the opportunity to train young people. They would need only little encouragement to return to their football boots and training shoes.
I have also been in touch with the British Amateur Athletics Board. It has about 2,000 running clubs and reckons that a quarter of a million members take part in track and field sports. Three quarters of a million members are thought to take part in road running. The board would be keen to encourage young people. Amateur helpers could be recruited to take the lead and give instruction. One of the members of the board told me about the Broadwater Estate disaster in which a policeman was killed. Many young people were part of the hooligan element, but I have been told that many other young people were present in the sports stadium round the corner from the estate to undertake their training that night. They stayed in the stadium although their friends were to a great extent creating mayhem and disaster on the Broadwater Estate.
Parents and schools must be made aware that it is their responsibility to ensure that young people are not bored and do not therefore get into trouble. I hope we can get the message through to people in the inner cities and elsewhere.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Lord Ritchie of Dundee
My Lords, first I must apologise to the House. Owing to domestic needs I may have to catch the train home to Sussex before the end of the debate. I hope that will not be the case but if it is I ask noble Lords to forgive me. It is my pleasure to add my congratulations to those of the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, to the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky. I am sure that all noble Lords will agree that he made a most impressive maiden speech. He is most able and well informed. It is clear that he knows extremely well what he is talking about and he put across his points admirably. In fact, he is a difficult speaker to follow.
I want to confine my remarks to school education and to concentrate on two aspects of the Parent's 261 Charter—the inspection of schools and the publication of exam results. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships that the system of school inspection is to be changed. Her Majesty's Inspectorate is to be reduced from 480 members to 175. It will lose most of its traditional functions in inspecting individual schools and advising Ministers. The LEA inspectorate will also be changed in style. Instead, schools will employ commercially run private teams of inspectors including lay members. Schools will be inspected by such teams every four years. The teams are to be accredited by the rump of Her Majesty's Inspectorate, which will monitor their reports and produce nationwide surveys. Schools will be specifically funded to pay for the inspections. Reports will be published and governing bodies will have to report their responses to them. We understand that the objects of the changes are to make inspections more frequent, to bring in outsiders, to give parents a chance to meet the inspectors and to put added pressure on schools to make improvements.
We on these Benches have great misgivings about the plans. Mr. Eric Bolton, the recently retired senior HMI, has said:Over 150 years the HMI has been a force for good in education, because it has reported objectively what is actually going on and because it has been a body of men and women who know what they are talking about".I believe that to be true. The inspectorate is truly a venerable institution; indeed, the great Victorian poet, Matthew Arnold, was one of its earliest members. I do not claim that to be relevant but it raises the inspectorate's stature in my eyes. Throughout all the government-instituted upheavals in the education world during the past few years—some beneficial but many hasty and misdirected—HMI has stood like a rock with admirable objectivity. On several occasions I have thought to myself that, whatever the damage done to the profession by what I might describe as interfering with political motivation, HMI would stand out as truly independent. It is Her Majesty's Inspectorate and not the Government's. Its members are not civil servants and the Secretary of State may not alter their reports. I call that being as truly independent as it can possibly be. On that point I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, whose final words suggested that was far from being the case. I describe the inspectorate's members as being truly independent, thoroughly professional, vastly experienced and free from fear or favour. Yet they are there to advise the Government.
I speak as one who has withstood the rigours of their inspections. I have suffered their strictures as well as sometimes enjoying their praise. I have always found the inspectors to be formidable, perceptive, appreciative, constructive, forward looking and courteous, although I am prepared to admit that, as the right reverend Prelate said, their understanding of the voluntary sector may not be as good as it should be. I have not experienced that.
Much of the inspectorate's work has been of great service to the Government—in particular their annual reports and nationwide surveys on specific aspects of the educational scene. It has given invaluable advice 262 about the national curriculum, about testing and about teacher appraisal. Its reports and surveys were totally objective and on several occasions the Government have found them embarrassing, as, for example, when attention was repeatedly drawn to the need for money to be spent on the repair, restoration and renewal of buildings. However, that was the inspectorate's job.
I understand that the Prime Minister's policy staff, having decided drastically to reduce the number of inspectors, were embarrassed when a confidential Treasury-led inquiry concluded that the 480-strong HMI provided both value for money and an important safeguard of educational standards. That is an interesting example of dogmatic ideology proceeding independently of observed facts. That has been a characteristic of this Government.
What of the system which is to replace HMI? Most of the inspections will be carried out by small private firms. What is to prevent schools hiring the team which they believe will give them the most favourable report? What is to prevent teams giving favourable reports in order to be re-engaged four years' hence? Can a team really castigate a school which has favoured it with its business? On what basis will the fees be charged? Will highest fees mean the most thorough inspection? If so, schools wishing to avoid thorough inspection will not choose the more expensive firms, which should doubly profit them. How can such a scheme work without fear or favour?
How will parents or children be helped by the reports received? What will a bad report do other than undermine the confidence of parents and children in the school of their choice? Will the children be removed and sent elsewhere in the midst of their career? What if schools challenge the credentials of those partly amateur small businesses? What will replace the informed overall HMI surveys, based on first-hand investigation and not on what they will be hearing from private firms, when a service is fragmented among umpteen small inspection teams, especially if the inspection work carried out by the LEA teams is also to be curtailed? Those and many other questions occur to one as the plans of the Government are considered.
We are concerned also about the proposal to publish league tables of the achievements of the schools in every locality, listing examination results, national curriculum test results, truancy rates and university entrants. It should be noted that secondary schools are already required by law to publish their exam results on an individual basis, or rather to have them published by the LEA. Comparative lists in tabular form will be meaningless unless related to the quality of the intake of each school. Schools in well-heeled areas will inevitably always produce better results and lower truancy rates than those in deprived areas. To provide prospective parents with information which somehow harmonises those variables would be difficult and invidious to devise and equally difficult to interpret. Raw statistics are unlikely in any event to add to local perceptions of the quality of schools. It all sounds to me better on paper than it is 263 in reality. Often there is little real choice in, for example, rural areas, where geography and transport are limiting factors.
Are parents really obsessively hooked on academic achievements? Here, I echo the words of the right reverend Prelate, who drew attention to that aspect. How will an adolescent's good manners, good behaviour, capacity for friendship, contribution to the community and achievements in sport and the arts be pigeon-holed? I believe that most parents' choice of school is based on such considerations. One in a position to know, high up in local government and local education, expressed the opinion that in most cases the choice of school is essentially social. Such considerations make the Government's proposals look more like populist gimmickry than serious attempts to address the real corrosive problems of our education system.
I believe that we probably fail many potential high fliers but my anxiety is our failure of the low fliers—the many children for whom school becomes meaningless past the age of 13. It becomes meaningless to them because they are failing. They are not failing because school is meaningless but school becomes meaningless because they are failing. They are failing because the foundations are unsound. They are unsound not because the teachers are incompetent but because the children have encountered difficulty in acquiring basic skills and there have not been enough suitably qualified teachers to help them over the hump.
Dyslexia—the undue difficulty in acquiring full literacy despite average or above average intelligence and adequate teaching—is one of the most obvious obstacles to the normal progress of a child at school. I believe that some degree of dyslexia is much more widespread than has yet been recognised or acknowledged. What happens is that too many of our children leave school half educated—and I am not just thinking of dyslexics—and with poor prospects of employment, a subject referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and the noble Lord, Lord Richard. Those children so often become a menace to society and to themselves. The correlation between crime and low educational achievement is extremely high. I cannot quote statistics and that may be because no survey of the countrywide situation has ever been carried. However, the other day I heard it stated that in a certain city the correlation between crime and a totally inadequate education was 80 per cent.
Unless we can find the funds—and perhaps what we heard earlier this afternoon about expenditure in the coming year may help: we hope so—to pay specialist teachers who will be able to help at an early age the 20 per cent. or more of our children who have special difficulties at school (the SEN children) and unless we see to it that our young males in particular achieve their potential at school, their frustration and low self esteem will continue to be a potent contributory factor to the soaring crime rate which intimidates our citizens and shames our society.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Viscount Brentford
My Lords, I too add my warm congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, on his maiden speech. Although I am no educationist, I found it extremely interesting and informative. As I am not an educationist I shall not follow the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, and his predecessor along the education road. However, I should like to comment on a number of home affairs matters.
As have many other speakers, I welcome the Charities Bill. We have long awaited a revised system for the regulation and supervision of charities. As a solicitor working quite a lot in that sphere I welcome the legislation. I look forward to a great deal of hard work on it, although as the Minister said, we shall give it a warm welcome and help it through your Lordships' House.
Perhaps I may turn to another matter which was not mentioned in the gracious Speech and ask my noble friend the Minister to inquire whether under other measures which are to be brought forward there is any intention of producing a small Bill for bringing up to date the law on friendly societies. In March I asked a similar question. The then Minister of State for Trade and Industry, who has now moved higher up the field, replied that legislation to give effect to those proposals was being prepared and a Bill would be brought forward in a future Session. I anticipate that this may be the last Session of this Parliament and I wonder whether there is any way in which a Bill could be introduced. It should virtually be prepared, whether it be a government Bill or a Private Member's Bill with government help. I hope that the Minister can make some positive noises on that when he replies.
I should like to comment, as did many others, on the question of asylum. We want the law strengthened in that regard. It is a big problem and a number of other issues are connected with it. It is important that the process is speeded up. However, I would plead that it should not be done at the expense of the thoroughness of the investigations that must be carried out or of the care required in making the decisions. People's lives are at stake. While we want efficiency we also want thoroughness to ensure that the right decisions are made.
Also, like the noble Lord, Lord Richard, I am worried about the removal of the green form legal aid. People applying for asylum are tremendously in need of help. That includes legal help and not simply help from the Government's advisory service. I hope the Government will reconsider the question of green form legal aid.
I should like to express my appreciation for the commitment in the gracious Speech to quality in all the services to ordinary men and women. It is something which I believe to be valuable and which must be interpreted in practice; it should not simply be a matter of intention. I look forward to seeing how it works in practice.
However, I am acutely disappointed by the omission from the gracious Speech of any measure to reform the law on Sunday trading. Perhaps again I could ask my noble friend the Minister whether he can bring that in under any other measure specified in the 265 Queen's Speech. The Home Office, who have carried out consultations on the matter during the spring and summer, should surely now be in a position to reach a decision on consensus. I speak as chairman of a Keep Sunday Special campaign. Therefore I undoubtedly have an interest in the matter. I am longing to see my noble friend Lord Ferrers bring forward a measure which will have our approval. I shall return to that in a moment.
I now wish to discuss the lack of enforcement of the present law. There is a great threat that a small number of large companies will open illegally in the run-up to Christmas. That shows the crisis on law and order that exists in the country. The Government gave a commitment to maintain law and order in this regard, but at the present time that commitment is suffering. I reiterate how admirable is the Government's policy on the matter and perhaps I can give one or two examples to your Lordships.
The Government's policy is unequivocal on enforcing law and order in that area and they are to be congratulated. I can quote from the Prime Minister of the time that,the law must be obeyed until it is changed by Parliament".—[Official Report, Commons, 11/12/84; col. 907.]That was in response to a question at col. 906 asking the Prime Minister to agree,that the traders who opened last Sunday should be roundly condemned for opening illegally? Would it not have been preferable for those traders not to have opened illegally on Sunday but to have left the matter for Parliament to consider and reach a decision?The author of the question is now the Minister of State in the Home Office responsible for Sunday trading. Should we therefore expect a commitment from the Government not only to maintain law and order in this field but also to comply with it? We do not like illegal and unfair Sunday trading today any more than we did in 1984.
There are many examples supporting that from the Conservative Party Conference, from the Home Secretary, from the Secretary of State for Employment and from the Prime Minister himself, who said that there was no excuse for any citizen to take it upon himself to ignore or break the law of the land, nor to exploit it.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment has reiterated several times on television during the past fortnight that the law must be obeyed. Perhaps I could quote a more up-to-date answer from my noble friend on the Front Bench. In responding to the first Question today, he said:in this country we do not have a history of not obeying the law".Those who were present for the first Question will remember that a wave of ribald laughter went around your Lordships' House on hearing that answer. I believe that it is important that that alleged historical past is confirmed in practice.
Moving on from the Government's rhetoric to the attitude of public companies in this country, I can quote from Sir Simon Hornby, chairman of the W. H. Smith group. At the company's AGM on 16th October he confirmed what he had written in a letter to a shareholder: 266As far as breaking the law is concerned. I am afraid that we will have to continue to do so".That is only one of a number of examples. It seems to me to be a direct challenge to the supremacy and sovereignty of Parliament and should be totally unacceptable to your Lordships.
Perhaps I may now refer to the position of local authorities. As your Lordships will be aware, it is their responsibility under the law to enforce the Shops Act. However, by a combination of recent judicial decisions and government inaction they have been denied the means of enforcing the law; they can no longer do so. I believe that the Government are burying their head in the sand when they take no action and simply say, "Leave the matter to the local authorities". They cannot do that. The Government should honour their pledge to maintain law and order and take the necessary action. It is not good for their image to be seen to take no action on the big businesses which flout the law and the sovereignty of Parliament.
My last point touches on the question of reform of the law of Sunday trading. The Government rightly say that they want a consensus reform on a basis that is workable, enforceable and clearly supported by both Parliament and the country. I believe all noble Lords will endorse that, as I most warmly do. In past debates on the subject noble Lords have spoken of the REST proposals that have been produced as a basis for the reform of the law. During the course of the past six months there has been wide consultation both among Members in another place and with retailers throughout the country. We have found widespread support for reform of the law along the lines of those proposals. The consultations have been carefully recorded and they are available to my noble friend the Minister if he wishes to see them.
In our consultations we have found that the REST proposals are much preferred in the country generally to the so-called limited hours proposals of the Shopping Hours Reform Council. Our proposals are also backed by our European Community partners' consensus and by various surveys carried out in Europe both in the Common Market and more widely.
Noble Lords may have read last month about the case of Robert George. He successfully brought his case for wrongful dismissal for being made to work for seven days a week over quite a long period. I believe that the case shows that we need stronger measures to safeguard individual rights of employees. I hope that a Bill can be urgently brought before Parliament during this Session. Only thus can Parliament fulfil the Government's commitment to law and order and quality in the services offered. It would also foster a closer relationship in Europe, a matter which rightly features in the gracious Speech.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Lord Ennals
My Lords, as others have done, I start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, on his maiden speech. In a sense, I feel that I am making a maiden speech myself because this is the first time that I have spoken from the Back Benches. It is a 267 special privilege to do so. There have been some suggestions that I am speaking from the Back Benches rather than the Front Bench because of some differences on policy between me and my colleagues on the Front Bench. There is no truth in that at all.
I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Carter is speaking on health. He will get maximum support from me whenever he wants it, or silence whenever he wants that. I served for eight years on the Front Bench dealing with the subject of health, which is quite a long stint. Some will say that it was too long. That deprived me of the opportunity of taking part in debates on other issues such as those which are the subject of today's debate. They are subjects which deeply concern me. I have a new freedom and I welcome it.
I have a lifetime's commitment to the United Nations, human rights and the cause of refugees. I am chairman of the Asian Committee of the British Refugee Council. Therefore, I wish to concentrate today almost entirely on the Asylum Bill. I warmly support everything said by my noble friend Lord Richard when he was opening the debate for this side of the House. I also greatly welcome what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, as regards the care that we must take in dealing with the Bill. It seems to be designed to limit the rights of refugees or asylum seekers to state their case for refugee status or to be able to stay in this country. That is a very retrograde step. In my view that is not only wrong in principle but unnecessary.
It is a sad fact that there are more and more refugees in the world. There are more today—probably about 18 million—than there have been in our lifetime. The refugee crisis has been a sad feature of the late 20th century. The numbers seem to be increasing in every continent. The asylum seekers are fleeing their homes for the same reasons that they have always done so. It is because of the denial of human rights, of torture, of unjustified arrest and oppression. The overwhelming majority of refugees are accepted by neighbouring countries. The vast majority of the refugees are in the developing countries.
A few weeks ago I was in Pakistan where there are over 3 million refugees from Afghanistan. A quarter of the population of Malawi are refugees from its neighbours. These poor countries provide refuge for millions of arrivals. The effects on local communities, the environment, the infrastructure and the economy are drastic despite such international assistance as we can give. The strain of tens of thousands of refugees on the prosperous countries of Northern Europe is, by contrast, very small indeed. We have heard the present at ion by the Secretary of State and by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. From that one might have assumed that we are facing a very serious situation. Europe provides a home for about 5 per cent. only of the world's 18 million recognised refugees. Furthermore, Britain is under far less pressure than any other Northern European country. Britain receives far fewer applications in relation to its population size. It comes at the bottom of the league when relating asylum-seeking applications to population size. For every million inhabitants, 159 asylum seekers come to Britain annually while 631 go to 268 France, which is the next country up in the league. One would not have imagined that we have such a protected position.
We have to ask ourselves why it is thought by the Government that there is a need to introduce this legislation. What is the basis of the Government's determination to make it more difficult for bona fide refugees to be able to plead their case as provided for quite specifically in the 1951 United Nations convention to which we are committed? I hope that we shall get an answer at the end of the debate as to whether we stand by that commitment. I believe that if we do stand by the commitment that we made in 1951 we shall have to look again at the Bill which the Government are putting before us. It is not simply that Britain has accepted that convention, but that it has often claimed that it takes the lead in being prepared to accept refugees who are genuinely fleeing from oppression, torture and other uncivilised conditions.
We have benefited from some of the refugees who have come here. Some Members of your Lordships' House are refugees. The man who is perhaps most in our minds at the moment, Mr. Robert Maxwell, came to this country as a refugee. There is nothing wrong in being a refugee; it is just bloody bad luck that you come from a country where conditions are as they are. Perhaps I may add at this stage that the statement made by Kenneth Baker that the Labour Party is somehow or other pursuing an open-door policy is absolutely untrue. I am very glad that my noble friend Lord Richard intervened after he had been asked a question. He made that quite clear. Together with my noble friend Lord Callaghan I was the Minister who, in 1968, carried through the Commonwealth Immigrants Act. It was done with a heavy heart and much criticism. I believe that the Labour Party has always shown that it stands by proper restrictions on immigration.
However, we are not talking about immigration, but about refugees. They are people who are fleeing from countries of oppression. According to government statistics, during the past 10 years over 20 per cent. of the refugees have come from Iran and Iraq. Can we blame the refugees for doing that? The percentage of refugees from Sri Lanka is 14.6 per cent.; 9 per cent. have come from Turkey; 7.5 per cent. from Uganda; 8.4 per cent. from Somalia and 5 per cent. from Ethiopia. These figures represent people who are fleeing from oppression. If we determine, by the processes on which we decide, that they are not refugees then they have no right to be here.
It appears that the legislation which is to be put before us in this House, after it has gone through another place, denies to genuine refugees the opportunity to properly state their case. It appears that the Government are not really claiming that there has been real abuse. I heard the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, refer to that. So far only about 10 per cent. of applications end in removals. Indeed, the proportion of asylum seekers eventually being removed has steadily fallen year by year over the past 10 years.
My Lords, I think the noble Lord has become slightly confused, if I might say so. I said that 269 we had seen no record of particular abuse over charities. I did not say that in regard to immigration. I said that there have been people trying to come in, abusing the system.
§ Lord Ennals
My Lords, I am very grateful for that intervention. If there are people coming in and abusing the system then our system must determine that they are abusing the system. We are talking about refugees, not immigrants. Under the 1951 convention we have to determine whether they are genuinely fleeing from persecution and oppression, or fear of persecution and oppression.
All the organisations which have been dealing with the question of refugees seem to oppose the policies that Her Majesty's Government are bringing forward. In his reply may we hear from the Minister whether there are any reputable bodies which actually support the Government's proposals? We must look at some of those proposals. For example, the Home Secretary proposes to withdraw legal advice and assistance under the legal aid scheme not only from those seeking asylum but also those seeking any advice on immigration. That clearly has a widespread implication for many citizens of this country in addition to the comparatively small number of asylum seekers with whom we shall be dealing in this Bill. Indeed, the Home Secretary proposed that the United Kingdom Immigration Advisory Service should be the sole provider of such legal advice.
I do not know what stage the state of play has reached in negotiations with the United Kingdom Immigration Advisory Service. However, I have an interest, because I was the Minister at the Home Office when steps were taken to establish the UK Immigration Advisory Service. The essential principle on which we provided Home Office funds for that purpose was that it would be an independent body. Admittedly it was to be funded from the Home Office. I hope that there will be no implication that the Immigration Advisory Service is to be told what it must do and that it will operate in any way other than it has in the past, as an independent body.
The Government are also proposing an accelerated procedure to deal with asylum seekers who are turned down in the determination process. Where the Home Office decides that cases are clearly unfounded they will be looked at by an adjudicator who will be able to dismiss an appeal without representation or any oral hearing. I believe that that would be fundamentally wrong. I believe that whatever happens in another place we must ensure that that wrong is put right in this House.
I do not wish to say much more. I have been much impressed, having read through many of the comments made by organisations who very much care for these issues. I was much impressed by the views given by the Law Society, which takes no party political view on the matter. Perhaps I may quote a couple of sentences from a briefing prepared by the Law Society's immigration sub-committee: 270The Society is concerned that the procedures for dealing with asylum seekers should not be more complex than those procedures for dealing with other categories of immigration cases".I am sure that is right. The briefing goes on to state:The lack of appeal against a refusal to grant leave to appeal will bar many asylum seekers from having access to full appeal rights and a proper review of their case".There will be opportunities when the Bill comes before this House for major debates and for changes. However, I hope that in the time between now and when the Bill comes before another place the Government will think again. I believe the Government are bringing a very illiberal measure before Parliament. They will do no good to their own reputation if they do this. I hope that we shall return to the liberal traditions in relation to providing a refuge for refugees, in which, over the centuries, we have taken pride.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Lord Wilberforce
My Lords, I am conscious that after the very authoritative and humanitarian speech that we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, my own contribution may seem rather pedestrian—and so it will be. I am venturing to keep your Lordships for a few moments on the subject of law reform, which is represented in the gracious Speech—if indeed it is represented at all—by the proposed measures on charities and on prison mutiny.
My theme, which I shall try to develop, will be that there are a great number of important actions in the area of law reform that require to be taken and for which no provision is made in the gracious Speech or, indeed, in recent legislative programmes.
The Law Commission, as your Lordships know, was established in 1965 and has in the course of its existence produced over 200 reports, many of them with recommendations for legislation. Of course, it is only fair to say that many of them have been passed into legislation if only after a period of considerable delay. Many have been rejected, no doubt fittingly, by the Government of the day. However, there remain at present, if my account is correct, 39 substantive reports by the Law Commission which have not been implemented, though the Government have in many cases indicated that they agree with them and would like to see legislation brought forward.
The Law Commission is not the only body operating in this area. There may be separate committees or commissions dealing with separate areas. We have had the report of Lord Justice Neill on the subject of damages for libel. We have had the report of Lord Justice Mustill on arbitration. Those were both very weighty and important reports. We shall shortly have the Royal Commission on crime. All these enter into the pipeline.
With regard to legislation one cannot say that Lord Chancellors have been idle. On the contrary, they have been very active. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, during his long period of office, had an enormous record of measures in the nature of law reform which he saw passed into law. Moreover, the noble and learned Lord who at present occupies the Woolsack has shown every intention of keeping up the 271 pace. But in both cases, and in others, the powers of the Government in bringing forward such a Bill have been limited by the pressing need to reform the courts' structure to deal with the machinery of justice, to deal with the legal profession and legal aid—the nuts and bolts of all that—and also, of course, by lack of parliamentary time and money.
It is in the area of substantive law that so many important things need to be done but which, so far, have not been done —that is, substantive law as opposed to machinery or procedure. The British—perhaps I ought to say the English—are traditionally complacent about their legal system, both civil and criminal. They keep on saying, "It is the best in the world, let the Eurocrats keep their hands off it." There is a certain failure to recognise that in many respects we are falling behind our partners and our competitors. Our law in many directions is now becoming old-fashioned and difficult to apply to modern life. It is also true that certain departments of state are traditionally reluctant to bring forward measures of law reform. As support for that proposition I have the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, who said that the Department of Trade and Industry is neither keen nor positive. It is not the only proposition. Successive chairmen of the Law Commission—eminent people—have expressed their anxiety about the failure to implement its recommendations by legislation.
I should like to make the point that here we are not concerned only with lawyers' law or with theory; or even, as some seem to think, with little areas of law like family law, adoption, and so on. We are concerned with matters that directly and importantly relate to trade and business and many aspects of our social system.
I cannot give a complete list of all that needs to be done, but I shall give some examples just to make the case. In these areas legislation has been approved in principle and is ready, or nearly ready, to be brought forward. The first area is commonhold, covenants and other matters in the leasehold area. That is important as regards the housing situation. Just as bad legislation in the form of the old Rent Acts has been responsible for a large measure of our housing problems and for housing shortages, so these measures, though apparently modest, would do a good deal to redress and improve the situation.
The second area is grounds for divorce. I need not elaborate on that. It is deeply important in our social system. The third is arbitration, to which I have already made some reference. Here again, following the Mustill Commission, and following the example of our competitors in Europe, all of whom have taken this course, there is urgent need for a major Bill. We are getting behind, to the great damage of the City of London and of our businesses. The fourth area is the right of suit as regards the carriage of goods by sea. That sounds a little technical but is not. It is a important lubricating measure to the whole of our sea-borne commerce. It is non-controversial. It has been urged on the Government by trade interests and was the subject of a vigorous and important article in the Financial Times a week or so ago.
272 The fifth area is offences of fraud and dishonesty with foreign elements. Fraud extending beyond national boundaries is a growth industry. The recommendations of the report on this subject should be implemented. Europe is threatening to legislate if we do not. The sixth area is the sale and supply of goods; a subject on which the Law Commission wrote an important report in 1987. Such legislation is necessary for us to keep up with our European friends. Two other modest measures are not without importance. One relates to access to neighbouring premises. Such a Bill came before the House in the last Session but failed to surmount the parliamentary hurdles. The second measure concerns the law relating to friendly societies, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, referred.
Those are all matters on which legislation is ready and can be brought forward. There are other measures on which there is at present no progress simply because it is felt that parliamentary time cannot be found. I refer to the provision of a criminal code, a code of the law of contract and reform of the law of trading malpractices. Such measures would be non-controversial, as distinct from the area of Sunday trading, and should command all party support. They are met with the plea of no parliamentary time. That is the established answer and I feel sure that, if necessary, it will be given today by the noble Lord, Lord Henley. It need not be given, but it is a good, incontrovertible answer. That is the present position.
Noble Lords may ask why I am raising the issue now, when only a few months remain of the present Parliament and a large number of measures have to be squeezed through. I raise it exactly because the dilemma is so stark. It creates in effect a reductio ad absurdum. The present system is such that no legal measure of any substantive importance can be brought forward. There is no means of doing so. There never will be time under the existing system of legislating, with legislation passing through two Houses, and with Bills having three readings in each House. It is true that Parliament as at present constituted is not 100 per cent. efficient. However, even if its efficiency were to be increased by 20 per cent. through improvements, there would still not be time adequately to deal with measures involving major consideration.
Moreover, apart from the time argument—this point is not as uncontroversial and is no doubt open to argument—our present procedure of line by line discussion and examination on the Floor of the House does not work for many, indeed most, legal Bills. We saw that during proceedings on the Courts and Legal Services Bill. The House sits very late at night with perhaps 12 lawyers, or quasi-lawyers, on their different Benches discussing the clauses against the background of a number of gentlemen outside the Chamber waiting to be called in. It is impossible to carry amendments to a Division. The argument becomes farcical and justice is not done to the enormous amount of work that has been put in. A criminal code or, for that matter, a law on arbitration 273 should not be discussed under such a procedure —late at night with 12 lawyers of different views and the gentlemen outside the Chamber.
Adherence to such a system inevitably involves renunciation of any serious attempt to reform large areas of our substantive law. What are the alternatives? There is one easy alternative which is the panacea for everything—leave it all to the gentlemen in Brussels. They will do it all for us; they are only too anxious to legislate on any subject which we desire. I somehow think that the House would not adhere to that suggestion. However, we cannot in the same breath object to the gentlemen in Brussels legislating on important matters of our criminal and civil law and at the same time fail to provide the machinery for doing so ourselves. We on these Benches—I say this with respect to my friends by my side—are not well adapted to suggestions of change to the machinery of legislation in order to get Bills through the House. All parties have an interest in this matter. The issues involved are mainly non-controversial. They are certainly not party issues although there may be disagreement in certain areas. Surely some steps can be taken.
I raise the matter at this stage, when the dilemma is starkest and when we have less time than ever and many measures before us, in the hope that before the next Parliament we here may be able to equip ourselves in some way with the means of doing better. After all, by contrast with our friends in the other place, we have some degree of continuity. Some of us may hope to be here in the next Parliament although we may be sitting in slightly different places. We have the continuity to be able to start planning now for what may happen in the next Parliament. Ought we not to be looking seriously at the techniques which we have tried partially, but not seriously enough, in relation to legal Bills? I refer to the techniques of Select Committees, committees upstairs and perhaps even a joint committee with the other place. I am sure that, given the will, there is enough ingenuity here to devise some better way of legislating on these subjects.
Of course not all Bills can be dealt with by such a procedure. Some will always need to be heard on the Floor of the House. I have in mind Bills on divorce or on the law of charities. But many are capable of it. In addition, there is always the point that we can only make proposals for ourselves; and these remain similar difficulties in the other place. Nevertheless, if in the course of a year we were able to get through two or three Bills on law reform and those could be segregated from the rest of the programme, that would be worthwhile progress. We have excellent and first class institutions for providing the material for law reform. We are at present wasting their work and their potential to do much more. We should take steps to enable them to fructify. I wish that the gracious Speech had given us greater encouragement in that respect.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Lord McColl of Dulwich
My Lords, I too should like to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, on his brilliant maiden speech. I should also like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, on his first speech in his elevated position. We shall miss him very much on the Front Bench.
As the noble Lord did not mention the National Health Service, I almost hesitate to mention the progress of the Government's reforms in the health service. It was a brilliant idea to change former health authorities into purchasing authorities with the job of sitting down with the local experts to work out the needs of the local population and then, with the resources given to them by the Government, buying those necessary services bearing in mind quantity and quality.
The idea is beginning to work. In one hospital the purchasing authority felt that the waiting list for operations was too long. The authority said to the relevant people, "How can we help you?" That is a polite way of saying, "If you can't deliver better services, we shall have to go elsewhere, and you know what that means". The purchasing authorities are proving to be powerful advocates on behalf of patients. Those who pay the piper call the tune.
A purchasing authority said to another hospital, "We are not prepared to have our patients waiting in your clinics for hours on end. If you can't do better, we shall go elsewhere". The fact that the patients are all seen before the end of the morning or afternoon indicates that the problem is not due to a lack of resources; it is due to a lack of consideration for the patients. In many ways the National Health Service has become too big, too bureaucratic and too bossy with patients. The purchasing authorities are beginning to change their attitude simply because they have the clout so to do. The old health authorities and community health councils did not have the power to work in that way.
Another purchasing authority recently told a hospital that it was not treating enough of its patients as day cases. The authority wished to see half of general surgical cases treated on a day case basis, in accordance with the recommendations of the Royal College of Surgeons. That is a much better way of treating the patients, in spite of some of the knockabout political slanging matches where it has been alleged that day case surgery results in more complications and a greater readmission rate to hospital. The fact is that the complication rates and readmission rates are substantially lower than those for ordinary patients. Further, as day cases do not require beds they are rarely ever cancelled by the hospital.
In trying to gauge the wishes of our patients we learn much more from the very young and the very old. They are the ones who tell us what is required. Those two groups of patients hate spending even one night in hospital. I was recently consulted by a young lady aged 102 who needed an operation. I had to negotiate with her how long she was prepared to spend in hospital. We settled on 60 minutes. On the arranged day, her young son-in-law, aged 84, brought her to my 275 secretary's office. From there I walked her down to the operating theatre and helped her on to the table. I then carried out the operation under a local anaesthetic and under very informal and friendly conditions. If requested, music of the patient's choice can be playing in the background, although we tend to discourage numbers such as "The Day My Heart Stopped Still".
Having completed the operation, I walked the patient back to the office, where she had some tea with her son-in-law and then returned home. It was done in exactly the way she wanted. It was a one-to-one relationship. She did not want to be handled by dozens of health care workers in rapid succession. That is one sure way of disorienting senior citizens. They want a one-to-one relationship. They do not want to stay in a bed. Children also hate staying in a bed because they do not like being separated from their family. Senior citizens avoid staying in hospital beds because they recognise the dangers. Keep out of beds, my Lords. If possible, agree only to running repairs.
The advantages of a self-governing hospital are now becoming obvious. For the first time in years we have a matron at Guy's, and, like the matrons of old, she actually goes around the wards visiting the patients. She understands all about good nursing and good hospital management. She recently went into one of the wards during the evening. She approached a lady who looked very much the worse for wear. When the matron said to her, "Good evening, I'm the matron", the old lady nearly leapt out of the bed with joy. She said, "We haven't seen a real live matron for 25 years". Matron has returned and a very good thing it is for the hospital. We have also succeeded in restoring to the ward sister the authority to determine the work load in her ward. She has the most variable resource in terms of the number of nurses available. Clearly she ought to have the major say in how many patients are admitted. This we have achieved.
The medical profession has made repeated efforts over many years to reduce the number of hours worked by junior staff. National agreements are always difficult to reach. They involve long, ponderous consultations which are often unsuccessful. But now the individual self-governing hospitals can arrange with their junior staff how many hours they work. We have just started arrangements to allow a house surgeon who has been on duty all night to have the next day off. We hope thereby to reduce the total hours worked per week to below 70.
Being free of the shackles of bureaucracy, national norms and agreements will give a much better deal for our junior staff and therefore, indirectly, a much better deal for the patients. When all the hospitals in the country are self-governing they will again blossom. They will be free to try out new ideas, new schemes of training, better ways of managing and better rates of pay related to work done. All those improvements will be to the advantage of the patient.
Compared with last year, before the trust took over at Guy's and Lewisham hospitals, we have treated nearly 3,000 more patients. Our wage bill has been reduced by over £5 million and our unit cost reduced by 7 per cent. That means that we are now confident 276 of living within budget by the end of March next year. We will have saved the equivalent of over £7 million but we will have treated 10 per cent. more patients. Moreover, our waiting lists have been reduced by 5 per cent. It is exciting to note that as a result of this the trust will shortly be announcing how, in part, this improvement in performance will be reinvested in our staff and patient services.
The first seven months of Guy's and Lewisham hospitals being a trust would have been much easier if we had not been subject to so much abuse from people who should have known better. Such behaviour may be regarded in another place as jolly good political knockabout, but it upset many patients quite unnecessarily and demoralised many hardworking people in the National Health Service.
The NHS is not being privatised. Self-governing hospitals are not leaving the National Health Service. They cannot leave it and they have no desire to do so. We want to change the whole attitude to patients, becoming much more sensitive to their needs. We are doing just that.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, I have only two matters to raise. One is a compliment and the other a proposal. Both concern animal welfare. The compliment is to the Government for having succeeded in getting agreement in Brussels from the Council of Ministers to the retention of our ban on the export of horses for slaughter. It was announced only a few days ago. I have not seen much comment about it except reference to a possible misunderstanding about the nature of the concession given to us.
The Council of Ministers agreed that we should keep our own ban on the export of horses until such time as the standards of the rest of the EC are brought up to those that we regard as satisfactory. When additional safeguards have been introduced in the EC, the case for the retention of our own ban will disappear.
We have an interest in trying to improve upon the better standards being introduced under the new directive. New and higher standards are being introduced for the Common Market under the recent directive of the Council of Ministers. But the council has given another direction on efforts to find additional safeguards to those recently agreed. When additional safeguards are introduced to deal with special sections of animal transport, particularly of horses, the council sees no reason why Britain should stand outside the general harmony and interchange of trade in horses.
When we go to the Commission and the Council of Ministers asking to be excluded from something, it can sometimes be taken as a reflection upon our friends in the rest of Europe. This was a case in point. We wanted to stay out because we had better conditions for the transport of our horses than seemed possible in Europe. That seemed to reflect upon other people's ideas of the adequacy of animal protection. We must bear that in mind; they do not always like it. We shall try more of it shortly, the House may be sure.
277 I compliment the Government. We harassed them and pressed Ministers responsible for agriculture and other matters to stand firm. They have come out with something quite satisfactory. I am pleased. However, we still have to work for higher standards in Europe so that we can enter into the European conditions, fully satisfied that our wishes have been met. That is the first point.
The second point I have to raise concerns dogs. That will send a shudder down the spines of many noble Lords. They may think, "My God, is he going to start these dogs barking all over again?" I propose to have my own mini-Queen's Speech. It reads:Legislation will be introduced to provide for the setting up of a dog control and welfare council.I hope to introduce the Bill under the Private Member's Bill procedure on 27th November. The Bill proposes to set up a dog control and welfare council comparable in its composition, wide terms of reference and conditions to the Farm Animal Welfare Council. That is all, but it is a great deal, especially in the area of dog control and welfare. The situation is in a mess. There have been unhappy events both in Parliament and elsewhere during the past two Sessions of Parliament.
The intriguing aspect of the proposal is that if the Government are in favour of it, the legislation need never proceed at all. The Government have the power to appoint such an advisory committee without any legislative sanction. In July 1979, one of the first actions that the new Conservative Government took was to honour a pledge given during the election that they would raise the scope and powers of the very low level institutions of an advisory nature that existed. They have lifted the status and composition, the range of activities and the power of reporting of the Farm Animal Welfare Council and the advisory council on the use of animals in laboratories. Those were the two actions the Government took straightaway following the election. The Farm Animal Welfare Council is alive and active to this day and proves useful. Much of farm animal welfare has been canalised and a good deal of unjustified propaganda removed. A well equipped and serviced council has been given scope to look into matters, including conditions of slaughter, from which it was previously excluded. Much good work has been done and many changes brought about as a result of its recommendations.
The Advisory Committee on Animal Experiments in laboratories was replaced by the more prestigious Animal Procedures Committee which was created by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. That is a prestigious advisory committee. I do not seek for the dog control and welfare council anything of quite that standing. It should be comparable with the Farm Animal Welfare Council: there should be no real difficulty about that.
I shall not anticipate the further stages of the Bill but I ask noble Lords and the Government—I am keeping them well informed of what I am doing—to consider how beneficial it would be to bring together so much scattered legislation, separate activity and panic stations. Those matters could be brought within 278 the survey of a committee of not less than 12 suitable people, who would examine all aspects of dog control and welfare.
I strongly recommend the Bill to your Lordships and urge the Government to consider it favourably. I have not sought support from any quarter, I have not yet canvassed anyone. I believe that I may modestly say that I am a veteran in the field of dog control and welfare. I produced the very first report on dogs in society just short of 20 years ago. I have introduced more Bills on animal welfare in your Lordships' House during the 18 years I have been here than any other Peer, including Ministers, for the simple reason that governments have fought shy of introducing their own Bills on animal welfare. I have been the honoured introducer of many Bills that have come from another place. In the previous Session we had a Bill on badgers and the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, on the conditions required at the time of animal slaughter. I saw that Bill finally pass on to the statute book. There were other Bills on puppy farming and breeding establishments. The Government said at the beginning of 1990 that the Dangerous Dogs Act 1989 was quite adequate for their purposes. However, by 1991, the tabloid press had persuaded the Government that they must act without delay. The Government did so and did great damage to Parliament and its reputation. We are still in the midst of deep emotional disturbance as a consequence of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.
I do not contemplate the next few weeks with any equanimity. I am not the slightest bit surprised that there has been considerable passive resistance to the provisions of that Act which stirred deep emotions in many people who feel affection for animals.
I have not asked for any support in what I wish to undertake, but nevertheless I am to receive support. I have received encouraging messages from some important bodies in the field of animal welfare, for example the British Veterinary Association, the League Against Cruel Sports and others. I have received an especial welcome from the National Canine Defence League. I am attracted to that body as I am interested in the word "defence" in relation to dogs in society. It is time we introduced that word in relation to dogs as they have so many potential assailants. Such individuals do not understand that our dogs give great emotional satisfaction to millions of people. I fear we do not give full weight to that factor.
The noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, is the patron of the National Canine Defence League. He and I have been such constant adversaries for so long that I welcome the opportunity of forging an alliance with the noble Duke on my Bill. I hope I shall obtain the support of the National Canine Defence League for the Bill. That is all I have to say for the moment. I hope that my short speech will mean that we can make progress with my Bill when it is introduced later this year.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Lord Meston
My Lords, it has become almost traditional to complain that we have too much legislation, and certainly too much government 279 legislation. It is only the uncertain duration of this Session which makes it hard to say whether we have been promised too much or too little in the months to come. However, we can look forward to legislation which should allow this House to do what it is best at; that is, to perform its function as a revising Chamber. Those of us who are concerned to improve the function of this House in that respect will, I hope, ensure that the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, is widely read.
The need for charity reform has become increasingly obvious to those involved in the field and to their advisers. The reform is overdue. I do not want to repeat the points which were made when the House debated the topic in November 1989, nor to anticipate the Second Reading debate of the Bill later this month. I simply hope that the proposed reforms will be seen on all sides as necessary and useful. There is a large number of charities of differing scale and differing standards. They all have large amounts of other people's money and they should be subject to the important administrative controls which are proposed.
I wish to concentrate for a moment on a matter which seems to have slipped out of the Government's timetable. If newspaper reports are correct, the proposals for leasehold reform which have been accepted by the Government were to be mentioned in the gracious Speech. However, in the event they were omitted. The proposals for a commonhold Act—for which a draft Bill was presented in a consultation paper a year ago—were widely welcomed. Earlier this year the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor informed the House that legislation to implement the commonhold proposals would be introduced as soon as parliamentary time could be found.
We on these Benches welcome the proposals for leasehold reform. As they have emanated from the Law Commission, the proposals are bound to be well thought out and well presented. Therefore I should like to know what the Government's present intentions are for commonhold legislation. I hope that legislation is still in the pipeline. It is inevitably a complicated subject and some powerful interests would like to water down the proposals. Leasehold flat dwellers stand most to gain if the reforms are introduced, and they stand to lose most if they are not. I hope the Government can end the uncertainty as it helps no one. I also hope the Government can assure the House that commonhold reforms will now advance as a government Bill.
I shall now discuss the asylum Bill which is in the Government's programme. It is apparently intended to have a fast track procedure to deal with asylum seekers. There is nothing inherently wrong with fast tracks unless they are so quick that justice cannot be properly done and is not seen to be properly done.
It must be a matter of great anxiety that it is apparently proposed to withdraw the availability of legal aid for asylum seekers and give the task of providing advice and assistance to the advisory service. It must be doubtful whether, even with more resources the advisory service can do the work which lawyers have done successfully hitherto. Legal 280 representation is not a panacea, but legal aid should be available to gather evidence and to present cases where basic human rights are at stake. The Government should look hard at the Law Society's proposals. As I understand the proposals, they involve the provision of accredited solicitors willing and able to do this specialised work.
That measure ought to be seen as part and parcel of this country's overall policy for race relations. The Race Relations Act 1976 provides us with a good framework. In many ways it is superior to measures in European countries where racial tensions are manifesting themselves. Effective national legislation is particularly important as the European treaty makes no reference to racial or colour prejudice or disadvantage. European law seems more concerned with internal movements than with migration from outside.
In 1985 the Commission for Racial Equality made proposals for improvement of the 1976 legislation. The Government did not respond, with the result that this year the commission produced a second review and a consultation paper. This is not the time to go into the detail of the proposed improvements. The proposals are not radical. They come from those with knowledge of the limits and the capabilities of the existing legislation. The legislation is not breaking down but it requires routine maintenance and improvement.
In recent years I have undertaken some discrimination cases and have become aware of some of the weaknesses of the law. However, I do not lose sight of the fact that our race relations legislation is a valuable national asset which does much to influence the atmosphere in which we all live and work. It behoves any government to keep it in good running order. To do so both government and all who are concerned with this topic must be properly informed. Over the years we have had regular surveys and reports from the Policy Studies Institute. It is a matter of considerable concern to know whether the Government will continue to allow the funding of further work by the PSI, building, for example, on the ethnic question in the recent census.
Apprehension about race relations must be heightened in the context of a Europe in which national barriers are being lowered and removed. It is inescapable that with those welcome developments there will be a temptation and a tendency to increase the mechanisms for internal surveillance and controls. We must be vigilant to protect our racial tolerance in particular and our civil liberties in general. I hope that the Government will respond to the proposals of the commission with urgency.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Baroness Faithfull
My Lords, with other noble Lords I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, on his maiden speech. I should also like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Ferrers on introducing the debate today. However, I am sad and disappointed that among the seven social concerns he mentioned the social services were not dealt with at 281 any time. Perhaps in fairness to him I should say that they have not been mentioned by any other noble Lord either.
If there is an area to which the principles of the Citizen's Charter should be applied it is the social services, which work with the most vulnerable in our society. They are responsible for implementing the new Children Act which came into effect on 14th October and the National Health Service and Community Care Act when that comes into force.
I seek to speak today on the statement in Her Majesty's gracious Speech that:My Government will continue to develop policies to enhance the nation's health and to improve the effectiveness of the health and social services, and the social security system".Those who work in the statutory, voluntary and private sectors of the social services will welcome that statement. I propose to deal with the training of those who work in the social services, the wise use of resources both by the Treasury and local authorities and the part played by the media.
I suggest that the inadequate training of those working in the social services is an apolitical matter for which all parties in both Houses of Parliament and within local authorities should be held responsible. The Council for Education and Training in Social Work was set up in 1970. Over the years the inadequacy of training has been highlighted in the notable report of Lord Justice Butler-Sloss on the events in Cleveland, in reports made on the deaths of children by Mr. Louis Blom-Cooper and others and latterly in the reports on "pindown" in Staffordshire and the events in the Kincora home in Northern Ireland, in the Leicester children's home and in Orkney. No part of the United Kingdom is exempt.
To be a social worker in residential work, field work, day care and community work involves working as a colleague of and in co-operation with those in the health service, education service and legal profession. Many judges have spoken to me with compassion of the inadequate training social workers have received in the law which has put them at a disadvantage in court.
Social work involves working alongside families with difficulties and children and young persons in trouble and in need. No one who has not worked in the field can know the wisdom, knowledge and skill required. It also involves the implementation of the Mental Health Acts, the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Acts, the Social Security Acts, the adoption Acts and work with the homeless and elderly people seeking support and help. Social work as a profession means working alongside other professions.
I draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that Great Britain is the only country in the EC which has only a two-year basic training in social work. Other EC countries have a three or four-year training. With more resources coming forward from the Treasury, the Council for Education and Training in Social Work has produced a small document setting out future plans for the training of social workers. It is to be hoped that even more resources may be made 282 available, particularly in the field of residential child care. Residential child care workers are inadequately trained for what are the most difficult jobs in social work.
I am not the only peer in your Lordships' House to discuss the role played by the Treasury. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, who is sitting by my side, has spoken of it, as did the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, in a notable speech last July. Surely it is for the Treasury to lay down the amount of money which is or is not to be made available, as the case may be, but not to stipulate policies and how that money is to be spent. What can Treasury officials know of the training of social workers? I may be wrong and if I am perhaps the Minister will correct me, but I understand that it was the Treasury which laid down that there should be only a two-year training for social workers.
In the 13th century the barons complained to the King that the Treasury was dictating what they should do—and I have the book here, which I borrowed from the House Library. That was in the 13th century; this is the 20th century and nothing has changed. Could this be the notable year when we change the attitude of the Treasury? We all pay tribute to the Treasury. It is a magnificent service. However, I wonder which of the Treasury staff has dealt with an abused child, a delinquent child, a mentally handicapped person or a mental case in hospital. I should be grateful to know whether they have. However, in fairness to the Treasury I must preserve a balance. I should be considered ungracious if I did not point out that the Treasury has allowed provision for training to rise from £10 million in 1986 to £26 million today.
However, more resources are needed for the training of staff working in residential establishments. That is the most difficult sector and the work is undervalued and poorly paid. I recognise that we must reduce the inflation rate. I do not wish to push it up, but so often resources are cut back in such a way that we have to spend more money in the long run. Furthermore, there is often overlap between departments when savings could be made if they co-operated more closely.
I make a plea to the media. For them bad news is good news. Work well done against difficult odds is rarely highlighted, with notable exceptions. The most notable exception is perhaps the professional press, which is often supportive of the social work world. In fairness, I must mention an article by Polly Toynbee, entitled,Care and Be Damned—Polly Toynbee spent a day observing the struggle of social workers with human catastrophe".I wish that the media would sometimes look at the good work that is done. That would encourage those who work in the service. Furthermore, it would give the country a sense of pride and security in and an appreciation of the social services, the health service, the education service and the probation service. I implore the media to take notice of good practice. If any members of the media wish to be shown good practice, I should be glad to help. To preserve a sense of balance, I should say that bad practice must be investigated and reported. The public expect that.
283 Two weeks ago I was invited by the Social Care Association to its annual seminar on dignity and rights. The association is responsible for residential and day-care services. I was moved and impressed by the commitment of all those present who worked in residential and day care. I learnt of the good work done, often in poor conditions and with poor pay—pay not commensurate with the work done by the people concerned. We await the Howe Report following the report of Sir William Utting on residential care.
We must surely congratulate the Government on putting the Children Act of 1989 on the statute book but without better resources it will not be possible to implement that Act as was intended. Many noble Lords have asked for better resources. If better resources are not provided, we shall pay the price later. W se giving and use of resources by both the Government and local authorities is therefore bound to improve the service and in the end benefit our country.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
My Lords, nothing encourages a man so much as to find that the good advice that he has freely given has been enthusiastically accepted. Yet, when speaking on higher education in your Lordships' House on 21st November 1990 I pointed out certain manifest shortcomings in the work of the Universities Funding Council and suggested some modest reforms that a new chairman might attempt, I did not anticipate that within a matter of a few months the Government would have been so overwhelmed by the power and truth of my arguments that they would propose to abolish the council and all its works Truly, there is more joy in Heaven over one sinner that repenteth than over 99 just men which need no repentance. I must be grateful.
Yet it is wise to be cautious in those matters and to apply the salt of scepticism to the statement in the gracious Speech that legislation will be laid before us to reform higher education. So it is the Government's intention that the universities shall be reformed. We shall not be reassured, we shall not be reinvigorated and we shall certainly not be rewarded, but the bits and pieces of the ever-burgeoning bureaucracy that controls us will be shaken around once more in the great kaleidoscope of Whitehall in the vain hope that some good will come of it. There is absolutely no evidence that, as a result of that reform, universities and polytechnics will be any happier or any better, and they will certainly not be richer.
We have heard this afternoon in the Autumn Statement that public funding for universities and polytechnics will rise by 4.6 per cent. in real terms next year. For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful. However, it is nothing like enough for the expansion that we are also told we must undertake.
We have been here before. The UGC begat the UFC, which will beget the HEFC, or the WHEFC if you happen to be in Wales, and all within a couple of years. As we lurch from one council to the next, it is clear that there will be more bureaucracy, more 284 demands for information, more questionnaires and more financial forecasts and demands for data which no one ever does anything with and that there will be no more money to fund that reformation. That will involve professors, readers and lecturers spending even more time on committees and working parties so that they will be less able to produce the research on which their departments will be evaluated and funded. From a thousand laboratories and lecture rooms around the country we hear the great sigh of resignation, "Heigh-ho! Here we go again".
We shall hear sterner words from the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals. No one would describe the CVCP as a seething cauldron of socialist ideology. This is no pinko quango. By its very nature and constitution it is dependent on the lowest common denominator of consensus. Yet it has been reliably reported that within a matter of a few weeks the CVCP will present the Government with an assessment of the state of higher education, based on an analysis of current spending plans and student recruitment, and will put forward scenarios for the next decade based on the assumption that there will be no significant increase in public funding. Those sober-suited citizens will invite the Government to consider at least three pictures of the future.
The first of those pictures is what is known as the Italian option, under which universities in this country will copy the practice of universities like Rome or Milan and enrol all students who have obtained minimal qualifications for a place. Some of them never turn up and many of them fail the first examination that they take, but it is a marvellously easy way to double the number of undergraduates by early next century. Of course, academic standards must suffer.
I know of one student at Milan University reading English Literature who in an examination in his first year was invited to name three characters in Shakespeare's King Lear, apart from the King himself. He found himself unable to do so. He was adjudged narrowly to have failed the examination, but was allowed to resit it a year later after payment of the full year's fees. It is worth noting that the University of Rome has a staff/student ratio of almost 200 to one. That is not unlike the kind of thing that we could expect in this country. The sentimental old idea of a tutorial as forming any part of a course in higher education would have to be abandoned straight away.
Secondly, the CVCP will warn of a scenario in which students will shortly be expected to pay fees for their courses. Despite the fact that the Education Secretary has distanced himself from such a proposal because, as he put it, it would,reduce participation and put off poorer students",a growing number of vice-chancellors believe that charging undergraduates for their teaching is inevitable and will not be long delayed. Another possibility is that there will be a system of top-up fees paid by applicants with lower A-level grades. The paradigm for that would appear to be: if you are not good enough to come, you can still come, but you have to pay more.
The third spectre at the CVCP feast is the possibility of privatisation of research. It seems 285 possible that we shall have to contemplate companies sponsoring a number of specialist universities to develop work beneficial to their industry. To some extent, they already do. But this trend is especially a nightmare scenario for medical researchers, who have every apprehension that they will be at the mercy of the pharmaceutical companies. Indeed, academics at University College Hospital, London are reported to have said that they would rather give up their research than be the paid slaves of the drug companies.
In the area of research many vice-chancellors privately admit that they do not believe that the Government will significantly boost funding and Sir Eric Ash, the Rector of London's Imperial College is quoted as saying that in recent years "real, quantifiable damage" has been done to research in British universities. I say again that these are not the scaremongering dreams of irresponsible people but the careful prophecies of those who are charged with the management of Britain's universities.
At the other end of the higher education spectrum it is perhaps remarkable that neither the gracious Speech nor, so far as I can see, the Bill as it has come before us has anything very much to say about students. Yet the Government have selected higher education students for very special treatment. They have pushed them entirely outside the safety net of the welfare state. Perhaps I may quickly give your Lordships six specific instances in which the Government have discriminated against students.
First, the Government have driven down the worth of the student grant, leaving students far worse off than they were 12 years ago. Secondly, they have withdrawn from students—from students alone—the right to claim housing benefit. Every other person has that right; but if you are a student you have lost it. Thirdly, the safety net for income that applies to every other adult in the country—income support—is withdrawn for students. The basic minimum income covering the rest of the country excludes students. As citizens students simply do not count.
Fourthly, the vacation hardship allowance has been withdrawn, showing yet once more that students have to suffer their hardship entirely on their own. Fifthly, through their limitation on local government spending, the Government have cut the amount of money that local authorities can provide in discretionary grants.
Sixthly, in one spectacular piece of meanness it has been decided that part-time students, however poor they may be, have to pay their fees out of taxed income, while full-time students, however rich they may be, will have their fees paid by local authorities. That bears particularly heavily on institutions such as Birkbeck College in the University of London which, in the opinion of most, has suffered enough "reform" at the hands of government over the past few years, culminating in the acknowledged error by which the UFC underfunded that college this year and yet, after admitting its mistake, took more than six months to rectify the anomaly.
The Government's proposals in the gracious Speech for the reform of higher education have been 286 described by one Member of another place as "very lame stuff from a government on its last legs". It may be lame stuff. What worries me is that it is the same stuff—the same stuff that we have had before, through the UGC, the UFC and all the other instances of bureaucracy which are now rehashed, reheated, reordered, reissued or, as the Government prefer to put it, reformed. The Government's proposals for higher education in the gracious Speech can best be described in the words of the poet Juvenal: crambe repetita. For the benefit of those noble Lords not born and bred to the purple I translate as "rehashed bubble and squeak"—the cabbage left over from yesterday's dinner, reboiled and served up again.
Yet we may extract one crumb of comfort. We may see one ray of light in this dismal scene. In the Further and Higher Education Bill as it is now before us, we may read on page vii a clause entitled "Financial Effects of the Bill". It states that:The Bill will have no direct financial effect on the funds available for further or higher education, apart from transitional costs of £28 million in 1992–93 to establish the Further Education Funding Councils and to prepare institutions in that sector for their new management responsibilities".That is all that it says and it says it all. Apart from £28 million to be spent on bureaucracy, when the Bill finally receives Royal Assent, the universities of this country will be reformed, redirected, readministered and not a penny better off.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Lord Northbourne
My Lords, in his opening speech the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, referred to crime prevention and young offenders in our inner cities. I should like to say a few words this evening on that aspect of our debate.
After the riots which took place this summer in Oxford and Newcastle, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury referred to poverty and deprivation in the inner cities. There is no doubt that such poverty and deprivation exist. The most reverend Primate suggested—and I am sure that the Opposition Benches would wish to push the argument—that such deprivation and poverty is caused by the niggardliness of the Government's funding of benefits available to unemployed people living in the inner cities.
There is a snag to that argument; namely, that many families succeed in living satisfactorily on those benefits and bring up clean and healthy children who are secure and well adjusted and who go on to live normal, happy lives, making a contribution to society. Why then are some others unable to do the same? The seriousness of the problem is emphasised in the report of your Lordships' Select Committee on the European Communities which we shall debate next week:Moreover the Committee concludes that there exists in many Member States a small but significant group of especially disadvantaged young people who form an isolated or 'marginalised' element of society living in very deprived conditions; some have become anti-social or criminal. The existence of this group and the scale of the problems revealed by the evidence have profound implications for social cohesion and integration in Europe".The report goes on to say that it is not possible to identify a single cause for that situation.
287 Of the many causes of poverty and deprivation, I believe that one of the most common is poor parenting. Young people who suffer this kind of multiple deprivation tend to have a low level of self esteem and a low level of ability to cope with the complexities and stresses of modern life. They tend to lack the skills of homemaking and child-rearing which traditionally have been learnt by example within the family and passed on from one generation to another. They tend to have truanted at school and as a result are poorly educated and trained.
What happens when a child grows up without any experience of a supportive family? What happens when a child is deserted by one or both parents, is beaten or sexually abused by its own parent or is deserted by its father and then sexually abused by the mother's lover? What chance do such children have of knowing how to create in their turn a secure environment for their children or to make ends meet when the going gets tough? Can one really blame them for turning to alcohol and drugs as a form of escape—"Alcohol is the quickest way out of Glasgow", they used to say—or to prostitution or crime in order to make ends meet?
I want to try to persuade the House that these victims of inadequate parenting are handicapped in just the same way as is a child who is born crippled. It is through no fault of their own. I want to argue that we should help them to overcome their disabilities just as we help handicapped children to overcome their physical disabilities. Above all, I want to convince your Lordships that it is possible to do so.
In this context I can tell your Lordships that over the past rive years I have been involved with Toynbee Hall Children's Department. I have had the privilege of working for a few weeks each year with children and young people who have suffered such disability. They are children who are disruptive at school; many are in the care of the local authority; often they have already had brushes with the police.
Without help, many of those children will without doubt be the young offenders of tomorrow and the criminals of the day after. Yet I have not come across one of those young tough guys who will not respond in some degree to uncritical affection, support and encouragement. I am convinced that there is a real potential to build good citizens and to create happy lives for a high proportion of them if society is prepared to give them the help that they need.
Am I just another voice asking the Government for money? No, I am not. I ask the Government to make an investment in these young people. If that is not done, they will become the criminals of tomorrow and a charge on society. If those young people are helped to become useful and happy members of society and good parents, there will be an enormous dividend through savings on expenditure on prisons, the police, probation services, hospital care and benefits. That is a dividend which will repay many-fold the initial investment. Those benefits would also continue in large measure from generation to generation—and that is before taking into account the saving in wasted lives.
288 There is an urgent need for teachers, youth leaders and social workers, and training for those adults who, as the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, pointed out, are prepared to give to this group of difficult young people the uncritical and non-exploitative support and guidance that they so desperately need to enable them to gain the confidence to become responsible members of society and to give them the knowledge and experience of relationships which will help them to become good parents.
From my experience I am convinced that this cycle of inadequate parenting can be broken. I am convinced that this must be done. I hope that it may be the present Government who will have the courage to do it.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Lord Holderness
My Lords, I am pleased to follow what I consider to be a moving speech. I hope to talk about other handicapped people in the way that the noble Lord discussed those who were the subject of his speech.
It is a bad plan ever to look back at speeches of the past. Most speeches, in particular mine, should be forgotten with the shortest delay possible. However, in the light of the controversy over health that we experienced during the summer and are apparently still suffering, and having listened to the robust speech of my noble friend Lord McColl, I wish to say this. Two years ago when my right honourable friend the previous Secretary of State introduced his health proposals for the National Health Service, I remember expressing the fervent hope that both in this House and in another place we should not confuse argument about method with criticism of motive. I added that it would bring no gain to the National Health Service if anyone tried to suggest that the arguments of opponents were directed more closely to its destruction than to its improvement.
I was obviously over-optimistic, and I was probably naive to expect a different approach. I ought to have heeded the wise advice of a former Prime Minister, who pointed out that the long hot summer was the time when irritating midges came out of dirty ditches. Yet one gain from the sterile controversy about the future of the National Health Service may be the fervent expressions of devotion to the service that we have listened to across the whole political spectrum. Those expressions can be valuable if accompanied by a genuine desire on all sides to bring the institution more closely into accord with an ideal that is still, sadly, far beyond the past achievement of any government.
Some months ago Her Majesty's Government took a realistic step forward by publishing a Green Paper entitled The Health of the Nation. They asked for suggested priorities before the Green Paper became a White Paper and made a request for proposals of appropriate targets and the accompanying means adequately to measure the progress made. The Health of the Nation contains a backward look at the triple targets of the National Health Service as defined by Lord Beveridge in the 1940s. Lord Beveridge naturally stated the importance of treatment and the still greater 289 importance of prevention. However, the third objective has been largely neglected for close on 50 years.
Men, women and children with faculties lastingly impaired either congenitally, by disease or by subsequent accident are too often left with too little help when their acute treatment comes to an end. My favourite definition of rehabilitation—probably because it is simple and I can understand it—is turning a patient into a person, a process which clearly goes far beyond the part which medicine alone can play. It must therefore include among many other factors education and re-education, training and re-training, adaptions to people's houses, equipment, either simple or sophisticated, steps to restore mobility and so on. It naturally involves local authorities, the social services and many of the departments in Whitehall.
Today I wish to focus attention on medical rehabilitation. Much of the present argument about the National Health Service is centred on the need to increase resources. Today we have had news from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that those resources will be increased. However, I wish to sound a note of caution with which many will agree. Provision of more resources, whether of people, money, buildings or equipment, will go only a small way to meet an almost infinite demand. Nevertheless, any scarcity of resources at least underlines the imperative need not to waste those that are available. One reason why resources are scarcer than they need be is the appalling financial burden imposed by disability on individuals and their families, on industry, on local authorities, on the National Health Service and on government.
Perhaps I may take a few examples. The cost of back pain, bed sores, incontinence aids and medication for the physically disabled runs into hundreds of millions of pounds each year. Those costs could be eliminated only by the prevention of disorder. But they could be significantly reduced by improved methods of rehabilitation. They could be further diminished by effective measures, financial as well as medical, to enable far more people than at present to continue to live in their own homes. That is a matter on which I know that I have the sympathy of my noble friend Lord Henley who will reply to our debate. I regard such independence, which naturally depends on some degree of mobility, as among the most precious of benefits that this world affords.
I believe that sensible provision for the thousands of men and women who devote their lives to caring at home for people with severe disabilities would not only vastly increase the sum of human happiness but, to return to more worldly terms, would save the Government a large amount of money. Therefore, I beg my noble friend, and in particular my right honourable friend the Secretary of State as he searches for key areas in the National Health Service where the results of effective action are virtually assured, to look carefully at the lessons clearly to be learnt from the rehabilitation that already exists. I hope that he will decide that the success and cost-effectiveness of any extension of the existing system are not only probable but certain both in terms of restoring individuals to 290 full functional capacity and enabling the most seriously disabled people to achieve a marked improvement in the quality of their lives. Both objectives seem infinitely worth while.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Lord Rea
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Holderness, for his consideration for the disabled. I wish to draw the Minister's attention to an organisation of which I am a patron. It is called CONCAH; continuing care at home. It deals with the kind of patient described by the noble Lord.
I wish to refer to the section of the gracious Speech which declares that the Government will continue to develop policies to enhance the nation's health. The consultation period on the Green Paper The Health of the Nation, published in June, has just ended. It provides a useful framework which includes a number of health targets to be achieved by the year 2000. It has been widely welcomed by all health professionals. The Department of Health will have received a wealth of suggestions from numerous organisations on how to flesh out the Green Paper. I wish to focus on the way to achieve one of its targets; that is, the reduction in the proportion of the population who smoke from 32 per cent. to 22 per cent.
Before tackling that problem I wish to touch briefly on another aim mentioned in the Government's programme—to improve the effectiveness of the health and social services. I am sure those services include the London ambulance service. For many years while working as a GP in North London I found that my patients were well served by a highly efficient emergency ambulance service. However, in recent months I have become increasingly anxious about its effectiveness. There have been times in my practice when the ambulance service has taken 20 minutes to answer a 999 call put through to it by British Telecom. Emergency admissions promised within the hour have taken up to three and a half hours. On one occasion I was told by an ambulance controller answering the telephone that at that time 40 telephone calls were waiting in a queue to be dealt with.
More tragically, on Saturday 7th September this year a neighbour—not my patient—a young woman aged 24, died at home from acute overwhelming pneumonia while waiting for an ambulance to arrive. The ambulance was based in Barnet, eight miles away from the patient's home in Islington. The driver eventually arrived in the district but he did not know the local environmental road block system and wasted valuable minutes negotiating it. I am not sure that the woman would have survived if help had come immediately—possibly not. However, her friends and neighbours had to wait for 35 minutes, which was a painful and traumatic experience. They felt completely powerless to help her.
I gather that there has been an internal inquiry into the incident. It would appear that the service is in a near-crisis situation with an acute shortage of staff. Will the Minister tell the House how a service which was once amazingly effective and prompt has been allowed to deteriorate to such a degree? I suggest that prompt improvement is required.
291 The main thrust of my speech concerns a matter which is of greater long-term importance to the health of the nation; it is how to reduce smoking among 32 per cent. of the population to 22 per cent. That may appear to be an ambitious target considering that the level has remained virtually static for the past five years. However, if the rate of reduction that occurred between 1978 and 1985 were repeated, we could reach 18 per cent. by the year 2000. That will require new measures to be adopted.
It is hardly necessary to repeat that smoking is the biggest single avoidable cause of death. That is clearly stated in the Government's Green Paper. It outweighs by a factor of six all the other avoidable causes put together—that is, all accidents, road and other; fires; suicide; murder; manslaughter; drug abuse; alcohol abuse and AIDS. It is calculated that rear seat belt legislation will save some 100 lives per year. Smoking kills almost three times as many people every day.
The largest single factor in the dramatic reduction in smoking which occurred between 1979 and 1986 was the increase in the real price of cigarettes. However, in recent years the Government have been reluctant to raise the price through increasing duty largely because of the effect on the retail prices index. The solution would be to remove tobacco from the RPI. After all, only 30 per cent. of the population smokes and it is a habit which the Government wish to discourage. France, Portugal and Luxembourg have already taken that action.
Much is expected from better health education. However, even if the present allocation to the Health Education Authority of some £8 million were doubled, that would be unlikely to be effective when faced with the estimated £100 million spent by the tobacco industry in promoting its product, which contains a unique combination of insidious poisons whose continued consumption is driven by nicotine, a highly addictive substance. In July last year Mrs. Virginia Bottomley in another place, said that if cigarettes were introduced today their production and sale would probably be banned.
The problem with health education against smoking is that at present its credibility is questionable. That is especially so for children when seductive advertising legally stating the exact opposite is found on every urban street corner. "If cigarettes were really bad for you the Government wouldn't allow them to be advertised", is a logical view that I have heard expressed by a teenager.
It is in that connection that I wish to discuss the draft EC directive banning tobacco advertising except indoors at the point of sale. I understand that on Monday 11th November the EC Ministers of Health will meet to discuss the draft directive, among other matters. The draft directive is backed by eight of the 12 EC member states, with the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark apparently opposed to it. The Government's position to date has been that legislation to prohibit tobacco advertising has not conclusively been shown to be effective in reducing cigarette consumption in the countries where it has been introduced. However, recent evidence from 292 New Zealand and Canada shows clearly that a decline in the number of people smoking occurred in relation to recent legislation banning advertising.
I am slightly embarrassed at this point because I shall quote back a letter written by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, to Professor Sleight, who is chairman of ASH, which discusses this problem. The letter indicates that, while the Government still hold the position that the case for a ban is unproven,officials are in contact with the New Zealand authorities seeking further information and we will continue to study their experience and that of other countries and to review our position as necessary".We can possibly see a chink in the Government's opposition to an advertising ban. It is time to admit that the voluntary agreements with the tobacco industry to control advertising are not effective. The prevalence of smoking has stayed level for the past five years.
I do not expect the Government to swing behind the EC directive by next Monday. That would be too much to expect and would be difficult because, despite the Government's target of reducing the prevalence of smoking from 32 per cent. to 22 per cent., there is no proposal in Britain to bring in legislation to ban advertising. If the Government cannot endorse the draft directive, I hope they suggest a formula which keeps it very much on the table.
The Secretary of State for Health, William Waldegrave, said in July of this year on Radio 4:I am rather carefully not ruling it"—that is, an advertising ban—out for ever—I'd be foolish to do so".As a doctor who has dealt, and is dealing, with hundreds of victims of smoking, I suggest that it will greatly assist the achievement of the Government's target if the banning of tobacco advertising is moved right to the top of the priority scale.
An argument used by the tobacco industry is that a ban on tobacco advertising would be an interference with personal liberty. I answer that in the words of John Stuart Mill, who said:The only purpose for which power can be rightly exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others".The harm done by tobacco is now fully accepted. We should rightly exercise power to prohibit its advertising.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Rea can count me as a devout but not very effective ally in his campaign against smoking. I gather he wishes to ban smoking altogether. Clearly his wish to ban the advertising of tobacco is a halfway house. If it is put on the same level as cannabis, smoking should be banned and we should not allow it at all. I have never smoked in my life and that is why I am not a useful ally because people will say that I do not know what I am talking about. I suppose that my noble friend is a reclaimed smoker. He has smoked, has he?
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, that is more than I have. I suppose that we all agree that the most famous rugby player of the past 10 years has been 293 Blanco, the French captain. He was asked whom he admired most among the rugby players he had met over the past 10 years. He said that it was Willie Duggan of Ireland because, "he smoked more cigarettes before a match than I did". That was Blanco's testimony and it obviously has not ruined his rugby playing. As I say, I lend my support but it will not help my noble friend very much. Other experts must offer their views.
Because of a misunderstanding for which I take full responsibility, I am speaking in what is technically called "the gap". I do not know whether other noble Lords here have ever been subjected to that humiliation in their careers. I have listened to other noble Lords speaking in the gap with visible impatience because one always wonders why such people must speak at all. I hope that the House will conceal its impatience as I offer a few thoughts—fewer, however, than they would have been had I obtained a more exalted place.
The House will not be surprised to hear that I wish to offer a few thoughts on penal affairs. Owing to my position in the gap and because of the hour, I shall leave out some of the most important issues; namely, the causes of crime and its prevention. They were dealt with effectively by my noble friend Lord Richard and the noble Lord who spoke about young offenders. I have spoken previously in this House about sentencing and have pointed out that we send more people to prison per head than anywhere else in Europe. Therefore, I shall not deal with the matter now.
I hoped that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, would have time to denounce privatisation but he did not do so before he felt bound to conclude his speech. I have said before that to make a profit out of unfortunate people in our power who have committed crimes—and perhaps terrible crimes—is obscene. I say it again, but I shall not deal with the topic now.
I wish to deal with the treatment of prisoners. My mind goes back to 1955 when I opened the first debate on prisons ever held in this House. I was followed by Lord Templewood who had been a Conservative Home Secretary and was then president of the Howard League. I remember him saying, "We know what we should do but we do not do it". That is how I place the matter before the Government now. They know what should be done and are not doing it. I hope that it is a compliment to say that they know what should be done. It would be terrible to say that they are too thick and obtuse to know what should be done. They know what should be done because they have the Woolf Report and they claim that in principle they accept it.
When I say that the Government do not do what should be done, I do not blame Ministers. I have a higher regard for Home Office Ministers than for anyone else sitting on the Front Bench today. For reasons which are not obscure, it is the Government who do nothing. There is no mention of penal reform in the gracious Speech. If the Government are dedicated to any reform, however feeble, they should say something about it. It is not mentioned at all. The 294 noble Lord, Lord Henley, cannot explain that away although I am sure he will try. Therefore, they know what should be done but their colleagues do not allow them to do it.
I wish to touch on one aspect of the Woolf/Tumim Report. It is the most authoritative document ever produced on penal reform. It has been accepted and applauded by all including the Government. The aspect to which I shall refer has been dealt with many times in the scathing reports of Judge Tumim, the chief inspector of prisons. The regimes in prisons are quite deplorable. The amount of time spent in a cell is longer today than it was 20 years ago. If anything, we have gone backwards.
That is the opinion of people who were in prison service before the noble Lord was born. I do not mean the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. I think he had just been born. However, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, had not been born when I first visited prisons. People like ex-Governor Timms of Maidstone and others agree that on the whole the situation in prisons is worse than it was 20 years ago because people spend so long in their cells. The life is more wasteful. I accept that that is not the case in all prisons because I can give examples of prisons where people are receiving full-time education. I know one person who has acquired such an art and skill that in the past few months—and your Lordships may not believe this—he has painted a portrait of me. Just think of that! That took some doing. He did it without my having to sit for him. So people can acquire skills in prison. Nevertheless, by and large, life in prison is futile and worse than it was a number of years ago.
What is the answer? It is simple. It may be acceptable to Home Office Ministers but it will not be acceptable to what is called the Treasury; that is, the Government whom we have chosen to represent us at any rate for the time being. They do not like the answer, which is that we need more prison officers. That means more money. Either one is ready to put more money for reforms at the disposal of the prison services or one is not. Noble Lords apparently are not ready to put more resources at the disposal of the prison service.
Let us think for a moment about the prison officers. The Government are, to put it mildly, not at all nice about them. It may be that the prison officers are not nice about the Government, but that is not my immediate point. The Woolf Report said that,members of the prison service as a whole, against heavy odds, have managed over a number of years to contain an almost impossible situation by showing immense dedication, courage and professionalism.That is the considered view of the Woolf/Tumim Report. But the Government treat prison officers as a lot of scallywags and with contempt. It is hardly open to argument that one of the reasons the Government favour a policy of privatisation is because it is a way of bypassing the prison officers.
I beg the Government to think carefully about their relationship with prison officers. I remember an account given by the late Lord Stockton. He said that when he went to his preparatory school, Summerfields in Oxford, and was crying himself to sleep on his first night, the occupant of the next bed said, "Don't cry, 295 little boy; your position is bad but not hopeless." In a sense that is how the relationship stands between the Government and the Prison Officers' Association. I beg the to consider a new initiative.
We are aware of the infinite charm and astuteness of the noble Earl opposite. Perhaps he and his colleagues in the Home Office can meet the prison officers personally and not leave matters to subordinate arrangements. I beg the Government to consider the matter, give it at least some attention and not simply dismiss it as ludicrous. I hope that the Minister will say that he will at least consider the idea of a direct approach by Ministers to the prison officers to see whether or not a new relationship can be formed. Without that no good can happen.
When I opened our debate at the end of July I said that I wished Ministers well but that the omens were not good. They are no better now, but I still wish Ministers well. However, I am afraid that it is becoming increasingly a matter of hope over experience.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, it is my pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, on an extremely able and interesting maiden speech. His claims to be uncontroversial, I hope, were as good as my own on an equivalent occasion. I shall not discuss his arguments further. However, on many future occasions I look forward to discussing them in this Chamber.
It may not have been noticed that power is an addictive substance. It is dangerous to those who indulge in it for too long and yet it does not seem that people show a great eagerness to give it up. The trouble is that there is a limited distance one can travel in any direction before one hits the limits of the possible. The line which separates the visionary from the Utopian is thin. Therefore any government in power for too long must face David Lodge's question, "How far can you go?" Beyond that point they risk finding that their legislative offspring are illegitimate.
I do not for a moment suggest that the problem is peculiar to any one party. After 1951 the view was quite widely held, I believe inside as well as outside the Labour Party, that it had taken socialism as far as it could go. I have been waiting since 1955 to find out what the Labour Party was going to believe after socialism. I am still waiting. Similarly, watching the first programme of the Major Government and watching to see what the Conservative Party will believe after Thatcherism, I wonder whether I shall have to wait as long.
That is the sort of circumstance in which a politician must fall back on the old familiar cliche, "These are our principles. If you do not like them we have others". Mr. Major's tragedy is that he does not have any others. The one idea which seems to me to be specifically associated with Mr. Major is that of the Citizen's Charter. On that I cannot improve on the comment of Mr. Roger Freeman. On the issue of the Fenchurch Street commuters, on which my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich had so much that 296 was useful to say, Mr. Freeman said that the principle of the Citizen's Charter could not, by definition, address fundamental problems.
If we were sure that the Government agreed with that, we would find it easier, as my noble friend suggested, to go along with maintaining that one should not sneer at the Citizen's Charter. But it cannot be used as an alibi for fundamental problems. It cannot be used as a whipping boy to punish public services for fundamental problems whose origins are elsewhere. Other proposals such as the privatisation of British Coal and British Rail seem to have succeeded to that special niche in Cloud-cuckoo-land once occupied by Labour proposals for nationalising banking and insurance.
What are the country's greatest problems? I would mention homelessness, among others, without dwelling on it. At this stage it is inevitable that most of the country's greatest problems should be ones that cannot be solved by Conservative principles. I do not blame the Government for that. That is the inevitable price of being in office for too long. There are some problems that could be addressed by Conservative principles. For example, I cannot yet get it into my mind that there is anything in Conservative principles incompatible with adequate levels of student support, on which people can live, eat and above all work.
I am, I hope, always ready to admit to this House when I have been wrong. On the Education (Student Loans) Bill and the disentitlement to social security I was wrong. The position is a great deal more grave than I then foresaw. Some noble Lords have no doubt read the report by NACAB on the subject, which is an extremely powerful document. My experience with my own pupils—on which I shall not dwell in detail—is slightly worse than appears from that report. I have learnt as a rough rule of thumb to recognise a serious financial problem as a case where the undergraduate has a four figure overdraft the day after receipt of his grant cheque. The social security safety net is a vital one and a citizen's right. Without it any of those multiple misfortunes which any of us may experience are capable of pushing people over the edge.
What do we see instead in the programme put before us? What are thought to be the great issues facing the country? We have a Bill shooting the messengers at Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Schools. On that I agree with everything said by my noble friend Lord Ritchie of Dundee. We have a Bill for stopping some universities doing research; we have a Bill for keeping refugees away from the courts. Can any of your Lordships imagine a foreign journalist writing back to his or her country about the major problems of Britain in 1991 beginning with those three matters? I find that very difficult.
I am pleased to see in the gracious Speech that the Government attach the highest priority to improving public services, but I cannot help feeling a little the way I feel when listening to the Labour Party on the economy: I am glad that the will is there; the feeling for the subject is not. I do not believe that this Government have any more understanding of how to improve public services than the Labour Party has of how to improve the economy. The Government keep 297 on concentrating obsessively on the notion of efficiency with a narrow, impoverished definition which is in effect a synonym for "cheap".
Perhaps I may give one example of that. I refer to the new scheme for performance-related pay for the funding of magistrates' courts. I understand that the courts are in effect to be paid in proportion to the number of cases they get through. They are to be rewarded for getting the cases done fast regardless of whether they get them right. In fact, they are being given an incentive to do it quickly and not to do it well. Mr. Anthony Scrivener, the chairman of the Bar Council, commented:The important thing in any system of justice is to get the correct decision. This is achieved by putting the attainment of justice first, not the selling of some notional produce".We have here a financial incentive to do something other than to do justice. In Her Coronation oath Her Majesty is sworn to do justice to her subjects. There is judicial precedent for holding that that oath is binding on Her Majesty's Ministers. I am not a lawyer and I speak tentatively. I ask whether the Home Secretary has taken legal advice on that point.
It is the same spirit of concern for efficiency, regardless of the ultimate objective, which seems to inform the Government's Bill on higher education. In speaking on anything to do with higher education I must of course declare my interest as a university teacher in post. The objective, stated no less than nine times in the White Paper Higher Education: A New Framework is, once again, so-called efficiency. I am not sure that it is any more compatible with scholarship than it is with justice.
We on the Liberal Democrat Benches accept, have been arguing for for a long time and warmly welcome, the abolition of the binary line dividing universities and polytechnics. That is an obviously sensible measure. I believe that it was the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, who pushed the matter to a Division in 1988. The interesting question is why the Government have been so long about doing it. The answer is even more interesting. If the binary line had been abolished in 1988 and therefore polytechnics had been given the scale of research funding which universities enjoyed, it would have cost the Government a good deal of money.
Since then we have had a long string of changes in university research funding which at the time appeared to university teachers to be nothing worse than incomprehensible. Now they are all too dreadfully comprehensible. It used to be a key principle that in universities teaching and research were done by the same people so that every university was in part funded for research in proportion to its student numbers. That is to go from October 1992. Certain places will be funded for research in proportion to their perceived excellence according to performance indicators. I agreed with everything that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford had to say about performance indicators.
Others go through the research councils. We now have the prospect of universities which do not do research. It is a little like bicycles without wheels. 298 Talking to the council of directors of polytechnics on 17th September of this year, the Secretary of State said:A number of institutions in the new sector will receive teaching funding only".We have here the old argument of levelling up or levelling down. Noble Lords opposite will remember going through that argument many times. What is new is that we are using it against a Conservative Government. What I am suggesting is that this is not a Bill to turn polytechnics into universities—which we would have welcomed—it is a Bill to turn a considerable number of universities into polytechnics by depriving them of the right to research.
The link between teaching and research is very much like the link in another place between constituency case work and performance in the Chamber. It is a two-way link and it is a close one. I would not for a moment wish to denigrate the dedication of Members of another place to their constituency case work. I admire it daily. But if we knew that two-thirds of the Members of another place were shortly about to be deprived of the right to enter the Chamber and confined to their constituency case work, first, we should have a rather unhealthy atmosphere of competition and, secondly, when that competition was concluded we might find that the most hotly contested office in British politics was that of Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds. We expect a similar position with universities when the Bill has gone through. That is as about efficient as the meat packaging factory which Mr. Anthony Scrivener said the Government were making out of the courts.
When one is discussing educational expansion one must ask what is the purpose of all this education. We ask that inside the business quite as much as it is asked outside. I believe that perhaps the most important factor is not inculcating any particular body of knowledge, but getting people used to the fact that the body of knowledge changes and to understanding that. My noble friend Lady Seear has discussed this matter with industry. She tells me that that is the message that she gets from there. That is precisely why it is important to have teaching done by those who have actually moved the frontiers of knowledge, who have seen them moving and who understand how that happens.
I do not know what is going to happen, but I believe that this measure is changing the notion of the essence of a university as we have hitherto known it. We do not know whether employers will believe that degrees from the teaching-only institutions, no matter by what name they may be called, are as good as what used to be real university degrees. We do not know whether students will feel that they are getting the same quality of degree that they were used to.
In this context I must warn the Government of something that some principals and vice-chancellors have learnt the hard way; that when you take students in for a three year course there is a legal commitment to teach them on the type of degree for which you have contracted. So, whenever the list is drawn up of which universities are to be entitled to do research there will have to be a three year timelag before it comes into 299 effect, or else the undergraduates of the losing institutions, deprived of the degrees for which they were contracted, would have a ground for legal action. We could not be sure that they would not bring it and we could not be sure that they would not win it.
There would be less anxiety if the performance indicators, according to which these excellent places will achieve selective research funding are to be selected, commanded wider confidence; but they have been drawn up by people who do not altogether understand the nature of the business. The effect of some of them is to produce a distortion as between one subject and another.
I hope I may be forgiven for taking an example of which I have some personal knowledge; that is, the indicator of the amount of outside money won in grants by the academic concerned. In history it is perfectly obvious that one needs more outside money if one is a European historian than if one is a British historian. If one has to spend six months in Simancas more outside money is needed than going to the Public Record Office. The only expense I normally incur in research is London Transport fares. They have not yet risen to a level which makes me feel entitled to apply for a grant to meet them.
Anyone who remembers the debate on the national curriculum cannot believe that this effect of encouraging the European historians at the expense of the British is what the Government intended. Perhaps that is what they should have done. I am sure that was not their intention. Similarly, it rewards research in the social science scene—heavy computer-based analysis of data with expensive equipment, for which grants are needed, at the expense of standard political history. Again, anyone who remembers the comments on the national curriculum of the former Prime Minister will wonder whether that is what the Government intended.
We are told that we are getting improvements in the public services. When this Government understand what an improvement in a public service is, then we can talk about it.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to listen to the noble Earl, Lord Russell. I am sure he will not mind my saying that there were times during his speech when I was irresistibly reminded of the old chestnut that the Liberal Party has a great future behind it.
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he will still have that view after the by-election in Kincardine and Deeside?
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, we shall certainly have that view after the general election, that's for sure.
We have had a wide ranging debate, which has covered the whole field of home affairs and the social policy, with many excellent speeches. None was better than the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky. I am sure we all look forward to hearing him in the future. Having congratulated him, that does not mean to say that I agree with everything he said.
300 My noble friend Lord Richard has dealt extremely capably, as always, with Home Office and criminal justice matters. I shall concentrate on education, social security and health —three crucial areas of social policy. Traditionally a debate on the Address ranges rather wider than the measures contained in the gracious Speech. That tradition is particularly relevant in this our last debate on the Address before a general election.
I shall turn first to education. As has been said, we are promised two Bills: one to reform the funding of further education and sixth form colleges and to reform higher education in England and Wales, and the other to make information available about the performance of individual schools.
It was perhaps a coincidence that the White Paper Education and Training for the 21st Century was published on the same day that the Government announced a decision to abolish the poll tax. One cannot help wondering how much of the switch of policy on further education is due to the Government's evident difficulties over the finance of local government and how much to a genuine need for a change of policy.
The proposed transfer of control of further education to a national funding council seems to ignore the difference between the further education sector and the university and polytechnic sector. To use a word which the Government like, they serve different markets. The universities and the polytechnics cater largely for national and regional demand, while, as we know, further education is locally based. We shall wish to examine the Bill very closely to see whether some better form of local involvement can be secured.
The abolition of the so-called "binary divide" in higher education is welcomed. It has been said by many of your Lordships that one extremely important proviso is that it must not result in a levelling down of resource provision. We can all agree that to give parents information about the performance of individual schools is a good idea. But the Government seem to be in something of a muddle about how to do it, as has been mentioned by a number of your Lordships. There is the other truly crackpot idea of privatising the education inspectorate.
In passing, it is curious that the Secretary of State for Education and Science is apparently entirely happy to use the word "privatisation" to describe these changes in a service which is wholly funded from public funds, while the Secretary of State for Health seems to get in a dreadful lather about the use of the word to describe changes in the National Health Service which do involve commercialisation.
It would be helpful if the Minister could confirm that when the number of His is reduced from 500 to 175, as proposed, there will be only 39 involved in the quality assurance of inspection; that nine will be allocated to grant-maintained schools and to territorial intelligence—whatever that means—and 15 to independent schools. I wonder just how much confidence the consumer would have if the newly privatised industries could appoint their own regulators.
301 The next Labour Government will establish an education standards commission to oversee the work of a combined inspectorate at national and local level. The commission will be independent of the Department of Education and Science. It will report to Parliament and will be responsible for inspecting and measuring the effectiveness of schools and for securing the measures to raise standards.
There is no mention of social security legislation in the gracious Speech, apart from the technical social security measures required to implement the council tax. I wonder whether this will be the first Session of this Parliament that does not have a social security Bill. If so, it is a great pity. That means that, again, nothing is to be done to alter the situation where the number of people who are living below half average income has increased from about 5 million in 1979 to about 12 million now. The proportion of people living on or below the benefit level has tripled from 6 per cent. in 1979 to 19 per cent. now. The income divide between the top 20 per cent. of men in work and the bottom 20 per cent. is greater now than it was 100 years ago. The gap between those on income support and the rest of the population is greater than at any time since 1948.
We know that we are at the bottom of the European league for economic growth and investment. However, there is one European league where we are outright champions; that is, the poverty league. One in five of all EC residents defined as poor is in the United Kingdom; one in four of all EC households defined as poor is in the United Kingdom. We have more poor people than any other member state and we have seen a bigger increase in poverty in the 1980s than any other member state. In fact, by far the larger proportion of the increase in poverty in the European Community in recent years has been in the UK.
I have to say that the Government seem to be in something of a semantic muddle when it comes to discussing poverty. Sometimes they seem to imply that poverty does not exist, that it is all a matter of relativity. I agree that sometimes poverty exists when it cannot really be measured. However, more usually it does exist, and it can be measured, but we would sooner not collect or publish the statistics which would reveal the facts about poverty. Perhaps the Minister will tell us when we can expect to receive the latest figures on family incomes and the period that they will cover. I understand that they are some years behind.
We often hear the phrase "the poverty lobby" which is usually used in a fairly denigrator fashion. We never seem to hear about "the wealth lobby". When we look at what has happened since 1979 there is no doubt which lobby has been the most successful. Although the total burden of taxation has increased as a proportion of GDP since 1979, the carrying of the burden has been deliberately shifted from the rich to the rest. We heard a great deal in the early 1980s about the trickle down theory, by which the poor could be helped if the rich got richer. In fact the Government seem to have achieved the geographical impossibility of a flood upwards.
302 There are many areas of social security to consider but time does not allow it. I should, however, like to draw the attention of the House to the serious situation which is still facing those in residential and nursing care and the people who look after them. I am indebted to the Motor and Allied Trades Benevolent Fund for sending me information about the problems which it faces. It is a typical charity in this respect. It states:Income support, which was close to or even above our own costs in 1985 has relentlessly fallen behind and the recently announced increases of £15–£20 per week for 1992 do not begin to fill the gap, let alone make provision for rising costs next year".That organisation has also sent me the preliminary findings of a survey commissioned by the Association of Charity Officers in conjunction with Age Concern and carried out by the Institute of Gerontology at King's College. I shall quote two figures from that excellent survey. It looked at 55 charities which run residential homes. Between them the 55 faced a deficit in 1990–91 of just over £11 million and the forecast for the deficit in 1991–92 is just over £15 million. Sixty per cent. of all the residents in the 81 homes were on income support and they were unable to meet fees at a realistic level. Evidence of hardship and suffering was reported. The benevolent fund concludes:In summary, the voluntary movement has worked incredibly hard to co-operate with Government in providing and funding care, but we are losing the battle. It really is only a matter of time before well established and managed charities start to implode, reducing and withdrawing care in order to survive. Social security costs will then rise steeply as Government is forced to buy the care which until now we have provided".That is only one of many areas of social security where this Government have manifestly failed in the first duty of any government—to secure a decent standard of living for all our citizens.
In turning to health, I must pay a word of tribute to my predecessor as Front Bench spokesman on health, the noble Lord, Lord Ennals. It is a great honour to succeed him. If his outstanding speech on asylum and refugees is anything to go by, his occupation of the Back Benches will add greatly to the quality of our debates in the many areas of his interests. As I understand it, the only legislation that we shall get in the area of health is the Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Bill. It is not controversial but we shall need to look at it to ensure that standards of education and disciplinary procedures are protected at the highest level in the nursing profession. We shall have a detailed discussion at the Second Reading of the Bill next week.
The gracious Speech refers to,bringing forward Charters for individual public services",and we have, of course, now received the Patient's Charter. We discussed this at Question Time yesterday and today's debate provides an opportunity to clear up some confusion in this area. The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, will remember that I asked her the following question:My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is confusion over the use of the word "rights" in the Patient's Charter? Are those rights enforceable at law? Will the patient receive compensation if the rights are not met?Later on in Question Time the noble Baroness said: 303My Lords, there are seven existing rights which are enforceable at law and through the additional channels that are being provided. From April of next year there will be three important new rights".—[Official Report, 5/11/91; cols. 144–45.]The charter refers to national charter standards in nine key areas. It states:These are not legal rights but major and specific standards which the Government looks to the NHS to achieve, as circumstances and resources allow".This phraseology seems to imply that the 10 Patient's Charter rights are legal rights. Perhaps when he comes to reply the Minister can tell the House whether they are in fact legally enforceable rights. If they are, on what statutes does the patient rely to secure enforcement? Can the patient obtain legal aid if he or she sues? It would also be interesting to know how the Patient's Charter will help the patient where a consultant will not put a patient on an already long waiting list.
The charter says nothing about the right to a minimum length of time before a patient receives his or her first hospital appointment. It is a little ironic that the press office note from the Citizen's Charter unit, published with the gracious Speech, says, under the heading "Consultation":customers' views must be sought about type and standards of service they expect; there must be up-to-date, accurate market research".That certainly did not apply to the introduction of the NHS reforms and certainly does not apply now to the decision of hospitals to opt out which, as we all know, is basically a decision by the hospital manager.
The charter is silent on the crucial question of patient choice. One of the existing rights is,to be referred to a consultant, acceptable to you, when your GP thinks it necessary, and to be referred for a second opinion if you and your GP agree this is desirable".How will this right operate if the consultant and the patient wish the patient to be referred to a particular hospital and the health service manager refuses to pay either because there is no contract with that hospital or because the extra-contractual referral budget is exhausted?
A survey is to be published tomorrow of the first six months of the NHS reforms. It is a survey of directors of public health medicine and was carried out by the Health Research Centre of Middlesex Polytechnic. It states:District health authorities, who now have responsibility for making contracts with hospitals, rely on their directors of public health medicine to assess the needs of NHS patients and guide them in setting spending priorities. Comments provided by these doctors, who are pivotal to the reforms, focus on lack of resources for patient care, undue haste, lack of management skills and burgeoning bureaucracy … Many directors also commented that they welcomed doctors' involvement in management and finance, medical audit, and a greater focus on the patient"—we can all agree on that—but at the same time were deeply concerned over the relentless pace of implementation and 'the mounting chaos of extra contractual referrals and budget holding GPs'. A look at the future finds one-third of those responding doubting the continuing availability of local comprehensive services".I shall quote some of the comments reported in the survey:The NHS is inherently more expensive for the same volume of work done".Waiting times are going up despite pronouncements to the contrary".304The pace is untenable".Results are only slogans".Some noble Lords may feel that this survey is slightly more objective than the entertaining but anecdotal report by the noble Lord, Lord McColl, an acknowledged enthusiast for the NHS reforms. It is perhaps a pity that the noble Lord did not tell us—
§ Lord McColl of Dulwich
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. Does he not realise that "anecdote" means unpublished? What I said was published and is true. Furthermore, does he accept that it was not the decision of management at Guy's to become self-governing; it was the two to one vote by the consultants?
§ Lord Carter
Yes, my Lords, I entirely accept that. I shall remove the word "anecdote" and just leave in the word "entertaining". It is a pity that the noble Lord did not tell us exactly why the Guy's and Lewisham Trust managed to get its sums so badly wrong when it produced its business plan to justify opting out.
The current debate over the NHS reforms has concentrated largely on the hospital service and opt out hospitals, but it is much more than just the hospital service. The whole field of community care is vitally important. There is already grave disquiet about both the funding and the operation of community care after April 1993. I make it clear that the next Labour Government will ring-fence the funds for community care, which is a necessary but not a sufficient condition if the programme is to be successful. The totality of resources is equally important. There is a creeping influence of commer-cialisation in the NHS. I shall give one example. Some Fuses are apparently noticing a larger than usual reduction in the number of women between 25 and 64 on some GPs' lists. The reduction makes it easier for those GPs to hit their targets for cervical smear tests and to be suitably rewarded.
There is a fundamental difference between the Government and the Opposition where health policy is concerned. We just do not believe that the internal market is an appropriate, fair or workable mechanism to allocate health care. In any area of activity where demand exceeds supply there are only two ways of allocating scarce resources: you can allocate according to need or you can allocate according to price. The Labour Party, and the great majority of British people, prefer to allocate according to clinical need. But the Government prefer to allocate according to cost, which means price.
Allocating according to need still means that harsh choices have to be made. Allocating according to price means that those with the most money get the best service. Opt-out hospitals may not be opting out of the NHS, but those who buy private health care are certainly opting out of the National Health Service. However, the Government by way of their reforms have performed one service. They have brought this fundamental choice out into the open. I have little doubt which approach the people will choose when the election comes.
305 I should make the policies of the Labour Party entirely clear. In government each year we shall ensure that, if we approve a pay award in the health service, we fully fund it in a way that this Government have never done since 1985. When we produce our budget for the National Health Service we shall have taken fully into account the pressures on the budget and the growing numbers of the very elderly in our community. In the first year we shall start to tackle under funding and shall continue to do so year on year. Over the lifetime of the Parliament we shall seek to restore the under funding and each year we shall make progress towards achieving that end. That is a rather more rational and coherent statement than the Government's apparent intention to increase public expenditure and reduce income tax. That can only be done by increasing indirect taxation, and that is exactly what has happened over the past 12 years.How far and how fast we shall be able to increase spending will depend…on how successful we are at managing the economy and restarting economic growth … we could afford a substantial increase in money spent on health only when the economy is once again producing the resources to enable that to be done".— [Official Report, Commons, 2/11/78; cols. 220, 221 and 222.]I can see that the noble Lord, Lord Henley, was vastly amused by that last sentence. It is actually an extract from a speech made by Mr. Patrick Jenkins, as he then was (now the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Roding) as Opposition spokesman on health. He was speaking in the debate on the Address in another place in 1978. It was the last debate on the Address before the 1979 general election. That is exactly what he said. He said that the incoming government would increase resources for the health service when they had achieved growth in the economy. We shall do the same; but the difference is that, as history has shown since the war, economic growth under Labour governments has been faster than that under Conservative governments.
What we have seen in the past 12 years is a massive exercise in redistribution. I refer not just to redistribution of income and wealth between individuals but also redistribution of power and resources. The figures are entirely clear regarding taxation. The reduction in the rates of direct taxation and the switch to indirect taxation plus the updating of social security benefits in line with prices rather than earnings means, as we know, that the rich have become considerably richer and the poor much poorer. Power has been increasingly centralized in education, local government and in health, and resources have been redirected. The city technology colleges, the assisted places scheme, opt-out hospitals and GP budget holders are all examples of the latter.
I make no apology for saying that the next Labour government will set about correcting this misdistribution of wealth, power and resources. This gracious Speech does nothing to correct that inequity; the next gracious Speech, after the general election, most certainly will.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in offering my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, on his maiden speech which we all greatly enjoyed. We look forward to his future participation, for example, in the debate on the report on education in schools which will no doubt take place in this House in due course. I regret that I shall not be debating the issues with him on that document but I would welcome very much his participation in any social security debates which may arise.
As the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said, this kind of debate covers an immensely wide variety of topics—indeed, "a vast canvas" of them, as my noble friend Lord Ferrers put it. The debate impinges upon a large number of departments. Chief among those that have been mentioned are the Home Office, the Lord Chancellor's Department, and the departments of health and of education and science and obviously, last but not least, my department, the Department of Social Security. We even had mention of such departments as transport and the Welsh Office, although they do not strictly appear under the heading of today's debate.
The subjects which we have covered are very wide and varied. We have had crime and its causes and prevention, asylum, social cohesion, deprivation, charities, industrial relations in prisons, the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987, the award of licences under the Broadcasting Act, the education of our children at school, the Parent's Charter, Church colleges and schools, the role of Leas, the Children Act, the NHS and the reforms, the boredom of children, the friendly societies, Sunday trading—quite surprisingly—law reform, the law of common-hold, animal welfare and the ban on the export of horses for slaughter. We also heard the mini-Queen's Speech of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, which we were pleased to welcome. I look forward to his dogs Bill but regret that I shall not have the opportunity to debate the matter with him. We have also had mention of social services, the training of social workers and of course comments on the role of the Treasury in the 13th century. Further, we heard about disability, tobacco advertising, students and social security, inadequate parenting, the London ambulance service and the privatisation of prisons.
If I were to attempt to cover all those topics, I should have to speak for as long as some of the great parliamentarians of earlier centuries. Even then, I do not think that I could, without speaking all night, cover all the points raised and the questions asked. I do not believe that it would be wise to attempt to do so. Moreover, I do not think that the House would wish me to do so. The spirit of our times does not really welcome overlong speeches and certainly The Companion to the Standing Orders positively discourages them.
Nevertheless, I hope that I shall be able to cover a number of the more important issues. I have listened to each and every speech in the debate and those subjects raised with which I am not able to deal I shall endeavour to answer in writing. Certainly a great many of the matters raised will be the subject of 307 debates and legislation which will come before the House in due course. They will of course be more properly dealt with on those occasions. I am referring especially to two pieces of legislation. The first is the Charities Bill which, I understand, will receive its Second Reading, on the 19th of this month and the Further and Higher Education Bill which will receive its Second Reading on the 21st of this month. I hope therefore that noble Lords will understand if I do not say much, or anything, about them on this occasion.
I intend to deal with the debate by subject matter based on the department involved. I shall begin with the Home Office and to some extent the Lord Chancellor's Department. I shall then move to the Department of Education and Science, the Department of Health and lastly, as I said earlier, but by no means least, to my department, the Department of Social Security.
I shall start with law and order issues in the Home Office. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, rather amusingly said that the prison mutiny Bill was not necessary and that it would really only cover the non-violent solitary prisoner offering no resistance and causing no damage. Obviously, we can at present charge those who riot with a very wide range of offences such as riot and violent behaviour under the Public Order Act. But the new offence set out in the new Bill will tackle specifically the problems within prisons. It will be a visible sanction for the prisons and will therefore, one hopes, have some deterrent effect for that reason.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris, asked about the joyriding Bill. He asked where it was and why it did not appear in the Queen's Speech. He also asked why we required a new Act. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary recently announced his intention to bring forward proposals to increase the penalties for taking vehicles without consent when that offence is aggravated by damage or dangerous driving. I believe that that goes further than the old offence which was provided for in the Theft Act. I cannot remember exactly which section of the Act, but it goes further than the old taking and driving away offence. We shall bring proposals before Parliament as soon as we reasonably can. But I am not in a position to give full details of the offence today. Details of the Bill have still not been finalized.
§ Lord Henley
No, my Lords, I am not leaving the Home Office at this moment. Perhaps the noble Earl will bear with me, I was moving on to a subject which is perhaps more a matter for the Lord Chancellor's Department than the Home Office. It is the matter of leasehold and commonhold, which was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Meston. I thank him for having had the courtesy to write to me on the subject.
In a Statement made by my noble and learned friend Lord Chancellor in this House on 12th July it was promised that the Government would introduce legislation on commonhold and related matters as soon as parliamentary time could be found for it. We have not been able to find time for it in the current 308 Session, therefore it will not be possible to bring it forward in this Session. Similarly, I cannot give the commitments for which my noble friend Lord Brentford asked on legislation on Sunday trading and friendly societies.
I turn now to the Asylum Bill, a subject which cropped up largely in the earlier part of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, raised various points, as did the noble Lord, Lord Harris. I am glad that the latter accepted that there is a serious problem here. My noble friend Lord Brentford, and the noble Lords, Lord Ennals and Lord Meston, also raised the subject. There will be appropriate time to debate this when the Bill comes before the House but it may help if I respond to one or two of the points put to me in the course of the debate.
The noble Lord, Lord Richard, argued that, since at the moment 90 per cent. of immigrants were allowed to stay, most claims could not in any sense be abusive. The noble Lord shakes his head but that was the point of the argument as I understood it. Only 25 per cent. of applicants for asylum are found to be genuinely fleeing persecution. A few more have other humanitarian reasons, but most are allowed to stay because by claiming asylum they have managed to extend their stay in the United Kingdom so long that their removal would be unreasonable. They may, for example, have married or had children while their claims were under consideration. We feel that the Government's proposals will deal with the problem by speeding up the consideration of claims. All time limits will be applied reasonably and exceptions will be made if necessary.
Another anxiety that the noble Lord, Lord Richard, and other noble Lords raised was whether the Government intended to abolish legal aid for asylum seekers. Our only proposal is to withdraw legal aid for advice. This is because we already fund the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service to provide advice. There are no plans to abolish legal aid for court appearances. No changes will be made until satisfactory alternatives are in place. We are still discussing these alternatives with the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service, but that is not a matter for primary legislation, so it is not in the Bill.
I turn to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, made about the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act and allegations that my noble friend had to some extent misled the noble Lord as to whether amendments could be part of the Asylum Bill. The scope of the Bill and questions as to which amendments may be tabled are, as the noble Lord knows, always a matter for the Clerks. My understanding is that the Clerks do not consider that amendments to that Act would be within the scope of the Bill. I regret that the noble Lord considers that he was misled by my noble friend the Lord Privy Seal on this occasion. However, my noble friend made it quite clear on two occasions in the debate on 22nd October 1991 at columns 1476 and 1480 that he could give absolutely no undertaking on the point and it had to be a matter for—
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, would the noble Lord like to read out the context in which that statement was made?
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I am quite happy to refer to the second quotation. I quote my noble friend:I can repeat what I said before: that I should be very surprised indeed if the scope of the Bill was not wide enough. I should certainly like to see all these matters ventilated when we come to discuss refugee status". [Official Report, 22/10/91; col. 1480.]If I can find it, we shall see that he had given the undertaking earlier at column 1476:In any event it is not a matter for me. Presumably, it is a matter for the Clerks of this House and of another place to say how wide the Long Title is. My opinion is that—It is not my noble friend's opinion that is relevant. He made it quite clear on two occasions that it was a matter for the Clerks. I shall not take any more interruptions on this. I hope that the noble Lord will accept—
§ Lord Harris of Greenwich
My Lords, I find that objectionable. The accuracy of the Minister's statement has been challenged. Now he is trying to avoid answering any further questions on the issue. I expect the answer to be from the Leader of the House rather than the noble Lord: it is not his responsibility. The fact is that Ministers were aware of the Long Title of the Bill at the time when the noble Lord made his statement in the House. If they did not know it, they could have found out from their own officials. The fact is that the words read out by the noble Lord make it quite clear that we were misled—unintentionally, of course—by the noble Lord the Leader of the House.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I simply do not accept that. My noble friend made it quite clear on two occasions that his advice on the matter could not be relied on. It is always a matter for the Clerks. Noble Lords will know perfectly well that on many occasions amendments will have been put down and though, speaking for the Government, I have said, "That sounds as though it should not go down", the Clerks have allowed them. It must always be a matter for them. The noble Lord can say "nonsense" till the cows come home but I wish to point out that on this occasion my noble friend made it clear—
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I shall not give way to my noble kinsman. My noble friend made it quite clear to the noble Lord that he could not give the undertaking. It was a matter for the Clerks. At column 1480 on 22nd October 1991, my noble friend said:I cannot give an undertaking on behalf of the … Government while standing on my feet at the end of a debate".He went on to give his opinion, but said quite clearly that he could not give an undertaking. The noble Lord must accept that and it is then up to him to take advice as he wishes. He should accept what I have said in good part.
I shall continue on the subject of the Asylum Bill and questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, as to whether we had any support for it. Amnesty International, the British Refugee Council and the Medical Foundation for the Care of the Tortured have 310 all urged us to speed up our procedures and to grant a right of appeal to all those refused asylum. The Government's proposals do both and I should be very surprised if such bodies objected to those aspects of the Government's plans.
§ Lord Ennals
My Lords, with respect, the Minister knows that Amnesty International and the British Refugee Council are involved in a campaign against the Bill. It is misrepresentation if he says that there is one little bit that they support. Basically, they oppose the Bill and he knows it.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I was merely saying that there are aspects of the Bill that those bodies support. The noble Lord must accept that. I now turn to the matter—
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, I hope I may participate once in the semi-private row that is being conducted. I put a specific question to the Government. I asked whether I was right, in my reading of the Bill, to deduce that the initial weeding out—without any form of formal adjudication or court hearing—would be carried out by the Secretary of State. Will the Minister confirm that that is the case? If it is the case, as I understand it, those who are weeded out by the Secretary of State do not have a right of appeal under the Bill.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, the noble Lord asked whether a case that could go to appeal should be a matter for independent decision and not a matter for the Home Secretary. That is precisely how the proposed system will work. The draft appeals procedure rules which were published last Friday make it quite clear that this is a matter for the independent appeals adjudicator.
§ Lord Richard
My Lords, it is unfair to press the Minister on this point when the person who can answer the question is sitting next to him but is silent. Claims for asylum that are considered to be totally without merit are weeded out right at the outset. As I understand it that decision will be taken by the Secretary of State and not by an adjudicator. Am I right or wrong about that?
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I shall have to write to the noble Lord on that matter. As I have said, a large number of issues crop up in a debate of this kind. The noble Lord was right to say that I am not a Minister in the department concerned with this matter and therefore I may have some problems in replying to his question.
I move on to education. As I said earlier, I do not intend to speak on the Further and Higher Education Bill as it will come before this House shortly. It is right to leave discussion on the Bill until that time. However, I shall expand a little on what my noble friend said in introducing this debate on the parents' charter and the document on education in schools. Those are matters of some concern to the right reverend Prelate, the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, and others.
In this legislative programme we attach great importance to a measure designed to secure the 311 implementation of the Parent's Charter. This Government have two principal aims in relation to school education. The first is to improve the management and academic standards of schools and the second—closely related to the first—is to widen choice and to improve the partnership between parents and schools. Both aims are carried forward by the Parent's Charter which was published at the end of September.
The charter also showed how the Government plan to strengthen rights by introducing new school inspection arrangements—the subject of criticism on the pare of some noble Lords—thereby increasing and improving the quality of the information given to parents. Until now too much of what schools have done has been shrouded in darkness. Too many children have not had the quality of education to which they are entitled. Our policies are changing that situation. An inspection which will be both more extensive and of better quality than before will help to underpin our proposals. Parents and governors need, and will have under these arrangements, an objective, reliable assessment of their schools so that they can judge whether those schools are doing as well as they should by comparison with others.
Parents will be consulted before an inspection takes place. Inspection reports will be available to parents and governors, and governors will have to inform parents of the action they propose to take to follow up the reports. As more schools take over responsibility for managing their own budgets, they must be able to account publicly for the quality and standards of education in the school and the effective and efficient use of resources. All concerned will now have a clear basis on which to work to secure freedom.
Worries about the quality of the inspections were expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Carter and Lord Ritchie of Dundee. The quality must be central to the new arrangements. We shall create a new office of Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools to give HMI in statute the independence it has enjoyed in practice since its Foundation. HMI will be placed at the apex of the new system of school inspection with responsibility for regulating and closely monitoring standards of inspection and reporting. HMI will determine who may inspect in future and under what conditions. It will also have the right to remove anyone from the register of approved inspectors. At the same time HMI will remain under a duty to advise the Secretary of State on the quality and standards of education in the country as a whole. More and better information from inspection will help throughout the education service to raise the quality of provision.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, I made a point about the number of inspectors. I understand there will be 39 for the whole country for quality assurance, nine for grant maintained schools and 15 for the independent sector. Are those figures correct?
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I am afraid I cannot confirm or deny those figures offhand. I, or one of my colleagues, will write to the noble Lord on that matter.
I turn now to the Department of Health and to the health service. Here our record provides the best case. 312 Since 1979 we have increased the number of doctors and dentists by some 16,000. We have increased the number of nurses and midwives by 60,000. We have increased the number of people treated each year as in-patients in hospitals by more than 1 million. We have raised the number of out-patient attendances by more than 2 million. We have reduced the number of people waiting for treatment for more than one year by 22 per cent. and put forward proposals to eliminate all two-year waiting lists.
We have seen life expectancy increase by some two years for both men and women, and we have seen deaths among babies and very young children halved. We have seen an increase of over 50 per cent. in hip replacements and an increase of 250 per cent. in coronary artery bypass operations. We have reached agreement to end the dangerously long hours worked by many hospital doctors, and I was very interested in what my noble friend Lord McColl had to say about various initiatives which are being tried at Guy's in that respect.
Lastly, despite what is sometimes said, we have increased funding for the National Health Service by more than 50 per cent. in real terms, as we promised. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, quoted my noble friend—I was about to say Lord Jenkins of Hillhead!—Lord Jenkins of Roding in another place at another time when he promised those increases. We delivered them in a way in which the Labour Government of 1974 to 1979 did not.
I turn now to the reforms themselves. Any change at any time in any organisation is rarely greeted with universal approval. Certainly there were a number of doubters as to the merits of the health reforms. However, now that the trusts and GP fund holders have been established the debate is moving more towards how those concepts can be developed to secure better standards of service. That can only be for the benefit of patients.
The Government have set out a clear programme of action for the health service. There is a broad measure of agreement that the structure of the NHS had become wasteful of resources and insufficiently attuned to the needs of its patients, as my noble friend Lord McColl put it. It needed to be developed. The expressions of interest emerging from the service show that the Government must proceed with the reforms.
The Government have sought to underline the rights of the patient through the Patient's Charter and emphasise the role of health promotion and disease prevention in the proposals in the Green Paper The Health of the Nation, which my noble friend Lord Holderness mentioned.
The noble Lord, Lord Rea, asked some rather detailed questions about the London ambulance service. He also raised one individual case which I should not like to comment on today. However, either I or my noble friend Lady Hooper will write to the noble Lord on those issues and particularly with respect to the personal case which he raised.
I turn now to the department for which I have direct ministerial responsibility, the Department of Social Security. I was interested that, as usual, the noble Lord, Lord Carter, perhaps in his last day as a 313 social security spokesman, made new promises, which go somewhat beyond the promises that have been generally agreed by the Front Bench of his own party in another place and particularly by the Opposition spokesman on Treasury matters. The noble Lord promised to up-rate all benefits in line with earnings rather than prices. I wonder whether he has tried costing that.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, I must correct the noble Lord. I referred to the fact that over 12 years the Government have up-rated social security benefits in line with prices. As a matter of simple arithmetic that means that those in receipt of benefits must be worse off compared to those in work. I said nothing about up-rating all social security benefits.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I am sorry. I obviously misheard the noble Lord but I understood him to say that all benefits would be up-rated in line with earnings. I am certainly very interested in what he has said and the fact that he has confirmed that his party has no intention to do that.
In the last Session we brought forward to this House no fewer than four major Bills concerning social security. As the gracious Speech has made clear, our legislative programme in this area is not as demanding as it was in previous Sessions. Since I received one private inquiry on this matter, I should stress that three social security Bills have been put before the House but they are merely consolidation Bills and therefore not a matter for my department but for the Lord Chancellor's Department.
The noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked when was the last year without a social security Bill. I am not sure that I can answer that question off-hand but I should be interested to research the matter.
However, by the implementation of existing measures and by bringing new measures through this House, we intend to continue the development of the social security system and to direct extra resources to those who need them most and to improve the quality of service in the delivery of social security.
I should like to refer to one matter which has not been raised this afternoon. The House will know that we are committed to achieving equal treatment in pensions and in particular to equalizing the state pension age. We shall shortly bring forward a discussion document which will provide the background information and set out the options and their costs for equalization of the state pension because we believe that it would be wrong to take any decisions in that complex area without a period of public discussion. However, I must stress that all our options will be discussed. Our minds are in no way made up; they are entirely open. Despite the allegations by the Opposition Front Bench in another place, we have not made up our minds on any of those matters.
We shall continue to take opportunities to direct extra resources to those who need them most. In the up-rating measures that I repeated to the House on 21st October, we not only up-rated the main benefits in line with increases in relevant costs but continued our policy of directing extra help to the less well off 314 pensioners. From April 1992 the higher pensioner premium, which goes to those pensioners over 80 or those who are disabled, will be increased by £1 for a single person and by £1.50 for a couple over and above the normal up-rating.
Additionally, we are raising the income support limits in residential care and nursing homes by significant amounts. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Carter, said, they are being increased by considerable amounts. There is no evidence of homes in any area of the country which are not able to prosper within those limits. Obviously there are many homes with fees well above those limits, but there is no evidence that people cannot find homes within the limits, which at the lowest rate will rise next April to £175.
Perhaps I may comment briefly on the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, about students and their alleged lack of help with social security. We believe that student support is properly the responsibility of the educational maintenance system which is designed to provide for the needs of students and has been considerably enhanced in past academic years. Therefore, the majority of students do not need to look to the social security system for support. However, we have protected the benefit position of certain vulnerable students, including lone parents, disabled students and student couples with dependent children who continue to be eligible for income support and housing benefit. Partners of students and part-time students may also claim.
We have already announced changes to the SDA residence test which I believe I mentioned to the noble Lord at the time of the up-rating Statement. That change is a further improvement in the benefits for the disabled and will come into effect next April. Disability living allowance will help with the extra costs of care and mobility for people who become disabled before the age of 65. Disability working allowance is a wholly new, income-related benefit which tops up earnings for disabled people and provides a path back into the employment field.
The full package of measures will mean extra help for an estimated 850,000 people, with £300 million added between 1993 and 1994 over and above inflation, to improve the structure and balance of help for disabled people. Those increases in resources will give real help, but no less important to us is the fact that the new measures will promote independence and integration for people with disabilities. DWA will remove the rigid distinction between those able and those unable to work. For those who want it, it will provide a new route back to work and will enable disabled people to attempt to work with security; but if their attempt at work fails within two years, they will be able to return to their long-term incapacity benefit.
The noble Lord, Lord Carter, asked about figures on family incomes and, as I understood him, when the next set of household below average income figures would come out. We produced those figures for 1979 to 1987 in July 1990. I therefore think I can say fairly safely that we shall produce the next set sometime next year. Those figures show that total real income had increased at all levels of income. The Social Security 315 Select Committee published the figures for 1988 in April of this year. They confirm the trend of the previous figures. Figures for 1989 are not yet available, but we are consulting specialists in that area about both methodology and presentation.
We also intend to continue the process, as set out in the Citizen's Charter, of improving the service given to social security customers. The contributions agency has already published its own contributors' and employers' charter and the charter for customers will shortly be published by the benefits agency and the employment service. The Government will continue to improve services to customers and improve efficiency through the further development of the department's executive agencies and greater use of new technologies.
In opening for the Opposition in this debate, the noble Lord, Lord Richard, claimed that there was no unifying theme in this year's gracious Speech. There is one theme that runs through many of the Government's endeavors; namely, a belief that the best guarantee of success for Britain lies in the talents and energies of its people. It is in order to tap those energies that across the whole of government we have sought to widen opportunities and create new choices. Those policies have paid off. It is a sign of the power of our message that the once revolutionary doctrines of wider ownership, tax reform and privatisation are today the received wisdom.
But there is more to do, not least in sharpening up the performance of that 40 per cent. of our economy which is accounted for by the state sector. Families are increasingly reluctant to put up with seventies-style second-rate services from the public sector. They rightly expect services to provide decent value for money. The past 12 years have seen real progress. By applying the new ideas, techniques and technology, we have transformed the way in which the public sector operates. One has only to look at the way in which contracting out has delivered better services at lower cost to see those powerful changes at work. In the Civil Service itself, the move to agencies has unleashed new energies and ideas by devolving more power to those who provide services to the public.
We plan to build on those changes. The Citizen's Charter initiative has put the drive for better public 316 services at the very heart of our plans for the 1990s. I might add that it has also underlined the Prime Minister's personal commitment to good public services. I need hardly repeat our commitment to the health service, proved by the figures which I quoted earlier and not least because I believe that the Labour Party has recently had to carry out a rather speedy and undignified retreat from its privatisation scare stories.
In the health service, as in our schools, we wish to see higher standards. We want to provide greater choice for consumers and more responsibility for staff. The Citizen's Charter initiative will increasingly provide consumers with a lever to obtain the best possible service that they wish to have. We want to see high quality public services which are truly responsive to the needs of their consumers. That, too, is what the public overwhelmingly demand. Only this Government have the energy, the ideas and the commitment to deliver them. That is what our proposals for the next Session are all about.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps he will be good enough either to answer one simple question or to say that he will write to me about it. Are the patients' rights in the Patient's Charter legally enforceable? The answer is "yes" or "no".
§ Lord Henley
I shall write to the noble Lord. If I fail to do so, my noble friend Lady Hooper will write to him.
§ The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Brabazon of Tara I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.—(The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.